A guide to the Midi-Pyrenees region
many regions of France Midi-Pyrénées
is not a historic province. It is actually a 20th century invention,
created as a result of the "regionalisation" process that took place in
the 1970s. Like the Pays de la Loire region further north,
Midi-Pyrénées was established in order to create
a region around a
regional metropolis, in this case the city of Toulouse.
The modern Midi-Pyrenees region
encompasses all or
a large part of different historic areas, including parts of the large
former provinces of Guyenne,
Gascony, and Languedoc,
and smaller areas, within these larger areas, such as Rouergue and Quercy,
and the county of Foix.
largest region in France:
the largest region in
France, in terms of surface area, and equal largest in terms of the
number of departments covered. It incorporates eight departments, which
are Ariège (09), Aveyron (12), Haute-Garonne
(31), Gers (32),
(46), Hautes-Pyrénées (65), Tarn
(82). The region covers a total surface area of 45,348
making it larger than either Belgium or Switzerland; and stretching
some 400 kilometres from north-east to south-west, it is not
surprisingly a region that somehow lacks any strong regional identity.
Within this region, towns and traditions tend to identify themselves
more with the historic provinces to which they once belonged, than to
the modern-day region.
towns and cities
The city of Toulouse, lying more or
less in the
centre of the region, is by far the biggest city. Although this is the
largest region in France, over a third of the entire population live in
the Toulouse urban area, and the Haute Garonne department, surrounding
Toulouse, accounts for well over 40% of the regional population. The
region's second largest urban area, surrounding the city of Tarbes,
capital of the Hautes Pyrenees department, is ten times smaller than
the Toulouse urban area. The only other towns with a population of over
40,000 are Montauban, Albi and Castres.
From all the above, it is not too hard
understand that Midi Pyrénées is essentially a
rural area. In fact,
apart from the Toulouse hub, it is a very rural area (just 54
inhabitants per sq. km, half the national average), and the leading
agricultural region in France. Stretching from the Massif Central in
the north east, to the Pyrenees in the south, it is an area that
includes a wide diversity of agricultural land and production. The
lower lying area in the Haute Garonne, Gers and Tarn departments is one
of the richest and most productive agricultural areas of France,
producing a variety of crops including maize, sunflowers and wheat. But
recent dry summers have begun to cause a rethinking about the viability
of growing maize in the region, as it is a crop that needs copious
watering in this southern climate.
in the rural Ariège Pyrenees
also has sizeable vineyards, such as in the areas round Gaillac, north
of Toulouse, and the Armagnac area, which lies partly in
Midi-Pyrenees, partly in Aquitaine.
However this is not one of France's greatest wine producing areas.
The southern and northeastern parts of
are very different from the plains. While traditional houses on the
low-lying land have a classic southern-European look, with red "roman"
tiles on their roofs, those in the higher regions look very different,
with their roofs of slate or "lozes" - thin slabs of stone.
northeast from Toulouse, and after Albi, a beautiful little city on the
Tarn, the road rises towards the Ségala and the
villages here look very different. This is a region of gently rolling
hills and valleys, and livestock farming. Cattle in the lower area, but
increasingly sheep farming as one moves further up into the "Causses",
fairly dry limestone plateaux famous as the production area of France's
most famous cheese,
Roquefort (a blue
cheese made from ewe's milk). In the extreme north of the Aveyron
department, the land rises to about 1200 metres, the southern flank of
the Aubrac moors, a fairly desolate area of the southern Massif
Central, where the granite rocks are never far below the surface.
At the southern end of the region, the
rising to over 3000 metres on the Spanish border, offer all the
attractions of a high mountain area - in both summer and winter. This
is real mountain country, where wooded foothills give way
to mountain pastures and open terrain at higher altitudes.
area is popular with skiers in winter, and with ramblers and other
outdoor enthusiasts in the summer months; it also containes one of the
few National Parks in France., as well as the world-famous pilgrimage
centre of Lourdes.
train (TGV) from Paris Gare Montparnasse or Gare de Lyon. Express train
from Paris gare d'Austerlitz. For train tickets and timetables, visit Rail
car from the UK, via any of the Channel ports, from
Roscoff (Brittany) to Calais. See route map from
is one of the best served of France's regional airports. There are also
airports at Lourdes, and Rodez with flights from London. See Flights
tourist attractions in
The historic centre of Albi
a UNESCO world heritage site, dominated by its unique mediaeval
fortified St. Cecelia's cathedral.
The High Pyrenees National Park
Famous fortified mediaeval bridge over the Lot, at Cahors
Photos on this page, copyright
except for the Rocamadour and High Pyrenees pictures, which
published under the GNU licence.
(31), Regional capital; the "Ville rose", or pink city, on
of the warm colour of the local brick. Cathedral, Canal du Midi, Place
du Capitole. Musée des Augustins.
world heritage site
- Historic city on the Tarn, with a unique mediaeval redbrick fortified
cathedral. Also the Toulouse Lautrec art gallery, old town, and
riverscape on the Tarn. More
(81). Goya museum, with a major collection of Spanish art.
sur Ciel. (81) Small mediaeval town perched dramatically
on a hilltop above the river Cérou.
(65) genteel town in the foothills of the Pyrenees
(65) The most famous Catholic pilgrimage centre in France, where the
Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant girl in1858
National Park (65) spectacular area of high mountain,
including the Cirque de Gavarnie.
(09) historic capital of the Ariège, with
capital of the Rouergue. Large 14th century cathedral, old
centre. Musée Fénaille with world class
collection of prehistoric
carved menhirs. Soulages
with 500 works by contemporary master Pierre Soulages
visit the caves, where the famous cheese is matured.
(12) The Millau
viaduct, the world's highest road bridge.
Couvertoirade (12) Old fortified village of the Knights
Templar, on the Larzac plateau
(12) One of the finest romanesque churches in France, with
remarkable sculptures. (UNESCO world heritage site). See gallery Conques
(46) The capital city of the Lot department is famous for its old
streets and its unusual fortified mediaeval bridge.
(46) : Haut Quercy railway. Scenic railway, 6.5 km long,
offering steam trains most days from mid July to end of August.
(12) Centre for the Gorges du tarn and the the
Larzac plateau. Remarkable modern motorway viaduct, the highest motorway bridge
(46): A major pilgrimage and tourist site, this small town
clings to the side of the Alzou canyon, in the Lot department.
Cirq Lapopie (46) :
beautiful and unscathed historic village in the valley of the Lot.
Certainly worth a visit - but very crowded in peak summer season.
- Bastide towns:
Many of these famous fortified medieval towns are in this