Situated between the mountains to the South, the Mediterranean to the East and Bordeaux to the North-West, Midi-Pyrenees is a vast region made of up eight separate departments. It is mostly rural and has one of the lowest population densities in France. The exception to this is the capital, Toulouse, which a bustling city full of industry, metropolitan urbanites and a magnet for young people to begin their careers. Toulouse is a hugely prosperous city, wages are high, the population is young and the lifestyle is fast and furious. However within just a few minutes’ drive the pace changes dramatically to a peaceful idyll inhabited by an older and slower paced generation.
The region is symbolised by its three main characters; the planes that are made in Toulouse, the mountains and the game of rugby. South Western France is the hotspot for rugby and the fans are fanatical and it known as the land of the oval ball or “Pays de l'Ovalie” for nothing.
Getting there gives visitors from the UK three sensible options. You can drive down the peage (autoroutes) and take in a stop or two along the way, fly to Toulouse or make use of the excellent French railway network. Overnight sleepers are great idea to help the journey pass quickly. A drive from the north coast is several hours so do take precautions and plan a spot to rest overnight if you feel you need to.
The region has many facets that attract visitors. The Pyrenees obviously dominate the southern end of the region and provide a stunning backdrop for winter activities as well as summer walks. The rivers Lot and Garonne are popular with canal boat enthusiasts, canoeists and those who simply love the dramatic cliff laden scenery that runs alongside them. Medieval turrets point sharply to the skies all long the rivers hosted by numerous villages for of charm and welcoming terraces from which to enjoy a cool drink and soak up the ambience. The weather is a big feature too, summers are long and hot and spring and autumn are more than pleasantly warm although the mistral can can change things rapidly.
Given its high percentage of rural covering it’s no surprise that agriculture and food production play a key role in the life of those who live there. Midi Pyrenees is famous for its pates, hams, dairy, cheese and vegetables. It also produces some delicious wines from Gascony, that are robust and a perfect accompaniment for the world renowned Toulouse sausages. Burgundy may be “the belly of France” but Midi Pyrenees is a feast in so many ways with all the wonderful, fresh local produce that it has to hand.
The main tourist attraction away from natural features is the town of Lourdes, famous for the visions that appeared before Saint Bernadette. Such is the popularity of the town that only Paris has more than the near 300 hotels within its walls. This modest town with just 15,000 people living there attracts up to 5,000,000 visitors every year.
Midi-Pyrenees provides much natural beauty and tranquillity. It’s a gutsy, hot, dramatic and yet peaceful place outside of Toulouse and can provide a stunning backdrop for an active or totally relaxing break. The choice is yours and whichever option you take this huge and varied region has something to offer, something very special indeed.