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On the road

OCCITANIA REGION

Departments: Ariège, Aude, Aveyron, Gard, Haute-Garonne, Gers, Hérault, Lot, Lozère, Hautes-Pyrénées, Pyrénées-Orientales, Tarn, Tarn-et-Garonne
Population: 5.9 million
Prefecture: Toulouse
Area: 72,724 km2
Specialities: foie gras, cassoulet, aligot, tielle sétoise, brandade de morue (cod brandade), haricots tarbais (beans), garbure (soup), sweet onion, Céret cherries, wines (Pic Saint-Loup, Corbières, Cahors, Costières de Nîmes, blanquette of Limoux, Minervois, Tavel, Madiran). Perrier spring water.
Sports clubs: Stade Toulousain, Castres Olympique, Montpellier HR, USAP Perpignan (rugby union), Montpellier HSC, Nîmes Olympique, Toulouse FC (football), Dragons Catalans (rugby league), Montpellier Handball, Fenix Toulouse, USAM Nîmes-Gard (handball)
Competitions: Tour de France, Open Sud de France (tennis), Route d'Occitanie (cycling).
Economy: aeronautics and space (Airbus, Ariane, Toulouse), defence, information technology, nuclear, agri-food, agriculture (wines, cereals) tourism, pharmaceutical industry. Universities (Montpellier, Toulouse).
Festivals: Nîmes and Béziers férias, Rio Loco (Toulouse), Radio France Festival Montpellier (classical music), Comédie du Livre (book fair, Montpellier), Electro Beach (Port Barcarès), Jazz in Marciac, Cinémed (Montpellier), Circa Auch, Noir Novel Fesrtival Frontignan.
Sights: Cité de Carcassonne, basilica of Lourdes, Toulouse (Capitole, Saint-Sernin, ville rose), Montpellier (place de la Comédie, Écusson), beaches, Pont du Gard, Nîmes ampthitheatre, Cathar castles, Canal du Midi, cathedrals of Albi, Castres and Rodez. Millau Viaduct, Niaux and Maz d'Azil caves. Valentré Bridge in Cahors. Villages of character. Beaches in the Aude, Gard and Hérault. Ski resorts in the Pyrenees and Ariège.
Website: www.laregionoccitanie.fr

HAUTE-GARONNE (31) 

Population: 1,400,039
Prefecture:
Toulouse
Subprefectures :
Muret, Saint Gaudens
Surface area:
6,309 km².
Specialities:
cassoulet, Toulouse sausage, foie gras, duck breast, Toulouse violet, AOP Fronton wine, AOC Cadours garlic, IGP des Pyrénées lamb, AOC Bigorre black pork, Label Rouge Lauragais veal.
Sports:
mountaineering, horse riding, climbing, hiking (new in 2017: Via Garona GR861, GR10, GR46, GR653, GR86), rugby, speleology, white water sports on the Garonne (canoeing, hydrospeed, rafting), aerial sports (paragliding, gliding, microlighting), winter sports (skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding), mountain biking (FFC Pyrenees Comminges area), sailing
Sports clubs:
Stade Toulousain, Toulouse Football Club, Fénix Toulouse Handball, Toulouse Métropole Basket, Spacers Volley, TOXIII, Union Sportive Colomiers Rugby.
Competitions :
Luchon Aneto Trail (the town of Luchon is labelled Station Trail©, Trail du Mourtis", Trail Toulouse Métropole, Trail du Cagire.
Economy:
Aeronautics and space, Tourism, 4 ski resorts, wine growing (Fronton)
Remarkable sites: Aurignacian Museum, Saint Bertrand de Comminges listed as "Most beautiful villages in France"; Martres-Tolosane and Revel labelled "Villes et Métiers d'Art"; Saint Ferréol Lake; Canal du Midi listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site with its greenway; Lake Oô in the central Pyrenees Cité de l'Espace, the most visited tourist site and its 2019 exhibition "Moon: episode 2" to celebrate the 50th anniversary of man's first step on the moon; the Piste des Géants with "la Halle de la Machine" and "l'Envol des Pionniers" which opened at the end of 2018; Saint Sernin Basilica, one of the largest preserved Romanesque basilicas in Europe...
Festivals:
31 Notes d'Eté, Jazz sur son 31, Festival des créations télévisuelles de Luchon, Printemps du rire, Rio Loco, Comminges Festival in Saint Bertrand de Comminges, Toulouse les Orgues...
Websites and social networks:
http://www.haute-garonne.fr/ / http://hautegaronnetourisme.com / https://www.facebook.com/TourismeHG/ / https://twitter.com/TourismeHG / https://www.instagram.com/tourismehg   

