We plan to travel almost three weeks in France from September 11 plus four days in Spain before joining a cruise out of Barcelona. We have previously been to Paris and plan to bypass or transit through Paris, going straight to Chartres for three nights to get over the jet-lag. Then by rental car through the Loire Valley, the Dordogne Region and perhaps a night at Carcassone before a four-night spell in Collioure just before we cross the border.
We have booked Chartres, Collioure and Spain (Montserrat and Barcelona), but haven't homed in on places to stay in the Loire or Dordogne. That leaves about twelve days from Chartres to Collioure. We aren't sure how many chateaux we'll be able to handle in the Loire, and we definitely want to visit Lasceaux, including the early line-up for a "real" cave. Our preference is to stay close to a town square with access to local bakeries, cafes and cultural sites, and spend four or five days to explore the area before moving on. We don't have to see everything, just to experience the place or the region to the extent time allows.
So I have two requests:
1. Recommended walkable towns to stay at in the Loire and Dordogne, and
2. Rental car wisdom (a drop-off location in Spain for a car rented in France seems to add about $600 or 700 dollars extra, if you can book it.)