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Lectoure was the first capital of the Gers department, considered the heart of Gascony. During the Middle Ages it became the capital of the Counts of Armagnac, three very influential territorial lords who commanded strategic parts of historic Gascony. It was sacked and rebuilt by Louis XI in 1473, and when Napoléon Bonaparte created the départements de France, the Gers’ capital was moved south to the city of Auch. Today Lectoure is a beautifully re-defined, Neo-Classical, hilltop village with its one main street running east to west. Its cathedral, Saint-Gervais, which was rebuilt in 1488, stands as a sentinel at the east entrance of the village. Walking from one end to the other, you’ll pass lovely old convents, half-timbered houses, and remnants of its original, fortified wall. Lectoure Book-ending the west entrance of the village is the château of the Counts of Armagnac which was recently renovated into a sprawling antique mall. The views from either side of the village are breath-taking, and on a clear day you can see the Pyrénées and a large swathe of the Gers Valley. Lectoure’s pièces de résistance include its annual crop of potently fragrant cantaloupe melons, rose-pink garlic (comprising more than a third of France’s entire crop), and 20 pagan altars from the 2nd and 3rd centuries which are housed in its museum. Lectoure holds a fantastic farmer’s market every Friday. Sample cheeses, olives, fresh vegetables and wine, and stop at Maison Baudequin, a magical chocolate shop, for a thick hot chocolate topped with whipped cream that rivals those of the famous Angelina’s on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris.
Labastide-d’Armagnac Founded in 1291, when Gascony still belonged to England, Labastided’Armagnac is the most charming, medieval village in the Landes department. Place Royale, its main arcaded square, is said to be the model for the Place des Vosges in Paris, commissioned by Henri IV. When I visit there, I always feel as if I’ve stepped onto a Hollywood movie set and you can easily be a flâneur* here. The most prominent feature of the Place Royal is the elegant church, Notre-Dame de Labastide, while a visit to the Bar Tortoré, the oldest bar in the region, offers a chance to rub shoulders with the locals. Labastide-d’Armagnac is the annual venue for the Armagnac Festival which takes place the last weekend in October. Considered the nectar of the gods and superior to Cognac, Armagnac is showcased in all of its vintages throughout the Place Royale. For a few euros, you can purchase an empty glass and taste your way around the square. As the locals enthuse, “Wine is the only thing that makes us happy as adults for no reason”. *French for wanderer
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