La Ville Rose: A Dispatch From Toulouse

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I have mixed feelings about my time in Toulouse. Part of me is surprised that it’s fairly off the tourist radar. It is pretty in the centre and with the street signs in French and Catalan, there’s a cosmopolitan air. The metro is quick, clean, and efficient and despite the relatively small size of the city, it’s a good way to get from A-B quickly.

The people in general are friendly and despite it being France’s 4th-largest city, with a population of almost half a million, there’s a relaxed pace of life there; you never feel hurried.

The first thing you notice when you’re walking the narrow, winding streets of the Centre Ville is the proliferation of ochre rooftops and the red-brick facades that give the city its famous pinkish hue leading to the moniker ‘La Ville Rose’ (The pink city). Originally used as a cheaper alternative to the much more expensive limestone, the red brick has given the city a distinctive character. It is very pretty.

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The Basilique Saint-Sernin de Toulouse.

The ‘Basilique Saint-Sernin de Toulouse’ is an interesting 11th-century church. Believed to be the largest Romanesque church in the world, it was an important stop-off point for pilgrim’s en-route to Santiago de Compostela. The inside is large, bright and airy. It also houses the tomb of St. Sernin of Toulouse, the first Bishop of the city.

The most beautiful landmark is the Place du Capitole, a grand, neo-classical square dating from 1750 in the fashion that they seem to do so well on the continent. It’s lined with restaurants, shops, cafés and a handsome town hall. Le Bibent is a Michelin starred restaurant over-looking the square and is a good spot to stop for a coffee. It has an ornate, Belle Époque interior, reminiscent of the grand cafés of Mitteleuropa. All of the above and the centre are worthy of your time.

The elegant Place du Capitole.

But the other part of me completely understands why it’s not more popular. It’s a frustratingly anachronistic place. Many menus are printed only in French. The city shuts down on Sunday’s and reliable information pertaining to tourist sites is scarce, even less so in English. It’s also eye-wateringly expensive, with bottles of water often costing around €5-6.

Most surprisingly of all though, the food and drink was ok at best. I had high hopes of dining on fantastic French food for four days. With the exception of Rue des Filatiers in the Carmes neighbourhood, which offers a few more international options, the cuisine here is very often steak and fries. It’s the only city I’ve been to where the locals dining at a restaurant wasn’t necessarily an indicator of its quality.

The relaxed pace of life comes at the expense of excitement. It’s a little boring here, lacking that certain je ne sais quoi that the major cities seem to have. When you find yourself praising the Metro over cuisine or entertainment, you know that city is a little lacking.

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The Place Saint-Etienne at dusk.

Part of the fun of travelling is discovering different places with different ways of living and customs but Toulouse was just frustrating. My over-riding feelings after four days here is that firstly, four days is far too long, two would suffice and secondly, the city for me, is a little disappointing. There’s nothing drawing me to return.

I think I have a romanticised view of what France is or should be. Elegant boulevards, a fantastic café culture, magnificent food; I didn’t find this here and it wasn’t for a lack of trying. It’s back to Paris I suppose.

Thanks for reading.



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