In Toulouse, it all starts with the Capitol, the very heart of the city. Wandering through the surrounding areas, however, stretching north, east, south, and west to the city boundaries, reveals the life behind that pulse. Through this sort of exploration, the city gradually unveils its many faces, its treasures and contrasts: reminders of the past coexist with modern developments, small quiet streets with busy shopping thoroughfares, lively areas with dormitory suburbs, parks with buildings.
The Capitol An impressive building with an imposing façade, the
To the North
Arnaud-Bernard, Amidonniers, Saint-Pierre A picturesque and cosmopolitan area, Arnaud-Bernard owes its distinctive character to its lively nightlife, original boutiques, the nearby university (to the south), and the grand boulevards (to the north). Reaching as far as the
Saint-Sernin and Wilson Rue du Taur, a partly pedestrianized street, links the Capitol to the magnificent
Chalets A continuation of Saint-Sernin, this is a quiet, prosperous area. You're bound to see its charming old houses at some point as the main roads (Lascrosses, Arcole, and Lazare boulevards) come together here.
Matabiau Close to the station of the same name, this area, the continuation northwards of Wilson, is busy day and night due to the main railway station and surrounding shops.
Pont-Jumeaux and Sept-Deniers Continuing northwest from Arnaud-Bernard, these are residential areas nestling at the mouths of the various waterways (Garonne, Canal du Midi, and a side canal.)
Minimes, Salade, Raisin, Bonnefoy Nostalgically mentioned in a song by local singer Claude Nougaro, who sings of the "brique rouge des Minimes" (“red bricks of Minimes”), this area running along the Canal du Midi from the other side of Chalets is mainly an administrative and residential one, just like neighboring areas Salade and Bonnefoy. Close by, the Raisin quarter is constantly busy with traffic generated by its bus and railway stations.
Saint-Georges Built around the historic Place Saint-Georges, this pretty area charms visitors as a picturesque and colorful neighborhood. Many shops, restaurants, and bars have long been established here. Saint-Georges continues eastwards to the Saint-Aubin quarter.
Saint-Aubin With the beautiful
Saint-Etienne The greenest portion of the city is also the perfect location to go for a walk. First explore its historical offerings with the magnificent
Jolimont, Roseraie, Soupetard and Argoulets By climbing up through these areas towards Gramont, Balma, you realize that Toulouse is built in a “cuvette", or geological basin. These residential areas overlooking the city incorporate many interesting spots, like the
Guilhemery, Montplaisir, Pont des Demoiselles, Côte Pavée, Terrasse The areas of Guilhemery and Montplaisir link the Canal du Midi to Côte Pavée, which is a particularly wealthy area whose spacious, beautiful, and very finely built houses with huge shaded gardens sit on a hill overlooking the city. Moving further south-east, you come to the outlying areas of Montaudran, l'Ormeau, et la Terrasse, where the
To the South
Carmes and antique dealers A bohemian and somewhat old-fashioned atmosphere reigns in Les Carmes, an old part of Toulouse very close to the Capitol. The pretty, pedestrian streets are pleasant to wander through as you admire its small squares, towers, and fine buildings. It will lead you to an area filled with antique shops - always a favourite with visitors - or towards the banks of the Garonne with their beautiful buildings.
Saint-Michel and Busca, St Agne and Rangueil Close to the Saint-Michel area of the city, whose north side is marked by the
Ramier, Recollets, Empalot, Pech-David The Garonne divides as it flows under the Saint-Michel bridge, creating the two branches that surround Ramier island. Huge complexes have been built in the middle, taking advantage of the wide-open space available: the
Westwards and the areas on the left bank
Saint-Cyprien and Bourrasol In tune with the river, life in these areas is more carefree. Joined to the epicenter of Toulouse by the Saint-Pierre bridge and the
Purpan, Casselardit, Croix-de-Pierre, Arènes, Mirail These are the industrial areas of Casselardit and St-Martin-du-Touch. Saint-Cyprien leads you towards the hustle and bustle of the shops in Patte-d'Oie, and then towards the areas of Arènes and Croix-de-Pierre, where Rapas cemetery and the Ecole Normale (a teacher training center) are situated. To the south-west, after Fontaine-Lestang, the industrial and residential areas of La Faourette, Bagatelle, Bellefontaine, Reynerie, Papus and le Mirail open onto the greenery of the
Toulouse, the aeronautics and space exploration capital of France, can afford to reach for the sky: its history has given it a solid base from which it can move towards the future with confidence. Nestling at the foot of the Pyrenees that lie between it and Spain, the city known as “la Ville Rose” (due to the delicate purplish-pink hues of its buildings) has an immensely rich past, which through the centuries has alternated between periods of prosperity and dark, somber times.
