Category Archives: Occitanie

The Ultimate Guide to Toulouse, Episode 183

The Ultimate Guide to Toulouse


If I ask what part of France you want to visit besides Paris, you will probably respond Normandy or Provence. But if I ask French people where they’d like to move to in France, Toulouse is always at the top of the list. So what do French people know about Toulouse that most visitors to France don’t? Stay tuned and you will hear about it all in today’s Ultimate Guide to Toulouse!

These are the things that can make any city wonderful to live in: a strong local culture, strong food and wine traditions, good jobs, strong high tech industries, good universities, great sports teams, proximity to both the sea and the ski slopes, and of course mild weather. Toulouse gets the check mark on all of those.

Toulouse is also a lot more affordable than Paris and not as stress-inducing as Paris for everyday life. So yes, French people would love to be able to move to Toulouse and about 10,000 new people do just that every year, it is one of the fastest-growing areas of France.

But what does Toulouse have to offer for visitors? That’s the question we answer with our ultimate guide to Toulouse. Here are a few of the reasons:

Looking to see a lively yet laid-back part of France? Toulouse.
You like great food and wine? Toulouse!
You want to enjoy French culture through museums, art events and leisurely walks through Medieval streets? Toulouse, of course!

Annie and Elyse are supremely qualified to talk about Toulouse, not just because we’re awesome podcasters who love to share the best of everything France has to offer, but also because Annie was born and raised in Toulouse, and Elyse has been living and guiding in Toulouse for 20+ years. We know the place! We know it effortlessly, like locals do.

So, please come along with us on this Ultimate Guide to Toulouse!

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Saint-sernin basilica; ultimate guide to toulouse
Saint-Sernin Basilica, photo Annie Sargent

What You Will Learn About in this Episode

What Is There to Do in Toulouse?

[02:23] Today we are presenting an overview of the City of Toulouse to explore all of the things the city has to offer, and we also mention all the episodes where we’ve talked about Toulouse in the past.

The Pink City: “la ville rose”

[03:00] Toulouse is a Roman brick city, called la ville rose in French. The color of the brick looks orange/rose, it looks particularly pink at sunset. All the roofs are pink and when you fly in, it makes a big impression.

The city has built out in a circle with the Garonne river right in the middle. Toulouse was founded by the Romans and later the Gauls.

The City that Grows on People

[06:34] Toulouse is the kind of city that grows on people. When people visit they enjoy it very much, but it is not a destination city. You can visit the city within a couple of days and if you can stay longer, you can take several day-trips. The people of Toulouse have a specific and charming accent.

City for Business Visitors

[08:00] Airbus is the major industry in Toulouse and it attracts a lot of business visitors. It is also a major city for the satellite industry, all sorts of satellites are built in Toulouse.

Major Attractions in Toulouse

[08:27] Some of the oldest houses in Toulouse date back from the middle 1400s and they have been renovated very well. The rich merchants of Toulouse built some lovely mansions around the city. The city center is very dense with homes and small gardens in the back.

group of people at a café; ultimate guide to toulouse
Toulouse café, photo Annie Sargent.

Parks and Gardens of Toulouse

[10:41] Toulouse also has lovely parks and gardens. During the warm weather, walks along the river Garonne are also wonderful.

Charming Toulouse Plazas

[12:33] We also did an episode about the most beautiful plazas in Toulouse (episode 72) and they make the city lovely to live in. Toulouse has mild weather, which makes it pleasant year-round.

Café Culture in Toulouse

[14:00] Toulouse is the kind of city where cafes have terraces where you can sit and enjoy watching the world go-by any time of year. Toulouse is a medium size city, it’s easy to visit on foot or by checking out one of the public bicycles.

Soon Coming to Toulouse: a Spanish-Style Rambla

[16:00] The city is now developing a “rambla” with a long walking path between the Toulouse train station and the city center, which are about 1 kilometer apart. The original plan was to make it a walking path, but in the end turned into a 4-lane boulevard. It will now revert to a wide walking boulevard with one lane of traffic each way.

Toulouse, Cultural City

[18:50] Toulouse is a cinema city with a “cinémathèque” that shows lots of classic films, we also have a large university system and lots of students. We have small theaters, pubs, lots of bars.

