Midi-Pyrenees: tourism and sightseeing
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With lovely scenery, outdoor activities, picturesque villages and historic towns, and more lovely scenery the extensive Midi-Pyrenees region of southern France has something for everyone - except beaches!
The Midi-Pyrenees region of southern France includes the mountainous section of the Pyrenees along the border between France and Spain, and a large area that extends north of the mountains and includes Gers (Gascony) and Tarn, and the scenic Aveyron and Lot departments (just east of the Dordogne).
The capital of the Midi-Pyrenees region is Toulouse, the attractive red-brick city towards the north of the region.
It would be very challenging to explore the whole Midi-Pyrenees region in one visit! Visitors usually either explore the mountains on the south, the beautiful countryside and villages of the north, or the calm attractions of the Gers (Gascony) region in the centre of the region.
Because the Midi-Pyrenees region is quite extensive and each department has its own particular appeal, style and attractions it is more useful to look at the departments separately when deciding where to visit.
There is a short guide to each department below, then each of these also has its own dedicated guide with lots more highlights and places to visit.
The two northern departments of the Midi-Pyrenees - Aveyron and Lot - contain some fascinating towns and fine scenery. The region extends past the Dordogne department of north-eastern Aquitaine and into the southern part of the Massif Central.
The Aveyron department to the north of the Midi-Pyrenees is part of the southern Massif Central, a beautiful region of steep wooded valleys and fast-flowing streams and rivers and the extensive flatter regions of the Aubrac plateau.
Aveyron has more villages classified among the 'most beautiful villages of France' than any other French department.
Towards the north of the department particular highlights include the pretty villages of Conques and Belcastel, both unmissable during a visit to Aveyron, as well as Entraygues and Estaing, St Eulalie d'Olt and Saint-Come d'Olt.
Further to the south-west the towns of Najac and Sauveterre-de-Rouergue and the medieval centre of the bastide town of Villefranche-de-Rouergue is another highlight. Rodez is the largest town in the department.
In the south-west of Aveyron you enter the Regional Natural Park of the Grands-Causses, an attractive landscape with deep gorges and valleys and exposed high areas to explore, including the Gorges de la Jonte and Gorges de la Dourbie to the east of Millau.
While at Millau you can also admire the renowned Millau bridge, designed by architect Norman Foster and the highest road bridge in Europe.
See the Aveyron travel guide for more highlights and information
The Lot department the most northerly department of the Midi-Pyrenees region and also one of our favourite departments in France because of its varied and attractive scenery.
In the north of the department you can visit one of the most important pilgrim towns in France - the village of Rocamadour is the most popular destination in Lot, and one of the most visited villages in France. It is also one of the most beautiful!
After exploring Rocamadour the nearby caves at Gouffre de Padirac are among our favourite caves in France, and the children will enjoy a trip to the village and animal park at Gramat.
Also here in the northern Lot there are several lovely villages including Autoire, Carennac and Loubressac, while towns of particular interest include Souillac, Gourdon and Saint-Cere along with the charming town of Martel
Further south in the department Figeac is a quaint and interesting small market town and one of our favourite medieval towns in the south of France.
From Figeac you can follow the attractive Lot Valley through the Natural Regional Park of the Causses de Quercy. There are many highlights in the valley including the lovely village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and the historic town of Cahors, best known for the famous medieval bridge called Pont Valentre.
Further west in the Lot valley the pretty village of Puy-l'Eveque is also very pleasant to explore.
See the Lot travel guide for more highlights and information
The central region of the Midi-Pyrenees is best known for its unspoiled and picturesque countryside and ancient bastide towns. There are three departments in this central region: we explore these from east to west:
The modern department of Gers occupies a similar geographical position to the historical Gascony region, and is often still referred to as Gascony.
It is a peaceful region of quiet villages and attractive rolling countryside where visitors can enjoy birdsong and fields of sunflowers and long evenings relaxing in tranquility away from the more visited tourist regions of France.
In the north-west Gers you can start by visiting a cluster of villages that are classified among the 'most beautiful villages in France' including Montreal-du-Gers, Fources and Larressingle, a very small village still surrounded by its medieval fortifications.
The towns here don't have major historic monuments and are usually quiet but are pleasant to explore, particularly on their market days. These include Condom, Fleurance and Lectoure, and north-west of Auch the town of Vic Fezensac is especially lively during the summer.
In the centre of the Gers department highlights that we particularly recommend you visit include the villages of Lavardens and Sarrant, both also listed as 'most beautiful villages in France' then perhaps explore the traditional market town at Auch.
See the Gascony travel guide for more highlights and information
The Tarn department of the Midi-Pyrenees has several interesting medieval towns as well as some very attractive scenery.
In the north of the department one particularly interesting town is Cordes-sur-Ciel, a very popular, well-preserved medieval town in the region.
Also close to here you should explore Albi, with a historic centre and cathedral overlooking the river that is among the most beautiful towns in France.
Not far to the south-east of Albi and also on the river the small town of Gaillac is also a typical red-brick town of the region and very picturesque.
Towards the centre of the department the fortified village of Lautrec has lots of steep cobbled streets and historic buildings to explore, while in the centre of Castres you can see attractive houses overhanging the river.
In the south of the Tarn department you are within the Regional Natural Park of the Haut-Languedoc, a quiet region with fascinating landscapes and scenic highlights to explore as you approach the mountains of the southern massif central.
See the Tarn travel guide for more highlights and information
The Tarn-et-Garonne department of the Midi-Pyrenees is to the north of Toulouse and centred around the attractive bastide town of Montauban, which has much of the same red-brick architecture as the other important towns in the region.
