Last Updated on 22/10/2022 by secretmoona
Wondering what to do in Occitanie, France? Travelling to Occitanie is discovering one of France’s most exciting regions. Home to 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites, Occitania is dotted with historic towns and cities such as the medieval town of Carcassonne, the hilltop village of Rocamadour or vibrant cities such as Montpellier and Toulouse. There are famous monuments and sites, including the arenas of Nîmes or the Pont du Gard. As well as being a region with a recognised cultural heritage, Occitanie has an incredibly varied landscape. During a trip to Occitanie, you can stroll along the Canal du Midi, sit on a terrace in a small village, discover the local dish or take a hike on the mountains of the Pyrénées and Massif Central.
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Where is Occitanie? Map of Occitanie Region
Situated in the South of France, Occitanie is the second largest region in France. Nested between the Pyrénées, bordering Spain and the Mediterranean Sea, Occitanie is an excellent region to discover and explore. Here you will find a great diversity of landscapes, including 220 km of coastline along the Mediterranean, fantastic stone-built villages and citadels, picturesque sandy beaches and regional parks. There are seven regional parks in Occitanie, such as the Grands Causses and the Catalan Pyrénées.
Created in 2016 after merging the regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrenees, Occitanie comprises thirteen departments. Ariège (09), Aude (11), Aveyron (12), Gard (30), Haute-Garonne (31), Gers (32), Hérault (34), Lot (46), Lozère (48), Hautes-Pyrénées (65), Pyrénées-Orientales (66), Tarn (81),Tarn-et-Garonne (82). The main cities in Occitanie are Toulouse, Montpellier, Nîmes, Perpignan, and Béziers.
To help plan your trip to Occitanie, be sure to visit Occitanie Tourism website.
How to get to Occitanie, France?
Occitanie is one of the biggest regions in France, with the main cities being Toulouse, Montpellier, Nîmes, Perpignan, and Béziers. Therefore, the region is easily accessible by domestic and international flights. The rail and motorway networks are also excellent.
France has one of the best rail networks. SNCF’s high-speed TGV trains take you to Toulouse, Perpignan, Nîmes and Montpellier from major French and European cities like Barcelona, Madrid or Geneva. Travelling by train within the region is also made simple with the regional IO train routes allowing you to travel as cheap as 1€.
Occitanie benefits from 10 airports, the biggest being Toulouse-Blagnac and Montpellier-Méditerranée. Other smaller airports to note are: Rodez-Aveyron, Nîmes-Garons, Castres-Mazamet, Pyrénées-Tarbes-Lourdes, Carcassonne, Béziers Cap d’Agde, Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrénées and Perpignan. With so many airports, it is easy for international tourists to visit the region.
Motorways and coach lines serve the entire country. Here are some examples of travel times connecting Toulouse or Montpellier with other major French cities: Exploring Occitanie by car is the best option, especially for those who wish to explore the more remote towns and villages.
When to Visit Occitanie
Occitanie is one of these regions that offer the pleasure of the mountains and the seaside. No matter your preferences, you will have something for you. During the summer, you can laze on the beautiful sandy beaches and enjoy the sun on the terrace of a lovely cafe while sipping on your favourite drink. In winter, the mountains of the Pyrénées will allow you to enjoy some winter sports, including skiing. During Spring and Autumn, you can enjoy, at your leisure, the smaller towns, visit museums and appreciate the many hiking opportunities.
Best places to Visit in Occitanie France
Toulouse, the Pink City – Haute-Garonne
One cannot visit the Occitanie region without exploring its capital, Toulouse. The city is dynamic and youthful, with one of France’s most prominent universities and home to the European aerospace industry and Airbus. Although one of the largest cities in France, Toulouse is pretty laid back and is more reminiscent of a Spanish city than a French one.
