and the Agenais

The region that was historically called Gascony includes a vast portion of southwesternmost France
from the flat coast of Bordeaux to the Pyrennees mountains. We stayed in the northeastern
part of that region, near the city of Agen in the region called the Agennais.

Like most of France, the region is dotted with castles. This region is especially dense with them,
since it was fiercely fought over between the English and the French during the Hundred Years War.

Once again we were very lucky with our accommodations: we stayed in a seventeenth-century château
called the Manoir de Roquegauthier and run by a young couple. Since we were the only ones staying there,
we had the run of the place--and had truly delicious meals prepared for us each evening.

The exterior of the château (our room was in the ivy-covered tower).

The view over the countryside from the château.

Matt did research in the archives at Agen, and Joe and Brian wandered around the old parts of the city.
The reputation of Agen is built on the prune industry--a fruit that, like the city, gets little respect.

We drove even farther west one day, about an hour, to a village named after Saint Gerald. As we approached the village, we spotted hunters out on a fox hunt. When we got to the village, there was no one around, until the hunters returned. It turned out that one of the hunters was the mayor, and he took us on a guided tour of the old buildings of the village, including the medieval church (that had been recently and heavily restored).

Left: the sign at the entrance to the town. Center: the facade of the church.
Right: the clock tower on the town hall and former school.

Another church dedicated to Saint Gerald can be found in this region at Monsempron.
It turned out to be one of the largest and best preserved of the medieval churches dedicated to him.

Left: the facade of the church. Right: the side of the church and belltower.

Left: the interior of the church showing the barrel vault and stone columns. Right: the apse at the back of the church.

The medieval priory alongside the church (now an art gallery).

This region of France sees few tourists, although there are a lot of British residents who have bought second homes or retired here. (Our hosteller joked that there hadn't been as many Englishmen in the area since the Hundred Years War!) But tourists who do come all go to see the main attraction in the area, the Castle of Bonaguil. It was built at the very end of the Middle Ages, and took forty years to complete. Unfortunately, the development of canons was taking place right at the same time, so that this sort of medieval castle was more or less obsolete even before it was finished. We had lots of fun just wandering around the grounds, up and down its towers, and through rooms half in ruins--destroyed not from any military assault but by angry peasants during the French Revolution, who saw it as a symbol of their oppression at the hands of the French nobility.

As we headed back east after leaving the region of Gascony, we stopped
for a quick tour of Penne d'Agenais, another very picturesque medieval town.

Along the way, we took a detour through the small village of Labarthe, where there had once been a church and priory dedicated to Saint Gerald. Nothing remains of it--except a watermill that carries Gerald's name, and that may have been originally built by monks from the priory. Unfortunately, the mill was locked up tight, and we weren't able to find anyone around to tell us about it.

(Water mills were vital elements of the local economy in medieval Europe. Not only did they provide power for grinding grain into flour--bread was, after all, a staple of the medieval diet--but the mill ponds that were created above the mills so as to ensure a regular supply of water were stocked with fish--another essential food source during the Middle Ages.)

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