Friday, November 7, 2014

Baïse-ic Instinct: Nérac

Even the best planning sometimes doesn’t work out: On a recent trip to Nérac, we manage to miss the city’s most famous site. Yet we still enjoy our visit to this pretty riverside town. 

View of the rooftops of Nérac, in the Lot-et-Garonne
Nérac is located in the south central part of the Lot-et-Garonne department, in the Albret area. The town straddles the Baïse River, and our visit takes us back and forth across Pont Vieux and Pont Neuf. 

It’s market day in Nérac and the town is bustling, even more so because it’s the start of the annual cartoon art festival. Taking place in October, Les Rencontres Chaland honors a different cartoonist each year. In 2014 the exhibition features Charles Burns. (The monthlong festival ends on Nov. 8. For more information, click here.) During our short visit, we stop by a couple of the numerous venues associated with the event.

Our first stop is, as usual, the tourist office, where we are given a map and an English translation. Our self-guided tour takes us through the market and past le centre Haussman where an unusual clock catches my eye.

Candied fruit in the Nérac market

A clock on the façade of le centre Haussman, the old palais de la
Chambre des Comptes
, which was restored in 1995
Along the way, we pass by colombage homes and pick up a sandwich to eat on the banks of the Baïse. In the high season, there would be boats filled with tourists on the river, but today, we watch workers polishing and maintaining one of the old garbares.

Colombage (half-timber) buildings in Nerac

Tidying up a riverboat on the Baïse in Nérac
After lunch, we continue along the south bank through the Parc Royal de la Garenne. This shady path takes us through the former royal hunting grounds and past several fountains. 

Mosaïques from the Gallo-Roman era were discovered in
le parc de la Garenne in Nérac in 1832.

La fontaine de Fleurette in le parc de la Garenne in Nérac

Fleurette was the daughter of the king’s gardener.

La fontaine Saint Jean in Nérac dates to the 15th century.

The path along the river in le parc de la Garenne in Nérac

La fontaine des Marguerite in Nérac
On our walk back to Nérac on the north side of the river, we pass le Pavillon des Bains du Roy, a 16th century changing room used by ladies when bathing in the Baïse.

Le Pavillon des Bains du Roy in Nérac 
Once back in town, we visit the stately L’Église Saint-Nicholas. Built on the ruins of a Roman edifice, the neoclassical church dates to the 18th century. 

Interior of L’Église Saint-Nicolas in Nérac 
We enjoy some cool refreshments while we wait for what we had anticipated would be the day’s highlight, a visit to Musée du Château Henri IV, which was scheduled to open at 3 o’clock. Alas, as the opening time come and go, and the museum’s doors remain locked, we grow restless. Eventually, the museum’s guide emerges and explains that a private tour is scheduled for 3:30 and she won’t be opening for another hour. We briefly consider sneaking in with the private group, but opt to call it a day. 

Musée du Château Henri IV in Nérac 

Musée du Château Henri IV in Nérac 

Une femme âgée knits in her courtyard behind Musée du Château Henri IV
in Nérac.

The courtyard near the entry to Musée du Château Henri IV in Nérac

But even without a look inside the château, we agree it has been a great day. Nérac is now on our list of destinations to take out-of-town guests, so we’re confident we’ll catch up with Henry IV next time we’re there.

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