The company that I work for has an office in Toulouse, and so for the past couple of months I have been making fairly regular trips down there. It was for this reason that I found myself heading down there for some meetings on a Friday, on the cusp of a week-end prolongé (that’s long weekend, cretins) (and no, French people do not tolerate weekends any shorter than three days during the month of May #ViveLaFrance).
It’s true that Toulouse has become a bit of a second home for me in France, and on reflection, it makes a lot of sense. Let’s look at it objectively – there are three things that are typically important to Toulousains: eating, drinking, and sport (rugby to be exact). Add to that a characteristically laid-back attitude, a drawling accent, and the indefatigably glorious weather, and it’s no surprise that the Australienne within me feels right at home in the pink city.
And so it was that I decided to stay in Toulouse for the long weekend. However, having dutifully dragged myself to the 'Tripadvisor top ten' the last time I stayed for the weekend – this time I was looking for something a little bit hors des sentiers battus (that’s off the beaten track, cretins).
Albi (or, where I took refuge from the rain in the Toulouse-Lautrec museum)
To begin with, Albi was nothing more to me than a necessary stop-over on the way to Cordes-sur-ciel (more on that later). My train arrived there in the morning and I had an hour or so to kill before my bus departed for the aforementioned Cordes-sur-ciel (Attention: I learned the hard way that the bus does not actually depart from the Albi Ville station, but from the Gare Routière in the Place Jean Jaurès, a good ten minute work further into town. This necessitated me having to run from the Gare Routière to the Albi Ville station in order to make my train back home, which was a nice little adrenaline rush for me to beat the afternoon slump, and must have been quite an amusing spectacle for the people of Albi).
However, it turns out that Albi is well worth a visit in its own right (and a visit of more than 90 minutes at that!). When I arrived, it was raining (apparently it happens from time to time in the Occitane) so I was happy enough to take refuge in the Musée de Toulouse Lautrec, which is dedicated to the works of Albi’s most famous son. I have always admired the graphic art of Toulouse Lautrec, who rode the wave of the printed advertisement poster, which was totally the Snapchat of turn-of-the-century marketers. However it turns out that he produced other works as well (oil on board, grisaille on paper, ceramic, ..). A bit of an “outsider” himself (he had a congenital illness which prevented his legs from growing after he fractured both of them as an adolescent, rendering him a perpetual short-ass at 4’8”) he was particularly drawn to subjects from the underbelly of Paris: prostitutes, cabaret dances (notably from the Moulin Rouge), etc…
After speeding through the floors of the Musée de Toulouse Lautrec all too hastily, I made my way to the Gare Routière to catch my bus, which would take me the 25 kilometres south west to Cordes-sur-ciel for the measly sum of €2. It was only once I was aboard the bus, and we were crossing the bridge Pont du 22 août, that I made the discovery of the river Tarn. Which was quite literally one of THE MOST ADORABLE RIVERS I have ever seen :O Full disclosure: the following photo was taken on the way back to Albi, as during the first crossing I was too busy picking my jaw up from the floor, and soaking in that beautiful view with my eyes (which I sometimes prefer to my smartphone as an apparatus for observing scenery – go figure ;))
Toulouse - Albi Ville
Around 90 mins
Tickets 14€ each way with SNCF
Musée de Toulouse Lautrec
Palais de la Berbie
Place Sainte Cécile BP 100
Albi Gare Routiere – Cordes-sur-ciel
Line 707 Cordes - Albi
Around 30 mins (several departures a day, not on Sundays or school holidays – check the timetable in advance)
Tickets 2€ each way with TarnBus
Cordes-sur-ciel (or, where I lost one of my favourite earrings)
The first time I came to France as an exchange student at the age of 15, I was given a book called Villages of France. I didn’t really need much convincing when it came to the beauty of a country with which I had been enamoured for as long as I can remember. However, had I needed convincing, this book would have been the ticket. The picture on the cover was of Cordes-sur-ciel, a medieval village bathed in diffuse golden light, perched enticingly on the top of a hill like a sandcastle built by a seriously talented child.
