Midi-Pyrenees : Tarn-et-Garonne : Moissac
Moissac is a town of artistic interest. A stop on the way to Santiago of Compostella. Moissac is in the Tarn et Garonne department. It is mostly famous for the artistic heritage handed down by the ancient Saint-Peter's abbey. From legend, it was founded by Clovis (the Frankish king), but from historical information it was founded by Saint Didier, bishop of Cahors in the middle of the seventh century . The monastery establishment was difficult because of Moors' and Norsemens' raids. The eleventh and twelfth centuries witnessed a first golden age, the consequence of Moissac being affiliated to the Burgundy abbey of Cluny and it's accepting the famous Reformation, under the drive of Durand de Bredons who was both the Abbot of Moissac and the bishop of Toulouse. This outstanding era witnessed major abbots Dom Hunaud de Gavarret , Dom Ansquitil; who had the doorway and tympanum built. In the thirteenth century , Raymond de Montpezat and then Bertrand de Montaigut, abbots and builders, ruled the abbey. Aymeric de Peyrac , writing his Chronicle in the fifteenth century in the castle of Saint Nicolas de la Grave reveals us those events. The fifteenth century witnessed a new golden age with abbots Pierre and Antoine de Caraman who edificied works, and especially the Gothic part of the abbey-church. The 1626 secularization of the abbey caused the Benedictine monks to leave the cloister after nearly 1000 years of Benedictine life. They were replaced by Augustinian canons, under commendary abbots: well-known cardinals such as Mazarin and de Brienne . In 1793, the French Revolution put an end to religious life. In the middle of the nineteenth century , the laying of a railway-track threatened the cloister but it was saved, listed as a historic monument. Even if the side buildings have suffered a lot and the abbey changed in aspect, this inheritance is nowadays the object of intense care as the tympanum, renowned amongst the greatest, and the most beautiful cloister in the world can still be admired. Moissac is a 'real' French town, not given to pandering to tourism. Very few people speak English and tourist souvenirs are rarely seen. It is a town in its own right that has its own industry and character. And that is its greatest charm.
Moissac is a stop on the pilgrimage route to Campostella. The closest city to it is Toulouse, but another good point of reference is Montauban. You can reach Moissac by train going from Toulouse or Montauban. A third alternative after road and rail travel is the Canal de Deux Mers. Many boat-travellers stay in the marina which has good facilities for visitors and is within two minutes wlk of the town centre.
Market days held in the Place des Recollets are ~ Saturday and Sunday, farmers and traders sell their produce. There is also a wide range of clothes and artifacts.
Visit the cloister, as it is thought to be one of the most beautiful cloisters in the world. Sit on the square, with a view of the Abbey, enjoying a coffee while the world passes by. Try some Chasselas, the local grape, which has its own AOC (appelation d'origine controle). It's small and sweet, and is regarded as a French Treasure. Explore the back streets of the town where many medieaval, half-timbered houses can be seen, some in a rather sad state of disrepair.
The local market (Saturday & Sunday) sells lots of locally grown fruit, veg and other produce. It is very common to see a local producer selling his/her own produce in the market from a tressle table. Maybe eggs, cheese or strawberries. Once their stock has been sold they pack up and go home. Cheap clothing, house wares and other items are also sold in the market. The region specialises in fois gras and other foods originating from duck and goose. The indoor market sells an excellent selection of artisan-made meat and sefood dishes as well as hot food, wine, dairy produce and bread. Try the home-made paella or couscous, both are excellent.
Moissac region produces the Chasselas de Moissac AOC, a very tasty, golden grape. The region also produces foie gras. Agen is the centre of the prune industry in France and 'Prunes d'Agen' can be seen in many retail outlets but the best by far are those sold in the local markets. Moissac has its own producers of high quality prunes.
Moissac is, unfortunately, one of the few areas of France that does not produce its own wine. Instead, the local grape (see above) is a dessert eating grape.
Moissac is set very nicely on the River Tarn, quite near to its confluence with the Garonne. Hire a launch and go for a day's sailing on the Canal de Deux Mers ("The canal between two seas" - from the Med to the Atlantic) or just walk or cycle along its banks. Visit nearby Castelsarrasin on a Thursday, market day or Valence D'Agen whose market day is Tuesday. Both markets have their own special character very different from that of Moissac's own market. Nearby Llafrancais has a Val de Loisor - a small nature park with a very inviting modern swimming pool.