Gascony & Le Gers
Loosely speaking, just West of Toulouse, in the department of Le Gers, you will find Gascony (French: Gascogne), an area that ceased to be officially recognised after the revolution of 1789. It now forms part of La Région Occitanie (previously known as Midi- Pyrénées, which you will still see on many road signs). Home of the musketeer D’Artagnan, as well as Cyrano de Bergerac, the people of Gascony are proud, individualistic souls who see themselves as very separate from the rest of France.
Sometimes referred to as ‘the Tuscany of France’ or ‘the real South of France’ Gascony is an area renowned for sumptuous food and drink – duck, goose, foie gras, cassoulet, sanglier (wild boar) and chevreuil (roe deer/venison) as well as award and medal winning wines such as Madiran, St. Mont, Tariquet and Pellehaut, the aperitif Floc de Gascogne and the mighty digestif that is Armagnac.
Here at Maison Lamothe we are in the heart of the wine region of Brulhois; a very small and exclusive AOC region which exports most of its produce. But look out for these special wines in the area – especially Le Vin Noir. All of these wines are highly respected amongst oenophiles (wine buffs!) Given all of that, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Gascons have the longest life spans of all French people. Perhaps this might also be down to the clarity and cleanliness of the air; some of the best available in Europe.
The Atlantic Ocean to the West has amazing beaches such as Arcachon and Biarritz (fabulous for surfing). To the South is the Basque country of Spain as well as the Pyrénées, where you can ski in the winter months or watch the Tour de France in July. This South of France remains a simple delight, with none of the bling, crowds or traffic you’ll find on the Côte d’Azur. Don’t get us wrong, we love Saint-Tropez and the Med, but there are times when you need something a little more substantial and meditative.
Nearby places of interest
A short walk or drive from us, this is our nearest village. It is on the pilgrimage route, Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, and you will very often see groups of pilgrims passing through the village. The two main items of interest here are the magnificent 13th Century Château de Flamarens and adjacent 14th Century L’Église Saint-Saturnin.
This is one of our nearest market towns, a medieval masterpiece, around 20 minutes by car. Fabulous restaurants and shops, a thriving Friday morning market, a beautiful wellness spa and a wonderful collection of brocantes and antique shops in the old hospital at the end of the town. An absolute must visit.
Just 15 minutes away is this delightful hilltop bastide dominated by the magnificent 13th Century Château de Gramont, a super example of a Gascon Castle and open to the public (a small entry fee). There are also 2 museums – one devoted to bees and honey and one all about wine.
A typical Bastide (medieval fortified town), its central square boarded by arcades and stone and half-timbered houses, which house cafés, restaurants and shops is 15 minutes by car. There is a renowned garlic festival every August. This area produces 20% of all France’s garlic. Market day is Thursday.
Toulouse is known as La Ville Rose (‘The Pink City’) because of the colour of the terracotta bricks used in many of its buildings. Its 17th Century Canal du Midi links the River Garonne to the Mediterranean Sea, and can be travelled by boat, bike or on foot.
It has an underground metro system and is France’s 4th largest city. The centre for French aerospace industries and HQ of Airbus, Toulouse has all the vibrancy of a fashionable metropolis with first class chic restaurants, shops, art galleries, theatres, cinemas and other tourist attractions.
We are about an hour away from the centre.
Once everyone has got past the sniggering and taken the ubiquitous photo next to the town’s sign, a must visit is La Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, recognised as one of the finest examples of 15th Century gothic architecture surviving in Europe.
This is the home of Armagnac – a Gascon version of perhaps the better-known Cognac – and tastings can be booked at Château de Cassaigne and elsewhere in and around the town. Numerous cafés, bars, and good quality restaurants to suit all budgets and tastes, make Condom a lovely place to spend a morning or afternoon – and only 40 minutes from Maison Lamothe. Market day is Wednesday.
