A GUIDE TO THE GERS
Gers is one of the sleepiest areas of France. There's not a single motorway running through it. You wake to birdsong, not the rumble of juggernauts. Airport? There is no airport. Nightclubs? What nightclubs? All that disturbs the peace of an evening is the tolling of church bells. A dog barking is an event.
Auch, the capital of Gers, is so diminutive it does not feel like the capital of anywhere. There is a cathedral with some glorious carved choir stalls, and a pigeon-spattered statue of d'Artagnan the Musketeer, but that's about it.
As for the Gers itself, it is a moot point whether it is a large stream or a small river. If you blink, you miss it, meandering past the tumbledown villages and fields of sunflowers.
It is just so incredibly easy on the eye. From the bedroom of our gite, a converted farmhouse near the village of St Puy, we look out across mile upon mile of rolling hills, stretching all the way to the Pyrenees. Vineyards shimmer. A farmer does a U-turn on his tractor. Swallows swoop through the maize. A church spire peeps above a grove of cypresses. Perfection.
The Chateau Monluc in St Puy dispenses one of the great Gers institutions - Armagnac. You can drink it neat or in one of its many bastardised versions, such as Floc de Gascogne, where the Armagnac is diluted with grape juice.
As for the food, if you like foie gras, you will simply adore Gers, where you will find it on every menu, in a bewildering variety of forms. I have been going to La Terrauboise, in the tiny village of Terraube, for more than ten years and, as always, I'm bowled over by the simple genius of the cooking. Others swear by Le Florida in Castera-Verduzan, where you eat in a pretty courtyard overhung with vines. Repeat visitors to Gers tend to be the sort of people who like to take life easy, soaking up the atmosphere, plotting the next meal.
But if you are someone who prefers to get in the car and explore a region, Gers has plenty to offer: not just glorious views, but a string of communities enjoying a lifestyle that has hardly changed in centuries.
Of towns worth visiting, the most picturesque is Larressingle, a medieval fortress. But Lectoure, perched on a hill, comes a close second. It is a great place to potter around galleries and antiques shops.
One of the most atmospheric towns is Condom, which, with a name like that, belongs in a Carry On film. It is actually Gallic charm personified, with its airy cathedral, its stirring war memorial and ragtag collection of shops and street markets.
Property in the area has also seen an increase in capital growth lately and the Gers is continuing to be a popular area to buy.
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