Get ready for take-off on an eclectic city break in France’s aviation powerhouse.
Words: Ben Goodwin
While ‘la Ville Rose’ (the Pink City) may not enjoy the same international status as Paris or evoke the glamour of the French Riviera, Toulouse actually gives both a run for their money in the bucket load.
Toulouse really does have something for everyone, which made narrowing down a ‘top 10’ list really difficult. However, after careful deliberation, below are my favourite places, attractions and places to eat and drink in Toulouse.
1. Place du Capitole
Instantly recognisable from its pink brickwork, the grandiose Place du Capitole makes for an obvious location to start exploring Toulouse. With its eight rosy marble columns, the square is dominated by the Capitole, named after the 12th century administration of the city and remains as the home of its local government.
2. Couvent des Jacobins
If you love your ecclesiastical architecture, then Toulouse really doesn’t disappoint, and hidden among the maze of streets within Toulouse’s old town, you can find the Couvent des Jacobins, which was the first-ever permanent convent of the Saint Dominic’s Order of Preachers. Built in 1230 and also home to the city’s original university, its huge church is famous for its palm tree ribs that thrust upwards, accentuating the light that glimmers through massive stained glass windows.
Aerospace museum Aeroscopia is so cool, it has not one, but two Concordes. Not only that, there’s a gigantic Super Guppy that was used to carry outsize cargo components, a glass-floored Airbus A300B and a replica of a Louis Blériot XI monoplane, famous for being the first aircraft to cross the English Channel in 1909.
4. Le Chat Noir Bistrot
Le Chat Noir Bistrot is the perfect spot for brunch or dinner in Toulouse, boasting a tapas-style menu consisting of locally-sourced ingredients and beverages. Our waiter took us through the menu in perfect English, exploring the home-made seasonal cuisine on offer that night and where exactly within the region they had come from.
The velvety pumpkin and hazelnut soup was a perfect complement to the autumnal weather outside and all the mussels served had opened, with the accompanying sauce crying out to be finished off with a dunking of fresh bread at the end of the meal. The bread also came with chorizo butter, which was every bit as amazing in our mouths as it sounds in writing. We washed down all our hearty dishes with a craft beer and a glass of local red wine respectively.
5. Cité de l’Espace
This is probably the closest place on earth you will ever get to being in space without ever travelling on a rocket. Cité de l’Espace takes the best bits of Drayton Manor and Thinktank, Birmingham science museum, to create an awe-inspiring experience.
Even if the stars have never inspired you, it’s almost impossible not to be overwhelmed by the full-scale models of the Ariane 5 rocket, Mir space station and Soyuz modules.
6. Les Abattoirs
This former slaughterhouse no longer turns animals into food, as Les Abattoirs today serves up world-class contemporary and modern art. As well as its own impressive permanent collection, the gallery also hosts temporary exhibitions showcasing the work of respected artists from around the world.
7. Muséum de Toulouse
On entering the Grand Carré entrance hall of the Muséum de Toulouse, nature lovers young and old will gawp at the sight of Punch, a stuffed Asian elephant, an African giraffe named Twiga and the quetzalcoatlus, the largest known flying reptile; just three of the museum’s 2.5 million items, making it France’s largest natural history collection.
8. Let’s Visit Airbus
Dedicated to the delivery of the double-decker passenger aeroplane, the A380, it’s no surprise then that Airbus’ Jean-Luc Lagardère site is the largest civil aircraft assembly plant in the world. Let’s Visit Airbus allows you to get up close and personal with the process of putting a giant aeroplane together; think of it as the biggest jigsaw you’ll ever see.
9. Le Bistrot des Carmes
Situated in the hip and historic neighbourhood of Carmes, Le Bistrot des Carmes was the perfect find for great French cuisine. Initially seduced by its bold, red fascia that was straight out of ‘Amélie’, we were further enticed by its simple fixed price menu; starter and a main for just €21.
10. Espace EDF Bazacle
I appreciate that a hydroelectric power station may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the Espace EDF Bazacle provides an informative glimpse into the city’s industrial past, while also offering stunning views over the River Garonne and its impressive weir.