Key points about this information item A Guide to Departments of the Midi-PyreneesInformation Description:
The Midi-Pyrenees region contains eight departments, spread over an area of 45,348 km2, stretching from the Dordogne in the west, to the Auvergne in the east and from Limousin in the north to Spanish border.
With such a large area, it is no surprise that the departments have different cultures and landscapes. Here you will find a brief description of each department, a link to a separate article for each and a link to all articles that refer to a particular department.
In the south west corner of the Midi-Pyrenees, Ariege shares a border with Spain, Andorra and the French region of Languedoc-Roussillon. It was created from the counties of Foix and Couserans after the French Revolution on the 4th March 1790.
The department is 50% mountain and as a result is one of the least populated and unspoilt areas of France. The flatlands are fertile farming land and the area relies on agriculture and tourism for its economy.
For the tourist, there are plenty of attractions, from mountain top ruins and fortress strongholds to pretty, secluded villages. Freshwater lakes provide many activities such as swimming, canoeing and fishing and there are hundreds of miles of marked footpaths.
In the winter, Ariege has a number of ski resorts catering for all abilities in both downhill and cross-country.
Aveyron occupies the north west area of the Midi-Pyrenees and is the largest department of the region. It is on the southern extremity of the Massif Central and features dramatic landscapes, with deep gorges and rivers.
There are three massive plateaus, Aubrac, Levezou and Larzac with the highest point of the region at Mailhebuau in the Aubrac, the gorges of the Tarn and the Aveyron rivers and much more besides to discover. On the Levezou plateau, a man made lake provides a vast water sport area for sailing, jet skiing and boat trips around the lake. For walkers there are many marked routes and horse riding is also well catered for.
With a number of old Abbeys and Medieval towns are doted all over the department, there is much for visitors to admire. Accessing the Aveyron also takes you close to or even over the Millau viaduct,the highest road bridge in the world.
The Gers department is yet another sparsely populated area, on the western side of the Midi-Pyrenees, with a population density the same as Ariege. It was created following the French Revolution on the 4th March 1790 from parts of the original French Provinces of Gascony and Guyenne.
The economy of the area is largely agriculture based and many well known delicacies such as foie gras, Armagnac, Floc de Gascogne and Cotes de Gascogne are produced here.
Many traditions, stretching back over the decades, are retained and can be seen and experienced in the sleepy villages and hilltop bastides. The landscape is less mountainous than some of the more southern departments and is mainly rolling hills.
The Gers also has a famous son, that of d'Artagnan, the fourth musketeer.
Another of the original departments created after the French Revolution, the Haute-Garonne was formed from part of the Languedoc province and stretches from Toulouse in the north to the Spanish border in the south. It is the most populated department in the region, which is simply because of the Toulouse influence. With a population of around 500,000 the city has a greater populace than any of the other whole departments and the next largest city is Tarbes, in the Hautes-Pyrenees with only 50,000 inhabitants.
Toulouse is one of the big draws of Haute-Garonne, but not the only one. The southern most end of the department ends at the border with Spain across the Pyrenees Mountains and includes four ski resorts. In addition the Canal du Midi runs through the department and there are a number of spa resorts.
Saint Gaudens is the historical capital of the region. It is a pretty town, but has been blighted by the building of a cellulose plant on the outskirts. There are many castles and churches in the surrounding area, not least of which is Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, a member of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France association.
Toulouse has a university and hence a very lively atmosphere and nightlife scene. If you are looking for bright lights and late nights, then Toulouse is the only real choice in the Midi-Pyrenees.
Formed from an area historically known as Bigorre, the Hautes-Pyrenees borders Spain and is for the most part mountainous. The flatter northern part is separated from the mountains by the Baronnies, an area of rolling hills and small villages which are excellent for walking.
A large proportion of the Pyrenees National Park is encompassed by the Hautes-Pyrenees department and within its boundaries are numerous natural attractions.
As you would expect, the department boasts the highest number of ski resorts in the Midi-Pyrenees as well as the largest, Le Domaine de Tourmalet. The whole area is a Mecca for outdoor sports enthusiasts, from climbing, mountain biking, canyoning and white water rafting to simply walking.
The biggest draw for visitors in the area is Lourdes. It attracts around 5 million visitors each year, many on pilgrimages or seeking a cure for their ailments. Consequently, the small town is now very commercialised and full of rather tacky souvenir shops, but despite this is still worth a visit to see the Sanctuary.
Located in the north west corner of the Midi-Pyrenees, the department is again sparsely populated. The capital, Cahors, is enclosed on three sides by a bend in the River Lot. The town has long been known for its Black wine and began trading long before its neighbour Bordeaux.
Another town of importance in the Lot is Rocamadour, situated precariously on a cliff top, it was a stop of point for pilgrims on their way to Compostella.
Again formed from the province of Languedoc, it included the towns of Albi, Castres and Lavaur. The department is located 50 Km north east of Toulouse and is now increasingly relying on tourism for its economy.
The Tarn is a combination of mountains, plains, forests and vineyards and can offer something for almost everyone. There are numerous walks with around 3,500 Km of marked routes and there are 20 dedicated cycle route to enjoy in addition to the quite country roads.
Albi is situated on the banks of the Tarn river and is the capital of the department. It is one of the main attractions of the department, particularly its fortress like cathedral. Other attractions include the vineyards of the Gaillac, the bastides, fortified villages and a Tarn speciality, the pigeonniers (dovecotes).
Created from lands previously part of the Lot and Haute-Garonne departments, it has influences from both Gascony and Languedoc. The capital is Montauban, around 30 minutes north of Toulouse and is built of the pink stone so common of the area.
Just to the west is the town of Moissac, situated on the River Tarn and Parallel de Garonne canal, with an impressive Abbey and Cloisters.
Much of the department is covered in forest or agricultural plains, but there are numerous bastide towns to explore and the area offers all the outdoor activities you can think of.
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