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Things to see:

Local, 5 - 30 minutes from Au Chicot

The Gers boasts 5 of the 156 officially listed 'plus beaux villages de France'. Four of these five villages are within a stone's throw, namely Larressingle, Montreal, Fourcès and Lavardens.

Larressingle - the smallest bastide (fortified village) in France, with a moat. An amazing place - tiny, taking just 5 minutes to walk around, unless choosing to linger at the partly Romanesque church, museum of medieval life, antique shop, several craft shops, or the creperie with tables inside or out. Beyond its walls is a quaint display of ancient machines of war, with regular daily hands-on shows and demonstrations in July and August. A medieval festival is also staged on the third weekend of July.

Montreal + Seviac - Montreal was the first bastide to be founded in Gascony, in 1255, and is on an escarpment. 2 kms away, on 5 acres, visit the classic Gallo-Roman villa of Seviac. A jewel for archaeology enthusiasts, and, typically for the region, much under-publicised. Dating from 2C to 5C, the most impressive of the ruins, uncovered in 1959, are the underground heating system, sumptuous thermal baths and pool, and some surprisingly complete mosaics. The site's museum is housed in the tourist office at Montreal.
Fourcès - meaning 'planted with trees', is a charming little bastide, with an unusual circular, rather than square central 'place' shaded by plane trees, plus an ancient castle, bridge, clocktower and many timbered houses. A huge flower festival is hosted at the end of April.

These are all a must, even if you spend the rest of your holiday by the pool!! But if you are looking for more:

Mansencome - the lovely Armagnac chateau, Le Busca-Maniban - start off here, since it's almost on your doorstep and is one of the finest examples of Gascon architecture of its period. Magnificent main staircase, old chamber of arms, Italian garden, and 'as many windows as days in the year'. Visits and tastings..
Cassaigne - home to another fine Armagnac chateau, the 16C former summer residence of the bishops of Condom. Visits to a typical kitchen with interesting vaulted ceiling, and cellars; video, tastings..
Mouchan - also near to the house, those interested in church architecture should check out its 12C church, built as a stop for pilgrims along the route of Saint Jacques de Compostela. It has some of the earliest Gothic vaulting in southern France.
Condom - a charming town on the River Baise, and business centre of Armagnac, with a museum on a range of local subjects and one on eponymous prophylactics. Superb cathedral, mansions and medieval houses, and some great little shops. River boat trips can be joined here, or further up river at Valence-sur-Baise, and motor boat hire (no permit required) is also available. Two supermarkets on its outskirts, a bustling market on Wednesdays. Chocolate factory, La Pateliere, on Route de Nerac, for tours and tastings.
Fleurance - visit on Tuesday, as it has a wonderfully ornate covered market, central to a huge arcaded square. Festival of Sky and Space held in the first 2 weeks of August.
Lectoure - an elegant Gallo-Roman town, high on a chalk ridge, with an archaeological museum, thermal fitness centre, and the aristocratic 'Hotel de Bastard' where you can dine on the terrace, overlooking the pool and countryside beyond. The food is excellent. Lectoure is the centre for arts in the region; it also has a huge outdoor feast in August, in honour of Lectoure melons - the sweetest in France - and an antiques fair on the first weekend of Sept.
La Romieu - a small, moated, walled village, it has a 14C college, with fine Gothic cloister. Designated a Unesco World Heritage site, its buildings and their three towers make for a dramatic approach. Children can count cat sculptures hidden about the arcaded square, and discover the legend of Angeline, their inspiration. Garden lovers will enjoy visiting those of Coursiana, just nearby, on the pilgrim route to St Jacques de Compostela. Created 30 years ago, they cover over 14 acres, housing more than 700 different species of trees and shrubs from all 5 continents. In 2002, a medicinal and aromatic plants garden was added.
Eauze - centre of the Armagnac trade, Eauze holds an Armagnac and antiques fair in mid-May, and corridas (Spanish bull fights) at its bullring on the first weekend of July. The main regular attraction, however, is its superb Thursday morning market, the largest for miles.
Valence-sur-Baise - just on the outskirts of this 13C bastide, and founded in 1151, is the Abbey of Flaran, a perfect example of Cistercian architecture and one of the best preserved in south-west France. Special. Now a cultural centre.
Lavardens - a picturesque village on a lofty bluff, dominated by a huge chateau. Access by foot only via intricately patterned pavements. Night markets and other 'spectacles' in mid- summer. The village hosts a competition for trainers of crickets; another for the prettiest scarecrow - spot them at work on your travels!

Terraube - another picturesque village with an imposing 13C chateau.

Vic-Fezensac - the main claims to fame are its two festivals, both attracting thousands and running for 3 days - the corrida, over Pentecost, and the Tempo Latino, in late July, with concerts in the bullring, stalls lining the streets, and the town rocking non-stop to the rhythm of salsa. Two night-markets in July and in August, and a great atmosphere.

Local, 30 + minutes away

Auch - departmental capital; 40 kms/25 miles distant: the old town's maze of streets is linked to the banks of the River Gers by a monumental stair, featuring the statue of D'Artagnan. St Mary's Cathedral contains remarkable stained glass windows, and the choir stalls are one of the masterpieces of renaissance carving, having taken over 50 years to make. Museums, art galleries.
St Clar - another very pretty village with an arcaded square, central covered market and typical yellow-ochre stone buildings. Regional garlic centre, with an annual festival, including a pageant to select the Garlic Queen! Garlic market every Thurs from mid-July. Combine with a trip perhaps to Flamarens, and the nearby water park.
Cologne - the centre of this bastide is 'one of the prettiest sights in the Gers', says the guidebook.
Madiran and nearby villages - 60 minutes south-west, just into the Hautes-Pyrenees; main focus the Gascon AOC wine estates (largely the award winning red, Madiran, but a few whites). Annual wine festival on 14/15 August, with stalls, all-day tastings, and, not surprisingly, much eating, singing and dancing until small hours.
A route south from the house, encompassing Auch and some of the following villages, will take you through yet more exquisite countryside. Allow a day to discover the area including Ordan, Larroque, Bazian, Barran, L'Isle de Noe, Montesquiou (turning off the main road to enter), Bassoues, Beaumarches and Tillac. It is near here, at the 16C bastide of Marciac, that the internationally famous jazz festival is held over 2 weeks every August. And at the bastide town of Mirande, properly titled Mirande-la-Jolie, a country music festival is held in mid-July. Here you can also find the lovely little Musée de Beaux Arts.


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