Alexandre Dumas’ swashbuckling Nineteenth-century novel The Three Musketeers is definitely about 4 musketeers, and the extra time I spent in Armagnac — the Gascon area that the central character d’Artagnan leaves for Paris and journey — the extra apt that appeared. Regardless of being proper on the centre of southwest France, between Bordeaux and the Spanish border, with Toulouse to 1 aspect and the Bay of Biscay to the opposite, this pleasant place is hiding in plain sight. This can be a nice benefit to guests on the lookout for uncrowded vacationer spots, availability at good lodges and eating places, and locals who’re genuinely happy to see them. It has additionally helped Armagnac to retain its quirky attraction. Everybody I met was a personality, from the younger lady who dressed up as a medieval peasant to point out us round Larressingle, the smallest fortified village in France, to the softly spoken co-owner of the Château Bellevue, an outstanding sommelier and a shoo-in for Jeeves if anybody ever decides to make a French model of the PG Wodehouse books.
In beneath per week I did greater than I might usually handle in a month, from visiting Roman ruins to taking out pedalos on a river and a lake. I additionally ate much better than I had anticipated. Final time I used to be right here, greater than a decade in the past, each meal concerned duck. Nowadays you possibly can nonetheless gorge on magret de canard, however there are options — even vegetarian ones, which was once more durable to search out in these components than girls of advantage in Dumas’ tall story.
Two Roman websites sit simply ten miles aside. Villa Seviac (£5.10; elusa.fr) is the remnant of a palatial residence that, regardless of having misplaced its partitions and roof, is a wonderful instance of Third-century bling, full with thermal baths and 625 sq m of mosaics, fastidiously restored and shielded from the weather. The archaeological museum in Eauze, as soon as the Roman metropolis of Elusa (£5.10; elusa.fr), shows an impressive hoard of cash, plus a number of jewels that have been hidden in a potter’s oven till 1985. Eauze can be properly preserved, though the gracious buildings are nowhere close to the age of these cash.
I’d been tipped off by Hélène Royer, proprietor of Les Bruhasses, the 18th-century farmhouse the place I used to be staying, that the Bar du Marché was an incredible place for a glass of wine and a small plate, however on a Tuesday I used to be out of luck: it solely opens Thursday to Saturday. This turned out to be no unhealthy factor, since Hélène’s dinner that night time was an outstanding multicourse feast, served at an extended communal desk and matched with wines from the household winery.
The area’s foremost city, Condom, could have a reputation that provokes infantile sniggers, nevertheless it additionally possesses an imposing gothic cathedral with a statue of the Musketeers exterior it; a peaceful inexperienced river, the Baïse, that could be a pleasure to pedalo alongside; and extra good eating places than any short-term customer might moderately want.
I finished on the château owned by Raj Bhakta, an American whiskey entrepreneur, to style his brandies (bhaktaspirits. com); to satisfy Bernard Domecq, who makes them and has labored right here since 1971 (“Welcome to my cathedral!” he cried); and to faucet Amanda Garnham, who oversees the property and has lived right here for many years, for restaurant suggestions. She pointed us to L’Origan, an enthralling pizza joint with a wood-burning oven and a bit of passage between two streets for a terrace (pedestrians thread their manner between the tables and no person minds).
I’ve misplaced depend of the attractive abbeys I’ve wandered round in France, however I’ve by no means been anyplace just like the Abbaye de Flaran (£4.25; patrimoine-musees-gers.fr). It has been right here for the reason that twelfth century and sheltered Cistercian monks whose routine was so strict they have been forbidden to talk besides when praying. These strictures step by step loosened, till, by the 18th century, the abbey was wealthy and the monks pampered. Then got here the revolution, dispossession, personal possession and, in 1970, a disastrous fireplace, intentionally began as an insurance coverage rip-off. However a lot stays, and the place is tranquilly beautiful, till you attain the primary flooring, which is startling. Michael Simonow, an artwork collector, lends the abbey a rotating number of unimaginable works. Modigliani, Rodin, Dalí: these usually are not artists you anticipate in a small medieval non secular constructing in Gascony, however discovering them was marvellous.
Possibly it was the summer season warmth, possibly the legacy of the rivers that when transported barrels of wine and armagnac to markets in Bordeaux and past, however we additionally spent loads of time close to water. Lunch at Le Moulin du Petit Gascon, watching the river move by beside us; splashing round in swimming pools; and a cheerful afternoon at Lac de l’Uby (£5.95; guide-du-gers.com), over to the west, the place there are stand-up paddleboards, pedalos and kayaks together with a big swimming pool, all included within the entry price.
