Toulouse, a Top Tourist Destination in Midi-Pyrénées, is the region's largest city, with more than 439,000 inhabitants. This beautiful metropolis with the heart of a village, famous for its wonderful quality of life, is also France's third university city and the birthplace of Airbus.
Every year, the population of Toulouse and the surrounding conurbation grows by more than 5,500, which just goes to show how attractive the capital of Midi-Pyrénées is. The city is highly prized for its quality of life and for academic and professional opportunities it presents.
Buoyed by the success of its aeronautics and aerospace industry, driven by its young population, Toulouse embraces you in its own special atmosphere of laid-back cool mixed with buzzing activity.
It's a city that is both highbrow and festive, high-tech and down to earth, European and Occitan, where the locals are only too pleased to introduce you to their special way of life.
There are some cities you just can't help falling in love with. Toulouse is one of them. The 'Ville Rose' in the département of Haute Garonne draws you in, wins you over and keeps you for ever. Capital of the Midi-Pyrénées region, with a population of 771,000 it is France's fourth largest conurbation. Blessed with an outstanding heritage, this modern and active European metropolis draws its Latin temperament and remarkable architecture from its near neighbour, Spain. And when you come to Toulouse, you'll feel the city's buzz too!
Resplendent in its auburn roof tiles and orangey-pink brick, Toulouse is among the leading French cities when it comes to quality of life. You'll fall for its overpowering charm, a product of its beauty, relaxed way of life and buzzing atmosphere (with over a thousand events every year, held in 56 venues). France's third university city with 100,000 students, Toulouse never sleeps and has a conspicuous penchant for partying. But that doesn't stop it from being an economic powerhouse. The birthplace of Concorde and the Ariane rocket, and the home of Airbus, the Ville Rose is an important centre of aeronautical and space engineering, high-tech industry and research. Here you'll find 2 attractions unlike anything else in Europe: the A380 assembly lines, Aeroscopia the aerospace museum, and the Cité de l'Espace.
Warm and spontaneous, Toulouse has pursued its passion for rugby for more than a hundred years. Rugby is in their blood here, embodied by Stade Toulousain, one of the top rugby teams in the Northern Hemisphere. Some would also say Toulouse pursues a love affair with its river, the Garonne. Flowing down from the Pyrenees, the Garonne is lined with sun-drenched quaysides, a favourite haunt of the locals who often stroll along the riverside, and a frequent venue for concerts, exhibitions, markets and more... On the right bank, the quaysides bring out the historical heart of a city that since the Middle Ages has had a reputation for sophistication and independence of spirit. The city is also crossed by the Canal du Midi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the perfect place for a canal cruise or bike ride.
Toulouse draws you in, with its village atmosphere and small, friendly feel. The easiest way to explore the historical city centre, which was completely revamped in 2013, is on foot, by bike or using the métro, from pedestrianised back streets to pretty little squares decorated with fountains, from fine avenues to vast parks, and from character boutiques to designer outlets.
This is where you'll find the prestigious Place du Capitole, St Sernin's Basilica (a major staging post on the St James's Way pilgrimage trail and a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the cloister of the Église des Jacobins, grand Renaissance town houses (such as the Hôtel d'Assézat) and also 19 museums including the Musée des Augustins (fine arts museum in a magnificent monastery), the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle (France's second most important natural history museum!), the Musée des Abattoirs dedicated to modern and contemporary art, and the Fondation Bemberg with its collection of 30 paintings by Bonnard plus other Impressionist works. All these attractions and more punctuate your exploration this city, full of the flavours of the Toulousain way of life. Along the way, enjoy the delights of the many daily markets, restaurants (six of which boast Michelin stars) and cafés which ensure Toulouse is a city that is both up-to-the-minute and warmly welcoming. And the emblematic Violet and famous blue woad of Toulouse are just some of the city's additional charms.
Between the sea and the mountains, just 150 km from the beaches of the Mediterranean and 110 km from the Pyrenees, positioned in the heart of the Great Tourist Sites in Midi-Pyrénées, Toulouse is a essential part of any holiday in Southwest France. You'll love it!
Set in the majestic Lot valley, Cahors, City of art and history, is made to be explored. From the Valentré Bridge to the Saint-Etienne cathedral, via the market place and the boulevard terraces, the Lot's first city combines southern atmosphere, historical wealth and gourmet pleasures.
