The Charms of Gascony
Tuesday 25 February 2014
The province of Gascony may not have existed since the French Revolution, but the area still retains a strong local identity, says Edward Landau of Immobilier Le Bonheur.
Gascony is a magnificent part of South West France, historically bounded to the West by the Bay of Biscay in the Atlantic and to the South by the Pyrenees mountains. At its heart lies the department of Gers, but it also has a foothold in a handful of surrounding administrative departments.
Unspoilt and unpolluted, it is dominated by rolling hills interrupted only by large areas of natural forest and verdant river valleys. Scenic Roman routes, blissfully free of traffic, run along the ridges and link the bastide villages. Local markets pulse beneath the medieval colonnades.
It is home to the gregarious Gascon as it was to the real life D’Artagnan, musketeer of legend.
The area offers a great quality of life, being unequalled for its unspoilt rural setting, natural and architectural beauty, low crime levels, lack of traffic and pollution, great food and wine, and easy access to both skiing and the Atlantic coast.
These bountiful soils account for a rich culinary heritage. Essentially a peasant cuisine based on duck and goose fat it has been of critical influence to some of the finest chefs working in Europe.
On a more accessible level there are treats to be found in the simple country restaurants where one habitually finds a robust, carefully prepared 5 course menu inclusive of wine for around €12.
Another way to enjoy the local fare is to subscribe to the 'repas du chasseur' or one of the meals at the local fetes. Here lunch can stretch through to the evening and would include the likes of salmis de palombe preceded by lashings of foie gras on warm toast, and followed by venison steaks with local wild mushrooms. This could be rounded off by a light salad, brebis cheese, and an apple croustade. Wash it down with some of the local wine and set the meal beneath the leafy plain trees in the village square and you begin to get a feel for the quality of life to be found in this remarkable region.
Architecture in Gascony is varied and the styles quite diverse. Each style of property reflects the different regional influences and the different techniques of the building to accommodate local conditions.
In the northern Gers one finds a predominance of sand-stone, to the west on the borders of the Landes there is an influence of the Landaise architecture, with evidence of more colombage (exposed oak framework packed with straw and mud).
Architects are again using similar materials for construction due to their qualities of insulation. There are three traditional categories of roof tile used in the area. The tuile picon, a flat baked clay tile, often used on the steeper roofs in the Bearn. The gersois roofs are usually have a flatter pitch and make use of a tuile roman, aclay tile. As you approach the mountains the tiles progressively shift to slate.
To the south the construction is based on river stone (flint), and to the east the architecture is poorer with many farmhouses being constructed with mud bricks.
Across the whole of the Gascony region the countryside is dotted with handsome stone built farm houses chateaux and elegant manoirs tucked into wooded parks. The houses are often characterised by terre-cuite floors, wide stone fireplaces, carved oak staircases, and built in fruit-wood cupboards each with characteristics unique to their district and respectful of its cultural heritage.
With the Pyrenees mountains in the distance many of the properties in the Gers have a background drop of the panoramic view of the Pyrenees. This can be true in the hilly regions as well as in the valleys. With such a wide range of property in Gascony finding a house to buy in this part of the world is a wonderful adventure.
The mild weather in the south west of France has been attracting visitors for generations. The appeal is the generous amount of sunshine through the winter, rainfall in the spring which nourishes the verdant countryside, a warm summer with long evenings and sublime weather stretching through the Autumn well into November.
The area avoids excessive heat in summer benefiting from average temperatures in the low 20’s with highs in the low 30’s. The winters are relatively short and generally mild.
Gascony is one of the few areas in France benefiting from a mild climate yet not affected by high prevailing winds that can affect other parts of France.
The precipitation in the area is moderate in comparison with many areas in France, though there is ample rain to keep the country side verdant and free from the water rations which are regularly imposed in some other southern areas of France.
Immobilier Le Bonheur
Established since 1995, Le Bonheur offers a comprehensive selection of properties across the South West and a carefully chosen portfolio of investment property across France, providing their clients with unparalleled knowledge of the region and reliable legal and background information.
Edward Landau will be at the French Village, A Place in the Sun Live, London March 2014, where you can discuss your Gascony property aspirations with him over the three days.