Lot-et-Garonne: The Beautiful Surprise of the South-West


Last Updated on 10/01/2023 by Alfred

Head to the South-West of France in a department that is often underestimated but which is no less fascinating.

Founded in 1790, the Lot et Garonne takes its name from the two rivers that cross the department. For a long time, these have been both a strategic advantage when it comes to wars and a commercial advantage for agriculture and the export of products.

The Lot et Garonne is distinguished by its geography: its large plateaus, its limestone hills with hilly shapes, its cereal fields, its green meadows, its vermilion vineyards and its vast forests make this department a beautiful green setting.

But that’s not all! The Lot et Garonne is also a country steeped in history: a strategic place during the Hundred Years War, it was under the tutelage of the English before returning to the French fold. Its villages, witnesses of the past, have for the most part, kept traces of the medieval period: they give you the feeling of going back in time.

Generation Voyage invites you to discover an often-forgotten department and make you discover the secrets of fascinating places that will not leave you behind.

Agen and Villeneuve-sur-Lot: the unbeatable

It is not uncommon in history to see rivalries between two cities in the same territory. In our case it is rather Villeneuve-sur-Lot who, jealous of Agen, reproaches him for shading him!

Nationally (and internationally) known for its prunes, Agen has been expanding its fame for more than a century. At the same time, its tourism is growing.

Thirty kilometers away, Villeneuve-sur-Lot plays the sleeping beauties with a certain charm of “big village of province”.

Despite their rivalry, the two Lot-et-Garonne cities remain exceptional places in the region and must be visited. It would be a shame to miss these historically and architecturally fascinating municipalities.

Erected by the Romans, they served, during antiquity, as camps for legionnaires, artisanal quarters, forums… of which there are still vestiges. During the Middle Ages, they were rare crossing points on the river that made them strategic positions during the Hundred Years War and during the Wars of Religion. They were English for a time (during the great wars) and then passed under the French crown.

Architecturally, the two cities follow the same plan, orthogonal streets that recall the time when Agen and Villeneuve-sur-Lot were under the control of the Roman Empire. Moreover, while walking, you will have the chance to see ancient monuments such as the Hotel d’Escouloubres.

Thus, stroll through the streets and observe the pretty yellow, red and brown brick houses that give the two cities a warm and friendly atmosphere. Contemplate during your walk the extremely rich religious heritage of Agen and Villeneuve-sur-Lot and stop in front of the churches and cathedrals that give a serious and moving tone to both cities.

Rugby union VS Rugby league: the eternal fight

Agen and Villeneuve-sur-Lot also compete on another field: the rugby lawn!

National emblem of the South-West, this team sport is a true symbol for the inhabitants of the region. When you are at the edge of the field, it does not matter age, gender, skin color or origin as long as you encourage the same team in good times and bad.

If the fight can be tough on the pitch and the passionate atmosphere in the stands, we forget all the differences in the evening, in the third half, where the festive and friendly spirit takes over!

But if rugby is religion in this department of the South-West, not all preach to the same parish. Indeed, the Sport Union d’Agen has 15 athletes while the Leopards of Aquitaine, club of Villeneuve-sur-Lot has 13 and that makes all the difference. Although these two disciplines are based on pretty much the same rules, the sensations, emotions, and perceptions are not the same.

Still, in XIII or XV the Lot-et-Garonne is a land of champions for rugby. The SU d’Agen, crowned eight times champion of France, still occupies a good place in the Top 14, a popular competition bringing together the best French rugby union clubs.

Nine times champion of France, the club of leopards of Aquitaine competes in the First National Division, another championship, certainly less famous, but which brings together the best rugby league teams.

The villages of Lot-et-Garonne: the heirs of a time

The Lot-et-Garonne is also and above all, a journey into the past. Witnesses as suspended in time, the small hamlets of the department have this little something of yesteryear that makes it the historical richness.

Monflanquin the bastide

Start the discovery of medieval cities by Monflanquin, ranked among the most beautiful French villages. Erected by Alphonse de Poitiers under the name of Mons Flanquinus, the town was fortified in 1252 to protect itself from invasions.

Entering the city, you notice two perpendicular axes that divide it and place it in its center: this is the model of bastides very widespread in the South-West of France during the Middle Ages.

The bastides are cities with a perfectly regular plan that responded to a project that was both political and economic. Governed by a founding act, the bastides are above all places of markets. Their checkerboard plan takes you to the central square surrounded by arcades under which small shops are installed. The market day set in the charter from the Middle Ages is still the same today.

After crisscrossing the village through the many pedestrian streets, go to the Museum of the bastides of Monflanquin to learn more about the city and its history.

On your way, remember to observe the half-timbered houses made of stones and bricks that date from the thirteenth century. Then, head to the Black Prince’s House or the Chateau de Martel. It was here that a sordid story took place that you surely know. Indeed, the castle of Martel sheltered for several years those who are now called “The recluses of Monflanquin”: eleven members of an aristocratic family from Bordeaux who, under the influence of a malicious man, remained locked in their building for several years.

For even more adventure, a few kilometers from Monflanquin are remains of the Merovingians and Carolingians. Why not go for a walk to end the getaway in style?

Nerac, between river and history

On the way now to Nérac, one of the most famous villages in the department for a walk in the heart of history.

In the Middle Ages, Nérac became the favorite residence of the Albrets (a royal family of Aquitaine), thus welcoming the great names of French royalty such as Catherine de Medici.

The old Nérac forms a harmonious whole with its old houses, its quays along the Baise and its Gothic bridge.