Haute-Garonne, a cycling destination
- 50 sites with the Accueil Vélo label.
- Route des cols Pyrénéens (Pyrenean passes) with specific signs (gradient, altitude...)
- Department crossed by the Canal des 2 Mers à Vélo, with a greenway that runs alongside the Canal du Midi.
- 3 cycle routes, including one along the Garonne, from Carbonne to the Pyrenees, which will soon link with Spain (Trans Garona).

Km 2.2

LABARTHE-RIVIÈRE (Pop: 1,320)
It was in Labarthe-Rivière that the grandfather of a journalist who was to do much for the reputation of the Tour de France, Albert Londres, was born and established as a peddler. When the peddler died, his widow settled in Vichy with her three children, including Jean-Marie, Albert's father, a boilermaker by trade. The surname Londres was first Loundrès, a Gascon term for wetlands or marshes, then Londrès.

Km 11.7

LABROQUÈRE (Pop: 300)

Castle of Vidaussan
Construction: 14th, 16th and 18th centuries.
Characteristics: the castle is located on the right bank of the Garonne, opposite the village of Valcabrère. Although it is off-centre, it is nevertheless framed by two fords: that of Mercadieu led to the medieval market of Valcabrère and that of Martrouil led to Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges. The passage was all the more important as the Moulin des Moines (Monks Mill), which belonged to the Cordelier monks of Valcabrère, was located on the other side of the river.
History: traces of the first owner are dated 1329. The two towers were remodelled in the 16th century, as was the façade, which was further modified in the 18th century.
Current use: converted into guest rooms.

Km 12.6

VALCABRÈRE (Pop: 140)

Basilica of Saint-Just-de-Valcabrère
Foundation: built in 11th century.
Style: Romanesque building from the 11th and 12th centuries.
Characteristics: away from the village, isolated in the middle of fields, it is an original building, built on the site of a necropolis from the Roman period. Its architecture is therefore full of ancient reuse. It is accessed by first entering the cemetery. Its entrance portal, dating from the 13th century, is listed as a historical monument (1926). It is a remarkable element, as is the very beautiful chevet. Inside, the central nave is divided into four bays. The choir is hemicyclic. A powerful impression is given by the round vault supported by double arches. The altar is made up of a rectangular mass and is covered by a marble table with two magnificent medieval statues.
Special features: the basilica hosts several concerts of the Festival du Comminges founded in 1975.
Listing: Historical Monument since 1840. This basilica is one of the 70 French monuments listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Km 13.8

SAINT-BERTRAND-DE-COMMINGES (Pop: 250)
Once Lugdunum, a Roman city of 10,000 inhabitants, remarkable for its ancient ruins and even more so for its Romanesque-Gothic cathedral (11th-12th century), listed as a World Heritage Site.

St. Mary's Cathedral
Foundation: Built in the XIe century.
History: in the 11th century, Bertrand de l'Isle built a new Romanesque cathedral on the ruins of a first religious monument burnt down during the barbarian invasions of the 5th century. The bell tower, which gives the cathedral a castle-like appearance, was added a century later. In the 14th century, the city became an important place of worship and pilgrimage, a popular stopover on the roads to Compostela. Bertrand de Got, the future Pope Clement V, decided to enlarge the cathedral, imposed the Gothic style and personally took care of transferring and raising the relics of Saint Bertrand, who was canonised at the end of the 12th century for the miracles he performed during his lifetime and posthumously.
Characteristics: from the Romanesque period, the square tower of the bell tower and the lintel of the portal depicting the twelve apostles can still be admired. Inside the cathedral, in the middle of the Gothic nave, the eye is drawn to the wooden choir stalls and the magnificent organ case, considered to be jewels of the Renaissance.
Trivia: legend has it that Saint Bertrand killed the terrible crocodile that devoured young women before their wedding with a blow from his pastoral staff. The reality is quite different. This stuffed crocodile is probably an ex-voto brought back from the Holy Land in the 14th century by a pilgrim to thank the saint for having protected him during his perilous journey.
Listing: Historical Monument since 1840, then 1889. The former cathedral has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the French pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela since 1998.

