The lovely food and drinks of the Armagnac region

In search of the story behind the famous alcoholic drink and the intriguing region

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Armagnac is a highly alcoholic drink that is older than cognac.  However, Armagnac is not well-known at all. It has the same name as the region in the French province of Gascony. This is a hilly area with ancient towns where I wish to immerse myself. And, of course, I want to taste the oldest brandy that is still distilled in the world.

The region Armagnac

But when I arrive, a glass of Floc de Gascogne is offered to me. This aperitif is also made in this area. It's available in white and rosé. It's incredibly sweet, but still delicious. Yes, it is an excellent aperitif for my Armagnac tasting trip.

Philippe de Bouglon is smelling his Armagnac. ©Corno van den Berg

My goal is primarily to see as many Armagnac producers in this region of France as possible. Domaine d'Espérance, Château de Briat, and Château du Prada, but to name a few. They all provide a guided tour followed by a tasting. Where you may, of course, purchase bottles of this age old beverage. There are mostly ancient but lovely chateaus where the locals have a penchant for Armagnac. And where Armagnac has been produced for ages.

The baron of Château du Prada is Philippe de Bouglon who conducts the tour. He explains about his family's long history of producing Armagnac. "It's older than cognac," he adds with considerable inflection. The key question is why is this drink not as well-known as cognac.

"The answer is simple: each manufacturer has their own brand, which they all believe is the greatest and best. As with wine, the quality might vary from year to year. There is a good amount of competitiveness." Whilst he mulls over something, I take my first sip. It's sweet and smooth.

"When it comes to cognac, the brands are more well-known than the producers that supply the grapes. Furthermore, the cognac area is near the sea, making transportation simpler for decades." He seemed to be remorseful about it. But, as a producer, he appears to appreciate his freedom. He boasts about his merchandise, his castle, and the massive garden that comes with it, with zeal. I've had worse drinks than this one in the lovely garden.

A visit to the cellars of Stéphane de Luze. ©Corno van den Berg

In addition, I pay a visit to the adjacent Château de Briat. Stéphane de Luze is more than willing to take me around the barrels. He also shows me other Armagnacs from various years. It ends as always with a tasting. Fortunately, I'm on an electric bike, because some of the pathways are uphill. Hmm, and a bit winding. Or is it just me?


Two cyclists in Labastide-d'Armagnac. ©Corno van den Berg

Various makers of the drink can be found in and around Labastide-d'Armagnac, a picturesque village. The name says it all: the bastide of Armagnac. A bastide is a typical French medieval town with a market square and straight blocks of houses around it. You see this especially in the southwest of France.

This is a sleepy village where everything happens in the square. With small shops, not a single familiar shop graces the facades as you see in many cities everywhere. An elderly man selling his home-made Armagnac is proud when I notice him. And he loves that his product is photographed with him in it.

Read my tips for Labastide-d'Armagnac

Biking Route La Scandibérique

Along the Biking Route La Scandibérique. ©Corno van den Berg

I want to be more active after all those alcoholic beverages. So I check out a cycling route. The Scandibérique is a cycling route that runs from Norway to Spain and covers hundreds of kilometres. The Pilgrim Route is another name for it. It's time for me to hit the road.

I chose the part with the most interesting sights along the way. Reason being, when I heard about it I wanted to see this route. A very special church is found here. Remarkably enough it is very popular with sports enthusiasts. So I have to go by bike of course.

Notre Dame des Cyclistes

The church for cyclists: the famous Notre Dame des Cyclistes. ©Corno van den Berg

Chapelle Notre Dame des Cyclistes might be described as a church for cyclists. Jerseys of well-known and lesser-known riders are hung everywhere as I enter the chapel.

The jerseys are almost everywhere. The majority of them are autographed, including lots of famous Tour de France winners and World Champions. This sporty church is still operational. Before the Tour de France people come to this church, to pray for a successful race. People also pray for the best for their favourite racer.

Read my tips for Notre Dame des Cyclistes

Chalosse, Brassempouy and Gaujacq

A bike ride on Brassempouy. ©Corno van den Berg

Landes is a relatively unknown area. The sweeping hills behind the Atlantic shore is a view I'd definitely like to see. Chalosse, Brassempouy, and Gaujacq are only a few of the settlements. I don't know any of these places so I'm sure it's going to be interesting.

A meeting on Chateau van Gaujacq with Philippe Casedevant and his son Vincent. ©Corno van den Berg

To feel the Tour de France vibe, I ride an electric bike since some hills are hectic calf-burners. I observe two men at the Chateau de Gaujacq: Philippe Casedevant and his son Vincent. As his kid tends to the garden, his father looks at him with admiration.

the beauty of Chateau de Gaujacq. ©Corno van den Berg

Later, I visit the PréhistoSite, a prehistoric museum. The famed Venus of Brassempouy, an ivory statue estimated to be between 22,000 and 26,000 years old, is displayed here.

The famous Venus of Brassempouy up close. ©Corno van den Berg

The statue was discovered in a cave a little distance down the road. It is of remarkable quality. It provides a unique insight into our forefathers' lives. It's difficult to understand how humans created such masterpieces thousands of years ago.

The city of Saint-Sever

Using the mirror in the Saint-Sever Abbey Church. ©Corno van den Berg

The town of Saint-Sever is best known for its abbey. A local guide gives me a small square mirror. That's interesting.

"Holding the mirror up to your eyes allows you to see a lot more." She notices my perplexed expression. She says: "Give it a go." I hold the mirror up to my nose and view the ornate ceiling with all of its ornaments. Walking is becoming a bit difficult, but I do get a unique perspective on all art. With the sunlight, it's even more stunning.

Walking through Saint-Sever. ©Corno van den Berg

I walk through the center of town. The various historical houses give the streets a typical French atmosphere. It is especially enjoyable with the low-hanging sun. 

Canoeing in Les Landes

On a canoe on the La Palue river. ©Corno van den Berg

Behind the coast outside the town of Léon are extensive forests. Which you can easily explore in a canoe. A river runs through it; de La Palue.

Fair is fair, this is more beautiful than beautiful, the river is small and meanders through the forest. It's raining lightly, but that's okay. Steering is hard work because of the strong current. However, this is a fascinating excursion. I even forget the raindrops.

To the Atlantic Coast

A surfer on the beach of Messanges. ©Corno van den Berg

The sun shines brightly. It's time to head to the beach for a bit. Suddenly the vast, wide, and rich golden beach at Messanges shows up.

Dusk is nearing. I take a stroll on the smooth sand. The sand is beautiful and soft, time for a sundowner. The day's toast whets my appetite for more. I'm gonna stay here for a while.