The Augustin and the Abattoirs Museums in Toulouse

[19:48] Places to visit in Toulouse: Les Augustins Museum (Medieval art and sculpture housed inside of an old monastery from the 1300s, complete with a lovely cloister) and Les Abattoirs (modern and contemporary art, the building used to be the slaughter house).

The area around Les Abattoirs is a lovely area to visit today, but it wasn’t always so. Augustins and Abattoirs is episode 69 if you want to go into more detail on these museums.

The Canal du Midi in Toulouse

[23:44] Canal du Midi: it’s lovely to walk along the Canal, or cycle, or take a boat ride. The Canal du Midi is a World Heritage Site. Running along the Canal du Midi is a favorite of joggers and dog walkers.

The Saint-Sernin Basilica

[24:40] Saint-Sernin Basilica is also a World Heritage Site.Saint-Sernin Basilica, we need to add another episode specifically about Saint-Sernin some day, it is on the Saint-Jacques de Compostelle pilgramage.

Les Jacobins in Toulouse

[26:12] Les Jacobins is also a former monastery with a cloister that you can visit in Toulouse. It is now a church any more, but a great place to visit. Saint Thomas of Aquinas rests at the Jacobins.

Saint Raymond Museum in Toulouse

[27:54] Saint Raymond Museum, housed in a Renaissance home, it is the city archeology museum. It is a gorgeous little museum, it is important because it collects precious pieces that have been found by farmers around Toulouse, mostly from Roman times. It’s a great museum to take children to because it has good interactive displays and it is not very big.

Aeroscopia and the Cité de l’espace in Toulouse

[29:57] Aeroscopia is wonderful, it shows all the airplanes developed and tested in Toulouse, including the Concorde. You can walk through the old airplanes and see how the industry developed over time.

La Cite de l’Espace is another attraction related to space. They have lots of interactive displays, a MIR station, rocket boosters, solar system displays, it’s a great place for children.

Toulouse is also the home of Meteo France where they make weather predictions for the entire country and also do climate research.

band in front of the Donjon du Capitole; ultimate guide to toulouse
Street music in front of the Donjon du Capitole, photo Annie Sargent.

The Natural History Museum

[31:39] The Natural History Museum, “Museum d’histoire naturelle” in French, is great for kids and adults both. It’s considered to be one of the better natural history museums in France. They explain things really well.

Toulouse Has Enough to Do for 3 or 4 Days

[32:38] The City of Research, new museum on the process of research and science. It’s brand new, worth visiting at the same time as the Natural History Museum.

You can stay in Toulouse and visit all of these things over 4 days which most people don’t do, but we hope to change all that.

Fondation Bemberg and the Hotel d’Assezat

[34:12] Fondation Bemberg, hotel d’assezat. A museum in a building that is one of the nicest Renaissance mansions of Toulouse. It’s an art and object museum based on the private collection of an Argentinian man who loved the Renaissance. He collected paintings, lamps, furniture. He used his own money to renovate and modernize this renaissance building, provided he could use the building to display his own collection. The museum holds a large collection of late impressionist and post impressionist.

Toulouse and History of Pastel

[37:30] Toulouse has a long history of pastel and how that industry made it possible for Toulouse to get several Renaissance mansions.

The Richest Man in France under Louis XIV and Louis XV

Book on Croza, L’Homme qui possédait l’Amérique

Toulouse Food and Wine Specialties

[39:38] Food in Toulouse (Episode 31) local specialities are cassoulet and duck, local wines are Gaillac, Jurançeon, Malbec (Cahors). One of the best food areas in France.

Professional Sports in Toulouse

[40:30] Toulouse is well-known for Rugby, we have several professional sports teams, a women’s basketball team, pro volleyball, pro handball, pro soccer.

some of the mascots of Toulouse sports clubs; ultimate guide to toulouse
Some of the mascots of Toulouse sports clubs, photo Annie Sargent.

Toulouse Universities

[41:16] The university is huge, aeronautics engineering programs, one of the top 5 schools of economy in the world, the city attracts a lot of smart people.

