Some call Toulouse a mini Paris, but with cheaper prices and a warmer climate. It is also known as the “Pink City” because of the distinctive brickwork that was used on most of its buildings. When the late sun casts its glow on the storied walls, Toulouse brims with rosy shades that envelope every corner.
Most people think of Nice, Bordeaux or Paris when planning a visit to France, but Toulouse holds an interesting melange of influences in its art, architecture, music and food. A place you can see and enjoy in a day or two because of its small size, Toulouse is also lively and refreshing, especially since it’s located right on the River Garonne with its edges working as gathering places for locals and tourists alike.
In this part of the south of France, where the land merges with the Spanish border, the sun is always shining. You can catch the salty scent of the nearby Mediterranean Sea as it blends with the official local perfume: the sweet aroma of violets. Brought over by the Italians, the fragrant purple flower became a symbol of the city.
Toulouse was once a major trader of pastel blue dye, used in myriad fabrics and structures. Blue shutters, blue doors, and blue sculptures can be seen scattered around the city, a salute to its history with the shade.
Toulouse is a food lover’s dream. The city is the birthplace of many famous classic dishes such as cassoulet, a bean and duck stew originally from the Castelnaudary area, saucisse de Toulouse (the city’s trademark sausage), canard confit (duck confit) and the sweet tarte aux noix, a nut pie served with a side of vanilla ice cream.
Other incredible food can be found at Marché Victor Hugo market, a hub for the local food scene where the best producers in the area sell their cheese, pasta, meat and sauce. This is an ideal place to have an affordable and spectacular lunch, where true local dishes can be sampled at any of the bistros if you are able to find a table. Just make sure to get there before noon as seats fill up quickly.
For more affordable and delicious dishes, Le Genty-Magre fits the bill. It’s the brainchild of young chef Romain Brard, who creates a fusion of traditional French cuisine and modern techniques for a truly unforgettable dining experience. Their meatball foie gras with creamy chicken and parsnips and puff pastry with almond chantilly cream are two menu standouts that enrapture locals and tourists alike.
Even cheaper eats exist in Toulouse. Warm and cozy La Faim des Haricots is a mecca for buffet aficionados and vegetarians. Choose from all-you-can-eat salads, savory tarts, a rotating dish of the day, soups and desserts. A single buffet meal costs €11.90 and every additional buffet is priced at just one euro. Wash that all down with tea, wine or beer.
As for watering holes, one fine option is N०5 Wine Bar, which won the title of best wine bar in the world in 2017 from The World of Fine Wine, an award-winning publication. The name may sound extremely chichi but the bar is affordable and welcoming. You can confidently splurge knowing that you will get your money’s work. N०5 offers 15 to 20 surprise mini-dishes for just €25 and for €50, clients get five wines to pair with their dishes. Not bad for such a celebrated wine bar.
Once in Toulouse, getting around is easy. One can explore leisurely on foot, taking in every architectural detail, every scent, every photo opportunity without hurry.
First stop on your city break to Toulouse: The Basilique St. Sernin, which is free to visit, and one of the most famous tourist attractions in the city. The Romanesque church, covered with the emblematic rose stonework, is adorned by a bell tower and marble statues. The first bishop of the city, St. Sernin, is buried here and the basilica is named after him. The remains of martyrs such as St. Papoul are buried below ground in well-preserved crypts.
For another dose of architectural charm, there is Capitole, an impressive neoclassical building set in Place du Capitole. This is Toulouse’s city hall and also houses a museum and a theater. The main draw is the 19th-century Hall of the Illustrious, a place created by renowned artists such as Henri Martin and Paul Gervais. If you love astrology, don’t forget to take a pic of the 12 zodiac signs emblazoned in the center of the square in front of the building.
With history being the focal point in Toulouse, it’s surprising and refreshing to find a place such as the Cité de l’Espace, a space museum. It showcases the metropolis’ long aeronautical history with simulators, exhibits, movies and full-scale replicas of some of their most celebrated spacecrafts, including the Ariane 5 rocket, which famously failed to complete its mission in 1996.
Beyond the museums and exhibitions are other attractions worth visiting, too. Rue de la Pomme and Rue Peyrolières are both filled with vintage shops carrying items from all of France, Italy and England, a treasure trove for fashion lovers. Friperies or consignment stores, such as Le Grenier d’ Anais, are also great spots for finding rare gems.
La Cour des Consuls Hotel & Spa, right in the city center, blends 16th-century style such as wooden beams and parquet flooring with modern touches such as contemporary art pieces and futuristic chandeliers. It is close to major attractions such as gallery Les Abattoirs and Musée des Augustins. Explore the bars and cafes nearby or savor a repast at the Michelin-starred restaurant on-site.
For a center-of-it-all feeling, Grand Hôtel de l’Opéra delivers. A true grand hotel in the very heart of Toulouse with opulent decor and theatrical details, the Grant boasts Venetian masks, velvet walls, and an opera-red color scheme that serves as a nod to the neighboring opera house.