HAUTES-PYRÉNÉES (65)

Population: 229,567
Prefecture: Tarbes
Sub-prefectures: Argelès-Gazost, Bagnères-de-Bigorre
Number of municipalities: 469
Surface area: 4,464 km².
Specialities: Black pig of Bigorre (AOC), Tarbais beans, Wines (Madiran and Pacherenc du Vic Bilh AOC), Barèges-Gavarnie AOC sheep, Trébons onion, Gascony chicken, garbure, Foie gras, spit cake, Pyrenean trout...
Sports clubs: Federal 1 rugby clubs (Tarbes Pyrénées Rugby, Bagnères-de-Bigorre, Lannemezan), Tarbes Gespe Pyrénées Basket in the women's basketball league. Competitions: Mountain Bike World Cup Lourdes 26 and 27 March 2022, Mountain Bike Enduro World Cup Loudenvielle 22 to 25 September 2022, Montée du Géant du Tourmalet 4 June 2022, Grand Raid des Pyrénées (24 to 28 August 2022), Balnéaman (17 September 2022), Pyrénées Cycl'n trip (11 passes reserved from 25 to 29 July 2022, Patou Trail (17 to 19 June 2022)
Festivals: Gavarnie Festival (theatre), Tarbes en tango, Equestria festival of equestrian creation (Tarbes), Festival of Sacred Music (Lourdes), Jazz Festival (Luz St Sauveur), Piano Pic in the Grand Tourmalet, Festival of small mountain churches (Louron valley), Mariolles Festival, Cheese Fair, Madiran Wine Festival, Pyrenean Dogs Festival, Luz St Sauveur Chop Fair, Loudenvielle Traditions Fair.
Major tourist sites: Pyrenees National Park, Néouvielle National Nature Reserve, Gavarnie Cirque listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Pic du Midi International Starry Sky Reserve, 5 Great Sites of Occitania (Pic du Midi, Gavarnie - Cauterets Pont d'Espagne, Lourdes and Pyrénées Aure Louron), 5 Great Passes (Peyresourde, Val Louron-Azet, Aspin, Tourmalet, Soulor)
Economy: European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) PYRENESS-PIRINEOS, HaPy 2020-2030 territory project, Hapysaveurs collective initiative to promote short circuits. French Tech, energy transition. Tourism: leading economic activity. Innovative and dynamic companies, particularly in the aeronautical sector, wood industry, etc.
Websites / FB / Twitter: www.tourisme-hautes-pyrenees.com / www.hautespyrenees.fr /
https://twitter.com/hautespyrenees / https://www.facebook.com/hautespyrenees/ / http://www.facebook.com/departementHautesPyrenees

Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde...names that evoke fantastic landscapes. Yes, but here's the problem. Not everyone has the knack and abilities of a cycling hero, an ace dancer or a polka dot jersey holder. When it comes to going up passes, summits and kilometres of mountains, many prefer the car. Who can blame them? It is for them that Hautes-Pyrénées created, following illustrious examples like Route 66, the Silk Road or the Transamazonian, a tourist itinerary in PYRENEES ROADTRIP mode.
On the programme: 2 countries (France and Spain); 8 mythical passes; 3 Unesco World Heritage sites; 4 nature parks and secret corners that only the Pyrenees can offer. In the end, an authentic and unforgettable adventure but above all an idea for holidays with friends, lovers or family.
As for logistics, the Boutique des Pyrénées, a specialist in tailor-made holidays, takes care of everything: choice of accommodation, access to the Grands Sites, entrance fees for the balneotherapy centres, guided walks, good restaurants, etc.

