Agen, the capital of Lot-et-Garonne department, owes its current prosperity to its location between Bordeaux and Toulouse, transport depots, fruit-packing and bureaucracy. The town has developed between the banks of both the Garonne and the Canal lateral to the Garonne. Its inhabitants are called the Agenais.
Agen is a market town with a cluster of narrow streets in its old quarter whose prosperity is based on agriculture – in particular, its famous prunes and plums.
Pruneaux d’Agen - the succulent pruneaux d’Agen, stuffed with marzipan or marinated in cognac, are in a league of their own. The first plums in the area were brought from Damascus by the Crusaders in 1148, and took so well that today some 65% of all French plums come from the Lot-et-Garonne. Most are dried as pruneaux d’Agen using the technique in the region around Agen. Most of them come not from Agen, but from the rich Lot valley between Villeneuve and Aiguillon.
On the south side of boulevard de la République, the main shopping area is around place Wilson, rue Garonne and the partly arcaded place des Laitiers. Rue Voltaire is full of ethnic restaurants.
The public gardens of Le Gravier holds a market every Saturday morning.
This rather staid department capital has one of the finest provincial art museums in France. The Musée Municipal des Beaux-Arts magnificently housed in four adjacent renaissance town houses. The collections include a rich variety of archaeological finds, Roman and medieval, furniture and paintings – among the latter some Goyas and a Tintoretto rediscovered in the museum basement during an inventory in 1997.
The interesting part of Agen centers on place Goya, where boulevard de la République, leading to the river, crosses boulevard du Président-Carnot. For theatre enthusiasts there is a lively municipal theatre in a fin-de-siècle style on the place du Dr-Esquirol. The little thirteenth-century church of Notre-Dame in place du Bourg at the end of rue des Droits-de-l'Homme is also worth a look. Agen also has the 12th century Cathedral of Agen, St. Caprais, dedicated to Saint Caprasius, one of only a few large churches in France with a double nave.
Boating and river trips
Agen is inextricably associated with its waterways, both natural and man-made. They have served as geographical frontiers and have also brought prosperity to the town.
The Garonne Lateral Canal, which runs for 193 kms between Toulouse and Castets en Dorthe. It extended the Canal du Midi to form the Canal des Deux Mers, which links the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean.
The canal is used by passenger boats, hire cruisers and sailing boats. River tourism has revitalised river traffic, as tourists come for the peace and quiet and to enjoy the exceptional natural and historical heritage of Agen.
As well as the modern Lateral canal, the Agen region is at the hub of more than 300km of navigable waterways: from the charming Baise, which takes you right to the edge of the Pyrenees, to the majestic Lot, which will soon be open as far as Conques in the Aveyron.