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Le Gargantua cooking school house is located just 1 hour drive south east of Bordeaux, and 1h30 north west of Toulouse, in Lot-et-Garonne, Aquitaine, in the better known Gascony.
Lot-et-Garonne is known as "the Garden of France", the landscape is quite unspoilt, nature and wildlife are preserved and agriculture is thriving. The surrounding colours are the ones of wheat and sunflower fields, vineyards, and the deep green of the pine forest of the Landes de Gascogne. It enjoys a very pleasant climate, mostly dry and sunny.
This is a land of eventful history, featuring Richard the Lion Heart, the musketeers and Henry IV. Many old stones still stand, silent witnesses of the region's historical heritage. Discover the Gallo-Roman relics, Romanesque churches, the impressive castles, the old wash-houses...
The Bastide towns of Vianne & Damazan
This is a serious matter. People of the Lot et Garonne (and the south west in general) love their food, and love it traditional. The local cuisine is probably the most diverse in France, as it was influenced by the nearby cuisines of the Basque country, Perigord, Limousin, Languedoc, Pyrénées mountains and Atlantic coast... The closest to an accurate description of the local food is a hearty, peasant food, incredibly tasty, beautiful for its simplicity, satisfying, interesting and honest, without compromise. It is known as the land of the geese, the fat ducks and their foie gras. But it is also the land of game, Cèpes mushrooms, prunes, "gariguette" strawberries, sweet melons, white asparagus, Marmande tomatoes.
On the wine side, this is the region of Buzet, Côtes du Marmandais, Côtes de Duras, Côtes du Brulhois, Vin de Pays de Gascogne, Vin de Pays de l'Agenais. The first vines of Buzet are about half a mile away from Le Gargantua cooking school. We also are in the country of Armagnac and Floc de Gascogne.
Local markets are exceptional for the abundance, variety and quality of the produce. They are so lively, and the traders care about their food very much. It is such a pleasure to walk round, smell, feel, and even taste the food!
A few markets: Casteljaloux (Tuesdays and Saturdays), Lavardac (Wednesdays), Barbaste (Mondays), Nerac (Saturdays), Tonneins (Saturdays), Marmande (Saturdays), Villeneuve sur Lot (Tuesdays), Monflanquin (Thursdays), Miramont de Guyenne (Mondays), Langon (Wednesdays)
Wild asparagus & gariguette strawberries from Lavardac Market
Farming organic wild asparagus
These medieval fortified villages were built in the shape of a square, surrounded by arcades, and a web of narrow streets off the square. As opposed to most other towns that were built around a church, the bastide's central square was dedicated to the market, the arcades all around were used by the traders in case of bad weather. The four strong walls around the town were making it a fortress, pretty essential feature in those times of war (12th and 13th centuries mainly).
Near Le Gargantua cooking school are the following: Villefranche du Queyran (2 min drive), Damazan (10 min drive), Vianne (20 min drive), Bazas (35 min drive). The best preserved bastide (almost intact) is probably Vianne (pictured on the right), which during the entire summer hosts a nocturnal market every Friday.
(8 min drive)
It was one of the 4 capitals of the region. It is bordered by pine forests, and is a pretty market town. Discover the charming "Maison du Roy" (used by the office of tourism), the impressive church "Notre Dame" and the original 15th century "colombages" (timber, stone and brick façades) as you wander down the narrow back alleys. Spend a day on the beach at the lake of Clarens, enjoy the colourful farmers market (Tuesdays and Saturdays), have a little fun at the casino, play a round of golf or get pampered at the thermal spas.
(25 min drive)
This beautiful town became the capital of the (Navarre) region in the 16th century under the influence of the royal family of Albret. Base of the loved Henri IV and the queen Margot, city of plenty, the centre of culture, arts and politics, it was known as the "Athens of Gascony" because of its quality of life.
Nérac is surrounded by the vineyards of Buzet and river Baïse runs through it. Nicely preserved and maintained, a walk through the old town takes you back in time. You will also find in Nerac the Chocolaterie "La Cigale" which inspired the author Joanne Harris her best seller "Chocolat" (which became the film starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche).
Take a stroll in the Royal parc of la Garenne, visit the remaining wing of Henry IV's castle (now museum), the Imaginary Castle, the fortified Four-Towers Mill in nearby Barbaste, or go for a cruise on the river.
Of course everyone recognises the name for being one of the best known wine appellation in the world. But Bordeaux is so much more! Come and discover what really is behind the name... A breath-taking city, listed as world heritage with UNESCO. There are so many different faces to Bordeaux that everyone can be charmed. Stunning architecture, great shopping (trust me!), beautiful food, wonderful museums...
Although Bordeaux is the 5th largest city in France, it has a real village feel to it, and you will love wandering its old cobbled streets, or walking the beautiful promenade along the river
Grab a picnic and spend the day on the coast. Nature parks, water theme park, and near Arcachon, you can see (and climb) the highest sand dune in Europe: Grande Dune du Pyla, 107 m high. Breath-taking view from the top, on the ocean, Landes forest, and even the Pyrénées mountains if the sky is clear enough.
