Fourc�s may be a lovely place to visit, but it is so much more besides. Amanda Hodgkinson visits the village where tourism and real life happily co-exist
“I was born in Bordeaux and so I am a Bordelais,” says Michel Cardoze, a French television and radio presenter, best known for his regular appearances as the weatherman for TF1. “But now, after owning my house here in Fourc�s for all these years, in my heart I am Gersois.”
If you have ever been to Fourc�s you will understand how a Frenchman so proud of his Bordeaux beginnings could have such a change of heart. Built on the banks of the meandering River Auzoue and surrounded by vineyards and oak forests at the northernmost limit of the Gers in southwest France, Fourc�s is a simply stunning medieval village. You almost don’t need to know that it is officially one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France. With its circular arcade of golden stone and half-timbered houses, one look is enough to tell you that this delightful bastide village is very beau indeed.
Fourc�s sits in a rich seam of beautiful villages, all of them within touring distance of each other. Larressingle, Montr�al du Gers and Sarrant are close by and also carry the appellation of being among the Plus Beaux Villages de France but for Michel, it is Fourc�s that won his heart.
Michel has had a house in the village for more than 20 years and today, as president of the village’s famous annual flower market, he is still just as passionate about his adopted home.
I was researching in the region in the late 1980s and found the village quite by accident,’ he explains to me as we sit in his kitchen overlooking a lawned garden full of flowering lilacs and sky-blue wisteria.
Magical place “At that time, it was almost abandoned. There were lots of empty houses and properties that needed renovation work but still, it was an incredibly magical place. Then, in 1989, to mark the bicentennial celebrations of the French Revolution, the mayor of the village invited me back to plant un arbre de libert� in the square. I came, knew I wanted to live here, saw this house was for sale and bought it.”
Michel is convinced that what makes Fourc�s so special is not just the extraordinary architecture or the beauty of its natural setting but the fact that this is a village where there is a direct relationship between the landscape and the men and women who live there.
“This region is productive,” he explains. “Yes, it’s beautiful too, but it’s not just a holiday destination. There is tourism of course because the region has so much to offer but it is in balance with the lives of real people. I would hate to see this village become what I call Disneyfied;’ a village so perfect it looks like a film set and everybody who lives in it relying on tourism to give them a living. I don’t think this will ever happen in Fourc�s though, because agriculture flourishes here. People have their roots in this land. They work the soil and that won’t change. This is a place of vines and orchards, foie gras producers and small holdings. This land has a rich heritage and there are generations of people here working not just for the present but thinking forwards to the future too. That’s what I like about Fourc�s particularly. It’s full of people who love living here and want to invest in the village. Fourc�s is lively and vibrant because we all care about it.”
Dynamic approach Michel’s presidency of the flower market is proof of his enthusiasm for investing in the village and also a good example of the villagers’ dynamic approach. The March� aux Fleurs was first organised in 1975 by a group of women who formed an association called Arrebiscoula which is Gascony for reprendre vie (literally resume or bring back to life). Their goal was to raise money to restore the original beauty of medieval houses in the village. Since then the association has continued its work and today the goal is to carry on improving the quality of life for the inhabitants of Fourc�s.
Since those early days when, as Michel pointed out to me, “flower markets were not even heard of around here,” the market has become an important annual event, attracting around 20,000 visitors during the last weekend in April. Plant growers from the region decorate the village with their flowers, spreading carpets of vibrant colour into every alleyway and yard. The whole village works to make the flower market an extraordinary event and the main square is filled with smiling volunteers pushing decorated wheelbarrows, offering to carry visitors’ purchases back to their cars for them.
The Arrebiscoula association has invested and participated in multiple projects for the life of the village including planting trees, helping create parkland, buying land and putting in a play park for children, street lighting and floral displays, restoring the church, installing and running a museum, landscaping around the village hall and financial aid for restoration projects in the village.
“I took on the presidency,” says Michel, “because I believe in the future of our village. I was originally part of the conseil municipal for the same reason. I think it’s important to invest in this place. I’m not here just to profit from the landscape.”
As a visitor however, you can feel free to profit from the efforts of Michel and the other inhabitants, and a walk around Fourc�s’ narrow streets and charming alleys is an absolute delight.
The earliest record of a village existing on the river dates from 1068 when the fortified village was built in a circle around a ch�teau. In 1279, the Treaty of Amiens saw the ch�teau and its village taken into English hands. After the Hundred Years War where the village changed hands repeatedly between the French and the English, it finally became French again and in 1488, the King of France, Charles VII, ordered the destruction of the ch�teau.
Worth a look The space where the ch�teau once stood is today a green space filled with plane trees that offer welcome shade from the baking summer sun. Another ch�teau was built in Fourc�s in 1491, a fine example of Renaissance architecture alongside the river. It’s a stunning building and definitely worth a look. You can even knock on the door and ask if you can stay a while – the owner will be sure to welcome you as the ch�teau is also a three star hotel.
“For such a tiny village,” says Michel, “there is a huge amount going on. Throughout the summer we have book fairs, concerts and brocantes. It’s the perfect place for me.”
As a TV celebrity, Michel often gets recognised in the village, something he doesn’t mind at all. “Because I am well known for having been the weatherman on TF1, I do find people still tend to expect me to know what the weather forecast will be,” he says with a smile. “I always tell them I’ve no idea at all; they should check the m�t�o!”
HOW TO GET THERE Fourc�s is situated in the d�partement of Gers in the Midi Pyr�n�es region, near Agen.
WHERE TO STAY H�tel restaurant du Ch�teau de Fourc�s 32250 Fourc�s Tel: (Fr) 5 62 29 49 53 www.chateau-fources.com
Domaine du Fils de Fleur 32250 Montr�al du Gers Tel: (Fr) 5 62 29 25 02 www.domaine-dufilsdefleur.com
TOURIST OFFICE For information about Fourc�s, visit www.fources.fr The nearest tourist office is in neighbouring Montr�al du Gers Place de l’H�tel de Ville 32250 Montr�al du Gers Tel: (Fr) 5 62 29 42 85 www.montrealdugerstourisme.com
WHERE TO EAT Auberge de Fourc�s 32250 Fourc�s Tel: (Fr) 5 62 29 40 10
Ch�teau de Fourc�s This hotel has a restaurant. See above for contact details.
LOCAL ATTRACTIONS March� aux Fleurs Every last weekend in April. www.arrebiscoula.com
Montr�al du Gers Situated on the Chemin de Jacques de Compostelle on the GR65.
Larressingle Known locally as petit Carcassonne, surrounded by 13th-century walls.
PLUS BEAUX VILLAGES L’Association des Plus Beaux Villages de France was started in 1982 in Collongesla- Rouge, Corr�ze. It consists of 152 villages with no more than 2,000 inhabitants, in settings of exceptional beauty, either manmade or natural. www.les-plus-beaux-villages-defrance.org