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The Monumental Steps in Auch with a statue of d’Artagnan. Photo by Alexandra Mushta.

Nestled away in the south-west of France, only 80 km from Toulouse, is the often-overlooked city of Auch. Once you get off the toll roads and onto the route nationale, a short, scenic drive will take you to the historic capital of Gascony just waiting to be discovered. Auch lies in the Gers department, which is tucked away in the Midi-Pyrénées.


Auch, and the whole of Gers, is a hidden gem that has kept its secluded charm away from droves of tourists because it's just too far out of the way from most major tourist cities. People want to see Paris, Lyon and the Côte d'Azur - which are excellent places to visit - but this leaves out a stunning part of the country ripe for exploration.




For those wishing for a slower-paced adventure, or a peaceful corner of France to relax in, Auch is the place for you. There is a tangible ruralness to both the town and the area, and even though Auch doesn’t get many tourists – the entire region has just over 600,000 a year – I have found the locals to be warm and welcoming.


While it’s true that being in a rural town means there are fewer English speakers, and the thick local accent makes it harder to understand for those not fluent in French, the residents are still eager to help – language barrier be damned.

I stayed at the Residence de Nareoux, located 4 km from Auch, in a self-contained cabin dotting the hillside. The accommodation was basic but worth it for the crisp, clean country air and the tranquil scenery that greeted me each morning.


A key benefit to being in the far south of France is that the weather is mild all year round. I visited Auch in late November expecting a winter chill to have set in but was greeted by mild weather and sunny days. Auch boasts balmy weather even in winter with the temperature rarely dropping below 0oC and summer averages in the high 20o s.


Past the gentle rolling hills surrounding the town, Auch’s rural charm is not to be overlooked. The Monumental Staircase, which has 232 steps, links the two districts of Auch.


Up the steps you will find the UNESCO World Heritage site, La Basilique Cathédrale Sainte-Marie d'Auch. 18 stained-glass windows dating back to the renaissance line the inside of this Roman Catholic Church and light up the interior with vibrant colours when the sun shines through them. There are also carved stalls and an impressive organ.


Winding alleys, or the stairs, will take you down to the river where the Thursday and Saturday weekly markets take place.




Auch leans away from the olive oil filled south of France and is far from the butter and cream laden cuisine of the north; here, in the south-west corner, it's all about the duck. It is here that you will find the tastiest confit de canard, foie gras and everything fried in duck or goose fat.


With all the duck options at your fingertips, picking what to eat can be overwhelming, but an absolute must is the confit de canard, or duck confit. Every time I ate it during my stay it was perfect – with shatteringly crispy skin, salty, succulent meat underneath that falls off the bone and a rich flavour that lingers in your memories for days to come. El sol, in the city centre, is a fantastic option for a budget-friendly but tasty lunch.


If duck and goose aren’t appealing to you there is a myriad of options. The local cuisine is varied with specialties such as poultry, black Gascon pig, white garlic, le Lectoure melon (sun ripened to perfect sweetness), kiwi fruit and freshwater fish from the Gers river. A classic option for dessert is Gascon pastis, which is a crisp tart with boozy Armagnac apples.




After your delicious lunch or dinner feasting on duck, you must unwind and slowly sip on a snifter of Armagnac while taking in the countryside. Armagnac is the signature liquor of the region and is the lesser-known cousin of the famous, Cognac, but is no less complex and flavourful.


Armagnac is a specific type of brandy made only in the region of Armagnac. It is a deep caramel brown with notes of dried fruit and a silky mouthfeel. Its single distillation creates a higher alcohol percentage than standard liquor. By the time it’s ready for drinking, Armagnac is diluted to 45-48% ABV compared to Cognac’s 40% ABV. Armagnac is primarily produced by small-scale operations as opposed to the big-brands prevalent in Cognac.


The region spans all of Gascony and is divided into three districts: Bas-Armagnac, Armagnac-Ténarèze, and Haut-Armagnac (the largest of the three districts and with Auch at its centre). If straight Armagnac is too strong for your taste, Floc de Gascogne, which is Armagnac combined with fresh grape juice, is a lighter liqueur, or, for something different, the Côtes de Gascogne wine region, which produces mainly white wine, is on your doorstep.




As fans of Alexandre Dumas’, The Three Musketeers would know, Gers is the birthplace of Charles de Batz de Castelmore – the inspiration behind d’Artagnan. A bronze statue of d'Artagnan stands atop the Monumental Staircase in Auch, prominently placed to show the captain of the musketeers as a symbol of Gascony.


In Condom, only a short drive away, there is another statue of d’Artagnan but accompanied by his three musketeers. The statue is a beautifully sculpted work by Zurab Tsereli in front of the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Condom. It is a perfect opportunity to take a photo with these iconic characters before checking out the cathedral, strolling along the river Petite Baïse and popping into the Hotel Continental for their lunch special – the duck is, of course, wonderful.




Once you’ve explored Auch, there are many options for day trips in the surrounding area. The Gers department contains 6 of the most beautiful villages in France – and all 6 are less than an hour from Auch!


Fources (50 min) is known for its circular town square and spring flower market held in April.


La romieu, also known as ‘the village of cats’, (50 min) has a gorgeous 14th -century church (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and an abundance of cat sculptures.


Larressingle (45 min) is the smallest fortified village in France and contains yet another UNESCO World Heritage site, the Lartigue Bridge. L


avardens (20 min) is built on an outcrop topped with a castle. Its height provides lovely views of the countryside and the town bustles with night markets throughout the summer months.

Montreal-du-Gers (50 min), located on the Auzoue River is part of the Chemins de SaintJacques-de-Compostelle pilgrim routes. For history enthusiasts, there are Gallo-Roman remains at the Villa de Seviac which include thermal baths and ancient mosaics.


Sarrant (35 min) is unique with its houses encircling the church and colourful alleyways. So, if you’re looking to try some new regional specialities, enjoy a quiet few days in a bucolic setting, embrace the Gascon spirit or just visit somewhere different, Auch is definitely a place you should remember – a must for your itinerary.

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