Toulouse city guide information
Languedoc Roussillon, South France
The 'pink city' lies just beyond Languedoc's borders
Although not strictly in Languedoc, Toulouse is France’s sixth largest city and is understandably a big draw for visitors in the west of the region. A former capital of Languedoc, this city boasts attraction after attraction: stunning medieval churches, grand private mansions that add an extra air of elegance to an already gracious city, and buildings fashioned out of soft pink brick which, as the sun sets, reflect the fading rays in a magnificently soporific show of light. Toulouse has a life about it, unrivalled by any other city in the region; vibrant, energetic and proud. Home to European aircraft manufacturer, Airbus, this is also one of the best connected cities in the entire south of France. There are direct low-cost flights here from seven airports in Britain, not to mention SNCF trains departing in every conceivable direction.
Founded on the Garonne river as Tolosa, the city was moved to its present position by the Romans in 120 BC. Following the collapse of the Roman empire, Toulouse came under the control of various local counts who gradually extended their dominance over much of southern France. However, things came to a bloody end in 1271 when forces from northern France finally tired of the city’s increasing support for Catharism and launched a crusade against the heretics. The Catholic victory led to the establishment of the university in the early thirteenth century. A major breakthrough in Toulouse’s fortunes came with the completion of the Canal du Midi in 1666 which provided the city with access to the sea. Occupied by the Nazis during World War 2, thankfully the city escaped the worst ravages of the war and today the city is a prosperous centre of hi-tech industry.
Toulouse’s Top 5:
- Place du Capitole. Toulouse’s main square guarded by the majestic town hall, the Capitole, and perfect for people watching installed in one of the countless cafés here. There’s a decent market here on Wednesday and Sunday mornings.
- Basilique de St-Sernin. The biggest Romanesque church anywhere in western Europe, this striking structure has become a symbol of Toulouse and quite overshadows the city’s cathedral. Poke around in the crypt for a few intriguing statues of French saints.
- Place de la Daurade. The perfect place to chill out in the centre of town. Open green space right on the riverside and also the departure point for boat trips on the Garonne river.
- Les Jacobins. The labyrinth of narrow lanes and alleys that make up the most interesting part of Toulouse’s old town. Get here by heading south or west from Place du Capitole.
- Les Abattoirs. Don’t be fooled by the name. Located on the west bank of the Garonne, this museum of contemporary art is one of the best in France with all the big names represented. It’s also an ingenious piece of urban renewal since, as the name suggest, the building was indeed used as a slaughterhouse, until 1989.