Gascony entered recorded history during the reign of Julius Caesar as the core territory of Roman Aquitania. Its fertile soil was nourished by the rivers descending from the Pyrénées to the plains below.
In his memoir, Caesar described the machinations occurring during his nine years of fighting the Gauls, an alliance of nine tribes which included the Vascones. The Vascones defined a confederacy of non-Romanised tribes who inhabited both sides of the Pyrénées and shared common traditions. By the late 6th century several of their tribes moved north, over the Pyrénées, and down into the territory they called Vasconia, which now comprises the seven departments in southwestern France called Gascony. The remaining portion in Spain became the Basque Country.
Labastide-Armagnac medieval charm by the bucket load
Founded in 1291, when Gascony still belonged to England, Labastide-d’Armagnac is the most charming, medieval village in the Landes department. Place Royale, its main arcaded square, is said to be the model for the Place des Vosges in Paris, commissioned by Henri IV. When I visit there, I always feel as if I’ve stepped onto a Hollywood movie set and you can easily be a flâneur* here. The most prominent feature of the Place Royal is the elegant church, Notre-Dame de Labastide, while a visit to the Bar Tortoré, the oldest bar in the region, offers a chance to rub shoulders with the locals.
Labastide-d’Armagnac is the annual venue for the Armagnac Festival which takes place the last weekend in October. Considered the nectar of the gods and superior to Cognac, Armagnac is showcased in all of its vintages throughout the Place Royale. For a few euros, you can purchase an empty glass and taste your way around the square. As the locals enthuse, “Wine is the only thing that makes us happy as adults for no reason”.
More on Gascony
Sue Aran is a local guide and expert on the area: www.FrenchCountryAdventures.com