There is plenty to entertain you here, above and below ground, and even in the sky
Ride in a flat-bottomed boat on the Tarn beneath the tallest bridge in the world, the Millau Viaduct (www.bateliersduviaduc.com). Go on an excursion along the Canal du Midi through Toulouse (www.bateaux-toulousains.com), or rent a boat on the Canal des Deux Mers or through the Lot Valley (www.leboat.co.uk). Canoe through Albi from the Berbie Palace gardens – best done as the sun goes down as it casts changing lights on the red brick buildings (www.albi-tourisme.fr). Or try the three-hour canoe or kayak journey along the 9km of the Gorges de l’Aveyron (www.tourisme-tarnetgaronne.fr).
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Cyclists flock to the Tarn for the Véloroute de la vallée du Tarn, which follows the river from Montans through Albi to Trébas-les-Bains (www.tourisme-tarn.com), and the Véloroute de la vallée et Gorges de l’Aveyron, which runs from Montauban to Laguépie via typical medieval villages (www.tourism-occitania.co.uk).
Walkers can follow the family-friendly Sentier des Légendes trail through the volcanic landscape of the Tarn’s Sidobre area. Hardier souls can take a six-day hike between five manned refuges in the Néouvielle Nature Reserve in Hautes-Pyrénées, famous for its 70 lakes.
Ride a horse through D’Artagnan country among the hills and fortified towns of the Gers (www.holidays-gers.com) or take a balloon trip over the Gers countryside with Montgolfières de Gascogne (www.montgolfieres-gascogne.fr).
New for summer 2018 was the Sansan Palaeontological Site near Auch, one of the largest
in Europe. Follow the 1.5km interpretative trail where prehistoric animal skeletons were discovered in 1834 at the bottom of an ancient lake.
The Gallo-Roman Villa de Séviac reopened this year after major renovation work to highlight its polychrome mosaics (www.elusa.fr).
Explore the 13th-century bastide towns of the Tarn, built on a grid plan with ramparts and an arcaded central square – Cordes-sur-Ciel is probably the best known, but try to visit Castelnau-de-Montmiral and Lisle-sur-Tarn too. You’ll find others in Aveyron, including Najac and Villefranche-de-Rouergue, as well as Caylus in Tarn-et-Garonne. Midi-Pyrénées is rich in Plus Beaux Villages – the département of Aveyron has more than anywhere else in France. Elsewhere in the region, I have a soft spot for Auvillar, a former port on a plateau above the Garonne; for Lectoure in the Gers, historical home of pastel (woad), the plant used to produce blue dye; and for La Couvertoirade, a fortified village of the Knights Templar on the Larzac plateau in eastern Aveyron.
For aviation history – of which there is a lot in this part of the world– visit Aeroscopia (www.musee-aeroscopia.fr) and the new Piste des Géants in Toulouse (www.toulouseaerospace.com); for the history of space flight, go to the Cité de l’espace (www.cite-espace.com). Discover the history of written communication at the Musée Champollion (www.musee-champollion.fr). Marvel at nature on a subterranean boat ride at the Gouffre de Padirac (www.gouffre-de-padirac.com). And for the Grand Site of the Canal du Midi, and the history of woad, gen up at www.auxsourcesducanaldumidi.com.
The village of Marciac in the Gers is famous for its international jazz festival in August, but also showcases jazz with smaller events throughout the year and with the Musée Les Territoires du Jazz (www.jazzinmarciac.com).
From France Today magazine