Set in the Midi-Pyrenees region of southwestern France on the rivers Garonne, Touch and Hers-Mort and crossed by two canals, the watery city of Toulouse with its over 2,000 years of history is best-known nowadays as the centre of France’s booming aerospace industry. The city’s central districts are crammed with a combination of the spectacular Renaissance palaces and mansions of the wealthy, the massive town hall with its uncanny resemblance to London’s Buckingham Palace, and the rows of heritage buildings from hospitals to homes set along the banks of the River Garonne. The vast majority of historic structures in Toulouse date from the 16th to the 18th century, although several of the city’s churches were built as early as the 11th and 12th centuries.Known as the ‘Pink City’ due to the rose-coloured bricks used in most of its construction, it’s a cultural hub for opera and ballet especially, as well as classical music. The Theatre du Capitole, home to the majority of performances, is set in the downtown district close to Toulouse City Centre hotels, tiny streets lined with interesting shops and a great choice of restaurants, cafes and bars. The cuisine of this inland region of France is meat-based and rich, with delicious cassoulets, herb-flavoured sausages and the controversial pate de foie gras on every menu.
Due to its connection with the aerospace industry, the provision of dining out venues in the city includes several fashionable Michelin-starred restaurants, serving fine chef-directed cuisine and fine wines in a glamorous setting. At the affordable end of the financial scale are the little brassieres and cafes above Place Victor Hugo’s covered market, serving delicious local lunchtime dishes at great prices in a typically French ambience. Sadly, they’re closed in the evenings.Breakfast in the city, served in cafes around the city from 08:00, is Continental-style, with freshly-baked French breads, pastries, strong French coffee and even tiny glasses of even stronger French brandy – a favourite with locals finding it difficult to wake up after the previous night’s celebrations. Lunch in Toulouse is a tradition rather than a meal, lovingly enjoyed, usually involving more than two courses and taking several hours as a result. Cost-wise, it won’t break the bank, with auberges in particular offering a good choice of one-price all-inclusive menus. Wine at lunchtime is more or less compulsory, with the ‘house’ red or white perfectly acceptable and occasionally delectable, unlike the bottled vinegar found in most inexpensive eateries outside France.Evening eating is also more an occasion than a meal for Toulouse residents, with a wide choice of international as well as traditional local dishes on offer. Fashionable venues include Les Jardins d’Opera, Le Gallerie and Le Colombier, with many new entries to the restaurant scene arriving over the past few years. As French cuisine is the greatest in the world, local specialties such as the delicious cassoulet, a rich, heavy Gascon stew based around duck, should be high on the list of must-tries for visitors. For those on a budget, a wander down the smaller streets looking for eateries full of local people is the answer.
Shopping in the city provides everything for everyone, with a fantastic selection of high street stores, chic boutiques and open-air markets centred around Place du Capitale. Rue Saint Rome is a bustling, busy boulevard leading off the main square, lined with outlets from all the popular French stores, with Rue de la Pomme the place for boutiques. For cut-price and funky fashions, Rue du Taur is a hub for the city’s student population and a good spot for seeking out small up-and-coming designer boutiques.