How to Get The Most Out of Your Visit To The Midi-Pyrenees

Your Visit to The Midi-Pyrenees

 

If you want to discover the best of the Midi-Pyrenees in France read on for our recommendations on safety, driving, weather, things to do and where to stay to make the most of your visit.

With so many regions in France vying for the tourist $$$ how do you ensure that you have chosen the right French destination.

France ranks the #1 country to visit each year and its capital Paris ranks in the top #3.

When someone mentions France to you what images first come to mind? For us, it is the French cuisine, Champagne and Rose wine, hot summer days in the countryside sailing down the canals, smiling sunflowers fields as far as the eye can see, quaint sleepy villages and the most aromatic markets in Europe.

We ticked off all of these images on our time spent in the Midi-Pyrenees.  To say it is a spectacular destination of France is an understatement.

The Midi-Pyrenees is famous for:

  • the famous Pyrenees Mountain Range
  • Canal du Midi
  • Niaux and Peche-Merle Caves
  • picturesque villages
  • medieval fortified towns
  • hiking trails
  • snowfields
  • Castles
  • Aqueducts
  • Museums
  • Festivals
  • Markets
  • Local cuisine
  • Wines and Armagnac

With so much to offer the Midi-Pyrenees is a perfect destination summer or winter. You can spend your days’ sightseeing, biking, hiking or skiing and then in the evening relax over a glass or two of local wine and enjoy the seasonal delights of the local cuisine.

Is it Safe to Travel to France and the Midi-Pyrenees?

Over the past years, one of the most often asked questions travellers have been asking is whether France is safe to travel to these days?

In 2018 89 million tourists visited France.  Yes, 89 million compared to 85 million back in 2013.  It does seem that the recent terrorist attacks have not deterred the traveller.

Since 2013 we have stayed in Paris twice, sailed down the Canal du Lateral, enjoyed 2 weeks sipping champagne in the Champagne region, spent time in Nice, Cannes and Marseille and spent 3 weeks in the Midi-Pyrenees.  Like those millions of travellers before us we were not put off by the terror threats or attacks.

 

Where is the Midi-Pyrenees

Your visit to the Midi-Pyrenees

Midi-Pyrenees Map Courtesy of www.map-france.com

The Midi-Pyrenees lies in the South West region of France between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.  It is the largest region of France with Toulouse being its Capital. Toulouse is located in the Haute-Garonne department.

There are 8 departments.  France is divided into regions first then departments.  The 8 departments of the Midi-Pyrenees are:

  • Ariege
  • Aveyron
  • Haute-Garonne
  • Gers
  • Lot
  • Haute-Pyrenees
  • Tarn
  • Tarn-et-Garonne

 

Midi Pyrenees Sun Flowers

We love the smiley happy faces of sunflowers in bloom

 

Midi-Pyrenees Facts

  • It has the largest number of farms in all of France numbering approximately 60,000
  • The region is larger than Belgium or Switzerland
  • The highest mountain is 3,000 metres and there are 38 ski resorts
  • The Canal du Midi runs for 149 miles through the region with 63 locks
  • The town of Lourdes lies in the region.  It is the #2 visited site in France outside Paris.  It is a famous religious pilgrimage where the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant girl in 1858.
  • The major aircraft corporation Airbus has its global headquarters there
  • The first flight of the Airbus A380 took place over Toulouse
  • It is famous for Foie Gras, Black Truffles, Roquefort Cheese and Cassoulet – the meat and bean casserole
  • It contains the Gaillac Vineyard which is one of the oldest in France and is famous for its white wine
  • It also contains the most famous Vineyard – Armagnac which is well known for its French Brandy

 

What You Need To Know To Make The Most Out of Your Visit to the Midi-Pyrenees

  1.  Currency: France uses the Euro. Notes come in 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and Coins 2, 1, 50 cents, 10 cents, 5 cents, 2 cents, 1 cent.
  2. ATMs: In France ATMs are called ‘distributeur’.  We would recommend only using ATMs that have a camera if it is an outside machine or otherwise during the week use the ATMs located within the bank building. If you are travelling through the country-side and visiting small villages we would recommend that you have some Euros with you as Banks may be limited. There will be a fee to withdraw cash from your cards – we would recommend that you source the banks where you are travelling to and find out the cost of cash withdrawals from their ATMs.
  3. Language: French is the official language, in the Midi-Pyrenees Catalan dialects are spoken.  You will find most French people in the tourism industry speaks English but in Paris and regions  you will need to know some French language basics.
  4. Voltage: Standard voltage is 230V.  You will need a travel adaptor.

