What have you got Toulouse?
Toulouse. It’s the aviation capital of France, the gateway to the Pyrenées and the most unashamedly Spanish of the French cities with its relaxed vibe and proximity to Catalunya, Spain. With two and a half days to explore the city and plenty of willing guides, I was ready to cram in as much as possible.
Getting around Toulouse
Walk: Toulouse is totally navigable by foot. Perfect if you want to gorge guilt-free on the excellent cuisine the city has to offer. And you will. Plus, much of the old town is pedestrianised so you can take it at your leisure without having to worry about traffic.
Bike: If you fancy being a bit more nimble while still keeping it human-powered, you can rent a bike from Velo Toulouse for €1.20 per day or €5 a week. Pick up or drop off at any of the stations closely dotted together across the city. Keep in mind, there’s a €150 credit card deposit required.
Public transport: For those who prefer to take a load off between sights, the public transport system in Toulouse is excellent. For €27, Pass Tourism Premium gets you unlimited journeys for 48hrs, including airport shuttle, the metro-bus-tram network and access to many tourist attractions. Buy these tickets from the Tourist Office in the airport or online.
Car hire: With the Pyrenees in such close proximity, and many other cities begging to be explored, a rental car offers all the necessary freedom to discover the region.
Where to stay in Toulouse
I stayed at Hotel St.Clair on Place St. Nicolas. It’s comfortable, good value and offers the option of continental breakfast each morning. Place du Capitole is only a 5 minute stroll which means you are close to everything.
If a hotel is not your thing, there are plenty of Airbnb options in Toulouse, either single apartments or rooms in a home. And if you’re on a tight budget there are tons of youth hostels in the city where you can save a few euro and meet other travellers.
Where to eat in Toulouse
Casual eats at Aux Pieds Sous La Table: All good things begin with a full belly. Nestled in the student neighbourhood of Arnaud Bernard is Aux Pieds Sous La Table. Here you’ll find a selection of traditional French dishes in a cosy, modern setting. The food is great, the service impeccable, and the cheeky midday Merlot certainly brought some colour to the cheeks. Excellent value too, so check it out if you’re in the neighbourhood.
Treat yourself to dinner at Les Caves de la Maréchale: Set in a vaulted cellar with neo-Baroque decor, Les Caves de la Maréchale is definitely more toward the upper end of the market. The food, traditional southwest fare, is beyond reproach and the wine list longer and more comprehensive than a long, comprehensive thing. La filet de bouef, washed back with more Bourgogne Pinot Noir than I care to remember really hit the spot. Of course, this was followed by la parfait glacé (pistachio ice cream). Fat boy rides again, it seems. Heartily recommended.
Discover one of France’s oldest indoor markets: At Victor Hugo market you’ll find wines, meats, cheeses, ice-cream, fish and much more. This covered market first opened its doors in 1896 and chances are that if you’re eating in a restaurant in Toulouse, some, if not all, of the ingredients were sourced here. In fact, on the second floor of the market there are 5 restaurants that all source their ingredients exclusively from downstairs.
Try lunch above Victor Hugo market: In the name of science, not gluttony, I decided I’d better see what the fuss was all about. La Bon Graillou was my laboratory of choice and as for the results of my experiment…believe the hype. For approximately €15, you’ll get a mouth-watering dining experience prepared with ingredients that are as fresh as it comes.
Visit Cosmopolitan for cocktails and tapas: The spice of life is balance and contrast, which is why I decided to try Cosmopolitan for dinner. Completely different to the city’s other traditional takes on French dinner, Cosmopolitan offers a serious selection of cocktails, and a tapas menu that reads more like a book than a food list. The portions are generous, the atmosphere upbeat and the staff, from the guys on the door to the servers, are super-friendly.
Eat with the locals at La Sales Gosses: The subtle coolness of Sales Gosses contrasts with the vibrancy of Cosmopolitan, and its come-as-you-are atmosphere exudes an entirely different ambience to Les Caves de la Maréchale. You can get a starter, main and dessert for €32 and there is a decent wine and craft beer list. I jumped straight into the main course, Medallion of Veal, Fregola Sarda with Provençale in mustard sauce and no exaggeration, it was the best meal I have eaten in recent memory. It’s worth noting there was a 15 minute wait outside (Thursday evening) before the place opened. Get there early because it is small inside, so even if you queue, you may not make the first sitting.
What to do in Toulouse
Explore the city with a walking tour: I met with Laura Kerr who leads a walking tour of Toulouse that starts from the tourist office at Place du Capitole. Laura enthusiastically described the history of the city as we explored the winding old city streets. Flanked by beautiful pink stone buildings and stunning architecture, it soon became apparent why Toulouse is also known as La Ville Rosé (The Pink City).
Bemberg Foundation, housed in Hôtel d’Assézat was one of the first stops we made. Featuring many works of western art from the Middle Ages right through to the 20th century, this collection is awe-inspiring, even to the most casual of art enthusiasts. Feeling very culturally au fait, our next stop on the tour was Musée des Augustins. One of the very first museums to exist in France, it’s home to a stunning collection of Roman capitals and Gothic sculpture. This former Augustin convent regularly hosts exhibitions and installations by world-renowned artists so check the website before you visit.
Check out the tourist office website or simply drop in to find more about a walking tour of Toulouse.
Take in an exhibition at les Abattoir: Converted from a slaughterhouse in 2000, the museum exhibits and promotes modern art, research and innovation in conjunction with other arts centres throughout the Occitanie. The exhibitions change regularly so check the program on the site before you go. Allow yourself 1.5 to 2 hours to really get the most from your visit..
Walk on the moon at Cité de l’Espace: No really. A 25-minute drive outside of downtown Toulouse, this space-themed attraction is a fantastic day out. I saw full-sized rockets that bring shuttles into space, squeezed into the capsule that kept the first cosmonauts protected as they hurtled into orbit at speeds close to 35000km/h, walked in the footsteps of the first men on the moon, experienced the G-forces trainee astronauts endure, explored a real full-sized Mir space station including living quarters…phew. And this was all before lunch at the super restaurant they have in the main building. Check out Cité de l’Espace site for full description. Allow yourself the entire day because there’s that much to do and it’s really worth catching everything.
I cannot recommend this city enough, the locals are friendly, the food is amazing and I know I only scratched the surface. I’ll be back.