Welcome to the ancient lands of Occitanie

Introduction to Occitanie

An expansive, wonderfully diverse region, Occitanie boasts the best nature can offer: a blissfully sun kissed expanse of mountains, countryside and sea. This vast tract in the south of France on the Spanish border offers marvellous cuisine, fascinating history (the only French region with it’s own language) and a wealth of culture, yet remains less explored by visitors (and frequently cheaper!) than neighbouring Provence.

Read on to learn why you should visit Occitanie.

Map showing the Occitanie region of France

Getting to Occitanie

By air

From London you can fly direct to four Occitanie airports. BA, Ryanair and EasyJet all serve Toulouse-Blagnac (TLS). EasyJet flies to Montpellier-Mediterranee (MPL), whilst Ryanair serves Carcassonne (CCF) and Tarbes-Lourdes (LDE). Flight time is just under 2 hours.

Internal flights operate from Paris Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports to Toulouse, Montpellier and Tarbes-Lourdes, in approximately 1 hour 20 mins.

By train

TGV and SNCF operate direct train services from Paris Montparnasse station to Toulouse Matabiau. The journey takes roughly 4 hrs 20 minutes, and several services run daily.

By road

If you’re driving, the journey from Paris to Toulouse in the Occitanie region takes around 6 ½ hours, without breaks and dependent on traffic.

Take the A10 south from Paris passing Orleans, then join the A71 past Salbris. As you approach Vierzon follow signs for the A20 towards Toulouse/Clermont Ferrand. Take the A20/E9 exit towards Toulouse/Limoges. Continue south past Limoges. After Montauban, follow signs for the A62/E72 towards Toulouse/Bordeaux/Agen.

NB: Use a GPS or make sure you’ve enough data on your phone for Google maps!

Getting around the Occitanie region

LGV high speed train lines link the main hubs of Toulouse, Montpellier, Perpignan and Nimes. Regional trains (TER) serve Occitanie’s smaller towns.

Numerous motorways traverse Occitanie, including the A9, A20, A61, and A75. The A61 runs from Carcassonne over the Spanish border to Barcelona. The A64 links Tarbes and Lourdes with San Sebastian.

If you plan to explore Occitanie’s dramatic natural landscapes such as the Camargue wetlands and coastal resorts, Mount Canigou, and the Massif Central, then a car is highly recommended.

Note, highways/motorways in France get crowded and slow-going during holiday periods. This is particularly true in August, when many French people take their vacation. Bear this in mind when planning your route!

How big is Occitanie

Occitanie is the second largest region in France, and twice the size of Belgium! The region covers a whopping 28,079 square miles (72,725 square km). Its dramatically diverse topography includes the Massif Central mountain range in the north and the Pyrenees in the south, whilst the Mediterranean Sea glimmers in Occitanie’s south east corner.

Spain and Andorra lie on Occitanie’s southern flanks. Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes borders the north, and Nouvelle Aquitaine the west. Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur lies to the east of Occitanie.

13 departments make up Occitanie. These are Ariège, Aude, Aveyron, Gard, Gers, Haute-Garonne, Hautes-Pyrénées, Hérault, Lot, Lozère, Pyrénées-Orientales, Tarn, and Tarn-et-Garonne. The regional capital is Toulouse.

Cities

Major cities in Occitanie include

Toulouse

Nestled beside the Garonne River, Occitanie’s regional capital is an elegant, historical university city. Locals call the city ‘La Ville Rose’ due to the predominance of pink stone in much of its eye catching architecture.

Perpignan

Sandwiched between the Mediterranean coast and the Pyrenees, Perpignan lies just half an hour from the Spanish border. Catalan influences are visible in the terracotta buildings of the old quarter. Take a tourist tour of the 13th century Palais des Rois de Majorque, the ancient seat of the Kingdom of Catalonia, in the Occitanie region of France.

Montpellier

Montpellier was established in the 10th century as a trading port and is a relative newcomer compared to its medieval counterparts. This attractive city is a buzzing multicultural hub, with a vibrant student population.

