36 Hours in Toulouse

(Photo by Richard Nahem)

In our monthly series, 36 Hours in …, we explore the culture, food, major sites and off-the-beaten track attractions of a particular destination. The starting point is Paris, France, covering destinations throughout Europe

October brought us to Toulouse, known as the Pink City, in southwestern France. 

The morning TGV train from Montparnasse station in Paris whisked us to Toulouse in 4.5 hours, arriving at 1:10PM. 

Our first stop was Place du Capitole, a majestic square built in 1890. The centerpiece is a Neo-classical gem, a sprawling 120,000-square-foot edifice that is now the official City Hall of Toulouse. We had lunch at a casual café on the square and sipped a dry rosé while viewing the splendid architectural details of Place du Capitole

Meandering through the windy streets of the old quarter of the city, we stumbled upon the Cathedral of Saint-Etienne. Built over a period of over five centuries ending in the 1200's, the unusual design includes a 100-foot-wide nave, the widest vaulted structure of its kind in Europe. Inside the expansive church, there were 17 side chapels with richly worked tapestries from the 17th and 18th century along with a series of jewel-colored, stained-glass windows. 

Just a 10-minute walk from the cathedral, we arrived at our Galerie M Hotel, La Cour Des Consuls Hotel & Spa. A fairly new division of the Accor Hotel Group and Sofitel brand, Galerie M Hotels are proving to be a major hit for the company. Filling in the gap for more individual-style or boutique hotels, these properties cater to a more local type of experience, capturing the essence of the location, yet offering high-standard four- and five-star rooms, restaurants, spas and amenities. 

Located in the Carmes, one of the older districts of the city, the handsome hotel is a former 18th-century mansion. Incorporating two buildings, there are 32 rooms on three floors. We ascended the grand staircase with intricate iron work bannisters to the second floor. Our Superior room (320 square feet) seemed much roomier because of the high ceilings, which also brought in lots of light. Even with a king-size bed, there was enough room for us to lay down our portable exercise mat for our morning yoga. 

The highlight of the hotel by far was the excellent dinner at the Michelin-star restaurant, Le Cenacle. The dramatic dining room with wood-beam ceilings has a large-scale reproduction of Caravaggio’s “Supper at Emmaus” covering an entire wall. Tables are spaciously spread apart to enhance privacy for the dining experience. Chef Thomas Vonderscher respects the classical dishes of the region but infuses contemporary touches to make them current. Our starter was lobster from nearby Brittany with a sprinkling of Petrossian caviar on top, a reminder of just how good truly fresh seafood could be. We thoroughly enjoyed the signature dish, “Pithiviers de pigeon du Quercy et foie gras”, a delicious, savory tart made with the lightest flaky-pastry layers and filled with foie gras and pigeon.  

Later that evening, needing to walk a bit to digest our rich dinner and also to have a nightcap, we found a great bar in an unexpected location. A branch of the Galeries Lafayette department store in the commercial center of Toulouse, has a rooftop bar and restaurant with the quirky name Ma Biche sur le Toit/My deer on the ceiling. The hip and happening bar scene was fun and we had a nice conversation with some natives of Toulouse while enjoying a cocktail and also taking in the 180-degree view of the city. 

We woke up early the next day to fit in the other sites we hadn’t visited yet. Instead of having breakfast at the hotel, we wanted to have a more neighborhood-café experience. We were happy to discover La Cerise Café just around the corner from the hotel. Our lattes were heaven, with a strong but not too bitter coffee base and the perfect ratio of milk and foam. Speaking with the owner, Valentin Tihy, we found out the café was the only one in Toulouse which roasts its own beans, and that he was inspired by the Australian coffee culture. La Cerise Café also had a yummy choice of homemade loaf cakes, cookies and breads, and they serve a popular brunch on the weekends. 

Instead of going to the big, institutional museums, we went off-the-beaten track and visited the Poster Museum of Toulouse/MATOU. The compact museum houses a collection of the golden age of French illustrated advertising posters from the 18th and 19th century. The present exhibition features a selection of posters illustrated by Leonetto Cappiello, who designed ads for Campari and many other well-known liqueurs and French aperitifs in the early 20th century. 

It was such a beautiful, sunny day, we opted to walk along the banks of the Garonne River, the major waterway of Toulouse, taking in the architecture and the impressive bridges crossing the river. One of the main things that distinguishes Toulouse from other cities in France, is the use of brick in the majority of the buildings as opposed to stone in most other cities. The brick is lighter in color giving off more of a pink hue than the conventional, dark orange color and is why Toulouse is called the Pink City. 

The Pink City cast such a pleasant spell on us, we will return soon. 

La Cour Des Consuls Hotel & Spa
46 Rue des Couteliers, 31000
For bookings, contact Wilfried Gaulier at [email protected].

Ma Biche sur le Toit
4-8 Rue du Lieutenant Colonel Pélissier, 31000

La Cerise Café
4 Quai de la Daurade, 31000 

Poster Museum of Toulouse/MATOU 
58 Allées Charles de Fitte, 31300

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