Cycling in the Midi-Pyrénées: A Slow Journey in a Diverse Region
Charming towns, clear rivers and pretty canals, smooth hills and rugged mountains make the Midi-Pyrénées one of the most diverse regions of France. Nested between the
Atlantic and the Mediterranean and bordering Spain, it’s a land boasting a rich historical and cultural heritage, some of the finest gastronomy and a varied landscape perfect for outdoor activities.
Perhaps because the Col du Tourmalet is a legendary climb of the Tour de France, cycling is very popular in this area. If you’re well trained and experienced, you may want to jointhe cyclists coming from all over the world to follow the 368km long Route des Cols, riding some of the most famous stages of the Tour de France.
You don’t have to be a champion though, for a cycling holiday in the Midi-Pyrénées,and like I did, you can always rent an electric bike. The region offers plenty of leisurely options on easy and scenic routes, amid smooth hills or along shaded waterways, thanks to the Voies Vertes - a network of more than 20 traffic-free easy roads perfectly suited for cycling excursions.
From Toulouse, the Canal du Midi Green Route borders the canal, amid rural scenery of verdant valleys, and golden fields of wheat and sunflowers. Linking Toulouse with Sète, on the Mediterranean,the Canal du Midi is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognising the genius of Pierre-Paul Riquet. The 360 km navigable waterway built in the second half of
the 17th Century is one of the most remarkable engineering works in modern times, and a great example of early sustainable development, with the canal harmonically blending with the landscape.
I started my Midi-Pyrénées trip in Toulouse and was pleasantly surprised by the ‘pink city’, as it is called for its typical ‘terracotta’ brick buildings. I also like to explore cities on foot and Toulouse's wide pedestrian area made strolling around all the more enjoyable. Don’t miss the scenic Place du Capitole, Saint-Sernin Basilica, the largest Romanesque church of the Old Continent and a walk along the river at sunset. Toulouse is also an important centre for gastronomy and as a food lover I couldn’t skip a visit to the Victor-Hugo market, where mouth-watering local products are displayed with exquisite taste. Refraining from at least tasting a few of them is impossible.
After Toulouse I reached Albi, a city which played a key role during the Middle Ages and which has fascinated me since my school days. Albi's historical heritage – again recognised by the UNESCO - is strongly linked to the 13th Century Crusade against the Cathars, after which Albi became an episcopal city conveying the power of the Roman Catholic Church. The heart of the city is a medieval jewel. Picturesque alleys flanked by old houses in red bricks and
timber, the noble and austere Sainte-Cécile Cathedral and the Palais de la Berbie, the Episcopal Fortress now housing the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, with its beautiful garden overlooking the river Tarn; everything invites for a stroll at a slow pace.
The easy 48km long cycling route leading from Albi to Cahors, called the “Chemin des Droits
de l’Homme”, offers nice views of the countryside and its many variety of trees: apple and cherry trees, maples and oaks, for a real taste of rural France. Along the route, don’t miss a break in Lautrec, a medieval town known as “One of the Most Beautiful Villages of France”.
The picture-perfect ancient houses and the arcades of the main square will make you feel as if you are stepping back into the past.
More enchanting towns can be discovered along the Aveyron’s “Most Beautiful Villages in France” circuit, 700km usually covered in 7 days. You’ll cycle between a diverse landscape, stopping in villages full of history like Conques and Najac, rewarding yourself with the tasty local gastronomy.
I’m not that fit and more inclined to less demanding activities, so e-bike tours are more my thing. Exploring Armagnac by electric bike is something I wish I had enough time to experience. I could easily imagine myself pedalling
between vineyards, stopping at one of the beautiful and typically French Châteaux for some wine tasting and overnighting in a small Maison d’Hôtes, where you can get in touch with locals