Nimes

A prominent settlement since Roman times, Nimes is famed for archaeological gems such as the Maison Caree (a beautifully preserved Roman temple), Les Arenes and Pont du Gard (see below). For a more recent contrast, head to the city’s modern art museum. The Caree d’Art showcases contemporary artworks from the 1960s to present day, housed in a sleek glass and steel building. Once you’re done sightseeing, recharge in the peaceful Jardins de la Fontaine, and enjoy super views over the city.

History, culture and everything you need to know before visiting Occitanie

A Potted History of Occitanie

Iberians settled in the region back in 7th century BC. Around 500 years later, Romans conquered the area and named it Aquitania. The city of Narbonne became a key Roman stronghold, and capital of the first Roman province outside of mainland Italy. Nimes and Toulouse were also established around this time.

Visigoths later invaded Aquitania, and around the 5th century AD, Toulouse became the kingdom’s capital.

In 507 AD invading Franks defeated the Visigoths, who retreated east of the Pyrenees.

In the 8th century, conquering Arab Muslims arrived via the Strait of Gibraltar and Iberia. They overthrew Narbonne, but failed to capture Toulouse.

During the 11th century, settlements such as Montpellier developed, and the language of Occitan flourished. In 1271 the area (by now renamed Languedoc) became part of the Kingdom of France, and Parliament was established in Toulouse.

The 17th century construction of the Midi Canal strengthened political solidarity between Upper and Lower Languedoc.

The turbulent 18th century French revolution saw the territory divided into eight departments.

Modern day Occitanie has existed since 2016, following the merging of the former regions Midi-Pyrenees and Languedoc-Roussillon.

Culture (museums, historic ruins, architecture)

Pont du Gard

Half an hour northeast of Nîmes, in the Occitanie region, the 2,000 year old Pont du Gard aqueduct straddles the Gardon River. Built by the Romans in the first century AD to transport water from Uzes to Nimes, this elegant structure towers 49 metres high and 275 metres long. A Roman engineering triumph, the bridge features 52 graceful arches on three levels, built from hand carved blocks of stone. The design cleverly included a slight gradient, to aid water flow.

During the 6th century, the aqueduct became a toll gate and later a road bridge. Today it’s a UNESCO world heritage site. Visitors can cross the bridge on foot, and peer down into the Gardon River. If you’re there between May and August visit after dark, when the whole site is dramatically illuminated.

NB: You might recognise Pont du Gard from the 5 euro note, a popular tourist spot in southern France!

Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, Albi

Art lovers should make a detour to the charming town of Albi, in the Tarn department. Here you can browse a vast collection of works by local boy Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The 19th century artist was born in in the town, and its museum showcases over 1,000 of his paintings, drawings and lithographs.

Les Arenes, Nimes

A beautifully preserved Roman amphitheatre, built in the first century AD. The two tiered arena seated an audience of 24,000 who came to watch wild animal hunts, gladiator battles and executions. Today it’s a music and theatre venue.

Carcassonne

Hugging a rocky hillside, the celebrated town of Carcassonne hails back to the 6th century BC. Enter the walled citadel through the main gate at Porte Nabonnaise (complete with drawbridge). You’ll arrive in an enticing maze of cobbled alleyways and ancient squares. Explore the castle ramparts of the Cite Medievale via its 12th century keep. The views across the surrounding countryside are wonderful.

Weather in Occitanie

Due to its vast size and varied terrain, Occitanie enjoys a diverse climate. Mediterranean coastal areas frequently bask in dry, warm weather, whilst the west is usually wetter and cooler. The mountainous Pyrenees and Massif Central areas receive significant snowfall during winter.

Overall, Occitanie is one of France’s warmest regions, racking up over 2,000 hours of sunshine each year. Toulouse, Montpellier, Nimes and Perpignan are all listed in France’s top ten sunniest cities.

Spring (March to May)

Springtime brings mild temperatures and regular rainfall to Occitanie. March temperatures fluctuate between 6oC/43oF and 15oC/59oF. From April to May temperatures begin to rise. Highs reach 22oC/72oF, but there’s still a good chance of showers, particularly in hilly areas.