Water can be very important to the area’s well-known spirit. With out nourishment, the vines that alternate with shiny fields of sunflowers alongside each street would wither. “I’ve been making cask-strength armagnac for ever,” Claire de Montesquiou at Domaine d’Esperance instructed me, in her excellent English (tastings free; armagnac-esperance.com). Her brandies — wealthy and nutty, perfumed with cinnamon and cloves — are a great commercial for that call.
Claire occurs to be distantly associated to d’Artagnan, who was an actual particular person solely marginally much less thrilling than his fictional counterpart; as, due to this fact, is her cousin Victoire at Domaine d’Arton (tastings £8; arton.fr). These two, like all of the armagnac makers I met, are mutually supportive however function completely in another way: Claire welcomes guests right into a warehouse with a wonderful previous copper nonetheless and tasting bar, whereas Victoire’s son and daughter-in-law, Jean and Lili, have constructed a sensible tasting room and are releasing younger brandies and cocktails in cans. United but distinctive, these folks jogged my memory of one thing, nevertheless it was solely as I used to be reluctantly leaving the area, bottles clinking in my suitcase, that it got here to me. All for one and one for all.
Nina Caplan was a visitor of Gers Tourism (tourisme-gers.com). Fly to Toulouse or Bordeaux
The important information to Armagnac
Hélène Royer and her husband, Jean, returned dwelling after operating eating places within the US to spend a decade doing up this beautiful farmhouse simply exterior Condom, however she by no means stopped cooking. Even breakfast incorporates a completely different home-baked product every day. There’s a giant terrace out entrance, a small breakfast patio additional again and a relaxed environment. Hélène is a strolling guidebook and can provide as many native suggestions as a visitor requires. Even in the event you e book one of many self-catering flats, be sure that to attempt her desk d’hôte not less than as soon as: America’s loss is unquestionably Gascony’s achieve.
Particulars B&B doubles from £85 (lesbruhasses.fr)
La Bastide en Gascogne
Excessive-end hospitality clearly runs within the household: this Relais & Châteaux lodge is overseen by Eléonore Guérard, daughter of triple-starred chef Michel (who retains a watch on the menu). The previous Cistercian monastery stands subsequent to the thermal station of Barbotan-les-Thermes a couple of minutes’ drive from the water park at Lac d’Uby. There’s a pool within the grounds, a mini-spa for massages, tranquil salons to hang around in and naturally, a wonderful restaurant.
Particulars B&B doubles from £186 (bastide-gasconne.com)
Château de Bellevue
Charlotte Consolaro cooks, her husband Thomas Brochard is the sommelier, and each do a improbable job: native merchandise are used the place potential, from the black garlic within the butter to the pigeon or cheese, and bottles of wine by intriguing small producers are capped off with a formidable number of armagnacs. The pool is gorgeous, the grounds thick with timber and the château itself, regardless of its title, extra of a cushty household dwelling that occurs to have an uncommon variety of bedrooms. Pure pleasure.
Particulars B&B doubles from £83 (chateaubellevue.org)
Le Moulin du Petit Gascon
This unpretentious little restaurant has a brief, well-executed menu, and obliging workers, however the true draw is the open-air lined deck proper by one of many locks on the River Baïse. This can be a place to linger on a summer season’s afternoon, listening to the water, ingesting easy native wine and consuming three programs of traditional French meals: rillettes or goat’s cheese salad, ham or hen with mustard or garlic sauce, and traditional desserts resembling clafoutis or ice cream.
Particulars Three-course menu £14.50 (00 33 5 81 68 18 53)
Auberge Au Vieux Pressoir
The dad and mom of charming younger mozzarella maker Lucile have run this hilltop restaurant since earlier than their daughter went off to Italy to study her commerce. However they’re clearly delighted to have one more native producer so as to add to their roster, this time one they themselves produced. Parts are copious and dishes traditional, besides after they function their offspring’s excellent mozzarella. In winter, there’s a fireplace within the fireplace of this previous farmhouse; in summer season, sit on the terrace and admire the view over to the village of Blaziert. There are 4 bedrooms out there, with use of a pool.
Particulars Two programs £18 (auvieuxpressoir.com)
Le Bar du Marché
In Eauze, that is the place to eat, and it should be in style since they get away with opening solely on Thursday lunchtimes and Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. A casual place that thinks of itself as a wine bar relatively than a restaurant, the BdM is lined with cabinets of engaging wines and serves oysters, charcuterie and cheeses, but additionally contemporary, native merchandise merely ready and flippantly garnished resembling gazpacho, or shrimp in armagnac. Food and drinks are additionally out there to remove.
Particulars Mains from £6.75 (bar-du-marche.fr)