When I first went to Marseille for the opera in 2019, I only had a vague idea of the city. This year, opera brought me to Toulouse for the first time, a city I knew even less about. Extensive research first raised the question: Why is there no direct flight from Vienna to the European aerospace capital? (Changing planes in Frankfurt is sooooo recommendable.) The second question was: What will I do there for four days? The two leading museums are currently undergoing a multi-year renovation. The rest of the sightseeing recommendations were limited to a church, a monastery, the Capitole (city hall), a trip on the Canal du Midi, which connects Toulouse with the Mediterranean, and walks through the numerous parks. I could already see myself sitting on the riverbank or on a bench in one of the many parks, waiting for the opera performances to begin. As always, everything was then quite different.
Toulouse is beautiful! The mostly narrow, winding streets are flanked by houses with brick facades, colourful shutters and cast-iron grilles, giving the centre its own harmony. Countless small restaurants and cafés force you to take a break. The culinary offer is global and exquisite. Instead of the obligatory chain shops or junk shops, there are all kinds of boutiques and charming shops. Although there are hardly any pedestrian zones, there is little traffic noise, which makes strolling adventurous, however, because there are no designated walkways. At least I couldn’t see any. Toulouse seems like an all-encompassing shared space. Almost everything is within walking distance, which is a pity, because the excellent transport network includes self-driving metros and pleasantly air-conditioned buses. (Supposedly there are also trams, but I haven’t even seen tracks for them). No matter where you go, you always end up in the heart of the city, the Place du Capitole, whose entire eastern side is occupied by the Capitole. The often-read advice to visit the Salle des Illustres is a drastic oversimplification of what the interior of the city hall actually offers. Even the staircase is overwhelming. And there is not just one room with paintings and sculptures, but several. In one of them, there are works by Henri Martin, who almost created something like a multi-part panorama of Toulouse. The best place to absorb these impressions is on the west side, where traditional cafés under the arcades offer a panoramic view of the square.
I found the second main attraction, the Canal du Midi, less spectacular. Note that the architectural achievement is not at issue here, but rather the one-hour boat trip that leads through the city, but on which you only see greenery. However, the canal is so important that, like the Capitole, it is often seen on the streets.
In Toulouse, even the manhole covers are beautiful!
Actually, a much more imposing waterway runs here. The Garonne divides the city, with the centre on the right bank. However, the well known postcard view with the dome of the Hôpital de La Grave and the tower of Saint-Nicolas is on the left bank.
The most famous church is the Basilica of Saint-Sernin (again on the right bank). An imposing Romanesque building with an accessible crypt and a collection of relics that is very – let’s call it – medieval, i.e. it has no religious value but an entertainment value. This is in contrast to the church of the Jacobin monastery. There lie the bones of one of the leading misogynists: Thomas Aquinas. Nevertheless, the complex is worth a visit. During a peaceful linger in the cloister, one can meditate on why it is called the Jacobin Monastery, when it actually belongs to the Dominicans. (The solution to the riddle can be found here, among other things.) If that is too contemplative for you, you can visit the temporary exhibition that is currently taking place. I was lucky enough to see La Fabrique de l’Opéra du Capitole, an exhibition about the workshops of the opera house. A good way to set the mood for the evening.
The Opéra national du Capitole Toulouse is in the right wing of the Capitoles and if you don’t know it, you’ll probably pass it by. That’s a bad thing, you really have to go inside. Not because the interior decoration is so worth seeing, but because probably the most divine opera choir in the world sings there. Admittedly, I haven’t heard all the opera choirs in the world, but until I saw Boito’s Mefistofele I hadn’t even guessed that a choir could be so outstanding. Either all the members there are subjected to a rigorous selection process beforehand that admits only the best of the best, or the choirmaster Gabriel Bourgoin is a genius – presumably both apply. Apart from this acoustic sensation, the performances were musically excellent overall. For that alone, the journey was worthwhile.
Rarely have I regretted a return so much. Not only because I could have gone to the opera a third time on Friday, but because Toulouse is too beautiful to leave. Besides, I never had time to at least sit down in one of the much-praised parks.