10 free things to do in Toulouse


1. Wander the stalls of a farmers market.

From my experience, the four best markets in Toulouse are (in no particular order) those in Arnaud Bernard, St Aubin, St Cyprien, and Les Carmes. Many of Toulouse’s markets take place every day, but you might want to check the schedule. If you’re looking for free or cheap vegetables, go to the market down Boulevard de Strasbourg. The merchants often leave their unsold veggies / fruits behind when they pack up, and some are pretty much as good as new.

2. Visit Toulouse Cathedral.

Located between Francois Verdier and Les Carmes, the St. Etienne Cathedral consists of two different architectural styles (Roman and Gothic) because construction started in the 13th century and wasn’t finished until the 17th. Through the years parts of it were continually demolished and rebuilt, which is even more noticeable in the interior, where one section looks pretty abandoned, while the west portal has an amazing retable and high altar, with a pretty cool organ too.

3. Chill at the Prairie des Filtres.

“La Prairie,” as the Toulousains call it, is the place to laze near the Garonne on sunny afternoons. Spending time in the park will allow you to meet most of Toulouse’s fauna — from young couples with their toddlers, to bohemians playing music, hippies slacklining, students playing soccer. Take salsa lessons on Sundays when the weather permits.

4. Jog / cycle the Canal du Midi.

The canal, which runs for 150 miles through Southern France, was built in the 17th century to allow ships to avoid sailing around the Iberian Peninsula, where they often encountered hostile Spanish ships or pirates. Nowadays, it’s lined with plane trees and inhabited by houseboats.

5. Visit the Museum de Toulouse.

This natural history museum was the first in Europe to open a gallery on prehistoric times, and its collection is surprisingly large. Entry is free every first Sunday of the month.

6. See the night sky from Jolimont Observatory.

Open to the public every Friday night around 21:00, the observatory is located at the top of Jolimont Hill — brace yourself for the steep walk / cycle.

7. Check out the Palmier des Jacobins.

The Palm Tree is in fact a 28m tall giant pillar located inside the Church of the Jacobins. This architectural feature already looked freakishly tall, but the addition of a mirror below gives it the illusion of being suspended in space, and makes you feel like you’re about to plummet from the top of the vault.

8. Feed the birds at the Jardin des Plantes.

This park is connected to the Museum de Toulouse and has many free-roaming animals, including turtles, roosters, chickens, ducks, and swans. If you’re lucky, one of the two peacocks might pay you a visit…or scare the hell out of you while you’re lying in the grass.

9. Get lost around Les Carmes.

The prettiest neighbourhood in the city. As a local, I think Les Carmes and Le Quartier des Antiquaires are what Toulouse is all about. I love wandering through streets so narrow I can hardly see the sky and admiring the Renaissance-era Toulousian houses with their bright red bricks. Although it’s a pretty posh area with lots of expensive jewelry shops and restaurants, there are many art galleries and antique dealers around that are worth a visit.

10. Tour Place du Capitole.

This one is kind of a given, which is why I’m putting it last. Le Capitole is the city hall and is pretty much to Toulouse what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. Most of the cafes and restaurants surrounding it are expensive, but there are cheaper places in the adjacent streets. You can also visit the Salle des Illustres inside the Capitole, which has a collection of 19th-century paintings.


Six things you must do in. Toulouse

By Gareth Huw Davies, The Mail On Sunday

Last updated at 11:37 18 March 2008

Square meal: Toulouse's Place du Capitole has superb restaurants

Known as La Ville Rose, or The Pink City, because of the proliferation of redbrick buildings, Toulouse, centre of the European aerospace industry, is one of France's most attractive destinations. Gareth Huw Davies spent a weekend there and found elegant, ancient wonders, modern marvels and superb eating.

The Hotel Garonne (00 33 5 34 31 94 80, www.hotelgaronne.com) nestles below the ancient bridge over the river, just off the city centre. It's tiny and intimate - reception doubles as the bar and I counted a mere 30 steps from the front desk to our room, recently redecorated in warm red and beige and dominated by a big oval mirror. Ten strides over the narrow street is the hotel's own Restaurant le 19 (00 33 5 34 31 94 84), all wooden panels and terracotta bricks under a curved ceiling.

Toulouse's Place du Capitole easily passes the 'great city squares of Europe' test. There's a vast, car-free space for strolling and people-watching and one of those immense old civic buildings (in this case, the Town Hall and opera house combined) that the French do so well as a backdrop.

Find a table at one of the many cafes and order pre-dinner drinks. Then call back for a nightcap, when the square is decoratively lit up, as are many of the city's public buildings and bridges. If you want to eat on the square, try the Grand Cafe de l'Opera, a glossy brasserie said to serve the best oysters in town.

3. Eat with the locals

We were surrounded by regulars at Le Bon Vivre on Place Wilson (00 33 5 61 23 07 17, www.lebonvivre.com) - the sign of a good French restaurant.

The day's favourite was the enormous cassoulet in an earthenware bowl, their generous version of this regional dish, which they make with duck and pork. The set-price lunch is unbelievably cheap at £9-£12.

Next evening, we sat at a pavement table outside La Braisiere (00 33 5 61 52 37 13, www.labraisiere.fr) for more excellent, straightforward French food - a wide range of grills from a wood oven. The bill was £40 for two (including ice cream in honey).

We saw the stellar ambition of Cité de l'Espace (www.cite-espace. com), Europe's best space museum, from afar. Rising out of the Toulouse suburbs is the 150ft-high life-size version of the Ariane 5 rocket.

Among a constellation of exhibits are a full-size model of the Russian satellite Sputnik launched in 1957, a big chunk of Moon rock and genuine sections of the Russian Mir craft and the Space Station.

There are enough intelligent displays and hands-on exhibitions to fill a day. But a minute is long enough in the gyroscope, in which you are hurled upside-down and back-to-front for the 360-degree spin-dryer treatment.

Then sit back and gaze at the universe in the state-of-the-art planetarium. Admission: adults £14, children £10.

Space race: The Cite de l'Espace museum is worth visiting

Until the Airbus A380 starts regular flights, the company's HQ at Blagnac in suburban Toulouse (00 33 5 34 39 42 00, www.taxway.fr) is the best place to see the world's largest airliner (the wings, by the way, are made in North Wales). It's 210ft long and as high as an eight-storey building.

They start the 90-minute A380 tour with an overview of the programme, then drive you around the runways to see the outside testing areas and the production facility in an immense hangar.

Visitors may even catch these astonishing 500-plus-seat monsters taking off or landing on proving flights. But beware - they apply a strict no-photographs rule. You have to carry your passport for identification and must book ahead.

Admission: adults £10.50, children £8.30.

It started as a medieval economy measure - red brick instead of more expensive white stone. Fortunately, Toulouse stuck with its distinctive colour code and gave its compact old heart, largely intact since the 1400s, a different and seductive decor.

We wandered the narrow streets, where the Smart Car is the vehicle of choice (it's the only one that fits) and took in the splendid highlights.

The 11th Century Basilica of St Sernin, the largest (300ft long) and finest Romanesque church in Europe, contains the tomb of St Thomas Aquinas. The art gallery Hôtel d'Assézat has landscapes by Pierre Bonnard, famous for his intense colours.

Everywhere are the 50 towers of Toulouse. The best is above Bernuy Mansion, home of the baron who grew rich trading woad - the blue dye which Julius Caesar saw the ancient Britons wearing.


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