Toulouse, called France’s pink city because of the rosy, glowing colours of its medieval brickwork – is a lively mixture of old and new. Renaissance mansions line the streets of the old town, where the campanile of the 12th century Basilique St-Sernin is an unmissable landmark, and graceful old bridges span the River Garonne. But Toulouse is also very much a 21st century city, as the capital of Europe’s aerospace industry and the home of Airbus Industrie. It’s a university town, so local life has a youthful edge. Toulouse is a gastronomic hub, and locals boasts that their take on cassoulet – a hearty casserole of beans, sausage, pork, and duck – is the finest that France has to offer, and is best enjoyed on a chilly autumn or winter’s day.
Main City Paris
Surface 811.6 km²
The Centre de l’Affiche is in the heart of the formerly gritty industrial district St-Cyprien, on the opposite bank of the River Garonne from the well-trodden sightseeing trails in the old quarter of Toulouse. In this part of town, old warehouses and factories are being reclaimed as trendy housing and as edgy art and performance venues. The Centre de l’Affiche is dedicated to poster, postcard, packaging and label art, and its huge collection offers a fascinating glimpse of how commercial graphic design and branding has evolved over some two centuries. Pride of place goes to Toulouse Lautrec’s iconic poster of belle époque cabaret legend Aristide Bruant.
The Place du Capitole is Toulouse’s grandest square and its social hub. This is the place to mingle with locals and sip Toulouse’s signature kir royale a la violette, made with champagne and violet liqueur. Stylish arcades shelter café tables from summer sun and autumn showers, and Toulouse’s mellow climate means you can enjoy sitting in the open air almost all year round, while you admire the grand façade of the 18th century Capitole, which dominates the square. On Saturday mornings, the square hosts the open-air Marché du Capitole where the produce stalls are a feast for the senses, and you can enjoy some free samples of sausage, cheese and wine from the more generous stall holders.
Hélene Vié’s unique boutique and fascinating mini-museum, La Maison de la Violette, is housed in a pretty vintage barge moored on the Canal du Midi. Her charming establishment is all about the city’s emblem, the Toulouse violet, which gives the city’s football team its nickname – Les Violets. It is said that Napoleon’s soldiers first brought the flower to the city, and it now lends its delicate scent, flavour and colour to sweets, cordials, liqueurs, cakes and teas, all of which you can sample and buy here. A box of crystallised violets is an easy-to-carry memento of your visit to Toulouse, and a bottle of violet liqueur makes an unusual gift.