 

Why we were in the Midi-Pyrenees

We were on a housesitting assignment in a small village called Encausse in the Gers Region, 34km from Toulouse, during the summer months of July and August when the sunflower fields were in full bloom. Housesitting gives you the opportunity to enjoy living like a local.  The homeowners gave us the use of one of their cars as the village was quite a distance from a supermarket.

Tips for Driving in France

  1.  In France you drive on the right
  2.  Most rental cars are manual.
  3.  You will see speed limit signs on the major motorways.  When you arrive into a small town or village as soon as you pass the Town’s Name the speed limit is 50km.
  4.  In villages and towns you need to give way to the right when vehicles are coming out of side roads.
  5.  If you are going to drive on toll-roads check with the car rental firm about payment.
  6. With effect from 1st July 2018 the speed limit on A and B roads have been reduced to 80km.
  7.  Ensure that you know the regulations about drink driving.  If you have held your license for less than 3 years the limit is 0.2 grams per litre and over 3 years it is 0.5 grams per litre.

Weather

The summer months between June and August are the busiest times to visit the Midi-Pyrenees.  During this period accommodation costs will be higher than the rest of the year except for Christmas and Easter.

Summer temperatures can be very high and winter temperatures can be very low with snow on the Mountain Ranges.  The Midi-Pyrenees’ weather is influenced by the Massif Central Mountains to the North and the Pyrenees to the South. The first snow is expected around October.

The Spring and Autumn months are ideal for travellers.

Best Places To Visit in the Midi – Pyrenees

Toulouse

Your Visit to the Midi-Pyrenees

Wander the side streets of Toulouse

Toulouse, the Capital of the Midi-Pyrenees is also known as “La Ville Rose” or the “Pink City” named because of the colour of the terracotta bricks used in many of its buildings.

Toulouse is an ideal location in South Western France being only 1 hour from the Atlantic Ocean and 1 hour from the Mediterranean Sea.  Those who enjoy winter sports will be pleased to know that there are 47 ski resorts within a 3 hours drive from Toulouse.

If you have had a French dish called ‘cassoulet’ a bean and meat stew, this classic french dish originated in Toulouse.

Toulouse has 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Canal du Midi and the Basilica of St Sernin.

One of the top tourist attractions in Toulouse is the Capitole du Toulouse. It dates back to the 12th Century and houses the City Hall and the 1,256 seat Theatre Du Captiole. It is free to visit.

A great way of seeing Toulouse is travelling on the open top bus.  The journey takes about 70 minutes. Journey through the old town and admire the main churches of the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse (Toulouse Cathedral) and Basilica of Saint-Sernin. Pass the Renaissance façade of the Hôtel d’Assézat, where the art gallery of the Bemberg Foundation contains a stunning collection of 19th and 20th-century French paintings.

Click here for more details.

If you only have a day in Toulouse a 2.5-hour walking tour may be of interest. You will enjoy a history lesson and local tips when you wander the banks of the Garonne River with your guide as well as a visit to the Basilica of Saint-Sernin.

The Toulouse City Card is available for 24, 48 or 72 hours. With the card you can get free entry to museums, monuments and complimentary transport in the city and on the airport shuttle bus. You can prepurchase the Toulouse City Card here.

 

 

Your Visit to the Midi-Pyrenees

Best Hotels in Toulouse

There are 395 hotels listed in the Toulouse City Centre.  You can choose from luxury hotels or smaller 1 and 2 star budget hotels. We would recommend staying close to the city centre of Toulouse.  It is a very walkable city and you will be in close proximity to Toulouse’s two famous bridges – Pont-Neuf and Pont Saint-Pierre.  The major boulevards – Boulevard de Strasbourg, Boulevard d’arcole and Rue de Metz are also close by.

