Transcript for Episode 475: Hidden Gems of the Gers

Categories: Day -Trips from Toulouse, Toulouse Area

Discussed in this Episode

  • Flaran Abbey
  • Montréal
  • Fourcès
  • Séviac
  • Larressingle
  • Gimont
  • Auch
  • Condom
  • Gers Department

[00:00:00] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France, episode 475, quatre cent soixante quinze.

[00:00:23] Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent, and Join Us in France is the podcast where we talk about France, everyday life in France, great places to visit in France, French culture, history, gastronomy, and news related to travel to France.

Today on the podcast

[00:00:37] Annie Sargent: Today, I bring you a conversation with Elyse Rivin of Toulouse Guided Walks about our recent excursion to The Heart of the Gers, where we visited Ancient abbeys, Roman ruins, and Medieval villages.

[00:00:52] The Gers is a bucolic and authentic place to visit, an hour northwest of Toulouse, so it’s an easy drive for us. I think many of us would enjoy a visit to this off the beaten track part of France.

Services related to the podcast

[00:01:06] Annie Sargent: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my Itinerary Consult Service, my GPS self-guided tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app, or take a day trip with me around the Southwest in my beautiful electric car. You can browse all of that at my boutique

Bootcamp 2024

[00:01:29] Annie Sargent: And still, you can join me and Elyse at the bootcamp in May 2024. I wasn’t sure there would be any spots left, but there are quite a few still actually. I’m surprised because last year it sold out so fast. But there’s still plenty of time. The idea is that you come to Toulouse on May 10th 2024, hang out with Elyse and I, as well as a group of wonderful fellow listeners and francophiles for 10 days.

[00:01:56] You’ll also improve your French with language classes in the morning. We had such a great time in May 2023, that we want to do it all over again. And to find out about the bootcamp, go to and click on Bootcamp 2024. That’s where you can read all the details and reserve your spot and, of course, ask me any questions that you may have.

[00:02:20] I’m going to have a Zoom very soon with the people who’ve already signed up and they’ll get to ask me all of their questions and get their reservations going for hotels and all of that good stuff.

The magazine part of the podcast: the price of bread

[00:02:33] Annie Sargent: For the magazine part of the podcast, after my chat with Elyse today, I’ll discuss the price of bread in France.

[00:02:40] As you know, I just came back from a trip to the US and I was shocked at the price of bread. How come bread is so cheap in France? We’ll talk about that briefly. And I’ll also mention two things that you must do to keep your cell phone safe while traveling.

Annie and Elyse about The Gers

[00:03:05] Annie Sargent: Bonjour Elyse.

[00:03:06] Elyse Rivin: Bonjour, Annie.

[00:03:08] Annie Sargent: We’re laughing because we’ve started this episode so many times already, because it’s cursed.

[00:03:14] Elyse Rivin: It’s not cursed. It’s really not a cursed place we’re going to talk about, but it looks like we are having a bit of a problem here.

[00:03:21] Annie Sargent: I made a few changes. I changed microphones, we’re recording in a different room and it doesn’t take much to throw us off our game, apparently.

Exploring the Gers Region

[00:03:29] Annie Sargent: Anyway, Elyse, the Gers, beautiful, beautiful place, very bucolic, not far from where we live, just west of Toulouse. It’s kind of in between Toulouse and Bordeaux, if you want to think about it in those terms. It is in the Occitanie region of France, and it’s a beautiful place to go if you would like to see some very nice villages, eat really well and enjoy the bucolic landscape.

[00:03:59] But there are also some very nice museums that you can visit. So, we’re going to get into it.

[00:04:05] And this time, for once, we went there on purpose to visit. Because what happens most of the time when you live close to somewhere is you go past it and you don’t stop.

[00:04:15] Well, we decided on a few places and we went to visit them specifically. So let’s talk about them.

The Beauty and Simplicity of Gers

[00:04:21] Elyse Rivin: Yes. In fact, what happened was that, this is a department, especially for everybody, but even for us who live here in Toulouse, it’s kind of like, oh, you’re going to the Gers? Basically, why would you go to the Gers?

[00:04:33] Well, in fact, it is very, very, very agricultural and has just tiny little villages.

[00:04:39] But it also has some absolutely exquisite old monasteries, the beautiful architecture of the monasteries. It has chateaus, it has all these things. It’s just that it’s not blingy like a lot of the other departments.

[00:04:53] Annie Sargent: That’s true, it’s far from blingy.

[00:04:54] Elyse Rivin: It’s far from blingy, you know. I mean, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Lot, which everybody goes to and which is dead, drop dead gorgeous, really. But it’s one of those places that can grow on you if you spend some time there, it has only one city, and that’s the city of Auch, which is not very big, it’s 23000 people.

[00:05:14] And the rest of it is just little villages. And this time when we say little, we mean little.

[00:05:22] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Yes. So they have like to go to high school, almost everybody has to get on a school bus and go to high school. It’s just not, I mean, they have elementary schools everywhere, even in the very small places, usually. Not everywhere, obviously, but junior high and high school, you have to go somewhere, it’s just not everywhere. It’s a really rural place and the places we visited, I would think have perhaps between a hundred people and a thousand people, perhaps.

[00:05:50] Most of them have, it seems about a thousand people, but then we did go out, we had our little lunch adventure in a place that according to one of the local residents has only 25 people in the winter time. So that is really what you could call tiny, you know.

Le Bonheur est dans le Pré

[00:06:08] Annie Sargent: But one of the things about the Gers that there’s a movie, I have to remember, I have to find the name of it because I can imagine, I can see in my mind a couple of the actors, one of them is a French singer named Eddie Mitchell.

[00:06:19] A movie was made about 25 – 30 years ago, that is a kind of comedy, that’s very charming. It’s about a group of people who go to the Gers and the basic idea of the story is that there’s one of their friends either buys or rents this house in the Gers. It’s a farm and it has ducks and everything.

