Agen, situated halfway between the great cities of Bordeaux and Toulouse in southwest France, is probably best known for its prunes which are dried from local plums and often steeped in brandy. But there’s much more to this charming small city in the Lot-et-Garonne in the new region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. It's a historic city with enough Gothic arches to satisfy the most architecturally minded visitor, a daily covered market full of tempting treats to buy, and eat, and to take home as gifts, narrow medieval alleys, and a canal and river.
The people of Agen are infinitely friendly, and avid rugby fans as you'll find out if you pop into any of the bars or cafés during the rugby season.
Interestingly, the world-famous Agen prunes are not actually from Agen, but from nearby villages. They came to be connected with Agen because they were distributed from this city. Each year Agen holds the Grand Pruneau Show, which is a gastronomic festival, but really an excuse for a very good 3-day music festival with different artists each evening. You can't miss it; it's held in various venues and in the streets of the town.
More information from the official website (in French)
38 rue Garonne
Tel.: 00 33 (0)5 53 47 36 09
- No visit to Agen is complete without a stop at the city’s covered market, located across from the Tourism Office. Open mornings daily, this is the prime spot to find local delicacies, produce and meats. Visit the historic Place des Laitiers on Saturdays for the organic market.
- Take a walking tour of the city. Get maps and directions from the tourist office, or take an organised guided tour. This will take you to the main sites.
- Start at Place Docteur-Pierre-Esquirol, a gracious square with its old town hall, theatre and Musee des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum) Housed in two pretty old red brick 16th- and 17th-century mansions, it's well worth a stroll through to see the comprehensive collection of prehistoric and mineral collections, beautifully carved capitals with leaves and animals in the medieval archaeology section, and its show piece, the Venus de Mas, a 1st-century BC Greek marble statue.
- Walk down rue Beauville with its restored medieval houses, through the Place des Laitiers which has been the major trading place since the Middle Ages, then down the rue des Cornieres with its half-timbered houses.
- Take a walk along the banks of the River Garonne, one of the five major rivers of France, for lovely views of the town.
- La Musée Pruneau Gourmand (located in Granges sur Lot near Agen) is the prime destination for those interested in Agen’s most famous crop as the museum traces the colorful history of the area’s prunes. There is a prune maze open July through September and the shop presents prunes prepared almost every way imaginable.
- Walibi Aquitaine amusement park sits on 75 acres and features an actual 18th-century castle. Thrill-seekers should hop on the Zig-Zag roller coaster or speed along in the Boomerang double-loop coaster. There are also several rides for younger children, as well as a host of water rides (including white-water rafting on a man-made river). In July and August, there is a shuttle from the Agen train station to Walibi.
- Végétales Visions (located in Colayrac Saint Cirq near Agen) features an awe-inspiring mix of plants from five continents. The exhibits include a zen garden, exotic garden and botanical garden. There's also a great variety of rare species here.
- Parc en Ciel (located in Lacapelle Biron northwest of Agen) features a zoo, various gardens, waterfalls, a farm, duck lake, obstacle course and mini-golf.
Where to Stay in Agen
- Château des Jacobins is a destination unto itself. This four-star hotel in the heart of the old town was originally built for a count in the 19th century, and the castle remains beautifully furnished today and it's acknowledged that the rooms are among the finest in this region of France.
- Château de Lassalle has 17 inviting and comfortably elegant rooms. The common areas continue that theme, including a warm billiards and game room. The hotel’s restaurant is its best allure of all, featuring premium examples of regional cuisine.
Agen is one of the cities on the fabulous barge cruise I went on through the region of Gascony. Check out the barge cruise.
Edited by Mary Anne Evans