25: Condom to Montréal-de-Gers

Canadian pilgrims are always very curious to stop here.

 

DIDIER HEUMANN, MILENA DELLA PIAZZA, ANDREAS PAPASAVVAS

 

 

We divided the course into several sections to make it easier to see. For each section, the maps show the course, the slopes found on the course, and the state of the roads. The courses were drawn on the “Wikilocs” platform. Today, it is no longer necessary to walk around with detailed maps in your pocket or bag. If you have a mobile phone or tablet, you can easily follow routes live.

For this stage, here is the link:

https://fr.wikiloc.com/itineraires-randonnee/de-condom-a-montreal-de-gers-sr-le-gr65-55852265/

It is obviously not the case for all pilgrims to be comfortable with reading GPS and routes on a laptop, and there are still many places in France without an Internet connection. Therefore, you will find soon a book on Amazon that deals with this course.

If you only want to consult lodging of the stage, go directly to the bottom of the page.

You are now between Ténarèze and Bas Armagnac areas, and the track continues its course in a westerly direction.

At first glance, Gers landscapes appear fairly homogeneous, a country where small hills and dales constantly alternate with altitudes varying between 80 and 250 meters. Here there is no big break, no abrupt change in the landscape. Whatever the level of the horizon, it is only the repetitiveness of the hills and valleys that your gaze contemplates. All space is countryside. Gers is above all a country of peasants, a deeply rural department with 70% of the land still used for agriculture. Gers is a sparsely populated, sparsely urbanized department with an industry that has almost been forgotten. Auch, the main city, has only 23,000 inhabitants. The villages are small and the habitat is very dispersed, mostly made up of hamlets with a few isolated farms. Overall, the lands remain renowned for their fertility, with the decomposition of limestone mixed with clay, resulting in magnificent wheat lands. The low rainfall here does not favor the cultivation of corn. However, the duck is already raised there.

The country has few wooded areas. From the grove of long ago only scattered groves and hedges remain. The bocage and the paths have thus melted, and strongly affected by the regrouping of plots, the vegetation still sometimes clings to the areas abandoned by agriculture. It is then the kingdom of oaks or rare moors. You can also see maple, ash, honeysuckle and hornbeam growing there. The stage of the day passes from Ténarèze area and its fields of wheat and sunflower, to Bas Armagnac where crops change. Here, beans are grown for cassoulet, but also sometimes corn. Let’s not forget that the South West is the land of duck and cassoulet. A lot of corn is needed for force-feeding. But Bas Armagnac is of course also the place of Armagnac. The vines will therefore extend over part of the course.

 

Difficulty of the course: Slope variations (+249 meters/-212 meters) are gentle. On the course, there are no major difficulties on very light little ups and downs. The brave pilgrims don’t stop in Montreal-de-Gers, and push to Eauze. But then, it’s 34 kilometers of walk. So, let’s stop, like the Canadians you may meet on the way, in Montreal-de-Gers, after a 17-kilometer walk from Condom. And, since the stage is short, let’s take the opportunity to make a little jump to the fortress of Larressingle, a great wonder a stone’s throw out of GR path. Obviously, the detour is signaled, because GR path does not go there. Why?

In this stage, the tar is again a little more present than the passages by the pathways:

  • Paved roads: 9.1 km
  • Dirt roads: 7.4 km

Sometimes, for reasons of logistics or housing possibilities, these stages mix routes operated on different days, having passed several times on Via Podiensis. From then on, the skies, the rain, or the seasons can vary. But, generally this is not the case, and in fact this does not change the description of the course.

It is very difficult to specify with certainty the incline of the slopes, whatever the system you use.

For “real slopes”, reread the mileage manual on the home page.

Section 1: Between cassoulet, bread and wine.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: course without any difficulty.

 

If you spent the night downtown, you have to slope down to the river.

GR path leaves Condom by crossing the Baïse River. The river is there in front of you, almost majestic, in any case soothing and beautiful. Today the river is calm and seems sleepy. But what is the beautiful mill sitting on the other side of the water dreaming about? For a long time, the river no longer forces its millstone to crush the grains of wheat. So, it slumbers among the trees and lawns of the beautiful park, and the river flows, quiet, muddy and unrestrained.

