In the second, and possibly last, of our surprise mini breaks to Europe, we travelled to Toulouse in the South of France. I’m sure Toulouse is beautiful in the Spring/Summer or any other time than the middle of winter.
It is not the snow covered Christmas markets of northern Europe nor is it the warmer weather of the Mediterranean, in truth, we had a perfectly grey weekend. Nevertheless, we explored Toulouse top to bottom!
Starting out at the airport, we had hoped to hire a car to take us to the Pyrenees. However, upon enquiring the price we scrapped that idea! So we bought a three day travel ticket – big mistake – and took the tram to the Palais de Justice station. We didn’t even realise that the Palais de Justice was right in front of us, so we wandered down the alleyways and bought lunch in little cafes along the way.
We took a detour into Jardin des Plantes, where we looked at going around the Muséum de Toulouse. However, we were left waiting to be served for far too long so we decided it wasn’t worth the €7. Leaving the museum, we wandered around the park, which was a little stark in the winter light.
There is a lovely river running through with waterfall tumbling down a man-made mound. We enjoyed exploring the meandering paths and looking at the different types of trees. I imagine it is beautiful when all of the flowers are in full bloom.
Continuing along the street, we came to the Jardin du Grand Rond. In the centre of a busy roundabout, the garden has a beautiful fountain in its centre with a pavilion overlooking. Despite the slight sound of traffic, it was a little nature haven in the middle of the city.
Exiting the park we walked along the Allées Forain-François Verdier to the Monument aux Combattants de la Haute-Garonne, remembering the soldiers who died in WWI.
We then headed west to the Cathedrale Saint-Etienne. Not quite sure whether we could enter, we cautiously entered the beautiful cathedral. Despite a rather plain exterior, the cathedral’s interior was intricate with amazing stained glass windows. Milan’s Duomo was magnificent but far too ornate and unrealistic, this was a truly old cathedral. Half was under refurbishment, yet we were able to wander freely through the stone walls.
The cathedral is really unique in its’ asymmetrical design and beautiful alcoves with sculptures and various confessionals from throughout the years. It was incredibly peaceful, especially with all of the candles burning.
Leaving the cathedral, we headed on to the Musee des Augustins that has a huge collection of sculpture and paintings from the Middle Ages to the 20th century.
The first room houses the medieval sculpture, which I found incredibly interesting – especially with the depiction of saints and some with the colour still remaining.
The museum also houses a huge hall in which fine art classes take place surrounded by incredible paintings and a beautiful organ at its centre. Toulouse’s famous organ dominates one of the walls and commands awe.
Upstairs you find an interesting light installation by Jorge Pardo. Inaugurated in May 2014 for Toulouse second International Art Festival, the display houses Toulouse’s beautiful Romanesque art separated into three categories shown by the change in light fitment.
These distinguishing lamps separate the set of capitals taken from the cloisters, no longer extant, of La Daurade, Saint Sernin and Saint Etienne. Pardo designed every element of the room, from the pillars to the tiling.
Continuing up the stairs, you are presented with contemporary statues by artists such as Alexandre Falguiere.
You then enter the gallery with famous pieces such as Edouard Debat-Ponsan’s The massage. Only the red gallery was open, unfortunately, as I would have liked to explore more of the artwork. Nevertheless, the pieces were beautiful. In particular, I liked the artwork of Armand Point and Philippe-Auguste Hennequin with their very different styles.
Time to check in to the hotel, we got settled in for a quick nap before heading out for the evening.
It was time to explore the Toulouse Christmas market. At the end of the street where our hotel was, we came to a roundabout decorated with a huge Saint Nicholas in his ice carriage next to a festive carousel. It was like being in a fairy-tale. All the streets were decorated with lights and the market looked quaint in the shadow of the Place du Capitole.
After looking at multiple restaurant menus as we walked, and not liking anything we saw, we eventually decided to buy something at the market. We had Toulouse sausage with chips, which definitely filled a hole. Then we wandered around the stalls.
Not quite the Christmas market I had expected, it was noticeably French with the scent of bread and strong cheese, meats and fried onions filling the air. The stalls had various handmade items and Christmas decorations. Despite the lights continually shorting out leaving parts of the market in darkness, we enjoyed wandering whilst drinking delicious Vin Chaud (mulled wine).
Feeling cold, we dipped into a bar where we had the worst wine I’ve ever tasted… Managing to drink it, we tried to find another bar but there wasn’t any room at the inn. So, we returned to the hotel’s “bar”, which consisted of a drinks cabinet and three sofas. We were greeted by a very helpful American lady who served us some very nice Chardonnay and pointed us towards the main sights of Toulouse. We would begin to explore more the following day.