City wonders: a wander around one of our fabulous cities makes for a great day out, especially if you are a lover of architecture and history.
BORDEAUX, Gironde immediately brings to mind the famous Pont de Pierre, the fabulous Grand Théâtre and the beautiful Cathédrale Saint-André. Then there are the numerous and diverse museums, multi-cultural restaurants and, not forgetting the wine, the spectacular La Cité du Vin. A trip along the Gironde estuary will reveal the Islands of Margaux, Nouvelle and Patiras; natural, agricultural spots now providing sustainable cultural tourism. For a breath-taking view of the city, climb the 230 stone steps of the Tour Pey-Berland or stop by the Grand Hotel’s Night Beach or the rooftop bars at Le Siman, L’Estacade, L’I.Boat and, amongst others, Mama Shelter. As well as the shopping and the architectural splendour of the many arcades, the Esplanade des Quinconces is said to be the largest square in Europe and, with its extraordinary Monument aux Girondins fountain and sculptures, is definitely not to be missed. Breathtaking!
Bordeaux at night
AGEN, Préfecture of Lot et Garonne boasts the world’s best prunes and its own spectacular Pont Canal which carries both a cycle path and the Canal lateral à la Garonne on its 23 arches over the river Garonne. Back in the lively, old town centre you will find a myriad of alleys streets and half-timbered buildings jam packed with all kinds of shops. Look out for the 11th century Tour Chapelet, the oldest monument in Agen and, at the other end of the scale, the Ducourneau Theatre, the first theatre in France to use reinforced concrete! Cathedral St-Caprais and the outstanding Musée des Beaux-Arts form part of the town’s major sights as well as the 14th-century Maison du Senéchal with its pointed arches. Step outside of Agen and you can go back in time to the days of Rome amongst the ruins at Villascopia. City wonders galore.
Agen's famous Pont Canal
As Dordogne’s capital, PERIGUEUX boasts many ancient and beautiful archaeological sites such as the 2nd-century AD temple, the Tour de Vésone. Dedicated to Vesunna, guardian of the Petrocorii tribe who gave the town its name, it features a circular tower and is a stone’s throw from the Musée Gallo-Romain showcasing her excavated Roman villa. You can also visit the remains of the 1st-century amphitheatre, Les Arènes. Thankfully its brutal past is no longer in evidence but, nearby, you can see the well-preserved Roman gateway known as La Porte Normande. The 12th-century St-Etienne-de-la-Cité church stands on an ancient temple dedicated to Mars and was the first Christian church in the city, and sits not far from the Cathédrale St-Front and its impressive cupolas, paintings and carvings. If you “dig” prehistoric artefacts like mammoth tusks, you will also like the Musée d’Art et d’Archéologie.
Dordogne's capital city
Sitting above the River Gers, the original AUCH was founded by the Auscii Celtic tribe and renamed Augusta Auscorum by the Romans in 56 BC. Today, narrow medieval lanes contrast with elegant 18th-century Allées d’Etigny, and monumental steps lead down to the river where this Gers Préfecture spreads onto the plain. Silhouetted against the sky, the stunning Gothic Sainte-Marie cathedral is not far from the peaceful, serenely beautiful Musée des Jacobins. Located at the old Jacobins convent, the museum houses an eclectic collection of Gallo-Roman exhibits and art through the ages. From the market square at Place de la République you can’t miss the 14th-century, 40m-high Tour d’Armagnac, which originally served as a prison with a cell on each level. If you are missing the famous Gascony musketeers, swash on over to the nearby Escalier Monumental where the bronze statue of a resplendent D’Artagnan will not disappoint. Plenty of city wonders to see here!
The Auch skyline
Positioned on a rocky, tight bend in the river Lot, CAHORS was originally known as Divona in the 1st-century BC and was renamed Civitas Caducorum as the capital of the Cadurci people in the 3rd-century. Today, the ancient Fontaine des Chartreux, believed to be the source of the sacred fountain Divona, still flows within this Préfecture of the Lot. For good reason, most pictures of Cahors feature the magnificent, medieval Pont Valentré with its six wide arches and 40m high towers, and the splendid, domed St-Etienne Cathedral. They epitomise the beauty that lies within this historic town with its Quartiers, 14th-century Palais Duèze, museums, interesting boulevards and fortified gates. Marked by an acanthus leaf, the Les Jardins Secrets route takes in a great tour of over 20 gardens (leaflets available at the Tourist Office).
The stunning Cahors bridge
Founded by the Count of Toulouse in 1144, the pretty pink brick town of MONTAUBAN, is the Préfecture of Tarn et Garonne. As one of the first bastides in the region, it was also was the last Huguenot town to surrender to Louis XIII in 1628. Whilst little evidence of the original fortifications remains, Montauban now boasts elegant brick townhouses and the neoclassical Notre-Dame Cathedral. Place Nationale sits at its heart along with the Church of St-Jacques and its octagonal belfry. Alongside the Tarn river, close to the Pont-Vieux, you can walk up ancient steps or take a lift to the town centre and the Musée Ingres. Named after the painter, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres who was born in Montauban in 1780, the museum displays many of his exquisite portraits together with, amongst others, superb sculptures by another “son of the town”, Antoine Bourdelle.
TOULOUSE is home to the Préfecture of Haute-Garonne and is known throughout the world for its red-brick buildings which take on a reddish-pink hue, particularly at sunset. Often referred to as La Ville Rose or the Pink City as a result, it’s also famous for colour with its crystallised violets and successful history in the woad industry, a distinctive blue dye, in the 15-16th-centuries. Beautiful architecture can be found throughout its streets including the large, central square at Place du Capitole with its Renaissance gateway and arms of Toulouse, the fabulous Notre-Dame du Taur, and the extraordinary Basilique St Sernin. Cycle tracks run alongside both the Garonne River and Canal du Midi, and several museums encompass the city’s history as well as Romanesque artefacts and archaeology. As the air and space capital of France, it also boasts the fascinating Airbus facility and the “out-of-this-world” Cité de l’Espace.
Known as the Pink City
First published in the Oct/Nov 2020 issue of The Local Buzz