Sassy, headstrong Toulouse la ville en rose (city in pink) provides a breath of fresh air along with stately architecture and a vibrant twenty-something scene. A rebellious city during the Middle Ages, Toulouse (pop. 350,000) has always retained an element of independence, pushing the frontiers of knowledge as a university town and the prosperous capital of the French aerospace industry.
TRANSPORTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION. Trains leave Gare Matabiau, 64 bd. Pierre Semard, for: Bordeaux (2-3hr. 14 per day, ‚27); Lyon (614hr. 3-4 per day, ‚48); Marseilles (4%hr. 8 per day, ‚39); and Paris (8-9hr. 4 per day, ‚75). To get from the station to the tourist office, r. Lafayette, in sq. Charles de Gaulle, turn left along the canal, turn right on allee Jean Jaures, bear right around pi. Wilson, and turn right on r. Lafayette; it’s in a park near r. d’Alsace-Lorraine. You can also take the metro to Capitole. (05 61 11 02 22; www.mairie-toulouse.fr. Open Jun.-Sept. M-Sa 9am-7pm, Su 10am-lpm and 2-6pm; Oct.-May reduced hours.) Surf the Internet at Espace Wilson Multimedia, 7 allee du President Roosevelt. (‚3 per hr. Open M-F 10am-7pm, Sa 10am-6pm.) Postal Code: 31000.
ACCOMMODATIONS AND FOOD. While it lacks a youth hostel, Toulouse has a number of well-located budget hotels. To reach the spacious iiiHdtel des Arts , Ibis r. Cantegril off r. des Arts, take the metro (dir: Basso Cambo) to pi. Esquirol. Walk down r. de Metz, away from the river; r. des Arts is on the left. (05 61 23 36 21; fax 05 61 12 22 37. Breakfast ‚4. Singles ‚15-21, with shower ‚23-25; doubles ‚2526-28. MCV.) Antoine de St-Exupery always stayed in room #32 at the Hotel du Grand Balcon , 8 r. Romiguieres. ( fax 05 61 62 77 59. Breakfast ‚4. Singles and doubles ‚26, with bath ‚36; triples with bath ‚45.) Take bus #59 to Camping to camp at Pont de Rupe , 21 chemin du Pont de Rupe. ( 05 61 70 07 35. ‚9, ‚3 per additional person.) Markets line place des Carmes and place Victor Hugo. (Open Su and Tu-Sa 6am-lpm.). A cross between a restaurant, an art gallery and a small theater, Le Grand Rideau , 75 r. du Taur, serves regional food in a three-course lunch (‚9) and an evening menu (‚14.) in an eclectic atmosphere, f 05 61 23 90 19. Open M noon-2pm, Tu-F noon-2pm and 7pm-midnight.)
Metz, which houses the Fondation Bemberg, an impressive array of Bonnards, Gau-gins, and Pisarros. (Open Su, Tu and F-Sa 10am-12:30pm and l:30-6pm ‚2.80.) Toulouse has something to please almost any nocturnal whim, although nightlife is liveliest when students are in town. Numerous cafes flank place St-Georges and place du Capitole, and late-night bars line rue St-Rome and rue des Filatiers. The best dancing is at Bodega-Bodega, 1 r. Gabriel Peri, just off bd. Lazare Carnot. (Cover ‚6 Th-Sa 10pm-2am. Open Su-F 7pm-2am, Sa 7pm-6am.)
When approaching breathtaking Carcassonne (pop. 45,000), you realize that Beauty may have fallen in love with the Beast in this fairy-tale city. However, its charm is no secret; the narrow streets of the cite are flooded with tourists. Its walls and fortifications date back to the 1st century. Built as a palace in the 12th century, the Chateau Comtal, 1 r. Viollet-le-Duc, became a citadel after royal takeover in 1226. (Open June-Sept. daily 9am-7:30pm; Apr.-Oct. reduced hours. ‚6.10, under-25 ‚4.10.) Turned into a fortress after the city was razed during the Hundred Years’ War in 1355, the Gothic Cathedrale St-Michel, r. Voltaire, in bastide St-Louis, still has fortifications on its southern side. (Open M-Sa 7am-noon and 2-7pm, Su 9:30am-noon.) The evening is the best time to experience the cite without the crowds. Although nightlife is limited, several bars and cafes along boulevard Omer Sarraut and place Verdun are open late. Locals dance all night at La Bulle, 115 r. Barbacane. ( 04 68 72 47 70. Cover ‚9, includes 1 drink. Open F-Sa until dawn.)
Trains (04 68 71 79 14) depart behind Jardin St-Chenier for: Marseilles (3hr. every 2hr. ‚36); Nice (6hr. 5 per day, ‚47); Nimes (212hr. 12 per day, ‚25); and Toulouse (50min. 24 per day, ‚14). Shops, hotels, and the train station are in the bastide St-Louis, once known as the basse ville (lower city). Free shuttles run from sq. Gambetta to the more touristed cite. From the station, walk down av. de Marechal Joffre, which becomes r. Clemenceau; after pl. Carnot, turn left on r. Verdun, which leads to sq. Gambetta and the tourist office, 15 bd. Camille Pelletan. ( 04 6810 24 30; www.carcassonne-tourisme.com. Open July-Aug. daily 9am-7pm; Sept.-June 9am-lpm and 2-6pm.) The HAuberge de Jeunesse (HI) O, r. de Vicomte Trencavel, is in the cite, has a great view of the castle late at night. ( 04 68 25 23 16; firstname.lastname@example.org. Sheets ‚2.70. Internet ‚3 per hr. Dorms ‚13. HI members only. MCV.) HStel Le Cathare , 53 r. Jean Bringer, is near the post office in the lower city. (04 68 25 65 92. Reception 8am-7pm. Singles and doubles ‚18, with shower ‚26; triples ‚46-53. MCV.) Camping de la Cite , rte. de St-Hilaire, 2km from town across the Aude, has a pool and a grocery store. A shuttle runs there from the train station. (04 68 25 11 77. Reception 8am-9pm. Open Mar.-Oct. ‚17 per site, ‚4.80 per person.) The regional speciality is cassoulet (a stew of white beans, herbs, and meat). Restaurants on rue du Plo have menus under ‚10, but save room for creperies around place Marcou for dessert. Postal Code: 11000.