Today’s Toulouse, France, City Guide comes to us from Tiffany Kim, an advertising and marketing educator and now resident of Toulouse, France. In her former life, Tiffany worked for many years producing for Fodors.com, EuroRSCG 4D and Atmosphere BBDO. She left the big lights of the Big Apple to take another bite of life. Her new adventures in French culture have been challenging but quite fulfilling. She loves eating out and enjoying the southwest of France with her Toulousain husband and two kids, and today she shares the charms and beauty of this magical city. Thank you for this wonderful guide, Tiffany! — Stephanie
Read the full guide after the jump . . .
In this dusty rose-colored city canvassed with clay roof-topped homes, beautifully trimmed parks, a river and a canal that runs through it and the occasional accordion music, I have been lucky to live the real southern French experience in Toulouse. Toulouse is called “Le Ville Rose” (the Pink City), named after the pink bricks used in constructing the homes. Like most modern cities in Europe, Toulouse is infused with the old and new. There are chic neighborhoods with stores like Hugo Boss, Blumarine and Longchamp, but nestled between these boutiques is an old patisserie whose owners are from a long lineage of patisserie owners serving the scrumptious sweet tarts of the region.
A few years ago I asked my friend, Josh, a true-to-the-core cultured New Yorker to come and visit me in Toulouse, and he laughed and responded, “Uh, to go to Toulouse is to lose.” I laughed it off, but at that time, I really believed he was right. Toulouse does lack the excitement and energy of an amazing city like Paris. But after many years, this city has gone through a slow renaissance of reinventing, readjusting and rediscovering. Toulouse is the home of Airbus and many well-known pharmaceutical companies, and it also has one of Europe’s best rugby teams. The fact is, you do lose, but what you lose are certain mannerisms and needs that don’t seem to matter as much any more. When you start wandering around the city — the fourth largest in France — you see and appreciate the beauty and the special charm it has to offer. Toulouse’s bars, restaurants, hotels and stores are now more appealing for every taste, and it’s constantly changing. Toulouse is a destination for so many Parisians who yearn for a slower paced life, and it is now a destination for many travelers who decide to stay because they recognize the same je ne sais quoi.
Through the broad boulevards and the streets just wide enough for one small Fiat, one would find a lot of noteworthy shopping featuring typical French brands that so many Americans covet like Maje, Comptoir des Cotonniers, Zadig et Voltaire, Isabel Marant, American Vintage, Catimini, Vanessa Bruno, Repetto, The Kooples and, of course, Petit Bateau, just to name a few.
But the real piece de resistance is the food. Not only does Toulouse have all the typical French cuisine made by Julia Child on TV, but there are also les fromages that smell so bad but make your taste buds rejoice because they are so incredibly creamy. And there’s the Toulousain cuisine, specific to the southwest of France, that’s made of duck, such as the “eat only once a year because it has as many calories as a full-course Thanksgiving dinner” cassoulet, le confit, magret de canard, foie gras and duck sausage. There are meals to be had that make you close your eyes and slap your hand on the table because something amazing is happening in your mouth. It’s a real “Oh my god, Alain Ducasse, you must have a lot of relatives!” Over the top, yes, but there are restaurants that are really that awe inspiring and often quite affordable. Don’t get me wrong — not all the restaurants are that delicious, but every year I feel the restaurants really up their game. In terms of wines, well, how wrong can you go? You can’t defy enjoying all the AMAZING wines from the region, like wines from Cahors and Corbieres. And lastly, a meal is not complete without dessert. Where do I begin? How do I end? There are as many patisseries as there are banks and real estate agencies. Most patisseries are good, but there are others that have made my poor waistline suffer enormously because I couldn’t deprive myself of these sweet little morsels. How dare they tempt me so.
Be sure to check out this Google Map of all the below listings!
Carmes is one of my favorite quarters in town. It has everything you need in one little lovely neighborhood mixed with beautiful old homes with gated courtyards. On the main and side roads, there are many wonderful bars, restaurants and shops bustling with people from morning until after dark.
49 Grande Rue Nazareth, 31000 Toulouse, France
Tél: 05 62 26 43 06
One of my favorite eateries is a place that I was introduced to by a former New Yorker with enormous style and a real gourmand who lives around the corner. This restaurant has the exact warmth and feeling you would find in a traditional French home, with a working fireplace and all. It’s a family-style restaurant where you could be sitting with strangers who smile and wish you a bon appétit. You will find the delicious array of traditional French cuisine such as lentils, shredded carrots in vinaigrette and homemade pâté already sitting at the table waiting to be devoured. Every day the main course changes and never fails to warm your stomach. There is a great wine menu and an all-you-can-eat dessert table.
