Things to Do in Midi-Pyrénées
Saint-Sernin Basilica is an outstanding building in the heart of Toulouse and is notable for being the largest Romanesque building in Europe. For centuries it has welcomed pilgrims walking along the Camino de Santiago, or Way of Saint James.
As the former seat of the Counts of Carcassonne, Carcassonne Citadel (Cité de Carcassonne) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of France’s most visited historic landmarks. Perched on a hilltop above the River Aude, the walled citadel is crowned by the Château Comtal.
Flowing down from the Spanish Pyrenees all the way to France’s Atlantic coast, the Garonne is the most important river of southwestern France. Passing through two major cities—Toulouse and Bordeaux—the Garonne also runs into the Gironde estuary, the largest of its kind in Europe.
Place du Capitole is the main square in Toulouse and home to the impressive Capitole building, a neoclassical masterpiece that serves as the city hall. The square is a huge pedestrianized open space in the heart of Toulouse flanked by sidewalk cafes.
France’s longest and oldest canal, the Canal du Midi is both a feat of civil engineering and a popular sightseeing destination in the southern Occitanie region. Built by engineer Pierre-Paul Riquet in the late 17th century, the 150-mile (240-kilometer) waterway connects the Mediterranean with the Atlantic Ocean via the Garonne Canal.
Toulouse Cathedral, or Cathedrale St-Etienne as it is also known, is an interesting city cathedral with a unique design. With its mixture of architectural styles and lopsided appearance, it presents quite a change from the classic imposing grandeur of French cathedrals.
Les Abattoirs is Toulouse’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Housed in a former slaughterhouse, it’s a must visit for fans of contemporary art. The museum collection is made up of 4,000 works including pieces by Picasso and Dali and temporary exhibitions featuring contemporary artists such as Franz Gertsch, Dado, and Daniel Spoerri.
Albi is a beautiful town roughly 30 miles (50 kilometers from Toulouse whose history is linked to the Crusades against the Cathar heretics. Here you can explore an episcopal town listed as World Heritage by UNESCO and visit Albi Cathedral (Basilique Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile d’Albi, a unique, imposing church. The Palais de la Berbie displays the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Appropriately situated just north of the Toulouse Airport and near the Airbus Factory, the aviation museum Aeroscopia features a wide variety of aviation-related exhibits. Here visitors of all ages can learn about everything from airplane design to air traffic control in a fun and interactive environment.
More Things to Do in Midi-Pyrénées
Although now in ruins, Lastours Castles (Châteaux de Lastours played a major role in the defense of the area during the height of Catharism in the 13th century. The main castle is called Cabaret, and is surrounded by three smaller fortresses. The ruins of a Romanesque church also sit on the site.
The Museum of Augustins, also known as Musée des Beaux-Arts de Toulouse, is one of the oldest museums in France and holds a large collection of both classic and modern art. Its Gothic interior and 14th-century cloisters form a marvelous backdrop for artworks by French masters and other well-known European artists.
The Space City (Cite de l'Espace) lets you realize your dreams of visiting space without having to undergo years of astronaut training. Here, you can explore inside a space station or space rocket; try on a space suit; and experience the sensation of walking on the moon.
Situated inside the Palais de la Berbie, the astounding Toulouse-Lautrec Museum (Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, showcases hundreds of works by artist Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, who was born in the area. Here you'll find over 1,000 artworks credited to the Albi artist along with a temporary exhibition space and an auditorium.
Dating back to the 13th century, the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Cecilia (aka the Albi Cathedral, was built after the Church vanquished the Cathars, whose desire to make a new church was considered heretical. It's filled with interior frescos and houses the Great Moucherel Organ, one of the most beautiful organs in France.
Fronton isn't simply yet another French wine region; far from being ordinary, it’s considered to be one of the oldest wine productions in the country, having started during the Roman Empire. It now covers over 20 municipalities and 5,090 acres (2,060 hectares) of dry, sandy soil that is counterbalanced by sunny weather and high altitude. Located in the valleys overlooking the Tarn River just north of Toulouse, Fronton wines only gained international recognition in the 18th century, once the heavy taxes were lifted on wines going through Bordeaux for export to foreign markets.
