We head to the charming southern French city of Toulouse to experience its annual Fête de la Musique and to see what else the ‘Pink City’ has to offer. Here are our picks of what to do in Toulouse.
What to do in Toulouse
The old cobbled streets pulsed with the flow of people and windows buzzed from the vibrations of dozens of live music concerts set up around the city. Lively squares reverberated with the beats of indie and rock, while side streets shook with the thump, thump, thump of heavy techno – and in the museums and churches, the sweet melodies of flute and violin floated through the historical corridors.
I’d arrived in the southern French city of Toulouse, with bmi regional on one of its first flights from Birmingham, just in time for the annual Fête de la Musique, held all around the country every June 21st. Toulouse may not be the first French city that comes to mind when thinking of heading across the channel for a short break, but it’s certainly one that deserves attention. Filled with grandiose squares, orange brick buildings adorned with blue shutters and wrought iron balconies, cobbled streets and pedestrianised shopping districts, its a picturesque city with a distinct French charm.
Earlier that evening I’d enjoyed dinner at the new Le Py-R restaurant, set in the bowels of an old wine cellar, where white-gloved waiters places sparkling silver cutlery on the tables and dishes consisted of soft-boiled egg with red onion shells, broken hazelnut shortbread and pea foam; hake with guacamole, celery paste, cherries and almonds; followed by strawberries with a vanilla and pepper foam. A unique and innovative concoction of flavours, with a charmingly French setting and award-winning chef Pierre Lambinon, this place is definitely going somewhere.
What to do in Toulouse during Fête de la Musique
Before dinner there had only been a few bands scattered around the streets and small groups of people gathered around, but when I emerged from Le Py-R onto the streets below, the party had definitely begun. If you’re coming here for the festival of music, make sure you choose a hotel away from the city centre or be prepared to party into the early hours.
However, festivals and food are not all the Pink City of Toulouse has to offer (although it does them well) – so called because the local orange bricks, emanate a rosy glow across the city when bathed in sunlight. One of the most impressive pieces of architecture in the city is the Musée des Augustins (pictured below) set inside an old convent and built in the Middle Ages. Set around a large garden filled with the actual plants and vegetables the monks used to grow there, the museum consists of a 16th century church, cloisters and large light-filled rooms housing various Roman, Gothic sculptures and paintings.
Another must-see is the Cité de l’Espace, one of the best space museums in the country and a great day out for the whole family. Even those not that interested in space will find themselves amazed and mesmerised by the hands-on exhibits, full scale models of rocket capsules and space stations and the excellent 3D documentaries shown at the park’s own IMAX theatre.
I especially enjoyed my experience walking on the ‘moon’ – hoisted up into the air in a large space suit ‘taking giant leaps for mankind’ across a realistic looking surface of the moon.
For lunch I tried the nearby Le Chai Saint-Sauveur, which specialises in the city’s traditional dish – cassoulet – a kind of casserole made from white beans, duck, pork and Toulouse sausage, served by very friendly staff.
What to do in Toulouse – visit the Terre de Pastel
The afternoon finished with a visit to newly opened Terre de Pastel, a museum tearooms and spa, focusing on the history of woad – one of only four plants worldwide which produces a natural blue dye. In the past, blue was the hardest colour to come by and only the rich could afford it, which is why in many religious paintings only the Virgin Mary is painted in blue.
Toulouse has a history with woad, known as pastel in French, and during the Renaissance was part of the gold triangle of pastel cultivation with Albi and Carcassonne. Woad expert Sandrine Banessy led me around the museum, sharing her passion for the dye and demonstrating how the plants are used to dye pieces of cloth – almost magically changing colour from yellow when it hits the air in an oxidation process – to the duck egg pastel blue. Attached is a small spa with a steam room, sauna, pool and treatment room using only woad products by Graine de Pastel – said to have anti-aging properties.
On my last day in the city I woke up early before my flight and went to visit the Sunday market set around the tower of the the hauntingly beautiful Basilica de Saint Sernin – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and to stock up on French cheese from the nearby Victor Hugo marketplace.
In total my trip to the Pink City of Toulouse had only lasted from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning, and while short, I certainly packed in a lot – a perfect destination for a short break and a chic French city to rival the likes of Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux.
Where to stay: Esme stayed at the Citiz Hotel, a four-star modern design hotel located in the centre of Toulouse.