Home to a UNESCO-listed cathedral, the National Circus Centre and the finest Armagnac in the south, the capital of Gascony has more to offer than you ever dreamed of…
They say the best things come in small packages and this couldn’t be truer of Auch. Petite but perfectly formed, the capital of Gascony is a tangle of narrow lanes (or pousterles) and half-timbered houses; not to mention a veritable treasure trove of historical monuments – chief among them the UNESCO-listed Cathédrale Sainte-Marie. A marvel of late-Gothic and early Renaissance architecture, it has more than earned its kudos as one the southwest’s finest holy seats. From the intricately-carved oak choir depicting 1,500 apostles and saints to Arnaut de Moles’s heavenly 16th-century stained- class windows, it is a sight for sore eyes.
ALL FOR ONE…
Unbeknown to many, France’s most valiant musketeer, D’Artagnan (real name Charles de Batz de Castlemore) was born just 30km from Auch, in the village of Lupiac. And the town never misses an opportunity to remind visitors of its connection to its (just about) homeboy. It even erected a bronze statue of the legendary soldier at the foot of its eminently instagrammable Escalier Monumental in 1931.
MUSÉE DES AMÉRIQUES
Auch’s acclaimed Musée des Amériques recently reopened (October), after a lengthy renovation. Featuring a truly astonishing collection of Pre-Columbian art, second only to the Quai Branly museum’s in Paris (!), it is well worth the detour.
TOWN & COUNTRY
A self-touted “ville à la campagne”, this green oasis is the best of both worlds: packed with charming boutiques and eateries yet blissfully hubbub-free. And there’s no shortage of outdoor pursuits for nature lovers – in Auch proper or its surroundings. Amble along the banks of the Gers river, cycle around the province’s picture-perfect villages or go garden-hopping (the area is blessed with enough parks and jardins to keep green-fingered holidaymakers occupied for days)– the Gascon countryside is your oyster.
When in the birthplace of Armagnac … wet your whistle. Why not throw in a vineyard tour and dégustation (or three) while you’re at it? A tad too stiff for your taste? The area boasts easy-drinking and decidedly less fiery Côtes de Gascogne wines, including the fortified Floc de Gascogne. Cheers!
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
Market days (Thursday and Saturday) in Auch are a real test of self-control – especially on an empty stomach. The groaning stalls offer everything your hearts and tums could possibly desire: foie gras, Gascon black pork, freshly-baked bread, fragrant melons…
Auch certainly rolls out the red carpet for its young visitors. In fact, it recently launched the free Explore Auch app, a fun, child-friendly way to discover the local heritage. The interactive game takes little ones on an action-packed recce through town in search of absent-minded goose farmer Baptistou’s missing flock. If you’d rather save your precious data, simply pick up an Explore Auch tablet at the tourist office.
ROLL UP, ROLL UP
Speaking of entertaining the brood… Auch is home to the Pôle National du Cirque (National Circus Centre) and holds an annual festival, CIRCa, every October. Acrobatics, juggling and gravity-defying stunts, the 10-day bonanza pulls out all the stops.
Have an afternoon to spare? Make a beeline for the ‘Plus Beau Village de France’ of Lavardens. Perched atop a rocky crag, the medieval nook affords unrivalled views of the Gers countryside. Its 17th-century fortress is a must-see – and pretty hard to miss, standing as it does smack bang in the centre of the village. Don’t miss the church and its striking stained-glass window designed by the incomparable Arnaut de Moles.
Only an hour from Toulouse-Blagnac airport, Auch is just the ticket for savvy weekenders and the perfect base from which to explore Gascony’s wealth of historical sights and natural wonders.
For more information visit www.auch-tourisme.com 
From France Today magazine