Toulouse, the beautiful pink capital of Midi Pyrenees in the south of France! My last interaction with France was Paris which was quite like London; big and busy and I didn’t know what to expect from the 4th biggest city in France which is famous for rugby and its aerospace industry and obviously the pink buildings.
Toulouse is called ‘Le Ville Rose’ or The Pink City in French because of the colour of its buildings which is every shade of pink and absolutely magical. The whole city looks like a rose with petals opening from alley to another with delicacy and charm.
The city is located between the bend of River Garonne and the beautiful marvel of engineering; Canal du Midi and while other cities usually build most of the happening stuff and keep traffic around the riverbanks, Toulouse has decided to keep its Riverbanks and the area around for pedestrians. Cold, rain, sun or fog I saw people hanging around the La Duarde. Another quite interesting fact was the number of youngsters I saw in the city which made it a lot livelier than other cities I have been to recently.
All Things Toulouse
To and From Airport
The airport in Toulouse is absolutely gorgeous and modern with a very convenient location but also because Toulouse is the epicenter of Space and aeronautical industry in Europe. Toulouse – Blgnac airport serves the whole of Midi Pyrenees region and also for people travelling to Andorra.
You have the option to take the airport shuttle that will take you directly to the city centre and costs €8 one way or €15 for a return ticket. The bus takes roughly 20-30 minutes and has quite a few stops around the city including Matabiu which is the main Gare of train station. You can take metro from Matabiu from the attached Morengo SNCF metro station.
Another alternate is taking the tram T2 right outside the arrivals which uses standard €1.80 ticket and takes you to Arenes (Metro line A) or Palace de Justice (Metro Line B). It takes 40 minutes roughly and you can take metro from the stations above.
Toulouse Tourism Pass
If you like going to museums, I would definitely recommend buying this pass but I generally found it a bit of waste because the churches are free to enter and buying a travel card is quite easy and cheaper. The pass starts at €15 for a day and you can buy a one, two or three day pass here. It also gives you some discounts for dining and the tourist bus. I decided not to go for it though since I am not a big fan of museums, sponsored dining or tourist busses besides Toulouse city centre is quite small with most places very close and I needed to lose the weight I was going to put on eating all the duck, foie gras and cheese, drool drool!
Public transport in Toulouse is run by Tisseo and the transport system is modern, clean and very reliable with metro service running late at night on the weekends. The tram to and from the airport is also very convenient. I didn’t see many busses around and not sure how that works.
Metro stations are very modern and metro is driverless automatic and travelling through the tunnels reminds me of this warp like feeling you get, which I loved in Copenhagen. This time though, I made a hyperlapse of it, enjoy the experience.
I decided to buy the two day travel card which costs €8.50 and it was very useful throughout my stay. A really useful app is the Tisseo app but unfortunately it is in French but you can roughly guess the itinerary. Generally figuring out public transport is quite easy especially metro since there are only two lines and they only intersect at Jean-Jaures station.
Alternatively you can also use uber which we did from St Pierre place back to our place quite late in the night.
Church Towers and Architecture
The architecture style for most churches and cathedral is Romanesque and Old Gothic and while the buildings are massive, they are not obsessively decorated. The main focus is on the rather simple interior and the simplicity mixed with the pink stone brings in a unique elegance. The colour and style also brings this coolness which I am sure, is quite handy when it comes to summers.
The thing I madly fell in love with were the towers. These geometrically designed pink structures had a presence of their own and with the simple exterior they add a dash of glamour, my absolute favourite part of Toulouse old architecture…
Toulouse city centre
Toulouse has a small to medium size city centre which you can easily see on foot but metro stations are also quite conveniently located throughout. The whole of city centre is different shades of pink from the main square outside Capitole to the streets around that take you to the riverbanks.
I visited right before Christmas so the place was full of festive lighting and a Charismas market with amazing food and stuff from around the area. Toulouse is also quite big on Rugby and the city takes a new life when rugby matches are happening, apparently quite a spectacle on its own…A really great area to watch these matches and chill out is the St. Pierre square right next to St. Pierre bridge which has a few pubs, bars and restaurants and is frequented by the huge student population of Toulouse.
The city centre has all the sophistication you expect from a French town and with neatly lined boutiques and some great food options as well as plenty of bars, churches, casinos or clubs whichever rings your bells…
Duck, duck, duck and duck!!! You can have as much duck as you want here and in different ways, from baked to fried to cooked as a casserole. This is the only city which has a fast food chain based solely on duck and conveniently called ‘Duck me’. I had a lot of duck throughout and everywhere was absolutely great. You can buy some for yourself and cook it as well which is quite easy.