[00:06:37] And the other people are going: The Gers, why would you go to The Gers? Who would go to the Gers? It’s so boring in the Gers. And what happens is all these people wind up showing up and having the greatest time of their life, you know. Was it called ‘Le Bonheur est dans le Pré’?

[00:06:55] Elyse Rivin: It’s fun. It’s just a wonderful, and it’s really about being in the Gers.

[00:06:59] Annie Sargent: So ‘Le Bonheur est dans le Pré’ means ‘Happiness is in the field’.

[00:07:04] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, happiness is in the fields, watching the duckies go into their little pond, you know.

[00:07:08] Annie Sargent: And there is a rhyme that goes:

[00:07:10] Le bonheur est dans le pré.

[00:07:13] Cours-y vite, cours-y vite.

[00:07:13] Le bonheur est dans le pré, cours-y vite.

[00:07:14] Il va filer.

[00:07:17] Elyse Rivin: Ah, the bonheur…

[00:07:18] Annie Sargent: So, yes. So, happiness is in the field, run to it, run to it. Happiness is in the fields, run to it or it will run away.

[00:07:26] Elyse Rivin: Oh, yes, indeed. Yes.

The Serenity of Rural Life in Gers

[00:07:28] Elyse Rivin: So if you’re looking for high end drama, this is not the place to go. If you’re looking for a place that has beautiful scenery, lots of very small historical things that have largely been left untouched. It’s a lovely, lovely place.

[00:07:44] It’s actually the kind of place, it’s a big department, it’s a good place to imagine spending two or three nights in one of the larger villages and then just going out and doing some day trips. And because it’s actually fairly big, we just kind of decided we were going to pick a bunch of things that were in the same part of it.

[00:08:01] And that was what we did. We had a very lovely day and saw a bunch of things that we want to talk about.

[00:08:07] Annie Sargent: Right. And it’s also a really good place for biking because there’s a lot of little roads and not that much traffic, really, it’s pretty quiet.

[00:08:15] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, it’s pretty quiet. It is actually, that’s, that was the thing that struck me the most. I don’t live on a noisy street, but still the quiet, it’s really the countryside.

[00:08:25] Annie Sargent: Yes. Yes. And there are some very nice chateaus. We’re not going to talk about a chateau today, but there’s some of that as well in The Gers. So let’s get into the towns we visited.

How long to get to The Gers?

[00:08:36] Elyse Rivin: Okay, so the first place we went to, and by the way, we’re talking about a drive that, how long would, did it take us to get there? An hour and a half?

[00:08:43] Annie Sargent: Right, so from Toulouse, an hour and 20, no, an hour and 30 minutes or so, yes.

[00:08:48] Elyse Rivin: So it’s a fairly big department, but because most of the roads are not big, wide roads, you don’t go that fast on the roads.

[00:08:57] Annie Sargent: Right, and you can count on being stuck behind a tractor at some point.

[00:09:00] Elyse Rivin: At some point, yeah. This is breathe deep and relax kind of day.

Visiting the Abbey of Flaran

[00:09:06] Elyse Rivin: So we went to a place that I had been to before and it was actually lovely and charming, and it’s called the Abbey of Flaran.

[00:09:14] The Abbey of Flaran is a monastery that still has most of its buildings that are actually that date from, believe it or not, the 12th century. It is what is called a Cistercian Abbey. For those out there who don’t understand, there are what they call different orders in the monks in the monasteries, and this is through the long history of all of these monasteries in France, and there is a group called the Cistercians, that developed just about the, when this place was built, which is 800, 900 years ago. And the idea was to live far away in the countryside, if you can imagine, it still feels isolated today, you can imagine what it was like 800 years ago, you know.

[00:09:54] Annie Sargent: Oh, yeah, I hadn’t thought of that, but yes, it was really, really, isolated.

[00:09:59] Elyse Rivin: Isolated. There were probably much more forests and with all the bad things that you get in the forest and everything. And, but that was the whole point that you found…

[00:10:06] Annie Sargent: What do you mean bad things in the forest?

[00:10:07] Elyse Rivin: Wolves and things like that.

[00:10:08] Annie Sargent: I thought you meant squirrels.

[00:10:10] Elyse Rivin: Squirrels. Come on, give me a break, you know. Oh my God. All right. But actually the point of these monasteries was really to have a big chunk of land where they could grow their own produce and have their own animals if they did eat animals because some of these orders actually were vegetarian.

[00:10:32] And in this case, it was the Cistercians who believed in a very sober, really sober, very unadorned life, including an unadorned kind of architecture. And so, through the ages, this monastery has been preserved. We visited a good chunk of it, including the church. There was some work being done in the church, wasn’t there? I think they were replacing something in the roof or something like, but what’s surprising is that the architecture of the Cistercians was very austere in the sense that you have the beautiful arches and all of the things that you’re maybe used to seeing in some of these old monasteries, but there’s no colour, and there’s no adornment, there’s no sculpture.

[00:11:13] However, the Cistercian monks were famous for singing acappella in their churches, and so the acoustics are great, and it’s Annie that sings in churches when we go together, it’s not me, I mean, otherwise, even the birds up in the ceiling would just leave, you know, and they would go somewhere else, you know, but it was really neat.

Art Exhibition at the Abbey

[00:11:32] Elyse Rivin: And I knew that this Abbey, which of course now is a cultural center, interestingly enough, it’s no longer a monastery, is a place that also has art exhibits. So maybe you want to talk about your reaction to the art show that was there.

[00:11:46] Annie Sargent: I thought it was absolutely fabulous. I was not expecting something like this. They had a lot of, I mean, after a while, you know, you think, oh, perhaps this is like a mini Orsay museum, because it had a lot of the sort of thing you’d expect to see in the Orsay Museum. It had, well, first when you’ve went, well, just the way we entered, there was a Picasso, by a very young Picasso.

[00:12:15] And if you look at the detail, like he was like 13 or 14 when he drew this. And if you look at the detail on the face, it looks so striking. It’s just gorgeous. And then there was some Anne Vallon, there was some Rodin, there was some Courbet.

