Gentle countryside, market towns & fantastic cuisine - even the French say this is real France
They say that Gascons live the longest of all in France. Gascons attribute this to their daily dose of red wine, duck fat and garlic.
If you come to Gascony for your holiday, you'll soon see why it's conducive to longer living. This is a place to relax and enjoy a quieter pace of life: a rural land of lumbering rivers, gentle market towns, and rolling hills of sunflowers.
This is foie-gras-central and eating is the region's number one pastime. If you love the markets, tranquility, history and cuisine of rural France then Gascony is for you.
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Châteaux & medieval villages
Gascony is home to many ancient villages and châteaux - for ideas, see places to visit below.
This is a popular pursuit throughout south west France. Equestrian centres abound including those at Casteljaloux, Clairac and Fargues-sur-Ourbise.
The Lot and Garonne rivers are the two largest and well-stocked with carp, trout and breem. Licences are relatively inexpensive and easy to come by.
The land is relatively gentle here and cycling is very popular. The Aquitaine Tourist Office produces an excellent brochure with recommended cycle routes.
Not quite as established as on the coast, but there are good courses at Mont-de-Marsan, Castelnaud, Barbaste and Eauze.
There are spa facilities at Dax, Casteljaloux and Eugénie-les-Bains
The Baïse, Garonne and Lot rivers offer some wonderful barge excursions and river cruises.
The major wine-producing areas are found to the north of the Gascony,nearer Bordeaux. No area of Aquitaine is without its regional liquor though and in Gascony, armagnac is the lifeblood. It's reckoned to be less refined than cognac but it wouldn't be wise to say so when you're here. The Pays d'Armagnac is roughly defined as the triangle between Condom, Auch and Eauze.
Between Pau and Auch, the Marciac jazz festival is held each August and attracts visitors from around the world.
Châteaux, medieval villages & architectural sites
Fortified 'new' towns built in the 13 or 14th centuries around a central square and are highly geometrical in design. Bastides are plentiful in Gascony - examples include Larrisengle, Labastide d'Armagnac, Vianne,Villeneuve-sur-Lot, Laparade, Monpazier, Penne d'Agenais, Villeréal, Marciac, Castillonès and Monflanquin.
Cathedrals & abbeys
Bazas and Auch ("oash") both have exceptional examples. The cathedral of Bazas dates from the 13th century and is lined on either side with some fine 16th & 17th centuryhouses. The Place de Cathédrale and its sidestreets are also a very pleasant place to eat out. Auch's 14th century cathedral is famed for its stained glass and choir walls, the latter rated one of the finest surviving in the world today. The 12th century Abbaye de Flaran near Valence-sur-Baïse is a remarkable Cistercian abbey and an important cultural icon.
Roquetaillade and Cazeneuve are both near Bazas and two of the finest in Gascony. Also try Bonaguil near Fumel. The 13th century bastide village of Larrisengle is worth a visit for its amazingly neat fort. The Moulin de Henri IV is another monument to France's favourite king (a womanising, wildlife-shooting, garlic-loving Gascon who liked to roam his land on horse-back and who put an end to the country's religious wars). The fortified mill has the appearance of a castle and dates to the 13th century.
At Seviac near Montréal, the ruins of a 5thC Roman villa have been discovered. To date, over 30 mosaic pavements and a swimming pool have been unearthed.
The town itself is nothing special but the Musée des Beaux Arts de Agen certainly is. The Fine Arts Museum is comprised of 16th & 17th century mansions and includes some fine archaelogical pieces. The other reason for coming here is prunes! Agen is the prune captial of Europe!
Delightfully situated on the River Baïse, this historic town is noted for its Henri IV château. More rewarding however, is a stroll along the lanes of the old town, Petit Nérac, and in the park La Garenne.
