Known as la Ville Rose for the beautiful red brick buildings lining the streets, Toulouse is the fourth largest city in France and the starting point of a long-distance walk—or a boating holiday—along the Midi Canal.
Everything you’d expect to find in a city of almost half a million people is here—dozens of hotels, restaurants, museums, churches and cathedrals.
What are some highlights?
Linger over lunch at Place du Capitole
On your first day in Toulouse, call in to the Tourist Office in Place Wilson, browse through the stands of brochures and pick up a map. Head around to Place du Capitole and mull over your options in one of the cafés lining the square. Eat as cheaply or as fancily as you wish or just grab desert from Amorino where the gelato is a work of art.
If lunch among the chickens is more your style, this too is possible. Call into any patisserie, pick up something exquisite for a picnic lunch and head south to Jardins des Plantes where the wildlife is plentiful and friendly.
Follow the path of French Resistance Fighters along Circuit de Memoire
To reach Jardins des Plantes from Place du Capitole, work your way backwards along Toulouse Resistante—Circuit de Memoire (brochure available from the Tourist Office).
The path takes you on a 3.5 kilometre (2 mile) journey back in time to WWII and is a reminder of, and a tribute to, the bravery and dangers faced by the citizens of Toulouse during the war. You will pass by the houses and buildings where activities and operations were planned and see the faces of those who risked their lives to help others.
Enjoy a boat cruise along the Garonne River
After leaving Jardins des Plantes, follow Allée Jules Guesde towards the river. Boat cruises leave from just near here throughout the day and offer a different view of the city. From the water, it is easy to appreciate why Toulouse is known as la Ville Rose. Almost everything—bridges, walls, houses—has been built from the local red bricks which give the city its rosy glow.
You’ll also experience a journey through a canal lock from the water—a sight you’ll grow accustomed to as you walk towards Carcassonne over the coming week.
Visit the church and cloister of Les Jacobins
Toulouse boasts a number of beautiful churches. Among them, are Saint-Sernin which is the largest Romanesque church in Europe and Saint-Etienne which combines architectural styles from the eleventh to sixteenth centuries into one delightful facade.
If I only had time to visit one church, it would be Les Jacobins. Unlike most large churches in France, the interior is very open and simple except for one end where the brickwork above the supporting columns has been designed to resemble palm trees—at least that’s what I think it looks like! Around the base of one column is a mirror accentuating the height of the ceiling—don’t look in if you suffer from vertigo!
Behind the church is the cloistered garden and convent which are often used for exhibitions—at the time this photo was taken, Amnesty International was holding a poignant display highlighting human injustice and poverty around the world.
Cross the freeway by canal-bridge
If your visit to Toulouse is not the start of a walking (or cycling or boating) holiday along the Midi Canal, take an hour or two to walk a little way out of town to where the canal crosses over the top of the freeway.
It doesn’t matter how many times I see a canal crossing over the top of a freeway or a river, it always amazes me. I guess, in this case, the freeway has been tunnelled under the canal hundreds of years later, but still, it’s the weirdest feeling walking alongside flowing water, many metres above ground.
There’s still much more to experience in Toulouse if you have a couple of days, including a tour of Let’s Visit Airbus—home of the Concorde and the A380; and Cité de l’Espace—an adventure park dedicated to space exploration and featuring the MIR space station.
Toulouse also boasts three Michelin-starred restaurants—Les Jardins de l’Opera, Py-R and Michel Sarran—with prices ranging from affordable to quite pricey depending on whether you visit for lunch or dinner and choose from the degustation or à la carte menus.