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Away from the crowds, Gascony is an area of France renowned for its gentle landscapes, its slow pace of life, and its good food.
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Gascony ! Like Provence and the Dordogne, Gascony is a name that is laden with bucolic symbolism, one of those regions of southern France whose name evokes images of warmth and sunshine, and a traditional rural way of life far removed from the hassle and stress of modern city living.
The name sounds similar to Tuscany, and indeed the two regions, one in France, the other in Italy, lie at much the same latitude. But Tuscany is more Mediterranean and drier, Gascony is gentler and more rural.
The big problem with Gascony is that it no longer exists on the map of modern France. It is not a clearly defined entity, but an area whose borders and territories have changed over time. In today's France, Gascony is neither a region nor a department, and actually spreads over two regions.
It's fairly clear where the heart of Gascony is located; it's more or less the modern-day French departments of the Gers, the Landes and the Hautes Pyrénées. To the west, it is bordered by the Atlantic ocean, and to the south by the Pyrenees and Spanish border. But not all of the western Pyrenees are considered to be part of Gascony. The Basque Country is not considered to be part of Gascony, even if the words Basque and Gascon both derive from the same etymological root.
Village of Fourcès, in the GersIt is the northern extent of Gascony that has varied most over time. Even in the middle ages, when there was a Duchy of Gascony, its northern borders fluctuated. At times the great city of Bordeaux was included, at other times not. In the 12th century, Gascony almost reached to the gates of the city of Toulouse; but in spite of being the capital of the modern-day region that encompasses the larger part of what is nowadays considered to be Gascony, Toulouse is not, and never has been, included in the area.
So while on the modern map there is no such area as Gascony, the name is increasingly used in the language of tourism and culture, to designate the southwest corner of France between the Atlantic, the Spanish border, and the valley of the Garonne - excluding the Basque country in the extreme southwest. This more or less corresponds to the corner of France in which, less than two hundred years ago, most of the people still spoke the distinctive Gascon dialect of Languedocian French.
In administrative terms, the land that was once Gascony is divided between two historic regions, Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrenees , now called Nouvelle Aquitaine and Occitanie following the reorganisation of French regions that took place in 2016.
Gourmet GasconyFor foodies, Gascony is well known as one of the great gourmet regions of France.
Its most famous product is undoubtedly Armagnac, the local brandy, which is known worldwide as a serious competitor to Cognac (which comes from a bit further north). Gascony also produces some fine wines such as Côtes-de-Gascogne, Madiran, or the very distinctive Pacherenc-du-Vic-Bilh.
As for its cuisine, Gascony is noted for its poultry, and produces some of the best free-range poultry in France. It is also famed for its patés, notably duck paté de foie gras. A popular Gascon speciality in restaurants is croustade, which is can either be a meat or meat and vegetable pie, or an apple pie
And to dispel the myth that Gascony is an area whose agriculture remains rooted in the past , Gascony also grows a third of all the popcorn produced in Europe.
If Gascony is taken to include all the area up to the Gironde estuary, then it also takes in some of the finest vineyards in France, those of the Médoc which include the most prestigious of Grand Cru clarets.
Reaching Gascony :By train from Paris Gare de Montparnasse, viia Bordeaux and/or Toulouse
By car from the UK: via Orleans, then either the A10 motorway to Bordeaux, or the A71 > A20 motorways to Toulouse.
By plane: Toulouse and Bordeaux airports, and in particular Toulouse, are served by direct flights from the UK and many other parts of Europe. There are also flights to Pau
Main tourist attractions in Gascony
Gers and east
- Auch :
the departmental capital of the Gers sees itself as the capital of
Gascony. The top sites include the 16th century Sainte-Marie
cathedral , which has a fine organ and early 16th
stained-glass windows. Next to it stands the Tour d'Armagnac
14th-century prison, and a statue of "d'Artagnan ", the famous but
fictitious leader of the Three Musketeers. A monumental stairway leads
up to the Cathedral from the banks of the Gers and the lower town.
The tourist office is housed in a particularly fine 15th century half-timbered building.
The Musée des Jacobins contains a fine collection of South-American pre-Columban art
- Larresingle A
small fortified village near Condom. Just outside the village, from
March to November, there is a outdoor hands-on medieval siege-machines
Nearby the medieval Pont d'Artigue has for centuries carried pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostella over the river Osse.
delightful small bastide
town, founded in 1255. Surrounded by
Nearby are the remains of the Gallo-Roman villa of Seviac, with some impressive and extensive mosaics.
- The Armagnac area. Famous for its wines and spirits, the Armagnac area lies mostly in the southwest of the Gers..
- Condom : Historic small town with a 16th century late gothic cathedral, and an Armagnac museum.
- Prehistoric caves of Gargas, near St. Gaudens (31) Stone age carvings and paintings, that can actually be visited. Underground tour and interpretive centre. Advance reservation is normally essential. See website.
Landes and Gironde
- The forests of Les Landes: The largest expanse of coniferous forest in France. Plenty of opportunities for hiking and cycling, specially along the coast.
- Côte d'Argent: The Atlantic coast - long expanses of sandy coastline, dotted with small tourist resorts.
- Dune du Pyla the largest sand dunes in Europe, in the Landes de Gascogne regional park, just south of the popular seaside resort of Arcachon
- Zoo du Bassin d'Arcachon. Close to the Dune du Pyla, this zoo is one of the larger in France, covering a site or around 20 hectares. Many large animals in spacious enclosures
- Chateau-fort de Roquetaillade 14th century fortified castle, restored in the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc; located at Mazères, on the borders of Gironde and Landes
Capital of the western Pyrenees; an attractive town, with a fine
castle. The Pau city art gallery, the Musée des Beaux Arts,
has a small
but interesting collection, including works by Rubens,
El Greco, Ribera, Corot, Degas, Boudin, Vuillard, Marquet and many
others. Pau is a good centre for exploring the Pyrenees.
- Lourdes. the most important Catholic pilgrimage centre in France, south of Pau, in the Pyrenees.
- The Pyrenees national park, Alpine mountain area on the Spanish border, including the Cirque de Gavarnie
- Pic du Midi. At 2877m altitude, the Pic du Midi is one of the highest points in the Pyrenees. Accessible by cablecar from the ski resort of La Mongie at the Col du Tourmalet, one of the great Pyrenean passes frequently on the route of the Tour de France
Sunflowers are a feature of the landscape in the Gers
Sand dunes at Arcachon, Gironde
Chateau-fort de Roquetaillade, Gironde
The Cirque de Gavarnie, in the High Pyrenees
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Gascony , It's not a region, it was never even a clearly-defined territory in old France ; but the name Gascony has long been attached to a large area of the southwest of France, stretching from the river Garonne to the Pyrenees. Today, it is synonymous with "douceur de vivre", a relaxed way of life, gentle countryside, and fine gourmet cuisine.
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Photos About-France.com except when otherwise indicated .
Photo of Fourcès by Jean-Noel Lafargue - Free art licence.
Cirque de Gavarnie - photo by Père Igor
Chateau de Roquetaillade - Florence Pécassou, and
Gourmet Fascony photo by JPS 68
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Map on an open-source base from Openstreetmap.org