Think of the South West of France and it conjures up lush countryside, rolling hills, sunflowers, gastronomy and fine wine. This region abounds with departments that are so different, yet memorable.
The South West encompasses the Midi Pyrenees which to the east is the Averyon with its river and the most dramatic Gorges this side of Arizona. Kayaks can be hired to zig-zag through these amazing waters. A trip to Millau, the Averyon’s main town with its suspension bridge that is an amazing feat of 21st century engineering is definitely a must. To the north west is Albi the birthplace of Toulouse Lautrec and a museum that’s houses his famous collection of paintings and posters.
To the south west is the Lot department (also in the Midi Pyrenees) and an area known as the Quercy Blanc (white Quercy) and has many small and beautiful villages that are worth a visit. The area is characterised by the abundant white stone and the pigeonniers dotted across the landscape. Throughout the Lot and Quercy region there are simply hundreds of charming stone built villages, often perching on a hilltop with magnificent views of the surrounding area. Each village has its own individual character and was typically built around an ancient church with a village square. Apart from Cahors which is the main town of the Lot there are many pretty villages that are worth a mention with Montcuq being one of them.
Montcuq is a 12th century bastide town with a tower. On Sundays, the town has a magnificent market attracting local producers from all over the region. They gather in the Town Square and side streets setting up their stalls and offering a variety of products from fresh vegetables and fruit, meat and fresh fish, to clothing, kitchen utensils and fabric.
Not far from Montcuq is the hilltop medieval village of Lauzerte. A small Wednesday market selling local produce and why not follow on with lunch at the Hotel du Quercy. Good food and a nice view over the countryside at the back.
Venturing further south are the towns of Moissac with its Romanesque Abbey and pavement cafés. Continuing onto Montauban in the direction of Toulouse, this red bricked market town has some nice shops and a large central arched square which is dotted with some very good restaurants.
At the base of the South West is the Gers with its beautiful, unspoilt countryside and forests. The Gers is also well known for its music festivals. Be sure to sample the famous Armagnac of this region. Visit Condom with its quaint streets and shops; Marciac with its Jazz Festival and Mirande for its annual Country & Western festival. The cathedral city of Pau is the gateway to the Pyrenees and onto the Basque Coast.
Travelling to this region is simple and you can either fly to Toulouse, Bordeaux or Bergerac and all the low budget airlines fly to these destinations. Driving from one of the Channel ports may take longer but that does give you a chance to stock up on the wonderful foods of this region to take home with you.
As the South West is famous for its gastronomy the delights of the regional food is discussed by many. As the area is largely agricultural with restaurants and cafes used by many locals then the produce is locally grown and plentiful. Duck is the mainstay of this region served either as breast with a rich sauce or confit. Other delights are sanglier (wild boar), geese, game, Landes chickens, foie gras, lamb roasts and casseroles. There is also a wide range of fish, cured hams and sausages as well as a wide variety of cheeses such as Cantal, soft goat cheeses (cabécous) as well as a wide choice of all the famous French varieties. Followed of course by good fruit tarts made with the famous Agen prunes and local fruit such as plum and apple. Nothing would be complete however in this wonderful region than the abundance of local wines. From Buzet, Bordeaux, Cahors, Duras, Bergerac and Madrian all these are the most popular wines. Visit the local vineyards for wine tasting before you buy a case or even cheaper a cubi container which holds 5 litres. Not forgetting the Armagnac brandies produced between Auch & Condom.
In the South West there are many markets which vary from night markets in the summer to farmers markets or just plain Bric & Brac markets. The night markets are mainly in July and August in many of the local villages. Food is eaten on long trestle tables after being bought from one of the many food stalls. Drinking, eating and dancing go on until midnight and they are great fun.
Lastly, not forgetting the children who visit this region there Walibi Aquitaine, located just a few kilometres away from Agen, Walibi Aquitaine is set in over 30 hectares of lush greenery overlooked by an 18th Century castle. There are numerous rides, spectacular shows and special events. Open 7 days a week from the middle of June through to the end of August, and at weekends at other times. Read more.
Another great day out is a visit to Parc-en-Ciel adventure park. Five different ropes courses in the trees for all ages and abilities. Harnesses and instruction are included. There is also mini-golf, a small farm and the snail museum. Located near Lacapelle-Biron on the D420, north-west of Fumel. Open every day during July and August, and at weekends at other times.
French country cottage in village South West France - just a stone's throw from the village bakery, post office and local tennis court, Tourelle is a pretty stone-built villa with an attractive tower, gardens and pool.