Toulouse, the Pink City which 'kidnaps' even Paris' citizens
While in other cities you can enjoy the medieval architecture, in Toulouse an old basilica stands almost next to a modern building, industrial style mixes with an outstanding old mansion house, and a hidden courtyards are just waiting for you to discover them. Here it makes no sense to make a plan in advance, a much better choice is to let the city guides you through its streets, history, sights and sounds. This fourth biggest city in France, also known as La Ville Rose (the Pink City) after the pink stone used on its buildings, is more loved by many than the City of Light.
From here you need just an hour or so to the Mediterranean sea and almost the same time to the Atlantic ocean for a completely different feel. And you can almost throw a stone from Toulouse to the Pyrenées, mountains ideal if you like world-class hiking and skiing. With its countless old buildings and churches, farmers market, bars, plentiful restaurants, museums, galleries, small shops with a joyful mess of everything, trendy boutiques, fountains, charming squares and whatnot, it's a nice place to stroll or linger over a coffee at one of the many pavement cafes.
Toulouse is an affordable city, it is so perfectly placed that it is ranked as the best student city in France. It is also ranked very high as the foreigners-friendly city since the international community is so strong here. If it happens that you just started to learn French this is the place to practice the language thanks to their slow drawn-out vowels talk. So, what you have to see in this city with the best accent in the country as they call the "Toulousain" accent? A lot!
You should start your visit in the old town that resembles the medieval Paris but the buildings are made of brick and not of usually used stone. The Basilica of Saint-Sernin at Place Saint-Sernin, a superb example of Romanesque art, is a must. Built in the 11th to 13th centuries using red bricks, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most glorious churches on the medieval pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Another great example of architecturs is beautiful Couvent des Jacobins, a Dominican monastery from the 13th century. Built - surprise! - entirely from the red bricks, today it hosts classical music concerts when it stays open to the public until midnight. So, music lovers, write this down: Address: Rue Lakanal, Parvis des Jacobins. Another religious building with a new role is the Musée des Augustins, ex Augustinian monastery, today host of a good collection of paintings and sculptures by old master who found their new home at 21 Rue de Metz.
We could go on and like this because Toulouse is full of gorgeous museums, churches and chapels, but you must see something truly unexpected: The Canal du Midi. It was built as a shortcut between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It took 10 years and 12,000 workers to build this 240-kilometer-long canal and today its banks are popular destinations for cyclists, pedestrians and the young people who like to hang out there and have a good time. Then, not far from the city centre, there is a Japanese Garden inspired by the old gardens of Kyoto.
Outside Toulouse city centre you will discover the national space centre and the aircraft facility producing the latest Airbus. Exactly here is where famous Concorde was buit! After a long walk it's the time to take something to eat and Toulouse, being in France, is full of good food. A delicious casserole, a mix of duck, goose, and pork meat, cooked down with white beans in a terracotta dish, goes great with red wine. Admitelly, they usually eat it during winter but trust us when we say every time of year is time for cassoulet.
Time to do some shopping! With plenty of stores to choose from a designer shop, a second-hand gem or a one that spreads bohemian soul, just follow your nose and you'll hit the one you like most. Hint: stroll Rue de Rome, The shopping street in Toulouse. France's most famous and prestigious department store, The Galeries Lafayette, apart from a large choice of brands, also offers an incredible view of Toulouse from its roof terras. After strolling its narrow streets for a few hours, here you may enjoy your glass of wine and enjoy life to the fullest. ■