On the road

Haute-Garonne department  (31)

Population: 1,317,668

Prefecture: Toulouse

Sub-prefectures: Muret ,Saint Gaudens

Surface: 6,309 km²

Specialties: Cassoulet, Toulouse sausage, foie gras, duck breast, Toulouse violet, AOP Fronton wine, AOC Cadours garlic, Pyrenean IGP lamb, Bigorre black pig (AOC), Lauragais red calf (Label Rouge).

Sports: Alpinism, horse riding, escalade, hiking (Via Garona GR861, GR10, GR46, GR653, GR86,), rugby, speleology, water sports (canoeing, kayak, hydrospeed, rafting), air sports (paragliding, gliders, ULM) winter sports (skiing, ski-shoes), mountain bike (FFC Pyrénées Comminges space),Yachting.

Major sport clubs: Stade Toulousain (rugby), Toulouse Football Club, Fénix Toulouse Handball, Toulouse Métropole Basket, Spacers Volley, TOXIII, l’Union Sportive Colomiers Rugby.

Events: Luchon Aneto Trail, trail du Mourtis, Trail Toulouse Métropole, Trail du Cagire

Festivals: 31 Notes d’Eté, Jazz sur son 31, Luchon Television Festival, Printemps du rire, Rio Loco, Festival du Comminges in Saint Bertrand de Comminges, Toulouse les Orgues…

Economy: Aeronautics and space, tourism, 4 ski resorts, viticulture (Fronton)

Major tourist sites: Museum of Aurignacian, Saint Bertrand de Comminges “Most Beautiful Villages of France”; Martres-Tolosane and Revel labelled Towns of Arts and Trades; Lake Saint Ferréol ; Canal du Midi listed as a World Heritage site; Lake Oô in the Pyrenees; Cité de l’Espace (City of Space); St. Sernin basilica and Place du Capitole (Toulouse)

On the bike: 50 sites with the Accueil Vélo label. Route of the Pyrenees Cols; Canal des 2 Mers à Vélo, with a greenway along Canal du Midi. Three cycling routes including one crossing over to Spain (Trans Garona).

Websites and social networks: www.haute-garonne.fr / hautegaronnetourisme.com / www.facebook.com/TourismeHG/ / twitter.com/TourismeHG / www.instagram.com/tourismehg

Km 4

Villeneuve-Tolosane (Pop: 9,500)

Frederic Moncassin, winner of two Tour de France stages, started cycling with the local cycling club. The future captain of the French world championship team rode his best season in 1996 with stage wins on Paris-Nice, Grand Prix du Midi Libre and above all his two victories in Den Bosch and in the great sprint stage to Bordeaux. The greatest regret in Moncassin’s career was probably his defeat in the 1997 Paris-Roubaix he seemed poised to win. Winner of the Hell of the North in the amateur ranks, he obtained his best result in the race when he finished 5th in 1998.

Km 14.5

Muret (Pop: 25,000)

The town of aviation pioneer Clement Ader, former French president Vincent Auriol and Empire Marshal Adolphe Niel, all celebrated in the town’s museum, Muret is a lively city thanks to its proximity with Toulouse and a network of bustling small businesses. In 2015, Muret was the start of a stage to Rodez which saw Greg Van Avermaet win his first Tour victory at last. Several Muret riders took part in the Tour de France like Jean “Henri” Gauban, who started the original 1903 edition and the three following ones and the Dutch-born Van Schendel brothers, the older of whom, Antoon, won two stages in the 1930s.

Km 64.5

Aurignac (Pop: 1,200)

This village of Haute-Garonne is familiar to all the palaeontologists of the planet because it gave its name to a famous prehistoric culture, the Aurignacian. The civilisation established in Europe between 37,000 and 28,000 BC was discovered after excavations in the local cave in the 19th century by archaeologist Edouard Lartet. Aurignac men were the authors of the paintings in the Chauvet cave in Ardeche. Besides the cave and its museum, the village is also worth a stop for the ruins of its 13th century castle and for a tower known as Tower of Savoy, both listed as historical monuments.

