Auch en Gers et ses Environs

Auch, located in the region of Midi-Pyrénées (70km west of Toulouse - 80km NE of Pau), is the capital city of the département of Gers. Auch, the historic capital of Gascony, is Aushin the native Gascon Occitan tongue. The name of Auch comes from the Aquitanian tribe that inhabited the area at the time of the Roman conquest in the mid-first century BC. The name of this tribe, as recorded by the Romans, was Ausci. Aquitanians spoke a language related to the old Basque language, and a striking fact is that the name Ausci seems related to the native name of the modern Basques, who call themselves Euskal !!! At the time of the Roman conquest, the native name of the town Auch, as recorded by the Romans, was Elimberris, a variant of Iliberri, where Ili- comes from the Iberian word meaning town, city, oppidum, a frequently found prefix in names of Iberian cities. In spite of all of this etymology, the Romans renamed the town Augusta Auscorum {alt: Augusta Ausciorum}, which means "Augusta of the Ausci." Eventually, Augusta was dropped, and the name evolved into modern form. Auch became one of the twelve civitates of the province of Novempopulana (Gascony).

The olde town, or high city, is built on a hill overlooking the River Gers, an essential step for pilgrims going to Saint Jacques de Compostela. In the old city one can appreciate the modern panorama of this ancient site. The cathedral dominates the entire city. The prefecture was established in the former palace of the arch-bishop. The Tour d'Armagnac may be its most famous historic item. At the heart of the old city the City Hall (l'Hôtel de Ville), an imposing structure, contains more than simply administrative services.

Auch is known for its Renaissance-style Cathédrale Sainte-Marie (d’Auch) with its magnificent organ (1694), carved stalls and rose-shaped stained-glass windows and la Tour d'Armagnac, a 14th century prison. On the steps is a large bronze statue of d'Artagnan from The Three ..., well you know the rest. As one may expect, the River Gers flows through the town. Located in an area of thermal baths and near fine Armagnac production (the oldest 'brandy' style wine), one rightly anticipates a unique experience in this portion of France -- and then there is fois gras. Château de Busca-Maniban (9 km from nearby Valance sur Baïse) was built by Thomas de Maniban in 1649, one of the finest 17th century of the Gascon châteaux, with a majestic staircase, guard and armory room, chapel, Italian room and the gardens. Taste the estate's Armagnac made, in the oldest distillery in Armagnac region.

The Cistercian Abbey of Flaran, is situated on one of the pilgrims’ trails to St. Jacques de Compostelle. Abbaye de Flaran is the finest example of a Cistercian monastery in Southwest France. Dating back to 1115, the gardens and rooms remain a popular attraction. The building occasionally holds a major exhibition. Originally serving as a Daughter-House of the Moribond Order, the Abbey figured prominently in the Hundred Years War and as a pilgrims' rest-station on the road to St. Jacques de Compostelle, although its religious vocation ended during the confiscation period during the French Revolution. Collegiale de La Romieu was built by Cardinal Arnaud d'Aux in 1312 the Collégiale Saint Pierre and its cloisters stands at the crossroads of the two major pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostella in the Gers. The cloisters, church and towers are designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. These are near Auch.

Sitting astride a hilltop with commanding views over the Gers countryside, one can quickly see why Lectoure started as a Gallo-Roman city and became the military stronghold of the Counts of Armagnac. In the Middle Ages they built the 2.7 km of ramparts and fortifications, the impressive cathedral and religious buildings and mansions, which constitute a rich architectural legacy and give Lectoure its reputation as a town of art and culture. It possesses one of the oldest museums in France, housed in the cellars of the Bishop's Palace with a unique collection of ritualistic paraphernalia depicting ancient bull sacrifices. The thermal springs have given rise to the development of an impressive new health and spa center. Lectoure has a rich gastronomical history.

Built atop an ancient hill-fort, Montréal is one of Gascony's earliest bastides. Among the many well-preserved sites of architectural interest are a lovely 13th century church aligned with the ramparts of the village, an arcaded square, and picturesque lanes. Just outside the town, at Séviac, is the largest and most luxurious Gallo-Roman villa (4th century) in South West France. The Séviac Gallo-Roman Villa is in Montréal.

In the neighbouring département of Lot et Garonne, the town Nérac too was a Gallo Roman city, but it really flourished during the second half of the 16th century when Marguerite of Angeloume, Jean d'Albret and then his son Henri of Navarre, the future King Henri IV of France, set up court here. The château overlooking the River Baïse became an intellectual centre visited by writers, poets, and musicians, as well as a political capital with diplomats and knights. The château and the Church of Saint Nicolas should be visited. A visit to the Saturday market is recommended, followed by a stroll through the Parc de Garenne and the Jardins de Roy.

Valence-d'Agen is a small town and commune of the Tarn-et-Garonne département, northeast of Auch. It sits in the Deux Rives area (une communauté de communes). It is also close (30 miles-45km) to the west of Montauban, the capital (préfecture) of the Tarn-et-Garonne and north of Toulouse.


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