35 minutes from Le Phénix, Toulouse is the place for gourmands, romantics and even aviation fans. Toulouse is the capital city of the Midi Pyrenees region and France’s fourth largest city. Best seen on foot, Toulouse has fine regional cuisine, two striking cathedrals, lively street life and a medieval rose-brick Old Town which as the French say, is “Pink at dawn, red at noon and mauve at dusk”.
This warm southern city has steadily expanded from its original Roman site on the Garonne. First it was a flourishing Visigoth city, then a Renaissance town of towered brick palaces built with the wealth generated by the pastel (blue pigment) and grain trades. The grandest of these palaces still survive in the Old Town, centred around Place du Capitole and the huge 18th century Hotel de Ville. At the centre of the square in front of the Capitole building inlaid into the paving, is an enormous bronze Occitan cross, surrounded by signs of the Zodiac. Here, and rue Alsace Lorraine, is the main concentration of shops, bars and cafés. Basilique de St Sernin is the largest Romanesque basilica in Europe, built in the 11th and 12th centuries to accommodate pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
The left bank of the Garonne is under development (St Cyprien) and is linked by Toulouse’s impressive new driverless metro. The former abattoir has been superbly converted into a centre for modern and contemporary art. The nearest metro station to Le Phénix is L’Union, which is only 20 minutes away with loads of parking.
With the First World War, Toulouse was to welcome the first aeronautical firms that were to be located as far as possible from the German borders. Toulouse had found the industry that was to represent its future. The huge Clément Ader aircraft factory to the west of the city can be visited for a surprisingly compelling 90 minute tour that includes a coach trip around the Airbus site and a look at the production line that gave birth to Concorde and that is in the process of building the new A350.