One of our favourite villages in southwest France is Lectoure, the capital of the Lomagne in the eastern Gers, perched on a picturesque red-and-white rocky hilltop dominating the valley of the Gers. Originally a Gallo-Roman settlement, Lectoure was fortified in the Barbarian period and became an important commercial centre in the Middle-Ages, and was a stop along one of the pilgrimage routes of St-Jacques-de-Compostelle, down the road from perhaps the more illustrious towns of Figeac, Cahors, and Moissac. The capital of the counts of Armagnac, Lectoure’s fortunes have risen and fallen over the centuries, and much of this colourful history can be experienced in its famous Archeological Museum, one of the oldest museums in Gascony and recognized since the 16th century, located in a spectacular vaulted cellar in the Town Hall, the former palace of the bishops of Lectoure. Here you can find altars dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries as well as documents from the Gallic period and medieval times.
Dominating the skyline and visible from miles in all directions, is the 80-metre fortified belltower of the Cathedral of St-Gervais-et-St-Protais, which dates from the 13th century. The Cathedral was the last refuge of Count Jean d’Armagnac, as Lectoure was under siege in 1472 from Louis XI, who treacherously offered a truce and, having entered the town, promptly sacked it and slew the Count. Get the sacristan to let you up to the top for a magnificent panoramic view of the valley, and on a clear day of the Pyrénées; you may be experiencing poor Count Jean’s last view on earth.
Today Lectoure is a welcoming and flowery town, and offers the visitor a whole range of delights. Its old neighbourhoods with narrow streets winding along the hillside are a delight to explore; there are colourful fresh-air markets bursting with the finest local produce including a local variety of melon to which the town devotes a summer festival. There are evening concerts in the Cathedral, a summer photography exhibition, and a delightful public swimming pool with panoramic views. The modern Station Thermale, located in an old hotel at the centre of the village, offers a variety of hydrotherapy and fitness programmes and cures. Also worth mentioning are Lectoure’s Museum of Sacred Art, and its Photography Centre.
For fine dining, top of the list must be the Hotel de Bastard, just opposite the Cathedral. This 17th century family mansion, with fine wood panelling and broad dining room windows with splendid views over the valley, offers excellent gourmet specialities of the region, with just a nod to a more Mediterranean cuisine. Also try the Auberge des Bouviers at the other end of the town.