Km 20.4

AVENTIGNAN (Pop: 210)

Cave of Gargas
Time period: Early Gravettian
Characteristics: It is one of the most famous decorated caves of the Upper Paleolithic in Europe. The analysis of the different layers of deposits accumulated on the floor of the cave reveals, in addition to human activity and presence, a use by animals, mainly bears. Many bones of plantigrades have been found and reused by the men and women who used the cave. The Gargas cave has given evidence of occupation (bones, lithic industry, art furniture) from the Mousterian to the Middle Ages, but it is most famous for its paintings and engravings from the Upper Paleolithic.
Cave art: the paintings contain 231 negative handprints made using the stencil technique. These hands are red (ochre) or black (manganese oxide), of both sexes, ranging from infants to adults. In almost half of the cases, the fingers are reduced to one phalanx (with the exception of the thumb, which is always complete), which has led to several hypotheses. Numerous figurative engravings are also present in other parts of the cavity, accompanied by signs. The most common animals depicted are horses, bison, aurochs, ibex and mammoths.
History: known by local popular tradition since the end of the Middle Ages, the cave was first mentioned in 1575 by François de Belleforest, then described in detail in 1758 by Marc-François de Lassus. The cave has been the subject of scientific research since the end of the 19th century. From 1884 to 1887, Félix Régnault discovered the "oubliettes", natural chimneys filled with bones from the early Quaternary period and discovered handprints in 1906.
Current destination: the cave can be visited by reservation.
Listing: Historical Monument since 1910.

Km 31.6

LA BARTHE-DE-NESTE (Pop: 1,220)
The Maison des quatre vallées, in the centre of the village, is a reminder of the viscounty that ruled the area, as is the old castle on the banks of the Neste.

Château de la Barthe
Construction: 11th century.
Characteristics: of this important medieval site supposedly built in the 11th century by Sancho I, second viscount of Labarthe, only part of the imposing keep built of skillfully arranged pebbles and quartzite and cut stones, the bailey and the overturned walls remain.
History: facing the Pyrenees, the Neste and Aure valleys and Aragon, this castle was of prime importance. The Viscounts of Labarthe lived there until 1330 when it passed to the Counts of Armagnac. In 1475 it became the property of the kings of France until Louis XI. During the Wars of Religion, it became a refuge for the League, and Henry IV ordered its destruction. It was later rebuilt and became a hideout for brigands who terrorised the population. It was then bought by Pierre de Lassus in 1759: the family still owns it and holds the title of Baron de Labarthe.

Km 45.8

SARRANCOLIN (Pop: 670)
A fortified village, Sarrancolin was famous for its marble, which was used in the construction of the Petit Trianon in Versailles, and later for the Paris Opera House and even the Empire State Building.

Saint Ebons Church
Foundation: 12th and 13th centuries.
Style: pure Romanesque style.
Characteristics: Greek cross plan, bell tower, square with a slate spire with bells and Romanesque bays with three arches. Remarkable furniture - relics of the saint who gave it its name, bishop of Barbastro (Spain), Saint Ebontius died in 1104. This church is adjacent to the remains of the Benedictine priory (which depended on the Abbey of Simorre) around which Sarrancolin developed.
Classification: Historical Monument since 1903.

Km 53.7

ARREAU (Pop: 810)
Capital of the Four valleys of the Aure Valley, its inhabitants are called the Arrois. The commune is a hub on the route to Santiago de Compostela and was an important cloth-making centre until the Revolution.
The 12th-century church of Notre Dame was built in the Romanesque-Gothic style, with a 16th-century bell tower with geminated bays. It was used to defend the village. In the tower, there was also a weapons room.
The slate-roofed village, with its central square, is dominated by its pretty town hall. The square also hosts a market every Thursday under the arcades. The municipal building is relatively recent (1930), but it blends in perfectly with the architectural style of the older houses. While walking around, you will also find some beautiful half-timbered houses.

Château des Nestes
Construction: between the 15th and 18th centuries.
History: built on the enclosure around the northern part of the Neste du Louron district, it served as protection for the neighbouring sanctuary dedicated to St Exuperius and was used as a Hospitaller commandery. The north wing was the seat of a court. It took the name of Château de Camou ("land of water") because of the dampness of the place (17th - 18th centuries). The castle was renovated in 1989 as part of President François Mitterrand's Great Works.
Special features: in addition to the beauty of this former commandery, the museum includes a unique curiosity in the region, with a section devoted to the "cagots", outcasts of society similar to untouchables of the medieval period, omnipresent in the region and in Bearn.

