The River Gers flows through Auch which is the ancient capital of Gascony (now called Gers) in the Midi Pyrenees. In the heart of South West France, Auch is strategically located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, lying about 80 kilometres from Toulouse and approximately 2 hours from Bordeaux.
Historically, the town was inhabited by an Aquitanian tribe, the Ausci, from which its name derives. One of the chief towns of Roman Gaul, it has always been a religious centre and has a prestigious architectural heritage including the famous Cathedrale Saint-Marie which has recently been nominated a UNESCO site as part of the Worldwide Cultural Heritage on the roads to Compostella.
The town of Auch is split into two parts on either side of the river Gers. The historic medieval district is found up 232 steps of the Escalier Monumental leading to the Episcopal quarter with its fine old buildings and winding streets. However, on the right bank, 19th and 20th century buildings stand in stark contrast offering good shopping and contemporary architecture.
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The building of the Renaissance Cathedrale Sainte-Marie d’Auch began in 1489 and was completed in 1683. It is situated in the old town off the main square, the Place de la Republique. Well worth a visit to see its remarkable baroque furnishings, its magnificent organ, carved choir stalls and the 18 rose stained-glass windows created by 16th Century Gascon artist, Arnaud de Moles.
On the corner of the Place de la Republique, the Office de Tourisme is in one of the most interesting buildings of the old town and Auch Town Hall, built by Bursar d’Etigny, houses a beautiful Italian-style theatre.
Leading from the square in front of the cathedral is the Great Staircase built in 1864. It is 35 metres high, giving a good view over the Gers countryside towards the Pyrenees. Halfway down is the famous Statue d’Artagnan, based on Charles de Batz (Comte d’Artagnan) who was born nearby in the Chateau de Castelmore and featured in the novel written by Alexandre Dumas.
Tour d’Armagnac in the Place Salinis was a prison in the 14th century. It is 40 metres high and each of the seven upper floors in the tower was a prison cell.
Visit also the Musee des Jacobins, a former Dominican chapel which has a fine collection of pre-Columbian art and artefacts from the Gascon culture.
Whilst wandering through these historical sites and narrow streets of the old town, relish the treats on offer in the shops off Rue Dessoles which feature local delicacies such as foie gras de canard, cheese, Armagnac and Floc de Gascogne. There are also bustling street markets on Saturdays which are a great source of fresh produce from the surrounding countryside.
The Gers is an area where rugby is played with a passion. For more gentle forms of exercise, golf, cycling, horse-riding and hiking are all popular and watersports are enjoyed on local rivers and lakes.
There are also several spectacular gardens to explore: Jardin de la poterie Hillen, Jardin et arboretum de Coursiana, Palmeraie du Sarthou, Jardin et parc du chateau de Larra and Parc du chateau de Merville are all within easy travelling distance from Auch.