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Guide to GASCONY Originally called Vasconia, a part of Roman Gallia Aquitania, Gascony spanned the width and breadth of western France from the Loire River south to the Spanish Pyrenees, and from Toulouse west to the Atlantic Ocean. Its capital was once Bordeaux. Today Gascony is divided between the regions of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitanie. Each region has its own ancient history, colorful landscapes, and unique traditions. A powerful duchy in the Middle Ages, Gascony came under English rule in 1154 through the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry Plantagenet (Henry II) King of England, and remained English until the end of the Hundred Years’ War in 1453, when it formally became part of France. Gascony local Sue Aran who runs guided tours of the region shares 26 reasons to fall in love with Gascony: Armagnac is the oldest French brandy you’ve most likely never heard of, unless you’re a connoisseur. Introduced in 1411, it precedes Cognac by some 200 years. Berets as we know them today came from Gascony, more specifically the Béarn region high in the Pyrénées. In old Gascon “bérret” was the word for cap. Originally, a local craft made from wool or felt, it was the headdress of the high mountain guides and Béarnais shepherds of the Pyrénées. The first factory began producing them commercially in the 19th century in the village of Oloron-Sainte-Marie nestled in the Pyrénées-Atlantic department. The small “tail” which protrudes in the center, the cabilhòt or cabilhou was the end of the threads resulting from hand knitting. If a cabilhou is missing from a beret, bad luck will come to the wearer. Gascon bérets are typically larger and worn flatter than the more commonly recognized Basque béret. Cyrano de Bergerac was written in 1897 by Edmond Rostand. The play is a fictionalization following the broad outlines of the life of the real Cyrano, a dashing officer of the Gascon Nerac D'Artagnan's House Cadets. The Cadets were a French regiment under King Louis XIII, recruited from the youngest sons of the aristocratic families of Gascony. The word cadet comes from the old Gascon dialect of Occitan, capdèth, meaning chief or captain. Bergerac straddles the Dordogne River, with a statue of Cyrano in one of its many pretty squares. D’Artagnan was not just the fictionalized character from Alexandre Dumas’ novels, but a real person by the name of Charles Ogier de Batz-Castelmore D’Artagnan. He was a valiant soldier who became Captain of the Espelette Peppers Musketeers and was answerable only to the Sun King himself, Louis XIV. D’Artagnan was born in Lupiac, a village in the Gers, in 1611. The Chateau de Castelmore, D’Artagnan’s home is a few kilometers outside the village proper. In the 1630s D’Artagnan moved to Paris, where he lived a life of daring and espionage. The Musée D’Artagnan, housed in the Chapelle Notre Dame in Lupiac, is dedicated to his life and legend. Espelette Peppers are a cornerstone of Basque cuisine, replacing black pepper as a spice. Espelette peppers are harvested in late summer and, in September, festoons of peppers are hung on balconies and exterior house walls to dry out. Floc de Gascogne is a local aperitif made only in Gascony. Produced since the 16th century, it comes from an old peasant recipe of 2/3 grape juice and 1/3 Armagnac, and is available in both red and white varieties. Garlic is a speciality from the Gers and Tarnet-Garonne departments dating back to the 13th century when it was brought to France by nomadic merchants from Asia. A legend states that one trader had no money to pay for his dinner at a restaurant in the village of Lautrec in the Tarn department, so he settled up with pink garlic cloves instead. The innkeeper planted the cloves and Lautrec is now the centre of pink garlic cultivation. Henri IV of France was a man of courage and foresight who, more than 400 years ago, saved his country from pious quarrels. Instead of paying for wars to be fought, he paid for them not to be fought. He understood the conditions of the common people, whom he had a real affection for, and tried to improve their lives. He pledged that all, even the poorest should be able to afford 'poule au pot', a chicken stew popular to this day. Irouléguy is a small Basque village in Lower Navarre in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department. Its delicious wines are grown in one of the smallest vineyards in France, the only one in the French Basque country. The history of the vineyard is linked to the pilgrimage to Saint Jacques-de-Compostelle. Jurançon is an area west of Pau. Jurançon was one of King Henri IV’s favorite wines, grown along the hillsides on the southern banks of the Gave de Pau covering 1,000 hectares. It is still considered the wine of Kings and still served at important events. Jurancon Wine Kakouetta Gorge, with a length of a little less than four kilometers, offers a beautiful landscape for nature lovers. Mosses, lichens, and ferns are so abundant that the area resembles tropical microclimate. Kakauetta Gorge 54 | The Good Life France The Good Life France | 55
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