House sitting opportunities lure us to a lot of places we’d never heard of before; remote mountain communities, small villages, suburbs on the outskirts of big cities. This has helped us discover hidden gems off the beaten tourist trail. Places that the locals, the hotel owners, and restaurateurs choose to live. Sometimes our assignments are close enough for us to visit nearby cities more popular for tourism.
One house sit lead us to a small town in South Western France close to Toulouse, the capital of France’s southern Languedoc-Roussillon/Midi-Pyrénées region. Toulouse is at the center of the aeronautics industry in Europe. Home to the assembly production sector for Airbus, it is largely known as a city of industry.
Also dubbed La Ville Rose (The Pink City) for its many pink-hued brick buildings, Toulouse sounded interesting enough to spend a few days exploring before our house sit. What we learned during our time there has us longing to visit again! Toulouse has so much to offer traveling families. We were frequently surprised and impressed during our stay.
We can honestly say, it is one of the most attractive places we’ve ever visited! Here’s how we made the most of our time in Toulouse. A mini guide to help you plan an amazing family trip.
1. Stay somewhere great, that’s central
The truth is most of the “industrial” things about Toulouse are far from the oldest part of the city, the center. In Old Town, there’s an alluring mix of rosy red brick buildings, stunning Gothic architecture, and a myriad of lovely cafe-lined cobbled streets. We knew we’d be happiest staying in the middle of all of that historical beauty.
Our goal is always to choose a budget hotel that offers more than just affordable prices. We want accommodation that offers the best value for our money. There are certain characteristics and amenities that help us narrow down the choices. These include a location convenient to everything we want to see and do, a full breakfast at a great price or free, and most importantly lots of excellent customer reviews.
The Best Western Hotel Anathee, located right in the heart of the center, checked all of those boxes for us! It is a four-star hotel with rates as low as 78€ a night. The price was great but that wasn’t the best part of our stay. The outstanding service and generous amenities made us feel like we were staying with friends, not in a Best Western Hotel!
Some of the great amenities offered include-
- The regional aperitif served every evening from 6-8pm- a selection of regional wines and appetizers; cheese, foie gras, ham, bread, and cashews all free for guests.
- Robes and slippers when you book a comfort style room.
- Nespresso machine- self-serve and free for guests in the lobby.
- Free unlimited Wi-Fi
- Hot breakfast from 6:30-10:30am.
2. See two different sides of the city on two unique tours
We’ve done lots of walking tours so this time, we wanted to see the place we were visiting differently. Toulouse offers a whole variety of tours. We wanted to choose one that was best to do with kids; one that seemed fun, not too long, and not too taxing physically. It needed to be educational and help us see some of the best things in Toulouse.
We found two that fit our preferences perfectly. The first was on a little red train and the second was by boat. Doing both helped us learn a lot of history comfortably and see all of the highlights in Old Town from two totally different perspectives.
By train with Les Trains Touristiques de Toulouse
Les Trains Touristiques de Toulouse (The Little Tourist Trains) take visitors on audio guided tours to see the most important historical sites in Toulouse. There are two routes, the Toulouse Garrone and the Canal du Midi. Both are about 35 minutes in length depart and return to Place du Capitol. The tours and hours can vary by season but they run from the middle of March to mid-November. It is a great way to tour with kids, Mak loved riding on the little train.
And, by boat with Les Bateaux Toulousains
The river cruise was with Les Bateaux Toulousains is another great tour to take with kids and a perfect addition to any other overland tour. Toulouse gives access to the Atlantic Ocean via the River Garonne and the Mediterranean via the Canal du Midi. Both waterways border Old Town and taking a river cruise is the perfect way to see the city from a different perspective. On the tour, we had the chance to pass through the St. Pierre lock. This is such a cool experience for kids. Mak was amazed that the barge could drop 3 feet in the lock to cruise along the Canal de Brienne, a miniature replica of the Canal du Midi. Other highlights included learning about the Pont Neuf Bridge, a true engineering marvel for its age. And, the serene beauty of the Canal de Brianne.
3. Taste the best of Toulouse’s specialties
One of the best parts of travel is trying the local cuisine. Tasting the specialties of Toulouse was an absolutely delicious adventure! Some of the most notable foods are foie gras (goose liver pate), cassoulet (a slow cooked dish containing vegetables, white haricot beans, herbs, and an assortment of meats), Toulouse sausage (flavored with wine, smoked bacon, and garlic), and Violette de Toulouse (a candy made from violets).
Great places to get a taste of these incredibly tasty foods are-
- Violet confections– Pillon (pricey but offers a range of candies and confections), and La Maison de Violette (a barge anchored in the Canal du Midi that offers a variety of violet products and some education on the Violette arts as well).
