The Midi-Pyrenees region is in the south of France, and, as its name suggests, is part of and bordering the magnificent Pyrenees mountain ranges. It is flanked, east and west by Languedoc-Roussillon and Aquitaine, and to the north by Limousin and the Auvergne. It now forms part of the Occitanie region.
Is the Midi-Pyrenees worth visiting?
The most remarkable feature of the Midi-Pyrenees is its amazing diversity. Bordered in the south by the Pyrenees, a kind of natural sleeping policeman between France and Spain. Its rugged mountains soar to more than 10,000 feet, though the landscapes ease northwards across the fertile scenery of Haute-Garonne to Gers and the Lot valley.
Mountains, rather less in stature, appear again, in Aveyron in the north-west, where the rippling Roussillon heights of the volcanic Aubrac mountains are popular with skiers, snowboarders and snow-shoers.
The slopes also provide summertime grazing pastures for some of the finest cattle in France, which in turn produce the milk for the famed Roquefort cheeses.
From the Aubrac to the undulating landscape of the Parc Naturel Régional des Grands Causses in the south, Aveyron is a hummocky place of contrasts and many stories. In the west lie a group of fortified medieval communities designed for defence, law and order – the bastides towns.
In the south-east the towns and villages have strong links with the Knights Templar. In the centre, lies the great cathedral city of Rodez from which roads splay out like the spokes of a wheel leading to all parts of the département.
Things to do in Midi-Pyrenees
There is a popular misconception that to see chateaux you need to go to the Loire. While that is certainly true, the Loire by no means has a monopoly on all things chateau-esque. The Midi-Pyrenees can boast no fewer than 16 castles or stately homes.
Throw in a dozen or more excellent museums, like the fabulous new Toulouse Lautrec Museum in Albi as well as numerous parks and gardens, such as the Pyrenean Animal Park in Argelès-Gazoste, where you can spend a night with wolves and you can see the different things to do in Midi-Pyrenees.
But there are also 10 grottoes and subterranean sites and almost 50 picturesque towns and villages, including many that rank among the ‘Best villages to visit in France‘, and suddenly the realisation dawns that this region is one of the most outstanding and touristically versatile in France.
Places to visit in Midi-Pyrenees
It would be a pity to come to Midi-Pyrénées only to visit the ‘Must See’ sites, but equally it would be a shame to come and miss them!
There are unmissable towns and villages: Toulouse, the “Pink City”; Albi, birthplace of Toulouse-Lautrec; Rodez, renowned for its superb museum…and the stunning bastide towns of Aveyron. And don’t forget Montpellier which isn’t too far away.
There are also unforgettable natural sites: Pic du Midi d’Ossau; the observatory on the Pic du Midi de Bigorre and the Cirque de Gavarnie.
Don’t forget the Lot valley and the amazing the Tarn gorges. For those who want to see the traditional France there there are sites and villages that defy time and history: Rocamadour; Cordes sur Ciel; Marciac; Montségur.
There are Midi-Pyrenees towns of art and history, such as Figeac and Montauban, full of treasures and the glories of the past, as well as man’s own creations, like the Canal du Midi.
How to get to Midi-Pyrenees
Many trains go to the Midi-Pyrénées, two of which are high-speed TGV trains:
Paris-Toulouse: 5 hours (5 TGV trains daily)
Paris-Tarbes: 5 hours (4 TGV trains daily)
For further information, and to plan your trip, check prices and make bookings:
Rail Europe (www.raileurope.co.uk):
Tel: 08448 484 064; email@example.com
French Motorail Reservations:
08448 484 050; firstname.lastname@example.org
Information/Bookings/Sales: Direct line 33 (0)892 35 35 35
For US toruists there are several airports in Midi-Pyrenees with connecting flights from the UK:
Toulouse-Blagnac Airport from:
Dublin: Aer Lingus
Leeds Bradford: Jet2.com
London Gatwick: British Airways; EasyJet
Airport information: Tel: 01 70 46 74 74; www.toulouse.aeroport.fr
The airport is just 9.5km/6 miles from the centre of Toulouse and the journey takes approximately 20 minutes, depending on traffic conditions.
A shuttle service runs daily (including Sunday) every 20 minutes (Société Courriers de la Garonne: Ticket office outside airport at ‘ARRIVALS’, C entrance: Tel: 05 34 60 64 00)
Rodez / Marcillac Airport
From London Stansted and Dublin : Ryanair
Airport Information: Tel: 05 65 42 20 30; www.aeroport-rodez.fr
Located halfway (6 miles) between Lourdes and Tarbes and just 45 minutes from the Hautes-Pyrénées ski resorts (with daily Air France connections from Orly Airport in Paris).
Seasonal charter flights from Dublin, London Stansted and Manchester, as well as more links from Britain and Ireland on occasional charter flights.
Airport Information: Tel: 05 62 32 92 22; www.tlp.aeroport.fr/en/voyageur
Brieve Vallee de la Dordogne Airport
From London City: CityJet
Airport Information: Tel: 05 55 22 40 00; www.aeroport-brive-vallee-dordogne.com
A20: towards Cahors, Brive, Limoges and Paris
A61: towards Montpellier, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Geneva and Barcelona
A62: towards Bordeaux, Nantes, Paris and Rennes
A64: towards Tarbes, Lourdes, Pau, Bayonne, St-Sébastien, Bilbao and Madrid
A66: towards Pamiers and Foix
A68: towards Albi and Rodez
A75: towards Béziers, Clermont-Ferrand and Millau
Visit the Pyrenees National Park
The Pyrenees, as a range of mountains, spread from coast-to-coast across France, from the Atlantic to the Med, and it will take many visits to get to know them intimately, not that you should allow that to be a deterrent.
This is a spectacular, protected environment, a realm with the tang of wild places, a place of untold plant life and more than 70 species of animals, including the curious and elusive desman. The mountain runs coast-to-coast across southern France along the frontier with Spain, although the national park is a much smaller area south of Pau and Tarbes.
Why visit the Pyrénées?
• Not so far away as you would think.
• Great family resorts.
• Stunning scenery, unspoilt villages, authentic French atmosphere.
• For winter sports activists there has been recent massive investments in high speed lift systems, snow cannons, pistes maintenance.
• A wide range of recently built quality accommodation, including many superb hotels.
• Spa Culture – focussing on well-being which creates a more peaceful and relaxing atmosphere.
• With groceries, bar drinks and restaurant meals, ski school and equipment hire also cheaper, the savings can be huge.
• Great value for money, and
…it’s an all-year-round location!
To begin an exploration, start with the great swathe of high ground that was created a National Park in 1967, with the specific aim of preserving the beauty of this magnificent environment. It covers an area of 176 square miles, and varies in width from less than a mile to more than 9 miles; it ranges in altitude from 1,000m/3,250ft to 3,298m/10,820ft.
The Pyrenees National Park is surrounded by a peripheral area of 765 square miles, embracing almost 90 municipalities in the Hautes-Pyrénées and Pyrénées-Atlantiques departments. This massive zone is a kind of buffer, focused on developing and enhancing the pastoral economy.
The Park is a superb habitat for wildlife, notably izards, a kind of chamois, marmots and brown bears, although the few remaining bears are now very difficult to locate. But the skies above are the place to see the massive griffon vulture, eagles and bearded vulture.
For the mountaineer, this is a paradise; for the skier likewise, with numerous ski resorts niched into the valleys and high cirques.