A wide dirt track follows the banks of the river, along the plane trees that slope gently to the surface of the water. Here, you pass or follow pilgrims loaded with their heavy bags or, depending on the time of day, mothers strolling their strollers in the shade of the trees.
On the edge of the river, the branches of majestic plane trees plunge into the water where the ducks flutter. Charming little houses must have sprung up here a long time ago. They form like precious stone islands, packed at the bottom of the path, as if to keep warm.
A little further on, the pathway crosses St Jacques church. The usually peaceful river can be terrible. A flood destroyed the original XIIIth century church, which adjoined a pilgrim hospital. A new church was rebuilt on its foundations in the XVIIIth century.
A few hundred meters further, a staircase descends to the edge of the river and leads to the gîte de Gabarre, a majestic stone building nestled in a large park. Here, at the end of the walk along the river, GR path leaves the river by crossing D931 departmental road to enter the undergrowth.
GR path then crosses the suburbs of Condom, first on a pathway, then on the tarmac, twirling in small streets. It is a suburb like so many others, one of those common banalities of town planning, with its houses similar to the others, and a few squares of greenery to bring a little breath.
Soon after, it runs through the suburb, to the district of Teste, where there is a donativo gîte, intended for pilgrims. It is here that Bernard receives pilgrims in an initiative turned towards others following a disastrous tragedy in which his young son Jean was killed in a traffic accident.

Further afield, GR path gets near a large crossroads, near the sports complex. This is where you have to be very careful, because today there is another track that can seriously confuse you. This is the Voie Verte d’Armagnac (Green Way), on the old railway line which linked Condom to Eauze.

We met here a nice lady on a bicycle and asked her if the route passed through Larressingle and Pont de Lartigue. She told us yes. So, we embarked on this track. But, it does not pass to the two aforementioned places, but from a distance. So, you have to do little gymnastics to find GR path back. By bike it’s easy, on foot it’s different. Do not go.

We will thus describe the route of GR path to Larressingle, undertaken at another time of the year, in June. Here, it is therefore imperative to find the sign of GR track. The latter climbs on the asphalt first in the undergrowth then in the sunflowers, which have now grown a little more (we are at the end of June), towards the farm of Le Gay.
Then it slopes down first to the vines, then to the cereals, especially towards the place called L’Inquiétude (Worry). What poet could have baptized a place like this?
Here, the road is straight, with the vines to the right, the wheat to the left. These are the hills that vibrate with human activity. The road winds through rich crops, where tractors buzz around the few farms, dragging farm machinery to the end of fields of wheat or beans that leak to the horizon.
Shortly after, the road heads to Rieutort, a large farm in fact.

Section 2: Larressingle is worth a detour, that’s for sure.

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: course without any difficulty.

 

LThe slope then becomes a little steeper until you reach another farm, Vignau farm.

The place bears its name well. Rows of vines are visible on the hills extending over a hillock sometimes punctuated by a few solitary oaks. It already smells of old Armagnac Hors d´Age!

Ah, the beautiful month of June! The sunflowers stretch more and more towards the sun and erect their stems, from which the first buds bloom, hungry for each pearl of morning dew.

At the top of the small ridge, GR path drops the tar for a dirt road that leads to the undergrowth and sunflowers. The dirt road flattens in the undergrowth or on the edge of trees until you reach a fork that heads to Larressingle.

Here a choice is necessary, because Laressingle is worth a detour. Some pilgrims do not go there and walk straight down to Lartigue Bridge. But Larressingle is only 10 minutes away and you can easily reach GR path back after the visit.

 

Sloping down towards the village, the road crosses one of these magnificent dovecotes, which can be found everywhere in the south of France. There is a wide variety of them, some mounted on arcades or on pillars, or even on mule-foot, when they are leaned against a facade. This is circular in shape, also known as a dovecote or “on foot” dovecote, largely reserved for the nobility. The other types of dovecotes were more often owned by the commoners.

 

You are then quickly facing the fortress of Larressingle.

 

It was under the reign of St Louis, in the XIIIth century, that the city turned into a defense structure in a Gascony disputed between French and English. The city soon became a bishopric, by decision of the popes of Avignon. But life was calm here, the English and the Protestants lenient. The city kept its integrity until the Revolution, when it became a national asset. Alas the last bishop, owner of the premises, had rather ransacked the roofs and the walls to enlarge. The city was gradually falling into ruins.

