Midi-Pyrénées

Midi-Pyrénées

Being spread over 8 “departments” and 45, 348 km2, Midi Pyrénées, bigger than Belgium and Switzerland, is the widest French region, and therefore offers an unparalleled diversity of landscapes and activities. As stated in its name, it is bordered by the Pyrenees range, and is equally distant from the Atlantic ocean and the Mediterranean (between 1h30 and 2h drive) which provides a luxury of choices when comes the season of short breaks. Being mostly rural, with the exception of Haute-Garonne where are concentrated industry and services, it offers a rare combination of modernity and tradition, high tech and farming, dynamism and quality of life. One needs just look at the variety of produce to have a taste of local quality of life and imagine the diversity of “terroir” they come from. Farming is fairly divided between cattle raising and land farming. One sheep or lamb out of four is raised in Midi-Pyrenees, basically in Aveyron where ewe’s milk is used for famous Roquefort cheese. Gers “départment” alone insures half the production of poultry and fattened duck/geese, basis to the preparation of duck liver or duck confit. A vast cereal growing area spreads from the north of Hautes-Pyrénées to the South of Tarn where are also cultivated soja, sunflower, garlic and colza. Another important area is dedicated to fruits trees and vineyards, mostly North and North West of Toulouse. Farming is focusing on quality and the regional produce accounts for the majority of classified produce (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, Label Rouge, IGP). To top this mouth watering list Midi Pyrénées is also a vine growing area with Gaillac, Cahors, Fronton, Madiran, Pacherenc and Armagnac.

 

 

A dynamic, strong and modern economy

Midi-Pyrénées’ economy is well-balanced, between farming, industry and services.

The aeronautic industry employs in Toulouse and its area over 20 000 direct employees and 30 000 indirect employees. Toulouse is the birth place of the first machine airborne… in 1890 by Clément Ader, followed much much later by the famous Caravelle, Concorde and now all types of Airbus, including the biggest aeroplane, the majestic A 380.Toulouse is also the French centre of aerospace industry with Alcatel, Astrium and Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales as the major actors of the sector. It has been chosen to shelter the European equivalent to the American GPS system. The sector accounts for 7, 500 directs jobs and 15, 000 indirect ones. Most of the satellite launched by Ariane Espace are designed and assembled in Toulouse.

Another key sector of regional economy is farming which employs one out of 10 persons on farms of rather limited size which constitutes a disadvantage as regards farming intensification but a chance as regards quality and diversity of produce. Farming is fairly divided between cattle raising and land farming.

Apparently at the opposite end of the economic scope stands research which accounts for 18, 600 jobs and is divided between research on aerospace, pharmaceutical industry and agro-bio-sciences. Toulouse has been chosen, along 7 other big French cities to become a centre for research on cancer. As a consequence or cause of Toulouse importance in research is its place as second students’ city in France after Paris with around 70, 000 students. Last but not least tourism provides around 35, 400 jobs

Rich cultural heritage

Part of Midi Pyrénées’ appeal also comes from a rich cultural heritage and the region has its fair share of lively cities, market towns or pretty villages.
Midi Pyrenees is the French region with the most villages listed as “prettiest villages in France”. www.les-plus-beaux-villages-de-france.org/fr/taxonomy/term/16. Rocamadour  or Saint Cirq Lapopie are among these dolls' villages that the British like in France.

Many sites show that Midi Pyrenees is a welcoming shelter to mankind since Pre-history (Niaux cave in Ariège for example). No doubt that with an History starting so early the region has a wealth of historical testimonies ranging from mediaeval bastides towns, no less than 300 (Cordes-sur-ciel, Fourcès, L’Isle-sur-Tarn, Revel, Mirepoix, Villefranche-de-Rouergue), to the Cathar episode and the many castles and fortresses they have left behind (Montségur and Foix castles in Ariège). XVIth century was a time of revival with the culture of pastel a plant used in dyeing in blue that provided wealth to the region, especially in Toulouse where many private mansions have been built and in the Lauragais, a rich agricultural plain around Toulouse. Many places in Midi Pyrénées are on the Unesco World Heritage list such as the Canal du Midi, a waterway, leading from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean, and built in the XVIIth century. Lined all the way through with multicentenary plane trees sheltering a towpath it is ideal for walking, cycling or discovering the region by boat. Midi Pyrenees is also listed on the Unesco World heritage as sheltering part of the way of Saint James. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Stjacquescompostelle1.png

As pictures largely surpass the power of writing you can start dreaming on the impressive website www.grandsites.midipyrenees.fr/ made by the Conseil Régional of Midi Pyrénées.