As it approaches Cahors, the Lot flows in wide meanderings. It is here, where the river makes one of its beautiful loops, that Cahors was established in Roman times. In the Middle Ages the city became a commercial and financial centre on a European scale. A real golden age to be relived when visiting the old centre, intact and wonderfully alive.
First stage: the fortified 14th-century Valentré Bridge, emblem of the city. Its three magnificent fortified towers span the river with pride. One can walk through the area, rich in a vibrant past, or approach it by boat while cruising on the Lot. The Valentré Bridge is a UNESCO world heritage site, as is the Saint-Etienne cathedral on the road to Santiago de Compostela.
The visit continues in the heart of Cahors, where the red of the brick combines with the grey of the limestone and the ochre of the sandstone. In the small medieval streets we revel in the charm of the small renovated squares and the inventiveness of the secret gardens that grace the city. The Middle Age arcades of boutiques shelter restaurants, cafés and shops. In the shade of the plane trees, boulevard Gambetta, dating back to the 19th century, invites us to take a stroll.
Not to be missed, on Wednesdays and Saturdays: The food market at the gates of the Saint-Etienne cathedral. Take a big basket because everything will tempt your appetite: Rocamadour cheeses, Quercy farm-reared lamb, Perigord walnuts, foie gras, Quercy melon and of course Cahors AOC wines.
For Cahors is in the heart of the vineyard that has borne its name since the time of François 1st. This territory is the cradle of a long line of winemaking expertise. At the heart of the wine region, the historic Malbec territory, the major grape variety in the appellation, châteaux and estates open their doors to visitors. A wonderful opportunity to discover what is known as black wine, a wine whose intense colour, subtle hues and strong character you will appreciate.
Rocamadour, a medieval city attached to its cliff, with the splendour of stone illuminated by the lights of the setting sun: it's an image, etched in eternity, that will remain in your memory. This extraordinary village will take you to another time, a time when people came from afar to worship the Black Virgin.
Head for the Lot, more precisely the regional nature park of the Causses de Quercy. Here you are near the Dordogne valley, also near to the celebrated Padirac chasm. A surprise awaits you on a bend in the road. Suddenly, Rocamadour appears.
The city is built in successive stages on the side of the cliff. It looks upon a canyon where the Alzou river flows. Its houses, its roofs and its churches seem to be part of the rock that falls from the Gramat causse (causse: in South West France, a limestone plateau that extends between two valleys).
Which genius imagined and constructed Rocamadour? Your visit might perhaps tell you. Already, in the middle ages, Rocamadour aroused admiration. In the 12th century, pilgrims crossed the whole of Europe to come here to pray as the village contained the remains of Saint-Amadour. It was also the revered sanctuary of the Black Virgin.
One enters the city by the Figuier gate, before taking the rue de la Couronnerie: the only street in Rocamadour, lively, lined with colourful boutiques and beautiful houses. Then we come to a monumental stairway with 233 steps! It rises to the heart of Rocamadour: a square where there are 8 churches and chapels squeezed up like ancient shelters under the rock. Be sure to visit the Notre-Dame chapel. There you will find the Black Virgin, a small silhouette in black wood, fragile, almost childlike, and yet which emanates an astonishing spiritual force.
You must also stroll around the upper castle. Its romantic silhouette is Rocamadour's crown. From the top of this lookout point is a breathtaking view over the sacred city, a mixture of audacity and serenity. All around is the Causses du Quercy Regional Nature Park. A vast territory there to be explored, between paths lined with low walls, woods with small oaks and chasms, small Quercy villages and delightful meetings with the inhabitants
Colourful and exuberant Albi is a busy commercial centre that has a marvellous quality of life with an almost Italian feel. Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in July 2010, the Cité Épiscopale has retained its appearance of old, characterised by the Pont Vieux, the fortifications along the River Tarn, the Palais de la Berbie and the mighty Cathedral of Sainte Cécile, its huge brick nave rising majestically above the Tarn.
Clad in orange-coloured brick and auburn roof tiles, Albi will bowl you over with its Tuscan air, its love of art and its elegance which shines through the everyday.
The historical centre, laid out around the Cathedral of Sainte Cécile is worth exploring in detail. The buzzing 'Vieil Alby' takes centre stage in this busy city of 53,000 inhabitants. Dating back to the Middle Ages, it consists of a vast maze of pretty streets perfect for exploring. The streets are lined with half-timbered houses, smart boutiques, fine town houses built during the Renaissance with money from the woad trade and other treasures that are part of the city's heritage.