- Toulouse sausage and foie gras– Marche Victor Hugo (Victor Hugo Market) is the largest covered market in Toulouse. We love checking out markets in the places we visit and Victor Hugo Market was worth the trip! You will find Toulouse sausage, foie gras, fresh fruit and vegetables, wine and many other delicious things for sale here. You get some sausage and foie gras to enjoy at your accommodation if it’s self-catering or grab lunch at one of the restaurants upstairs and have it prepared for you.
And the local dish not to be missed in Toulouse
- Cassoulet– We enjoyed some incredible cassoulet at a restaurant renowned for the local dish, Restaurant Emile. Originally opened as a guesthouse in the 1940s, Restaurant Emile evolved to become be one of the icons of the Toulouse gastronomy scene. The reputation of its cassoulet became so well known that it alone, justifies a visit!
Cassoulet au confit de canard (cassoulet with duck confit) at Emile consists of stewed white beans, pork sausage, and preserved leg of duck. It is so delicious and gluten free! Expertly paired with a bottle Gaillac Château de Salettes wine we have to say, it was one of the best regional meals we’ve ever enjoyed while traveling.
4. Explore to find the best photo ops
Toulouse has no shortage of beautiful buildings. We loved walking the streets of Old Town, taking in the pristinely clean cobbled streets lined with cute cafes and pretty facades. Toulouse is so photogenic! It’s so easy to lose track of time enjoying the relaxed vibe and quintessentially French aesthetic found in the center.
If you’re up for a little adventure, take a ride on the Ferris wheel at the Quai de la Daurade on the River Garonne for a sweeping 360-degree view of the Pink City.
The most impressive building to us was Basilica of St. Sernin– Construction began on the Basilica in the fourth century. Deemed the largest Romanesque church in Europe, St. Sernin received Unesco World Heritage Status back in 1998. Stunning on the outside and worth the trip inside, be sure to visit the eerie yet beautiful crypts that lie below the church.
5. Enjoy the great outdoors in lovely urban parks
Toulouse has so many parks, 160 of them for families to enjoy! It boasts a mild climate making it easy to spend time outside as much as possible. Our favorite parks were Jardin des Plantes and the Jardin Compans Caffarelli Japanse Garden. Both are landscaped beautifully with miles and miles of space for kids to run and play.
The Japanse Garden in Jardin Compans Caffarelli features exotic trees and shrubs decoratively landscaped as you’d find in the far East. There is even a distinctive Japanese red bridge and tea pavilion to complete the scene. With a kids park adjacent, it’s a great place for families to spend a couple of hours.
The Jardin des Plantes is another fun park for kids to burn off some energy. Conveniently located right next to the Toulouse Museum (the Natural History Museum in Toulouse) there is so much to keep kids busy. This park is popular with children in Toulouse for obvious reasons. It features a model train, play area, and carnival and pony rides.
6. Appreciate the city’s incredible kid-friendly museums
We had absolutely no problem finding kid friendly museums to visit in Toulouse. Mak’s favorite was the Toulouse Museum. The natural history museum features over 2.5 million items and is the second largest in all of France. A truly impressive collection of specimens, we were blown away by how the huge collection of different skeletons were displayed in real life active positions.
Other kid approved museums in Toulouse are-
- Cité de l’espace– This museum makes it their mission to help people discover space and the many wonders of the Universe.
- Aeroscopia– the Aeroscopia museum chronicles the history of the airplane and takes you inside some of the most legendary aircraft.
- Musée Saint-Raymond– The museum recounts the history of Toulouse and the region of South Western France. Kids love this museum because it offers them a variety of activities to do on their own. It’s a great way to learn some history and have a little fun as well.
7. Secure discounts on almost all aspects of your trip!
We managed to see and do a lot during our stay but we did it all really affordably. Almost every part of our trip was discounted or free. We picked up Tourism Passes from the Toulouse Tourism Office at the start of our trip. There are one, two or three day ones available. We picked up some of the three day premium passes.
They cost 35€ each but offer unlimited free public transit (metro, tram, bus, and airport shuttle), free entry to most museums and monuments, free tours, and discounts for various attractions and businesses. The tours we took, the Toulouse Museum, the Musee Saint-Raymond, entry to the crypts at St. Sernin, and all of our metro rides were free! With all of the discounts, the passes saved us over 30% on our trip. And, visiting the Toulouse Tourism Office helped us map out itinerary quickly and easily.
We ended up falling in love with Toulouse, France. The people are friendly and the vibe is relaxed and laid back. Old Town is beautiful and easy to navigate, very walkable and the metro is convenient and easy to use as well.
Have you ever visited a place that surprised you in many delightful ways? Toulouse was one of those cities for us and so much more.
Featured image by UltraView Admin via Flickr