Its location between the Med and the Atlantic, the Pyrenees and the Midi, protect it from bad weather, make it easily accessible, and give it a geography like no other.
Want to ski? Walk? Explore? Bird-watch? Water-ski? Snow-shoe? Climb? Then the Pyrenees are for you! The amazing site of the Gavarnie Circus will leave you breathless – and not just from the climb. Head up to the Pic du Midi to feel like you’re on top of the world – and why not spend the night there with professional astronomers.
If activity holidays are not your cup of tea, then you could head to the Aveyron with its plethora of France’s Most Beautiful Villages for a charming historical visit, or Saint-Eulalie to get close up and personal with the Templar Knights. Or, you could try the heart of the region – Toulouse – for its shopping, restaurants and night life.
But what I love most about this region – which I called home for 5 years – is its gastronomy! With 25 Michelin starred chefs, spread throughout France’s largest region, you could start to wonder why they are all here. The answer is simple – quality produce.
Lalbenque in the Lot – truffles, but no chocolate!
Officially labelled as an outstanding food heritage site, this sleepy village comes to life on the last weekend in January when the Fête de la Truffe brings thousands looking for a good black truffle. But don’t forget your wallets, as these beauties fetch between €300 and €700 a kilo – so are well worth the 15 year wait for those who harvest them.
Roquefort in the Aveyron – a gastronomic step back in time
Legend has it that this cheese – now internationally renowned – was one of those happy accidents that bring to life a little miracle. A shepherd boy decided to store his cheese in a nearby cave and on returning found that mould had taken over his fresh cheese. Being a bit of a daredevil – or simply very hungry – he made a meal of it anyway, and found it delicious. We have a lot to thank him for today.
To try some for you yourself head out to the Aveyron itself and take a guided tour of the Papillon artisan cheese-makers production in the town of Roquefort.
Hautes-Pyrenees – spot the little black pig
High in the Pyrenees, a rare breed of pig – the Gascon Noir – was lovingly brought back from the brink of extinction by local farmers. Now spreading down to the Gers and Haute-Garonne Counties 44 farmers now specialise in producing the distinctive flavours of Gascony Black Pork. But don’t take our word for it. The Grau Farm in the Gers welcomes visitors to the farm to see what makes this meat so special.
Toulouse – well-known fare
Probably one of the best-known products in the area is the sausage which carries the city’s name. As a former local I would recommend you head out the city a little to the local market of Muret. On a Saturday morning you’ll find pork butchers there selling some of the best I have ever tried, and each with their own slant on a traditional recipe. But they won’t be coaxed into revealing their secrets!
Where to Sleep?
Luxury: Just seven minutes from Rodez, the 16th century Château de Labro is now a sophisticated and welcoming house in a peaceful, leafy setting. The rooms were painstakingly decorated by the owner, who is an avid collector of antiques that can be found throughout the whole property. The pool, and soon a vineyard, is sure to enchant its visitors.
- Eco-friendly: Away from the hustle and bustle of city life, in Larrazet, typical Mongol yurts are a perfect way to discover a quirkier type of accommodation in perfect harmony with the environment, and a complete immersion in a nomadic lifestyle.
- On a budget: Aube Nouvelle, or New Dawn, is a 200 year old property which has been lovingly transformed by the De Smet family, to createtheir guesthouse. Take a well-deserved break from the GR65 trail to enjoy the warm welcome from Marcela and the family.
Where to eat?
- New: The restaurant La Table du Cardinalis set in a historic house in Montpezat de Quercy, one of the most beautiful villages of the Tarn-et-Garonne. It also happens to be considered one of the best tables in south western France, serving a mix of French and Italian influences. The courtyard is dominated by a charming and magnificent olive tree, truly something to behold.
- Luxury: Michel Bras is a restaurant in a dramatic setting in the mountains of Aubrac, with sweeping views over the valley towards the village of Laguiole. Its food is deeply rooted in the countryside and is so unique that it has been rewarded with 3 Michelin stars.
- On a budget: In the heart of the Cahors vineyards, Le Caillau restaurant specialises in fresh, local, seasonal produce and also organises pottery-painting workshops to entertain the children.
How to enjoy yourself?
- If you’d like some more insider information from this summer the Toulouse Greeters will be around to welcome and guide visitors, who will be able to look forward to unexpected meetings and experiences with some of the Pink City’s own inhabitants.
- For something a little more family-friendly Micropolis in the Aveyron boasts interactive exhibits spread over 2400m² all with a philosophy of teaching young people about flora and fauna. Micropolis will transport visitors into the world of insects even as far as being one!
- With 17 spa resorts, Midi-Pyrénées is the 4th biggest thermal bath region in France and a Spa Route has been set up to explore the region’s many spas and well-being centres, complete with a choice of accommodation and packages.
How to get there?
- By plane: Direct flights from London, Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Dublin to Toulouse, Rodez, Brive-Dordogne Valley, and Tarbes-Lourdes – Jet2, EasyJet, Aer Lingus, British Airways, CityJet and Ryanair.
- By train: From London to Toulouse, Tarbes and others by Eurostar and TGV.