The historical and fascinating city of Toulouse, France – also known as the ‘Pink City’ due to its distinctive pink stone used to construct many of the buildings – has a wonderful vibe, and even though it’s our first time here, it feels very easy and familiar.
We are staying at the elegant boutique accommodation the La Cour des Consuls Hotel & Spa that once used to be an enchanting 18th-century mansion. This hotel is centrally located right by the 16th-century Pont Neuf on the Garonne River and this is where we begin our first self-guided walking tour of the city.
It is a perfect Sunday afternoon and by the river is the place to be to lay out a picnic blanket in the adjacent park, which half the city appears to be doing, or sit by the river bank and observe the acrobatic wake-boarders performing. Or just listen to the many buskers and the band that has strategically placed itself by the river bank.
We don’t stay in one spot for too long as we’re only here for three nights and already half of our first day has been taken up travelling by train from Cannes.
Most major European cities impress and captivate with their architecture and historical buildings and Toulouse is no different. Wherever you look there’s a photo opportunity, but unfortunately, Toulouse is going through a considerable restoration program and many of their iconic buildings including the Basilica of St. Sernin are partially covered by scaffolding and external coverings.
Sundays are also the city’s famous market day and the most popular flea market has stalls that go for miles selling just about everything imaginable. The amount of people who flock here to shop or simply walk around just checking things out is crazy.
After negotiating the crowds for about an hour, we come across the farmer’s market with stall after stall of mouth-watering French delicacies. Our first taste stop is to sample the famous Toulouse sausages that highly impress our taste buds. We proceed to hang around the stall like 1968 Rolling Stone groupies sampling as much as we can before being overcome by guilt and eventually purchasing some.
The humble yet delicious sausage is the main ingredient in the most popular and traditional dish in Toulouse called ‘Cassoulet’, a slow cooked and rich casserole combining white beans, duck and the moreish Toulouse sausage all harmoniously bought together and cooked in its own fat.
In the short time that we’re here, we manage to devour an astonishing amount of this classic Toulouse dish. Now, being a sausage-eating freak and discovering this essential local favourite cuisine has eased the pain slightly in regards to all the building restorations that are going on in this town.
Back at our hotel, the breakfast buffet has a delicious sausage selection and we virtually hijack it every morning and stack it on top of the freshly baked sliced baguette. Still to this day, I can’t fathom why my weight blew out like a hot air balloon and my near perfect pre-Toulouse athletic body capitulated into a blubbery mass! It may have also been the moreish chocolate croissants, but they were only small. Or perhaps the copious serves of cassoulet may possibly have contributed to my ever-expanding European holiday body blowout.
Toulouse is a delightful city to walk around and discover its rich history, but my favourite thing to do is each late afternoon end up back at the Garonne River to witness a couple of majestic sunsets with the Pont Neuf and the nearby Passerelle de la Viguerie (bridges) standing out as the perfect backdrop.
Our three nights pass way too quickly and it’s not long that we are back on board the train and settling in for another Euro Rail experience, next stop being Bordeaux.
This is the first time for me travelling around Europe by train and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again and discover more delightful cities and towns in France by rail as this way gives you the opportunity to see a part of the countryside you’d never otherwise see.
WHERE TO STAY:
La Cour des Consuls Hotel & Spa
HOW TO GET THERE:
Vicky Gilden at Rose Bay Travel
(02) 9371 8166