Thirteen years later I had the occasion to visit Cordes-sur-ciel in real life, and I hope it will not be too cliché if I say it did not disappoint. I spent my first hour-or-so wandering around the perimeter of the village and testing the battery power of my iPhone, as every corner heralded a new photo-opportunity even more enchanting than the last.
When I suddenly realised it was 2pm and my empty stomach was protesting (as was my iPhone, whose battery was rapidly depleting) I installed myself in an adorable vegetarian restaurant called Sur les Pavés, where the food was delicious, and – as if confirming all of the stereotypes of small southern villages – all the patrons seemed to know each other (the owner of the restaurant was also kind enough to let me charge my phone, FTW!).
Later in the afternoon I checked out the Jardin des Paradis during a moment where the weather did indeed become paradisiacal. However, it was here where I realised I had lost one of my favourite earrings (not so paradisiacal ☹). You would think that if you found yourself in a medieval (cobblestoned) village, having just been for a jaunt through a (pebbled) garden, and you realised you had lost an earring, you would morn said earring, say a quick prayer to the earring gods, and move on with life.. not I!!! No, I valiantly combed my way through that garden (no earring) back up the cobblestoned streets (UP!) that had brought me there (no earring) all the way to the vegetarian restaurant where I had eaten lunch. I was not even deterred by the fact that the restaurant had since closed. Quests for lost earring are not for the faint of heart, and I was in it for the long haul - I trawled through the internet until I found the phone number of the establishment (gotta say, their Search Engine Optimisation could do with some tinkering) and I called those digits.
“Hi, it’s Candice, the Australian girl who just had lunch at your restaurant.”
“Ah yes, I remember you!”
“Sorry to bother you, it’s just that I lost my earring, and I wondered if I could have a look to see if it’s in the restaurant.”
“Of course, just a second, I’ll be right down..” Gotta love that relaxed small-town southern attitude. Two minutes (and a little bit of crawling around on the floor) later, and I had found the earring (oh yes, that little sucker is never being let out of my sight again!).
“Thanks a lot sir, I’m really sorry to have bothered you.”
“Not at all, have a great day Condeese!”
Sur la Pavée
Porte des Ormeaux
81170 Cordes sur Ciel
Jardin des Paradis
Place du Théron
81170 Cordes sur ciel
Adults 5,50€; Children 3€
Canal du Midi / Canal de Garonne (or, where I escaped the madness of the French election)
The Sunday I was in Toulouse was the day of the French presidential elections, where I was convinced that the future of Europe - and indeed that of the modern Western world - was in the hands of the French. Although we have since discovered that these are in fact trustworthy hands, after the shock of Brexit and Trump (and my failure to see either coming) I was feeling very powerless and very nervous.
It was time for a bike ride!
Following in the footsteps of Paris’ vélib bikesharing scheme, Toulouse city council offers bike rental from 1,20€ a day. Given that the city of Toulouse is quite small, I can imagine that this would be a good option for exploring the city itself - however I had in mind to head further afield.
World Heritage listed since 1996, the Canal du Midi links the Étang de Thau with the Garonne. Along with Canal de Garonne, it forms part of the Canal des Deux Mers which links the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.
I think I rode a good 20 kilometres before I became so hungry and non-functional that, on encountering some initial difficulty in finding a restaurant open on a Sunday in regional Toulouse, I figured the most logical solution was to pedal 20 kilometres back to Toulouse (;/). But all in all it was a pleasant ride, and although I preferred the more dramatic and undulating landscapes I biked in the Loire valley, on the Canal du Midi I DID have the advantage of not falling off my bike, which certainly made things just that little bit more pleasant :)
1,20€ per day (first 30 mins free, then 50c per 30 mins thereafter)
Stations in various locations