Fronton is an appellation (which was once called Côtes du Frontonnais up until 2005) for red and rosé wines made predominantly (at least 50 percent) from Negrette vines, a variety that’s almost endemic to the area, having been enhanced by the mavro grape brought over from Cyprusin the 1300s. Other varieties included in the making of Fronton are a trio of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and syrah, giving the wines distinct aromas of berries as well as spicy overtones. Red Frontons reach their fullness four to seven years after production.
While not the most famous nor the most popular wine appellation in southern France, Cabardès is not one to be overlooked either. Huddled in the arid rolling hills surrounding the medieval fortress of Carcassonne, Cabardès has a surprisingly large array of flavors depending on the climate, as the 1,360-acre (550-hectare) appellation is positioned on the cusp between the Languedoc-Roussillon and Sud-Ouest regions. This duplicity in flavors, aromas, climates and landscapes can easily be perceived in the Cabardès wines, with a noticeable Bordeaux grasp, yet a typically Languedoc depth.
Wine production remained relatively local here until the completion of the Canal du Midi in 1681, which completely revolutionized the winemaking methods in the region, instantaneously making exportation an important part of the game.
But despite Cabardès’ medieval origins, the appellation is one of the youngest in France, having only become official in 1999 – a newborn by oenology standards. The wines are the only ones to mix a minimum of 40 percent Atlantic varieties (like merlot and cabernets) and 40 percent Mediterranean varieties (like syrah and grenache), with the remaining 20 percent consisting of côt and/or fer servadou, a unique composition heightened by the dominant winds of this mountainous region. To this day, there are over 300 winemakers in Cabardès, most of which have wineries and vineyards open to the public.
The neoclassical facade and pediments of the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Daurade are an impressive sight on the riverfront promenade in Toulouse. There’s been a church on this site for over 1,500 years, and there’s plenty of history and intrigue to explore here.
Part of the Haut-Languedoc regional park and the southwestern tip of Massif Central, the Black Mountains (Montagne Noire) are a mountain range that overlaps four French departments: Tarn, Hérault, Haute-Garonne and Aude. The area is called the Black Mountains because of the dense forest that covers its entire northern slope, an extreme contrast with its typically Mediterranean southern slope, capped in scrubland and olive trees.
The Black Mountains culminate at 3,969 feet (1,210 meters) high with Pic de Nore, from which visitors can admire the splendid panorama that extends all the way to the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees on clear days.
The mountains are to several sites of archaeological interest, starting with Grotte de Limousis, the most impressive developed cave in the department. The cave is made up of eight chambers (one of which contains an exceptional formation of aragonite crystal in the shape of a 13-foot-high (4-meter-high) chandelier) and a series of five stalagmite barriers. This cave has been in use since the Prehistoric Age, while close by is the Gouffre de Cabrespine, one of the largest natural caves in the world open to the public. Lastly, the Oppidum de Berniquaut is an archaeological site with history that goes back 30,000 years. A trekking site allows visitors to explore the remains and learn more about life as it was from the Neolithic era to the 13th century.
With its network of underground caverns dotted with dramatic stalactites, stalagmites and draperies, the Pech Merle Cave is a remarkable feat of nature, but the natural wonder is most famous for its prehistoric rock art. Dating back to around 25,000BC, the cave’s fascinating artworks include drawings, paintings and etchings depicting humans, horses, mammoths, bulls and bears.
The impressively preserved images include a red hand stencil, a large red fish and a striking horse’s head, and archeologists estimate that the oldest date from the Gravettian era, while others date from the later Magdalenian culture (around 16,000BC). The cave is one of few of its kind in France open to the public and visitors can learn about the caves at the adjoining museum, before following a 2km long trail to explore the underground galleries.
Situated between Sarlat and Les Eyzies, the imposing Château de Puymartin features a blend of architectural styles spanning centuries. The interiors are full of paintings and stately furniture—you’ll even find a room decorated entirely with grayscale scenes from Greco-Roman mythology.
Join the untold number of travelers who have passed through the Lombrives Cave (Grotte de Lombrives), used by humans as far back as the Neolithic era. The cave system, located near the Spanish border in the Pyrenees, is among the largest in Western Europe and is known for its caverns, rock formations, and crystals.
In the shadow of the hilltop chateau of Rocamadour, Durandal Park offers a different kind of medieval attraction, with a spectacular schedule of equestrian shows. Daring, high-speed tricks and stunts, jousting displays, and medieval reenactments are all performed on horseback, ensuring a thrilling experience for all ages.
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