Conclusion

[41:37] Try to visit Toulouse avoid the dead of the winter, we have a long warm season from March until October. Elyse gives wonderful tours in Toulouse, you can book a tour with her through her website Toulouse Guided Walks

Saint Bertrand de Comminges, a Day Trip from Toulouse, Episode 177

Saint Bertrand de Comminges


If you are staying in the Toulouse area long enough to look around at some of the other hidden gems of Occitanie, we recommend you consider a visit to St Bertrand de Comminges, a bucolic and inspiring village in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

In today’s episode, Elyse tells us how the gorgeous Cathedral came to be built and about other interesting sites nearby such as the Basilica of Saint Just Balcarère, the painted neolithic cave of  Gargas, the spa resort of Bagnères de Luchon and the Roman ruins at Montmaurin. 

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

St Bertrand de Comminges Episode Highlights with time stamps

About Join Us in France

[00:00] This is Join Us in France Episode 177. Join Us in France is the podcast for where we talk about France, it’s many quirks, it’s history, it’s language, and of course, destinations in France you might want to visit since you’re probably someone who loves to travel. This episode is brought to you by Patreon supporters and Addicted to France, the Tour Company that specializes in small group and custom tours in France. And we’ve a great tour coming up in May, check it out here.

 

Saint Bertrand de Comminges city sign and illuminated Cathedral
Photo Annie Sargent

On Today’s Episode: Saint Bertrand de Comminges

[01:05] Bonjour Francophiles, I’m Annie, and on today’s show I chat with Elyse about a really small and charming village an hour south of Toulouse called Saint Bertrand de Comminges. Definitely out of the beaten path but at the same time a center of French history and culture. This episode goes entirely to the depth of knowledge we aim to bring to you about France because this is certainly not a place lots of people Google about! But we talk about it anyway because it’s interesting to people who love France and want to understand it better.

French History Brief: Richard Coeur de Lion

[01:44] The French History Brief at the end of the episode today is called Richard I of England aka Richard the Lionheart aka “Richard Coeur de Lion”. But did you know he also had a nickname? They called him “Oc e no” which spoke to me because that’s an Occitan expression, and as you know, that’s where I’m from too! More on that after the episode. Here’s the song I mention in the episode.

The Show Will Go Dark Between Dec 20th and Jan 10th

[02:14] The next episode coming out next week on Dec 20th is going to be the last of the year and then I’ll take a couple of weeks off and will come back with new episodes in the new year starting on January 10th. And now, on to my conversation with Elyse on Saint Bertrand de Comminges!

A Great Day Trip from Toulouse

[03:10] Why Saint Bertrand de Comminges makes for a great day-trip from Toulouse.

An Organ Festival at the Foothills of the Pyrenees

[04:35] The Saint Bertrand de Comminges organ sounds great and the concerts there are top quality.

St Bertrand de Comminges Historical Background

[06:10] St Bertrand used to be on a major trade route under the Romans

Roman Villas Established in the Area

[07:48] Roman traders established lavish villas in the area

Herod the Kind from the Bible in the Comminges

[09:00] Herod the King was kicked out of Palestine with his wife and he took his retirement in the Comminges.

From Roman Baths to Early Christianity

[10:00] St Bertrand de Comminges went from Roman settlement, to early Christianity settlement, to a County overseen by a Count

A Large Cathedral For Its Time

[12:24] The Cathedral at St Bertrand de Comminges is surprisingly large for the time

Geology and Archeology in the Area

[13:54] The area has interesting geology and several active archeology research sites

St Bertrand Is a Low Population Area Today

[14:57] The village has a lot of empty houses today because there are many home owners who only go on week-ends. We recommend you visit on a week-end or during the festival when it’ll be more lively.

Roman Ruins

[15:57] Besides the Cathedral, you also have a site of Roman Ruins to visit nearby with beautiful frescoes.

Saint Bertrand de Comminges in the year 1000

[20:00] Bertrand de l’Isle Jourdain was a bishop in the Gers, then went to Rome, built the Cathedral on top of the hill, then as made a Saint.

It’s Hilly!

[21:28] Watch out for narrow streets! Most of the houses look really nice.

Best Time to Visit Saint Bertrand de Comminges

[22:50] Go on a week-end or in the summer or on a day when the festival is on.

Saint Just de Valcabrère

[23:45] This is Saint Just de Valcabrère, a beautiful and World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, it was closed when Annie Arrived.

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Either Eat on French Time or Bring a Picnic!

