The day after visiting Roquefort we started off by going back to Villefranche de Rouerge; their Thursday outdoor market is the largest in the Aveyron. It spread through the center of town and along the road just outside the medieval center, and the selection was almost overwhelming. We bought a lot of cheese, including a Roquefort from a somewhat smaller producer and 3 non-Roquefort blues from the region, several raw milk sheep cheeses from one vendor who also made sheep milk yogurt that we decided to try, and a few small rounds of aged cow milk cheese from a woman we had met a few days before (Ann had also ordered raw milk from her then to be picked up at the Villefranche market).
We then headed back to our gite from Villfranche, with a stop at our favorite butcher shop in Rignac. We were scheduled to meet up with British friends of ours – Jim and Cathy Baxter – who have a house in the center of France (the town of Chantelle), and were gong to stay with us for a night before heading home to England after an Easter vacation at their French home. They arrived in plenty of time for lunch, and we devoured a lot of the cheese we had bought, plus some of our stockpile of wine. One wine that impressed everyone was the dry Viognier from Domaine Jerome Mazel in the Ardeche.
The next morning the Baxters left fairly early for their long drive to an intermediate stop on the way home to England. We spent some time in the afternoon visiting some villages we hadn't seen before, including another bastide town, Villeneuve d'Aveyron, not far from Villefranche (I guess Villeneuve is only “new” when it's compared to Villefranche). We also returned to Villefranche to pick up some provisions for dinner and the next morning's breakfast.
On Saturday morning we left Belcastel and the Aveyron for the drive to our next gite, in the Gers department, which is part of Gascony. Enroute we stopped at 2 more of the Plus Beaux Villages – Larresingle and Montreal de Gers. Both towns are on the Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle, and in Larressingle we saw a number of people who were clearly in the process of walking that pilgrimage route.
After stopping in Larressingle and Montreal, we arrived at our gite in nearby Fourcès, another of the Plus Beaux Villages. Fourcès is partly surrounded by the Auzoue River, and has a round arcaded center with a beautiful clocktower at one entrance to the center and a chateau that's now a hotel.
After checking into our gite, the gite owner invited us to stop at their farm later and have an aperitif. She and her husband have a farm nearby, and in addition to growing fruits and vegetables, they grow grapes for the large, highly regarded cooperative Producteurs Plaimont. They poured us red and white Floc de Gascogne (a fortified sweet wine made by the husband), then we had a tasting of red and white wines from Producteurs Plaimont, including a terrific late harvest white from the appellation Pacherenc de Vic-Bilh.
Early Sunday morning we drove to the nearby town of Mezin, just over the departmental border in the Lot-et-Garonne, for their weekly market. After picking up some provisions we decided to try and find La Ferme de Boué, a ferme auberge not far from Fources. A ferme auberge is a farm that serves meals, generally from products they grow or make at the farm, and sometimes also have accommodations. We found La Ferme de Boué, which has several gites in addition to the farm and restaurant, and although they generally only serve meals by reservation (and are only open Saturday and Sunday in the off-season), they said they could fit us in for lunch. And what a lunch it was, extending over 3 hours! First an aperitif they make at the farm (wine, armagnac, peach juice and ginger), then a light garlic soup, followed by foie gras made 2 different ways (which paired fabulously well with a glass of a late harvest Cote de Gascogne white wine). Then came duck rillettes, followed by confit de canard (duck leg preserved in its fat) with sauteed potatoes and vegetables grown on the farm, then a salad, a sorbet, and coffee and a spalsh of armagnac. All of the duck products are produced on the farm, and all or most of the vegetables are grown there.
The next day we decided to head towards the Madiran AOC wine region, which is about an hour or so from Fourcès. Madiran is a red wine made principally from the Tannat grape, which was totally obscure until a study showed the anti-ageing benefits of a chemical that, while present in all red wine grapes, was more highly concentrated in the Tannat grape. Immediately, American importers sought out heretorfore-unknown Madiran producers to satisfy the sudden demand for Madiran, although those who wanted Madiran for its health benefits didn't pay attention to the fact that if you drank the amount of Madiran necessary to get the anti-ageing benefits, your liver would be destroyed long before you could take advantage of that benefit.
We first stopped in the sleepy village of Madiran, took a stroll around the town center, and stopped into the Maison du Vin to pick up some information about nearby wine producers. We then drove to the nearby town of Aydie and decided to visit Domaine Dou Bernès, which has been in the Cazenave family for 4 generations. We were greeted by a friendly puppy, and then Madame Cazenave opened the tasting room and gave us a tasting of all of the wines of the domaine. We tried 4 different Madirans, and also 2 of their sweet Pacherenc de Vic-Bilh wines (Pacherenc de Vic-Bilh is the white AOC of the region, and can be made dry or sweet). The wines were all superb, among the best we had had on the trip, and we bought a couple of Madirans and each of the sweet Pacherencs, plus Madame Cazenave gave us a bottle of another of their Madirans that was suitable for aging.
In the afternoon we decided to go back to the Lot-et-Garonne department to visit the large town of Nérac, where the future King Henri IV lived before becoming king of France. Nérac is a beautiful old town with a medieval quarter, the River Baise running through the center, an imposing church towering over the the town, and the Chateau de Henri IV. We wandered through the center of Nérac and then through a park that runs along the Baise River.