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October – January 2013 Issue 3

ascony Local The

The Region’s FREE English Magazine

Inside: Abbaye Flaran Agen - Rugby Occitan Cancer Support France Christmas in France

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4 • contents


ell so much has happened since our last issue. France is always busy during the height of summer, the time when people also have their families staying; so it can be quite exhausting. Late nights with visiting grown-ups, early starts with grandchildren and endless cooking for those lazy al fresco meals – it doesn’t all happen by magic – does it? Wider afield, it’s been an amazing summer for admirers of the Union Jack and I now feel even prouder of the little flag on our front cover! Those that came from Britain to live or spend a great deal of time in France, have on-the-whole a strong allegiance to the British flag. It wasn’t so many years ago that displaying a Union Jack was seen as nationalistic, stirring up possible unrest and unnecessary guilts. Hopefully, this summer’s Diamond Jubilee, Wimbledon, Tour de France, Olympics, Paralympics and the stunning US Open Tennis-Final; have finally allowed us to ditch the stigma of possibly appearing nationalistic and allowed us to just simply celebrate good old-fashioned patriotism. The Union Jack seems to have been designed to adorn the shoulders of this year’s stars, space doesn’t allow me to list them all, but because I can, I’m going to mention and congratulate my personal favourite – Andy Murray, a stunning example of how determination can get you there in the end. Back here in France we’re about to go back into winter and many people will be waiting, with some trepidation, to see what the climate has in store this year! People will be coming and going over the Festive Season often to spend some time with their families. Others will be staying here, away from their family, but hopefully making the most of their time in France; amid the acres of ploughed fields, falling oak leaves and inevitably very chilly nights – all of which can add up to the sort of tranquility that actually many can only dream of. Whatever you are doing, everyone involved with the magazine wishes you all the very best for a peaceful winter and Happy Christmas and New Year.




COnTEnTS Rugby – Agen Exploring Duras Abbaye Flaran Gascony Foods Local History & Culture Remembrance Day Cancer Support France Tax Reforms

6 9 13 15-17 18-25 26 28 30


For all advertising or editorial enquiries please email – A directory of our regular advertisers can be found on our website – This magazine is entirely funded by advertising, please do try and support our advertisers whenever possible and do mention that you saw their advert in The Gascony Local. nOTE – Copy deadlines for the February edition: Editorial – 29th December, changes and renewal of existing adverts – 6th Jan. New Advertising deadline – 11th Jan (or sooner if lack of space dictates). Cover photo: Flaran Abbaye, Gers

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The Gascony Local No part of this publication may be copied, used or reproduced without the written consent of the proprietors. No responsibility is accepted for any claim made by advertisers. All content accepted and printed in good faith. The Gascony Local is published by Red Point Publishing Ltd, (reg. in Eng. and Wales, No. 761556) Gascony Distribution – Mary Shepherd, Managing Editor in France – Anna Atkinson, French admin – Melinda Aldous & Rachel Verne, UK admin/accounts – Vicky Byram. Contributors; Paola Westbeek, Charlotte Buckingham, Colin Ley and Anna Atkinson.

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Rugby as it was meant to be played Rugby writer Colin Ley talks about the ‘old world’ thrill of watching Top 14 games at Agen, where there’s always an international star, or two, on display. He also previews an October clash with leading English team Bath, who are due to be given the Stade Armandie experience.


he lights are blazing, the music’s thumping, the pitch is a deep rich green and the crowd is at least 98.5% for the home team. From under the centre of the main stand, to a crescendo of noise and a thrill of anticipation for what lies ahead, enter the men of Agen, echoing a scene which has been played and replayed for more than 100 years of great rugby tradition in the Prune Capital of France. Waiting to greet the home team’s arrival will be one or more world stars. It could be England’s Jonny Wilkinson, James Hook of Wales or Scotland’s Max Evans. There might also be a chance of seeing Australia’s Matt Giteau, Argentina’s Juan Martín Hernández or Italy’s Sergio Parisse, plus at least a handful of French stars, such as Morgan Parra, Dimitri Yachvili or Thierry Dusautoir. They all pass through Agen’s vibrant Stade Armandie ground during a season of Top 14 games, facing a hugely combative challenge which even the world’s top performers never take lightly. For rugby enthusiasts living in Gascony or Quercy who maybe grew up watching top quality games at The Gascony Local • October-January 2013

Bath, Leicester, Kelso, Llanelli or Dublin, the Stade Armandie experience will be like stepping back in time. I once sat in the grandstand at Kelso in the Scottish borders watching Scotland flanker John Jeffrey in his prime, entertaining a passionate home crowd. It’s an experience I thought had gone forever until I discovered Agen a few years back, entering a compact 12,000 capacity stadium, full of equally passionate local supporters, drawn together into a rue family atmosphere. Sporting Union Agen Lot et Garonne, to give them their full title, is one of the great clubs of French rugby. Founded in 1908 and with eight national titles to their name, the team has spent all but three of its playing seasons in the top flight of French rugby. That qualifies them to face and beat the best players the world game has to offer. The town itself has also played a key part in French rugby history. Maybe this isn’t true, but the story is that there was a time when the national selectors would gather in a bar in Agen to pick the French team. Those were the days! Down through the years, of course, the Agen team has contributed many great international stars to the French team. Current Agen head coach, Philippe Sella, who won 111 caps for France, started his career at Stade Armandie, while Jean-Jacques Crenca, also part of today’s coaching team, is another who had an enormous international career from his playing base in Agen. As they say; to name but two. The arrival of the World Cup, and the professional era which followed, means that today’s game is a far cry from 1988, the last time Agen won the national title. France’s preparation for hosting the World Cup in 2007 also had a long-term impact on teams such as Agen in that the game’s national leaders used the tournament to push through a cut in the size of the top league from 16 teams to 14. That’s made life tougher for Agen, and a few others, who don’t have individual big money backers or a big city fan base to call on.

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less competitive back-row era. There’s also Ben Blair, the former All Blacks fullback who joined Agen at the start of this season, plus the powerful Scotland prop, Euan Murray. It would be wrong, however, to suggest you should expect the Prune capital to deliver Toulouse-style rugby triumphs all the time, or the French equivalent of prawn sandwiches at half-time. To be in the stadium on a warm autumn night, however, as the local team extracts a win and four points from the mighty Stade Français or the fabulously-funded Toulon, is an experience not to be missed. However, the beauty of Agen rugby, with its old world charm and enthusiasm, is that the club today is backed by 480 local businesses who share the financing of the team and its ambitions. A strong academy system also plays a part in keeping the team in the top flight. For that reason, Jonny Wilkinson and James Hook both tasted defeat at Stade Armandie last year, as did Juan Martín Hernández and Sergio Parisse. Agen also have some stars or their own, of course. Team captain, Jean Monribot, is a class performer in the back row. Capped at under-20 level, he would have been a full international by now if he’d played during a

bATH CoMe CALLinG! In addition to their Top 14 action, Agen also have an Amlin Cup home game against Bath scheduled for Thursday, October 18. That could be a chance to see England internationals Lee Mears, Matt Banahan and Olly Barkley all strutting their stuff at Stade Armandie. One word of warning, however, for any Gascony or Quercy -based Bath supporters, or travelling family members; when arch-rivals Gloucester visited Stade Armandie in the same competition in 2010 they finished up on the wrong end of a 26-19 score line. Sounds like you should be there.

