Despite the curse of terrorism that has recently afflicted both Paris and Nice, rural France remains as profoundly tranquil as ever. Of few places is this more true than the exquisite Dordogne and Lot valleys, which lie to the east of Bordeaux. At times the landscape has a cinematic beauty that seems almost too perfect to be real. Villages of golden stone are surrounded by vineyards and orchards, while seemingly every hilltop is crowned by a turreted castle. On a recent 10-day trip, I discovered two wonderful new hideaways — the Château de la Treyne being especially memorable — and revisited a longtime favorite, Le Vieux Logis, which was just as seductive and atmospheric as before. Throughout my journey, the food was predictably delicious. The real surprise was the quality of the wines, with vintners in both Bergerac and Cahors now producing both reds and whites that bear comparison with their illustrious cousins in Bordeaux. When not touring wineries or castles, we visited several of the region’s famous prehistoric sites, including Font-de-Gaume, where a cave contains 19,000-year-old paintings in situ, as well as Lascaux IV, a stunning replica of Europe’s most celebrated rock art, which opened in December of last year.
In this issue, I also report on stays in Mexico City and Panama City. Despite its problems with crime and pollution, the Mexican capital remains a fascinating metropolis. On this trip, I was delighted to discover an exceptional boutique hotel, Las Alcobas, in the upscale Polanco neighborhood. Panama City’s Casco Viejo (“Old Town”) was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003, and here too I found an attractive small property, the 50-room American Trade Hotel, housed within a 1917 historic building, which offers comfortable accommodations, superior service and a genuine sense of place.