|The Four Musketeers|
at Cathedral St. Pierre, Condom
If you’re planning on traveling in France---and if not, why in the world aren’t you?---it is possible you might be overwhelmed by tourists with the same idea. But it’s not necessary if you plan wisely and well. And one of the wisest decisions you’ll make is to go to Armagnac.
Armagnac is a perfect destination for discerning travelers who wish to explore and enjoy the unique charm of rural and agrarian France and discover the hospitality of the people who live with the land…and not at all coincidentally enjoy some astonishing local brandy.
Located in the area called Sud-Ouest, the southwest of France, snugged up in the rolling verdant foothills of the Midi-Pyrénées of Gascony and encompassing the departements of Gers (zyhehrz) and Landes, it is easily accessible from Toulouse or the Languedoc-Roussillon to the east and Bordeaux to the northwest, following the path of express autoroutes or the Garonne River and the famous Midi Canal, once a bustling riverine highway of commerce and now a slow drifting canal for pleasure boats.
From the Garonne you can do a marvelous concentrated day trip on one national highway that seems more like a gently winding country road bisecting the heart of Armagnac, a bucolic land of small farms and few industries, and thus ideal for tourists because they are not yet in overwhelming numbers.
In Gascony you can still find the idea of France you’ve always been searching for and rarely found.
|alembic Armagnaçais still|
From the A26 at Agen go west on D931, traveling through a string of village pearls and glimpsing brooding medieval towers, until you arrive in the bustling little town of Condom. Visit the cobbled main place in the centre ville, admire the statues of the four mousquetaires in front of the Cathedral St. Pierre (in Dumas’ masterpiece, Condom was the home of the romantic rustic D’Artignan), have a mid-morning espresso, then go across the small river bridge to Chateau de Larressingle to be welcomed into a fascinating tour of the distillery, cellar and tasting room. Make sure you snag, at the very least, a bottle of Larressingle 21 Year TénarèzeArmagnac, a truly impressive brandy.
Then it’s back to the centre ville and Le Table desCordeliers, a lovely one star Guide Michelin restaurant, for a stunning seasonal lunch at about the same price you’d pay for fast food in America! And having just visited the Chateau de Larressingle, you can enjoy a digestif of café with a glass of Larressingle Armagnac (highly recommended). If you’d like to stay in the heart of Armagnac overnight, Cordeliers has an attached small logis hotel and spa that is ideally situated.
|Gazpacho and Mauzac|
at La Table
After your long lunch, continue on the same road until the town of Éauze (ehyoze) in the Bas-Armagnac. Just outside the town is the sprawling estate of the Domaines Grassa, now in full wine boom from the newly trendy wines of the Cotes deGascogne, but also home to traditional Armagnacs. The Cotes de Gascogne wines, unassuming but slightly exotic blends of local and global varieties and reaching the market at irresistibly modest prices, are all the rage now, and Domaine du Tariquet is the prime beneficiary. You’ll meet a charming young lady who is eager to introduce you to the wines of Tariquet, and you can gaze blissfully over the manicured fields that sweep majestically down the slope and into the forests.
Continue on the road, through the town of Nogaro to the almost non-existent village of Sorbets. Turn right at the Chateau de Laubade sign, roll past the wrought iron gates and the ancient brick tower and park beside the Normandy-style mansion built in 1870. Stroll the garden and greensward, look out over the sweeping vista of the estate vineyards in the valley below, and wander amongst the artworks scattered around the grounds, all gathered by the Lesgourgues family.
|Chateau de Laubade|
You can view the ancient copper alembic Armagnaçais still and visit the cellars where the Armagnac quietly, slowly ages to perfection. Properly made Armagnac requires traditional practices, and Chateau de Laubade adheres to them to make their estate-grown wines and spirits in the old way; the wines for Armagnac are vinified, distilled and matured separately, then blended by the Master Blender for the “marriage” in the barrel.
With its terroir, here encapsulated in a single estate vineyard, its unique blending of particular varieties, its use of local black oak, and its preference for long maturation, Armagnac is a rustic, earthy, rich and mellow brandy with deep amber-golden depths that seem to linger for the longest time…just as the region will linger in your memory, for the longest time.
|Le Paradis de Laubade Armagnac|
If you have more time, there are many, many other distilleries, from the large concern to the individual family operations, as well as foie gras farms you can tour (and sample the finished product!) There are any number of small museums and numerous castles and keeps dotting the countryside, and there’s an easygoing feel about the region that encourages you to simply stop in the villages and stroll around and sit for hours sipping a glass of local wine and watching the daily life go by. Small logis and comfortable inns, choice spas and numbers of fine restaurants featuring the local cuisine abound, usually at prices that are rock-bottom low compared to the touristy hot spots of Provence and Paris.
Beautiful countryside, easy-driving country roads, pleasant people, superb food, good wine and a unique style of brandy: Armagnac makes for a perfect day trip. So perfect, you’ll wish you had planned for yet another day, no matter how many days you planned for.