Midi-Pyrénées is France’s largest region, larger in area than either Denmark or the Netherlands. The region was created in the 20th century based on the geographical region surrounding the city of Toulouse. Much of the area that is now Midi-Pyrénées was ruled by the Counts of Toulouse or its vassals during the early Middle Ages, but Toulouse as a county was disbanded after the French conquest in the 13th century, evolving into Languedoc as a remnant of the county. However, until the Revolution of 1789 the supreme court of Toulouse ruled over Languedoc, but all other areas now contained in Midi-Pyrénées.
Midi-Pyrénées is a region showing clear contrasts between the metropolitan area of Toulouse, which is bustling and has a young population with reasonably high incomes, and areas outside that are sparsely populated, with poorer residents living in the hilly countryside traversed by narrow country roads that see little traffic. Even so, Midi-Pyrénées has the highest number of farms in France, because of its large geographical area. There are some 60,000 farms in operation in the region. Industrial activity in Midi-Pyrénées is concentrated in foods, engineering, and aerospace, with companies like EADS, Airbus, and Alcatel having regional offices there. In addition to visiting Toulouse, tourists in Midi-Pyrénées like to visit the towns of Mautauban and Albi.
Toulouse is the heart of Midi-Pyrénées and has a history that easily spans 2,000 years. The distinctive brick and tile architecture is evident here and is representative of the region. Combined with the quality of light here, the city has a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Toulouse is France’s fourth largest city, and if you go there you’ll definitely want to walk through the historic center along the Canal du Midi. You’ll find lovely cafes with terraces that spill onto the pavements, and plenty of good shopping, particularly for leather goods, jewelry, and fashion.
Toulouse also boasts city neighbourhoods with both covered and open-air markets where you can find local products like cheeses, wine and the famous Toulousain cassoulet. The Saint-Sernin basilica, from the 11th and 12th century, is exquisite, and you can see Southern-French gothic architecture in the Jacobins convent buildings. Saint Etienne shows many architectural styles in its many stages of evolution, and you’ll also see plenty of Renaissance architecture, as well as 19th century industrial structures that have new lives as cultural centers.
Montauban, with a population of about 55,000, is located some 50 km north of Toulouse, where the Tarn and Tescou Rivers meet. First granted its charter in 1144, the city is known for its red brick architecture and its Catholic-Protestant history. The 14th century pink brick bridge connecting the suburb of Villebourbon with Mauntauban, the Pont Vieux, is stunning and very well preserved, aside from its towers.
Albi, with 51,000 people, is dominated by Sainte-Cecile Cathedral, and the historic area around the cathedral covers 63 hectares and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Berbie Palace, adjoining the cathedral to the north, and the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, are things you should see in Albi, along with Albi’s Pont Vieux, and the Saint Salvi church, with its Romanesque-to-Gothic architecture.
Outside Toulouse, Midi-Pyrénées is a relatively quiet region, but with architecture and historical sites that are integral to the history of France.