Take in the Myriad Colors and Flavors of France’s Southwest
Toulouse is in the Midi-Pyrennees, France's largest region in area, and lies in the south of the country. Because of the region's far-reaching borders, you'll find a city with Spanish accents and Italian facades. One that carefully cultivates its Occitan identity while always keeping its eyes toward the future. The nod toward Occitania is reflected in the accents of locals. Their distinct pronounciation of French blends with words and expressions from this provincial language with roots in medieval times. If you're arriving from Paris (rougly six hours on the TGV ), you'll note the difference, and that your translation dictionary may not be of much use.
The first-time visitor to Toulouse is struck by the city's color. Over the years, buildings have been covered in tiles and wide Roman bricks, giving Toulouse the nickname, "Ville Rose" meaning "Pink City." As the sun dances down on the streets, colors turn to gentle pastel hues and bright oranges.
All of this glory is not obvious when you arrive by train and step down at the Matabiau station. 19th century architecture and large avenues just like any potent French city surround you.
It is after you have walked towards the place du Capitol and Place Wilson (named after Woodrow Wilson) and rubbed elbows in the crowded, youthful streets that you will start to see how unique this city is with its blend of Medieval, Mediterranean mealtime and influences.
St Thomas Aquinas, one of the most famous theologians from the middle ages, left behind such a treasury of wisdom the church honored him with the title "Angelic Doctor." Canonized in 1323, he is buried in the Church of the Jacobins where you can visit the man best known for his work the Summa Theologiae.
Speaking of Summa, you'll find plenty of cum laude degrees printed at the University of Toulouse. Founded in 1229 it is one of the oldest in Europe with nearly 100,000 students and ranks as one of the best schools for Europe's brightest. The city is also on the cutting edge of technology, home to both Airbus and the Toulouse Space Center – the largest on the continent. Their overt love toward outer space is on display at the Cité de L'espace, a theme park oriented toward the conquest of quasars and other objects in orbit.
Not to be outdone by Paris or Lyon, Toulouse holds a special place among foodies. Home to some of France's best cheeses, including the sublimely tangy Roquefort as well as a dish that dates back to the 14 th century - the Cassoulet. Named for the dish its typically cooked in, the cassole is a deep, round earthenware pot with slanted sides to help keep the meal moist and delicious. The meat is slow cooked and topped with white haricot beans.
Cassoulet is the perfect metaphor for Toulouse. A city that has, over a long period of time, bubbled over to perfection. It isn't well known outside of its own country – yet so easy to find. With a France Rail Pass, you'll find your way to France's smart, savory and technologically-sophisticated heart.
To learn more about preparing your trip to France, visit Atout France by clicking here if you’re a US resident or here if you’re a Canadian resident
Contributed by: Frederick, a manager at Rail Europe, born and raised in Europe and has traveled extensively on the continent.