15 Best Things to Do in the Southern Pyrenees

The Midi-Pyrénées encompasses a large area of ​​southwestern France, large and varied.

To the north, you’re at the rugged limestone foothills of the Massif Central, while to the south, the Pyrenees and their foothills offer some of the most inspiring natural landscapes in Western Europe.

The revered Way of St James passes through the region and has provided it with a pilgrimage site treasured for over a thousand years, while Lourdes also attracts millions of people from all over the world each year.

Go underground to see huge gorges and prehistoric cave paintings, go skiing high in the Pyrenees, or marvel at the Cirque de Gavarnie and Pic du Midi.

Let’s explore the best things to do in the Southern Pyrenees:

1. Albi Cathedral

Albi Cathedral

Few buildings move people quite like Albi’s majestic brick Gothic cathedral.

It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and it’s incredible inside and out.

The outer wall of the stern has caused some fears due to its high cylindrical protrusions, which can easily pass through the city walls.

This is no accident, as the cathedral was designed to represent the strength of the Catholic Church following the suppression of the Cathar sect in southwestern France.

The decor inside is much more refined, colorful, and mostly from the Renaissance.

The paintings below the organ and on the vault constitute the largest collection of Italian Renaissance paintings in France.

2. Toulouse, the capital

capital of toulouse

If there’s one attraction you need to see on your trip to Toulouse, it’s this landmark building, which houses the City Hall and the 1,156-seat Capitol Theatre.

Built in the 12th century, it has changed with the times, and has been modified over the years to suit each new use, until it finally takes on the 18th century neoclassical design and those pink marble columns that are present.

To the rear is the Donjon, the oldest remaining element of the building, which faces Place Charles de Gaulle and dates back to 1530. Walk around inside, see the lavish ceiling paintings in the Salle des Illustres, and learn more about the history where the famous Duke of Montmorency was executed in 1632.

3. Cirque de Gavarnie, Upper Pyrenees

Cirque de Gavarnie, Upper Pyrenees

One of the most photographed sites in the High Pyrenees is the stunning glacier bowl below the Pic du Marboré, whose summit reaches over 3,200 meters high.

It’s easy to get to in the summer; there’s a designated parking lot nearby and you can approach the bowls on a very easy trail.

The best part for many is the falls, with a drop of 422 meters, it is the highest waterfall in the French metropolis.

The panoramic restaurant is great from a distance, but if you have a proper hiker, you can climb right under it to feel the spray on your face.

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If Gavarnie can’t satisfy your craving for cinematic beauty, the nearby Cirque de Tromouse is even bigger!

4. Conques St. Foy Abbey Church

St Foy's Abbey Church, Conques

Since it has long been an icon on the St. James pilgrimage route and is therefore a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you will spend a lot of time studying all the fascinating details of this church building and the magnificent objects in its treasure trove.

The first is the frieze above the doorway, which was carved in the 1100s and shows scenes from the afterlife: heaven on the left, torment in hell on the right.

Check out St. Foy’s reliquary in the vault, which contains a fragment of the saint’s skull in a gilded Roman head dating to the 400s – something pilgrims have seen over the centuries.

There is also a gold “A” decorated with gemstones, claimed to have been commissioned by Charlemagne, although it has recently been shown to date back to the 1100s.

5. Lourdes

Lourdes

In the 1800s, Lourdes went from a humble market town to one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Christendom, now attracting 6 million people a year and having the second largest hotel room in the country after Paris.

This is due to the supposed appearance of the Virgin Mary to a local farmer, Bernadette Suberus.

Whether you’re religious or not, Lourdes is worth seeing, if only for a few hours, because it represents so many people.

The scale of the phenomenon was overwhelmed by the crowds flocking to the Basilica of Our Lady of Lourdes, where the grotto springs were supposed to have magical properties.

6. Rocamadour

rocamadour

This daring village is crowded by a 150-meter-high vertical canyon on the left bank of the L’Alzou, a tributary of the Dorgon.

This doesn’t seem to bother the religious people who built the Rocamadour a thousand years ago, as the structures simply continue on the steep rock faces of jagged limestone terraces.

On the upper level is a group of 12th-century abbey buildings, known as the Cité Religieuse, listed as a World Heritage Site.

Pilgrims come from all directions to see the Black Madonna, a statue of the Virgin, darkened by millennia of weathering and believed to have healing powers.

7. Millau Viaduct

Millau Viaduct

The Millau Viaduct, the tallest bridge in the world, opened in 2004 as a joint project between Norman Foster and structural engineer Michel Virlogeux. One of the bridge’s iconic seven masts sits stunningly 343 meters above the base.

So what can you do here? Well, nothing but driving over.

