I’ve just had a new short piece on the French city of Toulouse published on lonelyplanet.com, outlining some of the many reasons to explore this often-overlooked southwest city – often known as ‘La Ville Rose’, or the Pink City.
From river trips to historic hôtels particuliers (aristocratic mansions) it’s one of my favourite French cities. I recently went back to update the latest Lonely Planet guidebook to France, and spent quite a few happy hours exploring the markets and soaking up the sunbaked vibe.
Toulouse is also an ideal launchpad for exploring the rest of France’s southwest corner: the wine country of Languedoc-Roussillon and the peaks of the Pyrenees are all with easy reach, and yet for some reason the city is a lot less touristy than better-known cities like Nice, Lyon and Biarritz.
There are two things I like to do every time I go to Toulouse: visit the Halles Victor-Hugo, the city’s wonderful covered market, and take a bike ride along the banks of the Canal du Midi, France’s longest man-made waterway, built by the architect Pierre-Paul Riquet between 1666 and 1681.
It’s an amazing feat of engineering, and was built to connect France’s Mediterranean and Atlantic Coasts – meaning trade no longer had to travel all the way around Spain.
Sadly, many of the plane trees planted along the canal’s banks have been affected by an infectious fungus and are having to be cut down, as detailed in this BBC report. Some of them are more than 200 years old.