[00:12:32] There was some Dali, much, much more recent.

[00:12:36] I mean, what wasn’t there? I was shocked how much beautiful stuff was in there.

[00:12:41] Elyse Rivin: In fact, what the Abbey de Flaran has become an important and major cultural center in the southwest of France, and so what this was, what we saw was actually the entire private collection of some very wealthy family, that accumulated all of this in the 20th century, and they left it, they gave it as a heritage to the Abbey. I don’t know if there’s anybody left in the family, but it is part of the gift they gave to the Abbey.

[00:13:09] So what you have is we had walk in this gorgeous medieval garden. You see the beautiful architecture that dates back to 800, 900 years ago. And then you go upstairs and you have the opportunity to see this absolutely exquisite art exhibit.

[00:13:26] And I don’t know how long, I think in the summertime, they sometimes do a change and they put in some photography exhibits. The one time I was there before, I believe there was a photography exhibit, but it’s really a magnet that attracts people.

[00:13:40] Annie Sargent: And there were quite a few people. There were several people there. For boonies, you know, you’re like, Oh… there’s like 20 people here.

[00:13:47] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. And if I remember correctly, because it was true in another place as well, it was indeed the last weekend, because places like this do indeed close for some of the months in the wintertime.

[00:13:57] Annie Sargent: Yes. Most of the places we went to, they close after the end of the fall vacation for French kids. So that’s typically early November. And then they don’t reopen until Easter vacation for French school kids, which is typically middle of April. Sometimes Easter is much sooner, so it’s pegged to that, but you have to look at French school vacations to be able to time this right. But in general, it’s best to go between April and October.

[00:14:32] Elyse Rivin: Right. Some of these places, I’m not sure about the Abbey de Flaran, I don’t remember if we asked…

[00:14:36] Annie Sargent: It might be open year round, that one, I’m not sure.

[00:14:38] Elyse Rivin: Or just at Christmas and maybe some weekends. You have to really check.

[00:14:43] Annie Sargent: Yes, do check, it’s a sort of place that has a complicated schedule, so we can’t discuss it on the podcast, you can’t, don’t trust us on this one.

[00:14:51] Elyse Rivin: You know, no, no, don’t trust us on this one. However, these are places that obviously, from the springtime until the end of October, these are wonderful places to include in a visit to this area.

[00:15:01] They really are, you know.

[00:15:03] And then from there, abbeys historically were built in very remote places and then very often little villages built up next to the abbey. You might think it would be the opposite, but actually the village came after the abbey, because a whole bunch of people were brought in to help do work that was connected to the abbey, and that was the case of the village that was connected to the Abbey of Flaran, and we discovered that there were two villages not very far away.

[00:15:28] We’re talking about somewhere between 6 and 14 kilometers, which is really not very far away.

[00:15:35] Annie Sargent: Right. Yeah. And they were interesting as well.

[00:15:37] Elyse Rivin: They were really interesting. And all of these little villages in the Gers have a very nice historic center. Some of them are better kept up than others. And some of them are more touristy than others. It’s an area that has a certain amount of, I mean, to use a word that can be considered a cliché, but authenticity, because these villages really seem to be exactly the way they were for the last few hundred years.

[00:16:02] Annie Sargent: Yeah, authentic is a good term for it, I think. It’s just, you know, a little place in France that is sleepy most of the year, but then gets a fair bit of visitors in the summer, although it’s hardly Provence, or a place like that, you know.

[00:16:16] Elyse Rivin: Exactly.

The Village of Montréal du Gers

[00:16:17] Elyse Rivin: So, then we went to the village of Montréal, which is Montreal, it’s Montréal du Gers. And we were thinking, because it is a bastide now, we did years and years ago, we did an episode about what a bastide is.

[00:16:31] In the southwest of France, the bastides were villages that were built from scratch, starting in the, pretty much the 13th century, and The Gers has a whole lot of them. And most of these villages have a, at least the dead center of it are on a grid system, although there were a couple, and one of them we did go to because it was just fun to see, is actually built in concentric circles.

[00:16:53] And so, we had both heard about, and never been to, this village called Montréal du Gers, and it was listed in various things as very beautiful and everything, so we went there, and then we were going to do our little walk and our lunch there, but…

Electric car charging troubles

[00:17:11] Annie Sargent: There was a complication due to my brain not working. As you know, I drive an electric car and when you drive an hour and a half away from home, it was, I mean, I could have gotten home on one charge, but it was kind of, eh, I’m not sure. So I would rather charge along the way, right?

[00:17:28] Some of these villages have a 22K charger, which is miraculous if you ask me, because there’s hardly anybody there and they have a car charger anyway. I plug in, but these, these are car chargers, they’re very, very simple. There’s no screen on the charger, there’s just little stickers that show how you’re supposed to do it. And I suppose I wasn’t doing it right, and I called the helpline, which talked to a lady who was super helpful, it still wouldn’t work. And after five, five or six tries or whatever it was, I eventually figured out that it’s because I had told my car to wait until 10:30 PM to charge, because that’s when we get the cheap rates for electricity. But of course, I should have turned that off and I forgot.

[00:18:14] And I got frustrated and I said, okay, Elyse we’re moving on to the next village, the next charger, because I was thinking, perhaps I can figure that one out.

[00:18:23] And I started to cry because I was so hungry.

[00:18:28] We move on.

Fources, small circular village

[00:18:29] Annie Sargent: We moved on. We go to the next village, which was Fourcès, which also has a charger, but it’s the exact same charger. And I was like, oh no, am I going to not manage it here either? But having had the help from this nice lady at the helpline and now having figured out that it was me that was the problem, I plugged in and it started immediately, so… just… human error.

[00:18:55] Elyse Rivin: It was, so, of course what happened was we did indeed stop in Fourcès. And Fourcès is, is actually known for being one of these very strange little circular villages. Really, really ancient. We have a few photos. I think Annie took some very nice photos.

