This month marks nearly one year since I visited the southwest of France, particularly the city of Toulouse and its surrounding towns. Granted, I’d gone to Toulouse several times in the past, but this visit was different in that it was in the summer. As a result, I got to experience the French southwest from a different perspective, all the while enjoying it all.
No joke, la canicule (“heat wave”) was already in full effect when I visited Toulouse in late June. I was coming from the temperate northern Spain coast and arrived in the sweltering southwest of France. I’d been aware of the nearly 40°C (110°F) weather in the country prior to arriving, but little did I know that I’d be in for a hot and humid few days in town.
I’d previously visited Toulouse on two different occasions: the first was in February 2016 during my first year as an assistante, and the second time was in January 2018 as a first-year lectrice. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy my first-time visit in Toulouse, as I had a weird Couchsurfing experience and I also found my time in town rather lackluster. It wasn’t until my second visit under different circumstances that I actually enjoyed myself, and I was keen on returning a third time before I left France for good.
Besides the fact that there was a convenient Flixbus route connecting Toulouse with San Sebastián (where I was coming from), I also wanted to revisit Toulouse to see my friend. We became friends back during my first visit to the city, and I would always pay him a visit every time I was in the area. This time was no different, and I was glad for some good company while back in town.
Upon arriving into the Matabiau station, I headed about 20 minutes to my friend’s house, located just across from the train railway in a quieter, more residential part of town. I had a tranquil lunch in his flat as we caught up since my last visit nearly a year-and-a-half ago. In effect, it was good to relax a bit after a half-day’s journey over, as well as escape the overwhelming heat outside– even my friend vouched for that!
My friend had to get to work later in the afternoon, so I had the rest of the day to myself. Despite the still-blazing weather outside, I decided to slowly make my way over to centre-ville to check out the old haunts. That said, I headed out on foot, briefly strolling along the picturesque Garonne river by the train station before taking the long stretch of allée Jean Jaurès directly into the city center.
I reached the place du Capitole, home to the eponymous hôtel de ville. It’s a lovely, spacious plaza with a beautiful interior inside its town hall, which I’d entered the second time I was in the city. I didn’t go in this time around, but I still remembered the ornate frescoes inside its salle des Illustres, and I would highly encourage anyone who’s in Toulouse to pay a visit inside la Capitole– plus, it’s free!
Leaving the Capitole, I continued wandering the city center, allowing myself to get lost in the small, narrow side streets to avoid the summer heat. I also popped inside the courtyard of l’hôtel d’Assézat, a former hôtel particulier from the 16th century that now houses an art gallery. I always make it a point to stop by every time I am in town, just to admire the elegant, French Renaissance architecture and its attention to the specific brick-work used, as the rusty color of its facade is emblematic of the city’s “la ville rose” (“The Pink City”) title.
Soon enough, I reached my end-point at the pont Neuf, another of my favorite spots in the city. It’s also a popular spot for locals, especially students to sit along the quay and enjoy an apéro after school while watching the Garonne river amble idly by. I strolled along the quay before heading to place Saint-Pierre, where I met up with a former assistante who was studying there for a late-afternoon drink. It was a brief chat before I headed back to my friend’s flat, stopping by a boba shop for a milk tea before continuing on my way.
The next couple of days were fairly packed, as I went on day trips from Toulouse. I’d likewise done the same during my second trip, and so I was continuing that trend this time around. They were long, but fruitful, and I often returned at the very end of the day, too exhausted to go out in town. Plus, I’d also seen a lot of Toulouse from previous visits, so I did not have interest in going back after a long day of travel.
However, I did squeeze in a little bit of my revisit in town after one of my day trips. I managed to return in the late afternoon and have some energy to head to the city center. This time, I entered the Galeries Lafayette, where one can get great *free* views of the red rooftops of Toulouse. Definitely one of my favorite, lesser-known spots in town– there’s also a rooftop bar at the top, should you want to grab a drink to enjoy the views!
I also paid a visit to the basilique Saint-Sernin, the city’s icon. It’s a distinctive church dedicated to its patron saint, Saint Saturnin, and it remains the largest Romanesque-style church in the world.
Nearby was the chapelle des Carmélites, a small chapel with a gorgeous, albeit deteriorating fresco that I had gone to the last time I was in town– I was hoping to revisit, but unfortunately, there was an event going on that afternoon. While I could’ve waited for the event to be over in an hour to go in, I opted to forgo it, as I was pretty tired from my day trip earlier, and I wanted to return to my friend’s house to rest before I was to head off the next day.
Overall, I had a brief, but pleasant three-night stay in Toulouse last summer. Although I didn’t see anything new during my time in town, I was content with revisiting my favorite spots and reconnecting with friends. The summer heat was overwhelming, but strangely refreshing as it was a change from my previous visits in the chilly winter.
Toulouse, while initially not a city I’d been particularly fond of, has since become one of my favorite places in France. Despite being a big city, it has a surprisingly slower pace of life that’s coupled with a liveliness from its university students. The locals are some of the kindest I’ve come across in the country, and I can see myself returning there over and over in the unforeseeable future.