We stayed in ***Lectoure, which felt like a very good choice. It’s a biggish walled town, with a fair amount of tourism but a local feel. Lectoure is a bastide – a fortified town, and this one sits high above the fertile plains of the Gers river in rural south-west France. Its houses and shops are built of limestone and radiate a warm honey glow in summer, their shutters painted a distinctive pastel shade known as Lectoure blue, made using local woad. The main street is closed off every Friday for the farmer’s market, which sells local produce like armagnac (it used to be the capital of the earldom of Armagnac), prunes and, whisper it, foie gras. At the other end, there’s a rambling antiques market in the former 17th-century hospital, and a small thermal spa.

But the jewel of the town is tucked out of sight behind the monumental cathedral in the gardens of the former bishop’s palace. Sitting on a terrace overlooking the Gers countryside is the most beautiful outdoor swimming pool. It’s a 25-metre lido with a separate children’s section, surrounded by a Technicolor green lawn. It’s like a scene from a French movie: sun glinting on the water, women of a certain age swimming, head up in sunglasses, middle-aged men doing laps, couples cuddling in the shallow end. And it’s all presided over by a sun-wizened lifeguard who prowls the perimeter in a white vest and the briefest of trunks. Best of all it costs less than €5 for the whole day.

Note that for scenery the area around Lectoure is stunning, the southern end of Parc Natural Regional des Causses du Quercy is just okay, and the area around Conques through the Parc natural de l’Aubrac is interestingly quite different (high plateaus).

  • ***Hotel College des Doctrinaires was recently redone and is in impeccable condition. There’s access to the Therme across the street (2-7 pm).
  • ***Auberge Des Bouviers was a great dinner choice – very local, cozy interior, great regional food.
  • Le Bellevue is a bit on the touristy side, but I’d try it – the setting and view overlooking the value is excellent.
  • At the end of town there’s a massive antique mall that’s worth a browse.

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