The first inhabitants and Tolosa
The city's history goes back over 2000 years, starting with the Volques Tectosages, a small Celtic tribe that settled in the Garonne valley in 300 B.C. Because of its strategic position, Toulouse - which provided a link between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic - was already (in 100 B.C.) of great interest to the Romans, who made it one of their colonies in the 2nd century A.D. The colony subsequently prospered from the wine trade and by the 3rd century A.D. was surrounded by its first city wall, which reached north to the Porterie (now Place du Capitole) and south to Porte Narbonnaise, now the Place du Salin and the Place du Parlement. Around this time Christianity was introduced to the city by Saint Saturnin, who later died at the hands of a frenzied heathen mob who tied him to the tail of a bull. Many of the city's buildings and monuments are named in his honour and reference his martyrdom: Rue du Taur (from “taureau”, meaning “bull”), Notre-Dame-du-Taur Church, Saint-Sernin basilica and Matabiau station (from matar bios, meaning “to kill the bull.”)
The barbarian invasions
From the 5th century A.D., the city was subjected to barbarian invasions: although the Vandals were stopped by Gallo-Roman defenses, the Visigoths, who came from the area around the Black Sea, declared the city capital of their empire. A century later, the Franks in their turn took possession of the city. A period of calm followed, until the 9th century A.D. when Toulouse found itself relegated to the rank of simple county town. During the Middle Ages, however, governed by Raimond II, it became capital of the County of Toulouse. Ruled by city nobles, Toulouse quickly expanded, due to a large influx of settlers from rural areas. The city then stretched beyond its walls to the north as far as Place Saint-Sernin, to the south as far as the Saint-Michel area of the city and to the west on the left bank of the Garonne. In the 12th century, the nobility lost the city to the Capitouls or city consuls.
In the 12th century A.D., the Cathars, a group following a doctrine based on key oppositions (material and spiritual, good and evil), tried to establish themselves in Toulouse and found many supporters. The king sent in his troops, led by Simon de Monfort (killed by a stone on the contemporary site of the Grand-Rond), which eventually succeeded in routing the heretics. As a result, the first wave of the Inquisition swept through Toulouse, bringing with it the religious fervour that was behind the founding of the Dominican monastic order in the Couvent des Jacobins and, from 1229, the establishment of a theological university. Declared part of the royal domains in 1271, Toulouse experienced rapid economic growth (thanks to the Garonne river) and blossomed intellectually and artistically. However a dark historical period beginning in the 14th century would follow, when plague, the Hundred Years' War, famine, floods, and fire each ravaged the city in turn.
The year 1420 marked a turning point in Toulouse's history as the beginning of a gilded century ruled by prosperity. Charles VII introduced a judicial body to the city: the Parliament. Pastel merchants, who had made their fortunes by exporting this plant-derived blue dye throughout Europe, converged around the Grande Rue (today Rue des Filatiers, Rue des Changes, and Rue St Rome), built magnificent town houses (Hôtel d'Assézat, Hôtel de Bernuy) and took command of a society of abundance, where architectural innovation and fine arts flourished. The mid-16th century, however, brought a second period of impoverishment to Toulouse as a much less expensive blue dye arrived from America, wiping out the pastel trade: indigo. A new civil war, this time between Catholics and Calvinists, caused an enormously damaging fire in the city. From this point until the 17th century, numerous outbreaks of plague and accompanying famines tormented Toulouse. A period of development followed, when many industrial projects were completed. The Pont Neuf was constructed during this time, as was the Place du Capitole and the Canal du Midi.