Nathalie MANAS (English Spoken) Tel. 06 07 82 22 41 Agence Patrick FRANCH – Allianz Nogaro – Vic Fezensac – Plaisance email:

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Exploring more French History and Culture (and not forgetting the Gastronomy!)


ow that life has quietened down and family and friends have left for another year. Maybe you’ll have a time to plan visits other areas of France, something firmly on the ‘to do’ list of most people when they first come to France. or, maybe next year, you can bear this article in mind and send your visitors off for the day! Hopefully, Paola Westbeek’s article on the joys of historical Duras will provide the perfect incentive. Duras: My Heart’s Home The medieval town of Duras located about 30 kilometres to the south-west of Bergerac in the department of Lot-et-Garonne, has warmth that captivated us from the very first time we visited. We love its history, its people, its neighbouring villages and being food and wine lovers, we simple adore its exceptional wines and regional cuisine. It is a beautiful little corner of the world stole that has stolen our hearts and inspired us in so many ways. Allow me to take you through some of my most memorable moments and show you a few of my favourite places in Duras. Perhaps my stories about this wonderful

place will inspire you to plan a trip and discover its charm firsthand. breakfast in Duras & Market Days on Monday In Duras, there’s nothing better than beginning the day with a panoramic drive into the centre ville for breakfast. We pass rolling vineyards and in the summertime, when we take a little detour, golden fields of sunflowers stretching out into the horizon. For some reason, the deep blue of the sky and the vivid yellows of the large blooms always make me feel as though I am actually inside a Van Gogh painting. It’s a little surreal at times. ‘Breathtaking’ is perhaps a better word. The first place we visit when we arrive in the village is the bakery on the Rue Paul Persil. We purchase some of their buttery croissants or huge, plate-sized pain au raisins and take them to Le Tip Top, a bar on the main square. There, we order a grand crème and have a leisurely breakfast while reading the newspaper or simply watching the world go by. On Mondays, market day, some fresh fruit is part of the breakfast repertoire. And speaking of the market, just like all the other markets in the area, this one offers a wide variety of

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seasonal fruits and vegetables, fresh meat, all kinds of spices, tasty olives, fat roasted birds and even toiletries and house-wares. Whenever I hear people claim they can’t cook, or they don’t know what to cook, I always wonder what would happen if they visited a market like this one. There is so much inspiration! Yet, even a food writer keeps it simple sometimes. Toulouse sausages or a plate of charcuterie (either from the meat stand in front of the small supermarket or from the butcher Alain Evrard) with a green leafy salad and a baguette make both a fuss-free and delicious meal. There are a few local wines on offer and the sellers are always more than happy to give you advice or a little dégustation. Mid-Morning Shopping & the Château de Duras Being a food and wine fan, my favourite places to shop are undoubtedly the gourmet kind. When it comes to wine, I’m very lucky because there is a wine bar, Le Chai et Rasade located in the centre, on the Place du Marché, where you can sit down for a drink and a nibble in the summer and even buy wine straight from the wine grower himself. One summer in July, we spent a memorable afternoon sampling wines and enjoying an artfully prepared tapas selection including Pata Negra ham, dry-cured duck sausage, chorizo, Brebis cheese and bread. I especially loved his red wine (2009 Château Molhière “Les Maréchaux”) which was dark, full-bodied and bursting with luscious, ripe fruit. Thanks to the wine, food and extremely friendly service, it was one of the best afternoons we ever spent in the village. Before we left, my husband asked about the wine and the owner proudly told him that it was his own. We had to take some bottles home and curious as we are, the next day we took a drive through the vineyards of Château Molhière which are found approximately five minutes away from the centre, to the north-east. Another treasure is the Maison Guinguet. They specialise in the famous regional prunes (Pruneaux d’Agen) and in fine chocolates. Agen prunes are sweet, wrinkly treats, very healthy on their own but sinfully delicious as chocolate-covered delicacies, in jams, creams or my absolute favourite — preserved in wine or liqueur. These make a fast and easy dessert when served over vanilla ice cream. The pretty chocolates from Maison Guinguet are ideal to give as presents or to indulge in with a cup of coffee after dinner. Of course, Duras’ main attraction is its imposing château which originally dates back to the 12th century. With the help of Pope Clement V and his nephew, Bertrand de Got, it served as a fortress starting in the 14th century and later as a luxury residential accommodation. The château, which was partially destroyed during the Revolution, was purchased by The Gascony Local • October-January 2013

the people of the village in the late 1960’s and completely renovated. We’ve visited the castle twice and I would definitely encourage anyone discovering Duras to do the same. There are many beautiful rooms including a kitchen and an original bakery. I’m not very daring, though I was still brave enough to climb up the rounded tower for a magnificent view over the Dropt Valley. Lunch at Don Camillo

How I love Don Camillo, that wonderfully cosy restaurant located on the Rue Paul Persil! They actually call themselves a ‘pizzeria’ and their pizzas are certainly something to be proud of, but they also have an excellent traditional French kitchen, and a great, reasonably priced wine selection. Here’s a particularly memorable eating experience which might just give you a clue as to how much we enjoy eating there. We had booked a table for lunch and once there, we ordered a bottle of local Merlot and three of their pizzas, completely oblivious as to how filling they are. Well, we nearly had to roll ourselves home that afternoon; especially Hans, he had the Texan Pizza which probably could’ve served all of Texas — chicken wings, chorizo, ground beef, even a fried egg! At that point, we were swearing never to eat again. Later that day, however, we walked back to the village for a drink and temptation got the best of us. We were lucky to find a table and treated ourselves to a meal at Don Camillo yet again. This time, it was not only sumptuous, but also rather romantic as we ate under a sky filled with stars and a sultry, much-welcomed evening breeze. Highlights included the escargots and the café gourmand with minis of crème brûlée, riz au lait, tarte aux pommes and a rum-drenched and utterly perfect canelé. The food and service at Don Camillo are great and the experience is certainly enhanced when sitting outdoors in a shady spot under the big trees. We’ve learned that it’s a good idea to reserve a table, as they do tend to get very busy, especially during the summer season.

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Drinks at Cafè de la Paix

opposite, in fact, Le Cabri offers both regional and bistro-style dishes and boasts a nice selection of moderately priced local wines. If you’re looking for a good, honest meal, whether it is a perfectly crispy confit de canard (a dangerously addictive choice) or a nice steak, this is definitely the right address. The dining experience is complete with the care of the most attentive of hosts, Peter and Eileen Marston. No matter how busy they are, they always stop by to ask how your day was or share a friendly word. For a full review of Le Cabri, please see page 12.

