- Natural born thriller
- Country life
- Brandy, bastides and bonhomie
When it came to the natural lottery, the Gers won the biggest prize: a tapestry of colour-rich fields, shimmering shores, lush forests and fertile vineyards.
It’s unclear whether Charles de Batz-Castelmore (the real-life D’Artagnan) and his musketeers ever roared, ‘All for one and one for all’, but the Gers native definitely loved a spot of Armagnac and was a dab hand in a sword fight. The musketeers’ fighting spirit lives on, thanks to the region’s fiery liquors and Spanish influence; the swoop and showmanship of bullfights enliven the village squares, soundtracked by the clash and clatter of the bandas bands. Jazz is also part of the Gers’ cultural tapestry; Marciac’s festival is one of the world’s greatest. The département’s hotspots – Auch, Condom, Fleurance and Eauze, to name just a few – vie with each other for the title of ‘most scenic city’.
An Armagnac a day keeps the doctor away – or so it would seem. France’s oldest brandy was used as a disinfectant in the 14th century, but don’t let that put you off; it’s velvety, fiery and rich in flavour. Cardinal Prior Vital Du Four claimed that the tipple had 40 virtues; here are a few: ‘It makes disappear redness and burning of the eyes, and stops them from tearing; it cures hepatitis, sober consumption adhering. It cures gout, cankers, and fistula by ingestion; restores the paralysed member by massage; and heals wounds of the skin by application.’ Santé!
- Taxis are reasonable, and easily flagged from town centres and the main transport hubs.
- Tipping culture
- A standard 15 per cent service charge is added to restaurant bills; you’ll make your waitress/concierge/taxi driver smile if you dish out a few extra euro.
- Siesta and fiesta
- In line with the rest of rural France, banks close on Saturday afternoons, and most businesses have a two-day weekend on Sundays and Mondays. In small towns and villages, shops generally shut 12pm–2pm. In bigger towns, shops are open 9am–7pm; banks, 9am–5pm.
- Packing tips
- Hip-slung trousers for gluttonous dining; a straw sunhat for picnicking like a painter’s muse; plimsolls and a Breton top for roaming the fields in style; aspirin for the morning after the Armagnac before.
- Recommended reads
- For a rip-roaring read, dip into The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas père. The character of D’Artagnan – friend and guard of Athos, Porthos and Aramis – is loosely based on a 17th-century Gascon local, Charles de Batz-Castelmore, the Comte d’Artagnan. Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo is another yarn ripe with intrigue, revenge and romance.
- The region is famous for its fat poultry – ill-fated birds, many of them are destined for the local restaurants, as calorific foie gras, confit and magret de canard.
- Regional specialities
- The Gers should come with a health warning – its typical dishes are colossal calorie bombs; goose fat lends its lardy lustre to many. The morally dubious but utterly seductive foie gras is a local speciality, and cassoulet, confit and magret de canard are all cooked with panache. Garbure, a soup of cabbage and confit, typifies the hearty rural fare. Sweeten up with pastis gascon: tissue-thin layers of filo pastry, sandwiched with Armagnac-soaked, caramelised apples.
- Euro (€).
- Time zone
- GMT +1.
- Dialling codes
- France: +33; south-west (0)5.
Don't go home without...
visiting some of the region’s famous bastides, or fortified villages. Montreal Montréal-du-Gers is worth an afternoon’s exploring, as are Larressingle and Fourcès. Carcassonne was fortified by the Romans around 100 BC – the turreted town is the stuff of Disney films and romance novels.