Deciding that France is the country that is your next destination shouldn’t be difficult. Filled with abundances of charm, culture, colours and cuisine there are always tons of things to choose from. Paris has the romance and Bordeaux has its wineries but there is one place that has often been overlooked until now, France’s fourth largest city: Toulouse.
Toulouse is situated in the country’s south on the Garonne River, a short trip away from the Spanish border and neighbouring minnows Andorra. Notoriously used as a stopover city, in particular for business travellers, tourism is on the rise in Toulouse and the city is finally getting the recognition it has long yearned for.
From Basilicas to Spaceships and the Capitole to Cassoulet, Toulouse is a city of contrasts making it ideal for a city break. Due to many of the buildings constructed with the pink-clay coloured bricks, Toulouse is also dubbed as La Ville Rose (The Pink City).
The city is easily accessible within Western Europe and flights only last about two hours.
Here’s why Toulouse should be your next city break destination…
Wandering made easy
Wandering through the centre of Toulouse is fairly easy. The centre point is Capitole de Toulouse. Steeped in history it is said the bishop of Toulouse, Saint Saturnin was martyred here in 257AD. The Capitole was also the centre of the Toulouse riots in the late 1500’s.
Today, the Capitole houses many works of Renaissance art. It is used as a city hall, a wedding venue (Toulousains marry for free) and also houses theatre and opera companies.
As you’ll soon notice Toulouse is a pretty place with the colourful buildings down Rue d’Alsace a prime example. The city’s preserved cultural sites include buildings such as the Saint Sernin Basilica and Church of Jacobins.
All within walking distance of each other, the century-old architecture adds that historical element to the city, making it one for the cultural cats. Saint Sernin, from the 11th century, is the largest Roman church in Europe and since the turn of the century is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Church of Jacobins, home to the relics of philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas, has had many uses over the years including being influential in the creation of the first University in Toulouse and more recently used as an army barrack during the French Revolution.
The future is here
Whilst the Gothic wonders of the past are clearly earmarked across the centre of the city, there’s plenty of innovation happening on its outskirts. Toulouse has a large aviation industry with Aeroscopia Museum being home to the Airbus and also including the famous Concorde. With a timeline of aviation history and aircrafts of all sizes at hand Aeroscopia is fascinating for most.
Going one step further and into orbit, Cité de l’Espace is a park museum all about human interventions in space. This includes the life-sized model of spaceship Ariane 5 and Mir Space Station. Within the museum, learn about how it’s like to live in space, along with many interactive exhibits and activities to go with including Sputnik Earth’s first artificial satellite!
Both museums are located beside Toulouse airport and are reached via metro and tram services.
Delicious Culinary Scene
Toulouse is full of quirky restaurants and cafes yet the most famed dish here is the Cassoulet and no one does it better than at Emily Restaurant. If you are unsure, friendly waiters can recommend great dishes.
For tapas options head to Monsieur George, where the decor and vibe are modern and the ham and cheese croquettes are a must!
Take note of Le Glastag Restaurant too, tucked away down a side alley. It has a contemporary art setting with some tasty dishes and fancy cocktails.
Markets, Markets and Markets
France wouldn’t be France without its markets and Toulouse is no different. Victor Hugo Market is the most popular in Toulouse. The market is the centre of Toulouse’s food market scene, so if you’re hungry make sure you eat your way around here.
If you want to visit a market that is a tad offbeat for visitors, head to St Aubin Market (St Aubin Church), the place where the local Toulousains visit like clockwork.
Check out the street food, tea stalls, handicrafts and entertainment goods. Don’t be surprised if you see a local busker jamming out some tunes in the midst of it all either!
The Victor Hugo Market is open Tuesday – Sunday 6am-2pm and St Aubin Market is open Sunday 7am-1pm.
At Pont Neuf Bridge in Garonne, a natural event occurs most evenings just before sunset. Gallops of Starling Birds flutter above in what almost seems just for show, swirling from right to left as they settle for the night in their respective tree habitats.
For the best views, opposite Pont Neuf is St Pierre Bridge. Take up a spot here and get the camera out!
Breezy gardens and parks
Jardin Japonais (Japanese Garden) offer a Far-East escape epitomised by its Guzei (Red Bridge). Another option is Grand Rond Park, wonderful on a typical spring day especially with its extravagant flushing fountain in the centre.
Tommy’s Tip: A stone’s throw away from the blatant Hotel Capitole there is a small pirate-themed bar called La Cale Seche. Serving only rum, head here if you want a few nightcaps!
Where to stay
From extravagant to cosy, Toulouse has a bunch of hotel and accommodation options to consider.
Grand Hotel de l’Opera was once a royal monastery and it’s easy to see why with its design. Located right in the centre, luxury is a given here and if that’s what you seek then there is arguably no better.
Hotel Albert 1er is tucked away from the main street of Rue d’Alsace Lorraine and is modern yet charming. They throw in a tasty continent breakfast along with clean rooms and the friendliest of staff.
For more information check out the official Toulouse Visit website.