The man-made lake of St Ferreol close to Revel was created in the seventeenth century by damming a valley at St-Ferreol to supply water to the Canal du Midi. The 80 hectare reservoir is a great place to enjoy a variety watersports. You can hire pedalos, rowing boats and canoes and there’s plenty of opportunity for swimming and water skiing. Should the warm dry south-easterly Autan wind from the Mediterranean be blowing, sailing, windsurfing and sail-boarding can be particular fun. Club Nautique of St-Ferreol offers tuition in a variety of watersports. Tel: (00 33) 5 61 83 54 68.
The Alps may have the glamour, but the smaller friendly resorts of the Haute-Garonne offer great opportunities for experienced skiers as well as children and beginners amongst beautiful mountains.
The ski station of Superbagneres (1440m - 2260m) above the town of Luchon is reached by road or gondola lift and has many pistes ideal for beginners, cross-country skiing and lessons. Higher altitude Peyragudes (1600m - 2450m) 15km west of Luchon is more suited to intermediate skiing with 30km of slopes in a magnificent landscape close to the Spanish border, 4 black and 17 red runs, high speed chair lifts, snow cannon and high altitude restaurant. There’s even heli-skiing here and film buffs may recognize the resort from the title sequence of the Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies”. Visit the museum next to Luchon’s Tourist Office to see fascinating exhibits of ancient skiing and climbing equipment and travel posters. Smaller, family orientated Le Mourtis (1380m - 1816m) has black, red, blue and green runs and snow cannon, plus cross-country, snowshoe trails and dog sledging. Find cross country skiing at Bourg-d’Oueil (1350m - 1500m) which has 4 pistes, lifts and snow cannon. More information at tourist offices and Comite Pyrenees Est, 1 rue de la Charite, Toulouse.
Haute-Garonne in the heart of the Midi Pyrenees offers a range of hiking possibilities from the fertile plains around Toulouse to the high valleys of the Comminges and mountain route of the GR10 long distance trail (866km in total). This links the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean through the Pyrenean Mountains and passes across the extreme south of Haute-Garonne. Other shorter loops of the route begin at Castillon-de-Larboust, Fos or St-Beat. St-Beat and Superbagneres are both good walking centres. St-Beat is the starting point for 24 routes and 25 routes begin at Bagneres-de-Luchon, including 5 in the Lys Valley. Short walks of between 2 and 5 hours can be made from places like Antignac, Fronsac, St-Felix Lauragais and L’Isle-en-Dodon. There are 40km of walking routes around Rieux-Volvestre on the River Arize south of Toulouse. Pick up part of the long distance GR653 route from Arles at Toulouse and follow it east to Auch in neighbouring Gers before it strikes south through Pau and on into Spain.
Haute-Garonne is a rich fishing region especially around the River Garonne basin. The Garonne, which gives its name to the department, flows down from the Pyrenees through Montrejeau and north west to Toulouse for almost 200km. Its lively tributaries and plentiful currents make for challenging fishing. The Garonne is a category 1 river where brown trout fishing is particularly good despite a number of river dams. Try the traditional method of mountain fishing known as ‘toc’ said to be good for tree-lined banks where casting is impossible. A thread passes through a hollow rod and over your finger to sense the bite.
Tourist offices and the Fishing Federation of Haute-Garonne in Toulouse at 395 route de Saint-Simon, 31100 Toulouse, tel: (00 33) 5 61 42 58 64 can give you information on tourist permits and where to fish. www.fede-peche31.com/ in French has more. The season lasts from early March to mid-September. You’ll need a photo for your permit.
Set in a lovely valley where the Rivers One and Pique meet, the fashionable resort of Bagnere-de-Luchon was a spa in Roman times. Its 48 springs range in temperature from 26C to 48C and the sulphurous waters are said to be good for rheumatism and respiratory ailments. Some baths are in caves carved into the mountainside. Take a relaxing spa treatment then make for the stylish bustle of cafes and restaurants in tree-lined Allees de’Etigny close by to sample the best of Haute-Garonne cuisine. Try a special mutton stew in wine and garlic known as ‘pistache Luchonnaise’. Enjoy sculptures and exotic trees in Parc du Casino and Catalpas and tulip trees of Parc des Quinconces. Luchon, twinned with Harrogate, is a ‘village fleuris’ and holds a parade of floral floats each August. In September the whole town celebrates its folk and historical traditions with an Occitaine festival. The current thermal baths at Barbazan were opened in 1901 although the properties of its healing waters for a variety of ailments, including stomach disorders, were known to the Romans. Water was pumped to Ludunum Canvanerrum (later St-Bertrand de Comminges) as early as 72BC. Closed during the winter. Contact Barbazan Tourist Office for opening times, tel: (00 33) 5 61 88 35 64. The spa buildings in the centre of Salies-du-Salat have been recently renovated. The waters here are beneficial in rheumatology and for gynaecological problems. Contact the Tourist Office for more information, tel: (00 33) 5 61 90 53 93.
Combine a visit to Toulouse with a game of golf. Of several courses, 90 hectare Golf de Seilh is located 15 minutes from the town in a magnificent hotel complex on Route de Grenade. It has two 18-hole courses; one 5862m par 73 of international standard for experienced players and the second, a standard facility, which beginners will enjoy. There are bars, restaurants, swimming pool, fitness centre and golf pro-shop boutique at the hotel. Open 8am - 6pm in winter and 8am - 7.30pm summer. Tel: (00 33) 5 61 42 59 30 for more details. Golf de Toulouse Teoula (18-hole 6017m) is situated close to the Safari Park of Plaisance du Touch, has quality greens, great panoramas of the Pyrenees, plenty of water hazards to contend with and a eucalyptus forest at the end. Tel: (00 33) 5 61 91 98 80.
The year round thermal currents of the central Pyrenees make ideal conditions for this cross between hang-gliding and parachuting. No training is necessary to go soaring like a bird high above the valley on tandem flights with an experienced ‘pilot’. Views of the Pyrenees are fantastic and flights of between 15 and 45 minutes are becoming increasingly popular. Find centres at Le Mourtis, Luchon, Peyragudes and the Comminges. See websites like www.pyrenees-parapente.fr Freddy Sutra in chemin du Clutas, Juzet de Luchon offers flights for children and adults, and training courses for those who want to go solo. Tel: (00 33) 6 87 34 20 54.
This space theme park on the outskirts of Toulouse is spectacular entertainment for all the family. Take a trip through the mysterious cosmos, go aboard a life-size space craft and visit the 360° planetarium and IMAX cinema. Over 250 interactive exhibits, including space games. Regular guided tours, restaurant and shop. See www.cite-espace.com or tel: (00 33) 8 20 37 72 23 for opening times.