To the locals it’s known as ‘Chez Régine’, for us it’s simply, ‘the little cafè on the corner’. Cafè de la Paix is a wonderful place to have a drink, whether that is a Pastis before dinner or an Armagnac and a coffee after. When we sit outside, we have a great view of the château. I love the welcoming, laid-back atmosphere, which most certainly has everything to do with the owners. They really make you feel at home and always receive you with pleasure and a pleasant disposition. Even on their busiest of evening, during the summer, the cafè organises a concert on Wednesday evenings. The last one we attended was sheer joy. Many people made their way to the area where the band was playing and proudly showed off their best dance moves. Dinner at Le Cabri

Just outside of the village, following the Route de Savignac, is our favourite restaurant, Le Cabri. It is part of a campsite, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that their menu consists of pizza and chips. Quite the

Duras Wines The vineyards of Duras were one of the first to obtain the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée certification in 1937. The appellation produces a variety of wines with an exceptional quality. There are reds (53%), whites (32%), rosés (11%) and sweet wines (4%) made by over 200 passionate wine growers. Some of my favourites include the wines of Château Molhière (mentioned above), Domaine de Laulan (especially their sauvignon blanc) and Domaine Chater. The wines are very similar in quality to the ones of Bordeaux. In fact, renowned wine authority Jancis Robinson once said the following about the wines of the region: “It is history more than geography that excludes these vineyards from the cosy umbrella of the Bordeaux appellation and I would take my hat off to any blind taster who could unerringly distinguish between the Bordeaux, Bergerac, Côtes de Duras and Côtes du Marmandais appellations.” A Lovely Gesture Perhaps my warmest Duras memory involves everything this charming village is defined by: great food, amazing wine and friendly people. One evening, we were lucky enough to have a lovely couple sit next to us during the summer market held on Thursdays. The focus of this particular market is not only selling beautiful food, but also enjoying it in good company and with good music. Long tables are set out in the centre of the town and you can put a meal together from the many stands selling everything from roast chicken to paella to garlicky escargots. At the time, we had our little Daschund, Pastis, with us. We had a brief chat with the couple about our dog, they showed us a photo of their lovely Spaniel and we all carried on with our meal. Just as I poured my husband and I the last of our bottle of wine, the man reached over and offered us theirs. It was such a lovely gesture and at that moment I fell in love with Duras and its people even more. Is it any wonder that I refer to this magical place as ‘my heart’s home’?

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Restaurant Review

Le Cabri – Duras, Lot et Garonne Le Cabri, Route de Savignac, Duras 47120, Lot-et-Garonne For reservations call: T. +33 5 53 83 81 03


here are food memories that stay with you forever. Experiences that are savoured and never forgotten. For me, one of them is eating perfect rounds of the creamiest foie gras spread on warm, thin slices of toast. It was a simple but sublime starter at Le Cabri – a hidden gem of a restaurant nestled between Duras’ beautiful rolling hillsides. The restaurant is part of a campsite run by the friendly English couple, Peter and Eileen Marston. At Le Cabri, you can choose from three menus or order à la carte. There are typical bistro-style dishes to choose from such as bavette with assorted sauces, pastas and fish, yet the restaurant prides itself in serving regional specialities. In this part of France, one of them happens to be duck – something Le Cabri does exceptionally well – from their buttery foie gras to their confit de canard (a personal favourite), which in fact, should come with a warning: ‘try once and become eternally addicted’. Under the crisp skin of the tasty duck legs, is tender, flaky meat that simply melts in the mouth. Combined with their perfectly cooked potatoes and a nice bottle of wine, it’s a meal that will have any palate swooning. The wine list is small but includes a good selection of local wines. You’ll find reds, whites and rosés from Berticot, Domaine Les Hauts de Riquets and Domaine de Laulan, to name a few. Especially recommended is the Domaine Chater 2007 Merlot Cabernet — a round, nicely balanced blend, beautifully velvety and bursting with ripe forest fruits. If you want to end your meal off on a sweet note, try their dessert du jour which is always a pleaser, or opt for a plate of cheese to go with the last of your wine. It isn’t just the food that makes Le Cabri so special. It’s the relaxed ambiance, exceptional service and cosy setting. There’s nothing more romantic than dining out on their terrace during sultry, moonlit evenings, and when it gets chilly, the inside of the restaurant offers convivial warmth with its rustic, French countryside interior. The hosts, Peter and Eileen, always ensure that their guests’ experience is one to remember. And that is definitely one of the many reasons that makes Le Cabri a place to keep coming back to. Paola Westbeek is a food and travel writer with a good dose of joie de vivre. She is passionate about French cooking, wine, Rembrandt and life. For more information visit: The photos are the work of her husband, Hans Westbeek, a photographer, filmmaker, epicure and of course, Francophile. For examples of his work, visit: The Gascony Local • October-January 2013

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Abbaye Flaran

By A Atkinson


One of Gascony’s best kept secrets

laran is a beautifully preserved Cistercian Abbey which nestles into the green and beguiling baise Valley close to the bastide town of Valence-sur-baise (32310) and within the AoC Armagnac region. Whatever your historical interest, you will be delighted by this architectural treat. The buildings include a Romanesque church and a stunning Gothic cloister. You can also peek into the historical domestic life of the Abbey’s inhabitants, visiting the Monks’ Dormitory (now an art gallery), the Abbot’s House and a 14th century Chapter House. For those interested in gardens then the Abbey’s extensive grounds will delight, including the medieval medicinal garden, a rare and informative find. The life of this cultural jewel began in the 12th century and continued to flourish in the middleages. Then in the 13th century the Abbey, along with Gerald V, Count of Armagnac, founded the fortified town of Valence-sur-Baise on the hillside on the opposite side of the Baise River. During the Hundred Years’ War the Abbey suffered damage and then again by an extensive fire during the French Wars of Religion, after which there was a period of restoration carried out by the subsequent Abbots. Later, following the French Revolution the Abbey’s estates were required to become predominantly agricultural. Critically, In 1913, the Archaeological Society of Gers intervened to avoid the Abbey being transferred by the sculptor George Grey Barnard (funded by John D Rockefeller Jr.) to the Cloisters Museum and Gardens, in New York (a branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art) devoted entirely to the art and architecture of medieval Europe and located in Fort

Tryon Park in northern Manhattan. This museum had and still has a particular interest in Cloisters from South Western France and their exhibition of cloisters and gardens were re-assembled from genuine architectural examples that date from the twelfth century. Then in 1972 the site was purchased by the Department of Gers and was completely renovated to create the stunning building we see today and a centre for numerous cultural activities. For fine art lovers, Flaran Abbey has to be one of the most impressive local amenities, with exhibits that would grace the finest of national galleries. The Simonow exhibition, featuring masterpieces from the 16th- 20th century, has been loaned to the Abbey (until 2021) by Michaël Simonow, the renowned art collector, wanting his collection to be available to the public. This exhibition includes paintings by Monet, Matisse, Renoir, Cézanne, Braque, Picasso and many others. The paintings are all beautifully exhibited in the Monks’ Dormitory. Flaran Abbey also houses an exhibition, unique in the Midi-Pyrénées and dedicated to the pilgrimage routes of Saint James of Compostela. From the 15th October 2012 to the 20th March 2013 there is an exhibition by the contemporary photographer “Guy Hersant” For details of the other temporary exhibitions you can view the on-line programme of events on aspx?idpage=38. opening hours: From Sept to June: from 9:30 to 12:30 and from 14h to 18h, in July-August: 9:30 am to 19h. Contact: Heritage Conservation department and museums, Abbey Flaran, 32310 Valence-sur-baise. Tel: 05 62 28 50 19

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Abbaye de Flaran 32310 Valence-sur-Baïse Tél. 05 62 28 50 19 Fax 05 62 28 97 76 L’Abbaye cistercienne de Flaran se visite et se découvre aussi grâce à des animations destinées à tous toute l’année, ateliers artistiques et créatifs pour enfants et parents, rendez-vous contés, conférences… (activités proposées sur l’Abbaye de Flaran et le réseau des musées du Gers).