30 minutes away, on the banks of the River Garonne, is the wonderful city of Agen, in the Lot-et-Garonne department. The fabulous art gallery, Musée des Beaux Arts, which is housed in 4 former palaces has works by Goya, Tinoret, Boudin and Sisley amongst others, on display. Agen is also the ‘capital of the prune’. Cafés serve prune purée in pastries or as a dessert, try prunes soaked in Armagnac – provided you’re not the designated driver! Market days, every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday morning.
Et incroyable ! Mais oui, c’est possible ! If you fancy a trip to France’s capital, there is a fantastic and regular TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) service which whisks you from Agen to Montparnasse, in the heart of Paris in 3 hours and 13 minutes at speeds of up to 320kmh.
Less than 15 minutes from us is this wonderful medieval village, regularly voted as one of the most beautiful in France. With its harbour area and outstanding monuments like the circular hall, the clock tower and L’Église Saint-Pierre, Auvillar is a complete delight. Farmer’s market every Sunday morning in the market hall.
Just 5 kms from Auvillar is the pleasant market town of Valence D’Agen. Market day is Tuesday morning and there’s also a long avenue shaded by trees and decorated with fountains which makes for a pleasant stroll ending up at the lively Café Le Cyrano, which buzzes at anytime of day.
Valence is on the Entre-deux-Mers canal which links Bordeaux with Toulouse. Enjoy a promenade or longer walk from the port along the canal side, or maybe take some of our bicycles (we have three and a roof rack you can borrow). The spectacular Son et Lumière which takes place annually around the end of July/beginning of August tells the story of the canal and the river.
About 30 minutes from Maison Lamothe is Moissac, on the banks of the river Tarn. Unfortunately, much of the town was destroyed by terrible floods in 1930. The main reason people visit Moissac is to see L’Abbaye Saint-Pierre (a UNESCO Heritage Site and untouched by the flooding) with its world-famous cloisters and porch. Dating from the 12th Century, it is reputed to have one of the most beautiful cloisters in the world.
There is an open square lined with cafés just in front of the abbey where you can enjoy a drink while the children try to decipher the carvings around the church doorway.
This fortified bastide town is also half an hour from Maison Lamothe. Founded in the 13th Century, it has a central square with arcades and a beautiful 19th Century covered market hall in the middle. Also worth a look is L’Église Saint-Laurent, in the Southern European gothic style, crowned by an octagonal Toulouse-type bell tower. Once inside, don’t miss the three magnificent Renaissance stained glass windows by the artist Arnaud de Moles, located in the apse. It has one of the best markets in the area every Tuesday.
This powerhouse of French wine production can be reached in around 1 hour and 40 minutes. Wine has been produced here since the 8th Century, and the historic part of the City is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. La Cité du Vin Museum has numerous exhibitions, shows, movie projections and academic seminars on wine as well as tastings – taken at the top of this exceptional modern building, and affording panoramic 360° views across Bordeaux.
But Bordeaux is also a city of elegant squares and fountains, and in particular the Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul districts are full of chic boutiques, cinemas, theatres, and restaurants. You can also enjoy a peaceful walk along the banks of the River Garonne.
This mecca of vineyards and wine production has at its centre a charming medieval village, with historic cobbled streets and is a favourite with all people that visit – even those not into wine.
But wine no doubt is the major attraction – there are lots of activities such as winery tours and tastings led by professionals, gourmet picnics and lunches in wine estates or blending lessons that will allow you to create your own wine. There are also lots of top-quality restaurants if you want food as well as wine! Market every Sunday morning. Saint-Émilion can be reached from Maison Lamothe in around 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Less than an hour away is Auch, the historic capital of Gascony. The centre piece, high up in the historic medieval town centre is 16th Century Renaissance La Cathédrale Sainte-Marie, a scaled down but similar looking sister church to Notre-Dame in Paris. Scattered around the busy square at the front of the cathedral are lots of attractive restaurants, bars, and shops. And don’t miss the statue of favourite son and musketeer, D’Artagnan, on L’Escalier Monumental at the back of the cathedral which has super views across the River Gers and surrounding countryside. Markets every Thursday and Saturday.
