Known as La Ville Rose (The Pink City), Toulouse is located in southern France and is the capital of the Occitanie region. Scattered with terra-cotta brick buildings, and a bustling central square, this city is known for good wine, fantastic architecture, and for being the home of cassoulet!
To be honest, Toulouse wasn’t really on our radar when hubby and I booked a last minute trip for the early May bank holiday weekend. When I think of France, I tend to think more of Paris or Bordoueax, or somewhere along the French Riviera, but at less than £400 for flights and a hotel for three nights, we just couldn’t pass it up. Plan A was going camping in Wales, but with temperatures predicted to fall to 35F in the evenings, we opted for plan B; Toulouse.
The EasyJet flight from Bristol was a mere 1 hour and 45 minutes, so hubby and I were happily enjoying our first croissant and glass of wine by lunchtime. We typically purchase travel cards for transportation during our city breaks, so we did this as soon as we landed in Toulouse. A three day card was less than £12pp, and allowed us travel on metros, buses, and trains. For this particular trip we soon found out that Toulouse is not a very large city, so we actually ended up walking most places. However, the travel card did come in handy for getting to and from the airport, which is about a 20 minute ride from the city center.
We stayed at the Hotel Victor Hugo, located right in the middle of the city; we really couldn’t have asked for a better location. The hotel itself is rated at 2 stars and was quite modest and “no frills”, but what do you expect for less that £50 per night. It suited us fine, as we don’t tend to spend a lot of time in the room anyway. The room was comfortable enough, complete with double bed, seating area, bathroom with standing shower, and tv (which I think we turned on once). The hotel did have free WiFi, which was patchy at best, but that was about it for amenities; no toiletries, hair dryer (available at reception) or tea/coffee in the room. We found the lack of amenities not to be an issue, as the hotel is so centrally located, so we just walked across the street to a cafe for all our coffee/tea/food needs.
Toulouse itself is filled with wonderful architecture and many things to see and do. Some of the main attractions that we visited included: the Canal du Midi, Pont Neuf bridge, Basilique Saint Sernin, Hotel d’Assezat, the river Garonne and the Toulouse Weir, Saint Stephen’s Catherdral, Capitole de Toulouse, Theatre de Capitole, and Couvent des Jacobins. There are also several museums and gardens, which we did not visit, including: Musée Saint Raymond, Foundation Bemberg, Japanese Garden, the Natural History Museum, a Space Museum, and the Musée des Augustins. My favorites were the Capitole de Toulouse, which is very pretty at night, and absolutely beautiful inside; the art is amazing and the herringbone wooden floors are stunning (I’m a sucker for a vintage floor). I also really enjoyed the Weir and it’s museum, and also the Couvent des Jacobins (Dominican monastery) with its unique southern gothic architecture, beautiful stained glass, and peaceful inner courtyard.
Finding places for food and drink in Toulouse was not a problem. On the food side, we enjoyed several croissants and other french pastries from the many patisseries located throughout the city on street corners and outdoor markets (french bread is truly something else). For fine dining, we opted for the les Caves de la Maréchale. The restaurant is located down a little side street just of the central square, and is actually set in a cave. We found that a lot of places in Toulouse, and France for that matter, offer a 3 course prix fix meal, and this restaurant was no exception. As we were in the home of cassoulet, I went for this option, and hubby had a sous vide pork dish. Both dishes were full of flavor, and very filling. The cassoulet was very well cooked and seasoned, and tasted wonderful. We also both had starters/appitizers, crab for me and duck for hubby, and cheese plates for dessert. The wine we had was a Bourgogne Pinot Noir, and was amazing! All in all, the meal came to around €100, which we didn’t think was bad for 3 courses and a bottle of wine.
On the drinks side, no Griffiths’ trip would be complete without some cocktails! There are several decent cocktail bars located in Toulouse, but we tried one called Fat Cat. The interior of Fat Cat is very cool and chilled, with cozy nooks for enjoying a few tipples. True to form, we opted to sit at the bar as we like a bit of bar banter and to watch the professionals in action. Hubby is a straight up Negroni and Old Fashioned kind of guy, and I’m an Espresso and Dirty Martini gal, so we ordered one of each (in succession obviously, not all at once). Service was a bit slow, as it was a Saturday night and quite busy, but the drinks (around €9 each) were strong and well made. From Fat Cat, we moved on to a wine bar called No5 Wine Bar. Claiming to be the “best wine bar in the world”, No5 operates on a wine glass dispenser system; basically, you get a pay-as-you-go card, put some money on the card, and enjoy whichever wines you like at you own pace and to your own taste. We found it quite enjoyable in this bar, as we were able to serve ourselves and try lots of different wines. One final place I would recommend for drinks would be Cote Vin. Located down a little side street, this wine and tapas bar offered a vast wine selection and outside seating which was perfect for people watching.
So there you have it, this girl’s guide to a weekend in Toulouse. Some things I would recommend before travelling to Toulouse: 1. It’s quite a small city, so a two night stay would probably be long enough. We found three nights to be just a bit too long, 2. Toulouse is a very walkable city, so I’d suggest only purchasing transport to and from the airport, rather than purchasing a multi-day travel card, 3. Brush up on your basic French before you go. While lots of people speak at least a little English, don’t assume that everyone does or that every restaurant will have an English menu; it’s their country and they appreciate when an effort is made, 4. Be aware that the “yellow-vest” protests are still happening, and demonstrations take place in most larger cities. We soon found out that protests in Toulouse take place every Saturday at 5pm. While this did not really affect our ability to do touristy things, there was a large police presence and the occasional smell of tear gas, so just be aware of this. All in all, we enjoyed our weekend in Toulouse and I would recommend it is as a nice city break from Bristol. Until next time, Bonjour!