Getaway: South-west France
Bryn and Janice Sadler head to France’s south-western corner and find some real gems in the Gers
Bryn and Janice Sadler find hidden treasures in the peaceful rural landscapes of the Gers
WE DO LOVE a treasure hunt, and our last caravanning trip to France gave us just that, a great treasure hunt. To begin with, the Gers department of France is a bit of a treasure in itself. Read any book about the area and it’ll tell you that it’s famous for gastronomy. Delicacies such as foie gras, wild mushrooms, Armagnac (brandy) and Floc de Gascogne (wine fortified by Armagnac) abound in the Gers. It’s true, too. It is. The people of this region, who are known as Gersois, produce some of the finest food and drink in France. But that’s not why we like the area. Oh no. What we like about the Gers is the way it’s quiet and tucked away. Isolated? No, not at all. Not to the extent somewhere like the Causses, around Millau, feels isolated, or some areas of the Auvergne.
So no, the Gers isn’t isolated, it’s just tucked away. In fact, it’s so tucked away that even today, no motorway runs through it. The nearest a modern autoroute has come to touching the Gers is the construction of a link road back in 2014, from the town of Barcelonne-du-gers. Towing a caravan through the Gers, then, is a pleasure. A bit like stepping back in time, and that, for us, is treasure indeed. Then, of course, there’s the campsite we stayed on while exploring the Gers. Camping La Brouquere is a treasure, too. This is an adults-only site in the tiny hamlet of Betbèze, near the town of Gondrin. Gondrin is located on the D931 between Condom and
Eauze, and the campsite is at the end of a small country road, so caravanners are little troubled by noise. Except, of course, for the sound of the breeze rustling through the vineyards! Camping La Brouquere is a small site, so it never feels crowded. We loved the terraced pitches. If you feel like sitting outside your van, you don’t find yourself staring at your neighbours. Instead, the gentle, undulating countryside of the Gers meets your gaze. The site’s Dutch owners have restored an old French winery and transformed it into this small, tranquil campsite. Sonja and Wouter are perfect hosts; their motto, ‘Arrive as a guest, leave as a friend’, couldn’t be more appropriate. The welcome we received at the site was second to none and an orientation chat helped us settle into both the site and the surrounding area. Sonja and Wouter also told us about lots of walking and cycling routes to explore from the campsite, as well as giving us leaflets about the area. For many caravanners, the highlight of any stay at Camping La Brouquere is the table d’hôte evenings hosted by the owners. A blackboard on the campsite patio announces the evening and the menu.
Relaxing on site
We told ourselves we’d spend a day or two relaxing on the site before getting back in the car to explore the area. But two days turned into three and then three into four. Camping La Brouquere is that kind of place – you really don’t want to tear yourself away. However, tear ourselves away we eventually did, but not very far. The town of Eauze is only about 13 kilometres away along the D931. And of course, Eauze is a treasure of a place, too. Secreted in the vaults of a now defunct bank is what’s known as the Trésor d’eauze. This is a miser’s hoard that somehow along the way, was forgotten or perhaps abandoned by whoever originally buried it. But this is no ordinary miser’s hoard. Through the doors of the Archaeological Museum you go, down the steps into the bank’s vault, your eyes having difficulty adjusting to the darkness after the bright sunshine outside.
The sight that meets your gaze is truly awesome. After all, it’s not often that you’re faced with 28,054 pieces of treasure. Not discovered until 1985, these coins, items of jewellery and other precious objects had remained buried under the town of Eauze – or Elusa, as it was called in the third century AD. They have to be seen to be believed – contained in four decomposed leather bags were about 28,000 Roman coins weighing a total of 120kg, and that’s without the knives, jewellery and gold ingots. The haul was so huge, it took 17 people seven years to make an inventory of all the pieces. But it’s not merely the size of the collection that makes a visit to the museum so fascinating. What’s really amazing is reflecting on how the treasure came to be buried. Nobody – not even the experts – can say for certain why that happened. The Roman history of Eauze continues at the Domus de Cieutat, at the site of the town’s former rail station. Here, visitors can walk around the residential heart of the city of Elusa and admire its wonderful mosaics. One of the prettiest places we visited in this region was Lagraulet-du-gers. We drove there on a bright, sunny day and thoroughly enjoyed our stroll around its old houses, and the charming lily pond. We also enjoyed our drive to Montréal-du-gers, a pretty bastide or fortified medieval
‘The Eauze treasure hoard was so huge, it took 17 people seven years to make an inventory of all the pieces’
town. Montréal-du-gers is also on the path of one of the most famous pilgrimage routes in France, from Le Puy-en-velay in the Auvergne to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. We were lucky enough to meet a pilgrim passing through the town, travelling by donkey. We took a photo of the donkey, which was taking a well-earned rest but clearly not enjoying the attentions of the passers-by!
Another must-visit town in the region is Barbotan-les-thermes, famous for its thermal baths and remedies for rheumatics and disorders of the blood. This is a lively market town which, mainly thanks to the many curistes who visit for treatment, offers an excellent choice of good restaurants. We also drove to the town of Vic-fezensac, on a Friday, which is market day. It’s a very lively spot then, with hardly room to walk down the main street. Securing a table at one of the many local cafés is quite a skill, too. But we left the final gem in our treasure hunt until the last day of our stay in the Gers, when we visited the fortified village of Larressingle. This is the most visited place in the whole region, and little wonder.
Larressingle holds the honour of being the smallest fortified village in France, as well as being a member of the elite band of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. The village is almost totally enclosed by heavily fortified walls, which were built in the 13th century. Walking around, you feel that you’re exploring a medieval village which has barely changed in all that time. So our treasure hunt in the Gers was over. And it had been all a treasure hunt should be. The region was new to us, we hadn’t known what we’d find; each day was an adventure. But thanks to the wonderful country, our trusty caravan and our welcoming site hosts, we’d had a treasure of a time. We’d most definitely be back soon. BELOW Bryn explores the tiny fortified village of Larressingle INSET Vic-fezensac on market day RIGHT Pilgrim’s donkey at rest A tranquil adults-only site with just 10 touring pitches, Camping La Brouquere is set among traditional vineyards in a really beautiful location. As well as the usual toilet and shower facilities, the site also has private washrooms that you can hire for your exclusive use during your stay. The charges for these are €4.95-€5.95 per day, depending on the season. Wi-fi is also available at the site, for €2 per day. Address Betbèze, 32330 Gondrin, France Tel 00 33 (0)5 62 29 19 44 Web www.brouquere.com Open 1 May-30 September Price (pitch+2+hook-up) €21.00-€29.25
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TOP TO BOTTOM The medieval market town of Eauze has a long and fascinating history dating back to Roman times. Wild mushrooms and foie gras are among many local delicacies. The remains of a fine Roman villa at Domus de Cieutat are well worth a visit, particularly to see the wonderful mosaics
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Left and above: Collection Tourisme GERS/CRT Midi-pyrénées Viet Dominique