Sarah Lancashire reveals why Gers, with its spectacular natural beauty, stunning architecture, vibrant culture and a gastronomic bounty could be the place for you
Taking its name from the river that runs through it, Gers is an area of natural beauty known as French Tuscany. It has a huge and diverse array of assets, some immediately obvious (rolling hills, vineyards, sun?owers, great climate, views of the Pyrénées), and others more subtle (welcoming locals, a generous helping of hearty food, Gascon culture and traditions).
It is an authentic area, unspoilt by mass consumerism, traf?c and pollution. There is no stress, no noise, just a simple life in a wonderful climate with plenty of joie de vivre. The stunning landscapes change with the seasons and with the rotating crops, and there is a very special light that attracts many artists to the region – unlike the UK it is almost never grey! You will encounter a real sense of community and tradition, with the many local markets, soirées and fêtes showing off the local warmth and energy, while the respect for visitors and inhabitants alike provides a great opportunity to socialise and integrate into these close-knit rural communities.
It is a fantastic environment in which to raise your family, or to spend your retirement years. They say that the Gascons live longer than any other people in France!
Gers is certainly the healthy option; it has some of the cleanest air in Europe and the Midi-Pyrénées is one of the sunniest regions in France. The warm summers and mild winters create the rich and fertile soils that have elevated its produce to the top of the French culinary league table.
It is an ideal place to relax, and make the most of nature, with a wealth of possibilities if you are fond of walking, hiking, cycling, canoeing, golf, climbing, hiking, horse-riding, boat trips, rugby, tennis and even ?ying! The many rivers and lakes with golden beaches give the opportunity to swim and also to practise watersports and ?shing.
There are many hiking pathways, the most renowned of which being Le Chemin de St-Jacques-de-Compostelle. After the remains of Saint James were revealed in north-west Spain in the 9th century, there has been a constant ?ow of pilgrims from all over Europe coming to visit the tomb.
In all seasons the Pyrénées, just a couple of hours away, have something to offer; from boarding and skiing, to mountain-biking, riding the spring rapids in a canoe, and trekking. The Paul Armagnac motorsport race track in Nogaro attracts visitors not only from France but from all round the world.
The verdant rolling countryside is all around, with magni?cent views of the snow-topped Pyrénées in the distance, and glimpses of ancient châteaux, forti?ed hilltop villages, churches, abbeys, statues and historic monuments scattered across the department that bear witness to a millennium of living.
The internationally renowned Marciac jazz festival, Vic Fezensac’s Tempo Latino and Mirande’s festival of country music encourage visitors from far and wide, and the department also boasts numerous art exhibitions.
The section of the St-Jacques-de-Compostelle trail through Gers between Lectoure and Condom has been cited as being of particular historical and cultural interest by UNESCO. Also not to be missed are Auch cathedral, with its unique stained-glass windows and intricately carved stalls, the monastery at La Romieu, and the Artigue bridge, built speci?cally for the pilgrimage.
First and foremost, Gers is an agricultural area where the local traditional gastronomy and specialities are highly regarded, the most renowned treasures being foie gras, armagnac and Floc de Gascogne. Cooking and eating in Gascony has been elevated to an art form, with local produce available in the traditional morning markets, which can be found in at least three different towns and villages on every day of the week.
These offer seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables (including the famous Agen prunes and St-Clar garlic), cooked hams and spit-roasted chickens, saucisson, foie gras, pâtés and prepared duck dishes, bread, nuts, olives and dried fruit, wines, and armagnac. There are also plenty of specialist markets and fairs. The cuisine (despite the high levels of goose fat!) is widely recognised as contributing to the long life expectancy among Gersois.
Persuaded? Come and discover Gers for yourself. There is a multitude of villages, each with their own unique characteristics. There is Auch, the historical capital of Gascony and the home of the fourth Musketeer d’Artagnan; and Lectoure, Castéra-Verduzan and Barbotan-les- Thermes, which are renowned for their thermal bath resorts. Condom and Eauze meanwhile are famous for their vineyards and armagnac; and then there are traditional bastide villages, such as of Mirande, Fleurance, Marciac and St-Clar. Or you could explore Vic Fezensac and Nogaro, with their strong Gascon culture, festival and ferias.
The property market
There are many architectural styles from which to choose; from the stone maisons de maître, Gascon-style houses and farmhouses, to the half-timbered colombage L-shaped farm houses, and those constructed from mud bricks, river stones and pebbles. The bastide settlements are a legacy of the Middle Ages. Almost a third of Gers’ towns and villages can trace their history to these 13th/14th century towns built on defensive sites behind strong walls with a grid of streets around an arcaded square. You will ?nd honey-coloured houses, large churches, ?ne covered markets, and interesting pigeonniers and wash houses.
Local property prices peaked in 2006-2007 and have now returned to the more reasonable prices of 10 years ago. The white stone properties in northern Gers remain highly sought after due to la notoriété and le prestige of the armagnac areas.
Property in eastern Gers continues to be popular due to the proximity of Toulouse, while in the south-west the jazz festival attracts people to Marciac.
Gers really is the perfect destination for retirement and permanent residency, as a holiday home or as an investment for the future. Come and ?nd your own little piece of heaven, but act now while the prices are at their most competitive!
To give you an idea of what you can get for your money in Gers, there is a great investment opportunity in the St-Clar area, just an hour from Toulouse. Four stone cottages have been renovated to create two beautifully restored houses with walled terraces, workshop, garden and potager. The property is on the market for €260,000.
Still in the St-Clar area, €287,000 would buy you a five-bedroom stone house with a pool. Among the many attractions on your doorstep are châteaux, bastide villages, museums and a fantastic lake with beach and water slides.
Alternatively, if you fancy a renovation project, you could go for an 18th-century maison de maître in St-Clar. On the market for €398,000, it comes with outbuildings and enjoys a dominant position with superb, panoramic views towards the Pyrénées and outlying villages. It would make a remarkable home, or a hotel or gîtes business.
In the Lectoure area, you could buy a charming four-bedroom, 17th-century presbytère for €385,000. Situated in a picturesque château village, it is large, airy and light, boasting original features and a south-facing garden with pool.
Situated in the heart of the armagnac area, an 18th-century farmhouse set in 22 acres is for sale for €495,000. It has two gîtes, with swimming pool and outbuildings, and is just two kilometres from a village with good facilities and a leisure centre.
The department is rural but easily accessible, which is a real asset for those looking to relocate to France, those searching for a second home and buy-to-let investors alike. Just over two hours from the French coast, northern Spain and the Pyrénées, your rural dream is also just a 90-minute ?ight from London thanks to the international airport at Toulouse. Gers spans a huge area, and depending on where you are based, there are also airports at Bordeaux, Pau, Tarbes, Agen and Auch.
High-speed trains connect Toulouse and Agen with the whole of France and the LGV Bordeaux–Toulouse line is in development. What’s more, the A62, A64, A65 and A20 motorways are all nearby.
The large towns of Toulouse, Agen, Auch, Tarbes and Montauban could be within easy reach, if you crave the bright lights of the city and all it has to offer.
Sarah Lancashire covers Gers for estate agency Selection Habitat
Tel: 0033 (0)5 65 70 10 49