Toulouse, the 'pink city', effortlessly combines old-fashioned charm with cutting-edge industry to make a fascinating holiday destination

The southwestern French city of Toulouse is an immensely likeable place, with its pink-red brick architecture, excellent local food and laid-back southern feel. One hour behind South African time, Toulouse can be reached in a 14 hour flight from Johannesburg or Cape Town . (depending on connections). The local airport is Toulouse-Blagnac Airport which is linked by bus and shuttle link directly to the city's main railway station. Central Toulouse has a population of around 450,000, and is compact enough to be tackled on foot. The climate is temperate, with pleasantly warm Spring, Summer and Autumn temperatures.

The city has its origins in a Roman settlement on the banks of the Garonne River. It grew wealthy from the production of blue dye during the Middle Ages, with profits being poured back into the construction of the city's famous mansions, or 'hôtels'. Best-known of these is the Hôtel d'Assézat, which now houses the Fondation Bemberg, an excellent collection of paintings, objets d'art and bronzes.

The hub of the city centres on the Place du Capitole and the Hôtel de Ville (city hall). Toulouse's most chic shops, bars and restaurants are to be found around this massive public square, Place St Georges and rue Alsace-Lorraine.

Toulouse also boasts a significant religious heritage in the shape of the Church of the Jacobins, the Basilique Saint Sernin and the Musée des Augustins. Saint Sernin is a gem of Romanesque design, dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. Its original function was to serve the pilgrims who passed through Toulouse along the St James Way to Santiago de Compostela.

Toulouse's high-tech museums will take you on a journey to the furthest reaches of the planet - and even the universe…

Your journey to Toulouse will probably have been undertaken on one of the Airbus family of airliners. A tour of the factory where these planes are produced includes a look at the production line for the gigantic A380, the world's largest passenger airliner. The city's other high-tech industry, space travel technology, is showcased in the Cité de l'Espace and features a planetarium, interactive exhibits and replicas of the Ariane 5 rocket, Soyuz modules and the Mir Space Station.
If you're lucky enough to have booked your airplane ticket to coincide with a Top 14 match, you may get to see at first-hand another Toulouse speciality - rugby. The local team, Stade Toulousain, is considered to be one of Europe's best Rugby Union sides.
Equally, no holiday to Toulouse would be complete without trying out some of the local culinary delicacies. Some of the best-known local dishes include:
  • Cassoulet (stew with white beans, pork and duck)
  • Confit de canard (duck)
  • Toulouse sausage
  • Poularde à la Toulouse (chicken with bacon and spices)
  • Croquant (almond-flavoured biscuits)
Toulouse is the third largest student city in France, with around 120,000 people enrolled at the city's various universities. The eclectic array of bars and clubs catering to this clientele ensures that a stay in Toulouse is never dull!
The city lies within easy reach of some very beautiful countryside and in striking distance of the Pyrenees mountains. To explore this intriguing region to the full, your best bet is probably to rent a car .

Prepare for a smooth travel touch-down in Toulouse with these useful visitor information resources:

The following websites will help you navigate your way around Toulouse's top holiday attractions: