(Budget Travel) -- The Dordogne River valley is one of the most beautiful areas in France -- and there are plenty of stylish hotels where even a weak dollar goes far.
Domaine de la Rhue, in Rocamadour, is a hotel created from 19th-century stables.
Overlooking umpteen miles of rolling hills and the tiny town of Montignac, these basic accommodations offer a view that your average luxury hotel would kill for. Not only that, but the setting is appealingly serene -- there's nothing around but fields and farmland. (You might even forget that the Lascaux Cave, home of France's most famous prehistoric paintings, is just a five-minute walk away.) Though none of the five rooms gets the view face-on, you can take in the scenery over café au lait in the breakfast room or simply plop down on the hillside at any time of day. One of the rooms has a small private terrace, so book well ahead; unlike most of these hotels, Le Bellevue is open year-round. Regourdou, 011-33/5-53-51-81-29, chambres-montignac.com, $55--$59.
Les Eyzies is a bustling town that sells itself as Cro-Magnon Central because it's an ideal base for visiting the area's prehistoric sites. Hovering on the outskirts, Les Glycines is a hotel that offers stylish comfort in a low-key, no-pressure kind of way. What started out as a 19th-century postal relay has been turned into an assortment of inviting rooms decorated in a soothing palette of cream, taupe and beige. The rooms that have a view cost more, but for the extra €30, you'll be able to contemplate the splendid garden, pool and landscape first thing in the morning. Many of the ingredients for the gourmet meals served in Les Glycines' dining room come from the enormous potager, or kitchen garden. 4 ave. de Laugerie, 011-33/5-53-06-97-07, les-glycines-dordogne.com, $136--$239, half pension is from $286 for two people (half pension is mandatory from mid-July through August). BudgetTravel.com: See the Dordogne hotels
Le Moulin de la Beune
The small, family-run hotel has a lot of charm thanks to co-owner Annick Soulié, who believes that her job is "to make people happy." The old stone building is a vine-covered, 17th-century mill. The rooms are simple, but the nice draperies give them a little personality. If your room faces the stream, you'll be treated to the sound of water rushing by, which would be idyllic if it weren't for the traffic on the road during high season (it calms down after 7 p.m.). With what you've saved on your room, you can treat yourself to a meal at the acclaimed restaurant, Au Vieux Moulin; the chef is Annick's husband, Georges Soulié. Be careful not to fall into the stream after you indulge in a few glasses of Bergerac. 2 rue du Moulin Bas, 011-33/5-53-06-94-33, moulindelabeune.com, $90--$103, half pension is from $212 for two people; dinner from $47. BudgetTravel.com: What is a secret hotel?
LE COUX ET BIGAROQUE
A couple of years ago, Virginie and Philippe Vue, young professionals from Normandy, gave their lives a makeover. They moved to the sleepy hamlet of Le Coux et Bigaroque, about 20 miles west of Sarlat, where they spruced up three stone buildings once affiliated with the church across the street.
There are 15 guest rooms and though the lodgings are still somewhat humble, the surroundings are so lovely you'll easily forgive a few spots on the carpet: The courtyard is filled with flowers and trees, and the Dordogne flows just half a mile away. In fact, a short walk takes you to one of the river's few official beaches, where there's a lifeguard on duty during high season. The Vues live on-site with their three children, who'll share their slide and swing set with younger guests. Families will also appreciate the larger rooms, which can sleep four or five. Breakfast and dinner are served in the airy dining room or outside under the trellis. Le Chambellan is closed in December and January. Place de l'Église, 011-33/5-53-29-90-11, coux-et-bigaroque.fr/chambellan, $71, half pension is $136 for two people.
La Maison des Peyrat
Sarlat is probably the prettiest town in the Dordogne, but its popularity can make for a less-than-tranquil experience -- all the more reason to stay at La Maison des Peyrat, about half a mile uphill in a residential neighborhood. The long, one-story stone building dates back to the Middle Ages and at various times was a hospital for plague victims, a residence for nuns and a farm. (Part of its appeal was ample water -- note the well in what is now the hotel's reception area.) Current owners Martine and Jean-Luc Ginestet preserved the historic character of the building, while also injecting a dash of modern design.