The Cagots
They were present throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. The Pyrenean mountains, though a land of refuge, were nevertheless the place where the Cagots phenomenon was most pronounced. The most diverse explanations have been given as to the origin of these outcasts. The term Cagots seems to derive from a Bearnese word meaning leper, which appears in texts around the year 1300. In the Middle Ages, leprosy referred to various diseases that inspired fear of contagion. Cursed for life, their condition was mentioned from birth in the baptismal certificate, celebrated at nightfall, without chimes. They had no name, but a first name followed by the term Chrestiaa, Cagot, Gézitain and were parked in a district outside the village where they worked in woods. In some churches, they were confined to a special area or used a special font. This imposed isolation had two consequences: consanguinity, which led to degeneration and even cretinism, and the influx of suspicious characters among them who, braving the contagion, did not risk being pursued in such places by the marshal service. In some places, they had to wear a duck's or goose's foot of red cloth sewn onto their clothes. Once dead, they were buried apart from the 'true Christians' as they had lived. For more than three centuries, there was bullying, successful trials (led by the Cagots themselves), support from the high clergy and princes, but resistance from the local authorities and the people.

Km 65.8

ASPIN PASS (1,489 m)
The Aspin is one of the most frequently climbed passes on the Tour route, having been ridden by the peloton and the caravan 74 times. From Arreau, the climb is 12 km long, with an average gradient of 6.7%.
The list of riders who have led the race since the first ascent in 1910 reads like a who's who of great climbers, from Octave Lapize to Richard Virenque, including Jean Robic, Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Louison Bobet, Charly Gaul, Federico Bahamontes and Lucien Van Impe. The latest was Julian Alaphilippe in 2018.

Km 73.1

LAKE PAYOLLE
It is nicknamed "Little Canada" with its forest, lake and peaceful atmosphere. The lake satisfies both the contemplative and the more active visitor with a wide range of activities: mountain biking, tree climbing, hiking, horse riding, water sports (pedal boats, kayaking, stand up paddle, fishing), cycling (climbing the Col d'Aspin or the Hourquette d'Ancizan).

Km 81.7

HOURQUETTE D'ANCIZAN (1,564 m)
This pass links the Payolle valley and the Aure valley. Hourquette is a Gascon feminine name derived from hourque, "fork", from Latin furca. It is frequent in Pyrenean toponymy where it designates passes, by analogy of form with the fork.
The pass has been climbed four times by Tour de France riders between 2011 and 2019. The last rider to lead at the top was Simon Yates, just before winning the stage to Bagnères-de-Bigorre.

Km 91.5

GUCHEN (Pop: 380)
The church of Saint-Brice Sainte-Catherine is a listed building dating from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Its interior contains beautiful painted frescoes dating from the 12th century. The historic centre of the village has some exceptional old buildings such as the Prosecutor's house, a beautiful half-timbered monument, the village fountain and the Rolland castle. The latter still has a corner tower and its courtyard.

Km 95.9

BOURISP (Pop: 150)
A pretty village of less than 150 souls, Bourisp is notable for its 15th century church with beautiful 16th century frescoes and for its mayor for 24 years -- the very active former senator and Secretary of State Henri Caillavet, founder among others of the National Commission for Information Technology and Liberties (CNIL).  

