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Occitanie is one of the regions of Southern France. Nestled between the Pyrénées and the Mediterranean Sea, Occitanie is always a trip back to the essential: the land, the sea, and the sky.
A region where sunny days abound, Occitanie has an incredible variety of landscapes, haven for great outdoor experiences. But it also has interesting cities to explore and some of the cutest small towns in France.
Occitanie is a land with a thrilling history, with Roman sites like the Arena of Nîmes or Pont du Gard. There are also interesting medieval sites like Carcassonne – the gate to the fascinating Cathar Country.
Occitanie is another south, far from the French Riviera’s buzz. It is a land of traditions, where its inhabitants like to take their time and enjoy the small pleasures of this life.
Occitanie France is a relatively new region (2016), and it incorporates the former regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées. The main city in Occitanie is Toulouse.
Occitanie is divided into thirteen departments: Ariège, Aude, Aveyron, Gard, Haute-Garonne, Gers, Hérault, Lot, Lozère, Hautes-Pyrénées, Pyrénnées-Orientales, Tarn, and Tarn-et-Garonne.
Occitanie is diverse, and that’s good! Below, the list of top things to do in Occitanie and the best places to visit in Occitanie to get a glimpse of its history, culture, and natural wonders.
BY AIR: The region has 10 airports, being Toulouse-Blagnac (TLS) and Montpellier-Méditerranée (MPL), with many international connections to Europe and the Maghreb. Other smaller airports have many connections to the UK, especially Carcassonne-Salvaza (CCF), and Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrénées (LDE).
BY TRAIN: Train travel in France is straightforward. Three high-speed train lines (LGV) cross the region, serving cities like Toulouse, Montpellier, Nîmes, or Perpignan. The rest of the region is connected to these cities through regional trains (TER).
Occitanie is a great place for memorable road trips in France. With a car, some good tunes, and the best company, you are set for one of the best adventures in your life. Visit the main cities and then go off the beaten path to get the most out of Occitanie.
Recommended road trips in Occitanie:
If you don’t have your own car, we recommend booking in advance through platforms like RentalCar. This site takes all of the major rental companies, such as Hertz, Avis, etc., and compares prices for you.
Top Places to Visit in Occitanie France
Let’s have a look at the best places to visit in Occitanie France. The Occitanie tourist attractions list includes vibrant cities, sea towns, natural wonders, and historic monuments.
Toulouse, the Pink City
Located on the banks of the Garonne River, Toulouse is the capital of the Occitanie region. Toulouse is a pleasant city where life is good. Also, it is Europe’s aeronautical capital, with the largest space center in Europe.
In the city center distances are never far, and it is possible to go everywhere on foot. Visitors exploring Toulouse will discover admirable churches, charming narrow streets, sumptuous buildings, wonderful architecture, and a rich cultural heritage.
Feeling blue? Head to Toulouse! The Pink City owes its nickname to its brick architecture, with all shades of pink – depending on the time and the place – ocher and red that give the cityscape a look that it’s impossible to compare with any other city.
Start your wanderings at Place du Capitole; the city seems to gravitate always towards this place. Then explore Old Toulouse with its little squares and private mansions, its riveting museums that explore the cosmos, prehistory, ancient art, and the natural world. Finally, take a more than deserved break in one of the city’s beautiful parks.
Pont du Gard
The Pont du Gard aqueduct is a Roman construction built during the first century AD to channel water from the Eure River’s source in Uzés all the way to Nîmes. Along the way, the Gardon River was a difficult obstacle, and it was overcome by the construction of the Pont du Gard.
Pont du Gard was used as an aqueduct until the 6th century. It became a tollgate in the Middle Ages and later a road bridge from the 18th to the 20th century.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Pont du Gard is a true technical feat. It measures 48 meters high, and it has three vertical rows of arches: 6 on the lowest level, 11 on the second level, and 35 on the third and top level. Don’t miss the Museum of the Pont du Gard, which retraces the history of the aqueduct’s construction.
The Pont du Gard makes a great day trip from Nîmes, Uzés, or Avignon. You can also reach the foot of Pont du Gard by kayak sailing the Gardon River, and some of the tours proposed are available during all the year.
The Cathar Country (Pays Cathare in French) is one of the most fascinating areas to visit in Southern France, with an incredible heritage and a turbulent history of heresy and crusades. The Cathar Country is an ensemble of medieval castles, villages, and Romanesque abbeys related to the Cathars and Catharism – a Christian dualist movement that thrived in southern Europe – especially in the Languedoc Region – between the 12th and the 14th centuries. These sites were witnesses of the conflict which opposed 800 years ago hunted Cathars with the Catholic Church.
