Discover Toulouse: "The Other Paris..." - My Family Travels

…well, actually there is no other city like Paris. But now that I’ve got your attention, here is a brief spiel about southern France’s secret little treasure that is a great place to visit.

And actually it’s not that little. Toulouse, the major city of the southwest, is located in the Région Midi Pyrénées. It is home to about one million people and is the fourth largest city in France next to Paris, Marseille, and Lyon. The high-tech center of the aerospace industry in France, Toulouse is also home to aeronautics, information technology, and biotechnology.

Airbus, the only competitor to aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, has its headquarters here. There are also a host of colleges and universities resulting in Toulouse having the second highest student population next to Paris.

I had the chance to visit the Ville Rose or Pink City (as it is called due to its pink brick style architecture) during the winter months. If you visit around Christmas, the Toulouse Centre is definitely a must.  Like Paris, everything is all lit up, and dozens of little log cabin shops line the city’s center for the holiday season. Mini shops sell everything from Russian Dolls to hamhocks, churros, saussisons, (little sausages), cider, Christmas items, and many culturally unique items. 

As we were in France, and to our palate’s delight, we had to do some wine tasting, of course. When we were done sampling all of these goodies, we moved on to the shops of Toulouse Centre where you could purchase anything you need.  I must admit that it did start to look more like Paris here —  the shopping, the narrow cobblestone streets, the crowds moving about, the quaint French architecture, and the many pâttiseries (pastry shops).

If crowds, lights, and shopping are not your cup of tea, don’t worry. Like Paris, Toulouse has something for everyone. There are museums, fine dining, bars, clubs, and theater. Toulouse is home to the Musée des Augustines, a must-visit museum with paintings and sculptures from the Roman and Medieval ages. The Musée Georges Labit is another fascinating museum displaying interesting artifacts the Far East and Egypt.

After working up an appetite at the museums, go to the Arnaud-Bernard district where you can enjoy an artsy atmosphere as well as great French food. For a wide variety of cuisine, visit la rue Colombette where food and fashion meet. As the evening winds down, you may go to one of Toulouse’s many bars or clubs for all ages and types of entertainment.

Or maybe you want to do the the theater scene. For opera and theater, the Odyssud Center has something going on year round. Concerts, especially rock, are played at the Zénith, while Orchestre National du Capitole is based at the Halle aux Grains venue.

The sports enthusiast will be glad to know that Toulouse has two Stadiums, the Stadium Municipal du Toulouse and  the Stade Ernest-Wallon where rugby and soccer are played. The Toulousain rugby team, whose colors are red and black, boasts of three European championship titles and about 16 French championship titles. Toulouse will host the 2007 Rugby World Cup at its Stade Ernest-Wallon this September and October.

While visiting Toulouse, you might as well venture a little further south to explore the Principality of Andorra. It takes less than two hours to get to the city of Pas de la Casa from Toulouse, and you can enjoy the scenic drive through the Pyrenees mountains. Once there, you can experience the two things that this town is most popular for — skiing and the most discounted shopping deals on clothing, home accessories, booze and cigars, and an array of cultural items.

And if you’re really feeling adventures, less than 100 miles either due west or west will take you to the Mediterranean Sea or to Barcelona respectively. If you’ve never seen a sea coast like the ones in the movies, where the salty green sea is splashing against a burrier of jagged rocks 40 feet below your feet as you’re standing on the edge of the European coast, it’s a breath-taking must experience!

Now France’s secret is out! Toulouse may not be exactly like Paris, but it is indeed a multifaceted vacation city with a rich and diverse culture that offers many avenues for adventure, culture and entertainment.  

Kristina Pope is from Atlanta, Georgia and published this story about her France adventures on in 2006.

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