Heads on Beds: Hotel Mermoz, Toulouse

Every week we give you the heads-up on the best beds for the travelling executive. Simon Calder checks into an unlikely haven in one of France’s fastest growing cities
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The Independent Travel

The fourth city in France - after Paris, Marseille and Lyon - is commanding the world's attention.

Toulouse manages to remain both beautiful and relaxed (perhaps because of its setting on the wide, calm Garonne) while pushing at the frontiers of technology, not least in the shape of the vast Airbus facility that clusters around the airport.

Add its role as the heartland of French Rugby (visit Le Winger bar, near the station, for confirmation), the proximity of the Mediterranean and the mountains and you can understand why more and more businesses are setting up operations in the city.

Such is the pace of growth that you can barely move for shiny new hotels, mostly out in the suburbs. Yet to visit the city but not enjoy life in its historic core would be a terrible waste. Which is one good reason to stay at the Mermoz: the Hotel Mermoz provides a deliciously individual antidote to the typical corporate hotel, as well as being a destination in its own right.

Track it down

The location is not immediately captivating: in a scruffy area on the fringes of the red-light district, between the main railway station and Place Jeanne d'Arc (though the latter has a brand-new Metro station, making the Mermoz much better connected). When you see the outside of 50 rue Matabiau, 31000 Toulouse (00 33 5 61 63 04 04; www.hotelmermoz.fr), your heart may sink further: it is right next to a pool hall. From the street you are confronted with a brick tunnel that looks like the entrance to a garage (which in a sense it is, if you need to park your car under the hotel). But walk through and you step, in the manner of C S Lewis's wardrobe, into another world. Profuse vegetation conceals terracotta paintwork, and decorative touches such as a fountain here and an aviation poster there. Indeed, the hotel celebrates throughout the short and heroic life of the French aviator, Jean Mermoz, and the role Toulouse has played in developing 21st-century aviation.

Check-in check

"Relaxed" sums it up; having booked by e-mail, and requested a late check-in, I was welcomed and given a key without any request for credit card or passport - which is what you need at midnight. The daily paper was still available, along with a good range of local information.

The corridors feel more two-star than three, but once you walk into your room (mine was 407) you feel you have struck four-star gold. Not for any strong sense of luxury, but because of the unfussy Art Deco style: natural wood, clean lines and pale pink and tangerine tones, which transport you back to the mid-Thirties when Jean Mermoz was at his prime.

Room to maneouvre?

A relatively small chambre is sensibly laid out with a separate bathroom (with a proper bath) and loo, plenty of storage space and a good, well-lit desk area. The chair is high-backed, in the manner of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, while the bed is low-rise and extremely comfortable.

Get connected

You need to ask for the Code Acces on arrival to enjoy unlimited free Wi-Fi. The television dates from c.1980, but carries a dozen channels including CNN International.

Fitness regime

You want some exercise? One of France's finest cities is outside the front door. If that's not enough, you can pick up a bike at the tourist office for a couple of euros a day. The biggest and best swimming pool in Europe is just upstream on an island in the middle of the river. And if that's not enough, the High Pyrenees are two hours south (great hiking in summer, excellent skiing in winter). So you really won't notice the lack of formal fitness facilities.

Raid the minibar

In each property we check the total for a mineral water, beer, miniature of Scotch, bag of nuts and bar of chocolate. (Warning: do not consume these all at once.) At the Mermoz, you will not have this problem, since the minibar is, well, minuscule. A Vittel costs €2.80; a beer, €3.80; and for anything more substantial, there are plenty of bars within a five-minute walk.

Breakfast news

The best possible start to the day: a generous buffet served either al fresco or within a covered courtyard, with lots of natural light with which to enjoy endless coffee and croissant.

Rack rates

A single without breakfast is listed at €120, with breakfast a further €12, but you do not need to be the world's best negotiator to secure some sort of discount; on a two-night stay, I paid a total of €210, including breakfast.

Economy class

The Hotel Anatole France, in the square of the same name, has rooms for just €27.