The Cathedral of Sainte Cécile, which inevitably draws the visitor's gaze, dominates the city magnificently. Surrounded by shops and restaurants, it is a masterpiece of Southern Gothic art. You'll be impressed by its brick structures and bell tower-cum-keep that soars high into the sky. Inside the atmosphere is charged with quiet spirituality, featuring remarkable decoration including the largest medieval Judgment Day fresco and the most extensive collection of Early Renaissance Italian paintings completed in France.
Adjoining the cathedral, and almost as imposing, the Palais de la Berbie was once the residence of the powerful bishops of Albi. Today it is home to the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, dedicated to the famous artists who was born in Albi in 1864. Here you'll learn all about the singular personality of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and discover the cabarets, brothels, circuses and racecourses he liked to frequent. With a wide variety of collections, pictures painted in his youth, major portraits, drawings, posters and lithographs, the Albi museum is custodian of the world's largest collection of works by this artist unlike any other.
The Musée Toulouse-Lautrec has been completely refurbished and restructured and is one of France's great contemporary museums. It opens on to the formal French-style Jardins de la Berbie, created in the 17th century. Strolling around these gardens adorned with boxwood topiary is a pure pleasure. Laid out on terraces above the Tarn, they offer the visitor an unforgettable viewpoint of the river and city.
Lourdes is a little mountain town of true greatness. To come here is to escape the everyday, to journey into the act of journeying; it's a destination one remembers for a long time afterwards. Every year, cosmopolitan and benevolent Lourdes receives six million travellers from 140 countries on every continent, sharing their own stories, encounters and emotional journey. A place of fraternity and spirituality above all, but also heaven on earth and the starting point of numerous walks; an authentic, virtuous place, quiet and intimate, where great marvels rub shoulders with humble contemplation.
It was on the banks of the mountain river called the Gave de Pau, in Massabielle Cave, that the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858, changing Lourdes' destiny for ever.
The area around the cave, known as the Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes, is a private estate of 52 ha. It is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. A spiritual retreat from which to draw strength, a beneficial ritual passed on from generation to generation, a return to one's origins, or simply dropping in to experience the atmosphere of this ultra-famous place as a tourist curiosity: whatever your reason for coming here, you simply have to experience this scintillating place for yourself...
A walk around the centre is a great way to soak up the atmosphere of Lourdes: it may be used to welcoming the whole world, but it has not lost its character as a rural Pyrenean town.
The impressive castle, modified on the instructions of the great military architect Vauban, has in turn served as the residence of the counts of Bigorre, a mercenaries' hideout, a royal prison and finally a garrison, before being occupied in 1921 by the Musée Pyrénéen, which has preserved all its charm.
Starting from Cahors, a cliff-lined road winds through the Lot valley leading to an unforgettable spectacle: that of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. This medieval village, wonderfully preserved, hugs the rocky wall 100 metres above the river. What's more, it was voted 'France's Favourite Village' in 2012.
Upstream from Cahors, the Lot valley opens up to a winding gash where yachts and pleasure boats ply the river. The cliffs come together, high and white. They tightly hug the river cooled by trees and meadows. The road is at times cut into the rock. It runs close to the enchanting waterway, one of the most beautiful rivers in France.
One soon enters the Causses du Quercy Regional Nature Park. A crossroads indicates the neighbouring valley of the Célé: one shouldn't miss a visit, amongst others, to the magnificent ornate Pech Merle cave. But for the moment, let us stay in the Lot valley. A veritable jewel box containing a rare pearl: Saint-Cirq-Lapopie.
Perched above the river, the medieval village fits beautifully into its cliff. It unfurls in an intoxicating cascade of paved alley ways, Gothic facades, fortified gates and hollyhocks. Previously witness to a flourishing ferryboat life, renowned for its wood turners, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is a listed site including 13 historic monuments. The village has retained the whole of its heritage, but also its charm. Market stalls, restaurants and cafés are sheltered from the sun by the shade of Gothic doors, whereas the site is striking in its overall harmony.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the village attracted artists, Parisian gallery owners and, from 1950, numerous artists from the surrealist movement. This artistic dimension is still clearly present as evidenced by the contemporary art route, not forgetting the international artists' residence installed in the Maison Daura. The poet and writer André Breton was the one who put saint-Cirq-Lapopie on the map. On the subject of this village where he came to live, he said: "I have stopped wanting to be elsewhere". We easily understand him!
Powerful with its striking cathedral emerging from the depths of the centuries; powerful with the stunning work of artist Pierre Soulages; and powerful with its humbling collection of statue-menhirs in a museum that is one of its kind in Europe. Rodez's energy is rich with history, art and vitality and never fails to enrapture its visitors.
