Haute-Garonne (31000) Population: 447,340
Toulouse, called the Ville Rose because of the beautiful red-brick buildings, is France's 4th-largest city. Sitting astride the Garonne river, Toulouse has a busy airport and is a base of the European aerospace industry. The town is vibrant, beautiful, interesting, ancient and active.
Toulouse is a wonderful town to visit (and probably to live). It has a mixture of Medieval buildings and streets with modern shopping and lovely architecture. For sunny days, there are parks and squares, terrace cafés, wide pedestrian shopping streets and rose-brick buildings and sites. For rainy days, there many historical sites and museums, many large and most spectacular.
Place du Capitole
The heart of Toulouse is the Place du Capitole, with the huge and beautiful Capitolium. The building originated in 1190 as the seat of power for the governing Capitouls. It has been the local power center for eight centuries, and now houses the Toulouse Town Hall (Hotel de Ville).
The large, open Place du Capitole square is the heart of the city. Along the west side, opposite the Capitolium, is an arcade with some very fine restaurants and café terraces facing out on to the square. One of the café-restaurants, Le Florida, has an interior in the style of the best Belle Epoche Parisian restaurants. Walking through the arcade, be sure to look straight up, at the ceiling murals — modern but nice.
From the southwest corner of the Place du Capitol, the curving Rue Gambetta leads toward La Daurade park, and a bit further to the Pont Neuf.
The beautiful, multi-arched Pont Neuf spans the Garonne at the center of Toulouse. It was started by the Capitouls, and got a good financial kick-start in 1541 by the king, Rois François 1st. Construction was delayed seriously during the Wars of Religion, and bridge was finally completed in 1632.
In June of 1875, the Garonne rose 9-1/2 meters, flooding the entire town. Both the Pont Saint-PIerre and Pont Saint-Michel bridges were destroyed, and only the Pont Neuf resisted the biggest flood in Toulouse's history. The water rose to the top of the arches, but the openings in each arch helped, and the bridge stood fast.
North from Place du Capitole, the long shopping street Rue du Taur leads up to the Place Saint-Sernin and the imposing Saint-Sernin Basilica. The church is on the site of the 4th-century Saint-Sernin Abbey which contained the body of the first bishop of Toulouse, martyred by the Romans to become Saint Saturnin.
The red-brick basilica was built between 1080 and 1120. It's lovely, and huge; it's the largest Romanesque building in Europe, and possibly the largest in the world. Toulous's Saint-Sernin Basilica in one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as part of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.
In the history of Saturnin's martyrdom in the 1st century, it's told that when he refused to sacrifice to the Roman images at the
Capitolis, his feet were tied to a bull and dragged through the town until the rope broke. The bull finished with him going up the street now named Rue Taur, leading to the current Place Saint-Sernin.
This 16th-century donjon tower is the oldest surviving building from the original governing complex. It's located on Square Charles de Gaulle, "behind" the Capitolium, Town Hall. This square, brick tower has four round corner-towers and a slate roof with an ornate bell tower. In the ancient interior, you'll find the Toulouse Tourist Office.
The Square Charles de Gaulle is a pleasant park, with a few tall trees, a bubbling modern fountain and lots of seating for relaxing away from the constant bustle of the nearby Place du Capitol.
Head east from Place du Capitole, past the Donjon park, and you'll come to the oval Place du Président Wilson, surrounding the tree-filled Jardin Pierre Goudouli. This place has a large fountain with white marble statue, built in 1908 to honor the poet Pierre Goudouli.
Along the northwest side of the square are a number of excellent café-restaurants, a few tested successfully by Beyond.
Quartier de la Daudrade
This is one of the original eight quarters capitoulats of Toulouse — a riverside area southwest of the Capitole on the banks of the Garonne. The Place de la Daurade with its lovely old half-timbered houses and the recessed Daurade Park at the level of the river are very pretty and very popular. You can walk there from the Capitole; out the Rue Léon Gambetta and bear right along Rue Jean Suau. You could also visit the Pont Neuf, and then go up the river side to the park.
