The department of Gers is at the centre of the larger historical region of Gascony. Caught between the English in Bordeaux and the French in Toulouse, the struggles here in the Middle Ages have left their mark in the fortified villages and Bastide towns which today dot the rolling hills of Gers’s agricultural landscape. Fittingly, Gascony’s most famous fictional son was Alexandre Dumas’s mercenary musketeer, d’Artagnan. A statue to him stands in Auch, Gers’s capital. This medieval city, perched on a limestone hilltop overlooking the River Gers, has museums, shops, art galleries and a riverside market. Don’t miss the last great Gothic Cathedral of Sainte Marie with its exquisitely carved oak choir stalls.
A holiday in Gers is certainly the healthy option. Gers has some of the cleanest air in Europe and the Midi Pyrenees is one of the sunniest regions in France. The warm summers and mild winters allow the rich soil to support the equally rich south-west cuisine which is a must for any visitor to try. Roads wind past fields of cereals and cattle, poultry - especially ducks and geese for Gascony pates and fois gras - and, of course, vines for the famous Armagnac brandy, reputedly first produced here by the Moors in the twelfth century - 200 years before Cognac! The best quality grapes are grown around Eauze which also has a great market. Visit the Armagnac Museum at Condom. Don’t worry too much about that diet as, despite the richness of Gers’s traditional dishes, the Gersois are known to have a long life expectancy.
There is also plenty in Gers to feed the cultural and sporting appetites. Visit the lovely chateaux of Cassaigne and Montluc and magnificent twelfth century Abbey de Flaran, all near the Bastide village and river port of Valence-sur-Baise. In July/August, Marciac holds an International Jazz Festival and there is Formula 3 racing at Nogaro. Gers is ideal cycling country or walk part of the pilgrim route to Santiago between Lectoure and Condom which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Atlantic beaches and Pyrenean ski resorts are an easy drive away.