More than ever in the mood for discovering France further away from home, we booked tickets to go and visit Toulouse, and flew over there on the weekend of November 11th. Toulouse is called the Pink City, as its entire Old Town is built out of salmony pink bricks.
Those really are impressive, given that most buildings and monuments construction dates back to the period comprised between the 12th and the 15th Centuries, and so these pink bricks have “lived” and still carry over themselves the “weigh of the past”. When the sun comes down and hits the bricks – and the orange or pink roof tiles,- it spreads out a soft pastel pink reflection over the Old Town, which makes it look very special, even really unique actually. Like most of the tourists who visit Toulouse, we started off by the Place du Capitole.
After a typical French style breakfast, it was time for us to begin our visit of the Old Town. What immediately stroke us was the smart ability with which Toulouse has preserved its Old Town, and yet is using it today for modern life. In other words, the Old Town not only is a concentration of monuments and old buildings with an interesting architecture, but it is also housing the commercial center of the city with all the world-known chain stores, local artisan shops, food courts and produce markets, cinemas and pubs. This is where the normal everyday life is taking place. And what a decor! My husband and I simply loved it!
We are usually not so crazy about visiting churches, but Toulouse does have incredible constructions, and trust me, you don’t want to pass on those. Most of them were built from the 12th Century onward, and renovation and maintenance have begun around the 18th Century. We visited the Basilica Saint-Sernin, which construction began around the year 1120 and continued thereafter. As of today, it is the largest remaining Romanesque building in Europe (if not the world) and is listed at the UNESCO as one of the World Heritage Sites of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.
We also went inside the Cathedral Saint-Etienne. Out of respect for the people praying, we did not take any photograph, but it would have really been worth it. To me, I think it is inside that kind of monuments that one can really feel History – and confirm how resistant to Time old stones can be. Also, I could easily imagine how people during the Middle-Age would seek for refuge in this Cathedral, or how secret plotting and conspiracies would take place in all the nooks and corners of the building.
Back to contemporary time. One of the best attractions in Toulouse if you like eating is to visit and shop at the Victor Hugo Market, that also has a Food Court in the upper floor, but most interestingly it has a lot of tasting areas at all the vending stalls of the main floor. All produces are of the freshest quality, cured sausages and local cheeses are sold in abundance, big fishes and sea foods are fat and yummy, duck fillets and goose liver jars are just all over the place (making the city living up to its reputation), and everyone is on white wine before lunch time in order to properly taste all the amazing food products that are sold inside this market. This market has been a central meeting spot in Toulouse since 1896. If I lived in Toulouse, this is where I’d shop every week and create wonderful and delicious recipes all year long.
The area around this market (and more widely the city of Toulouse) is inhabited by a large number of Michelin starred-chefs, and an even larger number of MOFs (see my previous post about French Meringue and next about Aix-En-Provence). Unable to avoid the crowds in all restaurants, we decided to go and have lunch a little bit outside of this area in a great restaurant, La Côte et l’Arête (literally the Rib and the Fishbone). Having the guarantee that the restaurant got its food products from the Victor Hugo market, my husband wanted to taste the local Duck Magret, while I went all-in for the fresh Salmon Tartar that I had already drooled over while visiting the market in the morning (with mashed potatoes and ratatouille). While going there, we passed by a MOF Artisan Cheesemaker’s shop window, and went all nuts about the cheese marvels we saw – and smelled. Next, we walked by the Sandyan “gourmet street food” restaurant of the Michelin-starred chef Yannick Delpech, where we have made a reservation for dinner. All in all, a very inspiring morning for my blog hopefully!
In order to digest our meal, we walked back to the nearby Old Town. Toulouse’s main attractions have this advantage of being possibly rallied by foot. We did not use public transportation at all during the whole weekend, except from and to the airport. We strolled about in the streets, taking pictures of the nice places and interesting architectural designs of old buildings. These pictures can be opened in a wider view.
On the second day, we walked in the direction of the Pont-Neuf, the main bridge in town, and walked along the Garonne, one of the four main big rivers of France, up to the Compans-Caffarelli public Park. There, we spent about an hour in the Japanese Garden that is hosted inside the public park. It was funny to find out once more that – as we like to think with humor – actual Asian blood might be running through our veins. I have lived in China for 7 years, and although my husband has not, but he and I are simply feeling like at home when we are somewhere that displays an Asian environment. We also loved so much our trip to Japan in 2016 that visiting this garden made us shut ourselves out from the surrounding and real physical reality of France, and made us travel again in our minds to Japan. This is where we ended our wonderful weekend in Toulouse, that I really recommend to anyone who wants to visit the region of Occitanie and its specific local culture.
Created and Written by Sophie Rebibo-Halimi. © 2017 All Rights Reserved.