[00:19:11] All of this beautiful half timbering of the houses, it’s medieval. It’s tiny, but it’s in a total concentric circle with another circle around it, it’s a very, very small village there. We got there and the restaurant there is this one very nice restaurant. It was packed and I said, two more?

[00:19:28] And they said, no. And I went, what do you mean, no? And they said, well, we’re closing. We’ve just used up all the food in the kitchen. I said, you got to be kidding, you know? It was one of those days. I was not having a good food day, but then all’s well that ends well.

[00:19:41] Annie Sargent: Yes, we found a little, you know, a little corner store that was a bakery, grocery store, whatever. But she was also serving some food to some people outside who had also been turned away probably by the same restaurant across the village, and across the village, I mean, like you can see it from where you are.

[00:20:00] It’s not that far. And the lady at the bakery / grocery store served, she made us a sandwich and it was good, it was fine.

When in the Gers, try a croustade!

[00:20:08] Elyse Rivin: It was fine. We had a sandwich and then we had a piece of this wonderful dessert that comes from the region and it’s called the croustade.

[00:20:15] Now there are croustade in other places as well, but you have to know that if you go to the Gers in this area, that the croustade is made with a very flaky pastry and apples and a little bit of Armagnac and boy, is it good!

[00:20:28] Annie Sargent: Right, so when we, she came to bring us something and she says, would you like dessert today? And I said: Yeah, we want dessert. And she says: Well, we have Croustade. And I said: Oh, perfect! We like Croustade. Would you like some Armagnac on your croustade? And I said, sure, why not? So when it came time to serve us our croustade, she comes back with a spray bottle, a green spray bottle, I kid you not. And she sprays some armagnac on the croustade. I mean like, Oh, okay. It was very good, but it was a little surprising that’s all.

[00:20:59] Elyse Rivin: It was very good. The fact is, Fources is famous for being one of these very strange little circular villages, it really dates back 800 years. There are now very few people who live in the, in this dead center part of the village, but it’s beautiful. In the high season, which of course it was not, we were really coming to the very end of the, when anything was open, it turns out to be a place that has lots of artists, studios, lots of little boutiques that have crafts.

[00:21:25] So these are places that really come to life in the main season. And they are very, very beautiful and they’re very interesting to see.

[00:21:34] Annie Sargent: Right. I think that she said, so the lady with the green spray bottle, she said that in the summer months, in the touristy months, there’s three of them that run the restaurant slash grocery store. And that there’s quite a few people that can visit. It is very scenic. It’s very small.

[00:21:52] That’s the one we mentioned that had 25 inhabitants in the winter. But it’s really cute, definitely worth a stop for a half an hour, or for a meal or whatever…

[00:22:01] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, I mean, it has a real full restaurant. It has a bar-pub that has a wine tasting in it. It has this little cafe-grocery store and it has other stores around it. These are places that are really lovely.

[00:22:13] Going to this area, you kind of have to give a bit of thought to your planning out your day to know where you’re going to stop and everything. But places like this really always have wonderful little surprises. And so after we had our little lunch, we did a walk around the other outer concentric circle.

[00:22:30] It’s really lovely, tiny little stream that runs with a little bridge over it right behind it. And all the houses are very well kept up in these beautiful medieval houses. This is an area like that. It has charm. It really does.

A visit to Montréal

[00:22:43] Elyse Rivin: And then what we did was, having charged the car, we went back to Montréal so that we could take a look at it.

[00:22:50] And it turns out that Montréal has a lodging because it is a major stop on the road to Compostelle.

[00:22:57] Annie Sargent: Right. And it’s, it was a much bigger town. It felt like a bigger town. Yeah. And it had more people. It had more restaurants. It had more open. So yes, probably having lunch in Montréal would have been a better choice, but…

[00:23:14] Elyse Rivin: It was fine, it was fine.

[00:23:15] And Montréal is typical of the villages that are really quite beautiful in this part of France, the old houses are all made of stone. Some of them are half timbered, very well kept up. Montréal is a classic example of the bastide on a grid system with very, you know, straight lines.

[00:23:32] And it has in the center of it, this very beautiful covered market. So these, these are places that really are to be discovered really.

The Roman Site of Séviac

[00:23:41] Elyse Rivin: And then after our stop again in Montréal, we went to what was the, kind of big event of the day for both of us, and that was the wonderful, incredible, Roman site of Séviac.

[00:23:56] Annie Sargent: Yes, that was quite spectacular. We’ve seen, I mean, we see a lot of Roman sites in France, a lot of themnot that exciting, but Séviac was really good.

[00:24:06] Elyse Rivin: Séviac is famous. It’s a huge site.

[00:24:09] Many of these sites, by the way, are run by the local community. They’re not national or anything like that. It varies from region to region. In the case of Séviac, it is considered to be relatively important. So there’s a lot of regional money that was invested into making sure that it’s a site that’s very easy to visit and well protected and everything like that.

The Preservation of Séviac’s Mosaics

[00:24:32] Elyse Rivin: And it is famous because it was a Roman villa. Anda Roman villa, it was in fact, a huge house, the equivalent literally would be, the equivalent of a plantation in modern thinking of a really rich, important Roman family who probably had their city home, and this was in fact considered to be their country home, because even back then they had things like that.

[00:25:00] And it is famous because it has some of the best preserved mosaics of any Roman site in France.

[00:25:07] Annie Sargent: Right. The Mosaics are really, really spectacular in Séviac and very well preserved. So a local lady, I can’t remember her name right now, but a local lady, I don’t know if she found it or if she just knew about it and wanted to learn more, but she started digging up things and finding more and more.

[00:25:26] And then she gathered the funds to be able to cover all these mosaics, because if they’re exposed to the sun and the elements, they will get just ruined, you know, they had been covered by dirt. They are now uncovered, there’s a beautiful roof over them and you get to walk around and discover all of these things. I thought it was just gorgeous.

