Get­away: South-west France

Bryn and Jan­ice Sadler head to France’s south-western cor­ner and find some real gems in the Gers

Practical Caravan - - Contents -

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.

Hid­den trea­sure

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.

Awe­some hoard

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!

Ther­mal baths

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.

Liv­ing his­tory

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.brou­ 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

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