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Exploring Condom-en-Armagnac in Southwestern France

Mary and her husband work on international projects and have travelled to many places in Spain.

The City of Condom

The City of Condom

Condom-en-Armagnac in France's Gascony

Armed with a car, a map, and a few Euros, my husband and I found ourselves where they make the best Armagnac, Condom-en-Armagnac.

I have to admit that, indeed, it was Armagnac that drew us to this place. With five days to roam between grandparenting assignments, we opted for the less obvious destinations; we chose places where no one had written a template book titled "A Year in...."

The southwest of France appeared to be a vast unexplored black hole that didn't qualify as "the South of France" and was not Paris. Digging a bit, part of southwest France turned out to be Armagnac country, the husband's favourite after-dinner noggin. And amidst the giggly laugh of the granddaughter when she saw that the best Armagnac came from Condom, we drove off through Lyon to explore a brand new territory.

Driving from Lausanne, it took us almost two days on mainly country roads to reach Condom-en-Armagnac. With no real plan or reservations, we could poke around and drive up side roads that promised castles and chateaus and medieval this, that and the other.

We doodled a fair bit, spending time discovering the Roman Village of Perouges, having lunch in Lyon, falling over Roquefort and condemning the car to an endless future of cheese overture, and overnight in Le Puy.

Spring in Condom-en-Armagnac

Spring in Condom-en-Armagnac

An Early Spring Drive to the Gascony Region

The drive was delightful—no tourists yet in early spring, zero traffic, an endless testable boulangerie with meltable croissants. By the end of the second day, we staggered into Condom-en-Armagnac, having become merely stretched skins over slow digesting sausage, baguettes, a myriad of farm cheeses, a sampling of local wines and the remnants of swiss chocolate.

With our usual luck, we stopped right in front of the Hotel Trois Lys parking entrance. So, off we went to get ourselves a room in the hotel in a very European, newly renovated 300-year-old house right in the center of town.

Our arrival seemed to mark the official opening of tourist season for the owner/proprietor, and our welcome swizzle was a massive Armagnac as a fortifying digestife. We stumbled out the front gate, off to get some food-loosening exercise while kicking the town's tires.

Southwest France

Southwest France

Where about is Condom-en-Armagnac?

Condom, France

Condom, France

Condom, France, Capital of Gascony

The town is the capital of Gascony and an easy place to set up camp for exploring the region and taste its famous Armagnac and foie gras, the massively politically incorrect Pate de Foie Gras.

Every little farm seems to be hammering this stuff out, and the brandy aficionados are on the loose, tracking Armagnac down. Our experience suggests they made a Cognac-like drink because the local wine is, ahhhhh, best distilled!

But beyond the Armagnac and the foie gras, Condom is also the home of the international music festival called "bandas," as well as the international chess marathon and tournament.

It is also home to two castles built in the 13th century, Château de Mothes and the Château de Pouypardin.


Interesting Historical Details on Condom-en-Armagnac

Condom boasts exciting details in its history, and here are some of them:

  • The city's name originates from the Gaulish words condate-ó-magos which means "market of the confluence." Condatómagos evolved into Condatóm and then into Conddóm. The city Condom was first recorded in Latin in the 10th century as Condomus or Condomium.
  • Early on, Condom has already developed as a wine country. With the River Baise, it has expanded its commercial interest.
  • Condom was once under the crown of England brought about by the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry, Duke of Normandy, who later became Henry II. After the Hundred Years War, this place returned to France.
  • Condom had been a significant resting place for pilgrims on the Camino de Compostela, the Way of St. James. To appreciate Condom's position in this Via Podiensis, take the walking tour following the Circuit d'Artagnan as this takes you to the sites connected to this pilgrimage route.

If your interest is the Cathedral, then take the Circuit de Bossuet, which will take you not just to the Cathedral but also to the Abbey and other older buildings.

St. Pierre Cathedral in Condom France

St. Pierre Cathedral in Condom France

Condom-en-Armagnac's Gothic Cathedral

Towering at the center of Condom-en-Armagnac is its late Gothic Cathedral, St. Pierre, which was once rescued by its citizens during the Wars of Religion in 1569 when the French Huguenots threatened to destroy it. The citizens happily raised the ransom of F30,000 francs, letting us enjoy this landmark today. As punishment, the Huguenots had to spend four centuries living with the Boers in South Africa being the icing between English and Dutch in that particular Oreo cookie.

