If you drive west of Toulouse and south of Bordeaux, you’ll find yourself in the department of the Gers, where I have been living here for 16 years. I didn’t know how lucky I was live here until I returned from my first trip back to the States. I never imagined that when I moved away I would find another home, but I did. As much as I love big cities for their diversity and culture, I can only take them in small doses now. Over the years I’ve filled my little black book with beautiful places to see, good restaurants to eat at, and local experiences to savor. It will be my pleasure to share a slow travel, off-the-beaten path adventure with you away from the crowds.
You’ll have less distraction and more time to feel closer to nature –
Paying attention to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing. The Gers is so bucolic that guide books refer to it as the Tuscany of France. It is the perfect place to turn the clock back fifty years, slow down, and take each day, as it comes. Under azure blue skies you can drive through rolling fields of sunflowers and vineyards, verdant green pastures dotted with Blonde Aquitaine cows and Pyrenean donkeys, and sometimes never see another car. You can hike on one of the French “randos”, specially marked trails and backroads, and rarely encounter another person. And in the evening you can sit outside and watch the sunset blaze across the sky, then behold a veritable planetarium of stars.
You’ll experience fewer attractions, but more history –
There are no amusement parks in the Gers, but there are leisure activities such as waterparks, swimming pools, lakeside beaches, bamboo mazes, and old fashioned circuses. During the summer there are renowned music festivals, reenactments of Gallic history, and Medieval fairs in one of over a hundred fortified hilltop villages. It’s easy to to turn off the road, find a fold in the landscape to enjoy a picnic, or call into a vineyard owned by the same family for 11 generations. Last fall my clients and I visited art exhibits in historic abbeys and castles, a recently discovered Roman villa in a farmers’ field, and took a class in woad fabric dyeing held on the grounds of an 18th century chateau.
You’ll feel more a part of the local scenery, and less like a part of the background –
By immersing yourself in the day to day life of the countryside, the feeling of community will embrace you. The Gerois exude a down to earth enthusiasm they want to share no matter how modest the occasion. They feel it is profoundly acceptable to eat and drink richly everyday. Businesses close at 12 and don’t reopen until after 2. They shop and share stories at farmers’ markets, and village fetes that bring the communities together. They choose to make time for friends, stopping their cars in the middle of the road when they recognize someone they know, or sharing recipes and local gossip while waiting in line at the post office.
A slow travel tour of the Gers is a tonic for the troubles of the world. It’s the perfect place for anyone who wants to travel into la France profonde at its unspoiled best.
| Sue Aran lives in the Gers department of southwest France. She is the owner of French Country Adventures, which provides private, personally-guided, small-group, slow travel tours into Gascony, the Pays Basque, Provence and beyond. She writes a monthly blog about her life in France and is a contributor to Bonjour Paris and France Today magazines.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France, England and other European countries.