Another of France’s many fortress-villages well worth a visit if you are in the area is the smallest of all, the 12th century hilltop village of Larressingle, 5km west of Condom on the northern edge of the Gers. Known locally as the “little Carcassonne of the Gers”, it is officially recognized as one of the “plus beaux villages du France”, along with nearby Fourcès and Montréal-du-Gers, and lies on one of the major pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Campostella.
Larressingle is dominated by its heavily fortified walls dating from the 13th century which were built in a nearly circular, 12-sided shape 300 metres in circumference, a design which presented the attacking forces with no obvious weak points to probe. A charming stone bridge leads across the old moat to the village’s only porte, and within the walls are a number of interesting buildings. A small 12th-13th century church, dedicated to Saint-Sigismond, would have provided a further defensive position, had it been necessary: it is also imposingly stout in construction, and has the peculiarity of having two naves. A small château houses a museum which revives colourful images of medieval life, and includes a large collection of dolls dressed in local costumes of several centuries. An art gallery, a tea house, and a small selection of shops selling local handicrafts, ceramics, and souvenirs, mostly set against the wall of the village, make Larressingle welcoming and pleasant.
The high point of the visit for the kids, however, will surely be the authentically-recreated 13th-14th century medieval siege camp located at the foot of the village, and looking for all the world poised to start battering at its walls. The “Cité des Machines du Moyen-Age” is a fabulous collection of ferocious-looking medieval weaponry and siege engines. Stone-throwers of several types would have hurled 10kg projectiles against and over the ramparts, and there is even a stone on exhibit with the somewhat unlikely claim to be the one that finally rid the world of the bloody Simon de Montfort at the 1218 siege of Toulouse during the Albigensian Crusade. A trébuchet à flêche, an early multiple arrow-launcher, and a replica of one of the first gunpowder-fired cannon both glare at the walls of the village. The belfry, a tall fortified multi-level tower on wheels, would have been rolled up the the walls, archers within firing for all they were worth, until the signal came to slam open the bridge on the top and pour over the walls. The exhibition is open daily, and there are hands-on demonstrations of some of the weapons for the kids, as well as exhibits detailing the activities of the blacksmiths, stonecutters, and other artisans within the medieval siege camp.
It would be nice to think that after a long day of fierce combat, the armies would have knocked back with a pleasant meal followed by shots of the famous local brandy, Armagnac, but this would have to wait for later centuries. One of the oldest distilled spirits in France, Armagnac is usually a blend of several varietals, and is single-distilled and long aged, and to many is superior and more complex than the more widely-know Cognac.
© Dominique's Villas