Destination Guide: Toulouse, France
Starting this October, four flights a week will take off from Liverpool John Lennon Airport bound for Toulouse in the South of France.
With the summer holidays disappearing as quick as your tan, what better time to plan an autumn break in one of la République’s most picturesque cities.
Words by Lawrence Saunders
Toulouse might not be top of your list when eyeing a weekend getaway on the continent, but you’d be dead wrong to overlook France’s fourth largest city.
Boasting bustling food markets, high class shopping and one of the country’s most magnificent squares – even Vogue magazine thinks you should pass over Paris and visit La Ville Rose instead.
We agree, and here’s why…
Known in France as La Ville Rose, or The Pink City, due to the colour of the bricks used in many of its buildings, Toulouse is a thoroughly charming place to walk around.
And any saunter through the city wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Le Capitole.
Clad in exquisite pink marble and set in a public square lined with swish bars and restaurants, this elegant 16th Century building houses the town hall, orchestra and opera house.
Don’t just marvel at the exterior beauty however, venture inside and feast your eyes on the gloriously festooned ceilings of the Salle des Illustres, a vast gallery where paintings chronicle the city’s 2,000-year old past.
Just a two-minute walk from the Place du Capitole is another of Toulouse’s celebrated buildings, the atmospheric Dominican monastery, Couvent des Jacobins.
Characteristic of southern French architecture in the 13th Century, the former convent is famous for its immense ribbed vault – known as the Palm Tree.
Home to the relics of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the monastery’s cloister, which regularly hosts concerts and exhibitions, is an oasis of calm in the middle of a busy city.
If there’s one thing Toulousains love more than their brightly coloured buildings, it’s a good covered market.
You’ll find one taking place somewhere in the city every day of the week, selling everything from authentic gastronomic delicacies to the coolest in vintage fashion.
But the undisputed king of the sheltered souk in Toulouse has to be the sprawling Marché Victor Hugo.
Named after the illustrious novelist, visitors have their pick of 88 stalls with more butchers, bakers and ice cream makers than you can shake a baguette at.
The finest fish from the Mediterranean, artisan chocolates, jars of slow cooked Cassoulet casserole, and five stellar restaurants upstairs – it’s a must visit for foodies.
“Even Vogue magazine thinks you should pass over Paris and visit La Ville Rose instead.”
For 22 years, Wirral-born stand-up comedian Andy Pudding (not his real name) has called Toulouse his home.
Whilst studying for a degree in French and Spanish at Liverpool John Moores University, Andy visited Toulouse and had such a good time he decided to make his stay permanent.
We asked Andy, who performs regularly in bars and clubs across the city, to give us the lowdown on his must-visit spots.
Saint-Cyprien, a cosmopolitan neighbourhood on the left bank of the Garonne river, is where Andy begins his tour.
On Place du Ravelin, Andy recommends The Dispensary, “a great pub full of atmosphere”, he says – or the “more French” Le Bistrologue.
For a trendy neighbourhood, Andy thinks you should head to the Carmes quarter for “Spanish style tapas and all sorts of restaurants”.
Andy advises Zinzolin, “a classy wine bar” on Rue des Couteliers, and Tantina de Burgos down by the river for an “authentic Spanish style cantina”.
If it’s a decent pub crawl you’re after, Andy suggests navigating the whole length of Rue Pargaminières.
“From la Place du Capitol to Place St Pierre there are plenty of student bars, full of well, students, like le bar Basque and nearby there is La Rue des Blanchers for lots of exotic restaurants,” he says.
Away from the food and drink, for those in search of a good walk Andy advocates the Jardin des Plantes.
A botanical garden located on Allée Jules-Guesd, the park possesses nearly 100 species of deciduous trees and conifers with fairground and pony rides for the kids.
Out of this world
As well as having magnificent buildings and spectacular grub, Toulouse is also the heart of France’s aeronautical industry, with the headquarters of Airbus located in the suburb of Blagnac.
The Aeroscopia museum, developed with the aerospace giant’s support, features an expansive selection of rare commercial, leisure and military aircraft, alongside an interactive area which lets visitors discover what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ during a flight.
Want to go higher? The Cité de l’espace museum will near enough take you to the moon and back with a 150ft, full-scale replica of an Ariane 5 rocket and a mock-up control room where space fans can supervise their very own space launch. Toulouse, we are go!
Where to stay…
In keeping with the city’s airborne heritage, Le Grand Balcon is set in a building used during the 1930s by the pioneering Aéropostale flying mail service and its fearless pilots, including the legendary Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Completely remodeled under the watchful eye of architect Jean Philippe Nuel, the hotel’s 47 rooms have been given a lavish finish, with black and white photographs of planes and pilots offering understated aides-mémoires to the building’s past life.
However, if you’ve had your fill of flyboys and its out and out luxury you’re after then you’ll struggle to do better in Toulouse than the five star La Cour Des Consuls Hôtel & Spa.
Situated in the historic Carmes quarter, this palatial residence radiates refinement from the get go with a grandiose staircase, ornate ceiling and sumptuous leather armchairs greeting guests in the lobby.
Before heading out into town for an evening on the tiles, sample the renowned cuisine in the hotel’s attached restaurant and savour a drop of bubbly in the sumptuous Champagne bar.