SARLAT-la-Canéda is possibly one of the prettiest places I've visited - a warren of winding, cobbled streets dating from both medieval and Renaissance times, with honey-coloured buildings that glow in the sunlight.

Located in the Perigord Noir in the south west of France, a few kilometres north of the River Dordogne, this old town has a cathedral, quaint courtyards and fairytale buildings boasting turrets, arched windows and imposing doorways.

We chose this as our destination after seeing a friend's holiday snaps from the region and deciding we wanted the same experience of rural France with its slow-paced, rustic charm.

We hadn't banked on it being more than 800km from York, however, with a daunting 14-hour drive (without breaks or hold-ups) down the length of Britain and much of France.

After analysing the travel options, we chose P&O's overnight Hull to Zeebrugge cruise crossing for a more relaxing start and end to our trip and to reduce the overall time behind the wheel.

With Hull port just an hour from home we set off after work on Friday, armed with a picnic dinner which we enjoyed on deck as East Yorkshire's skyline disappeared into the horizon.

We passed the time watching a children's show, admiring the sunset and playing games in the piano bar before retiring to our seaview, four-berth cabin for the night. Then, after an early breakfast on board, we felt ready to brave the roadtrip.

Our drive south was congestion and trouble-free, with interval stops to break the journey which ultimately took almost ten hours. With snacks and DVDs on tap for our sons, aged eight and ten, my husband and I were able to navigate the roads and tolls in relative peace, arriving by 8pm.

Our base was a small, friendly, French-owned campsite, with pitches sheltered from the sun beneath a canopy of trees, and the evening air filled with the sound of chattering cicadas.

It was easy to fill our days after a leisurely breakfast with fresh croissants from the site shop, and then a short drive to one of the many attractions within a 15km radius, before a swim in the outdoor pool to end each day.

We were staying just 6km from Sarlat, and were drawn to the bustling town several times during our fortnight break to soak up the architecture and street cafe culture, and potter among the quirky shops and delicatessens selling the region's specialities, such as foie gras, truffles, walnuts and nougat.

Our ambles took as through the main square, the pedestrianised Place de la Liberté - the perfect spot for people watching, to the Place du Marché des Oies, the old goose market with a much photographed statue of geese.

In the centre is the 14th century church of Sainte-Marie, recently restored by one of France's top architects Jean Nouvel, the interior now converted into an elegant covered market, with a panoramic lift rising up through the bell tower to give panoramic views.

Market days in Sarlat are on Saturday and Wednesday when almost every thoroughfare is teeming with stalls, selling everything from local produce to wicker bags and handmade jewellery.

Beyond Sarlat we were spoilt for choice, the region rich in history and visitor attractions.

An unmissable day out was a visit to the 12th century, cliff top Chateau de Castelnaud which boasts a large collection of weapons including three full-size models of trebuchets, copies of medieval war machines and various animations of medieval life.

The biggest draw for me, however, was the breathtaking views of the surrounding, lush countryside, and the neighbouring, historical rival of Chateau de Beynac.

This second, medieval chateau is also not to be missed, poised high above the pretty riverside village of Beynac, which is featured in the film Chocolat with Juliette Binoche, with panoramic views at every turn.

Another favourite destination was the picture postcard village of La Roque Gageac beside the Dordogne, with its cluster of stone houses huddled beneath the rock-face and tropical plantlife found among the narrow streets. A troglodyte fort is set in the cliffs 40 metres above the village, with significant vestiges of the 12th century construction still visible.

For history enthusiasts, there are also plenty of caves to head to, including La Roque Sainte-Christophe, a limestone cliff 90 metres above the ground and more than a mile long, overlooking the River Vézère. The rock shelter consists of five levels of cavities hollowed out by the river some 60 million years ago and become home to different communities from the Paleolithic era until the late 16th century.

But the undisputed highlight of our holiday was a day drifting down the Dordogne River in a canoe in glorious sunshine. We splashed out - it was about £55 for two adults and two children to do a 16km stretch (different distances were offered) - but it took most of the day, making it seem good value.

Numerous canoe hire companies ply their trade here, providing lifejackets and watertight containers for food and spare clothes for those who want to picnic or paddle at the various beach-style resting spots. We spent several hours gently rowing downstream, passing beneath five arched bridges and past the Chateaux of Beynac and Castelnaud.

We reluctantly reached our final stop, vowing to return and do it all again as a coach took us back to our car. It was the perfect end to an idyllic holiday.

York Press: Nadia Jefferson-Brown and her family travelled in a four-berth, seaview cabin courtesy of P&O Ferries on the overnight Hull to Zeebrugge cruise. For details and to book visit