In the southwest, Toulouse is France’s fourth largest city and the capital of the Occitanie region. It’s less than two hours on the plane from the UK and has a long association with the aviation industry through Concorde and Airbus.
The "pink city" – named after the colour of many of its stone buildings– is a charming and historic destination for a weekend full of gastronomy, stunning architecture and very fine wine.
To give you a helping hand, we've put together a guide on the best things to see and do, where to find the most delicious food and drink, and how to get there without breaking the bank.
Check out our Toulouse city guide below…
What to see
Victor Hugo market: Worth a visit purely to see old folk drinking wine in amongst the oysters, charcuterie and baguettes at 11am. It has all the excellent bread, cheese and meats of a classic French market with added Spanish influence due to its proximity (the border is a two-hour drive).
Let’s just say if you want to pay a bit over the odds for a slice of delicious “jamon”, you most definitely can. The excellent American expat Jessica Hammer’s Taste Of Toulouse tours offer a more focused look at the market’s best bits. She also offers wine bar tours (tasteoftoulouse.com around £78).
Basilica of Saint-Sernin: The UNESCO world heritage site is the largest Romanesque church in France and is monumental in size.
Built between the 11th and 14th centuries, it is a key stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. The beautiful Cathedrale Saint-Etienne is also well worth a visit.
English expat Penny Dickinson offers fascinating walking tours of the city as well as a good old cuppa to wash down your madeleines with at the end (toulousewalkingtours.com around £17.60).
Check out the pastel: It may be called the pink city but it is also world famous for its blues and violets. You can’t move for food or drink flavoured with violet (think your classic Parma Violet sweets) but pastel is its most famous child.
It’s a plant long associated with the city that’s similar to woad and is used to make dark indigo blue dye. For a passionate advocacy of pastel and even a workshop in the craft of making it then head to the shop and museum Violettes et Pastels (terredepastel.com/fr/museum, tour around £4.40) .
What to do
Halle de la Machine: A remarkable exhibition of machines showcasing the work of surely the world’s most imaginative street theatre companies.
From the astonishing gigantic minotaur and spider (the latter an eye-popping part of Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture celebrations in 2008) to a seemingly endless world of bonkers and interactive contraptions made out of old parts, it is a feast for the senses.
Think somewhere between Robot Wars, Transformers and Tim Burton. A must-visit. Tours available. (halledelamachine.fr around £9.70)
L’Envol des Pionniers: Toulouse is full of aviation expats and it’s the site of some of the world’s most remarkable advances in the field. At L’Envol des Pionniers – handily located right next door to the Halle de la Machine – you get a sense of why. Learn how the revolutionary French airmail service Aeropostale came into existence (lenvol-des-pionniers.com around £8).
Watch a rugby match: Toulouse is most definitely a rugby city. Its beloved union side Stade Toulousain are the pride of the town and fabled Ernest-Wallon stadium it is one of the 2023 Rugby World Cup host venues.
There are no home nations fixtures but the All Blacks will play there as well as Japan, Samoa, Georgia, Chile, Namibia, Portugal and Fiji when it kicks off in September.
Toulouse Olympique, the city rugby league team, also plays its home games at Ernest-Wallon.
Where to eat and drink
There are plenty of fabulous spots dotted around the city but head to La Gourmandine (lagourmandine.fr, it has two locations) for affordable fine dining options with some sensational seafood.
For trendier small plates Le Soulier (lesoulier.fr) served up one of the most sensational French onion soups and you won’t get better charcuterie than at the magnificent wine bar Maison Sarment (maisonsarment.com). The truffle salami was something else.
There is terrific plonk everywhere you turn. For something a bit special, pop into Le 5 Wine Bar, which has been voted the best wine bar in the world on multiple occasions.
It’s not the biggest so be prepared to stand but it also isn’t wildly expensive given its credentials (le5winebar.fr).
Where to stay
The four-star Social Hub is handily located in the heart of a lively student area and only opened in October.
Attached to quite swanky student digs, it has a good bar and restaurant, a rooftop pool and is just two stops on the Metro to the heart of town.
Rooms at The Social Hub Toulouse accommodation start at around £77 a night. Find out more at thesocialhub.co/toulouse.
Book the holiday
Get there: Ryanair flies from Birmingham, Edinburgh and Stansted to Toulouse from £24 return. Find out more at ryanair.com.
More information: Head to toulouse-visit.com.
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