Fortunately, at the beginning of the XXth century, enlightened patrons set to work to save this exceptional city, a “little Carcassonne” in a way, as they like to say here. Therefore, cross the stone bridge and the two arches that span the moat, then take your pleasure in visiting the curtain walls, the ditches, the St Sigismond church, the fortified castle and the medieval houses attached to the walls.

You can eat and stay in the medieval city, and even in the very neighboring outskirts.

Whatever your choice, whether to go to Larressingle or to avoid the village, you will quickly reach the pathway that descends to Lartigue Bridge over the Osse River. So, back to the beginning of July, at the junction of Larressingle on GR path. Here, a lane descends into the dale, into the oak undergrowth, where hornbeam and dogwood are very present..

The slope is quite steep here, very often close to 15%. The ground is very muddy, even in good weather, as the little Marian stream flows here. On the way, you can reach the Tollet gîte, a stone’s throw from here.

Sometimes the pathway avoids the mud, runs through the grass, and in the clearings still grows ash trees. Maples, which you have seen regularly in recent days, have become less common.

Below, a direction sign has been planted in the tall grass so that pilgrims do not get lost in the lush jungle of the small pond where Marian’s stream flows.

Even lower, towards the bottom of the dale, the slope becomes smoother in the dense undergrowth, under the large deciduous trees, where there are sometimes also some chestnut trees.

At the bottom of the descent, GR path finds a small road, under ash and maple trees. You’ll get at the famous Lartigue Bridge. It is easy to imagine, having sloped down the lane, how difficult this region, which must have been a real swamp in the past, was difficult to cross by pilgrims of the Middle Ages.

This Romanesque bridge was built between the XIIth and XIIIth centuries to allow the passage of pilgrims. The bridge is listed as a World Heritage Site by Unesco. A hospital, a church and a commandery, under the order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, were present here. Nothing remains today.

 

The violent floods of the Osse River damaged the bridge and still do so today. The freestone bridge, where large and small arches alternate, as it stands today, has been rebuilt over the centuries, first in the XVIIth century, then in the XIXth century, and then quite recently.

As soon as the muddy waters of the river have been crossed, GR path takes off for a moment on the road along a wide plain where the major crop is beans. No one is here to tell you if you are talking about Tarbais beans, one of the great specialties of the South-West, with its thin skin, its incomparable fondant, its virtual absence of flatulence, which make it the delight and flavor for bean soups and cassoulets.

The road then strolls a bit between crops and meadows under the tall ash trees.

Further afield, GR pat leaves the road to run into the grass along the bean crops.

So, a little history to illustrate the point. Beans arrived from Mexico in Gascony with corn around the XVIIth century, finding near Tarbes, but also as far as Gers and Béarn, weather conditions perfect for equatorial plants. In the past, they grew a variety of corn to tame climbing bean plants, thus creating this bean-corn association, so characteristic of Tarbais beans. But the world is changing, genetics and mechanics too. So, they developed a new variety, Alaric type Tarbais, which grows at medium height and just grows on a plastic net, allowing almost total mechanization of the product. Perhaps it is the one that grows today near the waters of Osse River.

Here, the plain is vast and it is not only the beans that have citizenship. Here grow large fallows of miscanthus, grasses that are collected dry, usually in late spring.

Section 3: Still in the wheat, beans and vines of Gers.

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: : course without any difficulty.

 

A little higher up, on the edge of an undergrowth, a sign indicates that you are in Ténazère area, in Gascon country, if you had forgotten it.

Here, the track runs on a wide, not very stony pathway, under oaks and ash trees.

A short walk in the undergrowth and you pass on the heights of the small lake of Solle, in the gentle and relaxing countryside, which will change you from the thickets you knew before Lartigue Bridge.

 

 

And then there is a long alternation of unharvested wheat and beans, most often along the oak hedges. Here, the bean still competes for its place with the wheat.

But that will not last, and then you’ll find again Gers and its sunflowers, with also soya and corn, which will be more present from here. GR path then approaches a tarmac road, under poplars, rare in the region.

The road then climbs up the hill into the huge oilseed fields.

Clearly, this year in the Gers, priority is given to sunflowers. In our last visit here, everything was covered with majestic wheat. The beans are gone. Here is wheat, do you want some here! The wheat ripples to the horizon, breathing heat and light. The sunflower, when it is flowerless, is green with sadness..

It should be understood that the peasants alternate crops, but it is not only their will that is at stake. These peasants deliver their goods to companies, which often dictate the choice of crops to be planted, depending on the market.

