Travelling home from Nérac this summer, we were offered the chance to check out Toulouse thanks to our friends at Expedia.ca. When you’re visiting a new-to-you city, it’s hard to know what area to stay in – we hedged our bets and chose the Hotel Pullman, a hotel that was close to the train station (when we booked the trip, we weren’t sure if we would be arriving by train or car so figured the train station was a good bet since it had a drop off location for our rental car and also a bus stop for the airport shuttle so we had all bases covered). We saw that we were within walking distance (10 minutes) of fabulous restaurants, shops and sights as well so figured it was convenient on a number of levels.
On a side note here, because I don’t really “review” hotels, we were very impressed with the Pullman – from the minute we walked in the door (and were upgraded to a deluxe room) to the time we checked out at 5am, we experienced nothing but friendly staff and the accommodations were extremely comfortable. One of the nights we were there, both Neil and I were under the weather and didn’t feel our appetites justified a full meal so we ordered room service and were pleasantly surprised at the quality and relatively reasonable price. Definitely one of the better club sandwiches I’ve eaten (that’s kind of the way I judge a hotel’s room service – either that or a burger is what I generally order!).
In terms of what we wanted to see when we were in the city, we knew we would only have at best a day and a half and in the end, we had one full day and a few hours one afternoon due to well, things taking longer to pack and clean at the house than we expected. On the first afternoon, we got our bearings a little bit, trying to locate some of the places we’d marked in our guide book (the Michelin Toulouse Weekend – in French) and that the helpful concierge at the hotel had mentioned (and marked on a map for us!). That first afternoon became a bit of a fact-finding mission as well – knowing we would be there in August, I was fully expecting a lot of what we wanted to see/ do/ eat and drink to be closed for the lengthy annual summer holidays so I tried to figure out which places we could immediately cross off our list due to being closed (as it turns out, a fair number of places). In our experience, it doesn’t matter what a website says about opening hours, in France in August, it’s always best to check in person! What we ended up with was a shorter list of places to head back to the next day and while this is definitely not a comprehensive list (that’s “in progress” – I’ll definitely be back in Toulouse!), it’s a start for those of you visiting Toulouse with very little time in August!
Edible souvenirs from Toulouse
Retro décor with old-style candies and sweets to match and traditional sweets of the region, this is somewhere those with a sweet tooth won’t want to miss. Pick up some gifts for people back home (and some for yourself while you are at it!).
Just around the corner from its sister store, this gorgeous shop offers savoury regional specialties (think foie gras and cassoulet) as well as spices, wines and other artisinal products that make excellent souvenirs.
Another store featuring regional specialties – notably all things violet and the local “fénétra cake (a cake with almond paste, meringue, candied fruit which apparently dates back to Roman times when it was consumed during a time of mourning).
You can’t come to Toulouse and not notice the preponderance of all things violet (Violette de Toulouse even has its own trademark!). Cultivated since the mid 1800s in the areas surrounding the city and exported across the world it’s become a true symbol of the city. La Maison de la Violette is situated in a charming barge right near the train station on the Canal du Midi and features all sorts of violet products (think ice cream and tea!) and there are lots of opportunities to taste before you buy. There are useful leaflets suggesting how to use each of the products if you are not familiar with them.
A “must taste” if you are into chocolates. Thuriès is a two time MOF (Meilleur Ouvrier de France) which means he’s passed a series of rigourous practical examinations to earn this designation – the highest in his “trade” in France. Seen Kings of Pastry? Well it’s that same contest only for chocolatiers. His collection featured local ingredients (think hazelnuts from the South West of France) and unique items like chocolate macarons, bars of chocolate with unique flavours and other seasonal specialties (at Easter his chocolate eggs are quite something!). Definitely worth seeking out – he has a few locations around the South West.
(notable even though it was closed) Chocolats Olivier
The oldest chocolatier in France (established in 1780) was taking nearly 2 month break this summer (completely normal and to be expected). I’ll be making a beeline for here next time we go to Toulouse to experience their unique ganache flavours, praline chocolates, macarons and candied orange peel amongst other delicacies.
Two meals in Toulouse
So, you arrive in Toulouse and have time for two meals only. What do you do? Where do you go? I crowdsourced a little on Facebook, asking friends who know Toulouse what their favourite places to eat were and was pleased to see that some of the places I had marked to check out were on actual Toulouse-dweller’s lists! It was exceedingly hot when we were there so a lot of the places were immediately relegated to the “check these out when it’s cooler weather” (the cuisine in this region is not exactly what you’d call “light” – t’was not the weather for a hearty cassoulet I am afraid).
It’s not fancy, it’s only open at lunch you can’t reserve and the menu changes daily based on what’s available downstairs at the Marché Victor Hugo but you cannot come to Toulouse and not eat one lunch (they are open for lunch only) at one of the restaurants upstairs from the market.
Most of the restaurants feature a three-course daily menu as well as à la carte. It’s the best deal in town. The day we were there, tourists mingled with many locals – you know if the locals eat there it must be good. Fast service, great quality food and an informal atmosphere make this a “must” for any visitor to the city. Go early or expect a wait.
This was recommended in our guide book and also by a friend of a friend as being “classic”. Sometimes that can translate to overly touristy so we were a little leery but were delighted to find this was one of the first restaurants we came across as we started out from the hotel exploring. We had a good look at the menu a few times as we passed back and forth during the time we were there and finally decided that we should check it out. The decor was splendid, the wait staff very friendly, the prices reasonable and the clientele looked to be made up of a mix of tourists and locals.
Our meal here did not disappoint. We were warmly greeted and had excellent service. We ordered a bit of an odd meal which was accepted and not judged (sometimes you just don’t want a whole three course meal, you know – and sometimes you want a starter as your main course, especially when it’s a bacon and egg salad!) and offered the chance to split a huge plate of melon/ jambon (which at 19€ was a bit pricey for one though the menu didn’t make it clear it was to share our waiter did).
Little touches like bringing a glass of red ordered at the start of the meal to accompany the main just at the right time and a complimentary “digestif” made for a really wonderful experience. We’ll be back!
Yes, we will be back in Toulouse hopefully sooner rather than later. We barely scratched the surface of all there is to see/ do/ eat and drink and I’d love to see the city in the non-peak holiday season (i.e. when everything is open!).
Disclosure: Thanks to my friends at Expedia.ca for covering our stay Hotel Pullman on this trip as part of the Big World Explorer programme. I have not received further compensation and everything is written based on my personal experience on this trip.
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