The other specialty is Foie Gras which is mostly served with toasted bread and with a good pairing the whole combo of Foie gras as starter and duck confit or casserole as main is just divine. To make things even better you can throw in some cheese at the end and get up as the happiest person in the world.
In the city centre there are quite a few shops selling cheese and I have never felt so hungry in one single place. Every possibility of cheese you can think of is being sold there. I strongly recommend keeping a tissue to wipe your drool constantly, I did!
Imagine guys that look half French, half Spanish with that flowy French accent! That’s the gay population of Toulouse, beautiful, warm and sexy! I think the Pink City works really well to describe the local gay scene!
There aren’t a lot of gay establishments but the number is good enough to give you plenty of choice based on what your scene is. The most famous is Shanghai Club which is in the city centre, it is quite famous and quite fun especially the men only dance floor upstairs.
The other famous bars are pretty close to each other, Le Bears for bears (DUH!), Limelight and my favourite Le Quinquina with its terrace and cocktails. The bars and clubs are at walking distance to each other and Limelight, Bears and Colonial are located right next to Canal du Midi whereas QuinQuina and Shanghai on the other side of Capitole next to the Capitole metro station or Esquirol.
There are a few people looking for drugged up adventures but most of the people still prefer safe, sober and clean adventures on Grindr, just like Toulouse!
Day 1 is based around the city centre and you will get to see the most important sites in the city without crossing Garonne river. There are a lot of good food options on the way and I loved the sunset and night time on this route especially.
Jeanne d’Arc –> Basilique St-Sernin –> St. Raymond Museum –> Carmelites Chapel –> Victor Hugo Market –> The Taur Church –> DonJon du Capitole –> Capitole and Plaza Capitole –> Basilica of La Daurade –> La Daurade Plaza –> Plaza St Pierre
St. Sernin Basilica (Basilique Saint-Sernin)
Jeanne d’Arch metro station is a good start and it is the closest to SR. Sernin Bascilica, one of my favourite buildings in Toulouse. There is a nice little Patteserie if you want some quick breakfast with coffee or tea right outside the basilica, I’d recommend a light breakfast because you will going to Victor Hugo market later and you want to be hungry there..
St. Sernin basilica is one of the biggest Romanesque churches in Europe and it is unique not only owing to its beautiful pink colour and beautiful tower but it is also one of the oldest and dedicated to St. Sernin which came from St. Saturnin; a martyr saint who was dragged through the streets of Toulouse in 4th century. Like other Southern gothic structures, it is decorated for necessity and elegance is added by space and simplicity rather than adding decorations to every available space.
Church entry is free but if you want to go see the crypt with the body of saint you will need to buy a ticket which I didn’t bother with but this used to be a must visit spot for pilgrims on the way to Compostela Pilgrim in olden times.
Since St. Saturnin was the first bishop of Toulouse, the city named the street and churches where he was dragged by the bull in his honour; The Taur church and the Taur street, slightly morbid but fascinating as well..
The basilica is big and because there aren’t a lot of people around, it is quite serene and there is an air of composure in there, I just loved sitting there enjoying the pinkness…
St. Raymond Museum (Musée St-Raymond)
Walk out and around the basilica to enjoy its size and how it fits within the beautiful city and you will notice a small cube like pink building not far from the main entrance of basilica. It is the St. Raymond museum hosting the permanent exhibition of archeological artifacts showing the life of Romans and Celts in Toulouse and Southern France.
Now this stuff is interesting to some people but I am not one for museums so I decided to skip it but I couldn’t do it entirely. The small courtyard outside the main entrance of museum is absolutely beautiful and the green and pink combo makes it totally irresistible so I sat there soaking the sun and enjoying the surroundings and finally when I’ve had enough of it, I walked out towards the next stop which was a small but very unique church..
Walking towards the Victor Hugo market, I found this baroque chapel which is different than most of the other buildings around and in Toulouse because of its murals and massive walls that cover the walls and ceilings. It was decorated in eighteenth century and happened to be the only building that wasn’t destroyed in the French revolution.
On entry it has a much different impact than other churches because the paintings and murals are massive but the chapel isn’t and the contrast is intriguing and it took me a couple of minutes to adjust. It is also pretty empty and devoid of furniture and this bare interior makes the paintings come to life in a different sense.