Summer (June to August)

Occitanie enjoys long hot summers, and June to August is the region’s driest period. July is statistically the sunniest month, with cloudless azure skies and minimal rainfall. Temperatures typically range between 25oC/77oF and 29oC/85oF, with the mercury often rising higher.

Autumn (September to November)

Early autumn brings mild weather and sporadic showers, which become more frequent during October. Average temperatures vary between a balmy 20oC/68oF to a keen 11oC/52oF, as winter approaches.

Winter (December to February)

Expect chilly weather and plenty of rain. Temperatures average at 10oC/ 50oF. January is the coldest month, with typical lows of 9oC/48oF. You’ll see considerable snowfall in mountainous areas.

Best time to visit Occitanie

If you want to avoid extreme heat and cold, May, June and September are the best months to visit Occitanie. You’ll enjoy warm temperatures, sunshine and minimal rainfall. If you’re travelling as a tourist in July and August, coastal areas in southern France will be busy! Remember to pack a sun hat and be generous with the sunscreen!

Why you should visit Occitanie

Occitanie is a rich, diverse region offering abundant natural beauty, history, and culture. From Med-lapped beaches to medieval towns, the region will delight outdoor fans, foodies, history buffs, and art lovers.

Must sees in Occitanie

Carcassonne

The citadel and ramparts of this stunning ancient city are UNESCO world heritage sites and not to be missed.

Canal du Midi

A beautiful 120 mile stretch of waterway that links the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea (via the Garonne River and Garonne Canal). Completed in 1681, the canal contains 91 locks and flows from Toulouse to Sete on the coast. Explore this tranquil setting on a rented bike or on foot, or enjoy the view from the water on a boat cruise.

Uzes

The pretty town of Uzes, outside Nimes, dates back to the 1st century AD. Visit the Duche, the town’s fortified Renaissance chateau. It’s been home to Uze’s nobility for 1,000 years (the current resident is the 17th, in the Occitanie region of southern France).th Duke of Uze). Climb the 11th century Bermonde tower (135 steps) and you’ll enjoy a bird’s eye view of the town and its characterful limestone buildings. Dine alfresco on a restaurant terrace in lively Place Aux Herbes. Uzes hosts a colourful street market each Saturday. If you’re there in July/August, check out the Tuesday night market, a vibrant affair complete with live music and dancing.

Aigues Mortes

Take a tour of the 13th century ramparts at Aigues Mortes. The 1.6 km elevated walkway delivers great views across this medieval town and across the surrounding Camargue salt marshes. Afterwards, explore the arty old town, peppered with artist studios and workshops.

Sete

Known as the Venice of Languedoc, the port city of Sete boasts beautiful Mediterranean beaches alongside its idyllic network of canals. Every afternoon, fishing boats unload their catches in the old port, and light glints off windows of the pastel buildings that line the Royal Canal. Explore the town’s leafy squares filled with cafes, restaurants and boutiques. Swim off the sandy beaches of Plage des Quilles and Plage de la Corniche. Afterwards, feast on bouillabaisse or moules frites at one of Sete’s excellent seafood restaurants.

 Must Dos

Languedoc vineyards and dining excursion

Join a guided wine tour in the beautiful Pic Saint-Loup countryside, north of Montpellier. Learn about the wine making process and enjoy tastings at two renowned Languedoc wineries, followed by traditional farm to table cuisine.

Rocamadour, Lot

The picturesque pilgrimage village of Rocamadour teeters on a cliff face in the beautiful Dordogne valley. 216 narrow steep streets lead heavenwards to the religious complex of this ‘Citadel of Faith’. Bygone pilgrims scaled the steps on their knees, but nowadays you can walk or if you prefer, take the lift! Your efforts are rewarded with stunning panoramic vistas from the 14th century castle ramparts.

The Camargue wetlands

Discover the flora and fauna of the unspoilt Camargue. Join a half day excursion in an open-top 4×4 vehicle. Keep your eyes peeled for resident pink flamingos, black bulls and white horses.

Medieval villages of Avreyon

The verdant Lot is home to an abundance of picture-postcard villages. You’ll find these tiny settlements perched on hilltops and verdant riverbanks, or along the renowned Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage trail that meanders through Occitanie. Medieval gems, such as Najac, Cordes sur Ciel, and Saint Antonin Nobel Val rank amongst France’s most beautiful villages. They’re well worth a detour.

