In this article, we share our experience in Agen, a quiet town in southwest France (Nouvelle-Aquitaine region). Even though it’s not a very tourist place, it definitely worths the visit.
Situated halfway between Bordeaux and Toulouse, Agen is only 3 hours from Paris by fast trains. There are plenty of good reasons to visit this town, even though it is not that famous among international travelers. Visiting Agen is a good way to know better a typical French town. Paris Is great, but France is mostly made of small size towns, which embodies the true French spirit, culture, and way of life: so to know more about "real" France, get off the beaten path and discover hidden rural towns like Agen.
Agen can also be a gateway to discover South West of France, with a car or bicycle. The rural area of Lot et Garonne offers many charming villages and natural spots to explore. Among the prettiest village around Agen, you will find Moirax, Puymirol, Beauville, Vianne, Nerac, Frespech, Tonneins, Clairac, Laparade, Le Temple sur Lot...
But Agen itself has a lot of charming places to discover (one section of this article describes it in detail). It is mostly due to its vibrant History going back 2,000 years: The hill (coteau de l'Ermitage) next to the actual city, was firstly inhabited by Celtic people during Antiquity. Agen became an important city during the Roman time and a major religious center with the development of Christianity. During the Hundred Year War, the English and the French continuously struggled over Agen region which became a strategical position. You can still find many beautiful buildings dating from Middle-Age in Agen.
For the food lovers, Agen will also be a spot not to miss. Agen is one of the best towns to enjoy delicious French cuisine at a reasonable price (We will develop more about restaurants later in this article). There are also plenty of family activities to enjoy in the surroundings (wine tasting, climbing, hiking, boating, kayaking, farm visits and whoofing… ) and two attractions parks are situated 10 minutes from Agen (Waligator and Aqualand).
If Agen is a relatively small town, there are plenty of places to visit in the city center. Even though most of the city buildings dates back from 19th and 20th century, there a quite a few medieval streets remaining.
Agen has its preserved 15th-century-style quarter, with timber-framed houses and little cobbled streets. The oldest house that can be found in Agen is the "Maison du Sénéchal", Puits-du-Saumon street (a stone building dating back to the 14th-century).
Among the medieval streets, rue Beauville, a cobbled lane with timber-framed houses (15th century), is the most remarkable. You can also find several ones in Rue Garonne, rue Puits-du-Saumon, rue des Juifs, rue Moncorny...
You should also not miss the famous "Cornières". It was the trade street during the Middle-Age. It is characterized by the covered passages with arcades and stone pillars, that were home to all the main businesses of the town. Most of them are restaurants nowadays.
Lodged in four magnificent Renaissance mansion houses from the 16th century, The museum makes you walk through time and art history. The museum collections show a wide panorama of the history of Art, from Prehistory to the 20th century.
You can find in the museum artworks by prestigious artists such as Goya, Tintoretto, Corot, Sisley, Monet and Picabia, as well as masterpieces from local artists.
The museum also blends historical artworks with contemporary creations. In the above photo, you can see the famous "Venus du Mas" a Gallo-Roman statue discovered in a nearby village.
Last but not least, the museum has a beautiful inner courtyard, where you can have a rest while enjoying the beauty of the surrounding historical buildings.
Opening Hours: Mon, Wed-Sun 11:00-18:00 / Closed on Tuesdays.
Admission fee: 5,90 €
This 13th-century church, now desacralized, is the only vestige of the former Dominican convent (also known as the Jacobins).
The building is used today as an exhibition space for the Fine Arts Museum, and hosts temporary exhibitions. It is worth visiting for both the elegant architecture and the interesting exhibitions.
Opening Hours: Mon, Wed-Sun 11:00-18:00 / Closed on Tuesdays.
Admission fee: 7 € for Jacobins only / Fine Arts Museum + Jacobins 12€
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Canal des deux Mers (Canal of the Two Seas) is a 350 km long man-made navigable waterway linking the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. It is composed of two sections. The first one, The canal du Midi, was built during the 17th century between the Mediterranean sea and Toulouse (Garonne river). The second section, the canal de la Garonne (dating from the mid-19th) is the continuation of the canal du Midi: it links Toulouse to the Atlantic Ocean.
Firstly created for merchant traffic, the Canal is now primarily used for river tourism, including sailing on chartered boats, restaurant-boats, or hotel barges. During the construction of the canal, it was decided to plant trees to stabilize the banks of the canal, especially where it overlooked the surrounding lands. Plane trees are today the dominant variety along the canal. All year long cyclists and walkers share the charming natural environment of the canal banks.