As you draw closer to the city, you will start to feel its wonderful energy and vibrations. Maybe this is because of the profound conviction with which it dominates the rolling hills of the Rouergue. The name Segodunum (meaning victorious fortress) given to the city by Gallic populations speaks for itself.
This is the capital of Aveyron, the birthplace of some of France's finest creations, from the Laguiole knife to Millau viaduct, and of course the world-famous Roquefort cheese. The city emerges as if elevated by the power of its Notre-Dame cathedral, which was completed at the start of the 16th century. Its 87 metre high bell tower trimmed with red filigree sandstone conducts the heavens and skies, surrounded by the old city and bluish-roofed houses clinging to the hillsides.
The Musée Pierre Soulages, which recently opened in Rodez, is just 300 metres from the cathedral. Pierre Soulages, who was born in Rodez and is among France's most famous living artists, has given a considerable number of his works (around 500 works and documents) to the town. The museum was officially opened in May 2014. Its resolutely contemporary architecture is itself an expression of a certain aesthetic. Clad entirely in Corten weathering steel, the museum covers an area of 6,000 m2. Housed in part of the museum complex is Café Bras, run by Michelin-starred chefs Michel and Sébastien Bras, which is open to the public for an unforgettable lunch.
Rodez also boasts two other remarkable museums. The Denys Puech museum showcases the talent of this sculptor who won the Rome grand prix in 1884, together with a fantastic contemporary art collection. The majestic Jouéry hotel (14th-16th centuries) houses the Fenaille museum with its extraordinary collection of statue-menhirs.
Let yourself fall under the spell of artists from past and present, exploring the streets of the Old district, admiring the deft craftsmanship of builders and sculptors of Aveyron stone.
Explore Place de la Cité, rue de Bonald, rue Neuve, place du Bourg and place Foch with their beautiful Renaissance mansions and hôtels particuliers - hôtel Delauro, hôtel d'Adhémar and hôtel de Bonald – and their many boutiques and cafés pressed cheek to cheek. Inhale the invigorating air while you take in the quality of the details sculpted in stone; wander around the Evêché then over to the superb National stud farm which is housed in a chartreuse right in the city centre.
You will also get a great feel for Rodez at the market which is held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and the lively brasseries and gourmet restaurants which will give you a taste of the high-quality local produce.
Opened in December 2004, the Millau Viaduct was devised by the French Engineer Michel Virlogeux and designed by the English architect Lord Norman Foster. This structure spans the Tarn in a single bound of 2,460 m and holds the world height record with a tower above the valley at 343 m.
Thanks to the Millau Viaduct, the Méridienne (A75 motorway) is the shortest, most economical and hassle-free between Paris and the Mediterranean.
The unique motorway structure with the look of a yacht, has become a work of art to be contemplated. Each year, more than a million visitors gather at the Viaduct lookout point. This unique, highly-prized area, is the only authorised, secured, laid out lookout point for the general public. As well as being a lookout point and a tourist information centre, it is also a great place to eat. This place offers light refreshments representing Aveyron excellence to people passing through or visiting. The Millau Viaduct is thus for Aveyron what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, and people come from around the world to appreciate the structure.
Fine, light and slender, the Millau Viaduct is very much at home in the landscape. It is also a reference between two worlds. This contemporary work of art is at the heart of the natural regional Grands Causses Park. With the Causse Rouge to its north and the celebrated Causses de Larzac to its south, the Millau Viaduct may be seen from all around.
A few kilometres away, the Roquefort cheese cellars are an extraordinary network of caves in which the king of France's cheeses is matured. We then take to the road once again to seek out the area's treasures... The five fortified sites of the Knights Templar and Hospitaller on the Larzac (La Couvertoirade, La Cavalerie, Sainte Eulalie de Cernon, Saint Jean d'Alcas and Le Viala du Pas de Jaux) stand as witness to the presence of the warrior monks who settled here in the 12th century. Further south, the Cistercian abbey at Sylvanès is home to an International Festival of Religious Music held there every summer.
Finally, Millau, whose patrimony goes back to ancient Rome, is today celebrated for its glove trade. The town welcomes numerous visitors who are keen to enjoy all these tourist attractions at the foot of this majestic structure.
In this new high location of the French patrimony, tradition and modernity coexist very naturally, as exemplified by the astonishing symbiosis between the viaduct and its environment.