Dune de Plya (1h40 drive)
Impressive churches, the cloister of the Cordeliers, the monk Emilion's cave, the Catacombs, the Trinity Chapel, the city walls, the ruins of the Cardinal palace.There is a commented excursion in a touristic train, giving you a glimpse of some of the most prestigious chateaux.
Kings House Castlejaloux
Bastide town of Nerac
Lake view of Nerac
Superb 13th century fortified village, selected as one of the prettiest villages in France. Take a stroll around the square under the arcades, and admire the condition of this exceptional historical legacy, as well as the breath-taking view from the top of the fortification.
Town of Monflanquin
Vines of St.Emilion
There is plenty to do and see. You will be particularly busy if you like a bargain, as there are "vide-greniers" (bootfairs/fleemarkets) in nearby towns and villages several times a week in the summer.
From April through to the end of October, many events and celebrations take place locally: celebration of the Cadets de Gascogne on July 14th, Feria (bulls race, etc...) of Casteljaloux on the 2nd week of August, Dog & Hunting celebration end of August, candlelit visits of the Malvirade Castle, and food celebrations as the asparagus day in Fargues on the 3rd Sunday of April, the "Gargantuades" in Villefranche du Queyran early July, the Bread/Wine/Cheese night in Casteljaloux, etc ... Most towns and villages have their own celebration day with all sorts of games and events and the day ends with a big banquet (generally a themed one like snails, sardines, paella, BBQ ...).
You can let your belly guide you around the Lot-et-Garonne, and drive from one farm to another, following the signs of the "Bienvenue a la ferme" network.
You can also just relax, strolling round the picturesque little villages and watching the world go by whilst sitting at a café's terrasse. But if you are the active kind, you will find listed below the main local activities.
You can vary your swimming locations in Casteljaloux: the lake of Clarens (photo below) and its sandy beach, the thermal spa centre with its various heated pools and finally the public open-air swimming pool (open from June to September) and its 4 pools (olympic, 25 metres, paddling and diving).
Lake of Clarens - Casteljaloux
Several pools, each with their own features (jets, relaxation, paddling, bubbles, slides, ...) in a roman style, surrounded by greenery and mineral beaches.
Snack bar on site
Casteljaloux (10 min drive) springs have been renowned since 19th century for their effects on rhumatisms and have received in 1995 the agreement from the Health Ministry. The complex opened July 1st 2002 at the very location of the springs and also offers a beauty and relaxation institute, as well as a water therapy center.
The Baths :
This water therapy center includes interior and exterior heated swimming pools and 4 pavilions, each introducing you to a specific approach of water therapy and relaxation, combining giant jacuzzis, hammam, turkish baths, massage, sauna, japanese bath, etc...
The Institute :
Relaxation and anti-age treatments are available. This is pampering at its best. Care of body, face, legs, feet, ... massages, cleansing, exfoliating, ... use of essential oils, sea salt, seaweed, ... it is all happening there, for your pleasure!
Walibi fun park, 30 min drive, near Agen.
Landes Forest, from 3 miles away from us. Hiking trails.
Lake of Clarens, in Casteljaloux (10 min drive), with sand beach and activities: climbing frames, pedalos, windsurf, swings, giant water slide, fishing, tennis court, crazy golf.
Château Imaginaire in Barbaste, 20 min drive.
Biking or walking along the "canal latéral". Shaded path along the canal. Very picturesque, and quiet. 10 min drive. See picture on the right. Park of la Garenne, in Nerac (25 min drive). Shaded mature park along the river. Games for children (climbing frames, swings and slides). Boat rentals, 20 min drive away, from Buzet or Fourques sur Garonne, by the hour, half-day or whole day (no licence needed). Bordeaux, 1 hour drive.
Atlantic coast, 1h40 drive. Water theme fun park, natural reserve bird sanctuary.
Lake of Clarens - Casteljaloux
Casteljaloux public swimming pool
The South-West of France is the ideal place for golfing, it has it all: beautiful settings, lovely weather and great courses! You have a choice between the following 2 local courses. Casteljaloux (10 min drive): (18 holes, par 72, 6468 yards long, putting green, driving range) It is located next to the charming lake of Clarens, bordered by the pine forest of the Landes, and offer panoramic views.
Casteljaloux Golf Course
Golf d'Albret, Barbaste (20 mn away): (18 holes, par 72, 6384 yards long, putting green, driving range) Also surrounded by the Landes forests, this course is very hilly. You might see deers or hares between the mature oak and willow trees. Magnificent views of nearby villages, vineyards and forests.
There are 2 riding centres within 15 min of the house. They organise rides in the country, in the forest and outings in horse and carriage.
Hiking & Biking
We will happy to provide you with maps of the hiking and biking trails, approved and maintained by the tourism authorities. It is a superb way to discover the region. There are many loop circuits around here, and bike rides are particularly nice along the "canal latéral", in the shade of the secular plane trees.