As it turned out, we also ended up spending an extra day and night there due to our airline cancellation (we were originally meant to fly back to Dublin via Carcassonne). It gave us plenty of time to visit Toulouse, also known as la Ville Rose (Pink City). Its nickname originates from the colour of the terracotta bricks that is a part of almost all of the city's amazing architecture.
Apart from a couple of specific places we wanted to go to, we decided to wander around the city and see where it would take us. So, let's visit la Ville Rose!
On the first day visiting Toulouse, our first stop was the Basilica of Saint-Sernin. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is really worth visiting for its unusual architecture. The entrance is free and there is a very small fee to go see the crypt (if you are not into dark and narrow crypts, this one is rather bright and open).
We then walked down rue du Taur until we arrived at Place du Capitole. The square is surrounded by many restaurants and brasseries. There is an area of the Capitolium building itself that you can usually visit but it was closed when we were there (France keeps some areas closed for security reasons at the moment).
After a detour to a bookstore so I could stock up on French books, we walked towards the South-West of Place du Capitole where we had planned to have lunch and continue our visit. The area is centred around rue Saint-Rome. It is filled with gorgeous design, clothes and books boutiques as well as art galleries and many places where to eat.
After our lunch stop, we continued our wanderings through the maze of those beautiful little streets so we could spot some of Toulouse's famous hotels particuliers (single family residences that are quite distinct with their beautiful architecture and lovely courtyards). The most known is Hotel d'Assézat, which is also home to the Fondation Bemberg (a permanent and contemporary art museum).
After walking a bit more to look at the streets details, we stopped at a few shops we had spotted on our way, grabbed the car where we had left it and went back to Villenouvelle.
We came back the following Saturday as we were staying in Toulouse that night. Our hotel rooms were very luckily ready that morning when we showed up so we were able to drop all our bags and enjoy the city for the day.
Rather than going straight towards the centre ville, we took a leisurely walk along the Canal de Brienne and the Garonne river. The path along the river is really lovely and allows for some nice sightseeing too. You can spot Hôpital de la Grave and Pont Neuf on one side and Basilique Notre-Dame de la Daurade and Ecole des Beaux Arts on the other.
We walked on the bridge across the river so we could go and visit museum Les Abattoirs. The permanent exhibition was not on display and since we had no interest in the only exhibition on display, we walked back out and across the river again after visiting the beautiful surroundings there.
After lunch, Rebekah and I went to Jardin des Plantes (botanic gardens) after passing by Marché des Carmes where we spotted some very swoon worthy flower stalls. We continued on back into Toulouse's maze of beautiful little streets so we could do a bit more shopping (and chocolate eating!).
We all went out for drinks and dinner that evening and really enjoyed discovering the lively night life Toulouse has to offer.
Toulouse is also the centre for the European aerospace industry so you can go visit Cité de l'Espace for things that are space travel related. E. and I spent half a day there during the week and had a lot of fun, cue all the giggles when I tried on the Moon Runner suit and experienced what it was like walking on the Moon (aka jumping like a mad woman) right in front of a huge queue of people waiting for their turn.
- France et Marcel: If you want to experience real French food, like the one made at home with love, this is a great place for it. The atmosphere is relaxed, the decor beautiful and the owners really friendly. We enjoyed lunch of saucisses aux lentilles (a dish of sausages with Puy lentils) and blanquette de veau (a creamy veal stew) served with the restaurant's own local wines (they also make and sell their own pâtés, cheeses, saucissons etc.). We finished with some delicious croustade aux pommes (a delicate apple pie which is a specialty of the region). A restaurant worthy of going to if you love French food and places that use local produce.
- Chapristea: After lunch at France et Marcel, we walked out and barely made it ten steps further when we spotted this cat café and well... we felt we really HAD to go in there and have tea. I have been to a cat café in Japan three years ago but was left a bit disconcerted by the experience at the time (it felt very administrative and there were probably too many cats overwhelmed by all the people around them). At Chapristea, it was completely different in a good way. The place was very welcoming and the cats super relaxed (and fluffy! Oh the fluffiness!). We could immediately see that they are very well looked after (some of them are even for adoption and stay at the café while they wait for their new family).
- L'Estaminot: On our way to the museum Les Abattoirs (the visit that never happened), we were looking to have coffee somewhere and randomly found this great café. We checked quickly what it was like inside and immediately fell in love with the concept. The walls were covered in bookshelves filled with many many secondhand books (novels, fiction, non-fiction, art books etc.). You can buy those books but you can also bring your own to sell if they are interested in taking them. The little cakes are all gluten free and the ones we picked (aka almost one of each) were really delicious, especially the hot chocolate fondant which was to die for. The menu of various savoury tartines for lunch also looked very appetising. The perfect place for food AND book lovers.
- Hopscotch: I give the credit of finding this place to E. and F. who patiently waited for us there while Rebekah and I were doing a bit of shopping. We all went back for pre-dinner drinks on our last night in Toulouse. This Scottish pub has its own micro-brewery and the largest selection of whisky in Toulouse. The setting is really great and it is located near rue Saint-Rome where you can find a lot of good places for lunch and dinner.
- Batbat: After a week of stuffing our faces with every possible French food we could put our hands on, we went to this lovely Vietnamese restaurant and had the most refreshing bo bun salads. They consist of shredded lettuce with rice vermicelli noodles, beansprouts, cucumber, carrot, fresh coriander and mint, seasoning and crushed peanuts to put on top. I had mine with lemongrass beef and it was really delicious. We also shared some vegetable nems (crispy rolls) with nuoc cham dipping sauce. The food there was really fresh and flavoursome. If you feel like you have indulged a lot in rich French food, this might be a good option for something different.
- Chocolatier Criollo: I really love chocolate and this shop definitely won my heart. I picked a selection of little chocolates and they were all exquisite, with some the finest flavours and ganache fillings I have ever tasted (the Sicilian pistachio ganache was so smooth and amazing).
- Haut les Mains: This little pop up shop had a lot of lovely things (jewellery, prints, decoration etc.) made by local creators and designers (who also sell on Etsy). I like the idea of this community of designers getting together to rent a space where they can show and sell what they make. We found quite a few things to bring back (and I really wanted a lot of the things in there!).
- Slow: Another great find of a little shop. This one allies design, decoration, stationery, jewellery etc. with an ethical lifestyle. If you are interested in slow life and being more ethical with your consumption of goods, you will certainly find the concept of this shop very interesting with upcycling being a big part of it.
- Ceci et Cela: We found this shop completely by chance while turning into this street. This is the type of places where you can bring your own jars and reusable bags to buy products in bulk. If I lived locally, this is definitely somewhere I would go to for food shopping and to avoid ending up with a lot of plastic waste wrapping products. I walked in because I was really curious and interested in the concept and luckily I spotted the famous Bee's Wrap I had been wanting to try (it's a sustainable alternative to cling film).
As I said further above, the streets in the area around rue Saint-Rome are filled with design, clothes, art and books boutiques so you could spend a lot of time wandering around and check a few of them out, which we did.
We really enjoyed visiting Toulouse and I can see how a lot of French people find it very attractive to move to. It is a beautiful city with a lot to see and a really good lifestyle.
Have you ever visited Toulouse? If you have and would like to share a few other recommendations (museums, food, shops etc.), please leave them in the comments below!