Toulouse is one of the host cities for the Rugby World Cup, which has been a reminder of this oft-forgotten gem for Francophiles…
In the southern Occittanie region, Toulouse is known as the Pink City due to its brickwork, which is made from a particularly ferrous clay in the area. I know nothing about ferrous clay, but I do know it makes Toulouse a peculiarly beautiful place. It possesses a certain young cool reminiscent of Lisbon or the Sant Marti district of Barcelona: hip, relaxed. Naturally the invasion of sports fans brings down the levels of hipness and relaxation, but it’s only rugger darlings, and the city remains fine and dandy for family visits.
My partner and I, and our two children (8 and 11) stayed at the Hotel Privilege Clement Ader (www.apparthotel-clementader.fr), which is a 10-minute walk from the Matabiau central train station. It’s a great place for families as it’s an apartment/hotel, so you have the amenities of a hotel but with the space and cooking facilities of an apartment. Great because children have a tendency to decide that all of the gourmet food at the nice restaurants you take them to, is in fact disgusting, so being able to whip them up some pasta with cheese (no sauce) later on is a godsend.
Food & drink
Why don’t we have squares in London like other European cities? You know what I mean, the squares where restaurants are on every side and the children leave the tables to play in the middle. I suppose all our XL Bully dogs prevent them. Anyway, Place Saint-Georges is probably the best square of this nature in Toulouse, as there’s an adventure playground at the centre as well as a stretch of space where locals gather to dance (like proper tango dancing, as if to hammer home their cultural superiority to half-cut, boss-eyed tourists). Monsieur Georges was a nicely hospitable restaurant with a good kids’ menu and cocktails to aggressively down the second the children disappear.
The very best restaurant is Ma Biche sur Le Toit (www.mabichesurletoit.com) though, a chic place atop the Galeries Lafayette shopping centre that offers nice views across the pink rooftops. Even the fickle children had to accept its excellence. My partner had an amazing green gazpacho but I won the main course competition with a sea bass with charcoal-grilled Indonesian fried rice and a black garlic sauce.
Places to visit
Toulouse is made for a lazy day strolling around the shops and bars and museums — but our family has a hard-fought elite laziness which makes even lazy days too much like effort, and so we opted for an electric TukTuk ride (www.visiterama.com). A speedy guided tour, it whizzes you through the key sights, while providing amusement with the eccentric pronunciations of the AI tour guide. “Robots are so dumb,” I laughed, wiping ketchup from my sunburn.
Toulouse is on the Garonne, a river that looks like a river should. While in the UK our rivers are principally used for the expulsion of raw sewage, here, it’s all water skiing, fishing and idyllic boat rides. Les Cabateurs provided us with an electric boat that is a dreamy way to spend an hour, if you ignore the screams of children whenever the preening water skiers rocked us with their penis-substitute waves. Back on dry land we as a family went on the Ferris wheel, too charmed by the old worlde look of it to admit that at least two of said family are terrified of heights. Cue 20 minutes of terror; the spectacular views ignored by my partner as she put her head between her legs and introduced our children to several new swear words. “That’s French for ‘spectacular views’,” I told them. Ignore her and take it from me: it’s a romantic delight.
Further afield, the Cité de l’Espace (www.cite-espace.com), a 20-minute cab ride from the city centre, is a brilliant day out, one of those rare museums packed with interactive displays that actually still work. Even better — in fact, the best museum I’ve ever been to — is La Halle de La Machine (www.halledelamachine.fr) an utterly bonkers exhibition centre for the work of François Delaroziere. He’s a kind of steampunk designer/inventor genius who makes quite mind-boggling devices, instruments, games and, well, monsters. Like a 45-foot high mechanical minotaur, which you can ride the back of as it stalks around the grounds. I’m not making this up. Inside, kids can make art using mechanised drawing equipment, shoot fireworks at a shooting gallery, and throw balls into flaming industrial bins. Think Da Vinci’s inventions meets Mad Max meets Robot Wars. We haven’t stopped talking about this place in a month, and never will.
Impossibly fun weekends in a cosmopolitan and young city. Perfect for family days out (perhaps while you nip off to watch the rugby).
For further information, head to toulouse-visit.com