19-20 April 2008
I didn't know anything about Toulouse except that it was the home of cassoulet (sausage, bean and duck casserole), the best foie gras and Europe's space program. But Easyjet sales means that it's easy to broaden my travelling horizons and I'm becoming a fan of visiting 'fourth city tourism' - visitng the regional cities of Western Europe where there's no must-see hectic sightseeing, the city is chilled out, the locals are friendly and most importantly, the food is still fantastic.
Philippe Faur. One of a row of ice cream shops on place du Capitole but I was attracted to this one because of its steel ice cream canisters - a mark of quality given my experiences in Rome. The violet sorbet (a speciality of the town) was very sweet and refreshing.
Capucine. A sweet Tiffany-eggshell blue cafe serving tea in beautiful china cups.
Sorbet d'amour. Famous ice cream makers since 1935, as evidenced by the long line. Two ice creams in a day was no obstacle to me sampling their interesting flavours, including mirabelle de Lorraine.
Le Colombier. Billing itself as 'The Temple of Cassoulet', this local haunt was full on Saturday night and at every table the patrons were tucking into terracotta bowls of cassoulet. Their version was delicious and hearty but it's definitely not every day food unless you are a farmer in the mountains. According to the website, the recipe of the cassoulet from Castelnaudary has remained at Le Colombier for 150 years and when the restaurant was sold in 1976, the recipe was sold with it! I think it's really funny that the origins of cassoulet are apparently in dispute with the Villefrance-de-Lauiragais region - the only difference being that the Toulousian version is eaten slightly browned on top!
Antic et the. This serene antique shop hides a mini salon de the where you can sip your drink in fine china and refined surroundings. They get their tea from a tea merchant down the road, Saveurs et Harmonies. One of my favourite discoveries of Toulouse.
Brasserie Le Bibent. This gorgeously baroque dining room looks out onto the place du Capitole and is perfect for a relaxing Sunday lunch. It seems that the locals agree because many were greeted by the waitress with familiar kisses, including a cute old couple at the best table in the house - he dressed in a tie and waistcoat, she with her white hair done up and makeup on. Our escargots du Dordogne were enormous and rightly garlicky, the mains were a bit heavy (more foie gras for Huy and duck for me) but the pinnacle was the tres jolie dessert platter which we spied at the next table and then ordered for ourselves. Two hours and 30 euros later, it was time for a post-prandial nap.
Le Paradis du Fruit. A cute fruit juice and home-made ice cream bar with a bright interior, fantastic icecream and the biggest creamiest cappucino ever. A lovely respite from the rain.
Marche Victor Hugo. Even at 9am on a Sunday the local men in their cloth caps are imbibing red wine and holding animated discussions around the cornucopia of cheese, bread, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables in this undercover market. Many of the shops sell their own house-made saucisson, and you can even buy them in varying degrees of dryness. Huy was asked to feel the dryness of the saucisson he was about to purchase, and the quizzical look on his face as he squeezed it was hysterical. Upstairs in this strange concrete carpark complex there is a row of restaurants with a large number of locals enjoying lunch.Sunday seems to be the day the locals hit the markets - we strolled around the markets at Place St Aubin, Boulevard Strasbourg and around Saint Sernin.
La Fromagerie Xavier. Francois Xavier seems to be a minor celebrity in Toulouse as his extremely busy fromagerie ('the spirit of cheese") can attest. The selection of cheese was overwhelming so my only criteria was that it was French, soft, small and in a pretty shape (like hearts or leaves). Three cheeses only set me back 8 euro and if nothing else, my cheese selection was certainly stinky.
Cafe Bacquie. This shop, cafe and tea shop has been in Toulouse since 1893 and we bought gorgeous raspberry mini-madeleines there.
Gimm. Our favourite hot pink cake store. Each cake was a work of art, involving macarons, a pipette of raspberry coulis and chocolate scrolls. We went inside to buy one cake and ended up with four - you know, just to balance the box. This resulted in a Marie-Antoinette style breakfast of cake the next day.
Maison Pillon. A traditional French patisserie with beautifully presented cakes and sweets - we couldn't walk past without trying something, even though we were already full and had eaten a few cakes already. Our giant pistachio macaron wasn't the best we'd ever had, but our hotelier bought his cakes and pastries there.
Le Paradis Gourmand. There are two branches of this cute and rustic food store - one store stocks herbs, oils and wine, the other store is a fantabulous sweets, chocolates and biscuits cave. You can see from the photo that my concentration was immense as I tried to decide which biscuits to buy.