Victor Hugo Market
Get ready for some serious Foie Gras, duck, cheese, bread and wine, everything is on the menu and in its true sense.
The market looks more like an ugly ringed building grey building outside and it took me a little bit of time to adjust to the reality when I was expecting a beautiful historical building dedicated to the market but I suppose they considered logistics and necessity when designing it than how it fit in the city.
Step inside and all your complains will vanish, the market has neat, clean and beautiful stalls selling everything from fresh produce to meat to wine and obviously lots of duck, foie gras, Toulouse sausages and a surprise entry; rabbit! A band playing around also helped build an atmosphere.
You need to head up to the 1st floor though if you need cooked food and you will find 5 restaurants there, almost like each other,. All of them serve duck and I ate at 2 of them, the quality was good and comparable, pick the one that will lead to less waiting time.
You should also try the restaurants around because I had an amazing duck casserole at a nearby Brasserie and the cheese shop around the corner with a French artisan bread bakery were just amazing even to look at. (I am getting really hungry right now despite eating an hour ago.. ?
The Taur Church (Église Notre Dame du Taur)
After a glass of wine and good food, the next stop should be The Taur church or The Bull church. The church was built in honour of St. Sernin when he was dragged through the streets of Toulouse. (This story will come back to you again and again..)
The church has a very simple presence outdoor and the entrance is rather humble. The facade towers over the street but in a very awkward manner like a pin coming out of a crowded paper. The interior is very calming and rather simple and quite dark. It was a quick stop though and then I was on my way to see the more exciting Capitole; the symbol of Toulouse.
DonJon du Capitole (Tourism Office)
While Carmelites chapel is different in terms of its interior this tower like structure which was the site of city archives and town meetings before sticks out like a sore thumb not because it is ugly but because of its completely different architecture and an atypical grey colour. It is also asymmetrically placed on the back side of Capitole. It currently hosts the Tourism office which is pretty good in terms of handing out leaflets but not providing a lot of information, enough said..
Capitole and Plaza Capitole
The City hall or Capitole has a huge presence and it sort of is the centre of whole city. The main capitol square is built in neo classical style with alternation of brick and stone and as expected, it is pink.
There was an amazing Christmas market in the main square and I had plenty a food from the market which was buzzing with life from early in the day all the way to the night.
In order to see capitol you will need to enter the main building through security and baracades (makes sense in the current environments) and the security officer spent a little extra time checking me but I was more than happy staying so close to this French hottie, first time being brown and bearded has paid off so well for me ?
The entrance took me to the courtyard of Henry the fourth, I walked through and then on the left hand side is the entrance to the reception rooms. While not the finest pieces of work, there is a southern charm to these rooms and the paintings and sculptures depicts the important points in the history of the city. It didn’t take long to say good bye to Capitole and by this time the sun started moving in the west.
Basilica of La Daurade (Notre Dame de la Daurade)
The walk from Capitole to this massive 6th century basilica is an interesting one where you will see the simple life that Toulouse follows because this isn’t the posh side with boutique ut rather simple shops with lots of normal people going about their business.
The facade of this church is huge and was built much later, the interior seems very different. The age truly reflects in the interior with crumbling walls. Walking through the main entrance you will find the black status of Mary as the focal point because it is so intensely lit you can’t look at much else. They do change the ornaments and garbs for different occasions, I just hope it isn’t the men doing it.. ?
There isn’t much else inside to see but for some reason I got very intrigued and went back when it got dark to see the statue and the whole aura changed. It grew more beautiful and slightly scary and hypnotic, try it for yourself..
La Daurade Plaza
Finally it was getting darker and I stepped down to this little grassy square to see the outline of this beautiful city on the other side of Graonne and the sun setting on it. The views are just spectacular and you can see the St. Pierre bridge, Neuf bridge and especially the dome of the hospital (Dome de la Grave) changing colour. The sunsets in Toulouse are just a hue of red and orange in so many shades and intensity I sat there mesmerized till it got dark and much colder. The lights slowly turned on and in a few more minutes it went from a painting of red and orange to a decorated ornament. I do feel bad for not making a time lapse video but the memory will stay in my head forever..
