A pleasant thing to do in Toulouse is to take a cruise on the Garonne River — even though there is hardly anything to see from the boat.
The boats leave from Quai de la Daurade, and there is a ticket booth by the dock on Place de la Daurade. In the summer of 2014, I paid 8 Euros for a one hour and ten-minute cruise. They usually run six of these cruises per day in the summer months.
Since Toulouse is in a wide valley with no hills near the river, there is not much in the way of scenery to look at. So this cruise is very different from the river cruise in Besançon, where you have nice views of the hills and especially Vauban’s citadel.
Also the main buildings of Toulouse are not visible from the river, so it’s not like a river cruise in Paris where you see a succession of architectural masterpieces on both river banks.
To make up for this lack of interesting sights, the crew of the “Aladine 2” went all out to provide us with an entertaining narration. There were three of them, two men and a woman, and they took turns telling us all about what we were seeing, or not seeing, and I must say they succeeded in squeezing every drop of significance out of the actually quite insignificant places along the river banks.
The narration is in French, but they offer printed summaries in English, Spanish, Italian and German that you can ask for on boarding. (Not that anyone did this, as far as I noticed.)
For those of us who don’t do it very often, it is fun to go through the locks which raise or lower the water level. Note that there are some people up on the bridge who have gotten off their bicycles and are watching us go through the locks.
Since there is a low bridge across this set of locks, the boat is equipped with an adjustable canvas roof that can be lowered to allow the boat to squeeze through. During a rain shower earlier in the day, some water had collected on the roof, so when they lowered it the water splashed out onto the people sitting in the first row. The rest of us found this quite funny, though I suppose they didn’t.
Here the locks are opening to let us out into the next section of the river.
Behind these trees is a church called Notre Dame de la Daurade, though of course we couldn’t see much of it because of the trees.
In Toulouse — as in Paris — the oldest bridge in the city is called Pont Neuf, which means “New Bridge”.
The Pont Neuf in Toulouse was begun earlier but finished later than its namesake in Paris. They started building the one in Toulouse in 1544 but didn’t finish until eighty-eight years later in 1632.
What both of these “New Bridges” have in common is that they were built to last. They were constructed in such a sturdy way that they have survived numerous floods over the centuries. That’s why they both still exist and are now the oldest bridges in their respective cities.
Location, aerial view and photo of Pont Neuf in Toulouse on monumentum.fr.
Since Paris has been so successful with Paris Plages (Paris Beaches) every summer since 2002, a number of other French cities have started doing similar programs to offer events and activities for people who have to (or choose to) stay in the city during the summer holidays.
Toulouse Plages on the banks of the Garonne River was started in the summer of 2003 by a socialist mayor, and has been continued by conservative and socialist mayors ever since. As the local newspaper La Dépêche commented: “Mayors come and go, Toulouse Plages remains.”
When I was there in the summer of 2014, the most popular attraction seemed to be this outdoor dance floor (in the shade of some trees) at a riverside park called La Daurade.
My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2019.
Next: Bookshops in Toulouse.