In the south-west, Midi-Pyrénées, which lies between Aquitaine to the west and Languedoc-Roussillon to the east, is a large région with a size almost equivalent to that of Switzerland and Luxemburg put together. It has eight départements, each with its own strong character. Magnificent mountain scenery can be found both to the north and south of the region. The north east encompasses part of the Causses which is high plateau country. This is a land of plains dotted with hillocks, sandy stretches, moors and pine woods, desolate plateaux, and little valleys covered with impenetrable forests. The birds and small animals feed on the thyme and juniper growing wild in the chalky soil and as a result are hunted for their delicious and individual flavour.
The villages and farmhouses of Aveyron, a majestically stark landscape of granite outcrops and steep ravines, are built of local rock and often mimic the rock formations to the extent that they are all but invisible to outsiders.
Lot is a département that has become very popular with foreign buyers, particularly the British,, because it neighbours the long popular Dordorgne. Character property, particularly in the beautiful bastides (fortified villages), is less expensive here. The Lot is noticeably hotter and drier than the Dordogne. Here the serpentine River Lot and its many tributaries have cut dramatic gorges into the dry limestone plateau.
The département of Gers, just west of Toulouse, lies at the heart of the historic province of Gascony (today often dubbed France's Tuscany). The rolling countryside is lushly green and sleepy bastides dominate the hilltops. Here foie gras is the local delicacy and Armagnac the locally produced drink. This area has only recently been discovered by foreigners and is becoming increasingly popular.
Further south, the hills rise to the dramatic Pyrénnées. The 19th Century saw a major exodus from rural areas and Ariège, the département furthest south, was particularly effected and lost much of its population to the industrial north.
Today people are moving back to these once deserted areas and outsiders are realising that the Midi-Pyrénnées is an ideal place for a first or second home. The white sandy beaches of the Atlantic or the golden sun-baked Mediterranean beaches are a couple of hours drive or train ride to the west or east. Then, in the winter, the ski resorts of the Pyrénées are a short drive south. When you are feeling less outdoorsy you have Toulouse, one of the finest and most attractive cities in France, with its many superb shops, museums and restaurants to explore.
The people of the Midi-Pyrénées are warm and easy-going and receptive to foreigners, as for centuries newcomers have sought exile here. During the Spanish Civil War for instance, thousands of republican refugees flowed over the frontier to settle, especially in Toulouse, instilling new blood and energy into the région.
Midi-Pyrénées today is divided between high-tech Toulouse and the deep countryside with its traditional agricultural products. Toulouse is the largest Aerospace centre outside of Paris. The sector employs more than 56,000 workers and € 13 billion worth of products are exported each year. Agriculturally, the principal crops are grapes for eating, prunes, melons, apples and sunflowers. The région also produces sixty per cent of France's garlic.
- Population: 2,551,687
- Pop.density (people per km2): 56