Midway between the Atlantic coast and the shores of the Mediterranean, and at the foot of the Pyrenees, Toulouse occupies a privileged location in south-western France. Toulouse is an essential part of any visit to Midi-Pyrénées, an intoxicating experience for visitors who fall for the colourful charms of the aptly-named Ville Rose (Pink City) and its Latin personality. Toulouse has a 2000 year old history which is reflected in an architecture of brick and tiles - typical of the cities, villages and farms of the Midi-Pyrénées region. Proud of the legacy of its past, modern, open and radiant, every visitor is bound to be seduced by the incomparable Toulousain lifestyle, coupled with the wealth of its cultural heritage.
The ambiance of the city is friendly and impregnated with the familiarity which is particular to the people of southern France. Toulouse is an important city of Occitania, a cultural region of southern France, where the Occitan language still influences the locals’ way of speaking. Don’t be surprised to read Tolosa instead of Toulouse or to hear Adiou which means Hello or Good-Bye.
This well-preserved city is on a human scale, and visitors can enjoy a relaxed stroll or bike ride through the narrow, historic streets to explore the treasures of its architectural heritage. It is a real pleasure to discover Toulouse, one of the cities of France where life certainly is sweet in any season.
Start with Le Capitole, a few minutes away from the Toulouse Matabiau railway station, and which always arouses wonder in visitors entering its richly painted ceremonial rooms. It now houses the Town Hall and the Théâtre National du Capitole. This building is remarkable for its façade with its eight pink marble columns, its Cour Henri IV and the Salle des Illustres where the gilt mouldings vie with the painted ceilings. The famous Occitan Cross, where tourists love to have their photo taken standing on their astrological sign, is found at the heart of the square, in front of Le Capitole.
In the popular Capitole Square, the atmosphere invites you to relax and Toulouse being an active, modern city with over 90,000 students, you’ll be able to do so easily. Indeed, the city is well known for its innate love of celebration. It has adopted a taste for long aperitifs with tapas on terraces, siestas in sunny parks, convivial meals and its many music and arts festivals (like Rio Loco or Printemps de Septembre). Join in its busy year-round cultural life, with its many theatres, museums, concert halls, casino and sport events (golf, rugby, football, marathon…). Talking about sport, Toulouse is the iconic capital of Rugby. Its flagship team is Stade Toulousain, which is one of the most successful clubs in Europe with eighteen league titles in France, three cups of France and four cups of Europe.After a break in the Capitole Square, head to the Cloître du Jacobin, a magnificent chef d’œuvre of monastic architecture. Built entirely of brick, it is a true gem of Languedoc Gothic art. You are sure to be amazed by the Palmier des Jacobins, an incomparable palm-tree vault with 22 ribs supporting the roof of the polygonal choir.
Next, go to the Saint Sernin Basilica, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This Romanesque building, one of biggest in the western world, never fails to surprise visitors by the size and beauty of its nave. The basilica is part of the pilgrimage for devotes who are on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
In the evening, you can wander around the old quarters of the city where there are magnificent pastel merchants’ mansions built in Renaissance times, such as the Hôtel d’Assézat, where the curious can see some beautiful inner courtyards worthy of palaces. The banks of the River Garonne and the Canal du Midi are ideal for cruises and panoramic photos. After dawn, lovers can enjoy the coloured lights that illuminate Toulouse’s monuments and the riverside of the Garonne, offering a romantic walk amidst a series of veritable urban frescoes.
Toulouse was a favourite city for Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a famous French writer, poet and aviation pioneer. Why not follow the steps of this great man and get inspired by visiting the fascinating world of Airbus. Hop on the tram, line 1, up to the Aéroconstellation stop. You’ll be able to discover the Airbus A380, the world’s biggest commercial airplane, board the Concorde, which still detains the world record for the fastest commercial plane, and know more about the success of Airbus Industries. When visiting the Cité de l’espace theme park, you can plunge into the heart of the Universe, with over 250 exhibition items and interactive activities, including the Ariane 5 rocket, the Mir space station, the Soyuz spacecraft, a thrilling IMAX 3D film and an original Planetarium show. And in 2012, you will be able to travel to Mars !
After half a day at discovering the wonders of airplanes, why not go for some window-shopping in the medieval antique-dealers’ district and in the Place Saint George, where you will find all the great designer shops alongside those of younger designers... and after all that effort, why not take a break in a tea room or in one of the spas of the Ville Rose.
Another fundamental aspect of the Toulouse way of life is its food and drink. Lovers of good food take great pleasure in savouring local produce and the city’s culinary specialities : Toulouse sausage, violet-flavoured sweets, wines, the famous cassoulet, the gateau fénétra… In the Ville Rose, gourmets have a wide choice between the daily markets, the 6 Michelin-starred restaurants and the many other popular traditional or trendy restaurants. Diner will be feast !
Our tip : The Pass Tourisme available (as from July 2012) at the tourist office includes public transport, discounts and advantages for visits.