Du 15 OCtObre 2012 au 20 Mars 2013

"Guy Hersant" La PrOFOnDeur Des CHaMPs, sILLOn n°4"

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16 • gascony Foods

Celebrating Prunes & Armagnac

Just like duck, the south-west of France is known for its Agen prunes and its Armagnac. Here are two recipes using both of these regional delicacies. The brochettes are simple yet very delicious. In order to create harmony in the array of flavours, the sweet prunes pair beautifully with the robust taste of the duck, while the orange balances its richness. And if you thought that ice cream was only meant for children, be sure to try this variety. I promise – you will not be disappointed!

Bon Appétit ! brochettes de Magret These hearty brochettes de magret combine many of the ingredients the southwest is known for: duck, Pruneaux d’Agen and Armagnac. They are incredibly easy to make and are perfect for a quick, filling lunch. Cook the brochettes over a hot grill or on the barbecue, taking care to turn them frequently so that the sugars in the fruit won’t burn. A green salad and perhaps some good bread is all you’ll need to serve alongside. Of course, wine is essential. Choose a full-bodied Madiran or a Pomerol.

Makes 4-6 brochettes, depending on the size of your skewers 18 pitted Pruneaux d’Agen 2 tbsps Armagnac 1 large orange, sliced and cut into small triangles 2 sprigs of rosemary 1 tsp fleur de sel 2 tsps pink peppercorns 2 duck breasts of about 200-250g each, cut into large sections

method 1. Soak the prunes in the Armagnac for at least 30 minutes. 2. Finely chop the rosemary, pink peppercorns and salt. You want to end up with a fine spice rub. Divide the rub in two equal amounts. 3. Sprinkle half of the rub over the pieces of duck. 3. Thread on skewers starting with an orange section, then a piece of duck and then a prune. Finish off with an orange section. 4. Before grilling the brochettes, squeeze a little orange juice over them and sprinkle with the rest of the rub. 5. Grill to your liking, taking care to turn the brochettes frequently.

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Glace aux Pruneaux et Armagnac Forget the usual rum-raisin variety, the flavour of this Armagnac-infused ice cream is definitely more elegant. Together with an espresso, it makes the perfect ending to your meal. Or serve a single boule over a warm, fondant au chocolat for a taste of heaven on earth!

15 Pruneaux d’Agen, chopped 105ml Armagnac 800ml single cream 1 vanilla pod. split in half and seeds scraped out 4 egg yolks 170g caster sugar

method 1. Soak the chopped prunes in 75ml of Armagnac overnight. The following day, heat the prunes and the rest of the Armagnac (in a covered saucepan) gently for about 3 minutes. Allow to cool. 2. Place the cream, vanilla seeds and vanilla pod in a large saucepan. Heat the cream gently for 3 minutes taking care not to boil the cream. Remove from the heat, take out the vanilla pod and set aside. 3. Beat the egg yolks and the sugar until pale and creamy. 4. Add a little of the egg mixture to the cream and whisk well. Pour the rest of the eggs into the saucepan with the cream, start whisking immediately and return to the heat. Cook over a very low heat, whisking constantly. Once the mixture is thickened (10-15 minutes) remove from the heat, stir in prunes and Armagnac and pour into a bowl set over iced water. Allow to cool and refrigerate overnight. 5. Churn (in batches if necessary) in an ice cream machine. Should you not have an ice cream machine, the freezer works fine, too. In that case, you won’t need to refrigerate overnight. ‘Francophile to the core, Paola Westbeek is a food writer and recipe developer. Besides writing, she also offers cooking lessons and organizes culinary/creative vacations in Burgundy together with her husband. For more information visit: Hans Westbeek is a photographer, filmmaker and epicure. For examples of his work, visit:’ To advertise with us email

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18 • Local History and Culture

The road from Damascus – leading to a world-wide reputation for quality, being soaked in Armagnac and hailed as a super-food – Prune D’Agen

By A Atkinson


s we approach the festive season and hopefully consider those not enjoying the same peace and bounty we are able to take for granted; it’ll be hard to ignore the plight of the Syrians as they endure continued violence and destruction. We’re fast becoming hardened to the almost common-place television snippets of a virtually derelict and dusty land; devoid of calm and beauty. Syria’s capital, Damascus, is one of the oldest cities in the world, it was once a fertile garden-city where fountains played, streams ran and were “… the orchards form(ed) a circle around Damascus like a halo round the moon.”*

‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;’ [Keats] Many may recall reciting this ode during their school years, perhaps never envisaging that we’d end up living quite so close to so much of this ‘mellowing fruit’. We’ve all grown accustomed to a plentiful supply of fruit and nature’s abundant bounty, a bounty that’s shaped cultures, fed folklore and created a historical gastronomy that’s internationally renowned. The orchards that once surrounded the now war-torn Damascus mirror the endless valleys and hillsides in south-western France, fruit trees that encircle hamlets and villages and form floral rows; straight, static and endless, as if they were an army laying siege. There’s much more than this visual similarity to unite these two distinct regions. A huge part of this region’s agricultural tradition owes its success to the skills and dedication of the plum growers of Syria many centuries ago. The Gascony Local • October-January 2013

In the 12th century, Monks from the Benedictine Clairac Abbey (between Agen and Villeneuve) sought to improve their plum trees (then probably more like damson trees and from the original crops planted by the Romans) and crossed their local plum trees with Damascene plum trees brought from Syria. In this way they produced a new variety of plum called ‘prunier d’Ente’ (from the word ‘enter’ meaning to graft). This new plum evolved with a thin purple/blue skin and proved perfectly adapted to the region’s climate and drying conditions. The fruit was larger than the previous varieties with a delicate flavour and smell. The Monks pioneered the process of drying the plums to make prunes and the Abbey soon became renowned for its prunes. It was a Frenchman who in 1856 smuggled cuttings from these trees to California;

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Local History and Culture • 19