Km 85

Saint-Gaudens (Pop: 11,700)

The town took its name from a young 5th century shepherd, Gaudens, beheaded by Visigoths for failing to abjure his Christian faith. His head under his arm, he took refuge in the village church where the locals kept his body and his remains as well as those of his mother, Quitterie. The place became a popular pilgrimage. The current collegiate church was completed in the late 12th century. In 1202, count Bernard de Comminges wrote a charter establishing the rules of the city, led by consuls until the French Revolution. The town developed in the 17th century thanks to its market and the textile industry. In the 19th century, the industrial revolution made St Gaudens a busy economic centre thanks to weaving, breeding, mining and quarries. The famous Valentine china manufacture dates from the period and the St Gaudens museum preserves some of its production. St Gaudens also became a garrison town. In 1951, a monument to “The Three Marshalls” (WWI war heroes Foch, Joffre and Gallieni) was inaugurated by then president Vincent Auriol. A paper-mill known as La Cellulose d’Aquitaine became the leading employer of the region.

A sub-prefecture of Haute-Garrone, St Gaudens hosted 14 Tour de France stages with victories by such Tour de France greats as Gino Bartali (1950), Charly Gaul (1955), André Darrigade (1959) or Luis Ocana (1970). The last time the Tour came to town was in 2014 for the start of a stage won by Rafal Majka in Pla d’Adet.

Km 129.5

Bagnères-de-Luchon (Pop: 2,700)

Its ideal position at the foot of the great Pyrenees mountain passes allowed Bagneres-de-Luchon to host the Tour de France 55 times, a record for a town of this size. The spa town made the Tour history as early as 1910 when it hosted the first two high-mountain stages in the history of the race. Both were won by Octave Lapize, the eventual Tour winner. Luchon often designated the future overall winner like Chris Froome in 2016 or at least the French star of the edition, like Pascal Simon in 1983, Thomas Voeckler in 2010 or Julian Alaphilippe last year. Bagneres-de-Luchon is arguably the most characteristic little town of the Pyrenees, as it is surrounded by the 13 most famous summits, like Aneto (3,404) the highest point in the chain. Luchon is an ideal destination to discover majestic landscapes, from the highest mountains to the small narrow valleys like Larboust, Oueil or the valley of the Lys. Also exceptional are the valleys of Astau and of Lake Oo, the second most visited site in the Pyrenees after the Gavarnie circus. Luchon is also famous for its television festival.

Luchon has been noted for more than two millenniums for its waters, bearing the name, Lixion, of a water divinity. The state-of-the-art thermal baths remain an essential asset with their Vaporarium, an immense natural vapour bath, unique in Europe.

Km 137

Saint-Aventin (Pop: 90)

St Aventin Romanesque church
The 11th and 12th century church, with its two towers, is remarkable for the sculptures of its porch and its capitals adorned with scenes of the life and martyrdom of St Aventin. The outside walls include several stones and altars for old pagan cults in the Pyrenees. Inside, several monumental paintings can be seen. The valleys of Larboust and Louron are famous for their typical Romanesque churches

Km 146

Col de Peyresourde (1,569 m)

With 66 passages since 1910, Peyresourde is one of the passes most frequently visited by the Tour. It was the case again in 2017 when Spain’s Mikel Nieve was first at the top.

HAUTES-PYRENEES (65)

Population: 228,868

Prefecture: Tarbes

Sub-prefectures: Argelès-Gazost, Bagnères-de-Bigorre

Surface: 4,464 km²

Specialties: Tarbais beans (IGP, Red Label), Bigorre's black pork (AOC), Madiran (AOC), Pacherenc, Barèges-Gavarnie sheep (AOC), Black hen of Astarac Bigorre, Garbure, Pineapple cake, cheeses

Major sports clubs: Tarbes Pyrenees Rugby, (Bagnères-de-Bigorre, Lannemezan). Tarbes Gespe Pyrenees Basketball in Women's Basketball League.

Major competitions: Pyrenees Cycl'n Trip (22 to 26 July), Velo for kids (charity event-23 June), Patou Trail (June), Grand Raid of the Pyrenees (August), Pyr'Epic (September, mountain biking), Pyrenees Bike Festival (September), BalneaMan and BalneaKid (September, Triathlon)

Festivals: Sacred Music Festival Lourdes, Gavarnie Festival (Theater), Equestria Tarbes, Luz St Sauveur Jazz Festival, Piano Pic, Small Mountain Churches Festival, Loures-Barousse Cheese Fair, Madiran Wine Festival, Tarbes in tango, Feast of the dogs of the Pyrenees-Argelès-Gazost, Lamb chops Fair Luz Saint-Sauveur, traditional fair in Loudenvielle

Economy: "HaPy 2020-2030" territory project, Hapysaveurs collective approach for the valorisation of short-circuit food.