For shopping the following streets are where you should head to:

  • Rue d’Alsace-Lorraine,
  • Rue Saint-Rome,
  • Rue Pargaminières,
  • Place du Capitole,
  • Rue des Lois,
  • Rue du Taur,

Some of the most popular hotels in Toulouse’s city centre are:

Crown Plaza Toulouse

Address: 7 Place du Capitole, Capitole Toulouse

The Crown Plaza is close to Toulouse’s main retail and shopping areas.  The terrace is popular for sun-worshippers or those who want to enjoy a glass or two of the local wines.  French cuisine can be enjoyed at the hotel’s restaurant.

Your Visit to the Midi-Pyrenees

 

Le Grand Balcon

Address: 8-10 Rue Romiguieres, Capitole, Toulouse

Restaurants, cafes and nightclubs can be found located close by the Le Grand Balcon.  The major shopping streets are just minutes away.

Your Visit to the Midi-Pyrenees

 

Grand Hotel de L’Opera

Address: 1 Place du Capitole, Capitole, Toulouse

A 4 star hotel located close to the major tourist attractions of Toulouse.  The hotel offers a sauna and a Turkish Steam bath perfect after a day of sightseeing.

Your visit to the Midi-Pyrennes


Mauvezin

Midi-Pyrenees Mauvezin

Bell Tower in Mauvezin

We came across Mauvezin by accident as our Boulangerie closed for two weeks holiday in the small town of Cologne near to where we were housesitting. It was a Monday morning and we were craving soft flakey pan au chocolat. We found a Boulangerie in a side street, full of locals buying baguettes, cakes and of course croissants. BTW the pan au chocolat did not disappoint.

Liberation Square with its beautiful stone archways dates back to the 16th century and is the heart of Mauvezin.  We were lucky to arrive on Market Day to see the locals haggling with the stall holders over the prices of the fruit and vegetables in season.  A lot of laughter took place, strange facial expressions and hand gestures from both sides giving us an impromptu theatrical play which we seemed to be a part of.

As we wandered around the town we came across the Gothic Saint Michael’s Church and the Bell Tower which dates back to the 13th century and rebuilt in 1829.

Driving Distance from Toulouse: 55 minutes

Cologne

Midi-Pyrenees Cologne

Market Day Cologne

Midi-Pyrenees Cologne

Medieval village of Cologne

Cologne (named after Cologne in Germany)  was founded in 1284.  Located in the middle of the town is the medieval market hall which dates back to the 14th century and it was the venue for fairs and weekly markets.  The Belfry Bell at the top dates back to 1607.

Midi-Pyrenees Cologne

Medieval Market Hall Cologne

If you are in Cologne pop into the Tourism Office and say that we sent you.  They have lots of good information on what to see in and around the area. Enjoy the local pan au chocolat from the Boulangerie.

Driving Distance from Toulouse: 46 minutes

Encausse

Midi-Pyrenees Encausse

Local Church Encausse

There was not much to see or do in our little village that we stayed in. Encausse had a small church that dated back to 1759.  The only sign of life was a local gentleman who must have been in his 80’s who sat outside his home on a white plastic chair – the highlight of his day was having a neighbour drive past and wave to him.

Our walks with the dogs that we were caring for took us past fields of smiling bright yellow sunflowers and a small church.  We saw quite a few foxes and deer as we walked the lanes running beside farmer’s fields.

Driving Distance from Toulouse: 43 minutes

L’isle Jourdain

Midi-Pyrenees L'isle Jourdain

14th century Bell Tower

L’isle Jourdain is one of the biggest towns we visited outside of Toulouse.  There is a direct train service that takes about 45 minutes.  It is a medieval city and like all the villages that we visited the main square is the hub.

Every Saturday the streets are closed around the Square and the Saturday market takes place.  Apart from fruit and vegetable stalls, you can find local wines, cheeses, meats, artisan bread and clothing as well as household items.  It can be quite difficult to park.

The 14th-century tower of the Collegiate St Martin dominates the skyline.  It was rebuilt in the neoclassical style in 1785 as it was destroyed during the religious wars.

Driving Distance from Toulouse: 33 minutes

Lareole

Chateau Lareole Midi-Pyrenees

Chateau Lareole

As you drive through the very small village of Lareole, you cannot miss the grand Chateau de Lareole.  A Chateau built in the Renaissance style, using bricks alternating with local stone, started construction in 1579 and was finished 3 years later.   The large quadrangle building with 4 towers was commissioned by a highly successful pastel merchant from Toulouse – Pierre de Cheverry.

