Midi-Pyrénées – nature and heritage
Come and discover the largest region in mainland France! Preserved landscapes and open spaces, villages full of character, historic sites and wonderful cuisine... the Midi-Pyrénées region has so much to offer.
Philippe Panis has been manager of the INTER-HOTEL Les Peyrières in Olemps, a 3-star hotel near Rodez, since 1974. "It started out as a coffee shop set up by my parents and I took over the business a short time afterwards. We have worked hard to transform it into a friendly, welcoming hotel and restaurant," explains Philippe. Completely smitten with his region, which he considers to be "one of the most beautiful in France", he delights in saying that "it's all worth seeing" and that there are "tonnes of things to do".
According to Philippe, the department of Aveyron is "in the middle of nowhere but well worth a visit". To start with, the hotelier talks about Rodez and the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Its bell tower, which stands 285 feet tall, serves as a point of reference for visitors wanting to discover the 2,000-year-old city. He then moves on to the Rodez Soulages museum: "When it opens in 2014, it will be an unmissable tourist destination". It will be home to the work of the contemporary artist, Pierre Soulages.
A little further away, near Saint-Affrique, "the Millau Viaduct is not to be missed," adds Philippe. At 1,125 feet high, it stands taller than the Eiffel Tower and is the tallest viaduct in the world. In the department of Lot stands the historic town of Cahors and its symbolic Valentré bridge. Built on a peninsula, it's overflowing with architectural treasures and gardens. Take a tour and discover its secrets. And don't forget the town of Figeac, considered to be one of the most beautiful detours in France. The town of Souillac has an automata museum with a collection of mechanical models and toys from the 19th and 20th centuries, the only one of its kind in Europe. And take a moment to admire Loubressac, a short distance from Rocamadour, one of the most beautiful views from the Lot river. This village actually overlooks the Dordogne, Cère and Bave valleys.
Further south, in the department of Ariège, make sure you visit Foix castle. Built in the 19th century, it was the residence of the Counts of Foix for many years. Head back north and visit Castres. Nicknamed the "Little Venice of Languedoc", you can marvel at the houses along the Agoût river, emblems of the town. They are built on top of stone cellars, which open directly into the river. They were once the workshops of dyers, tanners and the like. Not far from there, Albi invites you to explore its Episcopal City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sainte-Cécile Cathedral, the largest brick cathedral in the world, and the Berbie Palace are two must-see monuments.
Continue your journey towards Tarbes, near Odos, and take a stroll through the Massey garden, a landscape garden designed by the famous botanist. Last but not least, nature lovers will be delighted to learn that the Midi-Pyrénées region has more than 350 miles of marked trails. In Philippe's opinion, his region is the "perfect place to unwind in a green setting".
The pink city: Toulouse
If you fancy staying in Midi-Pyrénées and discovering its cultural and scientific heritage, make sure you visit Toulouse, the so-called "pink city". The second major capital in the south of France, along with Marseilles, the city has successfully developed an unusual form of tourism, attracting those with a scientific mind with its aviation and aerospace industry. Seize the opportunity to visit the Airbus A380 production sites. The Cité de l'Espace theme park will delight young and old alike. But Toulouse has much more to offer as you walk around its streets, including the Capitole, the Basilica of St. Sernin and the Pont Neuf, considered to be one of the most beautiful bridges in France. The Gascon city conveys its identity through the names of its streets, all translated into the Occitan language, as well as through its many cafés, where you are guaranteed a warm welcome. Outside of the city centre, you can walk along the banks and the harbours of the Garonne, now classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The town of Labège-Innopole was, like Toulouse, famous for its pastel trade. The Renaissance style villas and townhouses, with their many towers, which were once a sign of power and wealth, are the final vestiges of this former industry.
Get sporty in Midi-Pyrénées
Sporty types will love the Midi-Pyrénées region for the many opportunities to take part in activities in a natural environment, including kayaking and rafting. Canoeing down the gorges of the Tarn river is a great way to discover the surrounding countryside. Enjoy family outings, on horseback or by bike, at the relaxed pace of the region and rediscover the authenticity of times past.
The region's countryside is perfect for walking, including the Hautes-Pyrénées, with the Pyrénées National Park and the Tarbes region. There's nothing quite like a bike ride on the Larzac pass or in the Rance valley, surrounded by a number of watercourses. And if you prefer something more underground, there are plenty of caves and other geological formations. The Lacave caves in Souillac, which can be accessed by train, are a particularly fine example.
Near there, the Préhistologia park, the largest life-size reconstruction of prehistoric subjects, will teach you all you need to know about the habitat and lifestyles of the people who lived during that time.
Varied regional cuisine
"Although people from the region can seem shy to start with, don't believe it... Once the ice is broken, they are extremely welcoming and sincere, people who will be only too happy to share with you the flavours of the region," says Philippe. He adds that "people eat very well" in his region. There are many delicacies to try, such as duck confit, aligot, tripoux, foie gras, Chassel de Moissac, or, for something sweet, Boulets de Montauban, sweets consisting of a hazelnut covered in chocolate. You can even try some of these specialities in the hotel restaurant.
Come and experience the countless charms, local flavour and nature of Midi-Pyrénées. Go on!