While most of the 27 regions of France are history laden places, each with a story of its own, Midi-Pyrénées constitutes an exception, as it is, just like the name suggests, a strictly administrative and geographical entity created in the 1970s during the regionalization of France. Given that it incorporates parts of what were previously the historical provinces of Guyenne, Languedoc and Gascony, as well as smaller territories and counties, it comes as no surprise that it ended up being both the largest administrative unit of metropolitan France and a place with no unitary regional awareness to speak of.
The eight departments that make up this province – Ariège, Aveyron, Haute-Garonne, Gers, Lot, Hautes-Pyrénées, Tarn and Tarn-et-Garonne – span over an area of 45,348 km2and are inhabited by a total of 2,865,000 people, most of them concentrated in the few regional towns and cities of this wide, otherwise rural, area. In fact, it’s worth mentioning that the very reason this province was established as such was in order to set up an official region around an oversized urban agglomeration – namely the metropolis of Toulouse. The population is distributed accordingly, with about one third of it residing in Toulouse and in the surrounding area. The gigantesque proportions of Toulouse become obvious when it is compared with the second largest urban settlement in this region, the city of Tarbes, which is actually ten times smaller.
Except for these two cities and another three towns that manage to contain populations of over 40,000 residents – namely Montauban, Albi and Castres – the rest of the province is mainly countryside, and a rather productive one at that, having established itself as the number one agricultural region in France. In addition to large expanses of land cultivated with wheat, maize and sunflowers, the area is also favourable to growing vine, even though the region has never made it amongst the most famous wine producers in France. What has earned it some celebrity, though, at least amongst the connoisseurs of French cuisine, is the famed Roquefort cheese, a gourmet food made from ewe’s milk.
In addition to large scale farming, the region also benefits economically from tourism, with the main attractions being concentrated in its southern part, where the spectacular Pyrénée Mountains, reaching upwards of 3000 m in altitude, are a permanent destination for mountain enthusiasts, whether they come here to ski, to hike, or to simply enjoy the superb scenery created by nature, the beauty of which was officially acknowledged by the state by establishing here one of the rare National Parks in France.
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