Walkers in Gers’s beautiful countryside are bound to encounter others following the ancient pilgrim ways to Santiago de Compostela. The department is crossed from east to west by 2 of the 4 main routes across France. The GR65 national long-distance footpath in the north very nearly follows the historic trail from Le Puy-en-Velay in the Auvergne to Roncevaux, passing through Mirandoux, Lectoure, Condom, Eauze and Nogaro. The lesser GR652 from Rocamadour meets up with the GR65 just south of La Romieu.
The second main route further south, the GR653, starts at Arles in Provence and makes its way through Gers towards the Pyrenees and Somport pass via L’Isle Jourdain, Gimont, Auch, Montesequiou and Marciac. By the twelfth century, pilgrimages were highly organised. Churches, shrines and hostelries built to serves the travellers’ needs can still be seen today. Well worth stopping for are 3 mentioned in a twelfth century guide book for pilgrims; the Cathedral of Ste-Marie in Auch which took over 200 years to complete; the sacristy frescoes of the fourteenth century collegiate church at La Romieu (the name means pilgrim or one who has been to Rome) and the Artigues bridge. Most twenty-first century ‘pilgrims’ are more likely to be walking for pleasure rather than to seek forgiveness for sins, but the camaraderie remains. Wherever you follow the red and white GR national way-markers you’re likely to pass those who’ll give a friendly greeting, and find strangers eager to discuss the day’s hike over an evening meal.
Enjoy your golf in the peace of the Gers countryside with the promise of great Gascon hospitality and cuisine back at the club house. The wooded and hilly 18-hole par 71 5675m course at Golf de Ginlet at Eauze is open all year with full facilities including electric buggies.
4km from Auch, the challenging 4682m 18-hole par 67 Golf d’Embats is also open all year and similarly equipped. The course has wonderful views of the Pyrenees from its terrace and an excellent restaurant. Tel: (00 33) 5 62 61 10 11.
Fleurance has a 2 x 9 hole course, par 70 in a total of 5702m www.golf-fleurance.com and Masseube’s Golf de Gascogne 2 x 9 hole course is par 72 over 6050m, tel: (00 33) 5 62 66 03 10. Both Fleurance and Masseube are wooded and the latter is also hilly. There are also courses at L’Isle Jourdain and Lombez which are open all year.
There are traditional morning markets in at least 3 different towns and villages in Gers on every day of the week. Visits to these colourful, lively events, like the large Thursday market at Eauze, will give you a chance to purchase some of the delicious produce mentioned in Gers Cusine and Wine. If you’re very lucky, you may hear the regional Occitaine language being spoken. Markets are also great places to buy local crafts. Make for the regional products market in Gimont on the last Sunday of the month. Bassoues, Mirande and Nogaro hold similar produce fairs in August.
As gastronomy plays such an important part in the life of the Gersois, it’s hardly surprising there are plenty of specialist markets and fairs. Samatan, Mirande and Mauvezin all hold pie fairs (cakes and pastries) on Easter Monday, May is the month for an Armagnac and antiques fair in Eauze and also a duck produce fair in Saramon. Saint-Clar garlic market takes place every Thursday morning from July through to December with a festival and competition in August. Lectoure melon festival is also in mid-August and Samatan holds a foie gras fair on the third weekend in August. Both Samatan and Gimont are important foie gras markets. Lavardens is one of many villages to have night markets in July and August and many towns such as Auch, Fleurance, Lectoure and St-Clar hold Christmas markets. Gers’s Tourist Office will have more complete details. Tel: (00 33) 5 62 05 95 95.
Several large man-made lakes in Gers offer good opportunities for sailing and kayaking.
Thoux St-Cricq sailing club is based on 80 hectare Lac d’Uby. Canoeing is possible from the local leisure centre.
The 50 hectare lake at Barbotan-les-Thermes offers opportunities for rowing, sailing and windsurfing and visitors can also canoe, sail and windsurf from the leisure park beside the 20 hectare lake at L’Isle-Jourdain.
Horse riding is a leisurely way to discover the pleasures of the Gers countryside and many hiking trails are also open to riders. Equestrian centres in Gers are often also farms and offer both adults and children anything from basic skills to excursions. Organised treks leave from Auch, Condom, Escoubet and Pauilhac. Les Ecuries d’Armagnac near Valance-sur-Baise is open all year for lessons and riding excursions with an English guide. Tel: (00 33) 5 62 68 15 42.
Other all year centres with similar itineraries include Le Relais du Haget, Cravenceres www.relaishaget.com Les Ecuries de Guerre, L’Isle Jourdain, tel: (00 33) 5 62 07 18 08, and Ecuries de la Feniere at Pavie. There’s also riding at Masseube, Marsan and Ju-Belloc. Caval en Herbe at Pouylebon and Ecuries du Manaou at St-Michel www.manaou.fr are both happy to teach children from age 3 upwards and Haras du Rambert, Preignan is one of the top pony clubs in France where children can ride. Tel: (00 33) 5 62 65 51 03.
The French have always catered for the cyclist far better than we tend to in England. The lack of large towns and busy motorways makes the gentle, undulating countryside of Gers an ideal cycling prospect. If you haven’t brought your own bike, rent one at places like Eauze, Mirande, Nogaro or the leisure centre at St-Cricq. Local Tourist Offices can help with information on cycle trails and clubs. They should also be able to provide a map from the Gers tourism department showing 14 circular routes ranging from very easy to difficult and each with a different itinerary. Routes are lengthy but it could be fun to cycle just part of several of them. For example, Les Chateaux Gascon trail (58km) which leaves from Vic-Fezensac is graded very easy, whilst La route de l’Armagnac from Nogaro (83km) is of medium difficulty
Toulouse is an important centre for the aircraft industry - Concorde was developed here - and in the surrounding region there are a number of active flying clubs which offer lessons and flights to visitors. One such in Gers is the Aero-Club Gascon at Auch-Lamothe aerodrome. Tel: (00 33) 5 62 63 37 23. Aero-Club du Bas Armagnac, Nogaro, is open all year and offers gliding, flying and helicopter lessons. Tel: (00 33) 5 62 08 80 82. Ultralight motorised flying (ULM) is available at Survol Gascogne, Condom http://survol-gascogne.monsite.wanadoo.fr and there’s also gliding in Condom/Valence-sur-Baise at Tenareze Gascogne Velivole, tel: (00 33) 6 74 17 22 48.
Try parachute jumping after a training session at Sarl Parachutism-Occitan, also at Condom (mid-Apr to beginning Nov). The ultimate in leisurely air travel has to be by hot air balloon. Mongolfieres de Gascogne in Lectoure will allow you to drift along safely admiring the landscape in the hands of a qualified pilot.