California soon became the largest producer of prunes in the world. The name Prune D’Agen doesn’t mean that the plums were grown in or immediately adjacent to Agen. It was the river port at Agen that was used to ship the product to Bordeaux and the wooden boxes (also known as palox) were stamped with name of the first port of departure, so they soon became referred to as Prune d’Agen. In reality you can find qualifying orchards in the Lot et Garonne, Dordogne, Gironde, Tarn et Garonne, Gers and Lot departments. To be called a Prune D’Agen strict rules for its production and drying process must be observed, the fruit must also be grown exclusively from an ‘prunier d’Ente’ orchard, located in specific geographical areas. Furthermore, the fruit must be dried and packaged within that same qualifying area. Originally the exact time for harvesting the plums (usually between mid-August and mid-September) was determined by watching for the fruit to start to drop naturally or to fall with only a gentle shake of the boughs. More modern techniques allow for the testing of the sugar content of the fruit (after collecting several drops of juice) and then picking the fruit at the optimum sugar level. Each orchard can need up to four pickings to strip it successfully. This picking can be done by hand but is more often undertaken by a machine, which is faster and more efficient as it damages less fruit. A mature plum tree is expected to produce 100 kg of prune; 3 to 3.5 kgs of fresh Ente plums are required to produce 1 kg of prunes. The harvested fruit are washed, sorted (to remove any damaged fruit) and then graded by size. Then they are placed on large wooden trays to be dried. These trays are then placed on trolleys to be moved into the drying tunnels. These tunnels are highly ventilated and after a drying phase of 20 to 24 hours they are placed in ovens at 70-80°C. Prunes are stored on the farm in palox then they’re put in special dark rooms at a constant temperature and moisture level. The crop is later sent to the processing factory where the quality is checked. The quality control regulations are very strict, only the best fruit are selected and they’re then graded by passing the fruit over sheets covered with calibrated hole-sizes. A moisture level of 23% maximum is allowed, a perfect shape and the absence of flaws is essential. Before being packaged the prunes are rehydrated in water at a temperature of 75°/80°. After soaking for 15 to 30 minutes, the prunes reach a maximum moisture rate of 35%, making them softer to eat. A higher rehydration (over 40%) produces a super moistened prune but it cannot then be labelled as Prune D’Agen. Prune D’Agen are also sold with their stones still in place (unlike many of the Californian prunes), it is

thought that the presence of the stone enhances the prune’s flavour. Prunes are known to have the highest anti-oxidant vitamin capacity of any tested fruit or vegetable. Their high iron, magnesium, potassium and fibre content and the fact that they are easy to store and keep for long periods made them, historically, the perfect provisions on board naval and merchant sailing ships. Prunes D’Agen are sold all over the world just to be eaten simply as a healthy snack or as an ingredient for the many regional pruneaux recipes but can also be prepared as special treats where they are filled with a prune-based cream or covered in chocolate. In Gascony it’s normal to soak the fruit in Armagnac (pruneaux à l’Armagnac) and then serve this sweet and very potent treat after dinner, or indeed at any suitable opportunity. Eight hundred years ago (as an early example of globalisation) the actions of a few Monks created a gourmet dynasty and a hugely important local commercial enterprise that they could never have foreseen. Travelling from Damascus with live plants, ready to graft, can’t have been easy and much is owed to their persistence. They would have been leaving behind a very different Syria to the one we are currently witnessing, how things change! * Ibn Jubayr (after visiting Damascus 1184)

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The Gascony Local • October-January 2013

20 • Local History and Culture

A French Christmas

- a move from ‘all the trimmings’ to Le Réveillon By Charlotte Buckingham


hristmas time is a time for family, celebration, food, love and merriment. And although every family has their own unique way of celebrating Christmas, Christmas time is generally a very special time of the year which touches everyone. After moving to France permanently last August I spent my first Christmas in France last year. It was a huge family affair (as it is every year), an oversized Christmas tree bursting with baubles, a mountain of mince pies and an explosion of colourful Christmas cards covering every surface. Not to mention the carol singing, crackers, present wrapping, fake snow, sparkly tinsel and party spirit! Christmas planning started in September, guests coming from England had been ordered to stuff their suitcases full of British Christmas delights like ‘bisto’ gravy granules, cranberry sauce and Marks and Spencers’ Christmas puddings. In my family the way we celebrate Christmas has never changed. My first Christmas was probably not so different from my last, and it occurred to me that even though we spent Christmas in France last year it was no different than our usual British Christmas, except for the fact we ate foie gras on Christmas day as a starter. This year I would like to do Christmas slightly differently, I would like more of a French Christmas. Not knowing an awful lot about French Christmas traditions I decided to do some research to find out if there are any differences and if possible, find a few ways to celebrate Noel, French style! Here are my findings: Although Christmas in the UK and in France is very similar, there is one main difference between the two cultures; “Le Réveillon”. Le Réveillon (from the verb réveiller, to wake up or to revive) happens on Christmas Eve and is a symbolic awakening, meaning Christ’s birth. It is the culinary high point of the season, which may be enjoyed at home or in a restaurant. Each region in France has its own traditional Christmas menu. The feast (which takes place in the evening) boasts the most luxurious produce. High The Gascony Local • October-January 2013

quality and expensive food is served, for example; oysters, fruits de la mer, foie gras, boudin blanc (similar to white pudding), goose, venison, turkey with chestnut stuffing, rabbit terrine, brouillade de truffes (omelet with truffles), roasted capon (a small bird), Aigo-boulido (garlic soup), papillottes (small chocolate candies wrapped in shiny paper) are all typical of the kind of food served as part of Le Réveillon. Many families serve the “Buche de Noel” or yule log; a log-shaped cake made of chocolate and chestnuts. Representative of the special wood log burned from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day in the Périgord, which is a holdover from a pagan Gaul celebration. At midnight, some French families attend la Messe de Minuit on Christmas Eve, which, for some, is still an important part of Christmas. After Réveillon, it’s customary to leave a candle burning in case the Virgin Mary passes by. Interestingly, in France in1962, a law was passed decreeing that all letters written to Santa would be responded to with a postcard. For example, when a class writes a letter, each student gets a response. Like English children with stockings, French children put their shoes in front of the fireplace, in the hopes that Père Noël (or, Papa Noël) will fill them with gifts. Traveling on a sleigh powered by reindeer, he wrestles with chimney pots in order to carry out his special deliveries. In France, candy, fruit, nuts, and small toys will also be hung on the tree overnight. In some regions there’s also Père Fouettard, Father Christmas’ alter ego, there for the children who are not so well behaved!! (It is sort of the equivalent of Santa Claus giving coal to the naughty). As in the UK, French children wake up to open their presents on Christmas morning. Christmas day is very similar. There’s a Christmas meal much like Le Réveillon and the day is spent enjoying time with family and close friends. Many people spend Christmas Day quietly and some attend a special church service. In terms of Christmas decorations, the sapin de Noël or the Christmas tree is the main decoration in homes, streets, shops, offices, and factories. The sapin de Noël

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Vive le Vent/Jingle Bells A French Carol – Un Chant de Noël Français Vive le vent, vive le vent, vive le vent d’hiver Qui s’en va, sifflant, soufflant Dans les grands sapins verts, Oh ! Vive le temps, vive le temps, vive le temps d’hiver Qui rappelle aux vieux enfants Leurs souvenirs d’hier ! Sur le long chemin Tout blanc de neige blanche Un vieux monsieur s’avance Avec sa canne dans la main Et tout là-haut le vent Qui siffle dans les branches Lui souffle la romance qu’il chantait petit enfants. appeared in Alsace (before this region was incorporated into France) in the 14th century; decorated with apples, paper flowers, and ribbons, and was then introduced in France in 1837. Another important aspect of French Christmas celebrations is the crèche filled with Santons, which is displayed in churches and many homes. “Santons” (manger figures) represent not only the holy family and wise men but local merchants too; they are often passed down through generations. Mistletoe is hung above the door during the Christmas season to bring good fortune throughout the year. So, in order to add a little French style to my Christmas this year, I am determined to introduce Le Réveillon. I have also decided that this year I am to set myself the challenge of cooking a traditional French feast. I have already scoured the internet looking for recipes (below is a recipe for chestnut stuffing for the turkey), I have started developing my Christmas vocabulary (as noted here) and I am determined to learn at least one Christmas carol in French. It makes Christmas all the more exciting this year! However, as willing as I am to embrace the French Noel, there is one tradition I am leaving for the French! I can wholeheartedly say that I will not be leaving a mince pie and glass of brandy out for Père Fouettard, he will definitely not be on my Christmas card list. To advertise with us email

