09 Oct In Toulouse
« La Ville Rose » draws nothing like the attention enjoyed by Paris, Marseille and Lyon, but it’s not always obvious why. Because a stay in the fourth largest city of the country is always an amazing experience.
The southwestern metropolis of Toulouse is not only feisty but full of history too. And above all, one of the most enjoyable cities in France. With its pinkish bricks which dominate much of its older architecture, it’s an astonishing city with medieval heritage, a cutting-edge aerospace industry and a proud identity.
This regional pride is partly rooted in the tasty local cuisine and the roaring cultural scene. With one of the most sizeable universities in the country, this is a vibrant place, with a youthful feel and a bustling nightlife. Despite this, the city still clings closely to its past, with bilingual street signs (the Occitan language has its roots in the area), cobbled streets and numerous sumptuous mansions from the Renaissance, when the city was enriched by the world trade.
From place to place, along streets and monuments, Toulouse meets history and reveals all its charms. Some of the buildings and public spaces around the centre are beautiful. The large Place du Capitole has a striking old town hall and theatre complex with eight columns of marble. Close by, the Saint Sernin Basilica is a soaring example of Romanesque architecture : its importance on the legendary pilgrimage route of Santiago de Compostela earns it a place on on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Jacobins Monastic Ensemble, founded in the 13th and 14th centuries, is a jewel of meridional Gothic art and is worth the trip. The famous Canal du Midi, listed as a UNESCO Wolrd Heritage Site too, cuts through the city to the Mediterranean Sea. At night, the city enlightens and la Ville Rose takes on a new face: the facades, the monuments and the river become the main characters of Toulouse’s magical evenings.
The Cité de l’Espace gives a more cutting-edge flavour to the city’s visitor attractions. Combining fun and education, this theme park let you climb aboard a Soyuz spacecraft, see a replica fo the MIR space station, or even defy graviry in the space gym. As a perfect complement, the Airbus Factory is worth the trip too.
But this is still somewhere that prides itself on its traditions, and in a manner typical of the southwest, enjoying life is seen as a priority. Meals tend to be long and heart, so be sure to sample the local cassoulet, preferably complemented by a glass or two of Cahors wine.