Toulouse: 72 hours in the pink city

When choosing a city destination in France, it can sometimes be hard to see beyond the dazzling lights and bustling boulevards of gay Paris. The city of lovers, or so they say; although now perhaps just a tad oversaturated in the tourism department. For an alternative city experience, I cast aside convention and headed to the subdued southern city of Toulouse – close to the Spanish border – to see what this quaint town has to offer in terms of weather, style and food, of course.

Known as La Ville Rose (the pink city) due to its multitude of terracotta-brick buildings, but arguably more orangey-salmon, depending on the light. Toulouse feels like a city yet to be discovered by the tourist market – authenticity and charm are alive here; bijou cobbled streets, quirky courtyards and petit coffee shops. If Paris is the city of lovers, then Toulouse is perhaps the city of veritable charm; where locals wander past antiquated salmon buildings against a skyline of wonky rooftops.

 

Where to stay?

First things first; a chic boutique hotel is 100% necessary on any French adventure. I stayed at the Hotel Innis by Happy Culture in the city centre. Like many European cities, Toulouse is extremely walkable, so the only necessity for a well-located hotel is to be close to the centre. Hotel Innis had all the modern luxuries a girl could need, including super-fashionable rooms, decadent breakfast buffet, cute lounge area and was furnished entirely in stylish Habitat goodies that are also available for purchase. On check-in, I wondered why someone would ever buy a piece of homeware from a hotel, but by checkout, I knew why. I fell in love with a beautiful orange bedspread that I burrito’d myself up in every night and was sad to leave every morning. Sadly, I’m too poor to take out relationship to the next level, but for three delightful days, we were one.

 

What to do?

Things that Toulouse is known for: pinky-orange buildings, cassoulet (a meat and bean stew dish), pleasant weather, folksy charm and being the head of the European airspace industry. Funny combination, right? But personally that kind of pseudo-geeky stuff pushes all my buttons, so that was not a problem. To be fair, you have to seek out the airspace stuff, and if you wanted to, you could ignore it entirely. For those who are interested – you can find a number of air and space-travel activities such as the head of Airbus HQ, French airmail museum, Cite de L’espace park, Air Museum, Airport tours and Ailes Anciennes museum. The best way to fit all these in, and more, is with a 72 hour Toulouse Tourism Pass which includes free entry or reduced price, plus 72 hours of metro/bus usage so you can squeeze them all in.

Victor Hugo market offers delights for all tastes and is best experienced with American expat Jessica at Taste of Toulouse tours, where you can experience the best produce the market has to offer. Jessica has a wealth of knowledge on the local delicacies, picking up an array of samples including various fresh baguettes (yes, there’s more than one kind) cheeses and charcuterie meats – and for the brave – foie gras. Complete with an order of delicate chocolates from the nearby Criollo Chocolatier, we enjoyed a micro-picnic atop an old wine cask in the market’s dinky wine bar, which was a real treat. Washed down with an exceptional bottle of sparkling white plus Toulouse’s quintessential red and white wines. Even if you don’t have time to experience the Tase of Toulouse tour, the market is excellent for a short wander and quite the cultural experience; sidestepping past duck heads and grazing under rows of hung garlic. And it would be rude not to pick up a pastry at one of the cute sweet counters, Les Choux d’Eleonore pastry puffs are light, but tasty treats finished with a variety of toppings. For local flavour choose violet, which Toulouse is famous for and can be found in everything from pastries to dish towels.

 

Toulouse has many cute city parks which can be enjoyed almost year-round due to their alluring warmer climate. As Toulouse is so walkable one of the best things to do is simply wander around, stopping for a sugar treat, peeling off into the nearest cute city square where you can watch the day’s happenings from the comfort of a rustic bench. Or perhaps talk a stroll along one of the cities canals which offer pleasant serenity under leafy cover and an opportunity to walk off all those pastries.

Where to eat?

I was a tad concerned about the food as I’m not necessarily a lover of French cuisine, but the food wound up being probably the best part of the trip with every meal better than the last! Although, I should probably also add that I don’t think much I ate was specifically French, but this was refreshing as it showcased Toulouse’s modern food scene which ventues outside the French classics. We ate “menu of the day” at the trendy Aux Pieds Sous La Table restaurant, sampling fusion dishes such as a delicate pastrami salad, and French take on a beef curry washed down with plenty of hearty French red – c’est magnifique. A highlight for evening dining had to be the ultra-modern Ma Biche Sur Le Toit restaurant, located on the top floor of Galeries Lafayette department store. A circular space set around a central bar with quirky crimson lighting and excellent views over the city. A mozzarella tart stole my heart and was quickly followed by a beautifully presented pasta dish. Once again, wine was drunk, because France, but with evening entertainment provided by the venue, it was the perfect nightcap.

For a simply elegant lunch pop into the central Le Bibent restaurant, which feels a bit like stepping back in time with its velour furnishing, ornate gold trims and ceiling art. Another place that seemed like it should be overrun with tourists, but because this is Toulouse, is actually extraordinarily genuine and instead full of locals chatting over a glass of midday red – gotta love France. We also enjoyed more violet delights in the shape of a delicious rustic peach tarty-cake thing (I think peach clafoutis, officially) which was served with subtle violet ice-cream. I never thought I liked violet as I grew up with those ubiquitous Parma Violet sweets (Brits, if you know, you know) but actually, it was a pleasant change with a very subdued flavour that thankfully only tasted a tiny bit like my gran’s fave bathroom soap.

 

What to wear?

As Toulouse is blessed with a slightly warmer climate due to its southern location, the spring is temperate and the summers hot. And the winters? Still much warmer than a lot of Europe at around 10 degrees Celsius. Comfy flat shoes are a must as there’s much walking to be done, and some streets are delightfully cobbled, which is incredibly charming, but not on high heels. For spring and autumn, a light jacket would likely suffice. A rain jacket could potentially come in handy as the weather was a little changeable, but nothing a small umbrella couldn’t save you from. The dress code felt a lot more relaxed in Toulouse, so no need to bring formal wear, as smart-casual seems to be the thing here.

 

How to get around?

Walk! Walk everywhere. Or failing that use your Toulouse Pass for free transit on any of the public transport networks in the city which includes metro, trams and buses. The airport is very close by, so you can be in the city within in 30 minutes of landing; perfect for those impromptu city breaks!

 

Tips for Toulouse

– For a great view, take the lift to the top carpark floor of the Victor Hugo market building.
– Try a delish French “taco” (creamy, gooey, stuffed with various meats and not really anything like an actual taco.)
– Fly direct from London in just two hours (Easyjet from Gatwick airport / Ryan Air from Stansted airport.)
– Pack ‘grammable garms, as you’re gonna want some pics against all those rustic terracotta walls.
– Bring your camera! Toulouse has so many unique nooks and crannies waiting to be explored.

** Please note: I was hosted on this trip by the Toulouse Tourist Office, however, all thoughts are my own.**

 

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