After we enjoyed discovering Larressingle with our friends, we explored a few nearby corners of this region.
The Gers is a department in southwest France, between Toulouse and the Pyrénées.
This is the region known historically as Gascony. Both the French and English kings claimed this territory, and their rivalry was an important cause of the Hundred Years War in the 14th and 15th centuries. Today, the Gers is known for rolling countryside, agriculture, quiet roads, hill villages, foie gras, Armagnac, not too many people, and a good quality of life. The roads and villages are very tidy — signs of affluence — and the festivals plenty.
The village of Fourcès
I’m sorry our photos didn’t turn out well from our late-afternoon visit. This picturesque village is known for its wooded-park central square, which is really a central circle. Up until the 15th century, the chateau of the Lords of Fourcès occupied the center of the village. The king, Charles VII, ordered the destruction of the chateau because the local lords sided with the English. Successor lords, loyal to the kings of France, constructed the new Renaissance-style chateau at the periphery of the village. The void from the demolished medieval chateau gives Fourcès today a lovely wooded village center.
We strolled just outside the main circle of village houses. It was a warm summer afternoon. The green bucolic countryside flowed right up to the old houses.
The town of Condom and its summer festival. The mayor of Larressingle had invited our friends to bring their Medieval presentations to his fortress village. After a day in the garb of the chevalier and his lady, our friends invited us to the weekly town festival in nearby Condom.
(OK, if you are channeling your inner teenage boy, you are distracted by the name of the town. In French, it sounds more like, well, it is hard to express if not in French. Think how a French person says “France,” like Fraaaance. Use the “aaaan” and you get “C-aaaan-d-aaaan” and you’re almost there. By the way, it turns out that no one knows where the word “condom” comes from, but certainly not from this town in the Gers.)
The mayor was going to be at the festival, and he wanted to enjoy the evening with our friends (who brought us along). We found the town square full of people, with great long tables and many many food vendors. This was just an ordinary summer Tuesday evening, and the festival happens every summer Tuesday. Still, it was packed with people and full of life.
(We wondered why Carcassonne, a much larger town, can’t host a weekly food, wine and conviviality festival during the summer.)
From the vendors, we enjoyed bottles of local rosé, pâté and sausages on bread, grilled veal, and frîtes (fries). I volunteered to get the frîtes. I had to buy a ticket, and then wait in a short line for the fresh frîtes. The frîte man at the stall dumped fresh batches into an aluminum tray. Then to serve them, with his two hands together, he grabbed big piles of fresh hot frîtes. Without a wince. I asked him how he did that. He just smiled, shrugged, and said it was necessary. I think he had killed all the nerve endings in his hands. Nonetheless, the frîtes were delicious!
After a while, the mayor excused himself. He needed to go back to Larressingle to meet with people who were proposing new and improved lighting for the village fortress.
Dusk was falling (at about 10 pm). Our friends wanted to show us the side of the impressive town church. In the plaza at the side, we found a large sculpture of the Four Musketeers. The Condom area was the birthplace of the real D’Artagnan, arguably the most famous of the Four.
That evening, we stayed at a lovely Bed & Breakfast called Les Bruhasses. The 18th-century manor house sits in a tranquil park of lawns and deciduous trees.
Just inside the front door, we found a gracious staircase up to the level of the rooms.
The best part was the hospitality of the owners and hosts, Hélène and Jean. The morning of our stay was briefly rainy so our hosts served breakfast in the main room of the B&B. At the big common table with us were a group of Italians (a French-language teacher among them), one gay and two straight French couples of a certain age. The Italians were self-contained, but the rest of us jumped into B&B breakfast chatting. All were amazed that the Americans could speak some French. And then they asked the dreaded question: “What do you think of Trump?” There went the relaxing holiday! Nonetheless, the conversation was light and good natured, despite the gloom of the subject.
As we were finishing breakfast, our host, Hélène offered to help us with recommendations about what to visit today. But first she launched into the same Trump topic. She explained that she was from this region. Her husband is Québecois. They had lived for about 20 years in New Hampshire before returning to the Gers, buying this property, renovating it, and opening the B&B. While French and Canadian, they both feel great affection for the US. What is going on in the US pains them both deeply. She said that she watches Steven Colbert and his ilk daily to find some humor in it all. They may run a splendid B&B in southwest France, but the political tribulations of the US obsess them still. We concur.
She recommended that we visit the Abbaye de Flaran and the town of Lectoure.
We found the Abbaye de Flaran in the rolling green countryside.
This Cistercian abbey was founded in 1151, and is one of the best preserved abbeys in the south-west of France. It was sold off during the French Revolution, and was almost demolished after the First World War. Happily the Department of the Gers bought the site in the 1980s, and undertook the major renovation that we enjoyed today.
Hélène had said that the Abbaye de Flaran, in addition to being a notable historic site, was also the home to interesting art exhibitions. We’ve visited a few churches and abbeys recently that host art exhibits. We like the fact that temples of religion have evolved into temples of art and culture. Walking around inside an empty historic monument can be interesting in itself; however, the added layer of exhibited art brings the history into the present.
Hélène had explained that a British art collector, Simon Simonow, had lent many notable works from his collection to the abbey. There are works by Picasso, Braques, Cézanne, and Corot (if I recall correctly). We sought out this collection, which fills the upper-level former monks’ dormitory. At first, we found a rustic hall full of old portraits and landscapes by artists whom we did not recognize. Then we discovered side rooms, which in turn had tiny roped-off alcoves. In each alcove was a small painting by a famous 19th or 20th century artist. No works we recognized, but by notable artists nonetheless.
The formal garden behind the abbey was spare but spacious.
The vegetable-garden parterre needed a bit more care, but was picturesque anyway.
The views back to the architectural forms of the abbey.
Even the parking lot was attractive.
Hélène had recommended the town of Lectoure in response to our looking for brocantes (like flea markets) and antiquaires (antiques dealers). The old chateau of the Counts of Armagnac, from the 15th century, had evolved into a hospital, and now, Le Village de Brocanteurs, a center for brocantes and antiquaires. We found a grand building overflowing with, well, everything. We didn’t find anything we wanted to take home with us, but we had a good time.
The best moment in Lectoure was during our walk through the narrow town streets after the brocante visit. Between the old houses, we glimpsed the undulating green countryside…
…and the luminous sky.
PS: OK, maybe it is a little like this.
|1||Map of Gers||https://www.l-itineraire.com/departement-gers|
|2||Photos of Fourcès||https://www.camping-lacsdecourtes.com|
|5||Abbaye de Flaran||http://www.patrimoine-musees-gers.fr/le-reseau/abbaye-de-flaran/|
|7||Photos of Le Village de Brocaneurs, Lectoure||https://www.communes.com/photo-lectoure,283772|