[00:25:48] Elyse Rivin: I had been there once when I was preparing for my guide exam, so we’re talking about 25 years ago. And it was certainly not as well set up as it was when we saw it the other day, which is lovely because it means that now there’s been a recognition of how important it is as a site. And so there’s a pathway, there’s a lot of very good documentation, there are some explanations. There are little booklets and brochures you can get in just about every language, and it allows you to really walk through the different parts of what was a huge, huge, huge house of a very wealthy family, and understand how the mosaics were part of the basic structure, and decoration of course, because very often the mosaics indicate what room it was.

[00:26:32] I mean, if it had food, it’s probably where they ate. If it had Poseidon, it was probably the huge bath area, and it’s just absolutely gorgeous and it’s extremely well protected overhead, so you don’t have to worry about it. It’s really become a major site and thank goodness, because it’s very hard to keep these things up.

[00:26:49] It means that there was a certain investment of money, both locally and regionally for something like this.

[00:26:55] Annie Sargent: Now this site is definitely closed through the winter months. I wasn’t sure about the Abbey, but Séviac is closed. I think she was closing the day after we visited or something.

The Villa of Saviac

[00:27:06] Elyse Rivin: I think she told us that is was the last weekend and then they were closing for the winter time, you know, they were just shutdown. There is a museum in a town we did not go to that’s not very far away called Eauze, which is apparently a small museum that has some of the small objects that were found at the Villa of Séviac, because here you really just see the structure of the villa and the mosaics on the ground and where the baths were, because of course, part of what they always had, you know, we now have our nice fancy swimming pools. Well, they didn’t have one. They had three. They had a warm one, a cold one, and then in between one, you know, mean, this is… They lived a good life, the rich Romans!

[00:27:50] They really did. They lived there. It’s fascinating. It’s really beautiful. And it’s set up on a little bit of a hill, just a little bit of what I’d call a hillock actually, but you can see that they purposely set it up there. So they have a very good view and they probably had some of the land cultivated for their own use.

[00:28:07] Annie Sargent: Yeah, and it probably had rows of sculptures and columns and gorgeous. You don’t really go to Séviac for the sculptures and the columns. There’s a few, but it’s mostly for the mosaics.

[00:28:19] Elyse Rivin: It’s for the mosaics, and just have an idea. I really have, it’s very nice to see a place that’s been taken care of and well presented. And it doesn’t matter what language, you can find out whatever you need to know.

[00:28:31] Annie Sargent: Yeah, and the lady who was, who sold us the tickets, she seemed well informed about it. So I think we could have had a long conversation with her about it. We both got a book about the mosaics. I definitely recommend it. I wish we had had time to go to Eauze as well, because I mean, you can get a group ticket for the two, you know, and I think it’s worth going to that as well.

[00:28:55] But time was of the essence.

[00:28:57] Yeah, we had one more little place that I wanted to take Annie, because I’d been there before.

[00:29:02] Actually, a couple of times. And I wanted this to be the last little surprise of the day. So, we left Séviac, and again, we’re talking about not going very far in any one direction, you know, this is really pretty much staying in the local area in relation to the whole department.

The Village of Larressingle

[00:29:18] Annie Sargent: But we went to what is an absolutely amazing little thing called the village of Larressingle.

[00:29:25] Right. I had never seen anything like it really. It’s teeny, but it’s so cute.

[00:29:29] Elyse Rivin: It’s a mini Carcassonne. It is a tiny, tiny, tiny little village, that is entirely within its walls, its beautiful, beautiful medieval stone walls with a moat around it. There’s a gorgeous Romanesque chapel that is in actually relatively good condition on the inside and the remains of what was the Chateau of the Lord of Larressingle.

[00:29:52] And when you drive up, it’s really rather surprising because you’re in the middle of all these fields that are just agricultural fields, and all of a sudden, there it is. It’s just absolutely, really, it’s like, if you imagine shrinking Carcassonne, you know.

[00:30:05] Annie Sargent: Yeah. So it’s, it’s like a walled city, but it’s the size of, I don’t know, a football field.

[00:30:13] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, probably, you know.

[00:30:14] And it’s really not that big.

[00:30:16] It’s not that big. And you go through these, the beautiful portal, you know, the enormous entranceway that, of course, at the time would have had these huge wooden doors that would close, of course, at sundown every day.

[00:30:27] And when you get inside, it is in a circle, this is absolutely a total perfect circle. And lo and behold, you have a few very beautiful little houses. Everything’s attached to one another. It’s just in this circle. There was even a little shop that was a combination, tourist shop, coffee shop, and grocery store that was open.

[00:30:47] There were two or three people sitting there having something to drink. There are a couple of houses. There were a few restaurants that are open in the high season that were closed. There’s a tourist office there that in high season is of course open and you can go into the chapel and you can walk around. And it’s a little jewel.

[00:31:05] It’s just absolutely charming. It’s just almost so surprising, you know.

Restoration work

[00:31:10] Annie Sargent: And there was a sign that explained that it’s a group of people from Boston that kind of saved the village. Because, you know, we have so many of these beautiful sites in France, that it takes an awful lot of money just to keep up the roof, just to keep the elements away from the roof is what, you know, from the walls.

[00:31:31] And so this group of people from Boston invested a lot of donations and stuff to, to make it, to keep it nice. And they really did a good job, I thought.

[00:31:42] Elyse Rivin: Yes, this is a perfect example of a group of, probably a group of people who came to be tourists and live in that area, discovered this little fortified village and decided that it was worth saving.

[00:31:57] Annie Sargent: Yeah, and this has happened a lot in France. There are especially Americans, sometimes British people, but there are a lot of places in France where you show up and there’s a plaque thanking donors who all happen to be, you know, wealthy Americans.

[00:32:14] It’s nothing to scoff at because without it, I mean, the current government in France is trying to incentivize French people to donate, there’s a new tax incentive in France for wealthy people to donate for the renovation of buildings.