[24:35] This is not the sort of place where you can grab a bite to eat any time of the day. Either eat on French restaurant time (arrive at 12:30 PM or 7:30 PM) or bring your own food! We’re not even sure there are any restaurants open year-round in St Bertrand

The Cathedral and Cloister

[27:17] The Cathedral and Cloister were commissioned by one of the French Popes in Avignon called Clement V. He had been bishop of the area and when he became pope, he built a large Cathedral there (large for the area, you’ll see bigger ones lots of places!). The Monastery has been gone for a long time. The organ and wooden choir is gorgeous.

The Summer Music Festival

[30:19] The Festival is over 40 years old, started out with Organ music, but now they also have chamber music and sacred music. It attracts music connoisseurs who are usually older and better off.

What to Do Nearby: Gargas Painted Cave

[32:04] You can visit the painted cave of Gargas where you get to see the actual ancient paintings, lots of hand prints. (http://www.grottesdegargas.fr/)

[34:19] You can also stop at Martre Tolosan where there are ceramics with nice designs.

[36:09] For an over-nighter you could go to Banières de Luchon where they have spas, thermal baths, go hike in the mountains. Luchon is a lot bigger than St Bertrand de Comminges and has a lot more happening.

Saint Bertrand de Comminges Cathedral at dusk
Photo Annie Sargent

 

 

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Collioure Travel Tips, Episode 174

Collioure Travel Tips


Our discussion about Collioure starts at [28:24].

On today’s episode, Matthew Gamache takes us to Collioure, a lovely beach town at the very bottom of France next to Spain. Like the French Riviera, Collioure is rocky and picturesque, but being far from the Riviera, the destination is not as pricey or exclusive.

There are a lot of beach towns between Montpellier and the Spanish border, most of them you’ve never heard of because they only attract French families.  The one I went to all the time as a kid is called Valras plage, next to Béziers. It’s a nice long sandy beach, playground on the beach, free concerts several times a week during the summer. It had everything a working class French family on vacation wanted and I had a great time there.

Kids don’t care if it’s scenic or not, they love the sand, the water, the sun. And you’ll hear Matt describe how his daughters loved that part of the vacation. Collioure is also a stone’s throw away from Spain, so if you want to take a little detour into Catalonia, it’s a great place to be. our conversation on Collioure starts at [28:24]. 

On this episode we also talk about: 

  • The Dordogne [07:19]
  • How you’ll find the same vendors at lots of food markets [18:37]
  • How Matt and his family took the TGV between Perpignan and Paris[42:00]
  • Les Grands Buffets in Narbonne [54:00]
  • French History Brief about a powerful man and a woman who didn’t really want him [58:45]

Places Mentioned in this Episode

Beynac, Sarlat, Fond-de-gaume, Niaux, Collioure, Modern Art Museum in Ceret, Les Grands Buffets in Narbonne

Attractions Recommended in this Episode

Les Grands Buffets in Narbonne

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

Collioure city and port taken from the hills

Episode Highlights with time stamps

[05:15] Matt told us about his 2017 trip to Brittany on Episode 166.

Not All Toll Booths in France Will Take Your American Credit Card

[05:50] Only 20% of toll booths took Matt’s American credit card, they went to the booths where they knew they could also pay cash. When you pull up to the booth, choose one that has shows a picture of coins or a green arrow. Those are the ones that are least likely to give you trouble.

Rest Stops of French Toll Roads Are Great

[05:51] Matt thinks that rest stops at French toll roads are great, he’s tried 4 different ones and liked them all! French people complain about rest stop food, but they never tried American ones!

7-Day Stay in Beynac, Dordogne

[07:19] Matt and his family stopped at a house they’ve rented before in Beynac, Dordogne. He told us about it on Episode 82. The Dordogne is Matt’s favorite region in France. It can be crowded at times, but compared to Paris it’s nothing. While in the area, they also went to the Gouffre de Padirac and the Forêt des Singes.

[11:32] They visited Font-de-Gaume, which is a must-see and must reserve in advance. They also saw the Grotte de Rouffignac, the one with the train, which is meh.

Great Food and Wine in the Dordogne!

[14:50] The food in the Dordogne is outstanding, they loved the pork, the duck, the pastries, Bergerac wine. They like to make Kir with the sweet white from Bergerac and a Crême de Cassis. Matt’s daughter is allergic to eggs, so they cook most of their meals and that lets them discover all sorts of great things they don’t always serve at restaurants.

