Published on August 15th, 2014 | by Amy Lynne Hayes0
A Long Weekend in Toulouse
Known as “The Pink City,” Toulouse is the gateway to southwestern France. The capital of the Midi-Pyrenees region gets its nickname from the pinkish hues of its architecture. In truth, it shares more characteristics with Spanish Mediterranean style than with its more northern French sister cities.
Toulouse is the fourth largest city in France, and within close proximity to a number of fascinating smaller towns. Access is fairly simple with a direct train from Paris taking only 6 hours, making it an ideal escape for a long weekend in the sunny south.
Shops, sports, live music, tapas and happy hour… Toulouse offers it all. Much of the city center gives priority to pedestrians, and the small streets are lined with every type of restaurant and cafe imaginable. Looking for a burger or a charcuterie and cheese platter large enough to house all your dreams? Try “The Classroom” on rue Pargaminières. In the mood for flavored hot chocolate and the best red berry crumble of your life? Go to The “Flowers Café” at place Roger Salengro. Sample Latin American flavors at “El Chivito,” and indulge in a salad with duck three ways at “Evangélina.” Afternoon tea is popular, with various tea rooms scattered across the city. “So British” on rue Peyras sticks out as a quaint and charming locale to sip an afternoon brew.
With all the gastronomical delights, visitors are energized to shop the day away, or visit the local cultural sites. Take a cruise by boat down the UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site Canal du Midi, a favorite spot for locals to enjoy the outdoors. Or take a picnic along the banks of the Garonne River. To be architecturally impressed, stroll through “Le Capitole,” the current city hall and home to the city’s opera. The Place du Capitole is again lined with more cafes – the perfect setting for people watching at the heart of the city.
This small town is most famous for its medieval castle, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. One hour by train from the center of Toulouse, the historic fortified city of Carcassonne transports visitors to a different era… a time of knights and ladies, chivalry and war. Perched high on a hill overlooking the valley below, the old stone structure has its roots in this location since the pre-Roman period. Occupation of the site can be traced back as early as the 6th century BC. Subsequent shifts in dominant societies meant the castle changed hands and went through many reforms as history progressed. It took on its appearance as a medieval town and fortress by the 13th century, and had such a reputation as being impregnable that it was never attacked during the Hundred’s Year War. Even the famous Black Prince stayed away during his campaign.
Today visitors may wander the old cobblestone streets, popping into souvenir shops or having a meal at one of the many restaurants and cafes. The fortress itself, as well as its ramparts, are accessible for a small fee. The castle has been preserved to an incredibly high standard, thanks to the restoration efforts of Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc in the latter half of the 19th century.
The village of Albi could be overlooked as just another charming small town, nestled 50 miles outside Toulouse. This small town, however, can stand proudly as the birthplace of artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, of Moulin Rouge poster fame. Those with artistic inclination can visit the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec to soak up pieces from the largest collection of the artist’s work in the world. All housed in the former Bishop’s Palace in the Episcopal City of Alibi, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site in the region.
But don’t dismiss this village as simply the birthplace of some artist. The town itself has plenty to recommend itself to visitors, namely its markets. On weekends Albi plays host to a variety of markets, including the market hall, an open-air market, a flea market, and a creative arts and second-hand book market.
Sites and Museums:
Place du Capitole, 31000 Toulouse
+33 5 61 22 29 22
Mon – Sat 8:30 am – 7 pm
Sun 10 am – 7 pm
Château et ramparts de Carcassonne
1 rue Viollet-le-Duc, 11000 Carcassonne
+ 33 4 68 11 70 70
Open daily, Apr – Sept 9:30 am – 6:30 pm
Oct – Mar 9:30 am – 5 pm
Admission free for city
8.50 euros (individual adult) for castle
Palais de la Berbie, Place Sainte-Cécile, 81000 Albi
+33 5 63 49 48 70
Open daily, hours vary by time
Admission 8 euros (individual adult)
for permanent collection
Restaurants and Cafes:
42 rue Pargaminières, 31000 Toulouse
+33 5 62 30 05 13
Tues – Wed 11 am – 12 am
Thurs – Fri 11 am – 2 am
Sat 11 am – 3 PM
Les Fleurs Café
6 place Roger Salengro 31000 Toulouse
+33 5 34 44 93 66
Mon – Sat 10 am – 8 pm
Lunch 12 am – 3 pm
Sun (tearoom only ) 2 – 8 pm
63 rue Pargaminières, 31000 Toulouse
+33 5 61 22 47 95
Mon – Sun 12 am – 2:30 pm
and 7 – 11:30 pm
33 blvd du Maréchal Leclerc 31000 Toulouse
+33 5 61 21 30 00
Mon – Fri 12 am – 2 am
Sat 6 pm – 4 am
11 rue Peyras, 31000 Toulouse
+33 5 61 38 30 88
Mon – Sun 11 am – 7 pm