[00:32:33] And it’s really necessary, it’s very needed, because so far, you know, as a French person, if you donate it, well, that’s, thank you for your donation, but you don’t get a tax break. And it’s good that now we do, because hopefully a lot more wealthy French people will donate to these sorts of things.

[00:32:50] Elyse Rivin: That would actually be great. So basically what happened was, it was nighttime, when the sun was setting and over the beautiful hills of The Gers and we started to head home. It was a very lovely, full, very, very lovely day. In the show notes, you’ll see, I put down the names of a few other things that are places that are really interesting to see because, as I said, the department is really quite big.

[00:33:13] So you can’t do all of that in a day, it’s absolutely not possible. But The Gers is a place, even with children, you can go and there are lots of these little museums. There are lots of, you can go biking, you can go and visit these little towns that have everything, every village has a nice, at least one nice restaurant.

[00:33:31] It’s absolutely amazing. You eat really well in The Gers, you know.

Gastronomy and agriculture in the Gers

[00:33:34] Annie Sargent: Right, that’s what we should talk about in The Gers is, is the food a little bit, because, it’s really spectacular. So they do a lot of duck production. They also have local wines, especially when you get to the Western side of The Gers.

[00:33:49] Elyse Rivin: The red one is the Madiran. Which is very good.

[00:33:52] Annie Sargent: It’s a very good, very kind of flavorful red.

[00:33:55] You know, it has a very distinct personality. Madiran is often served with couscous. As a matter of fact, that’s how I’ve seen it served is with a couscous. So if you have a spicy food, Madiran is good because it has, I don’t know, it has some punch to it as well.

[00:34:12] Elyse Rivin: And there’s also the Jurançon. Which is from the southern area of Gers. It’s a very local wine.

[00:34:18] It’s, so it’s a relatively sweet white wine, isn’t it?

[00:34:21] Annie Sargent: It can be. It’s mo very often.

[00:34:24] Elyse Rivin: Usually served with foie gras, I think.

[00:34:25] Annie Sargent: Yes. Yes. And of course The Gers produces a lot of foie gras.

[00:34:29] They ran into some problems this year, well in the last few years, because of bird flu. And this year they did something that they try, they’re trying this thing, they’re trying to vaccinate the flocks against bird flu.

[00:34:46] It’s a bit of a controversial thing, but they’ve had to cull so many ducks in the last few years that, you know, it’s worth trying. Let’s see where that leads them.

Le Festival du Gras (aka le Marché du Gras)

[00:34:57] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, I mean, The Gers is a place, there’s a, there’s a very small village that’s much closer to it, it’s called Gimont that is considered to be the capital of foie gras, and two times a year they have what they call the Festival of the Gras.

[00:35:13] Annie Sargent: Le Festival du Gras.

[00:35:15] Elyse Rivin: And I’ve been there and you have this huge hanger kind of market and all of the local producers bring their duck, and the foie gras, and all of the products. You mean duck, you know, literally everything but the quack is used in a duck, you know, I mean, I go to one of the markets in Toulouse, at the height of duck season, you can really just get about every part of the duck that you can imagine,even if you don’t want to eat foie gras, unless you’re not a meat eater, duck is really delicious to eat, you know.

[00:35:46] Annie Sargent: Poor ducks. I’m sorry.

[00:35:47] Elyse Rivin: Poor ducks, they’re cute animals, I love them, but I also like to eat them, unfortunately, you know.

[00:35:52] Annie Sargent: The Festival du Gras is a great time. It’s usually September, right?

[00:35:56] Elyse Rivin: I think it’s the beginning of October.

[00:35:57] Annie Sargent: Okay. And it’s a great time to go and buy some unprocessed duck livers, so if you want to make your own preserves. My sister did this for years. I don’t know why she hasn’t been doing it the last few years.

[00:36:11] I’m going to have to complain. Because it’s really good.

[00:36:14] But yes, it’s a really nice place to go buy these sorts of things. And there’s thousands of people who go when that’s on because we like to, we like to eat, yeah.

[00:36:25] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, and there’s a very famous place for jazz and a jazz festival that’s in the southwest of The Gers called Marciac, which is a huge bastide. It’s also a bastide, but it’s a big one. And in the last 30, 35 years, this has become a world famous jazz festival from the end of July to the middle of August.

[00:36:45] And every major headliner has passed through there.

[00:36:48] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a big one. And there’s many, many more, like The Gers is full of little gems, and you could, so if you wanted to visit it, I think Auch is probably one of the least interesting towns in France, you know, it’s all right. I mean, it has this spectacular staircase. It has a beautiful cathedral.

[00:37:11] Elyse Rivin: Which is famous for its stained glass windows. Yes.

[00:37:15] Annie Sargent: But besides that, it’s not really all that interesting.

[00:37:19] So in The Gers, I would recommend if you’re going to visit, I would recommend you pick a few remarkable bastides or towns and just spend a night or two in each one, and move on to the next one.

[00:37:33] But there’s probably enough to visit for a week or 10 days.

[00:37:38] Elyse Rivin: Absolutely and if I’m not mistaken, you can also find what they call a gîte. There are lots of places, lots of farms that have turned part of their farm buildings into gîtes, which means you basically can rent an apartment or a small little part of a house. And then you can just go out and do your day trips.

[00:37:55] And it’s really lovely.

[00:37:56] Annie Sargent: And in The Gers, you will find a lot of restaurants that are, you know, cuisine soignée is what it’s called, where they really try to take full advantage of the local products and make them really tasty. And it’s the sort of place where you really should reserve like a few days in advance, because they do fill up, and they are not open year round.

[00:38:23] They are not open every day, every night, you know. So this is the sort of restaurant where they’ll probably open four or five days a week, perhaps only for lunch or perhaps only for dinner. So you have to check out their times and stuff. But if you happen to be there at the right time, you will have a fabulous meal for a great price.

[00:38:46] I mean, these places, you spend, I don’t know, 35 to 50 euros per person and you eat like a king.