Sarlat Market and How Markets Work in France

[18:37] They went to the Sarlat Wednesday Market, which they realized is about the same as other markets. From one market to another you will find the same vendors. Guide books often tell you to go to the market on this day in this town. That’s silly because if you go on a different day to a different town, you will find the same vendors! The scenery changes a bit, but it doesn’t matter so much which one you go to.

Lascaux IV Is a Must-See in the Dordogne!

[20:25] You must see Lascaux IV. Go to Lascaux during the day and visit Sarlat at night. Sarlat is a good central place to stay in the Dordogne if you’re going to a hotel because you can enjoy it in the evenings and mornings when it’s not as crowded. No river in Sarlat.

Compare Fond-de-Gaume and the Grotte de Niaux

[21:44] Based on recommendations heard on the podcast, they decided to go to the Grotte de Niaux and enjoyed it. Niaux and Fond-de-Gaume are both great because they are the real thing, not reproductions. They are so different, but both great for reasons we discuss in the conversation.

Overnight in Foix

[25:57] They stayed at a bed & breakfast recommended on Episode 114. The kids loved the pool and the trampoline there. The kids particularly loved that day. That’s where they tried Gazpacho cold soup. It’s delicious, their daughter ate 11 quarts of it once she discovered it!

A beach with bathers in Collioure

One Week in Collioure

[28:24] Matt and his family rented an apartment with AC, a terrace and parking. The town is small and fills up fast, it’s important to have your own parking. There are 4 beaches, but they mostly went to the sandy beach because that’s what kids love.

[29:32] Catalan Country. Why so many names? Catalan, Roussillon, Languedoc? This is an area of France where they share a lot of traditions with Catalans from Spain and that’s the oldest designation for this region. Roussillon and Languedoc are newer names applied by the French.

Catalan Food

[31:29] Popular foods in this area are tapas, cured hams, anchovy, gazpacho, vermouth, tapenade, octopus. In Catalan country they serve the fresh anchovy with olive oil on top. It’s not super salty like what you might have in mind. They also make a brandade with anchovy there.

Dali Museum in Figueres Too Crowded. The Modern Art Museum in Ceret Was Great!

[34:15] The Figueres Museum was extremely crowded, so that was a disappointment. But, it is easy to get to from Collioure. They loved the Modern Art Museum in Ceret. It features art from all the artists who lived and painted in the region. Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall painted the area a lot. They also had some Dali there.

Aqualand Water Park

[36:30] Nora tells us about the Aqualand Water Park

[39:12] Is France a good place for a vacation for a kid? Yes, lots of fun things to do, lots of new things to eat. She got to play with some French kids at Foix and they could speak some English.

July 14th Celebrations in Collioure

[40:42] Bastille Day was a regular day other than there was a parade with a band and a few politicians walking around the city. It’s a small town with maybe 12 streets. There was live music but no fireworks.

Perpignan to Paris on the TGV

[42:00] They rode the TGV between Perpignan and Paris and it was easy, fast, much better than driving.

Quick Visit to Paris

Matt and his family usually skip Paris, but this time they decided to make a quick stop there before they headed home. They wanted a quad room walking distance from the Eiffel Tower at a reasonable price, so Montparnasse was great for that.

[43:06] After they got into Paris, they took a taxi between Gare de Lyon and Montparnasse. They had a big room that fit all of them. They just wanted to go to the Eiffel Tower that day. There was no wait for the 2nd floor because they had their tickets in advance.

Flying Out from Orly on Iceland Air

[47:00] They flew out of Orly on Iceland Air. Iceland Air doesn’t have dedicated space in Orly, so you can’t queue up until just a few minutes before take-off. The tickets are cheap and the service not stellar.

How Much Does it Cost to Rent an Apartment in France?

[49:00] Matt rents apartments for a week most places they go, it costs about $100/night for 4 people. Provence is significantly more expensive than that. They paid $50 per room in the Loire. They had a Suite on the Gulf of Morbihan  and that was $150 for the 4 of them. The ability to rent apartments at inexpensive prices has completely changed the way families can travel. If you rent an apartment, self-cater, and stay away from super touristy places, traveling is not that expensive.

Conclusion

The ability to rent an apartment for a week in France makes it possible to families to enjoy “slow travel” at affordable prices. Families take their time and visit various off the beaten track places in France without breaking the banks.

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Narrow colorful street in Collioure