In search of the story behind the famous alcoholic drink and the intriguing region
The name Armagnac is familiar to me. But I know little about it. High time to immerse myself in the region where this highly alcoholic drink is made. But I also want to be very active in my search for the best sights and tips in Armagnac.
Get to know the sights, the vast nature, the most beautiful villages in France and the places off the beaten track at your own pace.
See more tips on Nouvelle Aquitaine and on france.fr
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.
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?
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
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.
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
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.
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 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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.