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It is very important to remember that shopping in rural France is as much a social activity as a commercial one, transactions are between people, not economic units. So, always, always, say 'bonjour' to sales personnel before anything else.

In very small shops, or restaurants, it is polite to say 'bonjour' as you enter, thus including everyone present. If, by any chance, you make eye contact with other diners when going to your table, a murmured 'bon appetit' is considered extremely polite. If you feel you cannot manage this, a shy smile and nod, making eye contact with a few people, will just about pass.

You must always, always, say 'merci' when the transaction is completed, followed by 'au revoir' or 'bon apres midi/dimanche/week-end' or whatever is appropriate. This way you will enter into the great French public game: you utter one social phrase, such as 'au revoir' for example, your interlocutor is honour bound to reply but with a different phrase, 'a bientôt', perhaps. (You may award yourself a gold star if the other person has to use the same phrase as you.)

Despite the fact that La Chaise is situated in a small clearing in the woods, it is very near many and varied shops, markets, castles, caves, vinyards and other places of interest.

The nearest village, Mensignac, is only 3 kms away and it has a general purpose store, Le Relais des Mousquetaires, with a very wide range of goods, fresh vegetables and fruits included. It is, in fact, owned by the village baker. As he makes the best, most authentic bread within a radius of some 20 kms, provision shopping is very easy, (a thickish slice of his pain de campagne' , lightly toasted, tastes just like crumpets), and the shop has cash operated petrol pumps in the car park.. The village also has a very competent butcher, a couple of cafes one of which does simple meals, a post office , a pharmacy and tennis courts - everything a holiday maker could need.

The nearest sizeable town is St Astier (turn right out of the La Chaise gate) which is 9 kms away. In retail terms it appears to have been colonised by the Leclerc brand but there is also a LIDL discount store, four independant bakers and two excellent pastries shop which also sells their own, home-made, ice-cream. There are also two pharmacies; two banks and some ATM's; two good French restaurants, La Palombiere ( 05 5304 40 61)and Le Chapeau Rouge (05 53 04 97 32); five different kinds of cafe; some hairdressers and clothes shops; a cinema and a library; two dry cleaners; and a market on Thursdays from 9 a.m.- 12 p.m.,one of the best in the area.

If you turn left out of the gate, after 9kms you will reach Tocane St Apre, a small, half-horse town with very little by way of retail stores or restaurants, just two butchers, two bakers, a bank and a superette.. However, it does have a very pretty little chapel on the banks of the river Dronne, by the bridge to Montagrier, and a Museum of local costumes which I have not visited, so I cannot comment. Market day in Tocane is Monday mornings.

Sadly for Tocane, its main claim to fame for visitors is that it is on the way from La Chaise to other places. Turn left when you come into town and you are headed for Riberac, one of the major market towns of the Dordogne and one where you barely need French as the English community there is so large.

However, I recommend you turn right and, at the roundabout at the end of town (where you will find an Ecomarche, rather down-market supermarket of Intermarche chain) the options are to go either to Mensignac (see above) and Perigueux ,the capital of the Dordogne, about which more later; or to Lisle, Bourdeilles and Brantome which is my preferred direction. It is a very pretty drive, especially if those accompanied by good map-readers take the 'scenic' route past the amazing chalk cliffs of the Dronne.

At either of these three towns you can hire canoes to go on the Dronne, one of the principal rivers of the Dordogne which is, in parts, also a trout river. Canoeing on the Dronne can be quite exciting. Short term fishing licences can be bought from newsagents' shops, (06 prices not yet known):we can guide you to some likely fishing spots, in season, of course.

The round trip from La Chaise, along the Dronne to Brantome, including perhaps an expedition to the caves at Villars or the château at Puyguilheim; returning over the hills via Biras and Bussac, where you peek into the church; and perhaps you do a little detour to the privately owned but open to the public 'Prieure de Merlande', a medieval priory hidden in the woods; provides virtually a potted experience of the Dordogne and is easily accomplished in a day. It is even suitable for children with the shortest attention spans.

Brantome sometimes vaunts itself as the 'Venice' of the Dordogne, it is a very attractive Renaissance town, situated on a bend in the Dronne, home to an important Abbey with one of the highest bell towers in France, and with a charming, 'dog-leg' Renaissance bridge across the river, see below

Brantome is very much an arts and crafts tourist town (strictly in the non-pejorative sense); there is a woodworker who uses locally sourced walnut and cherry wood; there is a glass blower and a modern jeweller (not cheap) who makes some very attractive pieces and also sells interesting clothes. There are also at least two good antique shops, one of which has a restaurant attached and the other is owned by an American, so occasional pieces of American or English silver can be found. It also boasts a very good charcutier for hams, salamis, pates and foie gras and an adventurous boulanger who produces some interesting breads, such as walnut, rye or multi-cereal, as well as the more conventional forms.

