France… Possibly the first thing that comes to our minds when we hear this word is a lazy spring evening spent sipping a fine wine enjoying the romantic scene of how the sun slowly sets gloriously laying its last rays over the Eiffel Tower. Or… maybe a café crème in a local bistro that with each swallow brings heat to your body and ecstasy to your mind in a typically rainy evening of a late autumn weekend. However, the jaw-dropping prices, overwhelming tourist crowds, and never-ending queues for main touristic sights make us question our choice. And they turn into legit motives to escape to a destination located in Southwest of France that merges the country’s elegance and fascinating rural landscapes with Catalan Pyrenees instead: Toulouse.
The city, located on the banks of Garonne river that is calmly running to its encounter with the Atlantic Ocean, boasts a unique architectural style that radically differs from any other city of the country. The whole city has completely preserved its eloquent historic quarter, which turns into ultimate aesthetical perfection as the sun reflects on fiery red, orange, pink, and terracotta brick façades of the city and adds different shades to the main color pastel that creates energizing vibes. Whereas other cities of France were using stone as the essential material for the construction of buildings until the invention of ferro concrete in XIX century, Toulouse mainly relied on the brick as the nearest stone quarries were about 80 km away and even the most affluent habitants of the city used stone solely in construction of façade decoration, such as columns, door, and window frameworks, since the costs of getting the necessary amount of stones to the construction site were unbelievably high.
The city will be welcoming you to explore more than 2000 years of history. Start your route with a Roman Basilica, continue with medieval churches, enjoy the cuisine of the region and go on encountering the façades. Enjoy the precious cultural treasures the local museums have guarded through the centuries, let yourself be guided through quarters that blend history and modernity.
Embrace the spirit of Medieval age and dignified atmosphere of the Toulouse churches:
The Basilica of Saint-Sernin:
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the current basilica was finally completed on the junction of 11th and 12th centuries as the result of the systematic expansion of an abbey constructed in the 4th century and arguably is the largest remaining Romanesque building of the world. Having significant differences from the rest of Romanesque churches and other contemporary religious buildings is a vast building with a length of 104m. The massive bell tower, standing over the transept crossing, is the most visible and impressive feature. The exterior of the church and both entrances are decorated with detailed and elaborate sculptures depicting Biblical scenes. The interior of the basilica is just as impressive with complex construction techniques of the period applied. One of the largest and most important organs of France that were created in 1888 is located inside the church.
The Convent of Jacobins:
An elegant and innovative mix of Romanesque and Southern French Gothic styles is known to host the relics of the founder of Jacobin Order, Thomas Aquinas, the building has little to none interior decorations, however, astonishes with its luminosity and double nave that ends with a palm tree form with 22 leaf veins. Its walls are entirely painted with trompe l’œil that imitates marble and is considered more noble than a brick in the also during the period of construction. The remnants of Thomas Aquinas, one of the most prominent members of the order, were carried to this church in XIV century from Italy and buried in a reliquary beside the altar, right under the magnificent “Palm Tree” of the Convent.
Another notable churches that reflect the best features of their architectural styles are the following: The Saint-Etienne Cathedral, Notre-Dame de la Dalbade, Notre-Dame de Taur, and Chapelle des Carmelites. Momentous evidence of the rich past of the city proudly keeps their part in the panorama of the city, reminding of all the major events occurring on the streets that tourists and citizens of the city are walking on today.
Museum of Augustins
The museum that has been functioning since 1801 is located in the Gothic building of former Augustinian Convent, which was dissolved as the consequence of policy dictated by the principles preached by the French Revolution. The museum possesses a collection of more than 4,000 within permanent and temporary exhibitions spanning between works of 15th till 20th century, including fine works of geniuses like Philippe de Champaigne, Jean Baptiste Oudry, François de Troy, Edouard Manet, Paul Rubens, Pietro Perugino, and many others. Museum also exhibits a notable collection of sculptures, works of Rodin among them.
This unusual venue places its 3,000 m2 at the disposal of the 4,000 works that make up its permanent collection and the major exhibitions. The rooms are very spacious and allow visitors to circulate easily, even at busy times. Here, it’s possible to gaze on a Picasso or Duchamp, as well as other big names of modern art: Fontana, Hartung, Chaissac without tightly knit tourists obscuring the view.
Saint Raymond Museum
Housed in a building that has gone through a rich historical path of being converted from necropolis to a college, escaping demolition during 1850s, currently the museum exhibits a vast and jaw-dropping collection of sculptures, tombs, jewellery and daily life objects of the Roman period and thus, giving a broad insight on the lifestyle and traditions of habitants of ancient city of Tolosa.
