The rugby hub of Toulouse is also the home of Toulouse FC, whose Stadium Municipal is used for both codes. Set on an island west of the city centre, ‘Le Stadium’ was built for the World Cup of 1938 and hosted several games 60 years later, including Romania’s last-gasp win over England.
Le Stadium and its surroundings have been upgraded and relandscaped to host Euro 2016. Regular hosts TFC (‘TéFéCé’) continued to use it through 2015-16 – as did multi-titled rugby club Stade toulousain for bigger Heineken Cup and Top 14 fixtures.
This imbalance in profile between the local sports teams – TFC have only one French Cup to their name – points to football’s patchwork history here. Today’s Toulouse FC derive from Union Sportive Toulouse from the 1970s, themselves derived from the original TFC formed, like Le Stadium, on the eve of the 1938 World Cup.
Teams of local students and enthusiastic amateurs first practised football in the early 1900s but it wasn’t until an exhibition tournament in 1936 here that the idea of a professional team take root. The following year, at a meeting on the main square of place du Capitole, the original Toulouse FC were formed.
Wearing red and white, TFC made Ligue 1 in 1946 and attracted healthy crowds to Le Stadium, expanded after the war. The club’s best period came in the 1950s, when TFC pushed Reims close for the title in 1955, and won their only trophy, the French Cup, in 1957.
Under their Communist millionaire owner Jean-Baptiste Doumeng, TFC maintained a steady Ligue 1 presence – until Doumeng’s millions ran out. The club was amalgamated with Red Star of Paris in 1967 in a desperate and failed attempt to keep it alive.
A new club, Union Sportive Toulouse, was formed in 1970, renamed Toulouse FC in 1979. After Ligue 1 promotion in 1981, and the arrival of international stars such as Yannick Stopyra and Dominique Rocheteau, TFC achieved high-place finishes and claimed a few scalps in Europe.
A decade of inconsistency then followed before aeronautical entrepreneur Olivier Sadran bought the club in 2001. His money put TFC back into the frame, allowing former US Toulouse goalkeeper Élie Baup to build a formidable side that qualified for the Champions League in 2007.
The same development programme that produced Fabien Barthez in the late 1980s was now bringing more young stars through, players who have kept TFC in Ligue 1 since.
In 2015-16, this proved to be a close-run thing.
Toulouse-Biagnac Airport is 7km (four miles) west of town. City transport company tisséo runs the local network of a tramline, two-line metro and buses. A new branch of the T2 tramline runs every 15min from the airport via Arènes, terminating at the Palais de Justice near the stadium, journey times 20min and 30min respectively.
A single journey is €1.60 (valid 1hr, or 1hr 30min from the airport), a day pass is €5.50, €8.50/€10.50 for 2/3 days. There are machines at stations and stops, including the airport. You must validate the ticket each time on board the tram/bus or at the metro station, even day passes.
Capitole Taxi (+33 5 34 250 250) charges €20-€25 from the airport to town.
With the stadium being on an island, there are few accommodation options in the immediate vicinity – though beside St-Michel Marcel Langer métro station you’ll find the Aparthôtel Lagrange City Toulouse Saint Michel, with a mix of comfortable studios for one to six people.
Also on the right bank, nearer to Palais de Justice and close to St Michel bridge, Le Pier Toulouse Hotel has 28 smallish but charming rooms and a panoramic view from its upper terrace. Further up, nearer Esquirol metro and right by the bridge it is named after, the Hôtel des Beaux-Arts is a boutique, upscale four-star. Alongside, the Hotel Garonne is colourful, modern and affordable.
The city centre is full of hotels.
Close to the main square of place du Capitole, the Albert 1er is a superior three-star with a personal touch. Right on the square itself, the Grand Hôtel de l’Opéra is arguably the best address in town, with a spa and hammam to boot. Nearby, Le Grand Balcon is a historic gem, echoing the pre-war Toulouse.
Also central, near Jean-Jaurès, mid-range Hôtel Wilson Square is a calm spot despite its city-centre location. The nearby Ours Blanc is one of a family of three two-to-four star hotels in the vicinity.
Toulouse has two main bar hubs: place Saint-Pierre by the river, and downtown place St-Georges, where you’ll find snazzy Le Wallace. Though not a traditional sports pub, this loungey hang-out does put up TV screens for major football occasions.
You’ll also find a few bars around place Wilson, including the unmissable Melting Pot Pub (26 boulevard de Strasbourg), the city’s prime sports pub now in its 30th year.
Another destination for TV sports, less pub-like and more upscale, is Le Donjon (2 rue du Poids de l’Huile). One of many Iberian bars in town, El Ruedo (3 rue Baour Lormian) includes big-screen TV sport among its Spanish-themed attractions.
More pub-like, close to Capitole and the Basilica, is the late-opening George & Dragon, offering ales, darts and live music. A short walk away, The Classroom is more brasserie than pub but still puts its focus on TV football as well as quality meals.
Finally, don’t miss De Danú, between François Verdier metro and the river at 9 rue du Pont Guilhermery, a large pub/restaurant with sport firmly on the menu.