Today you can visit free of charge, enjoy a meal or a coffee at the small Cafe, wander through the gift shop and enjoy various exhibitions throughout the year.

Driving Distance from Toulouse: 50 minutes

Lourdes

Visit to the Midi-Pyrenees

The Sanctuary of our Lady of Lourdes

Lourdes has the most hotel rooms outside of Paris.  It is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in France with on average 6 million visitors per year. The legend of Lourdes is that the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a peasant girl,  18 times during 1858.  Since that year miraculous cures have known to have taken place in Lourdes.

A day tour is available from Toulouse to Lourdes. You will enjoy a private walking tour with your own guide. The tour includes a pick up from your hotel in Toulouse.

Where to stay in Lourdes:

Your Visit to the Midi-Pyrenees

 

Carcassonne

Over 4 million visitors visit the fortified city of Carcassonne each year.  The UNESCO World Heritage Site looks like something out of Disneyland.  Can you imagine a whole city that is a castle and the new town is located below it?  If you visit in Summer you must expect the crowds we would recommend saving your visit time to Spring or Autumn.

If you are staying in Toulouse you can enjoy a private tour click here for more information.

Where to stay in Carcassonne

Your visit to the Midi-Pyrenees

Getting In

Toulouse-Blagnac International Airport is located 8km out of Toulouse.

You can pre-book a one-way transfer from the Airport to the Hotel here.

The Toulouse-Matabiau SCNF Train Station is located a 10 minute walk from the Place du Capitol – the heart of Toulouse.

The average train time from Paris to Toulouse is 5 hours.

The average train time from Toulouse to Barcelona is 4 hours 20 minutes.

 

 

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Your visit to the Midi-Pyrenees

 

Your Visit to the Midi-Pyrenees

 


 

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16 Comments

  • Sarah says:

    Love this region of France. We actually cruised along the Canal du Midi for two weeks last summer. Never made it to Toulouse, always thought it would be an ugly city for some reason but apparently it’s not according to your photos. Loved the cassolet lol. Could easily move to Carcassone!

  • Soraya says:

    The Midi-Pyrenees in France sounds like such an interesting part of the country to visit and spend some time in. I can’t believe the region is larger than Belgium or Switzerland. No wonder there’s over 60k farms in this area alone! The history in this area looks and sounds incredible – I love all the old buildings that date back to centuries ago! The 2 and a half hour walking tour in Toulouse sounds wonderful and the perfect way to explore this place.

  • Lisa says:

    I’d no idea I’ve already visited this region had I not read your post! Toulouse is wonderful, and I have great memories of the city, and its food and wine too! Carcassonne is somewhere I’ve only read about but not yet visited. The castle looks wonderful, I hope to visit one day.

  • Anda says:

    I had no idea that Toulouse and Lourdes are part of what you call the Midi-Pynenees. I’d love to visit the picturesque villages in this region someday, but I would especially like to hike in the Pyrenees Mountain Range.

  • Swati & Sam says:

    We love travelling around France. Unfortunately, we could not visit this region instead we did Marseilles and Bordeaux. Would love to visit this region but probably will not do it July – August. Lourdes has been on our bucket list for some time now.

  • Midi-Pyrenees is beautiful. I have always wanted to visit Toulouse and Cologne but did not know much about many of the other places that you have listed here. I am glad I stumbled across your very comprehensive post. I love history and Midi-Pyrenees is full of it. I am adding a number of these places to my bucket list right now. Carcassonne especially looks beautiful. And I am crazy about UNESCO heritage sites. So that seems to be a perfect fit.

  • blair villanueva says:

    Ohh lala, France is my dream destination, and am not dreaming of it because of the Eiffel Tower. I want to explore the nearby commune and provinces, the beaches and markets, and experience the local French way. Cologne is also in my list to visit, my beau said there is a beautiful plantation we need to visit.

    • Hi Blair
      Thanks for your comments. Paris is beautiful but the countryside and small villages and towns are a delight to explore.
      Cheers Jane and Duncan

  • Thanks for this detailed travel guide. I would love to visit Toulouse. The photographs look great. I love the medieval monuments in Europe, they are so amazing.

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