Francescas - Larressingle : 21 miles
Larressingle is a small fortified hill-top village dating back to medieval times, situated in the Gers,
in the Midi Pyrénées region.
It is a medieval fortified village almost unique in Europe. It is the only remaining such structure in France. Far from being a crusty old ruin, villagers still live within the castle walls as they have done since the 13th Century. The village features in the government-listed "Most Beautiful Villages in France" books .
Larressingle is aslo the smallest fortified village in France, and known locally as the "little Carcassonne" of the Gersand it is situated on the St. Jacques de Compostelle pilgrimage route. There is a museum of medieval weapons and an authentic siege camp of the 12-14th century with demonstrations of siege machines.
The walls of Larressingle rise up amid the vineyards in Armagnac country, just a short distance from Condom and Francescas. The ochre and grey stone houses still with their mullioned windows and arched doorways are clustered around the castle keep and its twin-nave church. This is an ideal spot to appreciate not only the charm but also the food of the Gers.
Within these walls a museum brings to life the ways of local people during medieval times. There is an art gallery and several small shops selling local craft, tapestries, hand-made jewellery, ceramics and souvenirs. A creperie serves snacks and drinks throughout the day. Say hello from us (and try the cider!)
1.5km south, the Roman bridge Pont d'Artigue spans the River Osse.
Another few km south (just across the Condom-Eauze road) is the village of Mouchan, with a spectacular Romano-Gothic church.
A must visit
A Brief History of the Château de Larressingle
The fortified village of Larressingle, one of the most perfect examples of medieval architecture still in existence, echoes the history of feudal Gascony. It has overlooked the gently rolling fields and vineyards of northern Armagnac for over seven centuries, and in this tranquil, bucolic corner of France, belongs more to the past than to the present.
The source of the name "Larressingle" is not precisely known, but various theories have been suggested. As translated into Latin in the official clerical records of the 13th and 14th centuries, "Retrosingula" closely resembles "Retro singuli," the command to retreat uttered by one of Crassus' lieutenants upon being ambushed. More probable are the roots "arres sengles, retro singulos," signifying an elevated point to which led a narrow access reachable "one by one," or in a "single file." Alternately, it may be derived from the the latin root "cingulum," meaning specifically a walled, turreted enclosure, the prefix "re-" conveying the idea of new construction or renovation. Or finally, it may be related to "arre" and "retro" in the sense of defying or pushing back an offensive, and "sengles" or "singulo" signifying "all," the whole conveying the meaning of an impregnable defense.
The site upon which the Château de Larressingle and its village still stand was originally a possession of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Pierre de Condom, founded by Bishop Hughes of Agen under the patronage of Saint Sigismond, King of Burgundy, in the early 11th century. Documented in the Papal Bulls of Alexander III in 1163 and Innocent IV in 1245, its early status was apparently that of a country residence only later transformed into a fortified bastion. When the transformation began is uncertain, but it is believed to have been completed around 1250 under Arnaud Othon de Lomagne, Abbot of Condom until 1285. In that year, his successor, Auger d'Andiran, concluded an agreement of protection with King Edward I of England whereby the abbey would benefit from the latter's guardianship against rebellion or attack in exchange for equal rights in the sovereign rule over the village and its inhabitants. Larressingle's independence was contested by the secular council of the city of Condom, but the Bishops of Condom, successors to d'Andiran, the last Abbot, continued to enjoy protection under Philippe de Valois and Charles V until at least 1358.
The Château de Larressingle's history is then obscure until 1589, when it was seized by Antoine- Arnaud de Pardeillian, Lord of Montespan during the Wars of the Leagues. His troops occupied the village and wrought havoc on the peasants' livelihoods, exacting ruinous taxes and disrupting the harvests. Several negotiations between Montespan, his commander-in-chief the Marquis de Villars, and the Council of Condom all failed, and it was not until 1596, as the Wars drew to a close, that Montespan ceded control of Larressingle and the Bishops of Condom regained their sovereignty. The Château de Larressingle continued to be the principal residence of the Abbey until the mid- 1700s, when the order moved to nearby Cassagne. Abandoned, it fell into a state of decline until it was seized by the state during the French Revolution. Sold in 1791 to Pierre Ricard and Joseph Claizac, it was finally acquired by Gabriel Papelorey in 1896.
The Château and its surrounding walled village are today a classified historic monument under the auspices of the French National Commission of Fine Arts. As such, their restoration in private hands has been closely supervised to remain faithful to the character of the original structure.
In 1837, Hyppolyte Papelorey embarked on a small family venture in the production of Armagnac. He built his own still and began distilling wines from his own and neighboring vineyards, selling his spirits in cask on the French market. For nearly six decades, he managed the firm until his son, Gabriel, succeeded him in 1895. Gabriel Papelorey initiated an ambitious period of growth, the first step of which was his acquisition in 1896 of the Château de Larressingle. With his son Robert, he expanded distribution into the European and Scandinavian export markets and later to the United States. Until the passage of the A.O.C. laws governing Armagnac, in May of 1909, all Armagnacs were sold and shipped in cask. Maison Papelorey was the first producer to bottle its spirits prior to shipment, a step which finally enabled Armagnac to compete on more even footing with Cognac on the export market.
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