Larressingle: The Little Carcassonne of the Gers

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The mayor of the village of Larressingle invited our friends, Valérie Michel and Jean-François Vassal, to animate its medieval fortress.

Larressingle is a village of about 200 inhabitants in the department of the Gers, which is about a 2-hour drive west of our home.

Larressingle is known as the Little Carcassonne of the Gers because it is the smallest fortified village in France, while Carcassonne is home to the largest fortified Cité in the country. We wanted to visit this little fortress and support our friends’ work there.

Valérie and Jean-François’ business, Centre d’Histoire Vivante Médiévale / Institut Linguistique de Carcassonne (or ILC for short), brings to life the medieval world of Carcassonne and the region. Whenever you are here, you must take one of their tours of La Cité de Carcassonne; all our guests have been delighted!

The current mayor is an energetic champion of his village and its patrimony. He had visited Carcassonne and seen what Jean-François and Valérie do and know, and he wanted to bring that engagement to Larressingle. ILC organized a week of demonstrations and interactive events.

Meet with a chevalier (knight) and his lady from 5 to 9 August.
The Chivalrous Arts, and medieval daily life
Fourteenth Century weekend, 10 – 11 August
The art of the hunt, spinning yarn, making coins, carving stone, wielding of the lance and sword

But first, Larressingle. You can see from this aerial view the little fortress amid the rolling countryside of the Gers.

Source: Comité régional du Tourisme Midi Pyrénées

The village itself, just outside the walls of the fortress, is quaint and sleepy. Charming houses, all just a step away from the green countryside.

The fortress is so small that it takes only a few minutes to walk around its walls. The path above the dry moat looks into the residences within the stone walls, and out to the relaxed countryside.

The main entrance to the fortress is via a stone bridge over the dry moat.

Not all beings are welcome!

(No horses allowed)

In the middle of the fortress rise the church and the shell of the old bishop’s residence. We were told that there are plans to renovate the residence to house a high-end restaurant and inn. We can only hope!

The circuit between the fortress walls and the church:

A bit of history: While a simple church was established in this place at the start of the 11th century, a fortified replacement wasn’t built until the next century. Because of the wars between England and France in this region in the 13th century, the local abbots built the fortress that we see today. In the 17th century, the fortress and church were abandoned in favor of more modern accommodations nearby in the region. At the end of the 18th century, the last bishop of the region pulled out all the wooden roof and structural members for reuse in his current abbey.

In 1920, Larressingle’s American-supported renaissance began. At that time, only three houses in the fortress were inhabited. Le Duc de Trévise, Edouard Mortier, decided that dilapidated Larressingle warranted resuscitation. The Duke first turned to the French people to raise money to reconstruct the village, but was unsuccessful. France was still recovering from WWI. His second approach was to tour the United States, giving lectures about French heritage. He intrigued two Boston women and in 1926 they helped form the “Boston Committee for Larressingle.’’ Mortier used the money raised to purchase 14 houses in the village. By the 1950s the houses were sold to people who promised to maintain them in a proper state.

Across from the main gate to the fortress, a single-room stone boutique sells Armagnac. Armagnac is a brandy made from specific local grapes in this region. Just as Cognac is made in the region of Cognac (north of here), Armagnac is made in Armagnac! A gregarious woman of a certain age animated the boutique. Good sales-person that she was (perhaps even the owner), she extolled the virtues and uniqueness of Armagnac, and hers in particular. Best sales technique is a tasting. First sample was a recent vintage: powerful, aromatic and sharp. Then an older vintage: deeper and smoother. And an even older vintage: OK, we’re hooked. We selected a 1990 vintage, which was actually in the middle of the range of vintages available, and rather reasonably priced. We were tasting on a warm summer day. Armagnac calls out for a cozy winter night in front of a crackling fire. We will set it aside for a few months.

Back to medieval demonstrations:

Jean-François and Valérie had an interesting observation about the visitors to Larressingle compared with those to La Cité de Carcassonne. At Carcassonne, while around two million people visit each year, Jean-François and Valérie’s experience is that the majority come just because it is one of those places that you’ve got to see; most aren’t that interested in its real history. On the other hand, the many fewer people who seek out Larressingle are knowledgeable and inquisitive. They are much more fun to spend time with.

We hope that that includes us.

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