I'm one of those rare people that has little interest in visiting France...or more specifically, Paris. To me, Paris seems very touristy and over-hyped. I know I'll eventually go since I'm so close to it, but it's way down on my list of "must-see" places in Europe. But, when I had a holiday weekend and found a $40 round-trip flight from Madrid to Toulouse (yay budget airlines!), I decided to take a baby step into France...or at least into southern France...and check it out. It was mostly an excuse to also take a day trip from Toulouse to the nearby Bordeaux region to spend a day on a wine tasting trip.
I had the week from hell leading up to the trip (cue dead laptop, among other things) and had zero time to do any research on Toulouse. All I knew was that it is the fourth largest city in France and is known as la Ville Rose (or, "the Pink City") due to the architecture being made of pinkish hued terracotta bricks. Because I had a 6am flight (and am a night owl), I foolishly decided to stay up all night rather than get up at 3am to head to the airport, which turned out to be a big mistake. I arrived in Toulouse before 8am, checked into my room, and immediately fell asleep until lunchtime missing out on some key sightseeing time. Once I woke up, and with no real plan (which is my favorite way to see a new city), I set off to explore Toulouse.
I found myself at Pont Neuf, a bridge from the 16th century over the Garonne river that started construction in 1544. After oohing and ahhing over how old it was, I decided that was enough history for the day and set off to enjoy some champagne at Brassire Flo where I could admire the bridge view. After a couple of glasses of fine French champagne, I headed up a nearby side street and snagged an outdoor table at La Comtesse, a cute wine bar, where I sampled an interesting red wine choice at the recommendation of the bartender.
After that it was time for dinner, and since I was running on very little sleep, it was going to be an early first night. France doesn't eat on the same late timetable as Spain (which, by the way, I love Spain's late eating habits), so eating dinner a bit earlier was no problem. When traveling, I am laser focused on not eating at touristy places (just ask my poor mom on our Italy trip where I refused to eat anywhere with picture menus). I usually succeed at that, but sometimes, you're hungry and tired of wandering around and you end up at a place that seems to have a good menu. That place for my first night's dinner was Hughette and I haven't since Googled it to see if it's considered good or bad. I will say that my entire meal was delicious and the service was fantastic. I didn't try the typical French dish of Cassoulet as it was too hot and it's a heavy dish, but I did try a baked egg with asparagus and chorizo (can't get away from that Spanish pork), the most tender veal ever with veggies, roasted garlic, mushroom and fries, plenty of ridiculously good French wine, and finished off the meal with espresso and a molten chocolate cake with caramel sauce.
I'm not even a dessert person, but, dang, this was delicious! French people are kind of killing it at the food game
Full of French food and wine, I wandered back to my hotel passing this cute, old building and crashed early in advance of my wine tasting trip the next day to Bordeaux (more on that in the next post).
My final day in Toulouse was spent eating more delicious French food, doing a mini tour of the city on one of the tiny trains, and drinking champagne and eating macarons in the Place du Capitole before heading back to the airport. On a side note, I'm not sure what I expected language-wise when visiting Toulouse - maybe stupidly that there would be more English spoken - which wasn't exactly the case. I know zero French other than "merci,' and for some odd reason, I defaulted to Spanish, which is bizarre because I don't even default to that in Spain. In Madrid, even after being here a year and a half, I am still completely intimidated to speak with the locals in Madrid. Luckily, I chose Le Van Gogh for lunch and ended up with a lovely English-speaking waiter.
After starting out with an appetizer of a salad with mozzarella burrata straight from Italy (and wine, of course), I wisely opted to order the duck breast with dark cherry jelly and mashed potatoes. My goodness, it was fantastic! Apologies to all of the vegetarians out there, but the crispy duck fat was so delicious and the duck was perfectly cooked.
I wrapped up the meal with an on the house whiskey cream digestive and a conversation with the waiter on how the people of southern France are much more laid-back and friendlier than their counterparts in the north - i.e., Paris. Not sure if that's true since I haven't been to Paris yet, but interesting conversation nonetheless.
After a half-hour tour on the tiny train, I stumbled onto an adorable pastry shop called Perlette, where I picked up some of those famous French macarons.
In addition to food, French people are also pretty good at desserts
Macarons in hand, I headed over to Capitole de Toulouse, or city hall, to soak up the last bit of atmosphere before heading back to Madrid.
A very impressive city hall
Obviously, I needed some champagne to accompany the macarons and settled on Le Bibent. While it certainly ain't cheap, it overlooks the Capitole and has been around since 1861. I absolutely love places that withstand the test of time and can stick around amidst the ever-present construction and development.
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed my time in France. I went in not knowing what to expect nor feeling overly excited to visit, but the food was incredible and everyone I met was friendly and helpful. Paris may be a totally different experience, but I'll keep an open mind and will try to avoid all of the touristy places (minus the Eiffel Tower, of course). Next up, is a recap of the day I spent on a wine tasting tour of Bordeaux. For a wine lover such as myself, it was one of the best things I've done.