« We shall call it : the Haute-Garonne » « Why the devil should we ? » « Because the river flows through it, that’s why !... »
From its source in the Pyrenees, the Garonne drains the South-West and flows right across the Haute-Garonne. For more than 200 kilometres, it makes its peaceful way down from the Luchon area to the Volvestre area and on to Toulouse.
From the Val d’Aran to the Toulouse area
From its beginnings in the Val d’Aran in Spain at an altitude of 1 870 metres, and all along the Pyrenean section of its course, the Garonne plays host to white water sports, gradually becoming a mighty river. When it flows into France, through the Pont-du-Roi gorges in the Haute-Garonne, it is 575 metres above sea-level ; it then rushes down the slopes of the Luchon area. After Saint-Béat it is joined by the main tributary of its mountain section, the Pique. It then leaves the Pyrenees, and flows past the ancient site of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges to be joined by the Neste in Montréjeau. It runs on down to Saint-Gaudens, Saint-Martory, then the Ariège joins it on its way down to Muret, Toulouse and Blagnac. Its course from the plains of the Volvestre to the Toulouse area is dotted with charming towns and villages silhouetted against the natural backdrop of the mountains.
From the impetuous Garonne to the river of the Toulouse plain...
Impetuous at the foot of the mountains which frame mediaeval Saint-Béat, renowned for its houses with balconies, the Garonne carves its way through the rock. This rock, which made the place world-famous, is none other than the pure marble, white or veined, whose beauty adorns the walls of Versailles, the Trianon and Fontainebleau. Its reputation, however, goes much further back than that ! To the time when Pompey, in 75 BC, decided to found Passus Lupi, whence blocks of marble destined for the construction of antique cities were exported. It became Saint-Béat in 797 during Charlemagne’s reign.
As for Saint-Gaudens, its history is inextricably entwined with that of pilgrims heading for Santiago de Compostela. The town is situated at the meeting of the ways coming from Saint-Gilles and from Saint-Girons heading for Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges. The new « Via Garona » itinerary brings this prestigious past bast back to life, recreating the major pilgrim way that came from Toulouse, linking many places at which the Santiago pilgrims once halted a while. Moreover, Saint-Gaudens is home to sumptuous religious buildings which have stood the test of Time, such as the collegiate church of Saint-Pierre et Saint-Gaudens (11th-12th C.) built on the site of an older sanctuary. For those in search of thrills, the Garonne above Saint-Gaudens is perfect for white water sports, such as rafting, hydro-speed, and canoeing… A number of water sports centres are dotted along the course of the river, providing many energetic summer activities for you to try !
Cazères also provides the same type of active, nature-based holidays. It has other charms as well (bridges, esplanade, the Campet cliffs) inherited from its past as a bastide created beside the Garonne and the Hourride. Its river port bears witness to a flourishing past — up to the 19th C. — linked to the presence of cloth manufacturing and the building of boats.
Carbonne, another bastide, founded in 1256 by Alphonse de Poitiers, stands at the confluence of the Garonne and the Arize. From this period, the gable bell tower and the tower beside the church of Saint Laurent are still to be seen. The 18th C. Town Hall, the ruins of the Château de la Terrasse (16th-18th C.) and the Garden-Museum Abbal are worthy of attention, not to mention Terrefort, from where there is an imposing view of the valley and the Pyrenees.
Muret, former capital of the Comminges district, guards the southern approaches to Toulouse. Its still-visible mediaeval past has been somewhat eclipsed by the history of the famous Clément Ader (1841-1925), a pioneer of French aviation. The museum, in part dedicated to him, also honours other local figures : Nicolas Dalayrac (1753-1809), Marshal Adolphe Niel (1802-1869), President Vincent Auriol (b. Renvel 1884 -1966, former Mayor of Muret).
The Portet-sur-Garonne ferry
This ferry is one of the last to operate on the Garonne. 10 kms south of Toulouse, it takes you from one bank of the river to the other ; the well-kept river banks are a very pleasant place to enjoy a picnic in summer.
Viewpoint in Montaut
One of the finest viewpoints over the river is to be found here, in the Volvestre area, in this small commune of about 500 people.
The Garden-Museum Abbal
The place to view the monumental works of the « apostle of direct carving », André Abbal (1876-1953) but also drawings and works by contemporary creators. The artist’s sculptures are perfectly integrated into the verdant, flower-filled background of the banks of the Garonne and the Arize.
Musée André Abbal
10, rue du Sculpteur-Abbal
Tel. : 05 61 87 58 14
The Clément Ader & Great Men Museum
This place retraces the history of Muret — one room is devoted to archeology and another to the battle of Muret in 1213 — and pays due homage to the good and great who have left their mark on its history and on that of humanity.
La collégiale de Saint-Gaudens abrite des merveilles : les chapiteaux, les piliers du chœur et des chapelles, le buffet d’orgue (XVIe siècle), les tapisseries d’Aubusson (XVIIIe siècle).
Cazères est une ancienne bastide du temps de Gaston Phébus, Comte de Foix.