Km 97.8

SAINT-LARY-SOULAN (Pop: 877)
In the heart of the Aure valley, at an altitude of 800 m and at the gateway to the most beautiful natural areas of the Pyrenees, Saint-Lary is one of the most important ski resorts in the Pyrenees and a regular village of the Tour de France. Cycling, hiking, paragliding, canyoning and rafting, among others, are available to all in an authentic and preserved setting. Not forgetting an exceptionally well-protected heritage from the vagaries of history in this valley, which is on one of the Pilgrimage Routes to Santiago de Compostela and has been listed as an Art and History area.
It is also the stronghold of the Mir family, and in particular of Isabelle, silver medalist in downhill at the Grenoble Winter Games and of her cousin Jean-Henri Mir, former mayor of the town (replaced by his cousin André in 2020), who won the Grand Slam in the Five Nations Championship with the French national rugby union team the same year.
In the summer, the climbers of the Tour regularly take possession of the place. Lucien Van Impe won here in 1976 (see Saint-Gaudens). The Belgian climber also consolidated his polka dot jersey in 1981. This was also the case for Mariano Martinez (1978) and more recently for Rafal Majka (2014), on the heights of the village at Pla d'Adet. In 2018, Nairo Quintana had saved a somewhat disappointing Tour by winning on the Col du Portet at the end of a short 65 km stage from Luchon on a grid like in a F1 Grand Prix.
Last year, it was Tadej Pogacar who largely dominated the debates just a few days before his second final victory in Paris.

Saint-Lary Soulan Heritage House
This brand new structure offers various exhibitions in its visiting areas, presenting the history of the valleys and the way of life in the mountains in the past, as well as temporary exhibitions, such as those currently on snow and the Tour de France. It has a Pyrenean documentary collection, a conference room and a free web lounge.

Km 109.9

VAL LOURON-AZET PASS (1,580 m)
Located near the resort of Val Louron, the Col d'Azet has been used by the Tour nine times since 1997. Over the past decade, it has been on the Tour itinerary almost every other year. The last man to lead at the top was Anthony Perez in 2021. He was then the last rider in a breakaway that was wiped out by Tadej Pogacar, who was in yellow and on his way to another stage win on Col du Portet.

Km 117.2

GÉNOS (Pop: 100)
Two visits are recommended in Génos: the first to the church of Saint Roch, a small jewel recently listed as a Historical Monument, and the chapel of Notre Dame du Bien on the heights of the village. The latter dates from the 12th century.

Km 118.8

LOUNDENVIELLE (Pop: 490)
Loudenvielle is a small mountain village, situated in a picturesque natural environment. It has demonstrated its attachment to its cultural heritage, which is a witness to its Pyrenean identity, through the rehabilitation and embellishment of the village.
To discover: the parish church of Sainte-Marie Madeleine, the Arixo (cinema and museum) housed in an old restored farmhouse, where you can also discover the heritage of the Louron valley, religious art, local crafts...
Like the village of Génos, Loudenvielle benefits from a sulphurous hot spring, which is enhanced by the Balnéa thermal water relaxation centre, the main facility of its kind in the French Pyrenees, which invites visitors to discover all the baths of the world.
For entertainment, the Génos-Loudenvielle lake, at an altitude of 1,000 m, is equipped to offer numerous water activities: swimming, pedal boats, canoes...
Loudenvielle has hosted three stages of the Tour de France in 1997, 2003 and 2007.

Km 125.1

LOUDERVIELLE (Pop: 54)

Moulor Castle
Foundation: built in the 12th century.
History: the fief of the seigniory included part of the current territories of the communes of Germ, Loudervielle, Armenteule and Aranvielle and some land in the neighbouring Larboust valley. The keep and the chapel belonged to the lords of Montlaur, vassals of the barons of Espagne-Montespan. The last members of the family of the Lords of Moulor who lived in the castle died out in 1753 and 1754. All that remains of the castle is a square watchtower erected on the hill where the castle stood.
Characteristics: The Tower of Moulor was built to ward off attacks by the Moors. These towers, like those of Bordères, Louron, Estarveille and Génos, could be part of a castle or surrounded by a simple enclosure. All square in shape, they had a single entrance leading to a room topped by a vault forming the ceiling. This vault was pierced by a hole through which one could reach the upper floor by means of a simple ladder.

Pyrenees National Park
For more than 25 years, this park has protected a territory of 46,000 hectares, to which can be added 15,000 hectares of the Ordesa National Park in Spain, with a rich flora of more than 400 species, including Pyrenean violet, fritillary, saxifrage or Pyrenean lily, and an exceptional wildlife. Can be spotted bearded vultures, golden eagles, Egyptian vultures, but also, down to earth, marmots, isards and sometimes brown bears...

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