May 19 2013 Latest news:
By Nadia Sam-Daliri
Friday, July 20, 2012
Dubbed the pink city for the rose-hued brickwork that dominates its historic skyline, Toulouse radiates old-world charm.
With its winding alleyways, al fresco café culture and sweeping river views at the banks of the Garonne, on the surface it seems like any other pretty southern French metropolis.
But dig beneath the aged facades and Toulouse - France’s fourth largest city - is surprisingly big on modern influences.
It is home to the airbus factory, where you can take tours, space museum, La Cité de l’Espace, and a host of modern art galleries, including the recently reopened Les Abattoirs, an enormous contemporary art space housed in, you guessed it, a former abattoir.
With its old town squares, including Place Saint Georges and Capitole – at the heart of two of the main shopping and restaurant districts - eating out and making the most of the warm climate go hand-in-hand.
I’d recommend taking a stroll to Rue des Filatiers or Rue des Blanchers in the evening as both have a lively, arty atmosphere and France’s many cultural influences are represented in the varied cuisine on offer. Whether it’s a north African tagine, Spanish tapas or Indian curry you’re after, you’ll won’t leave disappointed.
Another recommended eat is Les Beaux Arts, centrally placed on Quai de la Daurade, which serves traditional Toulouse sausage (do not leave the city without trying some) and the regional dish cassoulet, a mixed meat stew in rich gravy.
While the Garonne may not be the prettiest of the grand southern rivers, the banks are always full to the brim with large groups of trendy students, lovers taking a stroll hand in hand and families lapping up the fresh river air.
River cruises head up the prettier tree-lined canal, and are a great way to check out the city’s historical buildings.
Architecture buffs should also take one of the Discover Toulouse guided tours, offered by the tourist office in English.
Gems of the city’s religious and regal past include the striking Saint-Sernin Basilica, a Romanesque church that dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries and considered the biggest in the western world.
Another highlight is the bizarre Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse, with its unevenly connected vaults and towers – a result of various grand projects over the centuries that all fell short due to lack of funds.
If it’s a girls’ weekend away, shopping has to feature and Toulouse has it all, from the elite designer stores around Place Saint Georges to the high street chains of Rue d’Alsace Lorraine.
Check out toiletries store Graine de pastel in Place Saint Etienne for beautifully scented soaps, creams and gels that use the natural oil from the local pastel flower.
The Victor Hugo square and food market is pure France – good food, traditional arts and crafts and beautiful fresh flower stalls.
The great thing about Toulouse is that it is an easy city to walk around but, should you need to use it, there is also an easy to navigate Metro system.
For a quirky day away from the main city, head to the space museum.
The modern complex consists of huge IMAX and planetarium screens, showing awe-inspiring immersive footage from the most technologically advanced telescopes. Big kids should also definitely get involved in the moon walk and zero gravity simulators which are replicas of some of the actual gear used by astronauts for space training.
The airbus museum is a must for plane enthusiasts.
Playing on the city’s fixation with all things air-based is the hotel Le Grand Balcon, a luxurious complex designed entirely around the theme of aviation.
With its streamlined interiors, walls displaying heavenly white clouds and monochrome theme, it is an experience in itself.
The hotel also offers spa treatments in the rooms and breakfast in bed.
With a huge student population to give its ancient streets an arty, laid-back edge, Toulouse has all the ingredients to make for a fun-packed, quirky trip.
The city has the right mix of restaurants, bars and shops but is also succinct enough to stroll around.
It should satisfy most flights of fancy.
To stay: Hotel Le Grand Balcon in Rue Romiguières. See www.grandbalcon hotel.com
To do: Embrace your inner child in the Cité de L’espace theme park in Avenue Jean Gonord. See www.cite-espace.com
Discover the historical sights in a Discovering Toulouse guided tour. See www.uk.toulouse-tourisme.com
To eat: Restaurant Les Beaux Arts in Quai de la Daurade, Monsieur Georges in Place Saint Georges
Information: Toulouse tourist office website – www.uk.toulouse-tourisme.com – has plenty of information on transport, food, things to do and the many cultural festivals and events through the year.