A charming bastide between Condom and Agen, famed for its cats no less! There are 15 stone cats to be found in the town, and which hail from the ancient legend of Angéline, the Cat Woman. For she and her beloved cats saved the village from disaster when rats, mice and birds threaten to over-run La Romieu and plunge it into famine. There are other cat theories of course but his one seems to have stuck! Feline friends aside, the village is a delight, not least its 14th centurycollegiate chapel.
Literally meaning "jealous town", Casteljaloux maintains some of its medieval charm. It's quite an active town with its leisure lake, golf course and equestrian centre. There's also a new thermal spa centre.
The most popular spa in France. In truth this is the principal reason for coming to Dax although the town has an impressive 11thC Cathédrale Notre-Dame, Musée de Borda (archaeological museum) and there are pleasant walks along the Adour.
Mont de Marsan
A major commercial centre of Gascony which has an excellent market every Tuesday and Saturday morning. In the summer, Mont-de-Marsan hosts a big festival with bull-fighting and courses landaises events. There are a couple of museums and a pleasant park.
Another spa town today more famous for its Michel Guérard Restaurant and hotel. This Michelin 3 Star eatery requires a bit of pre-planning if you want to reserve a table.
The gentle Chalosse countryside follows the Adour river through some splendidly sleepy, ancient towns such as Grenade-sur-l'Adour, Aire-sur-l'Adour, St Sever and Mugron. This is ideal territory for cycling, visiting markets and indulging in local delicacies such as foie gras, armagnac and prunes.
Jolly bad luck if you're a duck and you live in Gascony. There are many ways in which you can be consumed. The same can be said for your cousin, the goose.
Foie gras, magrets (grilled breast meat served with a light cream sauce, garlic and parsley) and confits (cook the leftover bits, put them back in the duck fat and re-heat) are three traditional methods of serving up a duck or goose. The gizzards are not to be wasted either. We know that doesn't sound particularly attractive, but the gésiers which make up a salade landaise are a wonderful delicacy.
Gascon cuisine relies heavily on meat - this is rural France after all - and so it can be a difficult place to eat out if you're a vegetarian; apart from asparagus (fresh and delicious) there isn't much on offer.
Game birds are also revered in Gascon kitchens - bécassier (woodcock), palombe (wood pigeon) and ortolan (bunting) will occasionally crop-up on menus in many an auberge. The birds can be cooked, as you would imagine, in a startling variety of ways, a Gascon favourite being to roast and flambée them in armagnac. Obviously.
If all of this sounds rather rich and unhealthy, you might be surprised to learn that heart disease in Gascony is half the rate it is in the USA and it is no suprise to see a nonagerian Gascon.
Wine & Armagnac
When you're in Gascony you're never far from a prune - and there's not many places in the world you can say that. You'll see them in all manner of dishes but not in the way that all British children loathe. French prunes are delicious, none more so than when dipped in chocolate or flambéed in armagnac. But don't forget that in French, "prune" means plum! Try "pruneau" instead.
Gascony's mild climate has assured its wine-growing status since Roman times. Madiran and Tursan are both earthy reds - the latter is said to be the most tannic wine in France. Armagnac, as you may already have gathered, is the regional digéstif plus there's Floc de Gascogne, a sherry-like apéritif which comes in white and red varieties.
Follow this link to find out some more about Food and drink of Gascony
OFFICES DE TOURISME:
Auch - Bazas - Casteljaloux - Condom - Dax - La Romieu - Marciac - Monflanquin - Mont-de-Marsan - Nérac - Penne d'Agenais - Villeneuve-sur-Lot - Landes - Lot-et-Garonne - Pays d'Albret - Gers - Chalosse
ACTIVITIES & VISITS:
Thermal Spa at Casteljaloux - Marciac Jazz Festival - Mont-de-Marsan Golf Course - Musuem of Fine Arts in Agen
FOOD AND DRINK:
Gascony Food and Drink - Guide to Wines of the South West - Michel Guerard Restaurant-Spa -
Guide to Jurançon Vineyards