The Gascony Local • October-January 2013

22 • local history and culture

Christmas Vocabulary: Advent calendar: Un calendrier de l’Avent Angel: Un ange Bad Father Christmas: Père Fouettard Candle: Une chandelle Christmas: Noël Christmas card: Une carte de Noël Christmas carol : Un noël, un chant de Noël Christmas Day: Le jour de Noël Christmas Eve: La veille de Noël Christmas feast: Le Réveillon Christmas loaf: Le pain calendeau Christmas party: La fête de Noël Christmas present: Un cadeau de Noël Christmas sales: Noël malin Christmas tree: Le sapin de Noël, l’arbre de Noël

French chestnut dressing Enough to stuff a 12 to 14 pound turkey with extra to bake on the side. • 6 cups torn small pieces of baguette • 2 onions, chopped • 4 stalks of celery, chopped • 1 cup (250 grams) fresh chestnuts, shelled and peeled, chopped coarsely, or 2 cups vacuum-packed or jarred whole chestnuts, chopped coarsely • 7 ounces (200 grams) cubed lardons (pork fat), fried until crispy • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves • 3.5 tablespoons (50 grams) unsalted butter • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves

Epiphany, Twelfth night: La Fête des Rois Happy Holidays!: Meilleurs vœux! Little saint: Un santon manger: La crèche


merry Christmas!: Joyeux Noël!

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

midnight mass: La Messe de Minuit

1. With a sharp knife cut a slit on the round side of each chestnut or pierce with a fork.

miracle: Un miracle

2. Spread chestnuts in one layer on an oven tray and bake in a hot oven at around 400°F until skins break open, usually in about 10 minutes.

mistletoe: Le gui new Year’s Day: Le Jour de l’An new Year’s Eve: La Saint-Sylvestre

3. Remove the chestnuts a handful at a time. Shell and peel while still hot.

Reindeer: Un renne

Shepherd: Un berger

4. In a shallow baking pan arrange the bread pieces in one layer, bake in the oven, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, or until they are golden, and transfer to a large bowl.

Sleigh: Un traîneau

5. In a large pan, fry the lardons until crispy then remove.

Snow: La neige

6. In the same large pan, melt butter and cook onions, celery, sage and thyme over moderately low heat, stirring, until the onions are softened.

Santa Claus: Père Noël, Papa Noël Season’s greetings!: Meilleurs vœux !

Snowball: Une boule de neige Snowman: Un bonhomme de neige

7. Add chestnuts to the large pan mixture and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

White Christmas: Noël sous la neige Yule log: La bûche de Noël

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8. Add the chestnut and vegetable mixture to the bread pieces in the large bowl and toss the mixture well. Stir in the parsley. 9. Add salt and pepper to taste, and let the stuffing cool completely. Stuffing may be made one day in advance and kept covered and chilled. (Courtesy of

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24 • local history and culture


a waning romanticism By Charlotte Buckingham

The French regions Occitan covers include: Limousin, Auvergne, Midi-Pyrenees Languedoc-Roussillion, Aquitaine, Provence Alpes, Cote d’Azur

Occitan cities include: Nice, Marseilles, Montpellier, Clermont Ferrand Limoges, Toulouse, Pau, Bordeaux


n the corner of the street next to where i live there is a sign; which shows the name of the road in two languages. every time i noticed the sign i wondered what the second unfamiliar language was (i presumed it was Spanish) and why it was written there but i never really questioned beyond this. Until, when one day my 4 year-old daughter, Poppy, came home from school singing a song in what sounded like a mixture of French and Spanish, I questioned again this mysterious language. When I asked Poppy what she was singing she quite simply said “Mummy it is Occitan!” Occitan, I later found out was taught weekly at the primary school. Since then I have started to research this language, look at its roots and origins and question its existence. Occitan is an official language. It also known as ‘Lenga d’Oc’ by its native speakers, its name derives from the word ‘Oc’ which means ‘Yes’ in Occitan. The Romance language is a result of the evolution of spoken Latin after the fall of the Roman Empire. With striking similarities to Catalan, it is not only spoken in our region of France, but in many other parts of Southern France, Italy’s Occitan valleys, Guardia Piemontese (Calabria) Italy, Monaco and Catalonia’s Val d’Aran. These regions are sometimes unofficially known as Occitania. The Gascony Local • October-January 2013

Occitan is not a primitive form of French, Occitan and French are two distinctly different languages which formed themselves independently out of Latin. Well into the 20th century Occitan was still an everyday language for most of the population of rural France, however this has been replaced by the systematic imposition of the French language (which is considered the language of the state). According to the 1999 census, there are 610,000 native speakers (almost all of whom are native French speakers) and perhaps another million with exposure to the language. A group of Occitan activists (Occitanists) have been campaigning to reintroduce the language to the young population, Occitan is also taught in some primary schools (although this is not a legal requirement). Indeed, in some Occitan areas street signs are marked with Occitan to remind people of the traditional language. Unfortunately however, the use of Occitan is in serious decline and is considered an endangered language according to UNESCO Red Book of

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Endangered Languages. This means that only the elderly population speaks the language fluently and is not passing the language to their children or grandchildren. Due to its geographical location, the language of Occitan has been preserved. This Romance language is spoken in areas surrounded by mountains, rivers and arable land. The region is naturally isolated and population constant with some Occitan speaking folk descending from people living in the regions since prehistory. The oldest written fragment of the language ever found dates back to the year 960 AD; an official text, mixed with Latin. Other famous pieces of Occitan include The Boecis, a 258 line long poem written between 1000-1030 AD and inspired by Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. Occitan was a language much celebrated throughout most of educated Europe and considered a language of great influence and great value in literature and for writing poetry in particular. The troubadours used Occitan as a vehicle to compose and perform their lyric poetry during the High Middle Ages. The troubadours’ songs and poems dealt mainly with themes of courtly love and chivalry. The French word troubadour was first recorded in 1575 in an

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historical context to mean “langue d’oc poet at the court in the 12th and 13th century”. However, with the increase in strength of French Royal power over its territory the Occitan language declined in status. Also during the French Revolution, the diversity of the Occitan language was thought to pose a threat which led to its degeneration. During a period of literary renaissance in France in the late 19th Century, Occitan enjoyed a revival. In addition, the First World War also brought Occitan speakers in to contact with other French speaking comrades and the language was given new life. The internet is a good source of information on Occitan. The local mediatheque will also have a wealth of material on the subject. If you are interested in Occitan here are a few web links to have a look at. And of course you could try looking for evidence of Occitan around town, engravings and street signs, they are a great introduction to the language. Links: Overview and grammar of Occitan A guide to the language, Troubadour and Early Occitan Literature The house of Occitan associations of Toulouse

