Despite continuing to be the most visited country in the world, it is perhaps surprising that there are still huge swathes of France that your average tourist knows next to nothing about! In the same way that spending a few days in Dublin does not constitute getting to know the ‘real’ Ireland, so too is it with France and believe it or not, there is so much more to France than Paris, the Cote D’Azur or La Rochelle — to name but three of the many destinations within Europe’s largest country that brings Irish holidaymakers back year after year. One of the great unsung regions within France has therefore got to be the Midi-Pyrenees area which covers most of Southwest France with Toulouse its capital. The region has it’s own distinct culture and language (Occitan) which is closely related, linguistically speaking, with Catalan, across the border in Spain. With regular flights to both Toulouse itself and Tarbes, the region has a huge amount to offer even the most world-weary and discerning of tourists. The whole Mid Pyrenees area is littered with amazingly photogenic and historical towns and villages that cling to hilltops with commanding views over the surrounding countryside and none are more picturesque or quintessentially medieval than the beautiful town of Cordes sur Ciel. For those of you who have visited San Gimignano in Tuscany — Cordes sur Ciel is its French equivalent! The town is also home to the most fascinating museum/shop dedicated to the twin arts of chocolate and sugar confectionary and the museum pays homage to the extraordinary talent of one man — Yves Thurles — who was twice voted the best master craftsman in all of France! Believe it or not, the white sculpture pictured is made entirely of sugar and the museum contains equally impressive sculptures made out of chocolate. A definite must-see on the itinerary of any chocoholic!
The mediaeval city Albi which is located northeast of Toulouse is a world heritage site and is dominated by its fortress cathedral dating back to the Middle Ages and made entirely of brick. The cathedral is unique and because of its brick construction looks no more than 100 years old when in fact it is several hundred years older! The narrow cobbled-stoned streets of the city are full of character and feature an architectural style unique to the area! The city is also home to the world-famous Toulouse-Lautrec museum which contains a huge collection of his works. If it’s lofty mountain peaks and spectacular views you’re after then no visit to this beautiful corner of France would be complete without a visit to Pic du Midi, which is one of the highest points in the Pyrenees and which can accommodate up to 600 people at the same time. It is the highest inhabited location in the Pyrenees. It is also unique in the world in that it is the only scientific station atop a mountain peak where tourists can overnight in order to experience the spectacular sunrise and sunset! The complex can accommodate tourists in 15 rooms. The complex also boasts almost 5 kilometres of corridors throughout its labyrinthine structure. It is also a great place to get a deep tan with solar radiation at the Pic measuring three times higher than at sea level. Visitors can learn all about the fascinating history of the complex, which was originally built by hauling raw materials by mule up to its 9,436 foot summit where — on a clear day — a visitor can see almost one tenth of the entire country of France!