[00:38:55] Elyse Rivin: Yep, and definitely much less onerous than in other parts of France.

[00:39:01] Annie Sargent: And it’s very easy to find because most villages have one. So if you look them up, if you, even on TripAdvisor, it will tell you which one is Cuisine Soignée. So like, you know, if you say you want intermediate kind of level or fine dining, which are choices you can make in TripAdvisor, it will show you those restaurants and then you can figure out the time they’re open. I’ve never been disappointed by one of those.

[00:39:29] Elyse Rivin: There’s a small restaurant in Toulouse that is listed now in the Michelin Guides. It is not a starred restaurant yet, I think the chef owner would love to be one, but it’s a tiny little restaurant, and I know that he goes to The Gers to get all of his products.

[00:39:43] Annie Sargent: Yeah, it’s a great place to do that. And they have a pretty long growing season. So it’s not just ducks, it’s also a lot of other agricultural specialties.

[00:39:54] And they do Armagnac, of course, which I don’t happen to like, but when you spray a little bit of it on a croustade, it’s pretty good.

[00:40:03] Elyse Rivin: Don’t use that spray bottle for your windows.

The Town of Condom and Armagnac

[00:40:05] Elyse Rivin: But if you do like armagnac, I do, I actually like armagnac, if you do, you can go to the village of, it’s a large village, it’s really a town called Condom. Yes, the same word, ‘condom’, which is the home of armagnac. That’s where the negotiators go. That’s where the big cavists are that have the shy, the producers of Armagnac all have an outlet in the town. And there are tastings you can do there as well.

[00:40:30] Annie Sargent: Yeah. And that’s also where they have this nice statue of the three musketeers. Yay. So Condom is a good town to visit. I mean, it’s good for a stop, right? A lot of these places are not like, you’re not going to spend a week there unless your grandma lives there.

[00:40:48] So you just go and you spend half a day and enjoy the place, have a meal there, move on to the next one.

[00:40:55] And there’s a lot of them. Like really, The Gers is full of these, you know, covered, beautiful covered markets, beautiful little areas that are just pleasant to spend some time in, and I think with a bike, it would be a lot of fun.

[00:41:09] Elyse Rivin: It would certainly be.

[00:41:10] Annie Sargent: All right, Elyse.

[00:41:11] Elyse Rivin: Should we go back?

[00:41:12] Annie Sargent: There’s a lot of places where we haven’t been, and there’s also a lot of stops on the Saint Jacques de Compostelle route, so the Camino, so, you know, a lot of these villages that have, that are on the Camino, they have a beautiful, gorgeous old church, usually it’s an abbey, and they have lots of little restaurants and things, so you’ll see a lot of walkers as well in The Gers.

[00:41:36] Thank you, Elyse.

[00:41:38] Elyse Rivin: You’re welcome, Annie.

[00:41:39] Au revoir. Bye.


Thank you Patrons

[00:41:47] Annie Sargent: Again, I want to thank my patrons for giving back and supporting this show. Patrons get several exclusive rewards for doing that. You can see them at

[00:42:04] Thank you all for your support. Some of you have been supporting this show for many years, you are fantastic. And a shout out this week to new patrons: Nancy Hand, Margaret Burns-Fess, Jessica Weeks, and thank you Bruce Chapman for increasing your pledge. It is wonderful to have you on board this community of francophiles who keep this podcast going.

[00:42:29] To join this community of francophiles, go to

[00:42:35] And to support Elyse, go to

[00:42:43] Patrons, I’m back from my vacation. I’ll start sharing Patreon rewards very soon. It was good to be away without a computer for a couple of weeks over Christmas. So even if I wanted to do things, I couldn’t because I can’t do stuff, I can’t do anything important from my phone. I’m not that young. And I must say that in Utah, it was wonderful to meet listeners in person, had a family and friends get together. Mark, April and Amber, wonderful to see you. I know many more wanted to come, but they were away for the holidays or whatever.

[00:43:16] Next time you guys, I’m surely going to go back to Utah in the next few years, probably sooner than that.


Itinerary Consult Service

[00:43:24] Annie Sargent: If you’re planning a trip to France and have questions that did not get answered in an episode of the podcast, you can hire me to be your itinerary consultant.

[00:43:33] I offer two levels of itinerary service. The Bonjour service, it gives you an hour long conversation on Zoom to ask questions and get tailored recommendations.

[00:43:43] For those who want a more detailed guide, the VIP service offers the same one hour consultation. It’s usually plenty. I mean, we can talk longer if we need to, but it also includes a follow up document that outlines everything we discussed, plus a roundup of all the best advice featured on this podcast.

[00:44:03] To begin, visit and follow all the instructions.

[00:44:10] One of the itinerary sessions I did this week was with Lucy Hicks and she sent me this audio feedback. Thank you very much, Lucy. It was lovely talking to you.

Feedback from Lucy Hicks

[00:44:21] Lucy Hicks, Minnesota 11, Les Etats Unis, there, that’s the extent of my French this morning. I just wanted to send a big fat thank you to you. Merci! Merci! Merci!

[00:44:32] You sent me, after our Zoom call yesterday, probably ten documents, that are just chock full of information for me on my six week trip to the South of France. And it is so much information it’s going to take me quite a while to go through it but I feel that more information is always better than less. And you really helped me with, not, in my head I wanted to stay in one place for the entire six weeks, you suggested that I hit three different areas because it would make my spoke trips, better and shorter on the train.

[00:45:07] Brilliant idea. Thank you. I cannot thank you enough for all your time and attention to my trip for next year. Merci.

[00:45:15] Annie Sargent:

Self-guided tours of Paris

[00:45:15] Annie Sargent: Now, if you don’t need a, you know, one hour, one-on-one consultation, you can still take me in your pocket with my self-guided GPS tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app. I write these tours to lead you to the best of Paris. I have tours of the Eiffel Tower, Le Marais, Montmartre, the Latin Quarter, Ile de la Cité, and Saint Germain des Prés.