Toulouse’s Old Town, enclosed by the banks of the Garonne River and the Canal du Midi, is the best place to start exploring the city. Wander along the narrow streets to admire the brick and terracotta buildings that gave the city its nickname – la Ville Rose (Pink City). The pink colour is more prominent in the evening as the sun sets, and the old quarter’s walls display stunning colours.
Among the things to see and do in the city are visiting the Jacobins Convent and the Saint-Sernin Basilica, the largest Romanesque building in France, built in the 11th century. There, you can admire the intricate ornate architecture. The Capitole de Toulouse complex (at Place du Capitole), which includes the magnificent Hôtel de Ville and the opera house, is also a must-see. Finally, take a stroll along the riverbank or a boat tour to get a different view of the pink city.
Carcassonne and its fortified city – Aude
The charming medieval citadel is one of the most visited destinations of France, with two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Cité de Carcassonne (the medieval city) and the Canal du Midi.
Situated on the valley of the Aude River, vineyards and mountains surround the town. The 13th-century fortified city has two outer walls with 52 towers designed to prevent attackers. Carcassonne has a rich history of crusades. Now, people can walk along the ramparts to experience the city’s greatness and visit the Chateau Comtal.
The citadel has received some restorations by the 19th-century architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc which gave it a fairytale look. Although it’s no Disneyland, the fortress is a must-see and has impressive selections of restaurants and cafes. You will find some good shops in the new town too.
Montpellier, the Sunny City – Hérault
Montpellier is the second largest city in Occitanie. Montpellier is one of those big cities which still feels like smaller towns. The city’s pedestrian-only city centre and narrow cobblestone streets are a perfect synonym for a Mediterranean city.
There is nothing better to do in Montpellier than getting lost in the streets, wandering around and admiring the fantastic street art, and sitting on a cafe terrace while appreciating a nice cup of coffee.
Albi, the Episcopal City – Tarn
Albi is one of the most beautiful towns to visit in Occitanie. Nicknamed “Albi La Rouge (the Red)” because of the red bricks on all the city’s facades, Albi is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on the banks of the River Tarn, the lovely town is a great day trip idea from Toulouse.
The episcopal city of Albi is a fascinating city with rich art, heritage and culture. While visiting Albi, you cannot miss the Cité Episcopale built around the imposing Cathédrale Sainte Cécile and its massive bell tower. You will find impressive frescoes inside the cathedral, including the Last Judgement. This city is also the birthplace of the famous 19th-century artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The museum dedicated to the artist is located in the episcopal palace.
The preserved medieval town centre and half-timbered houses make Albi a great destination while visiting the Occitanie in France.
Béziers – Hérault
Sitting strategically on a hill overlooking the River Orb, Béziers is one of the oldest cities in Europe. The city was the first to be attacked during the Cathar Crusade, resulting in a big massacre. You should not miss visiting Béziers if you want to explore the Occitanie region in the south of France. Whether you like to stroll through the picturesque alleys, have a glass of wine on the terrace of a restaurant or get into the laid-back lifestyle of southern France, Béziers makes the perfect southern France getaway.
The must-see places in the city not to be missed are:
- The Pont-Vieux.
- An old Romanesque bridge dating from the 13th century.
- The Gothic Saint-Nazaire cathedral is perched on the cliff and overlooks the river Orb and the arenas (the city was known for bullfighting).
A visit to Béziers also means exploring the famous Canal du Midi, which links Toulouse to the Mediterranean. After all, the engineer of this incredible work, Paul Riquet, was a “Biterrois” (a resident of Béziers). So while exploring the canal, do not miss to visit the Fonseranes locks, nine impressive locks that allow boats to navigate in the most ingenious way possible.
Rocamadour, the Medieval City – Lot
Perched on its cliff, the medieval village of Rocamadour has been nicknamed the Citadel of Faith because it is an important place for pilgrimage. The charming small town is one of France’s most beautiful villages and attracts thousands of tourists each year. Rocamadour is a gem not to be missed during a trip to the Dordogne Valley or South West of France.
