Gers is located in the southwest of France, in the Midi-Pyrénées region. It is a landlocked department with a population of around 170,000, sparsely spread over an area of c.6300km2 and very few sizeable towns. This is a land of rolling hills, fortified medieval towns, foie gras and red wine. This is also the home of swashbuckling soldiers, most famously The Three Musketeers. Alexandre Dumas is said to have based his characters D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis on real, historical figures who were all born in Gers in the 17th century.
Part of the historic province of Gascony, Gers was carved out as a department in its own right during the French Revolution of 1790. During the Hundred Years War of 1337 to 1453, this area was alternately under English and French control. Being on the front line was disruptive and bloody, and spurred on the fortification of towns and villages. These are the imposing bastides that occur all over Gers today.
Gers enjoys mild winters and hot summers, with no great variation in rainfall throughout the year.
Average maximum temperature in Auch
Capital of Gers and also the historical capital of Gascony, Auch dates back to pre-Roman times and has some must-see sites. Chief among these is the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie, built between 1489 and 1560 along the lines of Paris' Notre-Dame. This was the last Gothic cathedral to be built in France, but actually combined elements of Gothic, Renaissance and Classical architecture, the façade having been remodelled in the late 17th century. Inside you'll find wonderfully detailed carvings, an impressive organ and vibrant stained glass windows.
Lowering the tone somewhat, don't miss a visit to Condom. This small town has had a fair number of street signs stolen over the years, so you might want to limit yourself to posing for an amusing photo or sending a postcard. You can visit a museum dedicated to contraceptive devices, and a second concerned with all things Armagnac. It's a beautiful place in its own right, with a lovely old town and cathedral. The nearby villages of Fleurance and Lectoure also have some fine medieval buildings and an unhurried feel.
Museums, galleries and culture
The Musée des Jacobins was founded in 1793. It has collections from that period, the Gallo-Roman era and the Middle Ages, as well 20th century artworks and a surprisingly excellent collection of South American art comprising some 1200 pieces of pre-Columbian and Colonial Era works. For something a bit different head to the Musée d'Art Naïf in the town of Béraut. This brightly-painted building houses a collection of naïve or primitive art from around the world.
Wine has been grown in the region since Roman times, unlike the majority of south-west France, however, Gers produces almost no red wine. To be precise, 91% of Côtes de Gascogne wine is white, 8% is red and 1% is rosé. If you want to visit under your own steam, you can find out more and locate producers on this website.
In the south of the region, the 'Producteurs Plaimont' cooperative offers some fabulous wine-tasting packages. You stay in a rural gîte in the heart of the winelands, and enjoy guided tours of the vineyard, cellars and storehouses with an expert winegrower. You get the chance to taste Saint-Mont, Madiran, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne wines, and buy direct from the grower at the end.
High-street shopping is possible in Auch, and there are traditional markets throughout the region where you can pick up excellent fresh produce and regional food specialities. The market in Auch takes place on Thursday morning and Saturday, and full details of all the other markets (and shops) are available at local tourist information centres. Ask about night markets, held in the hottest months of July and August to prevent both produce and shopper being frazzled by the sun!
Gers' rolling landscape makes for fairly undemanding walking, and there are over 1500km of marked trails for you to enjoy on foot. You can either strike out on your own (maps available from tourist information centres) or join one of the free, guided walks that are organised by local rambling clubs throughout the year. There are several sections of the Way of St James in this area, the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, which can be walked in their own right. The long-distance GR 653, 'Le chemin d'Arles', is one such route.
There are five golf courses in Gers. These are located in Auch, Eauze, Fleurence, Isle Jourdain and Masseube, the first two being 18-hole courses. Most are situated in hilly and wooded landscapes so provide some challenges. Grounds are well-maintained, open year-round and many have electric buggies on hand. Golf is popular and well-established in this part of France; the Club De Golf Auch-Embats, for example, was formed in 1969. And if the golf is not enough, the views of the Pyrenees from the club house here are pretty spectacular.
There are loads of other activities on offer in Gers. Cycle touring and mountain-biking are a great way to see the area, while canoeing down the River Baïse or River Gers is great fun and brings you into close contact with local wildlife. Horse riding and fishing are also available.
For something a little less strenuous, check out Gers' three hydrotherapy centres. These have thermal swimming pools, saunas, hammams and spas.
Food and drink
Duck and goose feature prominently in the cuisine of Gascony, and the foie gras, magret and confit of Gers are some of the best you will taste. You can visit a marche au gras, literally a "fat market", to see the fattened birds being bought and sold. This is also a major garlic producing region, and melon grows well if you fancy something a little healthier than all the heavy dishes on offer. Don't miss the local wines and the world-famous Armagnac, an eau-de-vie produced only in Gascony through the distillation of white wine, which is then aged in oak barrels.
Ease of access
By air, Gers is best accessed via Toulouse Blagnac International Airport, situated around 80km East of Auch. Fly from London Gatwick with BA, or EasyJet (who also fly from Bristol), London Gatwick or Manchester with Thomas Cook Airlines or Thomsonfly (during the winter), Bristol or Birmingham with FlyBe. Jet2 operate services from Leeds Bradford, Manchester and Belfast.
By train, take the Eurostar to Paris, then an onward connection to Auch via Agen or Toulouse. The journey from Paris takes between 6 and 8 hours depending on the route and connection times.
Value for money
This is a less touristy area than neighbouring Dordogne, so prices are lower. Accommodation and eating out are good value, though the more gastronomic restaurants can be pricey.
With rich history and gastronomy, and plenty of outdoor activities on offer, Gers will appeal to a wide range of visitors. If you stray from the more well-trodden tourist trails and explore the smaller villages, the department is a real treat. There are often fewer actual sites of interest here, but the relaxed atmosphere, good food and wine and lazy summer evenings can hardly be bettered anywhere in France.