Toulouse: The French city bursting with culture that etches enduring memories in the hearts of travellers

Nestled along the Garonne River in southwestern France, Toulouse beckons to lovers of food, wine, history, music and culture, writes Jordan Bernard

Toulouse has lots to offer for visitors interested in food, drink, culture and heritageToulouse has lots to offer for visitors interested in food, drink, culture and heritage
Toulouse has lots to offer for visitors interested in food, drink, culture and heritage

The allure lies not only in Toulouse's rich heritage but also in the immersive experiences it offers to everyone who visits. One of the most convenient things about this beautiful city is its condensed yet diverse offerings, easily navigated by foot. A day can easily be spent wandering through the streets which are adorned with independent boutiques and temptingly invite you to explore their nooks and crannies - discovering street art from local artists and revealing ancient churches, like the Basilica of Saint-Sernin, a showcase of stunning Roman architecture.

Once the cornerstone of Toulouse’s economy, visitors can discover the significance of Pastel dye in AHPY boutique, recently opened by master craftsman Annette Hardouin. Here you’ll find the clear theme across all of the items within the store and even those worn by Annette herself is blue, dyed using Pastel. Cultivating the plants required to produce the pigment is both time consuming and labour intensive so, with this being the only known natural source of blue dye for many years, Pastel quickly became the colour of royals. It requires expert knowledge which can be found tucked away in workshops hosted in the AHYP store where you can bring in your own items to dye with the support of Annette’s expertise, or try your hand at creating your own patterns with a piece of sample cloth in a fun and entertaining workshop.

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The grandeur of La Place du Capitole is framed by the magnificent Capitole building, with magnificent architecture housing both the city hall and the opera house. Toulouse was named ‘City of Music’ by the Director General of UNESCO and the opulent hall of l’Opera National du Capitole serves as an exquisite backdrop. Its detailed preservation of history fuses seamlessly with modern lighting - the ornate setting adding a layer of grandeur, enhancing the magic of any performance.

Toulouse is a perfect destination for culture loversToulouse is a perfect destination for culture lovers
Toulouse is a perfect destination for culture lovers

The restaurants in Toulouse's main square are open all year round. There is seating perfect for soaking up the summer sunshine and in winter it hosts a Christmas market, adding a seasonal flair with a diverse range of new food vendors to experience. Alongside the classic mulled wine and crepes you can also find more local treats such as Aligot, a heavenly combination of mashed potato, cheese, cream and garlic – a must try if you haven’t come across this before!

For an intimate exploration of Toulouse's wine scene, independent businesses such as the Taste of Toulouse, offer the opportunity to explore intimate wine bars with wine expert and American expat Jessica Hammer. Having lived in the area for six years and with several wine qualifications, Jessica has a wealth of knowledge so you’re guaranteed to learn something, whether you’re a wine enthusiast or more of a novice. Many of the local wines are challenging to get hold of outside of these regions as they are rarely exported so it’s also an opportunity to try something new.

The tour includes a visit to No 5 Wine Bar which had a plaque declaring it was best wine bar in the world for three years running. You can see why as you step inside and observe how it combines rustic touches with modern technology, displaying all of its wine bottles in glass cabinets each with handwritten notes on each bottle, your wine of choice can then be dispensed directly into your glass from the bottle within the cabinet with the press of a button making it easy to sample a range of wines of your choice.

About Toulouse

What you need to know to visit

Toulouse, often referred to as "La Ville Rose" (The Pink City), is a vibrant city in the Occitanie region of France. Renowned for its rich history, aerospace industry, and picturesque landscapes, Toulouse offers a unique blend of modernity and tradition, making it a must-visit destination for travellers from around the world. For more information on Toulouse visit www.toulouse-visit.com

Stay at Les Capitouls Toulouse Ctre Handwritten Collection 4 stars, from €106 (£92) per night.

Fly to Toulouse from Manchester through Frankfurt from £148 with Lufthansa or from London to Toulouse from £26 with Ryanair. Find out at www.lufthansa.com/gb/en/homepage and  www.ryanair.com/gb/en.

Toulouse Wine Tour €89 (£76). Find out at www.tasteoftoulouse.com/toulouse-wine-bar-tour/

Tickets to La Halle de la Machine from €13 (£11). Find out at /www.halledelamachine.fr/en/1203-2/

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Toulouse is also the home to the famous huge mechanical creations, which are brought to life by ingenious engineering and have toured the world, including a visit to Liverpool earlier this year. Residing in the Halle de la Machine museum just outside of the centre they remain the main attraction as they tower above almost everything in sight. It was all I could do to marvel at the creativity and engineering as the Minotaur’s chest began to slowly rise and fall before its stark blue eyes open and survey the crowd. He then begins to blow out mist from his nose as he shifts towards the crowd, each leg moving as if it were real.

Though these creatures were certainly the main attraction, the museum also offered a range of interactive exhibits and other spectacles of ingenuity, with a focus on centring you as the artist too and creating new things from the old. It was pleasantly surprising how inspiring this experience was and with an enthusiastic team of experts to guide you around the exhibits and give energetic demonstrations you can expect laughter, flames, and endless feelings of awe at the marvellous creations.

Only a short walk away and worth the additional visit whilst you’re in the area is L’Envol des Pionniers. Here you can understand the dreams and failures of the men who created, what was at its time the biggest airline in the world. As you explore the artefacts, take on the challenge of developing your own sustainable airline where you get to choose your own project team, carefully select your route, consider the most efficient energy source and most fun of all, design your own plane! This museum really does a beautiful job of using lessons from the past to inspire the future.

When it comes to food, Toulouse spoils visitors with a range of options. Local favourites include Aux Pieds sous la Table for creative French cuisine, Maison Sarment for charcuterie, Grand Café le Floirida for a convenient stop on the Place du Capitole, Molette for a cosier environment and Les Halles de la Cartoucherie if you’re willing to head a little further out of town and want to have a variety of cuisines to try in a sustainable setting.

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Your trip wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Victor Hugo Market, the largest of three within the city. Here you’ll find everything from authentic handmade baguettes and the cured meat stall that supplies the restaurants to freshly shucked oysters and the opportunity to try patented pastries. Upstairs there are also a selection of specialty restaurants which offer meals made with fresh produce from the market below.

ToulouseToulouse
Toulouse

Every four years France hold a competition where craftsmen compete to win the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France for their trade. This represents a pinnacle of excellence in which the bearers of this title are given the honour of displaying the French colours on their collar which is something to look out for in the market. For this reason, you should also look out for the Xavier cheese shop just outside of the Victor Hugo Market, marked by the image of a square cheese having smashed through the window – the product which won him his title.

We stayed at wonderful Hotel Les Capitouls which is only a short walk away from the Place du Capitole and offers an 1980s Manchester feel with its interior. With a real feeling of coming home, attention has been given to every detail, you’ll even be given a QR code with the hotel’s own personal playlist for you to listen to to really immerse yourself in the vibe, curated by French interior designer Thierry D’Istra.

Toulouse is an invitation that should never be refused. Immerse yourself in the vibrant culture where you have the opportunity to explore, taste and engage with the city’s rich heritage and traditions. With such a rich and diverse range of experiences, each moment in the city unveils a new facet of its cultural allure, etching enduring memories in the hearts of travellers.