Lovers enjoy strolling along the river, according to the fountains, statues and centenary species that punctuate the charming village of Lot-et-Garonne in which life is good. Opt for a boat ride to discover Nérac from the waters. You will be able to admire its church, its half-timbered houses and the famous castle of Henri IV.

Pujols in the heart of the Middle Ages

Head for Pujols, which is considered one of the most beautiful villages in the territory. Perched at an altitude of more than 180 m, it dominates Villeneuve-sur-Lot. In this city, you will have the chance to discover many remains that testify to the historical richness of the place.

Although the ramparts have been demolished, two gates still remain in good condition: one then enters the city through the English Gate or that of the Bell Tower.

Then, direction the remains of the castle of Pujols which are worth the detour. On the road, half-timbered houses with white facades will charm you for sure. Before leaving, go to the Sainte-Foy church and take the time to contemplate its wonderful murals that date from the sixteenth century.

The Château Lalande-Stelsia: the astonishing madness

This is the story of a castle located 30 km from Agen and built seven centuries ago. Initially a fortified farm, it has evolved over its successive owners. It is renovated several times in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and has sometimes been added new buildings, and new towers, which have rebuilt its windows, its roof …

The building named “Château Lalande” by its owner was restored one last time in 1992 to be converted into a luxury hotel. However, in 2008, the company in charge of operating the complex went bankrupt and left the castle abandoned.

In 2011, Philippe Ginestet, boss of the GIFI group, fell in love with Lalande and bought him. With his friend, the famous architect Jacques Bru, he decided to renovate it and make it an exceptional address. Insane work then began to transform The Château Lalande into a luxury hotel: Le Stelsia. Yes but… not just any luxury hotel.

Because when we pass the gate and enter the enclosure, the castle offers us a magical show, out of the ordinary. The walls are pink, red, yellow, green, shiny, with touches of blue, purple. It’s not to believe his eyes!

The interior of the building has nothing to envy to the outside: color and eccentricity that make it a magical place. No two rooms are alike and yet they are numerous. After settling your belongings in one of the spacious rooms of the castle, explore the thirty-hectare park around the building.

Walking in this green setting, on your way, you will come across a carousel, a library, “magical” waterfalls, giant topiaries in the shape of animals, futuristic sculptures, a plant labyrinth … And as a bonus, the largest mini golf course in Europe: 4,700m² of greenery dotted with 18 holes! The current project? Building Europe’s largest karting… it makes you want to!

A kind of Disneyland in the heart of Lot-et-Garonne, a touch of modernism that contrasts with the local medieval heritage… This is the avowed goal of the boss of GIFI who wants to “breathe life into the stone” and break the codes of the often austere and restrictive luxury hotel industry. At Stelsia, it is indeed very different: the guest finds his child’s soul, his good mood through all the experiences offered by the establishment.

The Lot-et-Garonne a land of nature…

“La Florence à la Française” is how this department is described with its gentle and hilly terrain. The Lot-et-Garonne offers, to our delight, a mosaic of landscapes: vineyards, forests, meadows, hillsides… In short, a perfect place to disconnect and find yourself in a setting conducive to serenity.

The departmental council has chosen, with good reason, to exploit this environment and protect it as much as possible by developing routes specific to so-called “green” means of transport.

The Lot-et-Garonne is crisscrossed by more than 4,800km of marked trails and hiking trails and there is something for everyone! Go on a road trip for several days on the famous Way of Santiago de Compostela which crisscrosses the department for 150 km or simply take a walk between two villages or two farms.

The Lot-et-Garonne is also famous for its VéloRoute. This greenway that welcomes pedestrians and bicycles winds for 160 km and offers several routes, for example, starting from Aiguillon, we reach Fumel by small quiet roads on the banks of the Lot by discovering the Pruneau Museum in Lafitte-sur-Lot, the medieval village of Penne d’Agenais or the castle of Bonaguil.

You can also follow the Canal des Deux Mers which connects the Atlantic to the Mediterranean or scandiberia which joins Spain to Norway. Let’s crisscross the banks of the Garonne to the sound of the songs of Francis Cabrel, originally from Agen, breathe clean air, listen to the sound of the wind that makes the trees shudder… Not really how to feel more relaxed and relaxed?

… and gourmet

History, architecture, sport… and gastronomy in all this? Of course, the Lot-et-Garonne is a charming place to visit, but how to miss the specialties of this terroir? First French department in terms of fruit and vegetable diversity, first department of organic production in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, the Lot-et-Garonne lives up to its nickname of “Garden of France”.

If the museums are not to your liking, head to the craft markets! Taste the tangy sweetness of Gariguette strawberries, Charlotte, or other Ciflorette, try the tomatoes of Marmande, the hazelnuts of Cancon … And of course the prunes of Agen!

If you are not yet full, browse the night markets that have even more surprises in store for you! Tastings and entertainment are on the program in a friendly and warm atmosphere. You will also have the chance to chat with local farmers who will be happy to introduce you to their products.

To accompany all these dishes, what could be better than a tasting in a wine estate? The winegrowers of Buzet, the Côtes de Duras, or the Marmandais will be happy to welcome you to share their know-how but be careful, always in moderation! And finally, of course, Armagnac and Floc de Gascogne are a must!

Uninteresting, unfriendly lot-et-garonne? Quite the opposite! Land of history, well-being, hospitality, nature and sport, its sweetness of life and its bucolic places make it a very pleasant destination for those who dare to cross their prejudices!

Alfred

Alfred is the author behind the Travelvibe travel blog and is always searching for the quieter, less-visited corners of the world.

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