I’m not sure why, but I’ve never visited the Pyrenees, despite them being so close. With recent health issues meaning that we didn’t want to go too far afield for a summer holiday, or stay in too remote an area, we decided to pay the foothills a long overdue visit in July.

It was certainly worth traveling from Birmingham Airport. It’s easier to get to than Heathrow, simpler to navigate once you’re there, and on this occasion at least, the whole check-in process seemed that much smoother. It helped that we packed our own lunch. I’ve given up trying to find decent gluten free food in airports. Birmingham did seem to have more than it’s fair share of passengers who’d already been on the wine by noon though, making it brilliant for people watching!

Our baggage was ejected with lightning efficiency at Toulouse airport, where we’d decided to stay for one night before making our way into the hills. The airport shuttle bus leaves for the city centre every twenty minutes, and at 5 euros each is a bargain. It stops at the bus and train station, where we only had to walk across the road to the Ibis hotel.

The hotel is divided into three – posh, middling, and budget, and after accidentally walking into the posh section, we eventually got to our room in middling – aka Ibis Styles. The room was large, cool, had a separate shower room and toilet, and looked out onto a little courtyard. The previous guests had even thoughtfully left behind a half full box of condoms.

We ventured across the road for supper at ‘The Bristol Hotel’. Not very French sounding I know. Whilst Rich enjoyed hamburger and chips, I had a ham and cheese omelette, followed by creme brulee for pudding. You have to eat creme brulee when in France. It’s the law.

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After dinner, we inspected the Gare Mantabiu ready for our onward journey to Esperaza tomorrow, and bought the train tickets in advance, anticipating long queues on Bastille Day. The salesman was very friendly, explaining exactly what we’d have to do with the ticket and where we’d have to change. Not a level of service that you’d find in say London, or even in Paris. Toulouse seems that much more laid back. And cheaper. But just as pretty.

After a quick stroll along the Canal du Midi, we headed back to the hotel for a complimentary cup of chamomile tea in the hospitality area. This was my first time staying in an Ibis, but I’d definitely do so again. Whilst this one wasn’t in the centre, and some of the streets near the train station are a little run down, it’s certainly an area that has a lot of character (if you ignore the strip clubs). Bienvenue en France.

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