Haute-Garonne

 

First to come to mind is the rather extraordinary mingle between extreme modernity and quality of life which is cherished here. Not often are a dynamic economy and quality of life found together. It is usually the one or the other; a buoyant economic life with little quality of life as it is found in all major capital cities, or a relaxed pace of life but with too little activity. Such is not the case in Haute-Garonne and it is rare enough, in France or elsewhere, to be emphasised.

The symbol of this dual identity being the endearing capital city of Toulouse, which combines high tech industries in aerospace, biotechnologies or medical research, among others, with a rich cultural heritage and a very sought-after quality of life due to its geographical position and mild climate. Just a few facts to summarize this blessed geography: the Mediterranean is a 1h30 drive, and so is a drive to the closest Pyrenees ski resorts while The Atlantic Ocean is a 2h30 drive from Toulouse. 
 


Economic dynamism and demographic growth

It might sound pretentious to say that Toulouse is the French or even the European equivalent to Seattle, but what is true is that the “Pink city” shelters the headquarters of Airbus. Not strangely is Toulouse the birth place of the first machine airborne… in 1890 by Clément Ader, followed much much later by the famous Caravelle, Concorde and now all types of Airbus, including the biggest aeroplane, the majestic A 380 (can’t you feel here the tinge of regional pride!!). The aeronautic industry employs in Toulouse and its area over 20,000 direct employees and 30,000 indirect employees. Toulouse is also the French centre of aerospace industry with Alcatel, Astrium and Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales as the major actors of the sector. It has been chosen to shelter the European equivalent to the American GPS system. The sector accounts for 7,500 directs jobs and 15,000 indirect ones. Most of the satellite launched by Ariane Espace are designed and assembled in Toulouse. Due to the satellite industry Meteo France, the French weather forecast agency, is located in Toulouse too. Research then, accounts for 18,600 jobs and is divided between research on aerospace, pharmaceutical industry and agro-bio-sciences. Toulouse has been chosen, along 7 other big French cities to become a centre for research on cancer. The ambitious project of Canceropôle has started operating thanks to cooperation between research, industry and hospital. The two Public Universitary Hospitals of Toulouse (Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Rangueil et Purpan) are listed among the best in France. As a consequence or cause of Toulouse importance in research is its place as second students’ city in France after Paris with around 70,000 students.
As a consequence of its economic appeal is Haute-Garonne the 3rd French “départment” with the fastest growing population, which offers a sound basis for property investment.
 

A beautiful countryside

 It is rare enough that such economic dynamism still comes along with quality of life and a beautiful and close countryside. It is rather easy and quick to escape the crowd and to find oneself in a nice landscape of gently rolling hills, with distant views over the Pyrenees, or walking along the Garonne River or the Canal du Midi. Part of Haute-Garonne has remained rural, therefore whichever direction chosen to leave Toulouse will take you to a nice countryside. When leaving Toulouse by the North you will quite soon find yourself in the Frontonnais vineyard and the Gaillac vineyard when leaving on the North East side. The South East landscape is one of gentle hills called Lauragais, often compared to Tuscany. The South is a rural valley with the Pyrenees as background and Western escape leads to the gentle hills of the Gers, the famous Gascony. These beautiful landscapes are scattered with pretty villages, sometimes a red brick castle or manor springs out of a sunflower field. Midi-Pyrenees is the French region with the most so called “plus beaux villages de France” (prettiest French villages), probably because the region has always been a rather rich farming area.

Architecture and heritage

Red brick made with local clay is the ‘trade mark’ of local architecture and gives it its uniqueness, charm and warmth. Toulouse is a master piece of red brick architecture and no other big French city looks alike. Far from being as majestic as Paris’ or Bordeaux’ architecture, it has a discreet charm. When wandering through the narrow streets of the city centre, one discovers many private mansions hidden behind heavy wooden doors. Hôtel d’Asézat, now sheltering a museum is an extraordinary example of this Renaissance period when "pastel", a dyeing plant, was bringing wealth to the region. This plant was grown in the whole area around Toulouse and was an important pillar of the economy until the end of the XVIth century. Many small towns, villages and castles were built at this time thus providing the local architecture with a remarkable uniqueness.
Other interesting architectural features of the region are the many “bastides” towns (walled towns) built during the XII and XIIIth century. The concept was revolutionary as compared with the anarchic way of building towns at that time. Many small market towns (around 300 in Midi Pyrenees) were designed following this concept of strict geometry with right angle streets and a covered market (“halle”) in the centre surrounded by timber framed houses. Revel and Grenade in Hautes-Garonne are well-preserved examples.