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26 • the gascony local

The Poppy ¶ Remembrance Day


ou may wonder, as we again approach Armistice Day, what were the origins of the Poppy emblems that appear each year. Strangely enough, whereas today the Poppy is construed as being a typically British construct, its origins were the initiatives of four WW1 allies from Canada, America, France and England. Firstly, a Canadian Military Doctor, Colonel John McCrae, during a short lull at the front in 1915 scribbled the following poem. In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks still bravely singing fly Scarce heard among the guns below. We are the dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields Take up our quarrel with the foe; To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields. This was published anonymously in Punch and it greatly impressed an American lady, Miss Moira Michael, who replied to it with another poem and decided that the poppy should become the symbol of Remembrance for those who had given their lives. Then a French lady Madame Guérin had the idea of getting artificial poppies made to sell to help war victims. In 1921, the year of the first Poppy Appeal, Field Marshal Earl Haig (who had been Commander in Chief in France) became the Founder President of the British Legion (which became Royal in 1971). He wanted to help the ex-servicemen, women and their families, not only financially but also to try and provide them with work. The first poppies sold were obtained from a French organisation which used its profits to help children in the war-devastated areas. However, in 1922 Earl Haig started making poppies with a team of five disabled ex-servicemen, today more than one hundred people are employed in the manufacture of millions The Gascony Local • October-January 2013

of poppies, thousands of wreaths and hundreds of thousands of wooden crosses. Poppy sales and donations have today reached more than £37 million, which has allowed numerous people to benefit in some way from RBL help. Providing this help remains the aim of the RBL and that is why we are so faithful to our little poppies and are proud to wear them.

The Royal British Legion in France (Bordeaux Branch) – more volunteers needed This Branch (which covers most of the region covered by The Quercy and Gascony Local magazines) is one of the most successful overseas branches in the annual Poppy Appeal collection; with over 150 collectors visiting well-over 300 places every year. Whilst many areas are well covered by our band of volunteer ‘Poppy Sellers’ there are many other areas where it is not possible for British residents to be able to obtain a poppy at Remembrance Time. It only takes up a few days and is very much appreciated by those who wish to contribute to the appeal. To find out more about how you can help, please do get in touch with Gordon Merrett on

Remembrance Services Sunday 11th November

1. RBL Remembrance Service, at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, Talence, Bordeaux. This is the official RBL remembrance service for SW France and includes Commonwealth and US Forces. 2. Church Service at Monteton, 47120, near Duras.

Both services starting at 10.30 am

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Magazine Subscription Offer… Following great demand we have a further supply of NF breath-kits and are offering to send one or two kits out to people subscribing to receive the magazine in the post. Stocks are limited and as soon as we’ve exhausted our supply we’ll make this clear on the website. To receive your copies of the magazine, by post, please visit or www. and follow the link to Breath-Tests Kits / Magazine subscriptions – submit your order, we’ll email an invoice which can be paid for by bank card or Paypal, on-line. If you’ve any queries about subscriptions then please email:

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28 • The GascOny LOcaL

Cancer Support France – Gascony


he national Cancer Support France was created in the Charente eight years ago by the founding president following her own experience of cancer in France, and since then 13 branches of the national organisation have been established. The Gascony branch was initiated by a former specialist palliative care nurse from the UK, who was interested to see whether her past experience could be put to good use here. The Gascony branch (covering departments 31, 32, 64 and 65) provides an absolutely critical role for anyone who is living in the region and is either suffering themselves or caring for someone suffering from cancer. The members that support the group have all become involved for different reasons; some driven by the experience of a tragedy, or illness themselves, or maybe a desire to continue with hard learnt professional skills or simply a human desire to reach out and make a difference to people experiencing troubles of their own. The aim of CSF is to provide a confidential, one-toone listening and information service to those affected by cancer, either on the phone, by email or face-to -face. Receiving understanding and trained contact can make all the difference to the lives of those affected during what is often an already a painful and stressful time. The experience of suffering cancer in an adopted country can produce additional practical and emotional problems and this is where the group’s trained Active Listeners and Volunteers provide a vital role in the wellbeing of those with health-issues to contend with. If anyone is interested in becoming an Active Listener or Volunteer then please do contact CSF and have an informal chat about these important roles. For those that feel that this is a role they can happily fulfil there is a two-day training session followed up by further training and your own support group. The role of an Active Listener will not be for everyone, but that does not mean you cannot get involved with helping CSF and become a volunteer. In order to be able to offer this help the branch membership plays a vital role. Falling under the auspice of the Statutes of the National Association, CSF must hold formal meetings, have elected committee, produce reports etc. CSF is a non-profit organisation, so there is a need to hold fundraising and publicity events to spread the word that we exist and to cover the running costs of providing the services of our Active Listeners. The fund raising activities are carried out by the members and vary from coffee mornings through sponsored bike rides The Gascony Local • October-January 2013

to Golf competitions. Volunteers can also help with someone who is struggling with the language or provide companionship over a coffee and a chat. So clearly there is so much that so many can offer to help keep CSF thriving and growing. All CSF branches encourage good social contact among their membership. In Gascony they are a friendly group of like-minded volunteers, with ongoing social and fundraising events, and they are open to new suggestions and would love to hear from new members and volunteers. If you or anyone you care for suffers from cancer and you want to get in touch with CSF, please do not hesitate, the members at CSF put in so much hard work just so that they are there to support anyone in need. They are there for you! Local Helpline 05 67 32 18 56 Mobile 06 27 69 62 28 national Helpline 05 45 89 30 05

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e are all generally aware of the need to raise taxes to help reduce France’s budget deficit. With François Hollande’s Socialist party gaining a majority in both houses of parliament, the way is clear for overhauling the tax system. The recently adopted Loi de Finances Rectificative 2012 (2), is the first piece of legislation. Whilst it did not contain everything that had been predicted; the next round of recently announced tax changes and likely adoption as the Loi de Finances 2013 will bring further changes. However, for now there were a number of important changes in the already adopted Loi de Finances Rectificative 2012 (2) legislation, which could have a direct impact for many of you.

INHERITANCE TAX As a result of this new legislation, the amount that can be left to children by their parents on death has been reduced from e159,325 to e100,000 (per child by each parent). The new law also has reduced the amounts that can be gifted during a parent’s lifetime without an immediate tax charge to e100,000. Previously such gifts could be renewed every six years, although this was increased to ten earlier this year and has now been increased again to fifteen years. This also means that in the event of death during the fifteen year period after any gift, the value of the gifts will “come back into the account” for inheritance tax purposes. This means that it has become even more important than previously to invest in ways that can help reduce future inheritance tax bills.

INCOME & “SOCIAL TAXES” The increase in “social taxes” (Contributions Sociales) on investment income and gains to 15.5%, which was planned by the previous government, has unsurprisingly been maintained! The one change that has grabbed all the headlines is the decision to impose “social taxes” on property income earned by non-residents (on both rental income and capital gains).

