Take the beauty of Paris, mix it with the tranquil atmosphere of a small village and add in a network of canals not unlike Hamburg's, and you've got Toulouse, the capital of France's Occitanie region. Known as "La Ville Rose" (the pink city) thanks to the pink-tinged terracotta bricks used in many of its buildings, Toulouse is one of the top destinations in France for a holiday or city break - and its popularity just keeps on growing.
It may be the fourth largest metropolitan area in the county, but Toulouse feels worlds away from the busy, hectic cities further north. Locals and visitors alike enjoy relaxing on the banks of the Garonne river and cycling along the 17th-century Canal du Midi, which links the river to the Mediterranean. Food markets like Marche Victor Hugo and peaceful gardens like Jardin Japonais and Jardin Royal provide plenty of daytime diversion.
If you're after a bit of history and culture, there's plenty to do and see here. The UNESCO-listed Saint-Sernin Basilica, which was built between the 11th and 13th centuries, is like a layered wedding cake of red brick, its Romanesque sculptures a true beauty to behold. On a hot day, you can enjoy a break from the sun by basking in the cool lofty interior of the church. And if you time your visit right, you just may hear a concert playing.
Apart from its rich history and stellar culinary scene, Toulouse is also known as the centre of the European aerospace industry. To learn more, head to the Cité de l'Espace science museum, which is slightly west of the city centre. There's a planetarium, an IMAX theatre and an exhibition centre with lots of interactive displays.
Travel tip: If you've got kids in tow or you're stuck for things to do on a rainy day in Toulouse, Cite de l'Espace may well be your saving grace.
At night, the city comes to life with buzzing bars and restaurants serving up local wines and delicious French cuisine. Students from the University of Toulouse add a youthful edge to the nightlife scene here, which means many clubs and bars stay open into the wee hours of the night. For a speakeasy vibe, head to Fat Cat bar near Place du Capitole. N°5 on Rue de la bourse is a favourite wine bar and tapas restaurant set in a wine cellar. It's filled with cosy sofas that add to the intimate atmosphere.
In terms of food, Toulouse is known for traditional meat-based dishes like cassoulet, saucisse de Toulouse (Toulouse sausage) and duck foie gras. But if you're a veggie, don't worry; there are a number of meatless options around town. Try Le Petit Ogre or Saveurs Bio for some creative vegetarian-friendly dishes.