Few cities can boast such a rich historical past combined with cutting-edge modernity, vibrant nightlife and laidback atmosphere as Toulouse.
France’s fourth largest city, the « ville rose » as Toulouse is lovingly called thanks to its red brick facades which turn pink in the evening, is truly a city that seduces visitors and wins their hearts.
Situated close to the Pyrenees and built on the banks of the Garonne, Toulouse has an outstanding history, which is exemplified by many interesting buildings from the Saint-Sernin basilica, a masterpiece of Roman art, to the impressive Capitole, the current city hall, with its 8 columns of pink marble and its Henry IV courtyard, and from the cloister of the Jacobins to the magnificent Hôtel d’Assezat, which hosts a wonderful permanent collection of paintings, bronzes and objects d’arts, and is just one of the city’s many private mansions.
Walking through the myriad of narrow streets or along the quays and enjoying the views and the nice weather, it is difficult not to fall under the spell of the city.
Just a bit further away from the center, the Canal du Midi, which has been classified as a World Heritage Site and links the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, is a perfect place for a relaxing stroll while the lovely squares and numerous parks such as the Jardin Royal or the Jardin des Plantes provide for a welcome green respite.
Proud of its Spanish influences, Toulouse has also cultivated its own Occitan identity; the street names are written in French and Spanish, and the local accent has a definite twang!
This fascinating heritage however doesn’t stop the city from looking to the future. Toulouse is not only home to Airbus, but also to hordes of hi-tech companies such as Galileo, the global positioning site, making it the European capital of aeronautics. A Cité de l’Espace theme park has even been developed on 5 hectares to entertain visitors with space-related attractions.
But maybe what makes Toulouse so special in the eyes of so many people is not its rich history and pretty landscape but simply its undeniable “joie de vivre”. Its inhabitants, who count among their number a vibrant student population, definitely know how to appreciate life.
Maybe the best way to experience the city is to just sit and relax at a café with a glass of local wine, or try a cassoulet, a prime example of rustic Southern French cuisine, or watch the famed local rugby team, Stade Toulousain, in action.
Lead image courtesy Office du Tourisme de Toulouse; all other photos © Florence Dubosc