Gascony is one of the most beautiful, unspoiled and authentic areas of France. It stretches between several departments of southwest France, Landes, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, southwestern Gironde, and southern Lot-et-Garonne. Each department very different from each other but having in common the Gascon culture, fabulous gastronomy, wines, and a long, rich history. Sue Aran of French Country Adventures shares ten of her favourite jewels of Gascony…
Irouléguy is a small Basque village in Lower Navarre in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department. Its delicious wines are grown in one of the smallest vineyards in France, the only one in the French Basque country. The history of the vineyard is linked to the pilgrimage to Saint Jacques-de- Compostelle. Monks from the monastery of Roncesvalles, planted vines around the old Saint-Vincent church in the village of Irouléguy for a wine intended for pilgrims. After the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659), which formalized peace between Spain and France, the monks left their vineyard to the inhabitants of the village who continued production. After the phylloxera wine epidemic, and WWI, a group of farmers created the cooperative cellar of Saint-Étienne-de-Baïgorry, and continued producing their wine, eventually earning Irouléguy its prized AOC classification in 1970.
The Jurançon is an area west of Pau. Its landscape consist of narrow valleys and breathtaking views of the Pyrenees Mountains. Jurançon is one of King Henri IV’s favorite wines, grown along the hillsides on the southern banks of the Gave de Pau covering 1,000 hectares. It is still considered the wine of Kings and still served at important events. There are 2 AOC Jurançon wines, the Jurançon sec (dry) and the Jurançon molleux.(sweet). A visit to the nearby Chateau de Pau is a must-see. King Henri IV’s chambers, where he was born, are on the 2nd floor.
With a length of a little less than four kilometers, this stunning gorge has been developed for a kilometer and a half of public access. The visit can only be done at low water, generally from July 1 to the end of September. Their depth reaches thirty to three hundred and fifty meters. In some places only a few meters separate the two sides of the gorge.. A twenty-meter waterfall and a cave are at the end of the route. The gorge offers a beautiful landscape for nature lovers. Mosses, lichens, and ferns are so abundant that the area resembles tropical microclimate.
Lourdes is a city nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, in the department of the Haute-Pyrenees. For 159 years, millions of the faithful from all over the world have flocked to Lourdes, where, it is said, the sick can be healed miraculously. Known worldwide as a Catholic pilgrimage site, each year, millions of people visit the Massabielle cave where, in 1858, the Virgin Mary was thought to appear to a young, local girl, Bernadette. There are 52 hectares of property and 22 places of worship that comprise the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.
This 13th century bastide village boats the tallest church steeple in the Gers, standing at an impressive 293 ft. It has a lively Wednesday market and a handful of restaurants tucked under its arcaded square. It’s is also, most famously, the home to one of the largest Jazz festivals in Europe. The event runs from the last weekend in July to the end of August. The festival hosts internationally renowned musicians and singers including in the past, Wynton Marsalis and Norah Jones.
Built on a Gallo-Roman villa along both banks of the Baïse River, Nérac prospered as the favorite summer residence of King Henri IV. He is said to be the most beloved king of France. It is the land of the Albret family, one of the most powerful in Aquitain. Jeanne d’Albret was the mother of Henri IV. The remains of his impressive chateau, are now a museum. Nérac has fine examples of colombage, regionally distinct, half-timbered buildings, as well as the Parc Royal de la Garenne, once a royal hunting ground. This was the inspirational setting for Shakespeare’s Love’s Labours Lost. The Saturday market is the best in the Lot-et-Garonne department.
The city of Nérac, in the Lot-et-Garonne department, once home to Henry IV’s court, bears little resemblance to its former bucolic beauty. It is though, one of the most attractive larger villages in the region. The Chateau of Henri IV is open daily for visits in the heart of the centre ville. You can also visit the Chateau de Pau, birthplace of King Henri IV. It sits high on a hill in the town of Pau, overlooking the Pyrenees Mountains in the Pyrénées-Atlantique department.
Saints and Churches
Situated in the Quartier du Mas, on the outskirts of the village of Aire-sur-l’Adour, The St. Quitterie church was active from the 12th-18th century for pilgrims on the Saintt Jacque-des-Compostelle route to Spain. Named for Saint Quitterie or Quiteria was a young virgin of noble Visigoth blood. She chose to die rather than deny her faith. According to a medieval manuscript from the 12th century, she was decapitated around 477. Legend says she carried her head in her hands to the pagan sanctuary of Mas d’Aire (now a fountain) above the church which bears her name
Its crypt was originally built over a Roman temple to the god Mars, venerated because of the presence of a “magical” source dedicated to Quiteria. The Church sanctified places of pagan worship in order to be able to claim ancient sites and drive out paganism. Tours can be arranged by calling the church directly.
One of the largest Gallo-Roman archeological sites in Gascony. It covers more than 2 hectares and is located below the village of Montréal du Gers. Excavations uncovered a classic villa dating from the 2nd century. It is complete with a thermal bath complex, and beautiful, multi-colored mosaics. There are also remains of a Merovigian baptistry and sanctuary dating from the 6th century.
A medieval village that once belonged entirely to Hector de Galard, a renowned warrior during the Hundred Year’s War. His face is represented as the Jack of Diamonds in the French pack of playing cards. In France all face cards are representations of historical figures. Terraube has an infamous well. It’s reputed to be the opening salvo in the Wars of Religion, after all of the local Protestant men were stuffed down it never to be seen again. During the spring and early summer, fields of Lectoure’s cantaloupe melons surround the village.
The Pays Basque village of Urrugne stretches from the ocean along the beautiful Basque Corniche to the first mountains of the Pyrenees. The village has managed to preserve its traditions and its architecture. From the village, a winding road leads to the pilgrimage church of Notre Dame-des-Socorri. And to the Parc Floral Florenia, covering 45 acres with over 30,000 trees and millions of flowers.
In the Pays Basque village of Cambo-les-Bains, Villa Arnega was the home to Edmund Rostand, dramatist of the play, Cyrano de Bergerac. The house displays mementos from his life in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. It has a splendid, 18th century style French garden.
Yquem – a magnificent 16th century chateau wine estate. It once belonged to the King of England, then passed to the Duke of Aquitaine when this area became part of France. It’s located south of Bordeaux, near the charming, historic village of Bazas, on the highest hill in the famed Sauterne region. This magnificent building offers both charm, refinement, and beauty in an exceptional landscape.
Read the petite guide to Gascony, an A-Z of the region’s history and sites, in our free digital magazine The Good Life France
Discover the most amazing tours of Gascony at FrenchCountryAdventures