Six reasons to visit the… Pyrénées
The eight departments of Midi-Pyrénées in south-west France offer some of the country’s most spectacular inland scenery, from meandering rivers to high mountain peaks,
Straddling the border between France and Spain from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, this majestic mountain range offers a tempting cocktail of holiday attractions.
At both coasts (Atlantic/Mediterranean) there are splendid seaside resorts whilst the Pyrenees themselves offer an extensive network of walking trails as well as skiing in the winter. There are also numerous tourist trains, caves, water activity centres and the pilgramage destination of Lourdes. And tucked in the middle there is the tax free province of Andorra!
Sites to fire the imagination
Wherever you go in the region, you’re never far from one of its spectacular Grands Sites, a collection of natural and man-made locations that are guaranteed to fire the imagination.
Tour the visitor centre for the fabulous Millau Viaduct and take a boat ride beneath the bridge along the Tarn; cycle the tow path of the Canal du Midi; and visit historic small towns such as Cordes-sur-Ciel, Rocamadour, and Conques.
Take to the water
Rivers play a huge role in the life of the region, the Dordogne cutting across its northern fringe, with the meandering Lot Valley to the south. Take a cruise excursion with commentary to find out about local flora, fauna and history, and visit the spectacular village of St Cirq-Lapopie, perched above the Lot and voted France’s favourite village. You can also hire canoes for a duck’s eye view. Slicing across the region from west to east is the Canal des Deux Mers which links the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, with the iconic landscape of the tree-lined Canal du Midi winding eastwards from Toulouse. Take a guided cruise or play admiral at the wheel of a self-drive boat.
The department of Ariège in the Pyrénées shelters some of the world’s most important cave art. Walk by torchlight inside the mountain to marvel at original paintings of bison, horses and other beasts in fabulous the Grotte de Niaux, and get the full story of the people who roamed here 10,000 years ago at the Parc de la Préhistoire in Tarascon-sur-Ariège.
Further north in the Lot Valley, don’t miss the cave formations and prehistoric artwork at Peche-Merle or the chance to take a boat ride on an underground river at the Gouffre de Padirac.
Step back into the Middle Ages
Like a good Medieval castle? There are plenty to choose from across Midi-Pyrénées, which has played a key role in conflicts across the centuries. Let young imaginations run riot from the battlements in Foix, seat of the powerful Counts of Foix in the Middle Ages, and at the hilltop fortress of Montségur, last stronghold of the Cathar church in the 13th century.
Visit the solid castles of the Hundred Years War that guard the Dordogne and Lot rivers, and take in beautiful medieval towns like Mirepoix in Ariège with its half-timbered buildings.
Share new experiences
Midi-Pyrénées is home to some unique family-friendly museums such as the Cité de l’Espace in the red-brick regional capital, Toulouse. Enjoy life-size space craft, a planetarium, IMAX cinema and shedloads of interactive experiences. And learn about the fascinating history of written communications at the Champollion Museum at Figeac in the Lot Valley. Want to share some outdoor fun? Try an ‘accrobranche’ forest adventure circuit; a family trek with donkeys or llamas; or a gentle excursion on on a 4-person ‘vélorail’ – a pedal-powered cart that runs on a disused railway line.
Live the village life
The ancient stones and narrow streets of rural France are reminders of a bygone age, and children used to shopping in British high street stores can enjoy the novelty of browsing independent shops and colourful weekly markets – every town and village has one – with their holiday euros. Involve them in the self-catering by buying fresh local produce to eat in your holiday home. Midi-Pyrénées boasts more than 30 villages classified amongst The Most Beautiful Villages in France, but rent a rural gîte and you can enjoy the atmosphere of village life all over the region from the winding river valleys of the north to the rolling countryside of the historic region of Gascony, which roughly corresponds to the modern department of Gers.
With a dramatic difference in weather between the summer and winter months, the Pyrenees are best visited between June and September (unless you’re going on your skiing holidays). However, in parts including the lowlands to the north of Lourdes the winters can be surprisingly mild, and holidays in October and November can be remarkably enjoyable particularly if you are walking or hiking. But in the mountains the winters are severe and throughout the year you should be equipped in case of poor weather, remembering that as you climb the temperature can drop significantly. You will find the weather in summer can be surprisingly warm although the western Pyrenees do get influenced by precipitation coming off the Atlantic.
Here’s more information to make the most of your visit to the Pyrenees: