Toulouse - France

Where the Canal du Midi meets the Canal de Garonne in southwest France you will find Toulouse, an old and ornate city nestling at the foot of the Pyrenees. Known as "la Ville Rose" (due to the delicate purplish-pink hues of its buildings), it sits on the banks of the River Garonne, 590km from Paris and half-way between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Old Toulouse is in an area surrounded by a bend in the river and a ring of 19th century boulevards and is easily walkable. The Place du Capitole with its Occitan cross is the social centre and marketplace of the city. Here you will find the Capitole, currently the City Hall, with its magnificently decorated historic rooms and radiating out a labyrinth of narrow streets leading to more squares. The city is also very rich in Renaissance townhouses: hôtel de Bernuy, hôtel d'Assezat, hôtel de Pierre and more. The Saint-Sernin basilica, a jewel of 11th and 12th century Roman art, is an important stage on the Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle pilgrimage. It is home to the grave of Saint Saturnin, first bishop of Toulouse in the 3rd century. Les Jacobins convent buildings are worth visiting for their Southern-French gothic architecture including the amazing "palm-tree", a pillar from which twenty-two branches stem. At the heart of the antique dealer's quarter, the Saint Etienne cathedral bears witness to the evolution of several styles of sacred architecture. There are also 19th century industrial buildings renovated as cultural venues – such as the Galerie du Chateau d'Eau, the Musee des Abattoirs or the Bazacle – a permanent exhibition space on the banks of the Garonne. The Musee des Augustins is a 19th century building that contains two surviving cloisters of an Augustinian priory and oustanding collections of Romanesque and medieval sculpture. Probably founded in the 8th century BC, Toulouse was invaded by the Romans in 125 BC and became a strategically important military garrison. The spread of Christianity, Germanic invasions and Vandal sieges all left their mark but the city was generally prosperous even though it was subject to the rule of the Franks, Merovingians, Arabs, Charlemagne and played a part in the crusades, as well as the French Revolution. Toulouse is now one of the bases of the European aerospace industry, home to Airbus Industries, the the National Space Centre and the European shuttle programme.