The museum, situated on the outskirts of Toulouse, right beside the head office and plant of Airbus, was founded in 2011 and serves its visitors in buildings surface of which totals 7,000 m2. In the museum, you can trace the whole history of aircraft technology and how aviation evolved throughout the decades. For this purpose, you can visit the exhibition for replicas and the actual planes serving different purposes: from legendary airplanes like Blériot XI to military aviation and drones. One can also enjoy and acquire tons of useful knowledge on various topics such as “Avia construction,” “Aviation Archaeology,” and “Behind the seats” by visiting specially designated areas where interactive areas have been installed. After the end of the trip to the museum that will definitely thrill you and require a major part of the day to spend there, you will know everything from A to Z about the aviation industry, its roots, actual state, and the future perspectives. The museum is well organized, and due to significant interactivity will be entertaining and amusing for both adults and kids.
WHAT ELSE TO DO?
The city has well-preserved hotels particuliers (mansion houses), such as: Hotel de Bernuy, Hotel de Brucelles, Hotel de Viuex-Raisin, Hotel de Bonfontan and etc., that are marking Toulouse’s passage into the period of Renaissance and will astonish you with their splendid architecture and remind you of prosperous lifestyle led by merchants who had built their wealth on pastel trade, a trademark export of the city by that time. Try laying arranged routes aside for this trip and wander around the narrow and ambient streets linking all these majestic sights. Local community lives a deep, passionate, open lifestyle and alongside a vast number of restaurants wine bars and restaurants, unique in offered specialties and interior design and amazing weather that rarely disappoints, you can find yourself surrounded with a hospitable and relaxing environment that will leave a pleasant aftertaste, as fine as the aftertaste of more than 3,000 wine types you can try in the La Ville Rose. N.5 Wine bar will offer you a very extended list of wines to select from.
Exhausted from hours’ long walk and want to reunite with yourself and find your inner peace or simply relax and have a breath of fresh air? Toulouse has many green parks such as Jardin Japonais, Jardin des Plantes, Jardin Raymond VI, which possess rich nature and will please your sight while you will be having your sandwich. Walking in the city, you will eventually encounter the Pont Neuf ( New Bridge) which was built in the 17th century that crosses the Garonne river, make sure to enjoy the sight of the flowing river from the bridge and eventually stop for a picnic or for a rest at one of the banks of it.
Whatever route you take, you possibly will eventually end up at gorgeous Capitole de Toulouse and the square in front of it, which is the heart of the city and where the city administration actually resides. Do not hesitate to approach closer to the building and admire the sculptures and decorative installations that will narrate you the history of the city. If you will find the building majestic and worthy for a visit, get prepared, the best part of it is yet to be discovered while you enter the building. The halls available for tourist visits are elegantly decorated by sculptures of prominent French and by some very fascinating paintings and frescos that will leave you gazing at them for hours. When leaving, take a picture in front of it to commemorate your triumph, you have visited one of the breath-taking and cozy cities of France.
Since we already have touched the topic of food & drink, it would be fine to talk about where to eat and what to eat:
Cassoulet, the most essential local specialty, is served with beans and duck. However, duck can also be replaced with no less known Toulouse sausage. Castelnaudary is the place to check, to get more knowledge about the food and please your belly.
Confit canard, duck cooked in its own fat, can be encountered on the menu in almost all French cities, but it is Toulouse that will provide you with the most unforgettable and joyful experience, L’Aubrac, En Pleine Nature are fantastic choices to taste the meal.
Aside from meat dishes, the region has plenty of confectioneries. The fénétra is a traditional cake that you will not want to miss. This mouth-watering delight is made from almond shortbread, apricots, and candied lemons. It can be tasted at Patisserie Conte, which will provide a delightful experience that you will not forget for a long time.
My honor of visiting this intriguing city came to November of 2016, exactly four years ago. I fell in love with the ambiance and atmosphere the city created immediately. It was the love from the first sight, right after I took the first step out of train arriving at the central station. It would be worthy to determine whether it is the warm vibes of the city that makes the locals be so caring and charmingly kind, or it is their passionate hospitability that heats up the city for the visitors coming here for the first time. A memory never to be forgotten, charms cast on by the city that do not fade away even after having experienced the whole continental Europe.
Of course, Toulouse is much more than the list of to-dos’ and my personal preferences, so when visiting the city try to live the full experience, turn into the ambiguating corners, visit shops and feel the life of the city, harmonize with its energy and I promise you, you will live with a lucid dream of coming back.
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