So OH and I have been in Toulouse for 9 days now and everyday has been different. I was worried that I had been a bit over zealous when I booked the 11 day break in a city as I was anxious I would become bored quickly with the same sites. Thankfully I have been proven wrong and the reverse has been true. The longer you stay the more fun you have.
Bizarrely the same streets and bars look completely different during the day compared to at night and there really is enough to do to keep you occupied during a lengthier stay. I know the streets well now and could easily give a stranger directions. However, although I now have a feel for the city, we are only acquaintances and my French would have to be far better to claim anything more.
So my top 10 tips for a trip to Toulouse are
1. Pack bold (not the washing detergent!) Everyone is stylish and you will want to be too
2. If you’re a man embrace facial hair and trim it to perfection
3. Unless you’re a model don’t expect 2nd glances – everyone is gorgeous in Toulouse
4. Prepare to sit down at 8pm to eat and still to be sat there after 10pm – eating is something you do all evening
5. Bring plenty indigestion tablets – see above
6. Be prepared for discomfort as there is no such thing as a comfy chair in Toulouse – outdoor garden furniture is the norm
7. Don’t try to give up smoking whilst you are in Toulouse – you won’t manage. In fact, if you’ve already given up you will probably start again!
8. At some point take a bottle of wine down to the river, relax and people watch
9. Bring your art materials – you will want to paints or draw or write
10. Book for longer than 3 days!
The main sites to see if you are visiting Toulouse are
Le Capitole: Right in the very heart of the city is Place du Capitole. All roads lead to the square and it’s extremely impressive building. The square is always busy whether there is a market on or not. It’s the place to be seen and the restaurants that surround the square are pricey although it is worth paying that little extra to sit and people watch (my favourite pastime – especially with a glass of wine to hand).
You can go into the Le Capitole and wander around (for free). There is a room full of Henri Martins – an impressionist painter I hadn’t heard of before I arrived in Toulouse but his paintings of the banks of the Garonne are worth of seeing (if only to see how much the trees have grown along the side of the river!)
When you enter Salle des Illustres you take a sharp intake of breath as the paintings and colour overwhelm you. This room is now used for weddings and offiicial receptions and, although it’s no Sistine Chapel, it is impressive.
Unfortunately, you can’t get out on to the balcony but if you could you would be able to look down on to the 18m wide Languedoc cross outside, which is set into the square. Each point has one of the signs of the zodiac.
basilica Saint Sernin: This basilica was built in honour of a martyred saint, Saturnin. He died after being dragged through the streets by a sacrificial bull – what a way to go! Apparently in the 3rd century they didn’t sleep at night as they were too busy thinking up gruesome ways to kill people.
The other important thing about this building is that it’s part of the El camino de Santiago pilgrimage – if you have no idea what I’m talking about a good and light hearted way of finding out about it is to watch the film The Way. Oh and there’s crypts below you have to pay to go in and see but it’s only 2€.
At the weekends there is also a flea market around the building, which is worth a wander around too.
Église des Jacobins:
The Jacobins were another new research item for me (thank goodness for wikipedia!) The building is amazing and huge palm trees hold the roof up (I’m not kidding!) There is even a huge mirror surrounding one of the upright columns to save you straining your neck and looking up at it.
The cloisters were tranquil, even although during our visit a fantastic musician played the piano. My guess was that he was practicing for the Piano aux Jacobins, a yearly festival during the month of September held in the church.
At night the gothic bell tower lights up and is more reminiscent of something seen in Blackpool during the illuminations than something you would expect from a church (Im not sure why either)
Marche couvert Victor Hugo: This covered food market is a must see – all the food looks exceptional. They have however,managed to hide it under a multi-storey car park so look out for it.
Musee des Augustins: This is a beautiful building full of fantastic sculptures and paintings. It’s 4€ to get in and worth every cent. If you are the least bit arty, the artwork on display here will make you feel inadequate. The sculptures look like they could turn and speak to you and just yearn to be stroked (obviously you’re not allowed). The paintings are immense and tell painful stories in seconds that leave you queering the injustice.
Jardin Japonais: It’s a bit of a walk to get to from the city centre but worth the effort (you could also get the metro). The Japanese garden is only one part of these extensive gardens but my favourite part. The bridge, very like the famous one in Monet’s garden, is just screaming out to be photographed. If you work in the north east of Toulouse it seems it’s compulsory to eat your lunch here as every bench was occupied with workers with plastic forks and Tupperware boxes (told you they were stylish- no washed out plastic ice creams containers here!). From the gardens we headed to the Canal du Brienne and followed it back into the centre. The Canal du Midi is another canal in the area popular with joggers, walkers and cyclists.
Pont Neuf: IT’S JUST A BRIDGE over the River Garonne – it’s there and you will see it but the the best thing about it is Le Filochard which is at the city centre side. Read about that here —-> Le Filochard