A local’s guide to Toulouse, France: ‘the sun bounces off the pink brick and everything glows’
I love taking visitors around all the local producers at the Marché Victor Hugo, where we get to sample a bit of everything, from the cheese, charcuterie and macarons to, of course, the wine.
Toulouse has a lot of really reasonably priced restaurants that do cuisine du marché – a very small menu of dishes dictated by what the chef finds in the market, what’s fresh and what’s in season. One of my favourite such restaurants is the vegetarian-friendly Place Mage.
I was recently blown away by Franquette, which is similar, with excellent locally sourced ingredients. I also love Le Bon Vivre, which is on one of Toulouse’s best squares, the oval-shaped Place Wilson. Its food is more focused on southwestern cooking, including cassoulet and confit duck.
There’s a really big scene in the city for swing dancing and a huge tango festival in Toulouse in July called Tangopostale – a week of workshops and free lessons out in city squares. It’s so much fun.
Even outside this festival, if you go to the main squares such as Place Saint Georges or Place Saint-Pierre, you might see tango dancers practising on a summer’s evening.
I’m really excited about the recent reopening of the Musée Paul-Dupuy after a three-year renovation. Dupuy left his incredible collection of objet d’arts, textiles, clocks and posters to the state.
I love Les Chalets district, which is right on the Canal du Midi. There you’ll find one of the oldest cafes in the city, Café de la Concorde. It dates from the middle of the 19th century, and has a beautiful classic French bistro interior. It’s on rue de la Concorde, which has a bunch of really cool shops, including épiceries and wine stores.
In the Carmes district, rue des Filatiers and streets around the Marché des Carmes are home to a ton of really fun bars and restaurants.
For shopping, head to the huge brocante (flea market) on the first weekend of the month. It runs all along the Allée Forain-François-Verdier, an avenue between the war memorial and the fabulous Grand Rond park.
The Jardin du Grand Rond features a beautiful fountain in the middle and a gazebo. Right beside it is the Jardin des Plantes, a park and botanical garden that is popular with families and always full of people picnicking, reading and playing pétanque. And don’t miss Parc Compans-Caffarelli, with its Jardin Japonais Pierre Baudis – a pond and rock garden with cherry trees covered in blossom in the spring.
During that golden hour around sunset, Toulouse is magical: the sun bounces off the pink brick and everything glows. One of my favourite things to do is to grab a bottle of wine and watch the sun setting over the river at Prairie des Filtres. It’s such a Toulouse thing to do.
We also have some really good cocktail bars. L’Heure du Singe, one of the best known, offers excellent craft cocktails, while Fat Cat bar, close to Place du Capitole, has a classic jazzy atmosphere. The speakeasy bar L’Agence looks like a travel agency from the outside, but head to the back and you’ll find a hidden cocktail bar with live jazz on Sundays.
Related: A local’s guide to Bucharest: a pizza of a city with something to see in every sector
Where to stay
Maison Soclo (doubles from €175 room-only) is a relatively new boutique hotel with a rooftop bar between, Basilique Saint-Sernin and the river. Close to Place Capitole is Hotel Albert 1er (doubles from €84 room-only). It is known for its excellent breakfast and also promotes slow travel.
Jessica Hammer moved to Toulouse from Chicago in 2017 and set up Taste of Toulouse, offering tours of the Victor Hugo market, wine bars and pastry and chocolate shops