AUCH - the capital of the Gers department (32), and the historical capital of Gascony.
AUCH is steeped in history, being the former residence of the prelates and the Counts of Armagnac. This medieval city built on the site of a Roman city (Elimberris), with its ocre stone and rose coloured tiles, sits upon a limestone hilltop overlooking the river Gers. Here, in the middle of the monumental staircase built in 1863 which has 370 steps that lead to the river Gers, you will find the statue of Charles de Batz Castelmore of Château Castelmore, Lupiac, Gers, from whom this real life Gascon was modelled the fictitious character d’Artagnan, the fourth Musketeer, from the book ‘The Three Musketeers’ by Alexandre Dumas, 1844. During the Second World War, unlike so many others, d'Artagnan's statue was not melted down as the occupying Germans did not dare incur the wrath of the locals by destroying the symbol of their icon! Another famous historical hero born in Lectoure, Gers is Jean Lannes, Marshal of France and Napoleon Bonaparte's most daring and telented generals. Not to be missed, a visit to the Cathédrale Sainte Marie, the last great Gothic cathedral to be constructed in France between 1560 and 1680, one of the major sites for Santiago de Compostela and listed on the World Heritage, UNESCO. This cathedral also features 18 stained glass windows, the work of master Arnaut de Moles, 113 stalls beautifully carved from the heart of oak, soaked in water for fifty years for hardening purposes and a magnificent organ built by Jean de Joyeuse between 1688 and 1694. Other monuments not to be missed include The Maison Henri IV, The Préfecture, The Hotel de Ville, The Maison de Gascogne, a former grain market where gastronomic and craft exhibits are organised during the summer months, and the many Pousterles, picturesque narrow lanes which date from the middle ages.
TOULOUSE - the capital of the Haute-Garonne department (31), as well as of the Occitanie region.
TOULOUSE is the fourth largest city in France is known also as ‘La Cité Rose', (the pink city), due to the light and the many bricks used in the buildings throughout Toulouse. Here you will find such sights as the Basilica of Saint Sernin. The building of this five storey octagonal belfry, dedicated to Saint Saturnin the martyred bishop of the city, was started in the 11th century and completed in the 13th century, making this the largest Romanesque building in the western world and a real masterpiece in brick. Today, the basilica is still a very important stage of pilgrimage for those tracing the steps of St. James of Compostella. Other monuments not to be missed include The Capitole, The 'Jacobins' Monastery Complex, St. Étienne Cathedral, Notre Dame de la Daurade , and the Roman Amphitheatre at Purpan. Perhaps you may prefer to glide down the Garonne or Canal du Midi which is listed on the World Heritage, UNESCO: its bridges, quays, locks and nearby monuments - an unusual way to discover the hidden aspects of the city! The home of the French aircraft industry is Aérospatiale. With the arrival of the AIRBUS company and their A320 family aircraft, A340 airbus, A350 airliner, A380 double-deck airbus and the new military A400M programme at Aérospatiale, Toulouse has become the European capital of aeronautics; the Midi-Pyrénées region being the geographic heart, as it was here also that the Ariane space rocket and Concorde were built. The Cité de l’Espace is devoted entirely to space exploration where you can see what it is like to see the Earth from a space capsule or experience being sent up in a rocket. Cité de l’Espace is an interactive space museum offering many other cultural, educational and playful aspects of space, terminating at the foot of the rocket Ariane 5 which you will also find placed at this museum. Emblematic to Toulouse is of course the sweet scented little purple flower, the violet. From this 'Parme de Toulouse' are made the famous perfume, fragrant soaps, scented candles, sachets all full of violets to violet liqueur, sweets, jams, syrups and even violet spiked cookies and breads. Napoleon Bonaparte, also known as 'Caporal Violette', was welcomed upon his arrival in Paris, March 1814 with bunches of violets. His passion for violets coincided with his love for Josephine, his Empress, who never missed the opportunity to pin a posy to her dress! For a list of the great tourist sites in the Midi-Pyrénées visit www.grandsites.midipyrenees.fr
The legend of the creation of the PYRÉNÉES and the PIC DU MIDI OBSERVATORY.
THE LEGEND OF PIRENE has it that when Hercules walked the Earth, a great fire took hold of the forests of the Pyrénées; (pyr, in Greek means 'fire'). The fire was so intense that it melted the rocks, and villages were entombed under the rivers of magma. The demi-god arrived amidst this catastrophe, and hearing moans, extended his arms towards the flames, finding Princess Pirene, daughter of King Tubal. Before dying she had the strength to tell this story: "My father, Tubal, was King of Iberia when the country was invaded by Gerion, the three-headed monster, who managed to defeat him and take the throne. I was afraid, and ran away into the forest. Gerion, fearful that one day I would return to claim my inheritance, started the fire in the mountains and returned to Hades". After speaking, Pirene died in the arms of the Greek, giving him her land. Hercules left Pirene on the ground, and started to cover her body with large stones until he had formed a wall of rocks which ran from the Cantabrian Sea to the Mediterranean, where he threw the remaining stones, forming the Cap de Creus.
The PIC DU MIDI OBSERVATORY can be found at the summit of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre at 2,877 metres and, when the mountains are in view, can be clearly seen from La Haille with binoculars. A fifteen minute cable cable car journey will take you to the Pic du Midi Observatory where you can see the entire Pyrenean mountain chain, the plains of Southern France, the first foothills of the Massif Centrale and over 300 kilometres of summits. Discover a sky pure and a sea of clouds . . . This extraordinary observatory has been in use since 1878, when the first foundation stone was laid, and is today part of the Météo France Network. Since 1884 it has played a major part in both astronomy, planetology and mapping of the lunar surface. The Pic du Midi offers 'Nuits au Pic'; a chance to stay over night and observe the sunset and sunrise, sleep closer to the stars and learn about astronomy! For more information visit www.picdumidi.com