[00:45:37] I’ll probably add one more in 2024 because I love those tours and I think VoiceMap tours are a great way to discover an area.

[00:45:47] So remember, if you want to look at any of these products or services, go to

The Price of Bread in France

[00:45:55] Annie Sargent: Now let’s talk about the price of bread in France. As part of our trip to the US this Christmas, we spent a couple of nights in Las Vegas.

[00:46:03] As we walked through our hotel, I saw a bakery of sorts, you know, I mean, in Las Vegas, everything does, nothing looks real, but there was a bakery thing, and it was attached to a restaurant. But they sold bread in baskets, so I looked and I was shocked to see the prices. The cheapest bread you could buy there was 7$.

[00:46:24] And they only sold fairly large breads, probably twice the weight of a baguette. But still I pay 1.2€ for my baguette tradition in my village. So this is, you know, four or five times that. It’s expensive. Bread is expensive in the US. I mentioned it on the Facebook group and many of you explained that.

[00:46:43] It wasn’t so unusual to pay 8, 9$ for, you know, artisanal bread in the US, so I wondered why, why is it that way?

[00:46:53] And I started looking and there are reasons why good bread is cheap in France. It seems like a big thing is cultural, you know, culturally, bread is important in France. And we eat a lot of bread in France, so volume also helps.

[00:47:11] Now we don’t eat as much bread as we used to, but the average French person eats twice as much bread as the average American. Mind you, we don’t eat any crackers in France. So perhaps if we included crackers, it would be different, but we do not eat crackers in any great quantities in France.

[00:47:31] So the typical French person eats 45 kilos of bread per year, per person. It’s about a hundred pounds of bread. So high demand means higher scale production, which can reduce costs, but I think the average American eats about 100 pounds of Triscuits a year.

[00:47:52] So there’s that.

[00:47:54] Number two is the French government has sometimes regulated the price of bread in the past, but right now, and for a very long time, there has been no regulation as to the price of bread. My local boulanger could blow a gasket and charge 50% more from one day to the next, and nothing would happen to him, other than all the customers would start getting their bread somewhere else. Because, yeah, I love my local bread, I love this particular bakery I go to all the time, but not enough to overpay, and we have so many choices in France.

[00:48:32] Choices equals competition, and boulangers do not want to stand out for being super expensive. Bread is not a luxury item in any way, it’s an everyday item.

[00:48:43] Number three is the number of artisanal baking schools. Many people in France are trained boulanger, they went to school to get their CAP de Boulangerie, which is, it’s a trade diploma, but it takes two years to get, and if you don’t have it, you can not run a boulangerie. Before you open a boulangerie, you have to prove that you are qualified to make bread, and I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings, pandemic bakers, but that keeps quality high in France.

[00:49:16] You need to get your two years of school and have your CAP de Boulangerie or you will not be licensed to open a bakery.

[00:49:26] Number four is local distribution and lots of small businesses. We do not eat Parisian bread in Toulouse and they don’t import bread from anywhere else into Paris. Bread is made locally.

[00:49:41] That keeps transportation costs down. There is no ‘Big Bread’ in France. The bread industry is made of thousands of individual owners who emulate one another and they don’t band together to help bread get more expensive. As a matter of fact, the only regulations I could find was to stop Édouard Leclerc, so that’s the Leclerc, stores.

[00:50:05] He wanted to make bread so cheap, 44 cents, he wanted to make it in his grocery stores that the government decided, no, that’s unfair competition because you are a big bakery and local bakers won’t be able to compete with that. So they, they told them you cannot, you know, decide on a low price like that throughout all your stores.

[00:50:28] So Leclerc could still sell inexpensive bread, but they can’t set the price countrywide.

[00:50:34] So there you have it. It’s actually the opposite of what you might think is happening.

[00:50:39] At any rate, all these tiny boulangeries do not band together to figure out ways to make bread more expensive.

[00:50:46] The boys on Wall Street, or La Bourse in Paris have not figured out yet how to buy up all the boulangerie and make a killing. They haven’t. It’s all small potatoes kind of business in France. Having said that, my baker, you know, he has a pretty good life. He has a family, has two kids and a dog and two cars and they go on vacation.

[00:51:08] They close the bakery every now and then. They have a normal, average French life. They have solar panels, of that, like the rest of us, you know, it’s really not a bad life, but they do work long hours. That’s for sure.

[00:51:21] So enjoy bread while visiting France because you will not come across such good bread at such low prices, not even at Costco.

Keeping your phone safe while touring

[00:51:31] Annie Sargent: And then, two tidbits about keeping your cell phone safe while touring.

[00:51:36] Number one, put your phone in a zipped pocket. Zip, zip, zip.

[00:51:43] Number two, never put your phone down. There are bags that will make you feel like your phone is safe because they have cut resistant straps, security clips, thick vinyl that can’t be slashed.

[00:51:57] But if it’s in a bag, eventually you will put the bag down. When you’re jet lagged, you are your own worst enemy. Put your phone in a zipped pocket, preferably under your clothes so that you are never tempted to put it down. Because if you put it down, you will forget it. I guarantee you.

[00:52:18] I’m the one who forgot a big old bag with a big camera, big zoom lens and everything. And it got returned. But I got lucky. Okay. Don’t do that with your cell phone, they’re so easy to resell. You’ll never see it again.

[00:52:33] My thanks to podcast editors Anne and Christian Cotovan who produced the transcripts.

Next week on the podcast

[00:52:39] Annie Sargent: Next week on the podcast, an episode full of tips for vegan visitors in Paris with Dvora Citron. You’ll see things have gotten way better in Paris for vegan visitors!

[00:52:53] Thank you so much for listening, and I hope you join me next time so we can look around France together. Au revoir.


[00:53:01] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France travel podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2024 by AddictedToFrance. It is released under a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives license.


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Categories: Day -Trips from Toulouse, Toulouse Area