1, rue Mage, 31000 Toulouse, France
Tél: 05 62 19 12 36
This restaurant is run by the wife of Chez Navarre with the same family-style theme, but it is only open for lunch and serves Vietnamese canteen-style fare. It is absolutely wonderful food with the atmosphere of an authentic eastern cafeteria. Everyone I have taken there has fallen in love with this place immediately, and why wouldn’t they?
Comptoir a la Une
11 place des Carmes 31000 Toulouse
Tél: 05 61 52 98 53
This bar is hopping every night, and the vibe is just as fun. But what really keeps them busy is their extraordinary morsels of international fare that they call tapas, which will make your mouth water. They serve their popular melted cheese gnocchi on a platter small enough to make you want more, but the dish is filling enough to make you say, “C’est trop.” The bar is so popular that they opened another about eight minutes away near the Pont Neuf.
This gem of a hotel with only 14 rooms is hidden on a very narrow and slightly hilly street, but once found you won’t be disappointed. All the rooms are decorated with the modern amenities and comforts, which includes your own nespresso machine for your daily dose of caffeine in just seconds. The staff is friendly, and the hotel is just steps away from the Pont Neuf and all the brasseries and shops.
Backstage (Near Carmes)
Address: 28 Rue des Marchands, 31000 Toulouse, France
Phone:+33 9 53 17 43 64
If you’re ever looking for a vintage or unique piece, this store is a go-to spot. Backstage is a used clothing store with a lot of interesting and beautiful clothes and a collection of trend-setting jewelry. It’s a bit pricey for used clothes and shoes, but they carry a variety of brands that changes quite often, from sought-after Chanel pumps in mint condition to a YSL vest you may have seen in a magazine from the late ’90s. I appreciate a store like this because it reminds me so much of one of my favorite stores, Armacord, that use to reside in the East Village. Backstage doesn’t have a huge inventory, but what it does have is an abundance of style.
Centre Ville (from Place de la Bourse to St. Sernin)
Les Affreux Jojo (translation: The Unruly Children)
There aren’t many independently owned kids’ stores in Toulouse, but thankfully there’s Les Affreux Jojo — hard to pronounce but easy to spend the cash. This kids’ store definitely carries a great collection that’s so fun and cute you’ll wish you could have it for yourself. Sebastian and his wife created two floors of ideas for parents to relive their childhood in every way possible. Downstairs, they have the most irresistible custom-made kid’s playhouse made of wood filled with miniature designer tables, chairs and rugs and all the accoutrements to keep them happy for hours.
Address: 41 Rue des Tourneurs, 31000 Toulouse, France
Tél: 05 61 21 66 04
The bakeries in Toulouse are easily found, but there are patisseries that go beyond the call of duty. In the cold of winter, there will be a line of people waiting to buy a Galette des Rois (seriously, it’s like a big brioche with sugar on top) that starts at 24 euros. I had to try it to see what the fuss was about. Yep, hands down, it was one of the best I’ve tasted. They are also famous for the most delicious, guilt-full macarons. In a variety box containing every type of flavor imaginable, it will make you sing “La Marseillaise.”
Chez Fifi (St. Etienne)
The chef Philippe Braun and his wife opened Chez Fifi, which is the restaurant of the moment. The chef has an extremely impressive resume, which is why the food is considered the “coup de coeur” of many critics. In this neighborhood filled with chic boutiques and antique galleries and shops, the restaurant fits right in.
Église des Jacobins (St. Sernin)
Address: Rue Lakanal, Toulouse, 31000
Tél: 05 61 22 21 92
If you’ve spent any time taking an art-in-the-dark class, you will recall one of Toulouse’s most famous medieval churches with soaring, arched apses, gothic pillars shaped like palm trees and beautiful cloisters. While there, don’t miss going inside the Basilique St. Sernin, as it is the largest Romanesque church in Europe and is named a UNESCO historic site.
A five-star hotel worthy of each star earned, the Grand Balcon Hotel is one of the most beautiful hotels in Toulouse. Located right in the center of town, around the corner from Place du Capitole, you are guaranteed to be taken care of while here.
Les Fees de la Creation
Retro clothing, shoes and jewelry for women and fit for the likes of Zooey Deschanel. There is a collection of independent labels and designs that you know won’t be worn by everyone on the street.
Rice and Beans
A little shop full of hipster wear for both men and women. The selection of men’s clothing is larger, but the carefully chosen women’s section is worth a browse. A nice collection of leisure styles for the skater/MGMT groupie/alternative/artist wannabes.