La Daurade was renovated at the beginning of 2016, with wide ramps (now pedestrian and bicycles only) in addition to the ancient stairs and a new lawn. In the center of the square is a playground and a park café-restaurant. There are also a selection of terrace café-restaurants along the upper street facing the park.
At the south side of the park, at the upper level, is the Basilique de la Daurade, originally 5th-century (on the site of an earlier Roman temple) but completely rebuilt at the end of the 18th century. It's fronted with classical columns, and today houses a School of Beaux-Arts.
Place Saint George
The Place Saint George is a large square southeast of the center of Toulouse. From the Place du Capitole you can walk out the Rue de la Pomme. A local resident told us the square had been ringed by stores and shops, and was very popular. In recent years (or decades) many of the shops have been replaced by restaurants and cafés, and now the terraces are spread all around the square. It's become extremely popular for social gathering and evening dining. From our own experience we can highly recommend it.
This was an ancient, historical square in Toulouse, named after a small chapel dedicated to Saint George. The chapel was moved from the center to various peripheal locations over the centuries, and finally disappeared in 1808. The name of the square also changed a few times in the past few centuries, but is now back to one of the originals.
There's still good daytime shopping here, and excellent nighttime dining.
Place Saint-Etienne is located southeast of Place du Capitole, past Place Saint-George and just south of the main Rue de Metz. It's a large, teardrop-shaped square with the imposing, brick Saint-Etienne Cathedral sitting majestically in the center. Ringing the square around the north side are a series of brick buildings in different shades and tones of brick. Beside the cathedral is a small park, Sauare du Cardinal Saliège.
A very large, open area extends out in the front of the cathedral, and at the far, pointed, end is the oldest fountain in Toulouse. Called the griffoul, the fountain was originally inside the cathedral. It was moved to its current location in 1523.
There are a few shops along the north side of Place Saint-Etienne, and a few restaurants. One small restaurant here we lunched at (2017) and enjoyed was Le Selene.
Records of the Saint-Etienne Cathedral go back to the year 1071, when the bishop decided to rebuild it from the ruins that were already there. Possibly original foundations at the site were a 3rd-century chaple dedicatred to Saint Saturnin.
The tall bell tower is much more modern, and a series of bells were added during the 19th and 20th centuries, and there's now a carillon of at least 20 bells [we're not sure about the number].
East Side, Place Dupuy
A main boulevard, Rue de Metz, traverses the center of Toulouse south of the Place du Capitole, from Pont Neuf at the west, and eastward past Saint-Etienne Cathedral to Boulevard Carnot and the wide Allée Verdier. Here you'll find an arch-de-triomphe style war memorial, the Monument des Compattants de la Haute-Garonne.
Continuing east you'll come to the Place Dupuy, a square with a tall column fountain dedicated to a 19th-century general, the Halle aux Grains and Theatre du Capitole with the National Orchestre de Toulouse.
The Halle aux Grains was built in 1861, to serve as a covered market for grain imported to Toulouse via the Canal du Midi, two blocks to the east. The grain arrived here, at the canal Port Saint-Sauveur, until the 1940s.
In the 1950s the site was transformed into a musical arena, especially for rock concerts. In 1970 it was transformed into the home of Toulouse's national orchestra.
The Canal du Midi passes through the center of Toulouse.
From the north, the canal due south into town to a turning basin and locks at the Ponts Jumeaux (2 km northwest of the Place du Capitole); the canal is beside an autoroute, but there is a cycling path along this north-south stretch.
From the Ponts Jumeaux, the Canal du Midi makes a loop around the east side of the center of Toulouse. The canal heads south from the city just east of the Grand Rond, at the circular Square du Boulingrin (1.2 km south-southeast of the Place du Capitole).
This beautiful 14th-century Augustinian Convent has a large cloister and garden, ancient galleries, and a magnificent fine arts museum.
It's located in the town center, at 21 Rue de Metz.
This huge, pink-brick Dominican church also houses a lovely cloister, the high, vaulted salle capitulaire, and an art museum.
Located near the center, two blocks west of Place du Capitole.