Everything about the compact town of Lombez oozes history and Gallic charm; its narrow streets are lined with ancient buildings. Discovering it as we did by chance confirms the principal of always taking the slow route – drive along motorways and you miss so much.
Walking through Lombez takes you back to a time when life too was slower; amongst its buildings are images that conjure up the France portrayed by the great artists – rich colours, faded paintwork, closed shutters keeping out hot sunshine.
Dominating the town, the pink and white octagonal bell tower of the fourteenth century cathedral is in ornate contrast to the austere façade of the brick built body of the church. The severity of the style accentuates its height and gives no hint of its splendid interior.
Fine stained glass, some dating back to the 1400s, marble altars, decorative carvings and statues all demand careful exploration and give good reason to linger inside away from the summer heat.
The cathedral is a listed monument historique and preservation work of the exterior was being carried out during our visit. With such an ancient building, work is on-going and there are areas of the interior that still have to be restored, although they do have a special charm and serenity about them that may be lost when renovated.
Stepping back outside, the sun appears to be even brighter than before and gives an excuse to find a bistro for a cold beer. Unlike the UK, where bars and coffee shops crowd the pavements to draw in the visitors, outside the cathedral there are few signs of life and very little traffic. This part of France remains true to its laid-back style and does not woo the tourist: when in Lombez behave like a native - stay calm, slow down, relax.
Lombez is in the Gers region of southwest France, 55km west of Toulouse and within sight of the Pyrenees Mountains.