Every year when summer rolls around, I find myself nursing some very specific cravings: 1. Pimm’s – ideally with a medley of fruits, cucumber and mint floating on the surface. 2. Olives. Big, meaty ones, the brinier the better! 3. And last but not least, a beer garden or terrace with outdoor seating, ideally shaded for the pasty skinned among us. The perfect location to consume said Pimm’s and olives. A beer garden that no one actually knows about is even better.
Of course, finding such a place is next to impossible, but I like to think that in Toulouse there are still hidden gems for sun-worshipping beer-drinkers to stumble across. Trekking across Manchester and London this weekend – pulling an unwieldy suitcase behind me, one that protests against being repeatedly dragged on and off pavements – and gazing at the terraces of pubs and bars bursting with people soaking up that early summer sunshine, I realised there is one thing that’s not on my summer cravings list – a busy beer garden.
Instead, I need a spot of tranquillity, you know? A hidden garden without a bunch of lairy guys on a stag do for instance. A place where you’re not squeezed onto a bench next to a sweaty stranger. It’s not too much to ask. Luckily, Toulouse can certainly provide alternatives – en Francais c’est une terrasse – to these unhappy circumstances, so you can nibble your apero and drink wine in relative peace! Plus, they are all restaurants, so once you’re fully saturated for the evening, there’s no need to stumble off to find the nearest kebab shop.
So, here are my favourite restaurant beer gardens for sitting in the summer sun in Toulouse!
The Best Hidden Beer Gardens in Toulouse
The homey one: Le Vélo Sentimental
While Toulouse isn’t a cycling city by Amsterdam’s standards, it’s better than many others with its cycle lanes and Boris Bike-equivalents, Velo Toulouse. There are also copious bike hire options should you be a more capable biker than myself. This may seem like a loose connection to a hidden beer garden and I promise it is leading somewhere – unlike what you may be thinking, you don’t have to hop on a bike to find this place, thank goodness. In fact, Le Vélo Sentimental is a bike hire shop that also doubles as a hidden restaurant with a summer courtyard in its centre.
During last autumn’s heatwave, Gaylord and I took my friend Marie and her friend there for a sun-dappled lunch. Secluded behind the bike racks and people pumping their tyres, you can eat lunch or dinner from their daily changing menu, drink wine or beer under the sun, and feel safely hidden from the rest of the bustling city.
Le Vélo Sentimental’s website is here
The secret garden: Guinguette ‘Le Gros Arbre’
A guinguette is a type of tavern and this one is named after the bloody humongous tree towering over it. This restaurant looks like something you’d find in a fairytale – follow the winding river through marshland, and through the mist, this old villa half suffocated by creeper comes into view. Don’t worry, there’s no witch planning to cook you inside, instead there is a garden covered in fairy lights, and a bar serving plenty of drink, including their own liquor.
I would have never known about this place if I hadn’t arranged to go with my friends from Alliance Française – it simply functions by word of mouth it seems. There, the big group of us took up a huge table outside and ordered spritzes, wine and beers, and chose simple homemade dishes such as trout with potato salad and rougail saucisses. My favourite hidden spot of the summer.
Le Gros Arbre’s website is here
The water front: Museau Musette
Logically, such a central al fresco bar on the canal should be much, much busier than Museau Musette is, although I haven’t been back since last summer so word might have got out since then. It’s at the top of my list for this summer season though as the combination of ‘al fresco’ and ‘canal’ is currently more meaningful to me than say ‘custard’ or ‘dauphinois‘ which is very unusual. I told you, I have very specific cravings at this time of year.
The owners of this bar have written a simple formula for success it seems. Tables hidden under parasols line the bar’s terrace, one that resembles a dock thanks to the canal running alongside. They score highly for their location and just add the combination of good drinks, sharing plates and some dinner and dessert too and they’re in business. So are you in fact, because you can sit back and enjoy the perks of this beautiful, tranquil bar.
Museau Musette’s website is here
The students’ local: Breughel l’ancien
This beer house is a busy one but the reason it’s included on this list at all is because it is off the beaten tourist track. It’s unlikely you’ll find a non-French speaker here (apart from me). Breughel l’ancien is located in a tiny square in some backstreets of suburbia – that’s the wrong word, it may be full of apartments but suburbia with picket fences and babies pushed in prams it is not – so if you’re someone who likes beer and greasy chicken wings and fries to soak it all up, this is the pub for you.
The bar has acquired the tiny square with a fountain in the centre for their outdoor summer seating and be sure to get there early because it fills up as quickly as your eagerly-awaited pint that you’ll soon be downing. Waiters circle the crowded terrace with drinks and snacks, and you can while away hours there, enjoying the atmosphere and those delicious chicken wings.
The rooftop workplace: Gigiland
Here we have another anomaly but I couldn’t finish the list without including Gigiland. This isn’t a bar or a pub, in fact, I don’t even think they serve alcohol. It is, however, the perfect secluded rooftop stop for lunch or to read a book, and my favourite place to get some work done.
Gigiland is a cafeteria on top of a big homeware store called Midica and serves breakfast granola and build-your-own yoghurt pots followed by hearty chicken or vegetarian curries, quiches and salads. Coffee is cheap and you can tuck yourself away in a corner armchair or on the rooftop terrace, and honestly none of the staff care if you’ve bought only one coffee all day. The terrace is hidden amongst the red roofs of the city, so no one knows it’s there – an idyllic place to relax if you’ve been enjoying all the other beer gardens a bit too much the night before.
Gigiland’s website is here
Toulouse is a city that is only the more beautiful in summer, its peachy-pink buildings glowing in the setting sun. Sit outside, especially on a rooftop, and soak it all in. I can’t wait to see you there – we’ll sit back, drink Pimm’s and munch on those moreish olives together!