Toulouse: the gastronomic capital of the south of France

For a city with a reputation for aeronautics, Toulouse somehow flies under the radar as a must-see destination in France.

Toulousains are very discreet – although many are very wealthy due to the Toulouse-based commercial giant Airbus, they never like to flaunt their wealth. And they like to keep their gastronomic riches to themselves.

Gastronomic tour

Join a food walking tour and discover the delicious local cuisine

The best way to appreciate the city’s culinary culture is to embark on a Taste of Toulouse food walking tour with the wonderfully knowledgeable Jessica Hammer. She’s an American expat based in Toulouse who has spent countless hours engaging with traders at Marché Victor Hugo to gain insider knowledge so that we clueless tourists don’t have to.

Did you know the difference between the classic baguette and the traditional baguette? If you ever see both, be sure to order the latter, as it’s usually made by artisan bakers using only flour, yeast, salt, and water. They are not allowed to use preservatives and frozen dough.

We also had a candid discussion about the culture of foie gras in Toulouse. It is a city that lives and breathes foie gras. Duck is ubiquitous on restaurant menus due to the production of foie gras and the meat tends to be succulent and meaty but also naturally a dish to be avoided if you have foie gras reservations as it is likely to be serve you a duck with foie gras is almost 100%.

We ended our visit with a nice selection of artisan cheeses and wines from the market. And the wonderful thing about the tour is the follow-up email, where Jessica meticulously lists every item we tried on the tour. Our favorite was the Beaufort d’Alpage. It is a raw cow’s milk cheese from Savoie, made only with the summer milk of the cows when they graze in the mountains. Every bite felt like tasting the sun of the Alps.

Restaurants

Toulouse caesar salad
Mr. Georges owns several restaurants on the iconic Place Saint-Georges. Image credit: 31 Eme Avenue/M. George

Even when you visit a local bistro or brasserie, the produce is top notch, the presentation is always exquisite. Restaurants like L’Air de Famille, which offers a BIB Gourmand, do not offer an à la carte menu. The daily specials are written on a board according to the seasonality of the local market. You’re likely to stumble upon some real bargains on their prix fixe menu like tuna gravlax and grilled monkfish. You’ll also often find dishes that come with an umami-rich shellfish sauce.

If you want a two-Michelin-star experience without booking months in advance or paying sky-high prices, consider visiting Ma Biche Sur le Toit, the rooftop restaurant above Galeries Lafayette. It is co-managed by the talented two-starred chef Michel Sarran. Besides the fascinating views of the pink city, you will appreciate the haute cuisine with an Asian touch. Think grilled duck with soba noodles and ceviche presented as a sushi roll.

Another refined option is Le Bibent on Place du Capitole. It opened in 1861 and the mix of Baroque and Art Nouveau design has captivated diners ever since. If you want to taste lots of dishes, go to Mr. Georges. They have a number of restaurants in the iconic Place Saint-Georges, so you can potentially enjoy your Caesar salad with a four cheese pizza and some whelks.

If you’re not sure where to go for dinner, head to Marché Victor Hugo, there’s a plethora of food options around the market making good use of local produce. Consider La Gourmandine Côté Marché for comfort food with soft nona lina gnocchi or Le J’Go for steak tartare garnished with the ubiquitous duck foie gras. Portions tend to be generous, which is no surprise considering you’re in a city famous for its rugby.

Unique experiences

Toulouse boat rental
Visitors can rent an electric boat with a picnic to navigate freely on the Garonne. Image credit: Rémi Deligeon

Want to drive your own boat without a license? Well, you can in Toulouse. Les Caboteurs offer electric boats without a license to navigate along the Garonne. You have the freedom to see the shore at your own pace. They also provide a picnic basket for the trip so you can enjoy tapenades and pork pies while commanding your own boat. This is one of those experiences that everyone should try at least once in their life.

A visit to the Cité de l’Espace is essential because Toulouse is the European capital of space and aeronautics. They rightly called it a city rather than a museum. You will be able to discover a real spaceship, experience the extraordinary life of astronauts and travel to the ends of the cosmos. They were showing a fascinating IMAX film called Asteroid Hunters showing how space agencies constantly monitor cosmic threats. The whole experience is highly interactive and immersive without resorting to creating theme park rides. You will need to plan at least half a day to experience the multi-faceted displays.

Where to stay

toulouse capitol tower
The Capitol Tower is a unique stay in the city. Image credit: Tanguy Chausson

Do you want to live like nobility? Why not stay in one of Toulouse’s chapter towers like La Tour du Capitole? During the Renaissance, the trend was to flaunt one’s wealth by building the tallest tower possible. There are still dozens left in the city and nowadays you can experience this unique form of accommodation. You get a sparkling 360° view of Toulouse from the top floor living room and they have also planned to create a roof garden. The only issue is making sure you’re not carrying an expansive suitcase that would be difficult to deliver up the narrow spiral staircase.

Another to consider is the refined boutique hotel, La Maison Soclo. Located in an 18th century residence near the university district, it is a real urban oasis away from the hustle and bustle of Place du Capitole. The highlight is their secret and serene garden and pool, which is somewhat rare for hotels in the city. The oldest tree in town is just a few meters from the hotel. Their rooms have a chic and modern British design, although you would like to spend so much time in Gaspard’s Bar. Craft cocktails make good use of local ingredients like a purple martini.

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For more details go to toulouse-visit.com

Elisha A. Tilghman