Shoe shops on Rue Saint Rome. OK so it's not like the shoe stores in Rome, but there are certainly a lot of shoe stores in a row (along with tacky street wear) and I managed to find a killer pair of Dracula heels at San Marina Paris, whose mixed up name indicates that it is a French store selling Italian shoes.
Les Petits Poids. An adorable epicerie which sold a range of teas from the Pyrnees made from wild herbs and flowers picked in the mountains. I couldn't resist the lovely pink tin.
Chocolats Olivier. Masters of chocolate in Toulouse since 1780 and one of the oldest chocolatiers in France, this glamorous mint-green themed chocolate store allows you to taste test all of their varieties of chocolate. I'm told the sugar-free white chocolate (a bit of an anachronism in my view) was delicious.
La Maison de la Violette. We didn't actually go to the store as it was somewhere on the Canal du Midi, but their product range was available at Lafayette Gourmet. Voilets are famous in Toulouse and everywhere you will see violet products being sold. Apparently Michelin starred chefs use confit de violette to glaze their foie gras, but I settled on some very sweet violet tea.
Maison Garcia. Inside Marche Victor Hugo is one stall which is completely weighed down by salamis, saucisson and chorizo. I bought their house-made soubressade (some form of sausage) after a delightfully confusing exchange where the shopgirl asked how I wanted to eat it and I replied 'Yes' and then she tried to explain that I could eat it on toast, like nutella, and I thought she wanted me to eat it WITH Nutella!
Visit Cathedrale Saint-Etienne. This cathedral is the weirdest mishmash of architectural styles I've ever seen thanks to a patchwork of unfinished or chopped off construction. It was one of many examples of in the city of the weird juxtaposition of ancient and modern buildings, of brick and concrete.
Visit Basilique St. Sernin. This calm and light church is the largest Romanesque church in Europe and is a soothing place to rest from the crazy trash market outside on Sunday.
Cinema Utopia. A wet Sunday in Toulouse doesn't leave many options if you've already spent 2 hours at lunch and am anticipating another 2 hours for dinner. So we decided to indulge in a very French pastime and aller au cinema. Unfortunately, the only English language cinema in town (a cute little place with velvet wallpaper, 19th century portraits and mini-chandelier lamps) was showing films we had already seen...or a French film. So we decided to go for L'ete Indien - at least we could sleep and for 5.50 euro it was cheaper than a hotel room. After 5 minutes of sweeping views of the Haute-Savoie and no dialogue, Huy started snoring gently, while my schoolgirl French got me through the story about a lonely taciturn man in the mountains, his daughter in love with her boyfriend and wanting to get married and his sadness since his wife left him. It was actually quite enjoyable and the scenery was stunning.
Hotel Heliot. A lovely cosy hotel hosted by incredibly friendly Frederic and presided over by his black and white cat. Our spacious room included high ceilings, a Juliet balcony, fancy cornices around the fireplace and comfortable beds. It's in a great location for the main eating and shopping areas and convenient for the train station and the bus stop (NB the airport bus departs every 20 minutes and only costs 6 euros return). A final novelty from a hotel in the city which is home to the Airbus, Concorde and the European Space Program: a late night door opening system which checks you in via your digital fingerprint. A wonderful find for 70 euros.
Philippe Faur: 11, place du Capitole 31000 Toulouse
Sorbet d'amour: 28, rue Montardy
Le Colombier: 14 Rue Bayard
Antic et The: 79 rue de la Colombette
T: +33 5 61 99 26 84
Brasserie Le Bibent: 5, Place du Capitole , 31000 Toulouse
La Paradis du Fruit: 16 boulevard de Strasbourg
La Fromagerie Xavier:
Gimm: 2 place Victor Hugo
Maison Pillon: 2, rue d'Austerlitz (and other locations)
Le Paradis Gourmand: 45, Rue Tourneurs
Chocolats Olivier: 10, rue Lapeyrouse, Place Wilson
Boutique San Marina : 39, Rue Saint Rome
Le Petit Poids
Le Maison de la Violette: BP 15005 - 31032 Toulouse cedex 5
Betty: 21 place Victor Hugo (and other locations)
T: +33 5 61 22 17 81
Cathedrale Saint Etienne, place Saint Etienne
Basilique Saint Sernin, place Saint Sernin
Cinema Utopia: 24, rue Montardy, Toulouse, 31000
Hotel Heliot: 3, rue Héliot