St Pierre Square
Last stop for the day is this little plaza full of people from Toulouse especially hoards of students. There are a few bars, cafes, restaurants and some other boutiques with a vibrant artsy environment. I had duck (again) at a nearby place which was probably the best I’ve had in Toulouse in ‘Au Coin de la Rue’ and then joined by my friend we went to a few pubs and bars and stayed there until quite late.
It was a pretty amazing day and I was so immensely happy I got to see a few petals of this beautiful rose…
Compans Caffarelli –> Japanese Gardens –> The Jacobin Convent & Cloisters –> L’Opera Spa –> Space City –> Canal du Midi
Japanese Gardens (Jardins Japanois)
After a fresh shower, I headed out to Compans Cafferli metro station which is the closest to the Japanese garden. I picked some stuff to eat with coffee for my breakfast in the garden. I was a bit confused when I entered the place because it seemed like a regular park but you have to walk a bit to enter this garden almost hidden behind a line of plants which turns it into a garden within an ordinary park.
There is an empty wooden pagoda type structure in the middle next to the small pond beautifully decorated. I was really thankful to my friend for not letting me miss this place. I sat down in the sun with my coffee and food and enjoyed a great breakfast with view and since it was early it was almost empty but you could clearly see how immaculately it was designed and how neatly it is kept.
The small red arch bridge kept looking at me and I kept looking back at it until I went all the way over and crossed it, I came back and finished the rest of my food and after an hour or two I was ready to head out to the Jacobin Convent and then to my favourite activity of any holiday; spa.
The Jacobin Convent (Couvent des Jacobins) & Cloisters
A walk through the streets of Toulouse from here to the convent was quite different from the walk in the main city centre because you get to see the real side that tourists generally don’t get to see. The streets grown in age from modern to old and finally you come across this massive red brick building build in Southern gothic style with an impressive presence. The church belongs to Dominicans known as Jacobins.
The entrance is through a door on the side and through this relatively small door, you will enter a massive hall with pillars supporting the ceiling that is round on one side to form a half dome.
The beautiful stained glass tall windows let a lot of natural light in, in all different colours. It is simple in terms of decor and furniture with only a few painting and a very simple altar with a few pews and the rest of it is empty, which makes it feel even bigger.
I bought the ticket to check out the cloisters and it is something you should not miss out on. The central courtyard is lush green with a well in the middle and the veranda around this square courtyard is adorned with beautiful arches. There is a lot of peace and calm in there and I could feel the serenity making me calm. I spent a few minutes looking at the tower which is a stunner and then walked to the chapel at the end with its striking stained glass windows in different shades of blue and painted ceiling and walls.
I had spent an hour by now and my massage appointment was close so I left for the Capitole square and The Grand Opera hotel, exciting stuff!
The grand Opera hotel is located on the right hand side of Capitole plaza and hosts a small but handy spa with sauna and hammam. After a day of walking and a late night out, my body demanded a good massage and this place was just perfect. All I will say is I didn’t realize I had spend 3 hours before realizing it, you imagine the rest…
Space City (Cite de l’espace)
Toulouse is the heart of space and aeronautical engineering and with a large proportion of city’s population working in these industries the place is quite important for people of Toulouse. I on the other hand have seen so many documentaries and movies about space, my interest level was very low and because it is outside the city centre, I completely skipped on this but according to my friend it is quite fun so take uber and enjoy yourself at this mega park which features cinemas and a lot of exhibits and original space shuttles.
Canal du Midi, Matabiu and Gay Bars
We had dinner in the city centre after my friend finished from work and then off to Matabiu which is the central station to get information about transport options for Andorra. The station is huge and has an impressive facade. You can catch trains to a lot of places from here including trains to Carcassonne.
We walked along Canal du Midi until we reached limelight and then our night began with us ending up in Shanghai club quite late but I didn’t stay very late because the next day was my last and I wanted to see the rest of this gorgeous city.
The last day is Toulouse was both exciting and emotional, I grew to love this beautiful city and its people but there was stuff to be seen and things that needed done especially picking tickets and all for Andorra.
Saint-Cyprien- Republique –> The Abattoirs –> Raymond VI Gardens –> The Chateau d’Eau –> The Pont Neuf –> Bamberg Foundation & The Assezat Private Mansion –> Augustins Museum –> St. Etienne Cathedral
The Abattoirs & Raymond VI Gardens (Jardin Raymond VI)
Saint-Cyprien-Republique is the closest station to The Abbatoirs so I headed there. It was a great start of the day with slight fog which made the river look dreamy and slightly mysterious. I grabbed some coffee and food and then headed to the Raymond VI gardens which are right next door to the museum. You can see the Dome de la Grave of the hospital and with a few kids playing around I had my breakfast before heading out. These gardens are quite serene and would make for a great place during the summer overlooking Garonne.
