It goes without saying, but I’ll write it anyway – France is famous for it’s food. So, what is on the agenda for a foodie with 24 hours in Toulouse?
Out of France’s five major cities – which also include Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon and Marseilles – Toulouse is often the most overlooked. For years, my singular exposure to the name (not even the place) was thanks to one of the kittens in the Aristocats, and until I actually visited the city in 2013 on another interrail adventure (there was one in 2011 too) with my francophile friend, I never put two and two together. Duh. Although it’s an adorable name for a pet, now I actually live in Toulouse it’s off the table (as are the names Manchester and London).
My boyfriend Gaylord (yes. That’s his name) and I moved here in 2020 mid-pandemic for him to study at the university. While the Covid-version of education failed his (and most people’s) expectations and he chose to work instead, we decided to stay put.
Toulouse, also known as la ville rose because of its terracotta buildings which glow pink in the setting sun, is full of cobbled streets and alleyways, picturesque river-side sunsets and old buildings with exposed wooden beams. There are vast majestic churches which look more like cathedrals, outdoor food markets where crowds heave around cheese stalls, cute independent shops squashed haphazardly together down side alleys, and terraces full of people eating and drinking throughout the day.
Toulouse may not be Paris with its snobbish sophistication (which étrangers (foreigners) including myself can’t help but yearn for in a weird kind of masochistic admiration), but this city has a sense of locality and community which you’ll never find in a metropolis, as well as all of those artisan options iconic to France – yes the boulangeries, fromageries and bicycles with baguettes in the baskets do exist, but alas so does an entirely French phenomenon of young people pulling shopping bags on wheels. Go figure. Plus, best of all in my book, it’s a city for gourmands (greedy foodies).
Within 24 hours in Toulouse, you will be eating like a local. Let me take you through Toulouse’s narrow streets on a dining adventure.
A foodie’s 24 hours in Toulouse must begin with breakfast. The French aren’t known for their breakfasts. (If you’re curious to know what on earth they eat every morning, then find out here.) If you’re French, or would like to emulate the French, then a light breakfast is best. Ideally a coffee and a cigarette (also known as un café–clop).
However, this is a blog for gourmands! Let’s have pain au chocolat.
In Toulouse pain au chocolats are known as chocolatines, just to confuse tourists (and greatly offend Northerners).
It took us some time to find a favourite boulangerie especially as, and I know this will be a blow to French-lovers, really excellent pain au chocolats, croissants and baguettes have been hard to come by. Just because you’re in France doesn’t mean every croissant you’re going to eat will be buttery, crisp and delicious. Gaylord’s favourite croissant was from a bakery in New Zealand. So what does that tell you.
However, Gaylord eventually discovered Pêché Mignon (which means ‘cute sin’!), a small stylish boulangerie with cakes in the windows, and wall of baguettes and breads, and a glass cabinet of pastries and elaborate patisserie. There the pain au chocolats are crisp, breaking off into tissue-thin shards as you bite, and tasting of butter and chocolate.
As for coffee, around the corner from Pêché Mignon is La Brûlerie des Filatiers, a speciality coffee roastery and one of our regular haunts. France is a couple of steps behind in that ‘coffee culture’ which I pretend to roll my eyes at, but if I’m ever offered a flat white I’ll never say no. Coffee in France is black, short or long. A milky coffee is a café crème and that’s as exciting as it gets. But not at La Brûlerie des Filatiers. Flat whites are back on the menu boys!
Stroll through the winding cobbled streets of Capitole and Esquirole and I wouldn’t be surprised if you become lost in the little shops and stores selling homeware, flowers or stationery. A particular feat of France are the épiceries – small convenience stores which sell all the store-cupboard produce you could ever want. Similar to a deli, épiceries sell olive oils, vinegars, gourmet salt and honey, as well as mounds of loose spices and dried herbs for you to buy in brown paper bags. I could spend hours going between épiceries – I’d come out with heavy bags and a light purse.
