The region of Midi-Pyrénées stretches from central France down to the Spanish border. The Pyrénées mountains dominate the southern part of the region, while to the north the landscape is characterized by gentler river valleys. This area was formed from several historical provinces and has a rich diversity of cultures.
Midi-Pyrénées has a mild climate, although it can be cold at high altitudes. The climate for the most part is sunny, neither extremely hot in the summer nor very chilly in the winter. It is relatively wet, with high levels of rainfall during May. Want to avoid summer crowds for your holiday in Midi-Pyrénées, consider coming in the early spring or early autumn, which have good weather but are outside the main tourist season.
The main city of the region is Toulouse, known as “La Ville Rose” or “the pink city” because of its characteristic red-brick architecture. Built on the site of a Roman settlement, the city made its money in the dye trade, and many historic buildings testify to Toulouse's golden age. Sights in the easily walkable city centre include the basilica of Saint Sernin, built in the 11th century and restored by Viollet-le-Duc, as well as the famous Canal du Midi and the 13th-century Couvent des Jacobins.
Toulouse was the centre of the joint effort by the church and the French crown to suppress the Cathar heresy in the middle ages; fortified hilltop towns and villages were built by both sides, but especially the Cathar communities. The historic city of Albi was said to be the headquarters of the Cathars, who were also known as “Albigensians.” Albi's unique fortified cathedral was built during this period as a base for the anti-Cathar Inquisition and a symbol of the church's authority.
History in Midi-Pyrénées goes back far beyond the medieval period, however; the Lascaux caves are home to a set of cave paintings made during the Palaeolithic period; these images are estimated to have been drawn on the cave walls around 15,000 BC. Sadly, damage caused by visitors forced authorities to close of the cave, but reproductions can be seen at the nearby Lascaux II. Another important archaeological site is the museum in Rodez, which contains a collection of prehistoric menhirs or standing stones.
The Midi-Pyrénées is also a major site of religious pilgrimage for Catholics. Millions of devout Catholics travel to Lourdes every year to visit the shrine that marks a 19th-century apparition of the Virgin Mary.
For nature lovers, the main draw of a holiday in the Midi-Pyrénées is probably the Parc National des Pyrénées, the main hiking destination in the Midi-Pyrénées. Historic villages dot the mountain roads, some of them featuring natural hot springs.
Just as the Midi-Pyrénées region was created from several different historic areas, so the cuisine of the Midi-Pyrénées reflects this variety of origins.
Size: 45,348 square kilometres
Population: 2,865,000 people
Capital city: Toulouse
Provinces: Ariège, Aveyron, Haute-Garonne, Gers, Lot, Hautes-Pyrénées, Tarn, Tarn-et-Garonne
Landscape: mountain peaks, fields of sunflowers, broad rivers, long canals, orchards, vineyards, medieval buildings