Above the sunflowers nestles Routgès , a small chapel on the hillside, adjoining the cemetery. The pilgrims probably do not go there.

 

 

Towards the top of the hill, vines disturb the languid monotony of the oilseeds. Here, as elsewhere in other plots of Ténarèze, peasants cultivate white grape varieties, including Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Chenin, Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Gros Manseng. These local wines, under the Côtes de Gascogne appellation, are often blends. Château Tariquet, a few kilometers from Eauze, is the flagship.

Higher up, the road flattens on the ridge.

So here, sunflowers are away, cereals alternate with vines. Gers, you love or youare indifferent to these immense spaces, lifeless. The hamlets, when they exist, remain as big as pocket handkerchiefs, as in La Gavarre, and just after in Barrigue, where most of the time they are only isolated farms.

Section 4: Over hill and dale towards Montreal-de-Gers.

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: easy course, with some light slopes.

 

Beyond Barrigue, the road climbs a little further in the immense fields. Everything is gigantic, where rarely here the sunflower competes for space with wheat. Sometimes the expanse of fields makes you dizzy and it takes long minutes to cross them right through. In the distance, a village that seems more inhabited than where the path runs.

 

 

Most of the time, trees have been cut off to the ground. Only small groves have been preserved to give some shade to the houses along the way.

By the way, the road heads to Lasserre-de-Haut in front of such a house. It is a lodging where many pilgrims stop. And for good reason, there is a swimming pool here.

 

 

Out of Lasserre, the road flattens for a bit in a less cultivated country, under oak trees.

You’re going to change the universe, that’s for sure. You’ll forget the large cultivated fields for a little corn. And the bad tar makes way for a dirt road near the place called Le Glézia.

A wide pathway, between dirt and grass, then slopes down on a fairly steep slope, through scattered undergrowth.

Along the way, it meets the sleepy little Répassat brook at the bottom of a dale. Then it climbs up the other side, for a few moments on a steeper slope.

Here, the crops reappear, when the pathway joins the rare houses and farms of Pagès.

Further afield, the pathway climbs a little again in the sunflowers at the edge of the undergrowth, passes in front of a fountain from another age, the use of which is unknown. On the other hand, toads know its usefulness.

It then enters an undergrowth, in the shade of large trees.

Here, oaks, hornbeams and chestnut trees compete in grace and height.

At the top of the ridge stands the Château de Lassalle Baqué behind its high walls. Finally, a castle, without giving shade to the manor, we will not say that you are walking along the castles of Loire River.

 

Here, you’ll arrive a stone’s throw to Montreal-de-Gers, when GR path joins the road above the village.

Here the road gently leans, in the vineyards, near a housing estate, which we will say peculiar, at the entrance of Montreal-du-Gers. Is it to remember the cabins in Canada? In fact, any Canadian pilgrim will be delighted to pass here in Montreal.

To tell you that here, too, the Virgin and Child presiding over the destiny of the village will hardly surprise you.

 

The road then passes near a magnificent washhouse and a picnic spot. The communal wash houses are part of the vernacular heritage of these regions. They are scattered everywhere, in numbers, in the southwest, built in an era preoccupied with lack of water, hygiene and public safety. Here, they are not “butterfly”, as in the causses. They are more massive, often covered, but their use was above all done by washerwomen.

Formerly, the washerwomen practiced large laundry twice a year, in spring and autumn. The big laundry lasted three days. They tapped the laundry at home in the vat, repeatedly pouring hot water on the laundry and on the vegetable ashes which served as soap. They avoided staining oak, favored poplar, fir, fruit trees and fragrant plants. They rubbed and rinsed in the communal washhouse. The wet laundry was brought to the washhouse early in the morning. The work was long and tiring to beat the clothes, scrub, rinse, and often start over. The women were helping each other. Also, it was the place of conviviality, solidarity, sociability and gossip of women. Then soap replaced ashes in the XIXth century, and a long time later the washing machine did what was necessary.

On its rocky outcrop, the bastide of Montreal (1,100 inhabitants), capital of Ténarèze area, stretches all along, with some beautiful half-timbered houses.

The long street leads to the central square surrounded by arcades and half-timbered houses. This is where social and tourist life revolves, in a charming square, near the church and the town hall.

The XIIIth century Gothic church, with a very dark interior, partly fortified, is still part of the ramparts which have largely melted down.

Lodging