In the eastern half of the department highlights include the picturesque village at Bruniquel.
North-east of Bruniquel we discovered the town of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val almost by accident, and were very pleased we had - it is a very charming town with an extensive historic centre and a great deal of charm.
From Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val you can follow the Aveyron River to visit the cluster of villages that includes Mirabel, Réalville, Cayrac and Montricoux. We also enjoyed an afternoon exploring some of the other small villages close to Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val such as Varen and Espinas, Caylus and Parisot.
In the western half of the department it is the important cathedral and cloisters at Moissac that are the centre of tourist activity.
Close to here you can explore another 'most beautiful village of France' at Auvillar with its unusual round market hall, while a short distance north of Moissac Lauzerte is also a lovely village to visit.
There are numerous other small traditional villages in the region and we also recommend you take a detour to Beaumont-de-Lomagne, another of the traditional 13th century bastide towns to be found in the region.
See the Tarn-et-Garonne travel guide for more highlights and information
Pyrenees - the southern Midi-Pyrenees
The southern part of the Midi-Pyrenees is in the Pyrenees mountains, and it can be wild and dramatic, and is often very beautiful, with mountain passes, crashing rivers, and dramatic cliffs and scenery. The three departments in the mountainous Pyrenees, running east to west are Haute-Pyrenees, Haute-Garonne and Ariege.
The Haute-Garonne extends south from the flat centre of the Midi-Pyrenees to the mountains on the border with Spain. It is in the Haute-Garonne that you can visit Toulouse, the capital of the region and an exceptional city with extensive red-brick architecture and many historical monuments, museums and restaurants.
In the far east of the Haute-Garonne the town of Revel is interesting to visit and is at the western edge of the Regional Natural Park of the Haut-Languedoc.
There is less to see in the central part of the Haute-Garonne although we do recommend you visit the village of Rieux-Volvestre, south-west of Toulouse, which has a very attractive historic centre and views along the river.
Continuing further south you reach the lower regions of the Pyrenees mountains. South-west of Saint-Gaudens we highly recommend that you visit Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, a classified 'most beautiful village',and the roman style basilica at Valcabrere just a short distance outside the town.
Towards the border with Spain it is the scenery that is the main attraction, in particular popular with enthusiasts of outdoor sports. You can also visit the long-established spa town at Bagneres-de-Luchon, one of our favourite towns in the Pyrenees because it is always lively and very pleasant to explore.
See the Haute-Garonne travel guide for more highlights and information
The Ariege department is situated in the Pyrenees on the border with Spain. The department has a very wide diversity of landscapes, with a large area falling within the Regional Natural Park of the Pyrenees-Ariegoises, and some very pleasant towns to explore.
The main attractions are the outdoor activities and scenic highlights and the pursuit of activities such as hiking and cycling is very popular here in Ariege.
The town of Foix is in the heart of the department and overlooked by a substantial castle. The region around Foix will be of great interest to enthusiast of caves, with several extensive cave systems to explore.
To the east of Ariege the most popular destinations with visitors include the cathar castles at Montsegur and Roquefixade, the medieval town of Mirepoix and the picturesque village at Camon. Other places to visit in this region of Ariege include the spa town of Ax-les-Thermes and the scenic Orlu valley to the south.
To the west of the department the region around Saint-Girons has several interesting villages including Saint-Lizier, another of the 'most beautiful villages of France' and with a good number of historic buildings to admire.
In this south-western corner of the Ariege you are within the Natural Regional Park of the Ariege Pyrenees, which is a region of small traditional villages and landscapes of forested hills and streams, ideal for hiking and cycling.
See the Ariege travel guide for more highlights and information
The Hautes-Pyrenees department has different characteristics in the north, which is largely a quite flat area, and the south where you will discover some of the most attractive mountain scenery in the Pyrenees.
The most visited destination in the north of the Hautes-Pyrenees department and one of the most visited in the whole of France is the pilgrimage town of Lourdes, famous site of miraculous apparitions and healing powers.
To the north of Lourdes you can visit Tarbes to see a traditional town of the region.
To the south of Lourdes you enter the high mountains and the Pyrenees National Park. This region contains several spectacular highlights such as the Cirque de Gavarnie, the Cirque de Troumouse and the Col du Tourmalet, while Mont Perdu in the Pyrenees on the Spanish border is now a listed world heritage site.
The Cirque de Gavarnie, an imposing cliff face south of Luz and Argeles, is a good place for hikers to start exploring the region.
Following the 'Route de cols' near the border with Spain is a good way to discover the scenery of the region and also to see some of the most famous mountain climbs from the Tour de France such as the Col de Peyresourde, the Col d'Aspin and the Col du Tourmalet.
Also on this route you can take a cable car to the Pic du Midi de Bigorre, a high mountain peak with outstanding views and one of the most visited sites in the Pyrenees.
See the Hautes-Pyrenees travel guide for more highlights and information
Six unmissable highlights of a visit to the Midi-Pyrenees
One of our favourite villages in France, Conques is in a lovely setting and has an impressive abbey
One of the most visited pilgrimage destinations in France, Rocamadour is also a very picturesque village.
The tiny village of Larressingle is almost completely surrounded by its original fortifications
The town of Cordes-sur-Ciel has an extensive historic center and lovely views across the Midi-Pyrenees
Figeac is a modern thriving town with a substantial centre containing numerous medieval buildings.
Cahors is a historic town visited above all for the most famous bridge in France, the Pont Valentre
Map of places to visit near Midi-Pyrenees
see our guide to some of the most popular ski resorts in the Pyrenees
French version: Midi-Pyrenees (Francais)