Toulouse is not actually in the Aude, it’s in Haute Garonne. However as the city is on the border of those two departments and is so close to the Aude, I feel I can stretch a point and write about it on this website. In addition lots of visitors to the Aude fly into the international airport in Toulouse.
It’s France’s 4th largest city and has the country’s 3rd largest student population, after Lyon and Paris. According to the French newspaper “L’Étudiant”, Toulouse is the best city in France in which to study. You just know that somewhere recommended to students has to be a place where you can enjoy yourself. There are students everywhere and on sunny days they congregate on the banks of the River Garonne that flows through the city, talking, laughing, lying in the sun, maybe reading. As I look at them I sometimes wonder if they know how very, very lucky they are.
Apart from its appeal to students, Toulouse has a lot to recommend it. It’s known as la ville rose because of its rose-red brick buildings, their attractive colour caused by the bricks being made from the local soil. During the Spanish Civil War, many Spaniards moved to Toulouse, which has helped give it a relaxed, southern European feel. Currently it is one of France’s fastest growing cities and considered the southern version of Paris, not only enjoying better weather but also being smaller, cheaper, friendlier and less crowded. There are a range of things to see, from the medieval Old Quarter near the place du Capitole or, bang up to date, the factories of the leading aircraft manufacturer, Airbus.
Of course it’s a city full of restaurants, cafes and bars of every description. My favourite restaurants are the lunch-time only ones on the first floor of Les Halles Victor Hugo right in the centre of town. On the ground floor of Les Halles is Toulouse’s biggest covered market with a hundred stalls selling food of every kind – meat, fish, cheese, bread, cakes, olives, fruit and veg, ice-cream, quiches – and a wine stall called “Au vin qui chante”. Definitely a place where eyes grow bigger than stomachs.
The staircase up to the restaurants is at the side of Les Halles, unmarked and rather dilapidated. The door at the top looks as if it leads to a storeroom but open it and the whole of the first floor is revealed. The floor is divided into about half a dozen sections with a different restaurant in each section, their fixed price menus for that day chalked on blackboards. The restaurants cater to the lunchtime trade providing efficient service and meals made using the fresh “produits du terroir” sold in the stalls downstairs.
Last time we ate up there, on one side of us was a table with a fashionably dressed couple who looked as if they ran the world’s most successful advertising agency. On the other side was a table with three manual workers still in overalls and boots. I noticed that both tables had ordered the same dishes, which to me proved the egalitarian nature of eating out in Toulouse. It’s that kind of place.
The website www.marchvictorhugo.fr has some lovely photos of the covered market and gives details of opening times.