Toulouse is at the heart of sultry southwestern France, not far from the border with Spain. The balmy climate and friendly locals give Toulouse an inviting ambiance. Although it's a major industrial city, Toulouse is one of the most pleasant cities in France and has a laid-back vibe. In this part of the country, people speak slowly with drawn-out vowels, just as they linger over coffee at outdoor cafés and dawdle in the town squares. For tourists learning French, this is the perfect place to practice.
A great way to begin a tour of Toulouse is by journeying back in time to the era of medieval pilgrimages at the UNESCO-listed Basilique Saint-Sernin. Next, visitors can explore a 13th-century convent exemplifying the Southern Gothic style, or spend time walking around the Place du Capitole, lined with red-brick architectural landmarks.
Toulouse is renowned for its archaeology and fine arts museums, as well as its local culture. The douceur de Vivre (the good life) is felt on the sunny terraces of outdoor cafés and savored in the regional cuisine. Visitors should be sure to sample the hearty specialties, like cassoulet (meat and bean stew) and duck pâté, and also save room for dessert. Traditional sweets from Toulouse include Gâteau du Fénétra, a tart made with apricots, candied lemons, and almond meringue; and crystallized violet candies.