Located to the South West of Toulouse on the River Gers, Auch is the capital of the Gers department and the historical capital of Gascony.
One of the best way to explore towns and cities is just follow your nose and get lost. But, there was much to find out about Auch before doing that. So, I headed straight for the Tourist Office to book a tour of the town and lucky for me, Raphaelle Lequai the Communication Officer for the Gers region was willing to show off this lovely town.
Best things to do in Auch
Start your visit at the cathedral, on the UNESCO listed route to Compostela. Building began in 1489 but it took nearly two centuries to complete. The oak stalls are a must see – over 1500 characters are represented and last time they were used, it was for the wedding of a member of the Dutch royal family. The stained glass windows by Arnaut de Moles are fabulous.
Towers and staircases
From the cathedral head to the Tour d’Armagnac, a former 14th century prison standing at over 40 meters high. Each of its seven floors formed a prison cell, they’re rather claustrophobic and I resisted the temptation to dally in case anyone was tempted to lock me in. These days it is the home of the Cathedral Treasure museum and houses over 200 objects of religious art.
Adjacent to the tower is The Great Staircase. 234 steps connect the two levels of the upper city from the cathedral down to the river Gers. From the top on a clear day, to the right you can see the Pyrenees in the distance and the green countryside of the Gers to the left. It’s easier to go down than up! Alongside the Grand Staircase are several sets of medieval stepped alleyways called the Pousteries. They lead down the River Gers which once enabled the inhabitants of the upper town to collect water.
On the second level of the staircase is a magnificent bronze statue of d’Artagnan gazing across the Gascogne landscape. Many think that d’Artagnan was a figure of fiction created by Alexander Dumas but he really existed. The Capitan of the Musketeers was born at the beginning of the 17th century in nearby Castelmore.
Shop, wine and dine in Auch
The town is a warren of streets with many shops and art galleries that are just perfect for exploring. And, there are plenty of places to take a break including the highly recommended Hotel de France.
This classic French hotel has a homely brasserie and more formal Grande Salle. Chef Vincent Casassus is renowned for his dishes. And, while you’re there you must try a glass of Floc de Gascogne – a wine fortified with Armagnac. If you’ve never tried it, you’re missing out, it is robust but mellow and is available in both white and red. The slow cooked beef red wine with vegetables from the chef’s garden made my heart sing, helped along by a glass or two of 2012 Les Hauts De Bergelle, an AOC Saint Mont wine.
Coffee was served with a glass of the hotel’s own 20-year-old Armagnac, for this is Armagnac County. I drank it too quickly to form an opinion so had to have another one. It was good, very good.
Auch has everything you’d want from an authentic French town. Great views, a famous hero, enough monuments and historic buildings to keep everyone happy, a major circus festival (October), terrific shops and cafés and truly great Gascogne food and drink…
Tourist office: www.auch-tourisme.com
You can get to Auch from Paris by train via Toulouse.
Visit nearby Fourcès, a plus beaux village de France which looks like a medieval dream town and Larresingle, the smallest and prettiest fortified town in France…
Peter Jones is a photographer and freelance writer