Dating from the 13th Century, this picture postcard bastide is sometimes referred to as ‘la petite Carcassonne’, after the hilltop town in southern France’s Languedoc area, famous for its medieval citadel, La Cité. Surrounded by vines and rolling countryside, one of the best views is from the restaurant, Auberge de Larresingle, which affords panoramic views from its terrace.
Inside the fortified walls, this medieval village is largely intact. In summer months, many of the houses double up as gift and local produce shops. Reached from Maison Lamothe in around 50 minutes it can easily be combined with a trip to nearby Condom and Fourcès.
About 30 minutes away from us, La Romieu is best known for the stunning Collégiale Saint-Pierre, a 14th Century cloister with two towers; a UNESCO Heritage Site.
It is often called the “village of cats” because of the carved cats present in the heart of the village, on windows, doors, and on some doorsteps. They are the work of Maurice Serreau, a sculptor from Orléans. Touched by the story of young Angéline, an orphan from the Middle Ages, he decided to carve and offer the inhabitants statues of stone cats, so as not to forget this legend. Another great place to stop for a coffee whilst the children try and find the 14 stone cats located up and down the main street.
Stradling across the banks of the river Tarn Montauban glows pink just like its big sister Toulouse. Park on the left bank and approach the old town on foot, crossing the medieval Pont Vieux to fully appreciate the grandeur and beauty. Just ahead of you is the Musee Ingres, a 17th Century Episcopal palace which houses the work and personal possessions that the celebrated artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres left to the town of his birth. Wander through the labyrinth of winding lanes admiring the neoclassical redbrick buildings, or browsing the wide selection of shops. Another famous artistic Montauban son, sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, is represented by many of his works in the city squares. All roads lead to the Place Nationale, a fine colonnaded square with even more shops and which buzzes with café life. About 45 minutes from Maison Lamothe.
The 1 hour 15 minute drive to Cahors takes you past pretty hill top bastide towns like Lauzerte and Montcuq and through beautiful countryside and is almost a trip in itself. Arrive in Cahors and you’re in a totally different landscape of high limestone cliffs and the fast running River Lot which is forded by the fairy tale Valentré bridge, so very different to the rolling hills of the Gers. The bridge is the only bridge in the World to have three towers. Wander along the banks of the Lot, explore the wonderful produce of the indoor market and narrow shopping lanes, visit the majestic Saint-Etienne cathedral, topped by two domes. And of course do not forget Cahors is home to the world’s darkest wine, a delicious Malbec red.
A circular fortified village about 1 hour from Maison Lamothe. Enter the village over the beautiful stone bridge crossing the river Auzoue and you find yourself in the heart of Fourcès – arcades house bars, restaurants, antique and craft shops. A lovely time to visit is the end of April when the village hosts a spectacular flower festival and there is a Brocante Fair every second Sunday from May to September.
Montréal du Gers
If you visit Fourcès, you can also take in Montréal, which is only 5 minutes away. Another traditional Gascon bastide. Nearby, you can also visit he Roman Villa and Museum of Séviac. Dating from the 4th Century and having a large number of intact mosaic floors, this was once one of the most luxurious villas in the region.
Rugby & Football
We are blessed with top quality sports teams in the area. European rugby giants Toulouse and Agen, both in the French Top Quatorze, are around 40 minutes from us, as is Ligue 1 football team, Toulouse. A wonderful afternoon or evening of first-class sporting action. Allez!
To the West of us are the fabulous beaches of the Atlantic Ocean and to the South, the spectacular Pyrénées mountain range and Spain; whilst well worth the trip, all are a good two plus hours away.
Nearer to us, for those wishing to have fun and cool off at the same time, there are large themed water parks with chutes and slides at Aqualand in Agen and Lud’O Parc near Nérac. Walibi-Sud-Ouest theme park has thrills and rides galore. All of these attractions are around 30 minutes from Maison Lamothe.
And then there’s golf, horse riding, canoeing, kayaking all within easy reach. As well as having use of our own pedal bicycles, we can arrange rental and delivery of electric bikes. And for something totally different, there’s the amazing Cité de l’Espace near Toulouse, a space-experience theme park.