Walking in the streets, you will be charmed by the shops, restaurants and different churches, including the Saint-Sauveur basilica, which you will need to climb about 200 steps to reach. But the most impressive thing to see in Rocamadour is the castle, whose ramparts offer a breathtaking view of the surroundings.
Narbonne – Aude
The coastal town of Narbonne is a gem unknown to many tourists, apart from French tourists. The ancient Roman city is well worth a visit. The town has the perfect southern vibe with a mix of Spanish and Italian influences. The town centre is pedestrianised, allowing visitors to leisurely see the architecture, including the cathedral of Saint-Just, the Roman Horreum and the Archbishop’s Palace. The main town square leads to many narrow streets lined with shops, cafes and restaurants.
The main focus of Narbonne is the Canal de la Robine, which has links to the Canal du Midi. Follow the banks of the Canal to the exceptional covered market “Les Halles“, recently awarded the title of the “Most Beautiful Markets of France”. Wander inside the market full of local produce and freshly caught fish from the nearby sea. More than 72 stalls and small restaurants guarantee a “feast for your eyes”.
Cordes-sur-Ciel – Tarn
Strolling through Cordes-sur-Ciel is like leaping into the past. The medieval village founded in 1222 by the Count of Toulouse is perched on top of the Puech de Mordagne. Access to Cordes-sur-Ciel is done on foot, and once past the village’s ramparts, you will be charmed by the fortified gates and luxurious houses in Gothic architecture. The village used to be home to wealthy merchants, and some of them have been classified as historical monuments, such as “Grand Veneur“, “Grand Ecuyer“, and “Grand Fauconnier“.
Get lost in the cobbled streets paying attention to your surroundings. Admire the many Gothic houses and the charming aspects of the village. As well as being labelled the “Most Beautiful Village of France“, Cordes sur Ciel is an artists’ town. Craft shops and art galleries lined the winding and sloping cobbled streets. Painters, ceramic artists, jewellery designers, and sculptors are some of the many creators of workshops in the village. Visiting them and participating in a workshop activity are fun things to do in Cordes sur Ciel.
The village also has three exciting museums worth visiting, including the Charles Portal Museum, dedicated to the small town’s history, the Yves Thuries Museum, dedicated to the art of sugar and chocolate and the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum. The village is on a hill, and the town offers beautiful views over the surrounding countryside, the Cérou valley (la vallée du Cérou).
Finally, those with a sweet tooth will enjoy tasting the delicious Croquants de Cordes, a cookie made of sugar, almond and egg white. It’s a perfect souvenir to bring home.
Book your stay in Cordes-sur-Ciel
Nîmes, the Roman City – Gard
Visiting Nîmes is like stepping back in Roman times. But the city goes beyond that past. While wandering the city streets, you will admire the beautiful architecture and imposing monuments while exploring a network of narrow streets.
Located closer to Provence, the city offers a few different influences: Roman, Spanish, and many Mediterranean cultures. You will love the city of Nîmes, which has the best-preserved Roman architecture in France. Be sure to admire the monuments by visiting the Maison Carrée and the contemporary art museum.
The famous Nîmes Arenas are not to miss. Not only is the architecture of the Roman amphitheatre incredible, but you can join a guided tour to immerse yourself in the ancient times of gladiator fights. You will also see reproductions of the weapons and armour used during that period. Even though the Arènes de Nîmes is one of the top tourist attractions in the region of Occitanie, do not stop at the Arenas only during your visit. The city boasts many things to do, including the Jardins de la Fontaine and the 32-metre-high Tour Magne, which serves as a setting for the Roman remains. During the summer months, many events are organised, including concerts and festivals such as the Great Roman Games.
