What are the best overnight stopovers on a leisurely drive down to south-west France from Calais, with a dog in tow?

 

Q. This autumn I'm driving down to Bergerac (pictured) with my girlfriend and dog to stay in a gite for a week. We'd like to do it over a few days, staying two nights on the way. We are crossing using the Eurotunnel to Calais. Which areas are good to visit down the west-ish side of France? Lee Martin, London

A. Congratulations on tackling France the sensible way. It's such a shame that so many Brits simply set the controls for the deep south, put their foot on the accelerator and – with the occasional pause at a depressing autoroute service station – speed past so many wonderful places.

Consider using the often-rewarding "straight-line method", drawing a line across the map of France and then sticking to minor roads that follow the line most closely. (You need a good navigator, because SatNav does not appear to understand the concept.)

Applying the SLM to the Calais-Bergerac run produces particularly pleasing results. First, the dog will enjoy the Côte d'Opale south from Calais if you stop for a run on one of the many beaches between Wissant and the Somme. After Abbeville (a good place for lunch), you can meander through lilting countryside on the eastern flank of Normandy. The straight line gives Paris a wide berth. Spend the first night in the small and beautiful city of Chartres, and make time to visit the shimmering cathedral.

The route south (and a little bit west) from here crosses the Loire at Blois, where you might want to pause for another run. Then you are into la France profonde for a good few hours, wafting through the French heartland. If the D-roads start to pall, then nip onto the A20 motorway to accelerate to Limoges for a late lunch. The target for night two is Perigueux – a gem of Aquitaine, only an hour from Bergerac but with a rich Roman history.

Finally, if it is your first time taking the dog to France, you might want to read the account from JoAnne Good and Anna Webb of a trip avec les chiens to Paris, as written for the Independent Traveller: bit.ly/DogChannel

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