This has to be my most favorite jewelry store in all of Toulouse. One cannot help but walk into this bright pink pastry-colored corner store filled with handmade jewelry, kitschy wall art and decorative displays so tempting, you always ask the price and it’s either not for sale or already on hold. They have something for every age group and every type of style.
Les Chalets/St. Aubin
Primarily a quiet residential neighborhood lined with trees that guard the beautiful bourgeoisie homes near the canal. Les Chalets is limited in terms of shops and restaurants, but the few they have are quite impressive. And just minutes away is St. Aubin, with its wonderful Sunday market and petit rues filled with ethnic restaurants, cute bars and shops.
L’Atelier de Jean
26, Rue Raymond VI
Tél. 05 61 62 75 63
L’Atelier de Jean is a restaurant that I happened to walk into one random day during lunchtime, and I was denied seating because it was completely booked — for the whole week. Reservations are necessary to guarantee seating because the food is definitely worth the wait. The chef comes out on occasion to greet his patrons and to talk about the food or even the weather. The way he prepares each dish is a gastronomic delight, and for lunch it costs only 14 euros. You can’t beat that.
Bar la Concorde
16 Rue de La Concorde
Tél: 05 61 62 50 52
This 150-year-old establishment still attracts the neighborhood clientele, the hipsters and everyone in between. You go for the ambiance of a grand bar de Toulouse because it has the feel of history, but don’t go there just for a vin chaud during the holidays or a big cafe crème in the morning. Experience the evenings, too, because here you’ll be able to catch a chanteuse belting out Edith Piaf or a trio playing jazz. The staff is friendly and international.
Madame Sans Gene
There are quite a few talented hairdressers in town with gorgeous salons, but I have yet to find one as different as Madame Sans Gene. This salon is a flashback to the ’50s (a recurring theme here in Toulouse) — from the antique blue hair dryer and the Happy Days set furniture to the beautiful black and white tapestry wallpaper. She has the hair and tattoos to convince you that she is not kidding around with her craft. So if you want the John Waters bouffant teased-out hair or the up do for an occasion, this is the place to have it done. As a matter of fact, she’ll cut your hair in almost any style you want.
Gris Chiné (Translation: marled grey)
35 rue de la Concorde
Tél: 06 29 80 18 55
This store is a real mix of something old and something new. Owner Stéphanie Galup refurbishes the decorative pieces for the home, and a contributor to the store, Gaëlle Molina, designs the jewelry that is on display. This little store in the heart of Les Chalets gives proof of creativity and an ownership of unique style.
This neighborhood is multicultural, boisterous and brimming with activity and things to do. It is a hotspot for young families, students and the like to hang out or reside.
Musée les Abattoirs
This is the only contemporary museum in Toulouse. Unfortunately, I think the curator is asleep at the wheel. It saddens me to say it, as I miss going to see modern art, but this museum really lacks originality and inspiration in its exhibits. They recently renovated, so I will continue to keep my fingers crossed. And there is one thing not to be missed near this museum: the carousel.
Le Beau Manége dans le jardin Raymond VI
Allées Charles de Fitte
Tél: 05 62 27 48 48
The most original carousel this side of France, and it’s next to a large park. The carousel animals are not typical, either, as you will find turtles and rhinos alongside the horse. The rides are made of wood, iron, leather, fabric and cane, and the merry-go-round is exceptional for both young and old.
Amidonniers, next to St Cyprien
An interesting fact is that French people consider an American burger to be just ground beef with no salt, pepper or onions added. I am trying my best to convince every restaurant owner, butcher and French burger eater that it is not quite so. As a real burger lover, I cannot live on French food alone. Thankfully, a friend told me about this place that I had walked or driven by countless times without knowing the hidden treasure that awaited me. Great burgers, yummy fries, nice staff, funny name — what more could one ask for? You’ll need reservations, due to space; it is completely mandatory.
Atelier Deux Mille
A small collective contemporary art gallery consisting of four artists who create their silkscreens and engravings for show and sale. Their work is uncluttered and simple yet interesting and worth a second look.
A chapel turned gallery of poster art, graphic art and postcards from French artists. This small treasure of a room (rumored to expand) is a wonderful place to see and then to shop.
Albi (45 minutes from Toulouse)
A UNESCO city known for its breathtaking gothic cathedral and also as the birthplace of the painter Toulouse-Lautrec.
Carcassone (50 minutes from Toulouse)
This medieval city known for its stone fortress is a must-see. Not worth going in, but definitely worth a drive by.
Claude Nougaro, singer
Marcus Antonius Primus, famous Roman general
Lucas Puig, professional skateboarder