The result is 10 simple, airy rooms in light colors with rattan furniture; common areas feature exposed beams and original artwork, including some of Martine's sculptures. Outside, a chestnut tree shades the terrace where breakfast and dinner are served in good weather, and foliage surrounds the building and the swimming pool. If you stay for a few days, you'll probably end up partaking in the afternoon apéro, when everyone gathers for a drink while the sun goes down. Le Lac de la Plane, 011-33/5-53-59-00-32, maisondespeyrat.com, $100--$140, half pension is from $189 for two people.
Le Mas de Castel
Just a couple of miles south of Sarlat is a small hotel that feels like it's leagues away from tourists and crowds. Everything about it is soft-spoken, including owner Francine Charpenet Mottet, who transformed the family farm into a relaxing vacation spot. The grounds feature a pool, a garden and rosebushes, and there are even plans to create a picnic area for guests. "Comfort" rooms are decorated in yellows, blues and reds; the larger "superior" rooms (€10 more) have private entrances and terraces that open out onto the garden. While the hotel has no restaurant, if you opt for a superior room, you can picnic at your outdoor table. Le Mas de Castel is one of the rare hotels in the area with a handicapped-accessible room; in any event, most rooms are on the ground floor. The cone-roofed structure next to the pool is a re-creation of a borie -- mortarless, flat-stone huts that have existed for thousands of years in the south of France. Le Sudalissant, 011-33/5-53-59-02-59, hotel-lemasdecastel.com, $89--$139.
La Belle Étoile
Hovering over the banks of the Dordogne, the ancient auberge (no one knows exactly how old it is) has 15 spacious rooms and a superb restaurant. In fact, chef Régis Ongaro owns the hotel -- it's been in his family for four generations. The same attention that gets showered on the food is apparent in the hotel's service: Guests' comfort is clearly a priority. There's nothing particularly hip about the decor, which includes gold-toned fabrics and regional antiques, but the soothing atmosphere is a perfect counterpoint to the buzz just outside. The medieval town butts up against -- and parts of it are carved into -- a cliff in a bend of the river, and its beauty draws crowds in high season. If you're searching for solitude, hunker down in the hotel's sitting room. The windows and high ceilings let in lots of light, and the hunting-lodge decor will help you forget the 21st century. Le Bourg, 011-33/5-53-29-51-44,sarlat-tourisme.com (click on "Hotels and guest houses"; then check off "Village" and "Logis de France," and click "Search"), $111, half pension (for stays longer than three nights) is $230 for two; dinner starts at $38 (reserve a week in advance).
Philippe Latreille's great-great-grandmother used to run a ferry from the landing just down the street from this old stone house, steering the wooden boat across the river herself. Once the bridge was built, the ferry service folded, and she had to come up with another way to feed the family. For the first 100 years of its existence, La Treille was simply a restaurant; the hotel opened in 1960. While the restaurant is still the main attraction -- Latreille is a well-known chef -- the hotel is a worthwhile value. Several of the seven rooms in the main building look out onto a garden; two face the road (one of the main routes to Sarlat, it can get clogged during high season; fortunately, traffic disappears by evening). An annex is home to a few family-size rooms. The hotel's name, by the way, refers not only to the owners, but also to the century-old grape arbor (treille) on the restaurant's terrace. Philippe Latreille offers on-site cooking classes to small groups, except in July and August; the hotel is open all year. Le Port, 011-33/5-53-28-33-19, latreille-perigord.com, $77--$121, half pension is from $201 for two people.
Domaine de la Rhue
After raising sheep for 15 years, Eric Jooris wanted a change. So he transformed the 19th-century stables on the family property into a beautiful country inn. The beams that used to separate the horse stalls have been incorporated into the spacious lobby, and the latticed ceiling support is exposed on the upper floor. That said, you won't be sleeping on straw. The hotel was completed 18 years ago, but you'd never know from looking at the rooms, which are spotless, with an uncluttered, elegant look. The generosity of space is rare in French lodgings: Ceilings are high, and windows are plentiful. The view adds to the effect -- aside from the enormous manor house out back (that's where Jooris's parents live), all you see are vast fields and open countryside. A hiking trail leads to the chapels and churches of Rocamadour, a spectacular medieval pilgrimage site carved into a cliff. If you don't feel like walking, you can drive there in a matter of minutes. 011-33/5-65-33-71-50, domainedelarhue.com, $111--$214. E-mail to a friend
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