The Age of Enlightenment and growth during the 19th century
The Jean Calas affair caused an uproar in 1761: accused of murdering his own son who wanted to become a Catholic, Toulouse merchant Jean Calas - although he protested his innocence — was sentenced to death and burned alive in 1762. This prompted widespread condemnation by key figures in French society of the parliamentary persecution of Protestants in Toulouse. Although hindered by the limitations imposed by the Inquisition and religious intolerance, the city was slowly but surely modernized during the 18th century. A period of urban redevelopment was born which continued until the end of the 19th century. Beginning in 1750, Toulouse witnessed the building of the Jardin Royal, the Grand-Rond with its six splendid avenues, the Canal de Brienne, Quai Dillon, the Patte-d'Oie area of the city, Place Wilson and Place du Capitole. The opening of Matabiau station in 1856 heralded the age of transportation, boulevards replacing the city walls and major thoroughfares running through the city, following the example of the wonderful improvements made by préfet Haussmann in Paris. These large-scale projects were to give the city, which by the end of the 19th century had long since outgrown the original narrow streets of a medieval town, a whole new look. Meantime, the French Revolution of 1789 marked the end of the Capitouls' reign, and Joseph de Rigaud was voted in as Toulouse's first mayor.
The 20th century: the age of aeronautics
The beginning of the 20th century was characterized by a huge population increase, caused by the arrival of immigrants fleeing the numerous fascist regimes of the period (immigrants came from the north of France in 1914, from Italy in the 1920's, and from Spain in 1934). World-wide conflict forced the city, due to its strategic position near the border with Spain, to alter its priorities and undergo its own industrial revolution, equipping itself with chemical industries in 1915, the Latécoère aircraft factory soon after, and the French airmail service Aéropostale. Aérospatiale (the internationally-known aeronautics firm) was created here in 1920. During the Second World War, the network of resistance under the German occupation developed and expanded here. A new wave of immigrants arrived just after the war in Algeria and forced the city to spread further west towards the suburbs.
Since then, industries — particularly the aviation industry — have continued to flourish, as have electronics and space exploration sectors. France's fourth biggest city, home to the country's second biggest university and France's aeronautics capital, Toulouse today is a dynamic, forward-looking city whose pinks (for its buildings) and blues (for its pastel) are a constant reminder of its rich and colorful past.
In Toulouse the hotels are mainly grouped around the town center, in three lively neighborhoods. Right in the center, bordering the vast Place du Capitole, are the capacious luxury hotels. In the area surrounding Place Wilson, all along the Allées Jean-Jaurès and the large neighboring boulevards, the residential apartment buildings and luxury hotels are packed together almost like townhouses. Near Matabiau station, amongst the big hotels and the lesser-known names, you have every chance of finding lodgings to suit your price range. You can also find small private family accommodation almost anywhere, in the town's picturesque streets or beside the waterways. Finally, further away from the center, and practical for people who are just passing through, are the chains of hotels that offer you accommodation at low prices.
Capitole On the beautiful Place du Capitole, with a view overlooking the splendid façade of the Town Hall and right in the heart of Toulouse town life, the Grand Hôtel de l'Opéra and the Crowne Plaza Hotel offer some of the most luxurious stays imaginable. These are dream hotels for visitors seeking direct access to the town's pretty pedestrian streets, to the historical monuments and, in the morning, to the market right on their doorstep! Not far away, in the Rue Romiguères, the Hotel du Grand Balcon is a virtual museum of history reputed to have housed members of the French airmail service at the beginning of the century. A few of the pilots particularly worth mentioning are the notable Jean Mermoz and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Place Wilson and the Allées Jean Jaurès Continuing with the luxury hotels, the Holiday Inn Toulouse Centre and the Grand Hôtel de Paris are located conveniently near the center of town, with the added advantage of being near the Canal du Midi and the subway, thus offering numerous possibilities for walks, outings and shopping trips. The Victor-Hugo and the Ours Blanc, are somewhat cheaper and still more centrally situated, in that they are close to the shops on the Place Wilson and the Victor Hugo Market.
