La Maison des Lys
Valence sur Baise
Chiambre dhote de charme
As a French holiday destination the Gers is one of the less well-known departments. However, it has long been popular with the French seeking the relaxing stress-free atmosphere of ‘La France Profonde’ and is gradually being discovered by those in the know. Today it is often referred to as the Tuscany of France, with its hilltop towns and villages, cypress trees and vineyards, rolling hills and wheat and sunflower covered fields.
The department of the Gers lies right at the heart of Gascony in South West France. It is one of the eight departments that form the Mid-Pyrénées region, the largest in France, and lies halfway between the Atlantic Ocean and the mountains of the Pyrénées. The Gers is the second most rural department in France with a low population density, but the nearest seaside resort and ski station are just an hour and a half away.
The Gers makes a marvellous holiday destination with its location and climate, its festivals and history, the countryside, towns and villages, the modern recreational and sports facilities, its hospitality and relaxed, stress-free atmosphere.
It was the Romans who first civilised the region founding Auch, Lectoure and Eauze and built villas and settlements throughout the region. However, the invasion of the Visigoths in the 4th century signalled the end of the Romans; the towns were destroyed and the region went into decline.
It was not until the 11th century that there was an upturn in the economy when the monks began to organise the working population into clearing the forests and building the ‘castelnaux’, fortified castles, around which housing and communities were created.
Following the Albigensian crusades the Gers became the frontier between the English and the French and the Hundred Years War saw the building of the bastides. These new towns were usually the result of the ecclesiastical and political wills combining to claim new territory and increase the economy. Many of the bastides are named after the flourishing cities of Europe and there are about 40 of them in the Gers. Each built to a geometric pattern with grid-style roads and a central market place or square.
The ravages of the Hundred Years War were followed by famine, plague and more wars and it was not until the end of 16th century that the effects of the Renaissance were felt – the construction of cathedrals and castles began and the re-population and regeneration of Gascony took place. Henri IV gave the Gascons a strong presence in the Royal Court of France and d’Artagnan became Captain Lieutenant in the King’s Musketeers.
The 18th and 19th centuries saw a great growth in the population as technical and administrative progress improved agricultural output and the region became established firstly as Armagnac and then as the Gers.
The population reached 314,885 in 1847, however as agriculture became mechanised and the younger generations moved from country to city the population has declined to its current 172,355 inhabitants. This makes it one of the least populated departments in France, one of the most rural and the one in which the largest percentage of workers are employed on the land.
The Gers is the 4th most important producer department in France – cereals (wheat, corn, maize and millet) cover 200,000 hectares and have always been the most important crop, but the recent boom in sunflowers and rape seed oil production have brightened the countryside. The vineyards of Armagnac and the CÃ´tes de Gascogne cover some 20,000 hectares. The department is also France ‘s leading garlic grower, produces some of the finest melons in the country and, of course, is also the second largest duck and goose producer. With the 150,000 geese and almost 2.5 million ducks, the poultry population far outnumbers the humans.baddrip
Foie gras and ready cooked dishes like cassoulet, garbure and others are a very important revenue generator and allied to Armagnac and fine wines give the Gers its gourmet reputation. This is enhanced by the fact that many Gers farm products have earned an official quality label:
AOC for Armagnac, Floc de Gascogne, Madiran and Pacherenc wines
VDQS for the Côtes de Saint-Mont
Vins de Pays for the local Côtes de Gascogne wines
Red Label for Gers (Avigers) farm poultry, geese and ducks as well as Charolais and Blond d’Aquitaine beef
IGP for Gers Duck Foie Gras
Marchés du Gers Tradition and Quality Charter for Gers Farm Manufacturers of tinned and bottled foods.
Moreover, steps are being taken to obtain a Quality official Label for:
• Purple Garlic from the Country of Cadours (AOC and AOP)
• White Garlic from Lomagne (IGP).