If you have time, walk up to Marché Victor Hugo – a food market bursting with stalls selling cheese, meats, fresh seafood, bread, wine, olives, pastries… Sellers will give you samples if you ask nicely and there are little bar tables where you can nurse a pre-lunch glass of vin.
If you haven’t partaken in too many glasses of wine, I recommend walking through the narrow streets towards the river, and on the way passing the sandwich shop Le Détaillant. Toulouse’s cuisine is heavily influenced by our close Spanish neighbours and at Le Détaillant they serve foot-long baguettes full of French and Spanish meats and cheeses. My favourite combination is the simple jambon et beurre with cornichons, although Gaylord and his sister have enjoyed serrano ham and Manchego grilled on garlicky pan con tomate.
These baguettes are tightly wrapped in checked paper and I implore you to take your lunch to the nearby riverside to enjoy the tranquil scenery as you eat.
There’s a leafy tree-lined patch of grass by the river, along with a small river-side kiosk to buy drinks and ice creams, so if your morning walk, wine and sandwich has taken it out of you, a gentle siesta in the shade is exactly what the doctor ordered.
However, if you’re anything like me and just 24 hours in Toulouse makes you feel like you must be doing something all the time, now’s your chance to hire bikes and go for a jaunty ride through the streets to the canal. Toulouse is a cycling city with plenty of cycle lanes, and also offers endless choice for bike hire, as well as the equivalent to the London ‘Boris Bike’, Vélô Toulouse. Lined with trees the canal path is perfect for dog walkers and cyclists, and there are maps with paths to follow available here.
Best of all, after all that hard work, you deserve a reward.
Flower’s Cafe is my favourite tea shop (also known as un salon de thé) and you’ll understand why when you see the photo of their front window.
See what I mean?
There are at least 14 different options of cake on display there! And this is at the end of the day!
I often descend on Flower’s with my friend Sarah where we huddled for most of the winter, sipping teas and hot chocolates, and sharing slices of cheesecake or almond and raspberry tart, all of which are massive and should not be tackled by just one person.
Apéro and Drinks
The French are known for eating their dinner late. To them, 6pm – often when a lot of Brits start planning dinner – is time for their apéritif or apéro. A beloved French custom, apéro is basically ‘snack time’. Often it involves a couple of drinks, chats with friends, and crisps, olives and charcuterie boards including cheeses, cured meats such as saucisson and jambon, baguette and maybe some pickles. Le Concorde is a bar and café, a little tatty and faded around the edges but that just adds to the allure. It appears to have stepped right out of 1920s France with the bistro-style chairs and tables and the bar lined with bottles. Order drinks, including the locals’ favourite liquor pastis – but only if you want to look like a local as the anise flavour is not for everyone – and some shared snacks for the table. Before you know it, it’ll be 9pm and time for (an acceptably French) dinner.
For the best bargain you’ll find anywhere, go to Campagne.
In place of us giving each other cards or gifts this year, Gaylord and I treated ourselves to dinner at Campagne for our anniversary and Valentine’s Day (they say you feel love through your stomach not your heart and I have to concur), and ever since we have begged friends to go. I can only babble about how delicious our meals were, and at incredibly affordable prices. Wine, a charcuterie board, main dishes of succulent and plump duck, and relaxed, friendly staff, Campagne has a winning recipe here for restaurant success.
Did I add how nice they are? I took photos of all their summer menu recently, about which they were so patient and kind, so if there is anywhere on this list that I can’t celebrate enough, it’s Campagne.
By this time, after a long leisurely dinner, endless wines and pastis (if you’re brave), you will no doubt be stuffed to the gills and waddling back to your hotel or Airbnb. If you’re not distracted by food sweats (we’ve all been there) enjoy the beauty of Toulouse at night. They were a pretty good 24 hours in Toulouse I think!
Finally, if you’re a foodie visiting Toulouse for 48 hours, I recommend you take the Taste of Toulouse guided walking tours – follow Jessica, a French food expert full of knowledge about Toulouse and the terrior (food region) of South West France, as she takes you on an adventure tasting cheese, wines and pastries.
It suddenly feels like 24 hours in Toulouse isn’t long enough!