Toulouse lies between France's Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, not far from the Pyrenees mountains as well as a number of charming cities such as Bordeaux, Agen, Carcassonne and others.
This makes the Ville Rose a fantastic base for a wide variety of short trips, lasting half a day, a day or more. It would be a shame to miss out if the length of your stay in Toulouse allows for it. Also, sometimes you can get tired of the urban hustle and bustle of Toulouse. Why not explore the surrounding Toulouse region, and discover its natural riches in areas that are still under the radar?
Here are some ideas for trips you can enjoy in couples, with your family or with a group of friends; eight destinations to enjoy fresh air, a sea swim or discover the culinary and architectural heritage. And a few surprises.
1. Stroll through the medieval city of Carcassonne
Travel time: 40 mins
Carcassonne is Toulouse's little sister. A fortified medieval city, built around 1130, it overlooks the entire town. Entering the fortifications is like stepping back nine centuries, or finding yourself in an episode of Game of Thrones.
In addition to tour guides (and guided tours) of this Unesco World Heritage site, there are numerous educational workshops on life in the past, crafts of today and yesteryear, folklore, and cute boutiques along the cobbled streets.
A visit to Carcassonne and its medieval city can be done in a single day. An ideal destination for families interested in discovering the secrets of yesteryear – but also for couples with the city's many fine restaurants ideal for evenings out with your loved one.
How to get from Toulouse to the medieval city of Carcassonne:
Take the train from the Matabiau station. Many journeys are made every day for a simple reason: Toulouse and Carcassonne are on the lines linking the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. By taking the train from Toulouse to Carcassonne, you'll save time and money compared with driving.
2. Discover the Pyrenean mountains
Travel time: 1.5 hours
A break in nature and fresh air is always a hit on vacation. Ax-les-Thermes fits the bill perfectly with Pyrenean mountain landscape and many natural parks. Whether in winter or summer, Ax-les-Thermes remains an under-the-radar destination.
There's plenty to do: the ski slopes of the Ax 3 Domaines resort; hikes within easy reach of the Château de Lordat ruins; the Orlu wildlife park with its magnificent resident wolves; the natural hot baths and spa at Le Couloubret; spa treatments and rustic mountain restaurants.
To make the most of this destination, you would ideally spend the night. However, Ax-les-Thermes is easily reached in less than two hours by train. It's a popular destination for people from Toulouse who make the round trip in a day by train to spend a day skiing here, for example.
How to get from Toulouse city-center to Ax-les-Thermes:
Numerous direct trains run between Toulouse and Ax-les-Thermes, covering the whole day. Tickets range from 9 to 25 euros on the Sncf website. By car, allow an hour and a half via the A66 freeway.
3. Enjoy the gentle Mediterranean coastline in Narbonne
Travel time: 1.5 hours
Looking for a breath of sea air less than two hours from Toulouse? Head for the Mediterranean town of Narbonne, with its beaches, natural marine park, sunny terraces and one of the world's largest traditional buffets.
Far removed from mass tourism, the small, modest town of Narbonne has a number of nuggets worth discovering. The Narbo Via museum covers the town's Roman past. Next explore the splendid Chalets Gruissan beach, Narbonne plage, the Etang de Bages, and all the other ponds that make up the beauty of the Sainte-Lucie Nature Reserve and the Parc Naturel de la Narbonnaise en Méditerranée. These “picnic in a bag” walks are accessible to everyone, and include swimming if the weather permits. Don't forget your hiking boots, swimsuit and flip-flops.
In the evening, enjoy the Grands Buffets de Narbonne – a prestigious all-you-can-eat buffet that has won international awards. Enjoy traditional French dishes and service, plus the world's largest cheese platter. The restaurant is open at lunchtime but staying overnight to enjoy dinner is a great option.
How to get from Toulouse to Narbonne:
The average train journey from Toulouse to Narbonne is 1.5 hours – although some journeys take 1 hour 10 minutes. The line is direct and costs only €1 at certain times of the year, on average it’s a €10 trip.
4. Pedal along the Canal du Midi
Travel time: up to 4 hours cycling
The Canal du Midi is the pride of Toulouse with plenty of long trails for walking and cycling. I recommend a trip on a VelÔToulouse, which can be rented easily and cheaply throughout the pink city.
Leaving from the Port Saint-Sauveur in the city of Toulouse, you can reach up to Avignonet-Lauragais in four hours, via a specially-designed greenway. Discover rural landscapes, the canal, villages and castles along the way. It's an easy, level ride. A perfect day out with a picnic in the bag to get away from the city and enjoy the company of friends and family.
How to get from Toulouse Marengo train station to Voie Verte from Port-Saint-Sauveur:
You can pick up a VelÔToulouse from Matabiau station and pedal to Port-Saint-Sauveur via boulevard Lazare Carnot in twelve minutes to start your cycling tour.
5. Taste wine at its source in these vineyards
Travel time: 40 mins
The south of France is rich with vineyards and quality wines. Toulouse and the surrounding region are a perfect example. As a family, a couple or a group of friends, you can set off to discover a gastronomic adventure.
Among the destinations to visit is Fronton with its Maison des Vins et du Tourisme. This magnificent building awaits you amidst the hectares of vines of Château de Capdeville in the Fronton appellation. Tastings, tours and purchases of over 150 wine referencing are possible here alongside wine professionals. You can also go further and meet wine growers and winemakers directly on their estates. Seven hectares surround the building, which you can explore and enjoy for picnics or aperitifs. The Maison des Vins et du Tourisme regularly organizes winegrower meetings and tastings, as well as artistic events. Find out about the program in advance.
How to get from Toulouse to Fronton
By car, from downtown Toulouse, less than 40 minutes via the A62 freeway.
6. Get into African safari mode
Travel time: 1h 50 mins
The Sigean African Reserve is one of the best places in France to get close to African wildlife in complete safety. This giant wildlife park boasts 3,800 endemic African animals, including mammals, reptiles and birds. You can discover them on foot and by car, in the middle of their habitat, with the animals roaming freely – in the lions' park and the bears' park.
The visit can be completed in a day (minimum four hours), but a car is compulsory for the park experience and there’s a lack of public transport to get there directly.
How to get from Toulouse to Réserve Africaine de Sigean:
If you're coming by train, you'll pass through Narbonne, and the line is easy and regular. You can also rent a car in Narbonne (the reserve is 15 minutes from the station). If you're coming by car, you'll need to take the A61 freeway.
7. Lose yourself in the garden and labyrinth of Merville
Travel time: from 30 mins to 1h 20 mins (by car or bike)
Merville, a town just outside Toulouse in Haute-Garonne, boasts a French singularity: a resplendent château with a five-hectare garden featuring a plant maze. There's no better way for couples, families or friends to spend some green time (with a playful touch).
It's not for nothing that the Château de Merville, which was built in the 18th century, was awarded the "Remarkable Garden" label. Immerse yourself in the history of France and its heritage, with this high point of French garden design.
How to get from Toulouse to Château de Merville:
Car is the preferred means of getting to Merville due to the lack of easy, regular public transport. It takes around 30 minutes. If you rent a VelÔToulouse bike from Toulouse station, you'll need 1h 20 mins. The route is simple and level via the grand boulevard des Minimes and the Chemin de l'Enseigure.