The canal runs along the right bank of the Garonne, crosses the river in Agen via the Pont-Canal (Agen aqueduct), then continues along the left bank. Agen aqueduct is a unique water bridge crossing a river.
To enjoy the canal, you can go for a walk on its banks, or choose to rent a boat. There are boats to rent in the port of Agen (most of the boats do not require a boat driving license). Or you can book boat tours at the Tourism Office (Destination Agen).
Saint-Caprais Cathedral, declared World Heritage by UNESCO, was built in the twelfth century. It is originally designed in the Romanesque style, but Gothic architectural elements were added after.
The bell tower was rebuilt in 1835 and the interior frescoes were painted in the mid-19th century, and depict scenes from the Old and New Testament.
Agen and its region are famous for having one of the best and cheapest food in France. Indeed, the area around Agen is very agricultural, which makes fresh food products more affordable than many other places in France. If you are used to traveling in Paris, you will be very happy to see that you can enjoy delicious French menus for around 15€, and Michelin-starred restaurants for less than 30€! Many local chefs are famous all over France, and you will be able to find in Agen very traditional French restaurants as well as plenty of “Nouvelle cuisine” ones.
Even though you can find restaurants almost everywhere in Agen, there are several areas where most of them are concentrated. One of them is the pedestrian Molinier street, which has a very unique atmosphere.
You can try there the popular Arôme, a family restaurant that serves a unique fusion food that changes according to seasons. You can also find many delicious Bistrot-style restaurants near the Fine-Arts museum. Among them, we suggest Bistrot Voltaire, le Café des Arts (with tables outside on the beautiful square), or l'Aubade (next to a beautiful photo spot, the 13th-century brick Chapel Notre Dame du Bourg).
If you are more into Nouvelle Cuisine, restaurant le Margoton or Acetho are very good choices, near the medieval street rue Beauville. In summer, Acetho serves delicious dishes with homemade salty icecreams (see picture above), with set menus ranging from 17 to 30€.
Les Cornières that we already mentioned above, are also one of the best spots to find delicious restaurants in Agen. The trendiest one are L'Affranchi, La Table des Cornières and Monsieur Jeannot.We particularly love Monsieur Jeannot because it serves delicious homemade traditional French cuisine, only with fresh and local products.
Having lunch there is also a good way to enjoy the Middle-Age Arcade passages of les Cornières. The prices are very reasonable, with set menus (entrée, plat, dessert) at 16€. But the best restaurant in Agen is definitely Mariottat, Michelin starred since 2003. It occupies a magnificent nineteenth-century mansion in the Jacobins area. During the weekdays (for lunchtime), the set menu is only 28€, which makes it much more affordable than any Parisian’s Michelin (but still as good or better than most of them!).
It is impossible to write about Agen without mentioning the famous Pruneaux d’Agen. Agen is actually most renowned for this local specialty. Pruneaux are harvested in the countryside not far from Agen. The tradition dates back from the 12th century when the monks of the Abbaye de Clairac (near Agen) upon their return from the 3rd Crusade, were inspired to graft Damas plums from Syria onto the local varieties. This was the birth of a new variety of plums, known as the Prune d’Ente. By drying the fruits of this tree in the sun, they obtained the first Agen prunes.
Easily stored and packed with energy, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, the Agen plum was immensely popular from the 17th century: they were particularly appreciated by sailors for their flavor and nutrients. Pruneaux has multiple health benefits, such as facilitating intestinal transit, preventing heart disease, promoting intestinal flora...
There are plenty of ways to enjoy Pruneaux: pitted or unpitted with different options of moisture levels (dry, half-cooked prunes...). You can also try plum-based products such as Juices, alcohols, jams... but the most famous sweets made of pruneaux are prunes stuffed with prune cream (pruneaux fourrés à la crème de pruneaux) and chocolate coated pruneaux (pruneaux enrobés au chocolat). Many chefs in Agen restaurants also serve dishes with pruneaux.
You can find pruneaux in several shops in Agen city center, as well as on many local countryside markets. One shop is completely dedicated to prune based products, Maitre Prunille (50 Boulevard d de la République). There are also several pruneaux products sold in the Tourist Office, a well as other delicious local products. If you are still hesitating about which souvenir to bring from Agen, the answer is definitely Pruneaux! But only buy Pruneaux with The protected geographical indication (PGI) that certifies that they come from Agen area and that they were traditionally harvested and manufactured.
Author and Photos: Vincent Sacau
Agen tourism Office "Destination Agen"
Address: 38 rue Garonne, 47000, AGEN
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 9:00–12:30, 14:00–18:00
Website: Click here