Located in the south of France, in Occitanie, at the foot of the Pyrenees, Haute-Garonne is far from mass tourism. Its sweetness of life and its wide, open spaces are an invitation to an immersion in nature where you slow down and take your time.
Haute-Garonne has also a dense heritage with many sites listed by UNESCO and a gastronomy renowned for its high-quality, local products.
1. The Canal des 2 Mers (Canal du Midi and Canal de Garonne)
You can discover it by bike on the fully equipped cycle path, or on board a boat (whether a houseboat, a cruise or a boat restaurant). Bordered by old lock houses transformed into restaurants, take the time to admire the many locks that are still active alongside this waterway and follow the sources of the canal in Revel/ Saint-Ferréol where the Reservoir, a museum dedicated to the Canal du Midi, will reveal all the secrets of this monumental achievement, the most important of the reign of Louis XIV.
2. Take a stroll in Toulouse, the pink city, and its historic centre
Here, history hides behind every brick. The ground is full of vestiges of the past and, over the roofs, many monuments stand out. The heritage of religious buildings is also particularly rich with some curiosities such as the church of the Jacobins or the basilica of Saint-Sernin, the largest Romanesque church still standing in Europe. Finally, Toulouse is the French city with the most Renaissance mansions.
3. Luchon and the Central Pyrenees.
It is here that the famous GR10 long-distance hiking route, which starts from the Atlantic and ends at the Mediterranean, crosses the Haute-Garonne for 68 km. It offers superb panoramas passing at the foot of Lake Oô, under the peak of Céciré (2,403 m), the station of Luchon-Superbagnères before going down to Luchon and Artigue. The GR10 then continues from the Pics de Bacanère and Burat to Fos then Melles. Did you know that the Haute-Garonne is the seventh highest department in France with its eighteen peaks that culminate at more than 3,000 meters?
4. Local specialities that fuel a rich gastronomy
There are four quality sectors: the wines of Fronton, the black pork of Bigorre, the purple garlic of Cadours and the lamb of the Pyrenees. To taste them, Haute-Garonne Tourisme recommends the many open-air markets of the department: the covered market of Victor Hugo in Toulouse, the peasant market of Grenade-sur-Garonne, the organic market of Montbrun Bocage and the Revel market, which is also one of the 100 most beautiful markets in France.
5. Secret villages off the beaten track
Delve into the heart of Haute-Garonne by visiting these five lesser-known locations:
- Cazères and its Maison Garonne to know everything about this river which gave its name to the department
- Rieux-Volvestre, a medieval village with a superb cathedral
- Villemur-sur-Tarn, a village surrounded by ramparts with a brick defence tower
- Carbonne, l’Isle en Dodon, Boulogne-sur-Gesse, Granada or Nailloux, ancient bastides, somes of which are fortified.
6. A cyclist’s paradise
With two great routes reserved for cyclists (the Canal des 2 Mers and the Transgarona that will soon connect Toulouse to the Pyrenees) and many mythical passes of the Tour de France, the Haute-Garonne is the ideal playground for cycling enthusiasts.
7. The Via Garona (GR861), a natural hiking route
Connecting Toulouse to Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, this route follows the Garonne river. With a level accessible to all, the hike allows you to discover successively 41 municipalities and 6 monuments registered with the World Heritage of UNESCO.
8. The historic site of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges/Valcabrère
At the foot of the Pyrenees, with its imposing cathedral perched on a rocky pedestal and its pretty medieval houses protected by ramparts, this city of 300 inhabitants is part of the «Most Beautiful Villages of France». Do not miss to discover the Gallo-Roman remains and the Romanesque Basilica Saint-Just-de-Valcabrère. An important stop on the way to Santiago de Compostela, the cathedral also has one of the most beautiful cloisters in the Pyrenees and a fully-sculpted organ at an angle.
9. The Castle of Laréole
Located north of Toulouse, near the village of Cadours, the castle of Laréole is a jewel of the Renaissance in a beautiful green setting. It opens to the public every year from May to September, for guided tours and many free shows.
10. The perfect family holiday
Go for a swim, have fun or learn new things, a host of activities for all ages await you in Haute-Garonne. Discover the many leisure parks such as La Cité de l’Espace, Halle de la Machine, Airbus, Aéroscopia, Animaparc, Tepacap, Village Gaulois… there is no shortage of family fun here.
Lead photo credit : ©Shutterstock
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