Classic Gascony Adventure
July 21st – July 31st , 10 nights, 11 days
Gascony is situated halfway between the Dordogne River valley and the Pyrénées Mountains, on the same latitude as the Italian Riviera. It’s a region full of stone bridges, half-forgotten abbeys, hilltop villages and ancient traditions. Gascon natives are garrulous, sociable and charitable, with a reputation for carefree bravado and a belief that it is profoundly acceptable to eat and drink richly everyday. The heart of this terrain lies in the Gers départment, the radial point of our adventures, where white clouds languish in blue skies above rows of vines that stretch to the horizon. This is the land of plenty, the least industrialized, most rural area in France; an agricultural Eden of wheat, corn, grains, grapes and sunflowers that produce an earthy gastronomy. There is no typical French haute cuisine in this heartland, only abundance as evidenced in the cornucopia of heirloom vegetables, aromatic cheeses, pink garlic, wild mushrooms, succulent melons, duck confit, and foie gras. And, because this landscape is relatively unknown except to insiders, it’s not an area overrun by tourists.
Following your arrival at Blagnac Airport in Toulouse I will drive to your accommodations in the Gers. Once settled, a Pousse Rapière welcome and a light dinner will be provided for you in the early evening. Pousse Rapière (push the raper) is the signature aperitif of Gascony. It is an orange flavored Armagnac (France’s oldest brandy) and sparkling wine cocktail that will enter your digestive tract so smoothly you won’t know how you wound up on the sofa shedding copious tears of joy.
Today we will venture into the Aquitaine region, the southern edge of the Lot-et-Garonne départment, to the utterly charming village of Nerac which lies on both sides of the Baïse River. The saturday market here draws people from near and far. Nerac was the home of King Henri IV of France of the Albret dynasty. The remains of his impressive chateau are a museum located in the center of the village, surrounded by beautiful examples of colombage, regionally distinct, half-timbered, buildings. Arriving early, we will sample delicious pastries and coffee on the corner terrace of the best patisserie in town, then either set off on a leisurely stroll through the market stalls or cross the river to the Parc Royal de la Garenne, once a royal hunting ground and the inspirational setting for Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labours Lost.”
For adventurous early risers, we will go to a vide-grenier or two (French country antique & flea market). Alternatively, there will be the opportunity to stay at your hotel, to rest poolside and enjoy the morning sun, stroll the village, wander the surrounding countryside or simply read to your heart’s content. After lunch we will enjoy local dégustations (wine tastings).
After an early Monday morning breakfast we will drive to the village of Samatan, forty minutes southwest of the city of Toulouse. We will enjoy this large farmer’s market, then head to Toulouse for lunch in the core of the historic center. In the afternoon we might choose to participate in a natural-blue pigment (woad) dyeing workshop, beginning with a talk from clothes designer, Annette Hardoin, followed by instructions on dyeing textiles. Everything you will need to tint textiles in this ancient tradition is provided for you.
In the morning we will gather together for a leisurely drive to the tiny hilltop village of Clermont-Dessous in the Lot-et-Garrone départment where we’ll have a lunch before we continue our adventure to the village of Le Temple sur Lot and the gardens of Latour-Marliac. Latour-Marliac is one of the oldest waterlily nurseries in the world. In 1889, at the Paris Universal Exhibition, the beauty of these unique flowers caught the eye of Claude Monet, who afterward enlisted the help of Monsieur Latour-Marliac in designing his now famous gardens at Giverny. Monet’s stunning waterlily impressions are housed at the Musée de l’Orangerie in the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris. We will tour the gardens of Latour-Marliac and enjoy tea or coffee on their patio overlooking their beautifully landscaped lake.
Barbotan-lesThermes dates back to ancient Roman times when it was known for its healing mineral and mud baths, which exist today in more modern surroundings. Visitors walk the long promenade of Barbotan-les-Thermes during the colorful Wednesday market. Here one can taste delicious samples of Basque cheeses, Armagnac-soaked prunes and succulent melons. We will drink coffee and nibble delicate amuses bouches (appetizers), on the secluded patio of the 5 star La Bastide Hotel & Spa, then wander down into the throng for a delicious country meal of confit de canard, Toulouse sausage or fresh Arcachon Bay oysters.
Éauze is the capital of the Armagnac region and offers one of the liveliest and biggest agricultural markets in the Gers. The market takes place along the ring of the old town under the plane-tree canopied, Place d’Armagnac. The only ancient Roman treasure in France preserved in its entirety – gold coins, jewelry and statues – is housed at the Musée de Archéologie across from the Hotel de Ville. We will wander through the market and sit under the shade of umbrellas just outside the Cathedral St. Luperc in the village square. Our lunch will be served on the intimate terrace of the Henri IV Restaurant. After dining we will enjoy an historic walking tour of the village given by the Éauze Tourism Office, then decide where we’ll go next, giving serendipity free reign.
Once the capital of the Gers, the village of Lectoure has a patrician air about it, visible in the old grandeur of its lovely stone buildings. Once inhabited by the Counts of Armagnac, the hilltop village of Lectoure has a wonderful farmers’ market. Lectoure is known for growing one-third of all of the garlic in France and the sweetest-tasting cantaloupe melons in the area. We will tour the recently redesigned Musée Lapidaire and view an unusual collection of Gallo-Roman tauroboles (funeral monuments in the form of altars decorated with bulls’ heads) dedicated the to the Goddess of Asia, Cybele. We will have lunch at the Atelier Gourmand restaurant, then ogle the hundreds of antiques on display the Village des Brocanteurs, stopping on the way to sample handmade chocolates at Maison Baudequin.
Named after Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoléon III, the tranquil village of Eugénie-les-Bains is France’s top slimming village and thermal spa known for its cuisine minceur (weight loss cuisine) and luxury beauty treatments. A gourmet lunch will be prepared for you at Les Prés d’Eugénie, the inspiration of Michelin renowned chef, Michel Guérard, in one of many beautiful garden settings. On our return we might stop at Domaine de Saoubis, the only biologique, organic Armagnac distillery in the area.
We will cross into the Landes départment to meander through the tiny lanes and hidden gardens of the autrefois (of another time) village of Labastide d’Armagnac. This bastide (walled village) has changed very little since it was established in 1291. It was King Henri IV’s inspiration for the Place des Vosges in Paris, thus its central square of exquisite proportions is sure to please the eye. We will have lunch here under the shaded arcade surrounding the village square.
After our last breakfast together we will depart for Blagnac airport in Toulouse.