The Cité de Carcassonne is one of the most important sites to visit in the Cathar Country and one of the top Occitanie destinations. The city became a land of heresy in Pope Innocent III’s eyes, and it was one of the main targets during the first Cathar Crusade in 1209 led by Simon de Montfort.
The Cathar Country is best explored by car as most of these sites are poorly served (or not served at all) by public transportation.
The Villages of Aveyron
Located in the heart of Occitanie, the Aveyron is full of history and exceptional sites. With an altitude ranging from 144 to 1,463 meters, the Aveyron goes from the desert plateau of Larzac to green valleys crisscrossed by rivers.
The Aveyron is a land of character – rough and sweet at the same time – where life tends to slow down, just like in the old times. The Aveyron is also a paradise for food and nature lovers.
More than anything, the Aveyron is a place of picturesque medieval villages, with more official Most Beautiful Villages in France than in any other region.
Where to start? There are Conques, located along the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route, and other lovely villages like Belcastel, Najac, or Peyre.
Sant Martí del Canigó & Sant Miquel de Cuixà Abbeys
The Canigó (Canigou in French) is a mountain in the Pyrénées that has symbolic significance for the Catalan people. For the Catalans, the Canigó was always a sacred place, a place of legends and mysteries but also a national symbol that inspired poets like Jacint Verdaguer, author of the poem Canigó. The writer Rudyard Kipling, who visited Vernet-les-Bains many times between 1910 and 1926, declared himself ‘among the loyal subjects of the Canigou’.
Unfortunately, this area of the Pyrénées passed into French hands after the Treaty of the Pyrénées in 1659, when Philip IV of Castille and Aragon ceded the lands of Northern Catalonia, with its capital in Perpignan, to the French King Louis XIV. This was a setback for Catalonia, as it lost 1/5 of its territory. Most importantly, the second city in the country (Perpignan) was left in foreign hands.
On the mountains of Massif del Canigó, we find Sant Martí del Canigó (today Saint-Martin du Canigou) and Sant Miquel de Cuixà (Saint-Michel de Cuxa), two beautiful Benedictine abbeys founded in the 10th century by the Count Guifré II of Cerdanya. Both abbeys are jewels of Catalan Romanesque architecture in the Pyrenées and listed historic monuments.
Sant Martí del Canigó has a spectacular setting, perched in the mountains, whilst Sant Miquel de Cuixà is well-known for its beautiful Romanesque cloister, with impressive capitals decorated with monsters and other strange creatures. Both abbeys can be visited on a day trip by car from Perpignan or Barcelona. We recommend!
Parc National des Cévennes
Created in 1970, the Cévennes National Park is one of the ten national parks in France and one of the two parks to be inhabited, also in its core zone. This vast territory has been distinguished by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve for the particular balance between man and nature.
The richness of the park is based on the variety of natural environments and landscapes: from the granitic highlands of Mont Lozère to the majestic forests of Aigoual, or the vast limestone plateaus of the Causse Méjean carved out from the spectacular Gorges du Tarn and de la Jonte, Cévennes is this and much more.
With its 5,000 kilometers of signposted trails and paths, there are many ways to explore the magnificent landscapes of Cévennes National Park: on foot, on horseback, by mountain bike, or by practicing sports like canoeing, kayaking, climbing, via Ferrata and more.
Albi, la Rouge
Located in the Tarn department, the city of Albi is nicknamed ‘La Rouge’ (the red) because of its architecture made of red brick. This bastion of Catholic power was the base for the bloody 13th-century Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars and it still looks like it’s ready for war.
Albi does not make part of the Cathar Route, but if you are interested in Catharism, it makes sense to extend your explorations to Albi. The Cathars were known as Albigensians because of their association with the city of Albi and because the 1176 Church Council, which declared the Cathar doctrine heretical, was held near Albi.
In Albi, you cannot miss the Cité Episcopale, listed as UNESCO World Heritage since 2010. Developed around the cathedral and the palace-fortress, the Cité Episcopale dates back to the 13th century! The Cité Episcopale is a well preserved and unique representation of urban development of this kind in Europe. It covers 20 hectares and regroups four medieval neighborhoods, historical monuments, major sites, and the Tarn river banks.
