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Midi-Pyrenees

Midi-Pyrenees

Midi-Pyrenees is the largest by area of all the recently formed French regions and is composed of a number of former French provinces. Bordered on the south by the Pyrenees mountain range it is centred on the capital Toulouse, a prosperous metropolitan area.

In terms of population, the Toulouse area is by far the most densely populated whereas most of the region is sparsely populated consisting of hilly landscapes and quiet roads. Although a variety of languages was once spoken here, nowadays French predominates and traces of dialect only survive in accent and some vocabulary.

Some traditions do remain, as can be found in the numerous markets held throughout the region. These are used by local craftsmen to sell their products, for example the Laguiole cutlers with their knives decorated with the bee symbol.

With a temperate climate of warm to hot summers and regular rainfall it is an important agricultural region. A wide diversity of crops is grown including maize, wheat and the ubiquitous sunflower! There are also some extensive vineyards. Though not generally considered the most prestigious in France, they nevertheless include the Gaillac, one of the oldest in the country and the world famous Armagnac.

The region’s higher ground and hillier areas are used for rearing livestock, notably cattle and sheep. The ‘Causses’, dry limestone plateaux , are famous for the production of the renowned Roquefort, a blue cheese made from ewe’s milk. In rural communities it is a local tradition to hold fairs which coincide with shepherds taking their sheep to pasture.

The position of the Midi-Pyrenees between the Atlantic and Mediterranean has contributed to its trading strength. Transport links are by TGV or Toulouse-Blagnac airport which serves the UK via several carriers. The Canal du Midi traverses the region, passing through Toulouse and allowing access to other locations of the south of France.

The region’s proximity to the Pyrenees makes it an ideal location for lovers of outdoor activities. The all year round attractions will appeal to winter sport enthusiasts, ramblers and anglers to mention a few. It is also possible to gain access to the Pyrenees National Park.

In this part of the region is situated the world famous pilgrimage and religious tourism centre, Lourdes. Since the first report of the appearance of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1858 the small town has steadily expanded. It now receives approximately five million visitors a year and a large number of hotels has been built to accommodate them.

In addition to the many shrines and grotto, the town has an ancient fortress with an interesting history.
The other major tourist attraction of the Midi-Pyrenees is the old pilgrimage town of Rocamadour in its amazing gorge setting. Thousands of tourists come every year to view its historic monuments. The town’s name is also given to a type of goats’ milk cheese.

The historic town of Albi on the banks of the River Tarn is the hometown of Toulouse-Lautrec, born in 1864. The Musee de Toulouse-Lautrec, housed in the recently refurbished Palais de la Berbie, has the largest collection of the painter’s work in the world. You can see over 1000 of his paintings and various art forms along with some by other well-known French artists. A beautiful town in its own right, Albi’s buildings are constructed of hand-made bricks which give the town a reddish-pink appearance. Its attractiveness is further enhanced by the traffic-free medieval centre.

The capital of Midi-Pyrenees and the only urban area of any size is Toulouse, an important university city with a large student population. Situated on the River Garonne, this is the region’s manufacturing heartland with several important industries, notably food processing, aerospace and its associated technologies. Famous as the French home of the iconic Concorde, it is now producing the Airbus.

The ‘Cite de l’Espace’ gives visitors an insight to the area’s link with space exploration.
On the cultural side, Toulouse has a plethora of museums and galleries to suit all tastes. For lovers of ballet and opera there is the long established Theatre du Capitole. You will also find an abundance of religious buildings including the largest Romanesque church in Europe, the Saint Sernin Basilica with its distinctive tower.

On the other hand, you will find a bustling area of shopping streets and markets, not to mention a lively night life. Toulouse is also the home of Stade Toulousain which some consider the best rugby union team in Europe.

Getting around Toulouse is made easy by making use of the Metro with its automatic trains, opened in 2007 or by taking advantage of the VeloToulouse, the cycle rental scheme.

One of the highlights of visiting the Midi-Pyrenees is its gastronomy. The regon produces some internationally famous local delights such as foie gras and the rare white truffle. Popular regional dishes include cassoulet, made with Toulouse sausage; aligot (mashed potato with cheese); garbure (soup made with cabbage and confit of goose. Something else to try is gateau a la broche which is cooked on a spit.

Whether your preference is for wide open spaces or lively city life, you cannot fail to be impressed by the enticing mix this extensive region has to offer.

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