 

A great diversity of landscapes and natural wonders

Being spread over 8 French “départments” Midi-Pyrénées provides a great diversity of landscapes and activities.
In the South, the Ariège, one of the wildest and most rural French departments, also one of the less populated, shelters the Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Ariègeoises. Its neighbour Hautes-Pyrénees is a paradise for mountains lovers, in all seasons; it shelters the major part of the Parc Naturel des Pyrénees, one of the oldest National Parks in France. The majestic Cirque de Gavarnie – Mont Perdu is on the Unesco World heritage list. If skying is one of your hobbies then know that 23 on the 38 ski resort of the Pyrenees are located in Midi-Pyrénées. As a matter of fact Midi Pyrenees is surrounded by mountains: in the South the Pyrenees which mark the border with Spain and Andorra, North by the massif de L’Aubrac, and Les Causses du Rourgue et du Quercy, a vast barren limestone plateau, and to the South East Les Monts de Lacaune or Montagne Noire. Mountains cover around 50% of the region’s territory. North of Ariège and Hautes Pyrénées is The Haute-Garonne named after the river meandering through it, is mainly a vast plain where most of the economic activity is concentrated but which still enjoys unspoilt places. To the East roll the gentle hills of the Gers, like a French equivalent of Tuscany’s landscapes, punctuated by pretty pink bricks villages. Tarn-et-Garonne is another rural “départment” where orchards of apples, apricots and peaches benefit from the clement weather. North of this “départment” is the Lot, less known to the British than the Dordogne but with the same architecture and a more barren landscape of “causse” - a limestone plateau which is protected by the Natural Regional Park of Causses du Quercy . Neighbouring Aveyron offers breathtaking unspoilt landscapes like the green and lush Lot Valley while the Tarn Gorges have an impressive Colorado Canyon look. Part of the territory is protected in the Natural Regional Park of Grands Causses. The last natural park of Midi Pyrenees is located in Tarn which represents half the Natural Regional Park of Haut-Languedoc. Tarn's landscapes are very diverse and punctuated with many pretty villages or market towns. A unique curiosity is The Massif du Sidobre, an impressive chaos of huge granite rocks.

Quality of life, culture and gastronomy

Such a wide and diverse territory offers a great quality of life. Outdoors activities are numerous, accessible to all, and practicable all year round. As stated in its name (Midi being another word for South) Midi-Pyrenees enjoys a southern climate hence rather clement. Of course on such a wide area, climates differ from one region to the other, from mountains that covers half the surface, to plains, or following the winds. The Vent d’Autan blows violently from the South East and dries vegetation, while the Vent d’Ouest from the Atlantic comes along with heavy rains. Spring is usually rather wet but summer is dry and hot sometimes even scorching. Toulouse enjoys over 2,200 hours of sunshine a year. Autumn is mild and sunny. Winter is rather mild and damp and of course snowy and colder as one goes towards the mountains. Mountains offer year-round activities starting of course with winter skying in one of the 26 ski resorts of Midi Pyrenees. Pyrenees offer also a great wealth of summer activities, ranging from hiking along endless tracks to simply bilberry picking, or enjoying wild water sports, paragliding, high mountain hiking and climbing.www.lespyrenees.net/en/

All activities do not have to be that extreme! One can simply enjoy a tranquil walk along the Canal du Midi, or attend one of the many festivals of the region of which Jazz in Marciac is a famous example, or else stroll along the mouth-watering stalls packed with fresh produce in the many markets of the region. This offers a perfect transition to say that gastronomy is really part of the tradition and quality of life in Midi-Pyrenees. The best known dishes are of course “ le cassoulet”, all types of recipes with fattened duck (liver, confit…), “ la garbure” a rich soup from the Pyrenees, and “L’Aligot” made with fresh ewe milk and mashed potatoes. Cèpe mushrooms, black truffles, cured ham of Lacaune added to a huge variety of cheeses are other local delicacies. No wonder that with so rejoicing food people in Midi Pyrenees are jovial fellows and that many occasions are taken to party, some of them provided by Rugby play which is a huge tradition there.