Toulouse — fourth largest city in France and home to Airbus, manufacturers of the world’s largest civilian airliner, the A380. This beautiful city suffers from anonymity and it shouldn’t because on paper, it really does tick most, if not all the boxes. True, it does not contain iconic locations or structures such as the Eiffel Tower or L’Arc du Triumphe but in its own modest and unassuming way, Toulouse insinuates its way into your thoughts and lodges there! I had the pleasure of spending a few days there recently as part of a five-day tour of the Midi-Pyrenees region which is the largest department in France (soon to be made even larger), of which Toulouse is it’s capital. The city boasts great architecture; a rich history and unique culture (not French but Occitan!) and is criss-crossed not only by a river (the Garonne) but also by three canal networks! Local delicacies include Cassoulet and Foie Gras for which the city and region are justifiably famous. Toulouse can boast not one but two UNESCO world heritage sites — the Canal du Midi and the Basilica of St. Sernin, the first bishop of Toulouse who was martyred in the third century by being dragged behind a bull through the cobble-stoned street of the city. Toulouse is known as the ‘Pink’city due to the overwhelming use of pinkish-red brick in the construction of most, if not all of its buildings. This was due to the lack of stone that could be quarried in the area and the abundance of clay which could be moulded into bricks and fired in kilns.
The city is a walkers’ dream and can boast some 160 parks and gardens in the city centre alone. Located just over 680 kilometres south of Paris, Toulouse enjoys over 2,000 hours of sunshine per year making it a good alternative destination for sun worshippers bored of going back year after year to the same hotspots for a bit UV! Located 250 km from the Atlantic and just 150 km for the Mediterranean, the city enjoys a wonderfully central location with close proximity to the Pyrenees for skiing and less than 90 minutes driving time to the beach!
As the third largest university city in France with over 100,000 students, Toulouse is very much a young persons city and you can both see and feel the energy in the air as you walk around the various squares thronged with twentysomething’s patronising a myriad selection of bars, cafes and fine dining establishments. The Irish have made a small but not insignificant impression on the social scene in Toulouse with De Danu, a gastro pub owned by former Irish rugby international, Trevor Brennan. The duck there is superb and definitely worth a detour! The city also happens to be the fastest growing urban conurbation in France — due largely to the presence of Airbus which, alone, employs over 25,000 people and is probably indirectly responsible for another 25,000 who work for sub-contractors throughout the region. Tours can be made of the Airbus facility but are disappointing in my opinion, because of the limited amount of access, presumably due to security concerns. What is more of interest though is the nearby aviation musuem — Aeroscopia! If you have enough time (which unfortunately I didn’t), make sure that you also take in a tour of the Cite L’espace.