At the foot of the mighty, snow-capped Pyrénées Mountains, Toulouse is a city committed to its graceful past centuries, boasting fine medieval architecture such as the 11th-century Basilica Saint Sernin and Pont-Neuf (New Bridge), a recently constructed (1544–1626) beauty arcing in graceful stonework across the Garonne River. Toulouse, however, also has eyes for the future: It is home to the Toulouse Space Center (CST), Europe’s largest, and dozens of other aerospace groups, both public and private.
Day 1: Wandering the City
While the modern city of Toulouse sprawls, the historic district remains small and pedestrian-friendly. Indeed, this is the best way to navigate the ancient, narrow streets, built long before the automobile, and visit most of the monuments and museums. You’ll need to arrange transportation to some of the city’s outlying sites, however, including the Airbus A380 assembly factory, where the world’s fastest planes are displayed. Or, book a Toulouse city tour, which may include transport to Airbus and the Jardin des Plantes botanical gardens, as well as a scenic return trip on the Canal du Midi, part of a canal system linking the Atlantic and Caribbean.
Day 2: Into the Enchanted Countryside
Admit it. You’ve always been enchanted by the idea of a picture-perfect castle, the ideal backdrop for slaying dragons and embarking on epic quests. The fortified Cité de Carcassonne rises to a symphony of stone turrets and spires, just 54 miles (87 km) from town. Dating to perhaps 100 BC, it has seen empires, crusades, wars and revolutions aplenty in its time. If you’re up for an extra hour on the road, however, consider making the 107-mile (172 km) pilgrimage to Lourdes instead. The photogenic city is best known for the Virgin Mary’s appearance here in 1858.
Day 3: Day Trips from Toulouse
There’s certainly plenty to keep you busy for another day within the city limits. If you’re traveling with a young family, you might consider Space City (Cité de l'Espace), which mixes science, space travel and kid-friendly entertainment into a pleasant morning or afternoon. The Les Abattoirs Modern Art Museum and Georges Labit Abattoirs antiquities museum are both worth a longer look, or head back into the countryside, following the footsteps of painter Henri de Toulouse Lautrec as he painted some of the region’s most beautiful medieval towns, Albi and Cordes-sur-Ciel. Finish off your day with a fine wine from Gaillac vineyards, one of France’s oldest.