If you’ve never been to Toulouse, there’s one thing you’ve got to know: this is the beating heart of France’s aeronautics and aerospace industry. But just because you’re more of a train person, that doesn’t mean you should miss out on a trip to the ‘Pink City’. Far removed from the likes of Krakow, Birmingham and Salamanca, it’s easily one of southern France’s true jewels. So whack on a straw hat and some sunglasses, and let’s head on down to the capital of the south-west France
First things first, head to the area grimly known as Les Abattoirs. Here you’ll find the city’s main modern and contemporary art museum. Located in the wider Saint-Cyprien neighbourhood and billed as a ‘Musée de France’, the Abattoirs has a brilliant art collections, a library, workshops, an auditorium, a bookshop and restaurant. It’s an exceptional place to spend a few hours, and you’ll be blown away by both the temporary and permanent exhibitions.
Toulouse is a southern city, so much of the social life here takes place outdoors. Among the best places to hang out outdoors are the 1980s-built Jardin Japonais, a favourite for many locals. With its red wooden bridge overhanging a lake covered in lily pads, its beautiful flower and rock gardens, majestic islets and a house on stilts, everything here really does fit together in such a way that makes you feel rather zen. Come here and relax for a little while (but don’t tell your friends about it).
There’s a surplus of decent restaurants in Toulouse. But one we’d really recommend is Le Saint-Sauvage. This local institution has an intimate, friendly atmosphere, friendly staff and an exceptionally refined menu. Chef Valérie Cohen takes only the finest local produce and magics up all sorts of creative dishes. Our particular favourite is the roast calves’ sweetbreads with lime and girolle mushrooms – it really is mindblowing.
And now to go and see the city’s finest minotaur (yes, really). Fourteen metres high and weighing 47 tonnes, this gigantic mechanical creature was built by the same team as those contraptions you’ll find in Nantes. Like something straight out of ancient mythology, it moves majestically right in front of you. And yes, you can actually ride on its back through the streets of Toulouse. If you’re a fan of your madcap inventions, you should definitely make the time to roam through the Halle de la Machine. Some of them are so small you can hold them in your hands. Whether you’re seven or 77, you’ll have a great time here.
The final place you should go before dinner is Château d’Eau. Housed in a nineteenth-century building, this spectacular gallery is a rite of passage for all fans of pretty pictures, with its epic exhibitions bringing together the most notable names in global photography. The Château d’Eau also has a library dedicated to photography. As you leave, definitely head over to the Pont Neuf, the city’s oldest bridge, to take a look at the ‘child with a donkey’s bonnet’, hidden underneath. It’s quickly become a symbol of the city, dedicated to minorities and the misunderstood.
When you think of Toulousain cuisine, you might think of celebrity chef Michel Sarran. But since he’s started working on train menus for SNCF, we’ll let you discover his talents in carriage four. Instead, head to Jardins de l’Opéra, headed up by the very talented Stéphane Tournié. He’s worked in all sorts of storied French kitchens and has won a Michelin star for his take on regional classics like braised calves’ sweetbreads and roast langoustine. The setting is understated, and the four- or seven-course menus are a wonderful way to discover Tournié’s talents.