Best Things to Do in Occitanie France
Discover the ‘Most Beautiful Villages of France’
Occitania is a region of France rich in history and culture. From big cities to medieval bastides, perched hilltop villages and seaside towns, the area offers a variety of sites… Regarding small villages, Occitanie is the region of France with the most significant number of villages classified among the most beautiful in France. The “Plus Beaux Villages de France” or “Most Beautiful Villages of France” is an award created in 1982 to support and promote the heritage of small rural villages in France. Since its creation, more than 172 villages have been awarded the title. Occitanie region has 49 certified villages. That’s nearly a third for just one region; impressive, isn’t it? That’s more than the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) or Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes regions.
Wondering which village to visit next? It will all depend on your preference. Saint-Cirq Lapopie (Lot) and Najac (Aveyron) are some of the prettiest villages in Occitanie. Perched on a hilltop, they both offer spectacular views of the Lot valley and Aveyron valley. Aigues Mortes (Gard) is a fortified medieval town sitting in the salt marshes of the Camargue. The small town is the perfect destination to be closer to nature. You can go bird watching or see pink flamingos, bulls and wild white horses.
Take a boat tour along the Canal du Midi
The Canal du Midi is an important tourist attraction in Occitanie, France. The classified UNESCO World Heritage Site canal links Toulouse to the Mediterranean via Sète. The canal stretches over 240 kilometres and has 63 locks; the canal offers sites for many activities. With the green spaces along the canal offering fresh air, people can either stroll leisurely along the quays, banks and towpaths or bike or horseback.
Strolling along the canal is one of my favourite activities in Occitanie. Taking a boat trip on the Canal du Midi is a must-do during a visit to the beautiful region.
Go on a Hike at the Cévennes National Park – Lozère
The Cévennes National Park is a paradise for adventure seekers and nature lovers. The Cevennes National Park is located in Southern France, south of the Massif Central and stretches over Lozère, Gard, Aveyron and Ardèche departments and the Languedoc-Roussillon and Rhone Alpes. The UNESCO World Heritage Site offers wildlife and exceptional landscapes of rocky massifs, valleys and gorges.
The best way to explore the park is by hiking or biking. With 1500 kilometres of trails, the Cévennes National Park has many winding walking trails to enjoy. However, you can do other activities such as canoeing, kayaking, canyoning, paragliding or rock climbing.
Mont Lozère is the highest peak in the Cévennes and the highest point on the GR70 hiking trail. During the summer months, it’s perfect for hiking, and in winter, it becomes the playground for cross-country skiers.
Explore Occitanie’s coastal towns
The region of Occitanie isn’t as touristy as the French Riviera and Provence but offers many of the same experiences. Over three hundred days of sunshine a year, varied countryside and long stretches of the Mediterranean coast, lagoons and beaches. Top it all, it’s not overcrowded with tourists and is overpriced.
In Occitanie, you can find some of France’s best beaches, charming fishing villages, and coastal towns. Close to the towns and cities mentioned above are picturesque places with golden beaches.
Montpellier, the second biggest city in the region, is close to several seaside resorts, such as Palavas-les-Flots and La Grande Motte. The latter is nicknamed “the City of the Sun “and is an ideal destination for a relaxing vacation. Sète, on the lagoon Étang de Thau is a lovely port city with lots of sandy beaches.
The seaside town of Narbonne with beaches (Narbonne-Plage, Gruissan and La Franqui) rivalling the French Riviera doesn’t attract half as much (maybe for the best!) A little further down, Collioure, with its dramatic coastline and pebbled beaches, reminds me of Brittany. The pretty town near Perpignan and the Spanish border offers lush and illy coasts.
Gorges du Tarn – Lozère
The Gorges du Tarn is a little gem of the Occitanie region located on the edge of the Grands Causses Regional Natural Park. Gorges du Tarn is a canyon formed by the Tarn River, located north of Millau, in the Lozère department of the Massif Central, northern Languedoc-Roussillon, in southern France. The area is excellent for admiring beautiful viewpoints with majestic panoramas.