The museum is located right next to the gardens and a few exhibits outside clearly point it out as art establishment. This modern and contemporary art museum used to be the public slaughterhouse. Since I didn’t go inside I cannot tell you about the art collection but the building is quite interesting with its arch like facade and it is also said to have the stage curtain that was painted by Picasso.
The Chateau d’Eau
Walking from the Abbatoirs to this gallery, I discovered two things; houses on this side of river are slightly different with beautiful balconies and there is a small Christmas market on this side with some amazing and interesting things including puppets. I bought one for myself.
The Chateau d’Eau is a tall tower like structure at the corner of the river in the beginning of the bridge Neuf and doesn’t feel like a massive building so I ignored it beyond taking a few pictures. The big mansion on the other side however is beautiful and I went close to admire its beauty, it is a hotel called Dieu Saint-Jacques. The gallery is devoted to photography but it was originally built as a water tank to collect and distribute water to fountains in the city, no wonder it is so uninspiring..
The Neuf Bridge (Pont Neuf)
One of the many bridges of Toulouse, Pont Neuf provides great access to both sides of the city but it is perhaps the most beautiful out of them all. It shines like a jewel in the night and this bridge with its huge water holes that took nearly a 100 years to built has withstood some of the worst floods in the river and this is the first object that catches your eye when you arrive at the riverbank at night. I saw it during the day, at the sunset and at night and at no time it looks ugly or out of place but the beauty is mature and elegant like a seasoned actress rather than a pop singer appeal. I could watch it for hours…
On this occasion however it was foggy and a crossing felt like crossing the time with half the city wrapped up in a cloud…
Bamberg Foundation & The Assezat Private Mansion
A few minutes walk on the other side and you will come across this fascinating arch like red brick entrance with stone work. This is the private mansion and the permamnet home of Bamberg foundation. The central courtyard is massive and really beautiful and here I found another beautiful tower. Toulousians have a way with these towers that just never ceases to amaze you. The museum holds paintings, furniture and other objects of historical significance but as usual I decided to to laden myself with the history and enjoyed the beauty of courtyard, arches and frontages of mansion which belonged to rich merchant back in the day. His name was Assezat in case you didn’t figure it out yet.
The walk from Bamberg foundation to Augustins museum is quite short and you need a few minutes but this is a busy area so be careful of the traffic. Soon you will start seeing the beautiful building of Augustins convent. This is the only building around with such a huge presence and you get impressed with its size and beauty. It is quite a Romanesque and Gothic affair and the sheer size and its beautiful tower just invite you in.
It was quite difficult to resist the call to go in but I had two more things on my list before the trip to Andorra so I skipped the museum which hosts paintings from Renaissance period all the way to 19th century. The gardens outside are a good place to chill out if you are already tired and need some rest…
St. Etienne Cathedral
The Toulouse cathedral or St. Etienne cathedral is the biggest church in the city and built in Gothic times has a massive central hall with lines after lines of pews. It has the richest and finest altar pieces and organ and the stained glass circular window at the back is on a whole new level. The walk inside the church around the altar is a must because of the stained glass masterpieces, you just can’t stop loving it…
I spent an hour inside watching people coming in, bowing and crossing themselves, some happy some trying to be happy and at that point I realized how important are these building to keep the hope alive in these hopeless times. My respect for these architectural wonders just deepens every single time even though I don’t agree with the religion behind..
p.s The gardens around the church are also lovely and you need to see the tower as well.
Church of St. Jerome (Eglise Jerome)
I discovered this church by accident and it wasn’t on my list. I was walking by and saw two guards with rifles outside this discreet dory. At first I thought it was a synagogue ut then I read the name and it was a church. I decided to go in because from the entrance it looks more like the entrance to a house with lots of plants in a sort of alleyway like arrangement.
Walk a few more steps and you will come across the main church which is sober and gorgeous with its ‘theatrical decor’. It isn’t the mightiest or the prettiest but it certainly is the calmest of all churches in Toulouse. The very well lit sculptures around also make it quite a spectacle.
Toulouse on the whole was an amazing place with its southern chilled out charm, great food, friendly locals and lots to see and do and with the sun shining every day I was glad to have visited in winter rather than summer..