Toulouse, la vie Rose. Culture, shopping, wonderful French food, sunshine, space centre, Airbus-manufacture…
Ediaf Piaf was famous for la vie en rose. Now is the time to visit the ‘pink city’ itself, Toulouse. This beautiful city, the capital of the Haute Garonne region of S.W. France, earned its colourful name by its distinctive brickwork, washed over each evening by the glorious rays of the setting sun. Impressionist painters everywhere enthuse over its red tiled roofs and pink façades. Miraculously, this is one major city that seems unbesmirched by air pollution or the greyness of more northern climes.
For those who love to trace a place’s individual history, Toulouse was the home of Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1904-1944), who was famous for his book Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince). There is a permanent gallery with numerous photos and some of his works located in the Hotel du Grand Balcon - just off the Place du Capitole - where he stayed. However, the Bohemian painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec never lived in Toulouse. He actually lived in Paris and shared only his name with Toulouse the city.
As a vegetarian, I can personally recommend a tiny place near to Place Capitole, where people from every religion can meet and eat together, certain that there will be no foods on their forbidden lists. It’s called La faim des haricots* (literally, the hungry beans), and is always busy with locals – a good sign. It’s not very large, but worth the effort as the food is all buffet-style and caters even for big eaters, like my other half!
And what of the transport system? As a Brummie, I know that Birmingham planners argued and still failed over introducing a metro system underneath their city. They should come and look at the transport system in Toulouse. It was noticeable on a busy weekday lunchtime that the bus-lanes, so long a hot topic in my home town, seemed to work well simply by running in an opposite direction to the car traffic. I looked at one of the main city-centre routes. The bus-lanes were sited each side of the road, but the long single-decker buses travelled in the opposite direction to the one-way car traffic. This way, all the cars, whether in the slow or fast lanes, could easily see the oncoming buses in the lanes alongside of them. Seemed like a good idea to me.
Parking – always a mute point with city car drivers – was surprisingly quick and easy. We usually park in the Jean Jaurés car park, which is well sign-posted, clearly lit, secure and, above all, clean – even at night. Additionally, it’s walking distance from the helpful tourist office in the Place Capitole, and the excellent mini-train which takes you around central sites.
A good place to visit is the Cité de l’espace, rather like the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Entrance isn’t cheap at 19.50 euros, but most visits last all-day and there’s plenty to see and do. For children, there is a moon-landing site where they can participate in lift-off vehicles and play with ‘moon’ rock and sand.
The VAL (Véhicule Automatique Léger) metro system is made up of driverless (automatic) rubber-tyred trains. The existing line A runs for 12.5km. It was recently extended and now runs from Balma-Gramont to Basso Cambo. The new line B adds 20 stations intersecting line A at Jean Jaurès. Line E (a tramway) is due to be finished this year, rolling from Beauzelles to Arènes. Line C exists since line A is the standard railway line with SNCF trains. It connects to line A at Arènes. Another oft-used commuter train line (D) runs to the nearby city of Muret.
For sporting fanatics, Toulouse boasts a highly respected rugby union team Stade Toulousain, which has been a four-time finalist and three-time winner in Europe's top club competition in the sport, the Heineken Cup. The city also has a rugby league team, Toulouse Olympique, who have won the French championship on four occasions. Don’t visit on match days, though, as the traffic chaos around the stadium is legendary.
Somewhere to stay? Try the 2-star Hotel Castellane, 17 rue Castellane, recommended by the Routard and Lonely Planet Guides.
*La faim des haricots, 3, Rue du Puit Vert, 31000 Toulouse Tel : 00335 61 22 49 25
Open Mon – Sat, from 12 noon – 2.30 p.m. ; and from 7 p.m. – 10.30 p.m.
Daily buffet choice, as much as you can eat, from 13.50€,, web: lafaimdesharicots.fr