A must-see on any trip to Toulouse, the 16th-century Hôtel d’Assézat houses the Foundation Bemberg’s collection of paintings and drawings. It takes in pieces by some of France’s most celebrated artists, including Monet and Toulouse-Lautrec.
Part-fortress part-cathedral, the extraordinary Cathédrale Sainte- Cécile and adjoining Palais de la Berbie tower over the peach-coloured buildings of the crooked old town. Don’t miss the equally impressive interior covered in religious art – particularly off-putting is the depiction of hell in the Last Judgement fresco above the west altar. The Bishop’s Palace is now home to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, 10 years in the making and worth the wait. The finest collection in France of the diminutive artist’s work,there are rare photographs and letters displayed alongside his most famous paintings, and pictures he painted as a clearly talented child. It’s a fascinating study, beautifully presented in this elegant building; don’t miss the excellent gift shop.
Cycling south along the canal to the L’Ecluse de Castanet, taking advantage of the city’s VélôToulouse bike hire scheme, is a popular weekend activity. The ride to the restaurant takes about 45 minutes at a leisurely pace; on arrival, the reward is duck confit, hearty cassoulet and other regional dishes.
La Cendrée takes its name from the French word for ashes, in honour of its imposing fireplace, which dates back to the 11th century. The six-course menu dégustation (tasting menu) is perfect for special occasions.
You can’t stay any closer to the canal than on board the Péniche Amboise (rooms from €70). Set on a canal boat, it’s a charming guesthouse with four comfortable rooms, a hot tub on the deck and homemade pancakes and granola for breakfast.
Following a two-year refurbishment, Le Père Léon (rooms from €70) offers spacious, stylish accommodation. The brasserie is also looking newly dapper, though the menu still offers the tried-and-tested classics: black pudding with apple and hazelnuts, say, or a slow-cooked braised beef cheek.
The very chic La Tour Sainte Cécile (rooms from €90) offers smart rooms, some with views of the cathedral.
Another canal boat has been turned into La Maison de la Violette, where you can learn everything there is to know about Toulouse’s famous flower, including how to cultivate and cook it.
Willy Wonka would choke on his everlasting gobstopper if he’d seen inside Le Paradis Gourmand. Children will be in heaven, while more grown-up treats include crystallised Toulouse violets and rose-infused pralines.