French Energetic Transition label.- Tourism: 1 ° economic activity - innovative and dynamic companies especially in the aeronautical sector.

Websites and social networks: www.pyrenees-trip.com / www.facebook.com/hautespyrenees / www.instagram.com/hautespyrenees

Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde are names that evoke fantastic landscapes. Yet not everyone has the mental and physical abilities of a bike hero, an ace climber or a king of the mountains. When it comes to tackling passes, peaks and miles of mountain roads, many prefer to take their car. Who can blame them? It is for them that the Hautes-Pyrénées department emulated famous roads like Route 66, the Silk Road or the Trans-Amazonian highway, and created a tourist route known as Pyrenees Roadtrip.

On the menu: 2 countries (France and Spain); 8 mythical passes; 3 sites featuring on the UNESCO World Heritage List; 4 natural parks and secret corners that only the Pyrenees are able to offer. In brief, an authentic and unforgettable adventure but especially an original holiday with friends, lovers or family.

In terms of logistics, the Pyrenees Boutique, a tailor-made holiday specialist, takes care of everything: excellent accommodation, access to the Grand Sites, tickets to the spa centres, guided walks, good restaurants. A once in a lifetime experience.

Km 163.5

Arreau (820 hab.)

A turning point in the St James Way, Arreau was an important drapery centre until the French Revolution. The 12th century Notre Dame church was used for the defence of the village and even included a fencing room. The St. Exuperius chapel, with elements from the 11th to 16th century, was named after a 4th century Arreau-born farmer, who became Toulouse bishop and died in 418. His sanctuary was first built on the spot where the chapel now stands.

The Nestes Castle (15th to 18th century) is a summary of 10 centuries of history in the Aure valley. Used to protect the nearby St Exuperius sanctuary, it was restored in 1989 and its museum holds an intriguing exhibition on the “cagots”, the French equivalent of the untouchables in the Middle Ages.

Km 167

Ancizan (Pop: 330)

Ancizan is an old fortified village built at the foot of Pic de l’Arbizon. An important textile centre, it was the home of the corporation of weavers in the Aure valley. Several town-houses relate to the historical past of the village. The church is remarkable for its inner furniture and especially for a painting representing the burial of the Christ. In 1953, a flood ravaged the village and forced the population to move several buildings.

Km 179

Hourquette d’Ancizan (1 564 m)

Located between the Payolle plateau and the Aure valley, the pass was ridden for the first time on the 2011 Tour de France in the 12th stage between Cugnaux and Luz-Ardiden. It was then rated a 1st category climb. France’s Laurent Mangel was first at the top. In 2013, from the same side, Dan Martin led the way at the top while in 2016, Thibaut Pinot was in the front, but the pass was climbed from the other side.

Km 201

Campan (Pop: 1,500)

At the foot of the Tourmalet, Campan was in the 11th century the third most populated town in the Hautes-Pyrenees with nearly 4,500 inhabitants, who lived on the forest, marble quarries and breeding.  Tourism has become one of the main resources of a town which preserved a beautiful 16th century covered market long used for the sale of cattle and several remarkable religious buildings like the St John the Baptist church (16th century) or Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption in Ste Marie de Campan. Among the celebrities of Campan features Dominique Gaye Mariolle, a famous solider of the Napoleon armies who was two-metres tall and noted for his pranks.

A statue of Eugene Christophe was erected on the square bearing his name in front of the village church. It celebrates the feat of the “Old Gaul” who repaired a broken fork at the forge of the local blacksmith in 1913.

In 2016, a stage finish took place at Lake Payolle on the commune of Campan. It was won by Briton Stephen Cummings.

Lac de Payolle
The place is known as “Little Canada” because of its forest, its lake and its atmosphere of serenity. The lake is ideal for the idle but also for the sporty types with a wide range of activities: mountain bike, adventure park, treks, rides, nautical activities (canoeing, stand-up paddle, angling) and gran fondos (Col d’Aspin and Hourquette d’Ancizan).

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