If you want a fantastic holiday in France, Toulouse is one destination I’d definitely recommend. Not only does it have a rich cultural background and fantastic cuisine, but it also has pretty architecture in abundance. There is definitely lots to see in the city itself, but I also think its worth spending some time exploring the surrounding areas.

With so much to capture your interest, it can be hard to know where to begin. Do you choose to go around central Toulouse first or head outside of the city’s limits to the countryside? I can’t make that decision for you, but I can tell you about what some of the best places to visit in and around Toulouse are. Here’re just a few of the region’s highlights.

Central Toulouse

Founded more than 2,000 years ago, Toulouse has been ruled by various groups over the years – including Catholics and the Cathar religious movement – leaving a rich history to explore. Make sure you spend at least a day wandering through the heart of the city to see its main attractions and one you’ll definitely want to see is the Le Capitole. Instantly recognisable due to its eight pink marble columns, this stunning complex contains the town hall and Salle des Illustres art galley, which is home 19th-century artwork.

Another place you won’t want to miss is the beautiful Saint-Etienne cathedral which has a blend of different architectural styles – largely because construction started in the 13th century and did not finish until the 17th century. Step inside the building and you’ll get to see ornate stained-glass windows and beautiful tapestries. You can also visit the Saint-Raymond Museum or take a guided tour of the Clary stately home – there really is a lot to see here!

Montsegur

Toulouse is certainly a wonderful destination that you could spend weeks exploring, but that doesn’t mean you should discount the surrounding areas.

If you’re keen to see a quintessential French village, I recommend travelling to Montsegur. Visit this historic settlement and you can explore the ruins of the Chateau de Montsegur, a stronghold that was built by the Cathars in the 13th century.

Although this hilltop fort received substantial damage following a siege in 1244 – with around 200 Cathars being burned alive in a nearby field – you can still wander through large parts of the complex and take in amazing views of the lush countryside.

Montsegur doesn’t have a train station, so if you’re keen to see the village you’ll want to think about hiring a car at Toulouse Airport – which is about a 90-minute drive to away.

Carcassonne

Situated at the heart of the Toulouse-Montpellier-Barcelone triangle, Carcassonne is a great place to explore. You can wander around the medieval city walls, before taking in tranquil views of the Canal du Midi.

Each year, Carcassonne puts on a fantastic performing arts festival – unsurprisingly called Festival de Carcassonne – which consists of everything from classical music and dance recitals to pop concerts and opera.

Dozens of events take place during the cultural extravaganza – which runs from the end of June to August – and many of these are free to attend. You’ll be able to see France’s biggest musicians perform here, as well as big-name international artists. Alice Cooper, LMFAO and Duran Duran are among the acts set to take to the stage this year, so you really don’t want to miss out.