Emma Killick guides a foodie’s tour of Toulouse.

Toulouse at Sunset © Guillaume Dubé

Toulouse at Sunset © Guillaume Dubé

Many heading to the south of France bypass the cities, but if you’re arriving by plane or train or picking up a hire car, I definitely recommend at least a quick stop in Toulouse. This historic city is young and vibrant, in large part due to the University of Toulouse, one of the oldest universities in Europe. The centre is 15 easy minutes from the airport or five minutes by metro from the train station. Whenever we are picking up friends from the airport, we always squeeze in a trip to the market or a meal before heading out into the countryside.

Here’s what you can do if you’ve got a day set aside, or even just a couple of hours:

MORNING: The daily market at Place Victor Hugo is mind blowing – all the meat, fish, cheese and pastries you could ever want. All of it is sumptuously displayed (so much so that I was almost tempted to buy a fillet of horse meat …). All the fruit and vegetables are just outside the covered market and more is to be found on the nearby Boulevard de Strasbourg

Place Victor Hugo, Ground Floor
Tuesday to Sunday, 6am-1pm

LUNCH TIME: Head upstairs from the market (the entrance is on the outside, under the covered walkway) to the mezzanine where there’s a narrow row of half a dozen restaurants. They’re all very friendly and very good, and they expect you to walk down the row and peruse the menus. All of them are supplied by the market below and guarantee fresh, tasty fare. We love the Le Louchebem (French Pig-Latin for “butcher”).

Get there by 12:15 at the latest as there are no bookings taken and the place gets packed.

Place Victor Hugo, First Floor
Daily 11.45am-3pm. Closed on Mondays.

EVENING: Enjoy an aperitif on the Place du Capitole. The square is vast, with the enormous town hall and opera house on one side and beautiful rose-bricked buildings on the other. Great for people watching and admiring the effect the changing light has on all the beautiful buildings. Many cafes spill out from the covered archways opposite the Capitole. The service can be a little Parisian (i.e. aloof), but worth suffering through for the atmosphere.

Next, head to Place Saint-Georges for dinner. A ten-minute stroll from Place du Capitole, Place Saint-Georges is a small, leafy square accessed by several narrow, medieval streets. In summer all the restaurants in the square have tables set up outside. It makes for a great atmosphere, and gives you a good view of all the gorgeous buildings surrounding the square. Unlike small French towns, late dining is readily available. There are a variety of restaurants and cafes here – everything from crepes and pizza to extensive gourmet menus. I recommend the following:

Traditional with great service and an extensive wine list:

Restaurant Emile. 13 Place St. Georges
05 61 21 05 56

They are known for their cassoulet and fish stew. We had a fabulous starter of herring tartar that was tasty and beautifully presented. On the expensive side, but a worthwhile treat. Making a reservation is recommended.
Young vibe and reliable food and service:

Van Gogh Cafe 21 Place St. Georges
05 61 21 03 15

Their summertime terrace comes complete with sand underfoot, which is nice and cool and feels a little as if you are on a volleyball court (high heels not recommended). The atmosphere is warm and friendly, which is partly due to the beautiful building and furnishings and partly due to with the staff. We gobbled all our food and the servings are uncharacteristically large (you could share one cassoulet between two).

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