Known as ‘La Ville Rose’ (the Pink City) for its iconic terracotta brick constructions and known as Europe’s premier aerospace hub, Toulouse is also steeped in history and is home to enough museums and art galleries to satisfy most culture connoisseurs own impressive type of kitchen.
As with any travel destination, it is wise to find a reputable guide and familiarize yourself with the city upon arrival. Look no further than Toulouse Walking Tours, owned and run by a friendly Yorkshire woman, Penny Dickinson. Penny may be her name, but her walking tours are worth well over a pound.
The mother of two, who has lived in Toulouse for 16 years, knows the city very well, including off-track restaurants ranging from vegetarian to authentic “grandmotherly” cuisine on narrow streets and the best places to buy chocolates, macaroons and pastry shop. Your knowledge of history is impressive, from the city’s creation as a Roman settlement to the modern growth of the aerospace industry. Her stories of local characters are fun and colorful, including a sexual calumny with royalty. She also manages to find hidden artwork in some of the strangest places.
Penny organizes a variety of tours, both her regular public and personalized private walks, and also provides an easy-to-understand city map of major attractions. Thoughtful, she brings drinks and homemade snacks to relax during her tours of the Garonne River.
Museums and art galleries
A multitude of museums and galleries await culture lovers in Toulouse and provide insights into the city and the most important people who are involved in its growth.
The city’s archaeological museum is located in the old townincludes an exceptional collection of Roman sculptures, from busts to tombstones, and an ancient mosaic floor. For me, however, the highlight was an invaluable collection of elaborately designed Celtic gold bracelets from the 1st to 3rd centuries BC. An additional delight in this museum is the quiet garden of the antiques and the café right outside the front door with tables and seating in an “oasis” of palm trees, laurels and cypresses.
A museum of fine arts and historical design in one of the most impressive in ToulouseHotel particles(Private houses) called the Hôtel d’Assézat, its walls on three floors are crammed with antique furniture, ceramics, old books, statues, carpets and paintings. The latter encompass various artistic movements, including French Impressionism, Nabis, Post-Impressionism, Expressionism, and Fauvism, particularly those from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as Venetian paintings of the 16th and 18th centuries. You can see works by Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro, Gauguin, Breughel, Sisley and Egon Schiele, a protégé of Gustav Klimt, among others.
Town hall gallery
Government buildings aren’t usually the most attractive spots, but the Capitole, which is where Toulouse City Hall is located, is an exception. Although guarded by the police, visitors are allowed and entry is free. Inside an impressive staircase with a balustrade there are three spacious rooms with high ceilings, murals and ceiling paintings, each designed by different artists on a different theme, and a beautiful oak parquet with herringbone pattern.
Salle Gervais is full of paintings by Paul Gervais depicting love in its many different stages. Salle Henri Martin shows the renderings of this Toulouse artist of the four seasons and another impressive work that shows famous Toulousans, including the artist himself walking along the Garonne. and Salle des Illustres honors some of the city’s famous sons, including mathematicians, scientists, generals and artists. Best to visit on Sunday mornings as weddings are held here so it can get quite crowded. Check opening times at reception.
A leisurely stroll through Toulouse brings its own rewards.
Of course there is the historic Capitole Square, where you can admire the Occitan Cross and the astral symbols carved on the floor and enjoy a coffee on the many terraces. Head to Brasserie de Beaux Art to admire the ornate decorative ceilings and soak up the Old World ambience.
Stroll along Rue Temponieras with its boutiques.
Admire the architectural skills of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who renovated the 16th century “Dungeon Tower” where the Capitols (the city’s leaders) used to meet and which is now the city’s main tourist office.
Stroll along the Garrone River, photograph the ornate Pont Neuf, the city’s oldest bridge, and soak up the youthful energy and spirit of the hundreds of students who gather in St. Peter’s Square.
Don’t miss a visit to the Victor Hugo Market, especially on Sundays when the locals gather for a bite to eat and a chat. And of course a glass or two of wine.
For something a little different, head to Maison de Violett, a river-boat shop that sells everything from herbal teas to bath soaps scented with Toulouse’s branded flower.
A search for upscale Toulouse restaurants will bring you to the Jardin de l’Opera opposite the historic Place du Capitole, a stone’s throw from the City Hall.
In a short alley across from the 17th century Grand Hôtel de l’Opéra, there is an airy, spacious restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows in a classic ambience with minimalist decor and an enchanting ceiling made of Belle Epoque glass.
Owned by Michelin-starred chef Stéphane Tournié, it has a relaxed atmosphere and a menu that is delicious in both presentation and taste.
Our evening was a show with different acts creating an unforgettable tasting menu. We started with an amuse bouche served in delicate white china in the shape of various crustaceans with three different salads, lentils and beetroot, salmon, potatoes, chia seeds and violets (the flower is a traditional symbol of Toulouse). The next dish consisted of shaved black truffles resting on fried scallops and toasted onion puree. The scent announced the entrance when the kitchen door opened. An interesting combination of foie gras with oysters paired with ginger and citronella broth stole the show, but a sea bass swimmer with shrimp tail and fresh coriander on an island of vegetable rice and coconut sauce with marigold petals was also memorable.
After a tangerine dessert, we sipped on Armagnacs after seeing nine different bottles behind our table, one from 1970.
Don’t forget to buy a Toulouse Tourism Pass. It not only includes free public transport by bus, metro and tram, free entry to many museums and monuments and numerous activities at discounted prices, but also a guided tour of your choice from the entire visiting program of the tourist office.