This glorious city has a surprisingly favorable geographical position: on the banks of the Garonne River, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, connected to them by the canals. Its history is even more interesting: according to ancient documents, back in 106 BC, the Romans captured a Gallic settlement called Tolosa (in Catalan it still sounds like that). For two thousand years, Toulouse has been a capital of Aquitaine, and a part of the pilgrimage route of Santiago (the path of St. James), and a center of Languedoc. In the land of troubadours and violets, Toulouse has been changing its status over the centuries, remaining the key center of the region. In recent history, the city has been a center for a space development and an aircraft manufacturing – it keeps its mark quite well, right?
Toulouse is called the “pink city” for a simple reason – most of the buildings in the old city are made of pink (or terracotta) bricks, and all of them together give an amazing pink glow at any time of the day and in any weather. This pink light is especially mesmerizing before the sunset, when the sky also takes on a pink-gold glow. Toulouse looks very photogenic 😊
The first thing you notice in the city is its light and even informal atmosphere. Street cafes are filled with youngsters and tourists, the embankment is full of people at lunch with sandwiches, in the evenings in the bars on any day is “Friday”. I suppose it’s all about the main local educational institution – the University of Toulouse, founded already in 1229! No joke, it will soon be 800 years old! Being one of the oldest universities in France, it brings in the students from different countries and regions with an abundance of faculties and eminent professors. The university itself occupies vast territories almost in the center of the old city, creating around itself the centers of attraction for numerous students – cafes, bars and other entertainment venues.
The main square of the city is the Capitol, where the town hall building is located, which also hosts opera and symphony concerts, and also houses part of the museum premises. During the daytime, this large-scale square hosts a book market where you can find copies from popular contemporary authors to the classics of French philosophy. We didn’t have enough time during this visit for the book sales, but on my next trip I’ll definitely spend an hour looking for a special book “with a history”.
The embankment of the Garonne River is a separate attraction – it is long, beautifully designed, with many bridges and stairs descending to the water. That part of it, which is near the university, is especially crowded. If you move further away, you can feed the ducks and find a corner of privacy in a beautifully designed public space.
Near the waterfront along the old town there are numerous cafes, and in our favorite “CAFÉ DES ARTISTES” we traditionally spent an “afternoon break” between exploring the different parts of the city.
Being the center of education, Toulouse, of course, was also a religious center – in the Middle Ages, this was a confirmation of the progressive status of the city. The Dominican order was widely represented given the number of monumental buildings that have survived to this day. And the city acquired an undeniable significance by becoming a part of the pilgrimage Way of St. James (Camino de Santiago) – the large-scale Romanesque basilica of Saint-Sernin was just used for the needs of pilgrims. We heard about this path from our acquaintances, who have done a significant part of it, which lies in Spain. They said that they had never experienced anything like this before – this is really a challenge, accepting which, you move into a different state of consciousness. Well, the transition itself is very dependent on the shoes – a newbie-pilgrim should google the technical nuances in advance.
Toulouse is definitely worth it to order a sightseeing tour around it. On the popular resource Excurzilla.com, you can easily choose a topic and a suitable guide, precisely adjusting your capabilities in time and wishes on the theme. There is so much to see in Toulouse, and yet the options are vastly different, from visiting the Airbus factory and the Museum of Space Achievement, to museums of classical art or the history of the ancient city captured in the pink stone of urban buildings.
It makes no sense to list the sights of the city that stick in my memory in one post – it’s better to write a new post later based on the next visit. But I would like to mention the establishments that we especially liked. The first is cafe “PERLETTE” – with a wonderful outdoor terrace and an exquisite selection of desserts. There is our hit – “café gourmand” (when a selection of mini versions of the desserts on the menu is added to the selected type of coffee). Diverse groups of fashionable and informal students sat at the tables, expressively discussing political news and subjects at the university, which served as a replacement of the musical accompaniment. The atmosphere is very “French” there.
And the second institution is the “ALIMENTATION”. This is a bar you don’t want to leave. And not because the legs do not hold, but because it is wonderful there. In addition to a decent alcohol list, there is also a good selection of snacks, and the service is fast and very friendly. We even left a review on Google Maps, sine we liked it that much. There are 2 establishments with this name in Toulouse, by the way. We were in that opposite the aforementioned cafe Perlette.
Well, by tradition, a few words about our hotel – Le Grand Balcon Hotel. Considering that we are traveling with a dog, we have a limited number of pet-friendly hotels in each city. And we both celebrated my birthday and St. Valentine’s Day late (because we had covid on the dates themselves), and we wanted a little good old “glamour” (but for a reasonable money). What we found in this hotel, which has preserved the delights of the past, with modern renovation and all the amenities. And, of course, its location was especially good – on the corner of the Capitoline Square, which made long walks around the city divide, allowing us to take a short break right on the route. In general, we were very lucky to find it 😊