Leaving France to go to university in the UK seemed like a welcome fresh start. I had lived in Toulouse all my life and it started to feel redundant; like there was nothing new to find out about it anymore. However, it was not until I thought I had said farewell to the Ville Rose forever, that I finally started seeing its true colours.
Welcome to Toulouse: The fourth largest city in France, with over 1.2 million inhabitants distributed between the city centre and the surrounding dormitory towns of its metropolitan area. Home of an Airbus branch and proud of its A380 factory, Toulouse is also the second French city in which people waste the most time stuck in traffic, after Paris.
This is pretty much all I could see of Toulouse at the time. But Toulouse is way more than that. It is vibrant, warm and diverse, offering so much to the city trotter who cannot wait but to wander down its streets. If you are lucky enough to go to Toulouse with your eyes wide open, you should start at the very heart of the city, the Place du Capitole. Take your time, raise your eyes and admire the City Hall, looking sumptuous draped in pink marble. Then, follow the curves of the giant Occitan Cross ornating the middle of the Place, each one of its golden points engraved with one of the twelve Zodiac signs.
Chances are when you visit it, the sun will be shining over the city. When you are ready to walk away from the jewels of the Capitole, you can have a walk under the arcades and pick one of the many, many cafés and restaurants for a bite to eat. There are so many to try out throughout the city, some, like Le Salon d’Eugénie, are so famous the queue around tea time will take you to sunset before you can have a bite of their divine cheesecake. Or maybe go and try the traditional meals of the South of France’s terroir. It is worth the wait, I promise you.
Why go to Paris’s fashion week, when you can reinvent yourself in one single shopping session in Toulouse? All the shops you can think of, Esprit, the accessible Zara and Mango and the emblematic Louis Vuitton all have a spot in the heart of Toulouse. Want to fill your mindscape instead of your wardrobe? Then go have a look through the shelves of the many music shops or themed bookstores Toulouse counts: Ombres Blanches, Privat… without forgetting my personal favourite, Imagin’ères, if you are a Potterhead looking for a new wand or a Funko Pop vinyl figurines fanatic.
Symbols of Toulouse’s long history are waiting throughout the city to be explored: the Musée des Augustins, the Natural History Museum or the fascinating Cité de l’Espace, all of these are entertaining and educational places to visit for a fun cultural afternoon.
By now, you should have full shopping bags and stomachs, the sun should be declining and it might be time to slow down a bit. Keep your eyes peeled, for it is time to have an evening walk along the Quais de la Daurade, and to have a last look at the Ville Rose from the Pont Neuf, the city’s oldest bridge, climbing over the Garonne since the XVIIth century. If you are lucky enough to go to Toulouse, I hope you deeply enjoy it and make the most of your time there.
Make yourself at home. I now certainly do.