The Pyrenean foreland, extending between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, is essentially an area of passage, with a landscape pattern of Mediterranean type to the east, while the great forests in the west have something of a Central European character.
The southern part of the Garonne basin, most of which is in Gascony, is similar in many respects to the larger Paris basin, but is bordered on the south by the Pyrenees, rising out of the lower ground almost without transition.Gascony takes its name from the Basques (Vascones), who were driven out of Spain by the Visigoths at the end of the sixth C. and settled in the Garonne lowlands.Gascony takes in the present-day départements of Gers, Landes and Hautes- Pyrénées and parts of the Gironde, Lot-et- Garonne, Tarn-et-Garonne, Haute-Garonne and Ariège. Gascony is made up of a number of territories, some of them of considerable importance, which in earlier times had an independent existence. It lies in the western Pyrenean foreland, roughly between the Garonne in the north and east and the Atlantic (Gulf of Gascony or Bay of Biscay) in the west. In the western part of Gascony, adjoining the beautiful Côte d'Argent, are the extensive pine and cork- oak forests of the Landes (lande = "heath"). This was once a boggy area in which the herdsmen went about on stilts, but from the late 18th C. onwards the land was drained and planted with trees. Much of it is now also in agricultural use (maize). Along the flat coast of the Atlantic seaboard are chains of dunes over 100 m/330ft high, the highest in Europe. On the landward side are large coastal lagoons (étangs). To the southwest is the Basque country, extending far into Spanish territory. Farther east, round the town of Auch, is the old county of Armagnac.Gascony was part of the Roman province of Aquitania, into which the Basques, fleeing from the Visigoths in Spain, penetrated towards the end of the sixth C. During the period of Frankish rule, from 768, Vasconia was a separate duchy, and with the decline of Carolingian power it became increasingly independent. When the native dynasty died out in the middle of the 11th C. Gascony passed to the Aquitanian Duchy of Guyenne. Along with the County of Armagnac, and thanks to the valor of the Armagnacs, Gascony controlled almost the whole of France in the time of Count Bernard VII (1391-1418). Later the Armagnacs were employed by King Charles VII as mercenaries against the Swedes, who inflicted a crushing defeat on them in a battle near Basle in 1444. The remains of the mercenary army made their way into Alsace and southwestern Germany, robbing and plundering, and then gradually dispersed.Gascony's exposed situation meant that it was frequently ravaged by war, as its many ruined castles bear witness.As part of the French kingdom from 1453, Gascony was one of its largest provinces, until the French Revolution replaced the old historical territories by the départements into which Gascony is now divided.
In Roman times Auch (pop. 23,501), on the river Gers, was the chief town of the Ausci, which gave it its name. In the Middle Ages it became capital of the county of Armagnac and later of Gascony, and is now chief town of the département of Gers. Since the ninth C. Auch has been the see of an archbishop. In the old part of the town, beautifully situated on a hill above the river, is the Gothic Cathedral of Ste-Marie (1489-1662), with a beautiful porch.The cathedral is notable particularly for its 113 magnificent choir- stalls (1520-1551). The choir chapels have superb Renaissance stained glass by Arnaut de Moles; the organ is 17th C. From the square in front of the cathedral a monumental staircase (1864) of 232 steps leads down to the Gers. A former Jacobin chapel now houses a museum of art and archeology.
The Gascon cuisine of this region is one of the richest in France; foie gras (paté) is perhaps the most popular local delicacy.Tourists heading to the Armagnac region should visit the Maison du Floc de Gascogne in Eauze to learn about this Armagnac specialty. Other towns with interesting sights include: Auch, Castelnau-Barbarens, Condom, Fources, Gimont, Labastide d'Armagnac, Samantan, Seviac, Valance-sur-Baïse and Mauvezin.
Dax (pop. 20,649) was already noted for its thermal springs in Roman times, when it was known as Aquae Tarbellicae. The principal spring is the Fontaine Chaude (64 C/147 F). Other features of interest are the remains of the Roman town walls (fourth C.) and the cathedral (17th-18th C.), which has a beautiful Gothic doorway (13th C.) from an earlier church.
French Army Aviation and Helicopter Museum
11km/7mi north of Fleurance, on a hill above the Gers valley, is Lectoure, once the see of a bishop. From the promenade laid out on a former bastion there are magnificent views extending to the Pyrenees. The town has a Gothic church and an archeological museum with early medieval altars.
It is worth making a detour to see this little village of Simorre (pop. 698), 8km/5mi south of Saramon on the Auch-Foix road. Its fortified church (14th-15th C.), restored by Viollet-le- Duc in the 19th C., has fine choir-stalls and stained glass.
Condom (pop. 7,251), on the river Baïse, was the see of a bishop until 1789. It is an attractive little town, with the former cathedral of St-Pierre (1506-1521) and a Town Hall housed in the former Bishop's Palace (16th C. cloister).
Musée de l'Armagnac
The Musée de l'Armagnac has displays illustrating the manufacture of armagnac and the old trade routes along which it was transported.
Address: 2 rue Jules Ferry, F-32100 Condom, France
Opening hours: Jul 1 to Aug 31: Closed: Tue
Sep 1 to Jun 30: Closed: Sun, Tue
Sep 1 to Jun 30: Closed: Sun, Tue
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), 1945 Victory Day (May 8), May Day / Labor Day (May 1), Bastille Day - France (Jul 14), Assumption Day - Christian (Aug 15), All Saints' Day - Christian (Nov 1), Remembrance Day / 1918 Armistice Day (Nov 11), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Pentecost Monday (Whit Monday) - Christian, Ascension Thursday - Christian
Entrance fee: FREE
Disability Access: Full facilities for persons with disabilities.
Fleurance, 24km/15mi north of Auch, has an important 14th C. church in the Gothic style of southern France and a square surrounded by arcades. The layout of this little town still reflects the plan of the fortified settlement of 1280.
Mirande (pop. 3,564), northeast of Tarbes, has an arcaded square and a 15th C. church with an unusual tower. The Musée Delort has a series of charming paintings of Gascony.
Vic-Fezensac is noted for a great annual event, the bullfights which take place at Whitsun.
Larresingle, west of Condom on D15, is a small fortified village of the 13th C.