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France

"Gascony's the real France," Jean-Jacques said. "Everywhere else—it's another country."

Jean-Jacques, a local farmer, was leaning from his tractor—behind him, a bright field of sunflowers and the 18th century farmhouse my parents call home.

His sun-beaten face squinted down at me. "Gascony is the hidden jewel of France—it's our best kept secret."

And it's true. If there's one place on earth where you can ski, speak Basque, eat paella, drink Armagnac, watch a bullfight and laze on a white sandy beach—all on the same day—it's Gascony.

When my parents, Jill and Peter Daniel, bought this farmhouse—with its view of sunflower fields, rolling hills, church spires and the snowy peaks of the Pyrenees—they thought they “knew” France.

After all, they were seasoned Francophiles, and had lived in the Hautes-Alpes for 10 years.

But they quickly realized Gascony isn't like the rest of France. "It's more magical, and more mysterious," says Jill.

Home of D'Artagnan and Cyrano de Bergerac, Gascony is a land of ancient traditions, a place of medieval spires, stone abbeys, and 12th-century castles.

Just down the road is the Chateau de Pau, birthplace of Henri IV. And along a valley is a 13th-century prison where they tortured enemies during the Crusades.

Nestled between the Pyrenees to the south, the Bay of Biscay to the west, and Toulouse to the east, it's what “in-the-know” expats call the “French Tuscany.”

As you drive through rolling hills of poppies and sunflowers, you can see why. Spring starts early here, and the summers are long and warm. You feel like you're in another time—not just another country.

The bastides (medieval villages) in this remote region boast their own bull-rings—a leftover from the days when Gascony was more Basque than French. Basque is still spoken by older Gascons—and for many, Spanish is the second language.

Jill and Peter's farmhouse, built in 1760, sits on 4 acres of land. It has four bedrooms, a big farmhouse kitchen, guest rooms, and an outside barn for tractors and hay.

Read on…

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