But, most importantly, Brantome has a number of restaurants ranging from very good to competent as well as a selection of more simple eateries.The two most important restaurants are both on the Dronne, Le Moulin de l'Abbaye (05 53 05 80 22) is, at its name suggests, near the Abbey. It has a terrace on the river and the old mill wheel still works; it is expensive. My preferred, however, is Les Freres Charbonnel in the Hotel Chabrol (05 53 05 70 15) which also has a terrace overlooking the river just at a favourite spot for fishermen - and water-rats! It is less expensive than the Moulin and, in my view, offers better food.

In the medium price range there are two pleasant restaurants on or near the river. Au Fil de l'Eau (05 53 05 73 65) is, as its name suggests, right on the water, the ducks waddle in between the tables in search of fallen bread. It is predominantly a fish restaurant. The sister restaurant, Au Fil du Temps ( 05 53 05 24 12), describes itself as a 'rotisserie', therefore serves mostly meat, sometimes grilled on the open fire. It has a very pleasant, tree shaded terrace which overlooks the river gardens and towards the Abbey.

Naturally there are numerous other restaurants one of which deserves particular mention: Les Dames Galantes (05 53 05 81 50) is a very simple place at the end of the pedestrian area of Brantome, run by a husband and wife team. The wife serves: when my husband and I both declined to take the inevitable soup that starts all menus, she observed - if we did not eat our soup, we would not be allowed any pudding…..well, we thought it funny.

Very near to Brantome, about half an hour's drive away, are two interesting places to visit, the Château de Puyguilhem and La Grotte de Villars, This relatively recently opened cave complex, is not over-run by tourists and you do not have to book your visit days in advance. The visit takes a little over half an hour, so suitable for the slightly claustrophobic who could not manage any longer underground. The Château is very attractive, small enough for one to visualise just how one's own furniture would fit in, and small enough for the tour not to be tiring for children.

Alternatively, following the river Isle from St Astier, there are interesting trips to be made to Mussidan and Montpon sur l'Isle. At Mussidan you will find the Musee Voulgre (0553 81 23 55) which shows the furniture and tools of the 18th and 19th centuries in the Dordogne. It also occasionally has exhibitions on more modern themes, recently on the war-time experiences of Mussidan's inhabitants. Mussidan is on the A89 and has a good connecting road with Bergerac.

There are two good restaurants on the way to Mussidan, La table d'Eugenie (05 53 82 45 23) at Sourzac (it is worth crossing the road to look at the church) and Le Relais de Gabillou (05 53 81 01 42) much nearer the town. Sourzac also has an antiques shop which I have yet to explore. Just before you come into Sourzac there is a routier restaurant called Le Croquant (05 53 81 11 74) which serves good, basic French food fairly inexpensively, mostly to lorry drivers and travelling salesmen.

Montpon boasts France's only caviar farm: there is a sturgeon breeding centre on the river Isle at Moulineaux
(sarl Estudor, 0553 80 61 10) which can be visited by prior arrangement. The local caviar is even more expensive than the imported product but one has the consolation of knowing that it is ecologically correctly produced.

Perigueux is the capital of the Dordogne and merits at least two trips, one for eating and shopping and one for looking at the architecture and Roman ruins. Tips for when wandering round the pedestrianised Old Town;
1) don't wear high heels, the streets are cobbled; 2) look upwards, above the shop fronts and you will see the best of the original buildings, some very tactfully restored; 3) be discreetly nosy, look into open doorways, there might be a medieval courtyard or staircase to see. Perigueux, of course, has the inevitable little white train for taking tourists to the highlights of the town. It also has an extensive museum with a fine collection of artefacts from the original Roman town, Vesunna, on the site of the present town.

There are so many, varied, restaurants in Perigueux, it would be invidious to mention only a few - we can discuss them when you are here. The same is true of the shops though the main pedestrian thoroughfare, the 'rue Limogeanne' should be mentioned for its wide variety of shops, not just gourmet food boutiques, also practical items such as cooking utensils or shoes, the latter admittedly stylish and expensive.

Wednesdays and Saturdays are Perigueux's market days, the principal activity takes place between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. as in the smaller towns, though the smaller food market continues on into the afternoon. The old covered market, near the Town Hall, is still in daily use, mostly by butchers.

We can, of course, help you plan trips further afield, to Domme or Les Eyzies where the famous Lascaux caves are; or to St Emilion, the great medieval wine town, taking in one or two other wine co-operatives en route. Or you could go north and visit the fairy tale castle at Jumilhac le Grand, or France's most famous knife factory at Nontron and acquire a real, French peasant's pocket knife. A great novelty is the trip on the Dordogne river, which gives its name to the county, to see all the castles, including Josephine Baker's Les Milandes, in a typical Dordogne boat, a garbarre, which is possible from beginning of April to end October.

More information about the wider Dordogne can be found at; special expeditions are organised by; for information on restaurants look at