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Occitania

There are 2141 named mountains in Occitania. The Massif de Vignemale is the highest point at 3,298m and the most prominent mountain with 1,034m of prominence.

Occitania (Occitanie) is a region of France that was created on January 1st, 2016 with the merging of the Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées regions. The new region covers an area of around 72,800 km². It borders the regions of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Provences-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Andorra and Spain.

Occitania consists of 14 departments:

As the region is so expansive there is a diverse range of cultural, geographical and historical elements. The most mountainous of these are the Hautes-Pyrénées and the Pyrénées Orientales.

Occitania is home to the Central and Eastern Pyrénées mountain range that forms a natural border between France and Spain. The Pyrénées are divided into three sections: the Western, Central and Eastern Pyrénées. The elevation of the mountains gradually increased from west to east with the most prominent peaks situated in Occitania.

There are several important features which distinguish the Pyrénees from the Alps:

  • The Pyrénees are older than the Alps at around 100 to 150 million years old.
  • An absence of great lakes, such as Lake Geneva (France/Switzerland) and Lake Garda (Italy) which were formed from glacial action.
  • The large number of mountain torrents (second only to Norway in Europe), which form cascading waterfalls.
  • There are fewer high mountain passes which traverse the peaks.
  • High frequency of the upper end of a valley ending in a semicircle of cliffs, referred to as a cirque. This explains why there are so few high mountain passes, as their construction would be difficult.

The principal routes traversing the Pyrénées from north to south are located at the eastern and western extremities near the coast.

The highest peak is Aneto at 3,404m which is situated on the Spanish side. The highest peak in the French Pyrénées is also the highest peak in Occitania: the Massif de Vignemale at 3,298m. It is located on the border between France and Spain and shares its peak with the Spanish region of Aragon. On the northern face on the Vignemale there are several difficult ascent routes which require a high level of skill. The mountain refuge des Oulettes de Gaube is situated at the bottom of the Gaude valley at the foot of the northern face. It is an ideal basecamp for ascending one of the highest peaks in the Pyrénées mountain range.

Cirque de Gavarnie

Cirque de Gavarnie

There is a combined total of 8 regional natural and national parks in Occitania, with a combined area of around 11500 km². Occitania is consists of roughly 15% natural park (considering some of the Parc Naturel des Pyrénées is shared with the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region).

  • Parc Natural de l’Alt Pirineu (698,5 km²)
  • Parc Naturel Régional des Causses du Quercy (1850 km²)
  • Parc National des Cévennes (935 km²)
  • Parc Naturel Régional du Haut Languedoc (3 060 km²)
  • Parc Naturel Régional de la Narbonnaise en Méditerranée (700 km²)
  • Parc National des Pyrénées (457 km²)
  • Parc Naturel régional des Pyrénées Ariégeoises (2 465 km²)
  • Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Catalanes (1 371 km²)

Midi d'Ossau Peak

Pic du Midi d'Ossau reflected in Gentau lake

Major Cities

There are a number of major and minor cities in the Occitania.

  • Albi (Tarn) - As of 2010, the city is UNESCO world heritage site.
  • Beziers (Hérault) - Hosts the annual Feria de Béziers, centred around bullfighting, each August.
  • Montauban (Tarn-et-Garonne) - Capital of the Tarn-et-Garonne department. The town is classified a city of art and history.
  • Lourdes (Hautes-Pyrénées) - Despite being the smallest cities on this list - Lourdes is one of the most reknown. It is one of the most important sites of religious tourism and pilgrimage. Lourdes welcomes over 6 million visitors each year, second only to Paris.
  • Montpellier (Hérault) - Capital of the Hérault department. It is the third largest French city on the Mediterranean coast behind Marseille and Nice.
  • Nîmes (Gard) - Capital of Gard - Nîmes is located between the Mediterranean seas and the Cévennes mountains. It is famed for being an old Roman settlement - remaining monuments are the Nîmes Arena and the Maison Carrée.
  • Perpignan (Pyrénées Orientales) - Situated in the south-east of the region, it is the last major city before the border to Spain.
  • Toulouse (Haute-Garonne) - Both the capital of the Haute-Garonne and the Occitania region. Toulouse is the fourth largest city in France. Many of Toulouse’s historic buildings are made from a pink terracotta brick - resulting in the nickname of ‘La Ville Rose’ (the Pink city).

Le Jardin de la Fontaine, Nîmes

Le Jardin de la Fontaine, Nîmes

Access

Most of the larger cities in the region have airports - the largest being that of Toulouse. The region is well catered to by an extensive train network. Equally access to the mediterranean sea is possible along the coast.

Fauna and flora

Occitania has some of the most varied flora in France. There are around 2,500 species of flowers and plants. Depending on the season, there is always something to see.

The fauna is equally as diverse with over 4,000 species of animals in the region. The animals which are specific to the Pyrénées are the bearded vulture, the Pyrenean desman and the brown bear. In the high mountains the marmottes and ibex can be found, the latter being recently reintroduced into the area.

Pic du Midi de Bigorre

Pic du Midi de Bigorre

Hiking routes

Plo del Naou - Starting from the parking at the summit of the Col d’Aspin, this 6.2km hike is ideal for beginners. There is 320m of vertical elevation along the ridge taking you to the summit at 1754m. From the peak you will have access to 360 panoramic views across the surrounding valleys. Est time 2hrs.

La Brèche de Roland - A natural gap in the mountain ridge, 40m across and 100m high. Legend has it that the gap was created in in 778 AD by Count Roland, a Frankish military leader of Charlemagne, as he cut into the mountain with his sword. The gap can be reached from the parking at the summit of the Col de Tentes. From here there is a 5.5km climb to the gap. The route back is the same, resulting in a total distance of 11km and 604m of elevation up to. Depending on the time of year there could be snow covering this peak - it is best to be well prepared for any eventuality. From the summit there are views into Spain and the Pico de Millaris. This hike is best suited to intermediate to experienced hikers. Est time 4hrs.

Montgrand - Situated in the Natural park of Haute-Languedoc, this 12km hike from Salvaget up to the summit is suited for intermediates. There is a total elevation gain of 350m up to the summit at 1267m. From the summit you will have views across the Natural park and towards the Laucan military radio station situated on the summit of the Puech de Rascas to the north. Est time 3hrs.

Mont Aigoual - Located in eastern Occitania in the Cévennes National Park. Starting from l’Espérou there is a 13km trail which takes you up to the summit at 1565m and back. With a total elevation of 425m, this route is best suited to intermediates. Whilst the summit is accessible by car, the route from l’Espérou allows you to take in the surrounding area. Est time 5hrs.