What is Gascony?
No longer shown on today's maps, Gascony was once a part of the "Province of Guyenne and Gascony" and was, for the 300 years from the C12 to the C15, governed by the English Crown. It became a part of the lands claimed by the English when the future Angevin King of England, Henry II, married Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152. The region was finally ceded to the French at the end of The Hundred Years War when the English were defeated at The Battle of Castillon in 1453. As a result, the area is littered with medieval castles and buildings, some of which are still inhabited.
There is a strong Spanish and Basque influence in the region which lies to the south of Bordeaux and extends to the foothills of the Pyrenees. It comprises the majority of the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine with the Departements of the Landes (40), Pyrénées-Atlantiques (64), southwestern Gironde (33), and southern Lot-et-Garonne (47) and the western part of the region of Occitanie which includes the Departements of the Gers (32), Hautes-Pyrénées (65), the southwestern Tarn-et-Garonne (82), and western Haute-Garonne (31).
The Gascon countryside, part of the mysterious enigma known as “France Profonde”, is unspoilt by modern development and delightfully free from traffic and mass tourism. The countryside is dotted with medieval bastide towns, small villages, handsome terracotta roofed farmhouses and stone built chateaux, many dating from C12. The towns and villages tend to be small and far apart as this region is one of the most rural and sparsely populated within France. With very clean air and a temperate climate, the winters are generally mild and the summers generally hot and long.
It is said that Gascon food is one of the pillars of French cuisine. Its originality stems from its use of regional products and from an age-old tradition of cooking in goose and duck fat, whereas the cuisine of, for example, the south of France favours frying in oil and the cuisine of Normandy contains more dishes that are simmered or cooked in butter. The long life expectancy of Gascons, despite a rich diet, is a classic example of the French paradox. Traditional favourites such as foie gras, magret and confit of duck, garbure (a hearty soup) and croustade (a filo pastry dessert) can still be found in many homes and restaurants.
The region’s wines cannot compete with its neighbour to the north, Bordeaux, but it still has a number of smaller, less well known AOC, Madiran and Côtes de Saint Mont in the Gers, Jurancon, Béarn and Irouléguy in the south of the region in the Hautes Pyrenees along with numerous VDQS wine regions throughout the area. The Gers is also famous for its AOC Armagnac, the oldest French “brandy” which has been distilled since C15 and which, unlike Cognac, is a single distillation and this results in a more fragrant and flavoursome spirit than Cognac.
Close to the Spanish border, the Atlantic beaches and the Pyrenees, with easy access from Toulouse and Bordeaux airports as well as the TGV at Bordeaux and Agen, Gascony has much to offer the seasoned traveller. For those in search of a permanent home the region offers a peaceful existence, increasingly rare in today's world. And yet at a local, level there are festivals, concerts, golf and many other leisure activities to enjoy. The excellent wines, Armagnac and cuisine, and above all the hospitable Gascon people make this a perfect place to live in.