Toulouse is located in the South-West of France. This city has a lot to offer in terms of culture, history, gastronomy and outdoor activities. However, if you come to visit the “Pink City”, there are five nearby cities that you should not miss out during your trip to France.
1. Albi, the Episcopal City
Just a 1-hour drive away from the “Pink City” (“La Ville Rose”), Albi was nicknamed the “Red City” (“La Ville Rouge”) due to its many historical buildings made of red bricks. There is a great atmosphere in this medieval city whether you come visit with your family or friends.
When visiting Albi, the Episcopal City, there are a few sites that are not to be missed as part of the World UNESCO heritage area: the Sainte-Cécile Cathedral, the Berbie Palace. You might be speechless in front of this enormous red brick building.
Museum lovers would be delighted with the Toulouse Lautrec Museum dedicated to the famous local painter, Laperouse Museum which showcases the history of this explorer, Albi Museum of Fashion where you would find outstanding pieces of clothing.
If you are visiting Albi during the summer season (around the month of July), make sure to attend the great Festival Pause Guitare. This is the perfect opportunity to discover or rediscover great French artists.
Visiting Albi means that you should go the local covered market to enjoy some typical pastries such as “fouace” (brioche with caramelized fruits), “gimblettes d’Albi” (ring-shaped lemon and orange blossom-flavored brioche) or “navette d’Albi” (diamond-shaped brioche filled with almonds and caramelized fruits). When eating out at the restaurant, you should not forget to order a « pot-au-feu albigeois » (casserole dish with sausages and beans) or “frésinat” (a delicious pork ragout). Have a go of one of the 3 local wine cellars: Labastide-de-Lévis, Rabastens and Técou.
More info on the Tourist Office of Albi website.
2. Rodez, the gourmet spot in Averyon
Located in the Aveyron department, Rodez is home of delicious local food, beautiful landscapes and really friendly people.
The nature in Rodez is amazing. Try to spend most of your time outside there. Whether you want to satisfy your thirst of French History visiting the Historic Town Center (Notre-Dame Cathedral) or French culture at the Soulages Museum, there is so much to discover. For the most adventurous ones, you can enjoy walking on one of the few hiking trails, go swimming to the Aquavallon Aquatic Center, go horse riding to Combelles, have fun with friends at Aveyron Laser or find the mistery at L’Enigme. Make sure you step in Conques, the Roman Medieval architecture experience is even better at night time.
Local food in Rodez is not well-known for being healthy, but it is so yummy! Do not miss out on the “aligot” (blend of cheese and mashed potatoes), “farçous” (fried sausage meat blend), “fouace” (cake with a twist of orange blossom), “gâteau à la broche” (buttery tree cake cooked on a spit). As for wines, try the Marcillac AOC one. You’ll tell me about it!
More info on Rodez Tourist Office website.
3. Carcassonne, the city of knights
Another UNESCO Heritage listed site, Carcassonne is a city which will bring you back hundreds of years ago to the time of the knights and princesses.
Not only the Historic Fortified City itself is to be visited, but there are also many parks, gardens and outdoor spaces to go chill out. On a more religious note, but also historical, the Bastides Saint-Louis, and Road to Compostella can be considered. Finally, the Canal du Midi is perfect for a romantic picnic.
All year round, “cassoulet Castelnaudary” is the main dish you can find in Carcassonne. This slow-cooked casserole dish containing pork sausages, duck and white beans is really rich, but amazingly delicious. It could be served with some Limoux, Corbières or Malepère wine. When visiting the Fortified City, do not leave before getting a box cookies locally-made in Carcassonne (Les Petits Carcassonnais, les chocolats de la Cité, les pavés de la Cité, le grès de la Cité et les briques de la Cité).
Find out more about Carcassonne on this website.
4. Pau, former home of King Henry IV
Pau is not only famous for its tasty “béarnaise” sauce, but also for being a former royal city, close to Spain.
Go back in time visiting the Pau Castel and Cathedral as well as the Bernadotte Musem and the Old City of Pau. Take a short trip to the nearby city Lescar to go to their Cathedral and Medieval City.
After enjoying some French historical culture, you can wonder around Pau on the Boulevard des Pyrénées offering a stunning view of the famous mountain chain, to the “Tour des Géants” to celebrate all the victorious Tour de France bike riders or to the Beaumont Park for a bucolic retreat. To all horse lovers, do not miss out on the National Stud Farm of Pau.
Grab a bag of the official candies from Pau is called “Les coucougnettes de Pau” (literally Pau balls) which are some grilled almonds coated with chocolate and raspberry-flavored almond paste, ginger and Armagnac alcohol. Sit at a restaurant and order some “garbure” for a flavorful thick stewed soup of ham and vegetables. Finish your meal with some sheep milk cheese named “L’ossau-iraty (AOC)” accompanied by some Jurançon wine.
More about Pau, just here (in French).
5. Cordes-sur-Ciel, the medieval city on a hilltop
This beautiful medieval city on top of a hill is a must-visit. From local artisan products to streets and houses from the Middle Age, you would find yourself spending the visit with big wide-opened eyes.
The city gathers many museums, gardens and cathedrals. Be ready to shop for handmade arts and crafts: jeweler, leather, wood, iron, glass, pottery, painting and sculpture. You won’t need to look too far to find some local food products: safran, olive oil, colza, sunflower… Visiting Cordes between December and February is the perfect moment to hit the truffle market.
Bring back some cookies, the famous “Les croquants de Cordes”, delicious almond-flavored sweet treats. At the restaurant, make sure to order some duck or veal from Ségala. At the end of your meal, indulge with some locally made cheeses cabécou and tome along with a bottle of Gaillac AOC wine.
All about Cordes-sur-Ciel on their official website.
France is much more than just Paris and any other big city. It offers a large variety of culture, traditional food and wine from the North to the South and the West to the East. Cities around Toulouse are all lovely to visit and even live in thanks to its breath-taking landscapes. They will bring you back in time with their several medieval buildings and pavements. Bon voyage!