Toulouse makes a perfect base for exploring the south west region of France. The town itself is the 5th largest in France and is vibrant and historic. The Saint Sernin Basilica is a magnificent 11th century Romanesque building and is named after the first bishop of Toulouse in 250AD who was tied to a bull and dragged around the streets until the rope broke, hence being martyred. There are also lots of other monuments and museums to visit in Toulouse. There are many wonderful restaurants in which to dine and parks in which to relax.
From Toulouse you can hire a car and discover other facinating cities in the region. Carcassonne is just a 1 hour 6 minute drive from Toulouse and is one of the most interesting towns in France. Always popular, it has become more so since the success of The Da Vinci Code. The medieval walled town consists of 52 towers and two miles of walls. From the battlements there are magnificent view of the town. The new town is multi-ethnic with an execellent market on Saturdays. It is always busy and you can when you have finished browsing the stalls you can sit and enjoy a coffee in one of the many cafes which surround it.
Another town worth visiting is Albi which is just 57 minutes drive from Toulouse. Red brick is the most noticable feature of this historic town. Toulouse Lautrec was born here in 1864 and there is a museum dedicated to him which includes the 31 famous posters. Also in Albi is The Old Bridge which dates back to 1035 and is still in use. The Sainte Cecile cathedral, built between 1282 and 1480, is a magnificent Gothic style building with an extravagant interior. The bell tower was added in 1492 and is 78 metres (255 ft) tall. During July there are several festivals including a firework display for Bastille Day.
Bordeaux is a 2 hour 25 minute drive from Toulouse, but well worth the journey. A large part of the city is classified as a World Heritage Site. Amongst the many things to see and do is the Place de la Bourse with its centrepiece of La Fontaine es Trois Graces and the Grossse Cloche,n astronomical clock on a fairytale like bell tower. The Grand Theatre ( now the National Opera House), the Cathedrale Saint Andre and Basilique et Fleche Saint Michel are all marvellous examples of Gothic architecture worth visiting.
There are lots of other small towns and villages in the region where you can soak up the provincial French atmosphere. Have you been to this part of France? Where were your favourite places to visit?