These changes have partially been reversed and whilst the threshold remains at e1.3 million, the bands used to calculate the tax due are the same as those used last year. This has been called an “exceptional” tax for 2012, leading us to think that a further review of this tax will be announced in due course.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD? There are two potential changes to income tax which are unlikely to affect many of you. The presidential campaign was dominated by talk about a 75% income tax band for earnings over e1 million pa. This has not featured in the legislation just passed, but it certainly has not been forgotten, nor has the addition of a 45% tax band for earnings over e150,000. Other future changes are likely to affect the capital gains tax rules for property and the removal of taxation at source at fixed rates (prélèvements libératoires) on bank interest, dividend income, capital gains and withdrawals from assurance vie policies within the first eight years after the initial investment. With the tax changes already adopted and prospect of further changes, we recommend you review your situation, to ensure you maximise all available options to mitigate the potential impact of these tax changes. Importantly, do not hesitate to contact us for an update on the additional changes to be adopted in the Loi de Finances 2013. If you have any questions on the above, or should you have any other financial areas you wish to confidentially review, please contact us for the name of your local advisor on 05 56 34 75 51. Peter Wakelin is a Regional Manager of Siddalls France, Independent Financial Advisers specialising in investment, pension, tax and inheritance planning for the British community in France since 1996. Contact us on 05 56 34 75 51 for the name of your local advisor or visit us at:

WEALTH TAX Last year there was a significant review of the rules regarding the Impôt de Solidarité sur la Fortune (ISF), increasing the threshold to e1.3 million and reducing the number of tax bands to two.

The Gascony Local • October-January 2013

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the gascony local • 31

Costing you more to keep warm over winter? The new ruling will mean that anyone with a ‘genuine and sufficient’ link to the UK may qualify. This may be assessed with reference to how long an applicant has lived and worked in the UK and whether they are in receipt of a UK pension or other benefits. There has been some consternation expressed in the UK press about this ruling, assuming that all expats are wealthy and living where there is no ‘winter cold’. It is quite possible that the UK Government may respond to this ruling with the introduction of a ‘temperature qualification’ which may not deter applications for ex-pats living in many regions of France, where the temperature may be lower than much of the UK. Following a recent decision by the European Court of Justice, pensioners living outside the UK who are in receipt of a state pension may now also qualify for a Winter Fuel Allowance. Previously this was paid only to pensioners who had qualified for the allowance before they left the UK. This allowance currently amounts to £200 or £300 for anyone over 80. The allowance is not means-tested and is different from the Cold Weather Payment.

It will be necessary to apply for this allowance and the application forms can be found and downloaded from the website (Retirement and Pension Planning). You need to submit your claim before the 31st March 2013. You can also call for more information on 00 44 191 218 7777. It has got to be worth a quick call to find out if you qualify.

English Speaking Church in Condom The Church in Condom meets at 11am on the last Thursday of every month and newcomers are always welcome. The service lasts for about an hour after which there is coffee and tea and a chance to chat. Occasionally services are followed by a congregation lunch. The Condom English-speaking Church was set up in 2010 as an offshoot of St. Andrews Anglican Church in Pau, whose chaplain, Father Ian Naylor, conducts most of the monthly services in Condom. Worshippers of any denomination are welcome to attend and participate in the Eucharist. The Condom service is held at the Pietat Chapel, located on the edge of Condom on the Nerac road. See and follow the Condom links for more details.

For all your events, weddings, or simply for a great evening of music – JAZZMAGNAC is available to perform throughout the SW of France. Made up of highly experienced and seasoned performers from all over the region – JAZZMAGNAC can guarantee a great time and atmosphere. Contact Jean-Claude on Tél: or email: To advertise with us email

The Gascony Local • October-January 2013

32 • the gascony local

Brigitte Basquet and Trui Seys have been working as estate agents in Agen, the Lot, Lot et Garonne, Tarn et Garonne and the Gers departments since 1998. They have a French and international clientèle and are known for their quality work, personal approach and multi-lingual service (French/English/Dutch/German spoken). Brigitte Basquet et Trui Seys mettent à votre disposition leur expérience (depuis 1998) en tant qu’agents immobiliers dans les départements du Lot, Lot et Garonne, Tarn et Garonne, du Gers et dans la ville d’Agen. Elles sont à l’écoute de leur clientèle nationale et internationale et proposent un service multilingue de qualité. More information on their properties and services can be found on the following websites – Pour plus de renseignements, veuillez consulter les sites internet:

Contact: T. SEYS IMMOBILIER & CONSEIL Trui SEYS: Quercy Blanc – Tarn et Garonne, Lot, Lot et Garonne: Tel: 06 84 09 99 10 (from abroad: 00 33 6 84 09 99 10) e-mail: Brigitte BASQUET: Agen, Lot et Garonne, Gers: Tel: 05 53 48 20 99 or 06 62 16 67 31 e-mail:

The Gascony Local • October-January 2013

To advertise with us email

the gascony local • 33

To advertise with us email

The Gascony Local • October-January 2013

34 • the gascony local Spectacles online in France at UK Internet prices. Use your French or British Spectacle prescription. Feuille de Soins can be supplied if you are eligible.

Do you want to get involved? If you are interested in your region and have time to spare – we are looking for help with the magazine. • We need further reliable help with the distribution of the magazines. • We also need reliable people with an interest in developing and growing the magazine in their area. You don’t need to have a huge knowledge of the French language, just be interested and reliable. If you are already self employed (or are about to be) and can offer your services, please do get in touch with us.

Pajero Exceed 2.8

7-seats, LWB, TD Intercooler, many extras First Reg. Oct 2002, Manuel, LHD, Diesel, 129,000 km, Good Condition 8,800€ ono. (82190) 05 63 94 32 80


Also : • Writers – even if you have never done this before – we would love to hear from people living in the region, who have information and experiences to share. • Artists and photographers – we would love to hear from you, we want to profile local artists and where appropriate use their work on the front cover – so let us know where you are!


le filtre à roseaux AutoEpure® pour un

assainissement naturel Pour plus d’informations : 06 83 11 61 77 The Gascony Local • October-January 2013

To advertise with us email

La Maison de Pédeloup Sarl Pédeloup 1068 route de Montégut 32240 Monguilhem France Tel/Fax:+33 (0)5 62 08 77 95 Portable:+33 (0)6 81 54 19 70

Carol Scott Bespoke Sofa & Chair Covers, Curtains and Cushions Colourful Catalan Striped Cottons & plain co-ordinating linens Free Personalised Quotations See our unique collection of Household Linens, Cloths, Runners, Serviettes, Aprons, Bags and Gifts at Marciac Market (Wednesdays) & Eauze Market (Thursdays) Visit our shop at Pédeloup 32240 Monguilhem Monday, Tuesday & Friday 9-12 & 2-6pm email for our Pricelist & our Christmas Market Venues Mail Order Service Available

Martin Scott General Joinery, Bespoke Furniture, Renovations

The English Grocer in the Gers Just arrived our New Christmas Stock. Luxury gift items & all the trimmings for the festive Season: Tom Smith Christmas Crackers (various designs), Beautiful selection of Christmas Cards, Individual & Box Sets. Biscuit Tins, Chocolate Tins, Christmas Puddings, Christmas Cakes, Mince Meat, Mince Pies, Dried Fruit. Stilton Cheese & much more to make Christmas time that extra special! Fresh Turkeys available to order NOW!! Also Gammons, Chipolatas, Streaky Bacon, Brandy Cream/Butter Churchill’s, Place Scipion Dupleix, 32100 Condom (just behind the covered market) Tue – Fri 10.00-12.30 & 14.00-17.30. Sat 10.00-12.30 05 62 68 43 89

The Gascony Local October-January 2013  

Magazine for English people and businesses in the Gascony region of France

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