Those who love nature and sports can admire the beautiful environment by trying some activities via water, on foot or by air. Adrenaline junkies will enjoy activities such as paragliding and bungee jumping. Canoeing, kayaking, canyoning and paddle boarding are fun ways to explore the Gorges du Tarn. Like hiking? Then the Gorges du Tarn has you covered. The region is excellent for walking or mountain biking as the mountains are not too high, and the many hiking trails will allow you to see a varied landscape.
The Tarn Gorge is not only incredible for nature but the region is overloaded with some of the most beautiful villages in Southern France. The dramatic landscape of the gorge serves as a backdrop for numerous villages. While in the Gorges du Tarn, try to see Sainte-Enimie, another medieval stone village classified among the most beautiful villages in France and Meyrueis. If you are looking for that uniquely Southern charm with quaint villages and stunning nature – Gorges du Tarn is for you!
Discover the Occitanie regional food
It isn’t easy to talk about French regions without mentioning the food. After all, France is known as the land of gastronomy. The region is home to varied culinary specialities that will meet all taste buds.
In the Hautes-Pyrénées and Gers, you will find the confit de canard (duck) and the Tomme des Pyrénées (a hard cheese). In Aveyron, you will discover aligot (a creamy dish made of potatoes, cheese, cream and garlic). But perhaps, the most famous specialties from the region are the cassoulet (made with beans, pork or duck) from Castelnaudary and foie gras.
Regarding drinks, the Languedoc-Roussillon is France’s most prominent wine region. The type of wine produced there is the more affordable red “Vin de Table”. Also, the production is more prominently red (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan), and you can find some rosé (Cinsaut, Syrah) and white (Grenache blanc, Rolle, Marsanne and more)
Occitanie is one of my favourite regions in France. It is home to some of the best attractions in the country, from the charming villages and stunning countryside to the world-famous wine regions, there is something for everyone in Occitanie, France. Where will you go first? Let us know in the comments below.
14 thoughts on “Exploring Occitanie, France – A Region Full of Surprises”
I love how unique and beautiful each town is compared to the next! France truly has it all.
Thanks Alanna! It’s true, they all have a unique charm to them!
Great post Mayi!!
This part of France really is fabulous isn’t it! I would LOVE to hike more in this area (Cévennes National Park looks incredible) and I have wanted to visit Carcassonne for yeeears. You have given me such wanderlust!
Thanks Joy! The Cévennes National Park is amazing for hiking. Hope you get to visit Carcassonne. It can be crowded at times but still, it’s worth a visit.
Your post shows me that we need to plan some more time in the region of Occitanie. We knew about Carcassonne and Toulouse but can see we missed several of the 8 UNESCO sites. Great to know that your trip can range from the beaches to the mountains. I love the medieval flavour of this region! Keeping this post for our travel planning.
Thanks for the comment Linda! Yes, the varied landscape means that you can do a bit of everything in Occitanie. Go for a bit of hiking then hop on a barge to cruise the canal to finish your trip in a coastal town.
Great post, and your photos are so beautiful! I’d love to explore more of France and this looks like a beautiful region.
Thank you. Hope you get to visit Occitanie, the region is really beautiful.
I had never heard much about the Occitanie Region of France before reading your post, but you’ve absolutely made me want to visit. Each town looks so charming! Thanks for sharing.
Thank you! Now that you know about Occitanie, hopefully it will make it to your France bucket list!
I had no idea Occitanie was home to so many world heritage sites – the medieval citadel looks wonderful to explore.
Occitanie is truly a gem. It’s as charming as some of the places in the french Riviera but less crowded too.
We have only explored a small part of the Occitanie region in France. We enjoyed our time in Carcassonne and Toulouse, we I was interested to learn more. Love that there are options for things to see and do in all seasons. I am saving this post for th next time we get to France.
Wow… this was so informative! I had literally never heard of the Occitanie Region of France before seeing your post, but now I’ve added it to my bucketlist! Loved this post