From the plateau of Aubrac to the Pyrenean peaks and from the infinite space of the great limestone plateaus to the sloping hillsides of Gascony, the wide range of landscapes in the Midi-Pyrenees is the setting for many leisure activities for your holiday in France.
The Midi Pyrenees
The Midi Pyrénées region is situated in the south west of France, bordered by Aquitaine and the Atlantic to the west and the Pyrenees and the Spanish border to the south. It stretches as far north as the mountains of the Auvergne and east to the neighbouring region of Languedoc-Roussillon.
Toulouse is both the regional capital and the centre of the aerospace industry in France. It is a lively, southern, cosmopolitan city, rich in art and architecture with a fine old quarter and an ancient university.
Albi lies above the Tarn Valley, dominated by its great red brick cathedral. It is the birthplace of the painter Toulouse-Lautrec and the museum there houses many of his works. About 24 km NW of Albi, is Cordes, a walled mediaeval town with 13th and 14th century Gothic buildings and a market hall with a fine timber roof. Many artists have settled there and it is worth a detour.
The old town of Cahors stands on a bend of the River Lot. It has a relaxed atmosphere, good shopping and an excellent market. The Cahors vineyards stretch along the river valley to the south.
The oak woods and walnut groves, river valleys and limestone cliffs topped with ancient fortified towns and villages of the north, give way to the open, hilly green farming country of Gascony.
Auch, the former capital of Gascony, lies in the heart of the Armagnac region. The old town is built high above the River Gers and approached by narrow roads and long flights of stone steps. In every direction from Auch, the main roads and country lanes take you through the villages of this deeply rural part of the region, many of which are worth exploring.
Life in the mountain villages and farms of the Pyrenees has remained largely unchanged. Their southern climate means that it can be warm and sunny from as early as February. Roads are good and generally well sign-posted, although snow lies on the higher peaks until May and some of the highest passes may be closed.
The food of the Midi is hearty and generous and makes full use of the great variety of local produce farmed and grown here. Good soups, particularly in the north, and garlic, walnut oil, truffles, wild mushrooms and chestnuts and an abundance of vegetables form the basis of many dishes together with goose, duck and chicken fed on maize and corn, and lamb roasts and casseroles.
Further south, the cooking of Gascony is based on goose fat or oil flavoured with garlic, shallots, and spices. Goose and duck farms produce foie gras, which is then sold fresh or made into pate and terrines. Nothing is wasted, and the rest of the bird is made into confits, preserves used to make stew and soups. Other dishes include pot-roasted beef and lamb, civet of hare and wild goat from the Haute-Pyrenees. There is a wide range of fish from the mountain lakes and streams and cured hams and sausages.
There are a variety of blue cheeses, Pyrenean mountain cheeses made from goat, ewe and cows' milk, and cabacou, a small soft cheese made from a mixture of the three.
Good fruit tarts, plum and apple pastries and cakes, fritters and thick pancakes filled with fruit. Excellent chocolates.
Madrian and Juran are wines are made in small quantities and the Armagnac brandies are produced in the area between Auch and Condom. Floc is a brandy-based wine and a very local aperitif.
If you wish to spend an active holiday in France, the Midi Pyrenees is good cycling country and there are cycle hire places in larger towns and cities. The Pyrenees are ideal for mountain biking and walking and there are white water rafting and rock-climbing centres.
Flying, gliding and microlighting are available at several small airfields. If you like horse riding there are numerous riding centres, and treks can be taken through the mountains accompanied by experienced guides. There is a good choice of golf courses throughout the region, easily accessible and inexpensive.
There are markets in most towns and villages on different days of the week. Rugby is a passion and in Toulouse important matches are played regularly.
Downhill and cross-country skiing can be had in the Pyrenees in the winter months.
A cross between Atlantic Maritime and Mediterranean. Early springs, long hot summers and short mild winters when it can be drizzly. Good snow cover in the higher Pyrenees until May.