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- the connoisseur's guide to France
- the heart of southwest France
city of Toulouse,
Toulouse - the Pont Neuf over the Garonne, built in the local "pink"
on the Garonne plain in the heart of southwest France, half way between
the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, is more important now than it has
been for many centuries.
Since 2016, the fourth-largest
city in France has become the capital of the second largest
of France, the new region of "Occitanie", which stretches
from the Rhone in the east to within 60 miles of the Atlantic
coast in the west. Modern Occitania is similar in extent to the great
County of Toulouse which, from the 9th century until the end
the 13th, was an independent territory of southwest France.
Governed first by the Counts of Toulouse, from the 12th century onwards
the city later became run by a council of administrators, known as
the "Capitulaires": the council or parliament building was
a building that stood close by what is now recognised as the centre
point of modern Toulouse, the great Place du Capitole, one of the
finest urban piazzas anywhere in the world.
St Sernin basilica,
11th and 12th centuries. The largest romanesque
church in Europe.
From the 14th to
the 16th century, Toulouse became a very wealthy city, based on an
industry that later on vanished entirely; the production of "pastel",
or in English woad
Known since prehistoric times, pastel was a highly prized and
expensive pigment, capable of producing brilliant blues; and until it
was replaced by imported indigo, which was cheaper and easier to
produce, the cultivation and transformation of pastel was a
industry of international importance in and around the city of
With the decline of the pastel industry,
Toulouse's fortunes declined. It still remained however very much a
regional capital, being the largest city for at least 200 miles in any
direction, with the exception of its eternal rival in southwest France,
Since the middle of the 20th century,
Toulouse has once again established itself as a major industrial
player, this time as capital of the French and
European aerospace industry. The Toulouse-Blagnac airport
was the birthplace of the Anglo-French supersonic jetliner Concorde,
and today Blagnac is the headquarters and main manufacturing plant of
the European consortium Airbus. It is here, for instance, that the
giant Airbus A380 superjumbos are assembled, using parts produced in
facilities in several different countries of Europe
The Pink City
It sounds better in French, as La
, and the expression "pink city
doesn't really describe Toulouse: a more fitting epithet would be "the
redbrick city".... since the word "rose" refers to the colour of the
local bricks. But then again "redbrick" has the wrong connotations.
Toulouse's red brick is not the red brick of 19th century industrial
cities, it is red brick made, since Roman times, from the red alluvial
mud dredged out of the river Garonne – the red of
roof tiles, a pinky red with all the warmth of southern Europe.
In Toulouse and the surrounding area, red brick is the traditional
building material, and it is this red brick that has given the city its
nickname. It is the only large historic French city, apart
the industrial cities of the north of France, where brick has long
competed with stone as a major building material.
What to see in Toulouse
fairly compact city, the centre of Toulouse stands between the Canal du
Midi (a world heritage site), and the river Garonne. The central area
is a maze of narrow streets, crossed as in Paris by a few wide
boluevards. With its multitude of cafés,
and boutiques, old Toulouse is a historic area where visitors can
easily spend two or three days and still not have time to do everything.
From the Tourist office located in the historic Dungeon of
Capitole, near the Place du Capitole, visitors can easily reach most of
the important sites of the old city, its museums, historic churches,
old streets, canal banks and riverbanks.
In addition to the main sites listed below, central Toulouse
several other specialist museums, historic churches, and of course
plenty of opportunity for shopping.
A selection of the best
tourist sites in Toulouse
Buy the Toulouse City Pass
in advance on ► Tiquets.
Includes 17 sites - print out or save to your phone.
Toulouse's finest art gallery, the collection of an Argentian art
collector, on loan to the city of Toulouse since 1994. Contains a
significant collection of great master paintings, including works by
Cranach, Van der Weyden, Titian, Veronese, Van Dyck,
Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Vlaminck, Picasso and Bonnard.
An art and sculpture museum housed in a historic former
monastery. A fine collection of early medieval sculpture, and
small collection of paintings, including works by
Delacroix, Corot and Toulouse Lautrec.
One of the leading natural history museums in
Toulouse's modern and contemporary art centre. Art since the 1950s.
one of the finest urban piazzas in Europe. A large pedestrianized area,
bordered by 18th and 19th century buildings, including the great
palatial facade of the Capitole. Lots of cafés and
The Renaissance Athézat building houses the Fondation
most significant historic monument in old Toulouse.. Built essentially
between 1080 and 1120, Saint Sernin is the largest surviving Romanesque
church in Europe. A UNESCO world heritage site (Pilgrimage route to
Santiago de Compostella)
Former church, now a museum, that also houses the relics of St. Thomas
Aquinas. The building and cloisters are a significant examples of
southern French gothic architecture. Dating from the 12th and 13th
centuries, the church contains an unusal centrally-supported rib
vaulted roof, known as the palm tree.