Eating out in Occitanie

Local markets

Cahors, Wednesday and Saturday mornings 7am to 1 pm. Food, clothing and crafts from the Occitanie region. Place Chapou, (next to Sainte Etienne Cathedral), Cahors.

Uzes, Wednesday and Saturday 8 am to 1pm. Browse local produce and crafts. Place aux Herbes, Passage du Marché, 30700 Uzès

Montpellier, Arceaux farmers market, Saturday 7 am to 1.30 pm. Food, clothing and crafts. Boulevard des Arceaux, 34000 Montpellier

Toulouse, Sundays 7am to 2pm, Place St Aubin, Boulevard Michelet, 31000 Toulouse. Locally produced foods and artisan gifts from the occitanie region.

Auch market, Saturday 8am to 1pm. Fresh farm and organic produce from the Occitanie region, including preserves, wines, cheeses. Halle aux Herbes, 32000 Auch

Montauban farmer’s market, Saturday mornings. Locally grown produce including organic products. Allee du Consul Dupuy, Montauban

What to eat and drink in Occitanie

Cassoulet, the famous French casserole of slow cooked white beans, sausage and meats, originated in Castelnaudry, during France’s 100 Years War. This hearty dish nourished local soldiers, who successfully saw off the invading English.

Famed Roquefort cheese hails from the hilly countryside of Aveyron. Legend has it a shepherd left his lunch in a cave when sheltering from a storm. When he returned a few weeks later, the cheese had developed mould, and a delicious strong salty tang!

Seafood fans, visit Sete, and try stuffed mussels, a specialty of the coastal town. Another renowned Sete dish is Tiele, a rich octopus, black olive and tomato pie, fragranced with thyme.

Occitanie is the largest wine production region in the world! Occitanie vineyards produces 80 appellations, a third of all French wine. Favourites include red Fitou, red, white and rose Corbieres and sparkling Blanquette de Limoux, which is older than champagne!

Where to eat

Toulouse, La Brasiere, 42 Rue Pharaon, 31000 Toulouse. Meat and seafood fans, make a beeline for this relaxed, traditional restaurant. Classic French food is served in hearty portions, so bring an appetite.

Albi, Le Lautrec, 13-15 Rue Henri de Toulouse Lautrec 81000 Albi. An attractive restaurant housed in 18th century former stables, opposite the birthplace of the renowned artist. The menu focuses on Tarn specialities such as cassoulet and pork dumplings. On sunny days, book an alfresco table on the wisteria clad patio.

Sete, La Coquerie, 1 Chem. du Cimetière Marin, 34200 Sète. Indulge yourself at this elegant Michelin starred restaurant with wonderful sea views. Dine on innovative, fresh off the boat fish and seafood dishes paired with regional wines. Advance booking is a must!

Where to stay in Occitanie

Rent this contemporary seaside villa with a leafy garden in the heart of medieval Collioure. The house sleeps six guests in four bedrooms with two bathrooms. You’re a stone’s throw from the beach, restaurants and shops – Stay in Couloi, in the beautiful Occitania region.r

A short walk from the centre of Uzes, this characterful two bed cottage nestles in an olive grove. It comes with a private swimming pool set in tranquil gardens. Sleeps four – Stay in Uzes

Stay in the historic centre of Toulouse in this stylish one bedroom apartment. Perfectly located in a 16th century mansion just moments from shops, restaurants and visitor attractions. Sleeps four – Stay in Toulouse

To conclude

I hope this digital guide entices you to visit the captivating region of Occitanie. Thanks for reading and a bientot!

Latest posts by Maria Bricheno (see all)

Maria Bricheno
Latest posts by Maria Bricheno (see all)
Author

Maria Bricheno is a freelance writer, with a focus on independent travel. When not writing or plotting her next trip, she enjoys trail/road running, contemporary fiction, and country walks with her enthusiastic golden retriever. An ardent fan of all things Gallic, Maria spends too much of her leisure time lurking on French property websites.

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