If you’re an edacious foodie, die hard rugby fan, or all of the above, then a weekend in the blushing city of Toulouse is a must. Dubbed “La Ville Rose” thanks to the pinkish hue of the terracotta brickwork the city is famous for, this southern Occitanie gem is an Instagrammer’s dream. Picture perfect hidden courtyards, charming town squares and delectable cuisine aplenty, it’s hard not to be bewitched by the sights and sounds of this scintillating city.
Sitting close to the Spanish border and linked to the Mediterranean Sea by the 17th century Canal du Midi and Garonne River, Toulouse enjoys beautiful summers and relatively dry winters, perfect for a weekend (or longer) away, any time of year. Shopaholics are well provided for, with dozens of store lined streets surrounding St. Etienne Cathedral, whilst architecture and history buffs can fill their days checking out the numerous religious buildings, Theatre du Capitole, Jardin des Plantes, and the 16th Century Donjon du Capitole tower.
Whilst there are activities aplenty available in Toulouse, the thing I was most excited about was the food. In a city famous for its indoor markets, I was thrilled to be invited on a food tour with Taste of Toulouse, created by Jessica Hammer. Jessica offers English speaking walking tours of the Marche Victor Hugo, a gastronomic emporium of epic proportions. Selling everything from oven-warm baked baguettes, freshly caught seafood, and meat aged for years, it’s no surprise that many locals visit daily. Going to the market is a social affair rather than a domestic activity, with many attendees hanging around to drink wine and shuck oysters whilst catching up with the locals. The upper tier of the market houses a number of restaurants using the produce available downstairs to create traditional dishes with a modern twist. If you’ve not got time to hang around (or you’re a bit of a dinner party cheat), several stalls sell restaurant quality cooked dishes that you just need to reheat at home. Genius. We spent our tour scouting out some beautiful cured meats, cheeses, fois gras, bread and chocolate before enjoying our spread with a glass (or three) of wine.
When you’ve had your fill of fine food and wine, there’s no better way to spend the afternoon than cheering on Toulouse (or in our case, Gloucester, shhh), at Stade Ernest-Wallon, home of rugby in the Occitan region. Rugby reached Toulouse in 1907, with the club becoming one of the most successful in Europe having won the Heineken cup four times as well as being 20 time winners of the French Championship. The atmosphere is electrifying, yet the crowds remain friendly and jovial, with many spectators bringing their families along for a day out. Pack a chunky scarf and a warm coat, grab some snacks and a pitcher of beer, and brace yourself for an afternoon of excitement and flag waving.
If you fancy keeping it casual or you’re dedicated to the ‘Gram, Toulouse has plenty to see and photograph on foot. The buildings almost change colour during the day depending on the weather, meaning you could easily spend a long weekend photographing very similar areas with very different results. Place Sainte-Scarbes boasts a beautiful fountain and candy coloured shuttered buildings, yet is far enough from the main shopping area to stay relatively quiet during the day. Toulouse is bursting with minor details, small nuanced features that make beautiful photographs: the soft blue glass of the street lamps, the arched doorways, the pastel windows. It’s a veritable hide and seek of carefully crafted details just waiting to be found. And if you’re camera battery runs flat, there’s an abundance of high street stores and local artisan producers if you fancy splashing the cash. Toulouse has something for everyone, whether you’re a solo traveller, off on a romantic weekend away, or a family looking for a quiet break. Just make sure you get there before the rest of Instagram finds out about it.
How to get there: Return flights from London Heathrow to Toulouse cost as little as £60 return with British Airways (www.britishairways.com)
Where to stay: We stayed in the Citiz Hotel (18 allees Jean-Jeaures, 31000 Toulouse), a four star property only 20 minutes from the airport, close to excellent transport links, and a couple of minutes walk from the centre. Rooms start at 85 euros per night with some featuring wrap around balconies and large windows. You can book direct at www.citizhotel.com.
Where to eat: La Goumandine (17 Place Victor Hugo, 3100 Toulouse) offers three courses for 36 euros. For dinner, Hugette Café Cantine (15 bis Place du President Thomas Wilson) offers two/three courses for 16/18 euros respectively. Both establishments serve up delicious local dishes in a warm, inviting atmosphere.
Food tours: Taste of Toulouse offers English speaking walking tours of the Marche Victor Hugo on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturday mornings. Jessica also offers chocolate and pastry tours, along with private wine and cheese tasting tours. Each tour carries a maximum of 8 people and costs 70 euros per adult/child over 12 years old. You can book online at www.tasteoftoulouse.com
Rugby: Tickets for games at Stade Ernest-Wallon start at 18 euros and can be purchased online at www.stadetoulousain.fr
Doing it for the ‘gram: Place Sainte-Scarbes features a pretty fountain surrounded by blush pink buildings. Walk on for another few minutes to Place Wilson for a shot of the iconic carousel. Finally, Place du Capitole contains plenty of nooks and crannies for Insta-worthy shots.