A very unusual small gothic cathedral, in two halves which are not on
the same axis. Medieval builders rebuilt the choir with a high vaulted
roof, but never got round to rebuilding the older nave which is not
aligned with the choir.
Pont Neuf -
Fine 16th - 17th century bridge over the Garonne. the holes above the
piers, between the arches, are not just for decoration, but to let the
water through in the event of serious flooding
Canal du Midi. The
canal , bordered by quays in the shade of old plane trees, winds round
the east of the old city. the Canal, linking the Mediterranean to the
Garonne and the Atlantic, is a UNESCO world heritage site.
And on the outskirts of Toulouse
Space city -
Cité de l'Espace
- Access by Metro A to Jolimont, then connect to bus 37.
Aerospace museum, with
life-size models of
spacecraft other aerospace exhibits.Planetarium.
Musee Aeroscopia and
Access Tram T1 from Palais de Justice. Ttwo aircraft museums
door to each other, including two Concordes, an Airbus A400, a
Caravelle, a Mig-15 and historic aircraft. Nearby: Airbus factory
tours. Visit the A380 assembly line... but only from behind glass on a
More information from the Toulouse city tourist office
(though don't go looking for the "Roman basilica" that they
announce on their home page. That's a translation error.
Sernin is Romanesque (i.e. medieval), not Roman).
Access to Toulouse
With one of the busiest provincial airports in France,
can be reached by air from many parts of Europe. For flights from the UK
see Fly to France.
Among the many other airports with direct flights to Toulouse are
Berlin, Hamburg, Vienna, Geneva, Madrid, Rome and Montreal.
- By train
Toulouse can be reached from Paris by TGV (high speed train),
via Bordeaux, in between 4 and 5 hours. For timetables and
online tickets - national or international - see Trainline.com .
- By car Toulouse is
accessible by motorway from Paris, via A10, A71 and A20, or from
Bordeaux, or from Lyon and Marseille via Montpellier and Narbonne.
the area of Toulouse
Albi - the other "pink" city
Check out the guide to the Midi-Pyrenees
places within easy reach of Toulouse by car or even by train are Albi
Carcassonne, Foix and Cahors. Albi is a delightful small city on the
banks of the Tarn, with a Roman bridge and a UNESCO World Heritage site
including the and the former Bishop's palace, with its
Toulouse Lautrec museum. Carcassonne
with its medievCathedralal
city, is another World Heritage site, located between Toulouse and the
Mediterranean. Foix, at the edge of the Pyrenees, is a small town with
an impressive castle (lots of steps). Cahors is an old city
the river Lot, with a remarkable fortified medieval bridge and nearby
The nearest wine-growing
Toulouse are the vineyards of Gaillac, on the way to Albi. The Gaillac
AOP area produces some fairly good red and white wine; and since
Gaillac is not attached to any of the prestigious wine areas of France,
Gaillac wine is reasonably priced and can be very good value for money.
Photo top of page : Place du Capitole, late
tourist information for Toulouse:
: the Midi-Pyrenees
area of Occitanie.
Toulouse is on the routes
Lyon and Biarritz, via St. Etienne, Le Puy and Rodez:
Paris-Saragossa via Limoges
(urban area) 907,000
: Place du Capitole, St Sernin basilica,
Fondation Bemberg, aircraft museum and aerospace museum, .
attractions and sites
: Albi, Cordes sur Ciel, Carcassonne,
The About-France.com selection
Hotels for all
budgets and all needs
le Grand Balcon
Luxury hotel with soundproofed rooms, just off the Place du Capitole.
Parking close by. Facilities for the disabled.
Recently refurbished three-star hotel. Very good reviews. 300 metres
from Place du Capitole, just north of
pickup by arrangement. Public parking nearby.
Two-star hotel with soundproofed rooms, between Place du Capitole and
Jeanne d'Arc (airport bus stop). Well reviewed. Public parking nearby.
Well reviewed two-star hotel. Single double and family rooms.
Between Saint Sernin and Compans Caffarelli (airport bus stop). good
breakfasts. Public parking nearby.
Backpacker style hostel accommodation at bargain rates. Four-bed
dormitories. Terrace and garden. Self-service kitchen. No
breakfast Between Saint Sernin and Compans
(airport bus stop). .
to the historic centre
Hotels with private parking
four star hotel with free private parking. About 600 metres west of
Saint Sernin, and 400m from Compans Caffarelli (metro and airport bus
stop). Five minutes on foot from Congress centre.
Not really central - just off the map to the north. Large modern
budget hotel beside the Canal du Midi. Metro station 650 metres. 800
metres from exit 30 on A620 motorway (Toulouse Rocade ouest - western
orbital motorway). Inexpensive parking.
more places to stay
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Full size replica of Ariane spacecraft at the Toulouse Cité
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About-France.com 2007 - 2023
except: photo of Hotel Athézat by Pierre Selim, creative
Ariane rocket by Rauschenberger.
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