Tourism is serious business in France. And so this week, the Tourism Office of the Haute-Garonne Department held their annual press conference to explain their strategy for marketing their corner of France and attracting those economically important tourists.
In a Department that stretches from the cosmopolitan city of Toulouse to the upper reaches of the Pyrénées, it’s a varied stretch. But seducing those tourists is critical, particularly for those small, independent businesses that produce local delicacies or run lodging of some sort.
To that end, this year’s promotional focus will be: The Secret Haute-Garonne. Yes, people know about the big mountains, the Canal du Midi, and la Ville Rose. But there’s so much more that even many locals, who account for over half the tourists, don’t know about it.
Here are 5 “secret” places to visit in Haute-Garonne mentioned this week:
Félix Trombe Cave Network
This is France’s longest cave network and goes to depths of more than 1,000 meters. It can be spectacular, but it’s also not for beginners or casual hikers. There are 53 points of entry, many of them just narrow crevices, and its advised to connect with one of many guides in the regions.
Nostradamus and Martres-Tolosane
The town is known for its pottery community and for being a famous archaeological site of the Gallo-Roman era. But it holds another claim to fame. That great future forecaster Nostradamus has a prediction that some have interpreted to mean there is a great treasure buried beneath this town.
This small village boasts an unusual history and architecture. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Marquis de la Panouse inherited this land. Taking inspiration from some of the utopian ideals that were being incorporated into some workers’ cities at the time, the Marquis had more than 20 buildings constructed for employees. The houses mix such styles as Flemish, Moorish, Scandinavian, and Baroque. Definitely a strange collection that stands out in the Southwest of France.
Des petites filles modèles à Verfeil
Les petites filles modèles (or the English version: “Good Little Girls”) is a children’s book written in 1858 by ithe Countess of Ségur. It was the second in a trilogy.
The titular characters were inspired by real-life Madeleine and Camille de Malaret from Verfeil, and who are now buried there. There is a very small museum dedicated to the book and the girls. The first book in the series was made into a film in 2016, “Les malheurs de Sophie,” which brought some renewed attention to the little town and its “Petites Filles.”
La Cathédrale de Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges
The cathedral has Romanesque-Gothic architecture, Renaissance windows, carved wooden choir-stalls, and a 16th Century organ. It was a stopping point centuries ago for a pilgrimage. And getting to the church will take you through the medieval town which is spectacular in its own right.