But what a drive and what a view! If you’re just passing by, you can park on the A75 north of the bridge and revel in the scale of this epic building.

But there are also two visitor centers showcasing the design and construction of this modern marvel.

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An unforgettable way to see it is kayaking on the River Tarn that flows below it.

8. Padillac Cave, Lot

Padillac Cave, Lot

This massive natural landmark in the central massif was formed when the roof of a huge cave collapsed, creating a dimensional divide that you have to see to believe.

There is a stairway of over three hundred steps (or you can take three elevators!) down to the abyss level, just to access the rest of the cave system.

There is an underground river and you will board a boat to view the fascinating tortured geological formations of the main room.

Book early and get there on a summer morning as many are eager to see this epic natural heritage of Rhodes.

9. Toulouse Jacobin Church

Jacobin Church, Toulouse

West of the center of Toulouse is a Dominican church of immense beauty and historical wealth.

The remains of Thomas Aquinas, one of the great thinkers of the Middle Ages, are kept in the church.

Aquinas was a Dominican, and after his death and canonization in Italy, Pope Urban V ordered his body to be sent here as it was the mother church of the Order.

The architecture of the building is also stunning: all you need to do is look up and gaze in awe at the ceiling above the choir, this part is called the “palm tree” because the ribs of the vault grow like symmetrical leaves.

10. Canal du Midi

South Canal

An absolutely incredible piece of historical engineering, this waterway was planned in the 1600s to provide infrastructure for the wheat, wine and wool trade.

It connects the Garonne River in the west with the Mediterranean Étang de Thau in the east.

In the west, it is also connected with the Garonne Canal, forming the Double Sea Canal, effectively spanning the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts 400 years ago! The canal runs through Toulouse and Moisesac, and there are many different ways to immerse yourself in the scenery and history, from walks and bike rides on the riverbanks, to barge cruises and water canoe tours.

11. Auch Cathedral

Auch Cathedral

This magnificent Gothic and Renaissance church is a UNESCO site and a stop on the St. James pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.

The building is exhilarating from the inside out, with three massive naves, but if there’s one thing you must be sure to see, it’s the early Renaissance stained-glass windows.

Arnaud de Moles made a set of 18 windows between 1507 and 1513, and they were beloved for their depth of colour and technical virtuosity.

You’ll have to pay a few euros to enter the choir, but the stunning size of this part of the church and the carved weather-resistant oak from the 16th century are worth the small fee.

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12. Paige Meyer

Paige Mayer

Not many caves have striking prehistoric paintings open to the public, which should push Pech Merle on your list of things to do in the area.

You’ll be inches away from murals and prints dating from 18,000 to 27,000 years ago.

It’s hard not to feel something when you witness these works in person and realize that they were created before civilization was born.

The walls also have scratches from bears, and human footprints that have survived thousands of years.

There is one English-language tour per day, so you need to book a place early as there is a limit of 700 people per day.

13. Valente Bridge

Valente Bridge

This 14th-century bridge is the most evocative way to enter the city of Cahors and is only accessible to pedestrians.

Pont Valentré has a solid appearance because it was built during the Hundred Years War.

It is 138 meters long and consists of three imposing towers, battlements overlooking the water and an urn on the west bank of the Lot.

Legend has it that the Contractor made a deal with the devil in order to speed up the construction, and successfully saved his soul by breaking away from the contract.

So the devil sends an imp every night to remove the last stone to make sure the bridge is never finished.

Keep an eye out for this imp on one of the towers, which was added during restoration in 1879.

14. Try local food

Arrigo

When there’s snow on the ground and it’s well below zero outside, you’ll be thankful for the region’s warming protein-rich dishes.

Cassoulet is a famous speciality, a casserole with white lentils, Toulouse sausage, pork knuckle and goose gravy, slow cooked in a terracotta pot for hours.

At Aubrac, it’s worth trying Aligot, a mashed potato with Laguiole cheese that creates a rich, sticky side for ham and sausage.

For pure indulgence, nothing beats Gâteau à la Broche, which has flour, eggs, butter, vanilla and rum and is baked in the usual way: on a roast, slowly turning over the fire.

15. Winter sports

picture dumidy

Over the past 15 years, the region has invested heavily in raising its 26 alpine ski resorts to the highest international standards.

Almost all of them now have snowmaking facilities and large elevator capacities.

The road (A61, A64 and A66) and rail network, as well as the airports of Pau, Lourdes-Taub and Toulouse-Blagnac, also make the area a breeze.

The largest ski area is Le Grand Tourmalet, with 100 kilometers of pistes, it is very close to the Pic du Midi, and there is an observatory used by NASA to take detailed pictures of the moon before the 1963 Apollo mission.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in the South Pyrenees, France
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