Le bonheur est dans le pré, happiness is in the field!
The Gers department, pronounced jerce, borders Haute Garonne to the west/north west and is home to many delightful things particular to SW France. We decided to take my parents to Condom on their visit last autumn.
I hadn’t seen much of the Gers before my sister in law left the suburbs of Toulouse and moved to the area a few years ago. I had heard that the Gers was rural and bucolic and a bit paumé, or lost. It seemed a surprising choice to some. Personally the first time I set eyes on the place I understood completely. It was perfect for the horses and I loved the amazing L shaped swimming pool that one would expect to see at the home of a Hollywood movie director, albeit with a field of sunflowers instead of the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop. My brother was equally enchanted by the place. Unfortunately during his visit late in August on a particularly hot day he sampled a plateau de fromage or plate of mostly unpasteurized cheese that is equally engrained in his memory, and not in a good way. Oh boy, lactose intolerance!
On the road to Gascony
Condom is 144 kilometres from Toulouse, an easy and pleasant drive through the rolling hills of Gascony. It is not known for condoms. The name comes from “Condato-magnus”, the gallic word meaning market at the confluence (of the Géle stream and the Baïse river).
It’s a cathedral city, was once a thriving commercial port sitting on the river Baïse, upon which the eau-de vie d’Armagnac has flowed for many years. La voie verte de l’Armagnac or Green way of Armagnac winds along the old Condom- Eauze railway. Perfect for families or anyone who has recently indulged in the local cuisine, you can bike or hike or horseback ride for 20K with little or no incline. From here there are also hiking trails leading off on the road to Santiago de Compostelle (Saint James Way). On the river you can rent canoes and kayaks.
The Saint Pierre Cathedral which dominates the town was designed at the end of the 15th century and erected from 1506 to 1531. It has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site under the Way of Saint James.
Armagnac is the oldest brandy distilled in France. In the past, it was consumed for its therapeutic benefits. We made a visit to the local cooperative for some Armagnac ‘dégustation’. Armagnac-Tenarèze is one of the three plantation areas in the region where grapes for the distillation of the Armagnac eau-de-vie are cultivated. Along with Bas-Armagnac and Haut-Armagnac,the three areas form one region where Armagnac, Côtes de Gascogne and Floc de Gascogne are produced.
There is a museum of Armagnac behind the cathedral.
After a lovely day meandering around Condom we checked into our lovely hotel Ferme de Flaran www.fermedeflaran , ten minutes away in Valence-sur-Baïse where we enjoyed a wonderful meal. My mum certainly benefitted therapeutically from her Baba à l’Armagnac (like a rhum baba with Armagnac). Very close by our hotel is the Abbaye de Flaran, founded in 1151 by the monks of Escaladieu and one of the best preserved Abbeys in S.W. France. The Cistercian Abbey of Flaran has earned the “Grand Site” label from the Region Occitanie and is one of the most visited places in the Gers.
La Collection Simonow – since 2003 the Abbey has housed a stunning art collection of original European masterpieces from the 16th to 20th Century. There is also a temporary gallery in the church. The Abbey and the gardens are beautiful and well worth a visit.
Before heading back to Toulouse we stopped for lunch in a lovely little village called Larressingle.
Larressingle is the smallest fortified village in France with a circumference of 270m nicknamed “little Carcassonne”. It’s also a listed Plus Beau Village de France, officially one of the prettiest villages in the country.
Daytrip to the Gers
During the first phase of deconfinement whereby we could not travel more than 100k from our homes we made a couple of day trips one of which was to the Gers. At a distance of 98k from Toulouse we found a little place called Lavardens, a quiet pretty little village. There we found a nice little hike ‘le circuit du château’. We had to picnic, which was no hardship but there is a little restaurant there which is open for business from the 2 June.
Jazz in Marciac, also located in the Gers was unfortunately cancelled along with most music festivals this year. If you visit next year it should be in full swing in August. visit Jazz in Occitanie part 2 for more info.
I hope you have enjoyed reading a weekend in the Gers…………………….follow me to keep up with me on my travels around beautiful Occitanie…………………………à bientôt Christina