Near the Station A large number of hotels are grouped around the Matabiau train station, on the neighboring boulevards or in the Rue Bayard, a street full of shops linking the station to the large boulevards in town. Full of life at all times of day, this street is full of travellers and merrymakers who will always manage to unearth the all-night restaurants, cabarets and grocery shops. There is a wide range of hotels here, from luxury hotels such as the Terminus to more practical selections (the Tivoli, the Saint-Séverin, the Toulouse, or the Ambassadeurs). In this same area, the hotels Ibis Gare Matabiau and Orsay take advantage of the lush green banks of the Canal du Midi nearby.
Residential Hotels The residential accommodation is mainly concentrated around the same major thoroughfares: the Citadines Wilson Résidence on the wide boulevards near the Place Wilson, the Concorde Résidence near the train station and the Parthénon Résidence on the Allées Jean Jaurès provide every modern comfort and offer a very pleasant compromise between renting an apartment and staying in a hotel.
In the picturesque streets In the vast Rue Raymond IV, in the pretty neighborhood of Matabiau, are some beautiful hotels that are well sheltered from the urban animation of the town. The Caravelle and the Raymond IV are ideal for a quiet and peaceful stay, without being too removed from the attractions of the town. On the banks of the Brienne Canal in the shade of the huge plane trees, a delightful picturesque setting is the charming Hôtel de Brienne. The Hôtel des Beaux Arts perches on the embankment of the River Daurade near the magnificent Pont Neuf, paradoxically the oldest bridge in Toulouse, provides an exceptional view over the River Garonne and on its ground floor offers an excellent bar specializing in seafood. Close by, the Père Léon on the Place Esquirol is an old Toulouse establishment particularly well situated on the medieval Grande Rue, at the junction of the pretty pedestrian streets of Toulouse, the Rue des Changes and the Rue des Filatiers. The Musée des Augustins and the Bemberg Foundation are just a stone's throw away; fine-art enthusiasts, take note! Over by the Place Saint-Georges with its pretty, colourful alleyways, stands the Mecure Toulouse Saint Georges, providing the security of an internationally renowned hotel name.
Chain Brand Hotels Hotels belonging to large chains are usually both comfortable and modern, and offer good services along with parking facilities at very reasonable prices. Many of these hotels are situated along the Canal du Midi, to the north of the town (Etap Hôtel Toulouse Centre, Nuit d'Hôtel), within easy reach of the high speed roads. Others are right outside of the town beside the main roadways (Campanile Purpan) and near Blagnac airport. These hotels provide the ideal solution for travelers hurrying through Toulouse.
The abundance of restaurants scattered along the pretty streets of Toulouse's town center is amazing. Diners are invited to discover the incredible variety of French cuisine, prepared according to tradition or stretching the creativity of master chefs who are not afraid of novelty. Some lead an exploration of flavors from every region of France, while others set out on a journey to the far corners of the earth. There is something to satisfy every taste and every fancy, whether you wish to devote yourself to the delights of gastronomy, eat a quick snack, or simply spend a moment enjoying the atmosphere of a small café in Toulouse.
Regional Cuisine Toulouse owes much of its culinary heritage to local produce that comes from the surrounding areas, in particular the neighboring département of Gers, where fattened ducks and geese are raised. These specialties (foie gras, cassoulet - meat and bean stew, Toulouse sausage, duck cutlets and conserve of duck) are certainly not renowned for being light or healthful, but they deliver on taste (the essential consideration of many travelers!) In addition, some of the finest wine-producing regions of the world surround Toulouse, Tarn and especially Bordeaux (only 250 kilometers/150 miles away), providing a selection of astounding accompaniments to restaurant dishes. The Toulouse oenologists and vintners need only to follow the example of their ancestors who, in ancient times, traded their wines from Italy up to Bordeaux.