Visitors looking for a weekend break of museums, historic monuments, and lively medieval streets will enjoy the red city of Albi. The city is also an excellent base for exploring other beautiful corners of the Tarn department.
The medieval city of Béziers was an important stronghold of Catharism. During the Cathar Crusade, Béziers was the first place to be attacked.
The Catholics of Béziers were given an ultimatum to hand over the heretics or leave before the Crusaders besieged the city. Finally, they decided to refuse, and they resisted with the Cathars.
With the words ‘Kill them all, God will recognize his own’ by a legate of the Pope of Rome, the Crusaders gave free rein to the ‘grande boucherie’ (big butchery) in Béziers: the city was burned and all its population, Cathars and Catholics, died.
Today people come to Béziers to visit its impressive Saint-Nazaire Cathedral, built in the 13th century atop a steep rock. The city’s Romanesque bridge over the Orb River (12th century) is also a wonder. For many centuries, this bridge was the single river crossing point from Provence to Toulouse. Béziers is also a great place to explore Canal du Midi by boat or by bike.
Gorges du Tarn
Gorges du Tarn is a huge canyon sculpted in the limestone plateau by the Tarn River – between the Causse Méjean and the Causse de Sauveterre. Gorges du Tarn is home to picturesque villages, medieval churches, and old châteaux and fortresses.
Today, this area is well known for its various outdoor activities like rafting, rock climbing, or kayaking. It is also a beautiful area to explore on a road trip, with remarkable sites and amazing views.
The Camargue is a natural region located between the regions of Occitanie and Provence-Alpes-Côte d´Azur. With an extension of more than 100,000 hectares, this area is world-known for its magnificent open spaces and exceptional fauna: flamingos, breeding bulls, horses.
The Camargue is also a place with an interesting history, which makes it one of the most popular tourist destinations in France.
Whether you visit the Camargue on a weekend getaway or a longer vacation, be sure to book your stay well in advance. The best places to set your base camp to visit the Camargue are Arles, Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Aigues-Mortes, and Saint-Gilles. For a unique stay, however, book at Hotel l’Estelle en Camargue, located in a beautiful environment near Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, and with a beautiful infinity pool and good on-site restaurant.
Canal du Midi
Stretching from Toulouse to Sète, the Canal du Midi is a feat of architectural genius that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. This 17th-century construction designed by Pierre-Paul Riquet required 12,000 men over fifteen years, from 1666 to 1681.
Today the Canal du Midi is listed UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is one of the unmissable things to do in Occitanie, great for exploration and relaxation.
Here, visitors can hire boats, hotel-barges, or rent bikes and make their way along the canal at their own pace. Some hikers use the trail along the canal to make their way toward the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
Bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, Occitanie has no shortage of pretty coastal towns perfect for some days of bathing, relaxation, and water sports.
Here, you can find some of the most glorious beaches in France as well as vibrant fishing villages, and thriving market towns.
Amongst the coastal towns that populate the coast in Occitanie outstands Collioure, center of André Derain and Henri Matisse’s Fauvism movement; Gruissan, characterized by its typical houses built on stilts on the beach; or Sète, with its strong character, raised from the sands to link the Canal du Midi to the Mediterranean Sea.
Occitanie Food & Wine
Occitanie offers excellent regional specialties, quite different depending on where you are.
In the former region of Languedoc-Roussillon, visitors will find good seafood platters of clams, oysters, and mussels, the famous cassoulet (bean stew casserole with pork or duck) from Castelnaudary, the excellent rice from the Camargue, and many kinds of biscuits and pastries.
The Languedoc–Roussillon wine region is one of France’s largest wine-producing areas by vineyard surface area, even if it is not as famous as other wine regions in France.
Languedoc wines are good wines at really affordable prices and include Merlot, Cabernet, and Syrah. Also, there are plenty of quality whites, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Grenache, and Muscat Blanc.
The list of typical dishes of the Pyrénées includes Tarbes beans, lamb, aligot (a creamed potato dish with cheese), and garbure, (a mountain soup with cabbage and chunks of ham). The Pyrénées are also famous for their cheeses, both cow’s milk and sheep’s cheeses, paired with wines from local domains such as Jurançon, Gaillac, Cahors, Madiran, and Armagnac.
We hope that you enjoyed the main places to visit in Occitanie. If you want to learn about other regions in France, head to this article on the French Regions, where we have summarized each region’s highlights.