Designed at the end of the 15th century, the construction of the Cathedral ended around 1531 under the leadership of the bishop then, Jean Marre. It was famous for its sumptuous 16th-century liturgy and its 1605 organ. You still can see its original pulpit with its delicately carved stone baldaquin.

D'Artagnan and the Three Musketeers

D'Artagnan and the Three Musketeers

The Pays D’Artagnan

The Gascons call their area the "Pays D'Artagnan." In the center of Condom on the verge of the St. Pierre Cathedral is the superhuman bronze statue of the Three Musketeers, the famous characters from Alexandre Dumas's novel.

The character of D'Artagnan was based on Charles de Batz, considered an ideal musketeer or royal bodyguard because of his chivalry and impetuousness. This character seems to translate as committing massive faux pas but apologizing so well that one is forgiven. A classic was exhibited in Batz' arrest of Louis XIV's most formidable minister and then stickhandled his way out of the mess.

Pay D'Artagnan

Pay D'Artagnan

A Visit to Chateau Le Courrejot: The Award Winning Armagnac Producer

But, of course, the highlight for us was the visit to one of the Armagnac producers. We just drove around the Condom environs and happily got lost in one of the beautiful chateaus where we boldly went where no tourist had gone before. The Chateau was a private residence. De batz would have been proud!

The Mistress of the Chateau, recognizing my husband as a well-meaning doofus with theatrical French, let us take a few pictures and directed us to a tiny award-winning producer of Armagnac next door, the Chateau Le Courrejot.

The proprietress of the Chateau knows her Armagnac, and her passion for the best produce is overwhelming that one will understand why this area is home to the finest brandy in the world (the husband made me say it), putting Cognacs to shame.

She told us their Tenareze Armagnacs are distilled, aged, and bottled on the property. Four of their vintages got gold medals at the Paris competitions through continuous distillation and a long aging process in their homemade oak casks.

She showed us the process of making Armagnac, and her enthusiasm made us enjoy the tasting afterward.

Armagnac Tasting

Armagnac Tasting

A Taste of Armagnac

River Baise

River Baise

Other Interesting Attractions in Condom

The city also offers other exciting attractions within and around its environs.

1. The River Baise and the Private Docks of Old

The River Baise skirted the town centre and was once a significant transport highway for the residents and their exports to the Nordic countries and even America. One can still see the private docks and feeder canals that houses had on the river and may still use even today.

2. Hotel de Cugnac and the Musee de L'Armagnac

Located in the former stables of the Bishop of Milon, the Musee de l'Armagnac, with its presentation of the phases of Armagnac production, gives you a much deeper understanding of what distinguishes the Armagnac from other fine brandies.

The Hotel de Cugnac is a must-see with its ancient wine and spirit distillery and storehouse, especially the 18-ton press and beautiful premises. But hitting the country roads and counting on your luck is much more fun.

3. Chateau de Cassaigne

We also visited the old residence of the Bishop of Condom. Fantastic. Massive kitchens with 13th-century spits and all the gunge needed to feed the resident cast of characters. Fabulous grounds and a basement video give you everything you ever wanted to know about the area and Armagnac. It has a well-stocked store of the products of the area.

Chateau de Cassaigne

Chateau de Cassaigne

The Take Away from Gascony

So, what's the takeaway? This trip opened us to an experience of southwest France, Gascony in particular, that we will always treasure. Here were our takeaways:

  • Get into rural France from Caesar's invasion to modern times. The locals are friendly with not a hint of Paris arrogance. The food is solid fare, and you can buy it in the stores and picnic anywhere.
  • The countryside is a bit like the Shire in Lord of the Rings. Late March's sweater weather is the time to go—before the rest of the tourists arrive to put on their theatre of excess.
  • Gascony is the heart of France and the center of French rural and agricultural life. There is so much to taste in cheese, foie gras, terrine, wine and Armagnac, the finest of these products.
Southwest France

Southwest France

More Information on Condom, France

1. Information on Condom and the Cathedral. Wikipedia

2. For more on tourism in Condom, France, see this guide.

© 2012 Mary Norton