Today, the master chefs of Toulouse know how to use these quality products to combine traditional influences and innovative cuisine. There are brilliant demonstrations of this alliance in the restaurants in the town center, ideally situated in the liveliest quarters. The prestigious Jardins de l'Opéra, bordering the very central Place du Capitole, often serves celebrities of the entertainment world when they visit Toulouse, and hungry travelers may choose a neighboring table or a neighborhood brasserie. The picturesque Place Saint-Georges also has some good places to sample regional cooking such as the celebrated Emile, which enjoys an exceptional setting and a fetching façade. On the Place Wilson and the nearby boulevards, surrounded by cinemas and shops, the Capoul and the Eau de Folles are well-known and well-loved. Still in the center of town, Jardins d'Alice in the pretty little Rue Croix-Baragnon, the 7 Place Saint-Sernin beside the Basilica bearing the same name, and the Bon Bec near the concert venue at the Halle aux Grains will all tickle your taste buds. Some of the restaurants specializing in regional treats present gourmet delights in novel settings: try the Cave au Cassoulet, situated on the pleasant Quai Saint-Pierre near the banks of the Garonne. Even more uniquely delightful are the restaurants on the barges; the Belle Chaurienne and the Occitania offer the opportunity to dine on the peaceful waters of the Canal du Midi.
Speciality and theme restaurants For those who love seafood, start out at the waterfront - the famous Brasserie des Beaux-Arts, decorated in the style of the Edwardian Age Belle Epoque, perches on the banks of the Garonne. Those who prefer meat will enjoy the dishes offered at Grillée, Os à Moëlle, or a simpler but no less satisfying meal at the Hippopotamus, a restaurant franchise.
Some restaurants devote their entire menu to a mouth-watering specialty. The Mille et une Pâtes serves pasta dishes, the Bar des Glaces serves mostly (drum roll) kebabs, as its name fails to indicate. Equally original concepts govern the Picotin, where the young-at-heart enjoy eating with their fingers, Madeleine de Proust, decorated in fanciful colors, and the Syndicat that changes its theme roughly once every two years. Finally, restaurants such as Bioasis offer healthy and natural products.
Cooking from further afield
For those wishing to explore far-off cultures or for homesick visitors, Toulouse offers an unlimited choice of foreign specialty restaurants. Proximity to Spain and Italy means that bodegas featuring tapas and sangria and Italian restaurants (Pizzeria Vecchio, Carpaccio) are plentiful and affordable. Still in Europe, you can treat yourself to authentic sauerkraut at the Taverne Bavaroise, sample the salmon, Scandinavian style, at the Pink Fish, or cross the Channel for the flavors of Ireland at Dubliner's. Latino restaurants such as the Barrio Latino and the Texxas Café are plentiful and very fashionable, and some even feature a dance floor (check out Puerto Habana for Cuban rhythms). A very different cuisine which is widely available in Toulouse and often inexpensive, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese restaurants offer the flavorful specialties enjoyed all over the world. Try the Diamant or the Japan for a warm reception and delicious dishes. Finally, some restaurants emphasize exotic ingredients to draw dinnertime crowds: Café Rex offers Australian specialties including kangaroo meat, also available at Zoodrome along with shark and bison. The adventure at each of these restaurants is set to music and the excitement moves from table to dance floor and finally out into the night!
For a quick bite or just a drink
For a light meal or a quick snack during the day, tea-rooms like Tarte Julie or the Autre Salon de Thé) will provide a little something to satisfy your hunger at any time of day. A plethora of bars and pubs are grouped together in different parts of the town center, perfect spots for having a drink and a chat with friends. Favorite pubs include Dubliner's and Mulligan's, while students prefer the Saint-Pierre and Arnaud-Bernard neighborhoods for places like Breughel or Q'sec/Ragtime, close to the universities. Of course, the Place du Capitole, Wilson Square, and the boulevards remain the dynamic center of Toulouse even at night, where the exorbitance of bars are always busy.