Forget the tourist traps of Paris – Toulouse is the perfect French city break
A WEEK-END in Paris is the essential getaway for a French city break.
But 400 miles south of the capital is La Ville Rose – The Pink City – of Toulouse, offering charm by the bucket and still managing to avoid the tourist traps that litter the streets of Paris.
Located on the banks of the Garonne, the city founded by the Romans in the Occitan region of southern France is steeped in history and carries a unique culture with elements blended with Spain’s neighboring Catalonia.
Distinctive for its pink brick buildings and winding streets, which sit within the confines of a Roman wall still visible in various parts of the city, it has everything you need for a successful city break.
WHY SHOULD I GO? From cobbled lanes to stunning riverside paths along the Garonne, France’s fourth largest city is a delight.
With ancient Roman ruins, vibrant nightlife and a tasty food scene, it’s a fantastic, well-rounded getaway that can be packed into a weekend.
And with the Spanish border just two hours away, Toulouse is the ideal stopover for a European city-hop.
ARE THE STREETS MADE FOR WALKING? It’s the perfect city to explore on foot, by bike or scooter, with the bustling center and major historic attractions just minutes from each other.
From the neo-classical Capitole de Toulouse in the heart of the city and its surrounding Place du Capitole, to the churches of the Couvent des Jacobins and Notre Dame de Daurade, there is no shortage of historic sites.
The Saint-Sernin Basilica offers the perfect setting for a romantic moment.
Visitors can walk for miles along the river. And if that wasn’t enough walking, there are two superb public gardens to enjoy: the Jardin des Plantes and the Jardin Japonais.
SOMETHING UNUSUAL? Take a taxi to the Halle de La Machine where gigantic fantasy-themed automatons parade on Toulouse’s former aerospace runway.
Enjoy the bread catapult, Nutella-Toast spreader, and wine serving machine before taking a ride on the 45-foot-tall Minotaur.
If you’re looking to learn something new, pop into the Cité de l’Espace, a science discovery center focused on Toulouse’s involvement in aeronautics and space travel.
The museum houses a life-size model of the Ariane 5 and Soyuz space rockets and the Russian MIR space station which orbited the Earth from 1986 to 1996.
WHERE SHOULD I EAT? For a traditional French meal, Aux Pieds Sous La Table offers a small menu that changes regularly.
Weather permitting, lunch at Ma Biche sur Le Toit. At the top of the Galeries Lafayette shopping center, it offers breathtaking views of the entire city from its panoramic terrace.
A short walk from some of the best nightlife spots, Monsieur George’s serves up traditional fare at an affordable price, while Brasserie Les Beaux Arts is a long-standing fine dining spot. Take a Taste Of Toulouse food tour, led by American local Jessica Hammer, for pointers to the best sellers and hotspots for your favorite sweet and savory treats.
YOU ARE THIRSTY ? Le Bibent on Place du Capitole allows locals and visitors to enjoy a glass of wine with a view of Place du Capitole and its impressive theatre. Get your Instagram selfies at Bar A La Une, serving drinks and tapas in a uniquely designed space. And craft beer lovers will love L’Ancienne Belgique, which serves more than 70 beers.
WHERE SHOULD I STAY? If you are looking for something unique, the boutique Hôtel Maison SoClo is just a few minutes walk from Place du Capitole and the banks of the Garonne.
The 18th century building has a garden, a terrace and a swimming pool on its roof.
On the ground floor there is a restaurant which serves delicious charcuterie until late at night as well as a bar for cocktails.
GETTING THERE : British Airways offer return flights from London to Toulouse-Blagnac from £80. See britishairways.com
STAYING THERE: Rooms at Hotel Maison SoClo from £122 a night, based on two shared rooms. See soclo.fr
MORE INFORMATION: See www.toulouse.visit.com