The ebullient city of Toulouse is the capital of the Midi -Pyrenees and the fourth largest city of France. Just 60 miles from the border with Spain, Toulouse‘s flavor is closer to southern European Spanish than to northern European French. Weathered redbrick buildings line sidewalks giving the city its nickname “La ville Rose”, ( the Pink City). Downtown restaurants and sidewalks pulse late into the night with tourists and locals, college students and technicians from the giant Airbus complex headquartered outside the city.
Toulouse was founded in the 4th century BC and became very quickly an important part of Roman Gaul. Ruling from this Pyrenean hub that was one of the great artistic and literary capital of medieval Europe, the counts of Toulouse held sovereignty over nearly all of the Languedoc and really maintained a brilliant court known for its troubadours and literature.
In 1659 the Roussillon was officially ceded to France by Spain in the treaties of the Pyrenees, 17 years after Louis XIII conquered the area from Spain. Toulouse at the intersection the Garonne and the Canal du Midi, midway between the Massif Central and the Pyrenees became an important nexus between Aquitania, Languedoc and the Roussillon. Today Toulouse is France‘s second-largest university town after Paris and the center of France‘s aeronautical industry.
If you visit Toulouse, park in the huge garage beneath place du Capitole and it offers easy walking distance to all major sites. If you leave your car in a different parking garage you can always take the subway that runs East – West to central Toulouse.
Itinerary planning for your visit.
Start on Place du Capitole stopping at the tower or dungeon next to the Capitole / Hotel de Ville, where there is a tourist office with maps. Make a stop at Notre -Dame du Tour and you can continue along Rue du Taur to the Ancient College du Perigord, you can see the oldest part of the medieval university. Make a stop at the church St Sernin at the end of rue du Taur on place St-Sernin.Also you can always make a stop at the Musee St-Raymond next door, the city’s archeological museum. If you want to visit a great market hall go to Le Marche Victor Hugo, one of the largest. To the right is l’Eglise des Jacobins with its very famous palm vault, one of the city’s most important architectural sites.
On rue Gambetta is the very opulent Hotel de Bernuy. You can also continue up Quai de la Daurade past the sculpted goddess of the Ecole des beaux Arts to the Pont Neuf. here you can cross the Garonne to the Chateau d’Eau, the water tower was once used to store and pressurize the city’s water system, now a photographic gallery- museum. Another place is the hotel d’Assezat, home to the foundation Bemberg and its excellent collection of paintings. The nearby Musee des Augustins has one of the world’s finest collections of Romanesque sculpture and is de rigueur visit that you can do on a rainy day.
On rue des Changes, once part of the Roman road that cut through Toulouse from north to south; now a very chic pedestrian -only shopping area. You can stop and admire the hotel d’Astorg, the hotel d’Arnault Brucelles and finally the hotel Delpech.
Where to stay and eat in Toulouse.
Michel Sarran. This very clean-lined post- nouvelle haven for what is arguably Toulouse‘s finest dining departs radically from traditional southwest France cuisine in favor of Mediterranean formulas suited to the rythms and reasons of modern living. 21 bd. A. Duportal. Reservations essential . 05-61-12-32-32 http://www.michelsarran.com
Toulousy-jardins de L’opera. Dominique Toulousy‘s elegant restaurant next to the Grand Hotel de L’Opera is a favorite. The food is again an innovative departure from local fare, with Gascon touches such as ravioli stuffed with foie gras and truffle sauce. 1 Plce du Capitole. 05-61-23-07-76. Dominique Toulousy has retired and Yves Thuries took over the operations and it includes a better planning, cost reduction, fresher ingredients.
La Brasserie Flo “Les Beaux Arts”. Overlooking the Pont Neuf, this elegant brasserie is the place to be at sunset, as painters Ingres and Matisse knew all too well. Their house white wine, a local St-Lannes is nice and fruity yet dry, wonderful to drink with a platter of oysters. The service is impeccable. 1 Quai de la Daurade. 05-61-21-12-12
La Corde. This little hideaway is really woth taking the time to find. Built into a lovely 15th-century corner tower hidden in the courtyard of the 16th -century hotel Bole. The oldest restaurant in Toulouse. Quite a while ago they were serving shredded duck with caramilized peaches. 4 rue Jules Chalande. 05-61-29-09-43
Le 19. across the street from the Hotel des capitouls and next to le Pont Neuf, this former 16th-century fish market has vaulted ceilings that will take your breath away, not your appetite. International cuisine combine happily and economically here. 19 descente de la halle aux poissons. 05-34-31-94-84
Grand Hotel de L’Opera. in a former 17th-century convent this downtown doyen has an old world field with 21st -century amenities. Guestrooms are very plush, with rich fabrics and painted headboards in many, while three restaurants range from provincial bistro to international gourmet. This hotel is a very tranquil place to be. 1 Place du Capitole, 31000. 05-61-21-82-66 http://www.grand-hotel-opera.com
Hotel Garonne. Next to the Pont Neuf and the former fish market, this very cozy hotel has small but tasteful rooms, one of the best suites has a great view of the Garonne. The staff is cheery and very helpful. 22 descente de la Halle aux poissons, 31000. 05-34-31-94-81http://www.hotelsdecharmetoulouse.com
Hotel Albert 1. The lobby is very unpretentious and may seem undistiguished and the reception is no Versailles either but the rooms are very cheerful and spacious ( especially the older ones with huge fireplaces and mirrors). The owner is extremely warm and is always on hand to give suggestions of all kinds. A continental breakfast is served and nearby parking can be arranged by the hotel. 8 rue Rivals, 31000. 05-61-21-17-91
Grand hotel d’Orleans. This very picturesque former stagecoach relay was built in 1867 and still has a certain 19th-century charm. Guest rooms are small but very cozy. 72 rue Bayard, near Matabian railroad station, 31000. 05-61-62-98-47 http://www.grand-hotel-orleans.fr