The Lot et Garonne and the Tarn-et-Garonne are about two hours south of the Vallee de la Dordogne; they form part of Aquitaine and the Midi Pyrenees region. They are departments of gently rolling valleys and plateaux with wooded areas and the three rivers, the Lot, the Garonne and the Tarn meandering through beautiful countryside.
There are many small bastide towns and villages often perched on hilltops, where weekly markets are held in the cobbled squares and covered halles. It is a large area for producteurs, so in season, apricots, peaches, melons and plums abound, along with local fresh vegetables, local cheeses, honey and wine. None of which will have travelled far to reach market and so is very fresh with lots of flavour. Prunes d’Agen are reported to be the best in France.
During the summer season, there are numerous fetes, theatre and music festivals, bric-a-brac (vide grenier) fairs. – These are always fun to visit.
Don’t expect things to start on time,– the south west of France is very relaxed so things happen a little differently! The larger towns and cities have more formal festivals, Montauban’s Jazz Festival in July and the Toulouse Festival later in the summer.
Agen is the gateway to Gascony and has an amusement park on the outskirts, Parc Walibi.
For music lovers, Agen Cathedral has free organ recitals every Wednesday during July and August,– take a cushion for added comfort.
The very high standard of produce is reflected in the cuisine of this region. There are many good restaurants providing simple country food to two star Michelin level. Food to look out for includes confit de canard, foie gras, walnuts and prunes.
Puymirol has a two star Michelin restaurant and there are good restaurants in Valence d’Agen and Agen, together with the small village restaurants of Castelsagrat, Puymirol, Grandfonds to name but some.
We are on the border of a number of wine regions, Bordeaux, Buzet, Marmande, Fronton, Cahors; the Routes du Vin are signposted and are very picturesque.
This is strong rugby country ranging from local village clubs to Top 14 French clubs, Agen and Heineken Cup winners, Toulouse.
You can also enjoy horse riding, canal boat trips on the Canal du Midi and the Canal entre Deux Mers. Other local activities include: a flying school at Agen; painting, hang gliding and hot air ballooning. The countryside is rich in wildlife so bird watching can be very rewarding.
Valence d’Agen has a large market every Tuesday morning which winds its way through the main part of the town. It also has an excellent Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning.
Agen has a huge market on Wednesday and Sunday mornings. Moissac has a busy market on Saturday and Sunday. Beauville holds its market on Sunday mornings.
A number of the villages hold Marches Gourmands or Marches Nocturnes (evening markets) throughout July and August. St Maurin (Wednesday evening), and Puymirol (Saturday evening) are the nearest to us.
There are numerous bastides (fortified towns) in this area. Monjoi, Castelsagrat, Lauzerte, Puymirol and Beauville are all nearby. Lauzerte is still an important stop (halte) on the Pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in north west Spain.
To the north lie Monpazier, Monflanquin and Villeneuve-sur-Lot, Pujols and Penne d’Agenais, all of which have superb views over the neighbouring countryside. They have a labyrinth of narrow streets, shuttered houses and you will often find there various artisans; glass blowers, potters, sculptors etc.
There are other delightful villages and towns such as Auvillar, just over the Tarn river, Moissac, another important stop on the pilgrim route, and Montaigu-du-Quercy to the north of St Maurin.
As a consequence of the Hundred Years War between the English and the Gascons for the conquest of Aquitaine, there are some substantial chateaux which are well worth a visit: Bonaguil, Duras, Biron, Gramont and Brassac to name some of them.
For shopping, try Agen, Bordeaux, Montauban or Toulouse.
You can take the train from Agen to Toulouse or Bordeaux rather than drive if you wish. Toulouse is a delightful southern French university city and is known as the Ville Rose (the pink city) due to the lovely warm colour of the brick.
The Millau Viaduct, one of Norman Foster’s architectural masterpieces, lies in the Tarn valley and is approximately two hours from here.