My first time in Toulouse

Toulouse was my second city stop, during my four months abroad in France. I had just left my new favorite city, Bordeaux. The first impression I had of Toulouse wasn’t striking. The city just didn’t have quite the charm that Bordeaux did.  But, now, thinking back, my remembrance actually isn’t unsatisfying. Toulouse recalls a nice, unpretentious urban area with a mixed variety of people and places.

“La Ville Rose” is Toulouse’s nickname. The pink city, that is, due to the dominant architecture with pinkish terracotta brick.  They cover most ordinary houses as well as impressive old buildings.  There were lots of plazas with fountains too, and long lines of people waiting outside every tea salon at 5pm. I also found artistic house fronts and street art – two things that intrigue me in cities I travel to.

But the houses and bricks aren’t all. Local concept stores, organic/vegan cafés, and French epiceries hidden inside are what fill these buildings with meaning. These hip and traditional spots, were intermingled with random “unspecial” bakers and cheap eats.  That made the old streets of Toulouse a lively patchwork.  Lastly, I found my ultimate favorite spot.  Without this spot Toulouse wouldn’t have stayed with me like it has now. It is Pêcheurs de Sable and its surrounding green area, along the Garonne river.

Pêcheurs de Sable, Toulouse
Pêcheurs de Sable, Toulouse

My list of places to visit, was clearly longer than my wallet and time. And it got extended every day.  Roaming through the old town was a better tour guide than google. I walked through as many different streets as possible and spent every free minute curating a list of tempting locations –  thinking I would need all this information for a blog post.  Now I feel like telling you only half of these suggestions would be more than plenty.  So below is a map for you to find my suggestions sorted by category.  Afterwards I will go in detail about the specialty coffee shops, my favorite eateries, and some neat concept stores and local little grocery stores.  But first comes first, which are my quickest tips at a glance.

My tip-top hits from visiting Toulouse:

Avo-toast: Café Cerise 
Açai bowl: Ekylibre
Best cookies ever: Les Dépanneuses
One-of a kind specialty coffee shop: Finnca Café

Le Café Cerise avocado Toast
Açai Bowl with almond butter, Ekylibre
Les Dépanneuses chocolate caramel cookie
La Finnca cold brew

Organic and local lunch: Les Façonniers, L’Anartiste, Pêcheurs de Sable (also dinner)

Vegetarian Bento Lunch, Les Façonniers
L'Anartiste, Visiting Toulouse
local lunch, Pêcheurs de Sable, Toulouse


Concept stores: Kaqoty & Les Squaws (with Marinski Heartmade Ceramics), Slow Concept (recycled products)
Bulk Grocery Store: Ceci & Cela
Favorite Areas: walking along the banks of the Garonne
Most tempting spots I missed: La Belle Verte, Chez Vegetayelle & Snack Vegan, Sovaga, Douceurs Végétales (these are all vegan), Les Dépanneuses (the buddha bowl), O Saj (local recommendation for Lebanese food), Flower’s Café (dainty buzzing tea salon)

 

A Specialty Coffee Tourist Visiting Toulouse

You might have noticed I’m starting to become a specialty coffee tourist. Maybe it’s because I have started writing for European Coffee Trip. So I make my city travel itineraries around these articles. But in a way I have always been a specialty coffee tourist.  The only difference is that now I learn more about coffee and taste it more – alongside the wifi, avo-toast and banana bread, which I have always enjoyed.

After being in Bordeaux, my expectations were way too high for French specialty coffee shops. This aspect is probably the most significant reason why Toulouse disappointed me at first. But if you come to Toulouse and expect four individual, divergent coffee shops – then you won’t be disappointed.

Latte at La Finnca, Toulouse
Cortado and Granola, Le Café Cerise, Toulouse
L'Anartiste: flat white and cake
Flat White, La Fiancée Toulouse

If you’re looking for a more explicit, coffee-based article, then you can soon head over to the one I wrote on European Coffee Trip! Here on Ookie Dough, I relate my visits more to food and additionally mention the key points that stayed with me from each coffee shop.

Finnca Café

Finnca Café is literally in the most hidden spot ever. It is behind a co-working office, in the third floor of a building which has its entrance in a courtyard.  But prove your feeling wrong when trying to find Finnca and you’ll find it.

Carlos is everything behind Finnca. He grew up on his grandparents coffee farm in Columbia, so his coffee education started as a little boy. Then he switched to engineering school, but now his biggest passion has returned to coffee – specialty coffee. However it frustrates him, that for some people the “bearded tattooed baristas” who can make good latte art are enough. Carlos is a very humble guy – down-to-earth, creative and will be happy to philosophise about today’s coffee movement with you. For him, specialty coffee starts at the farms. But just as scientific as specialty coffee can be, Carlos adapts to customers who only know the French coffee standards too.

Apart from multiple filter methods, and the usual espresso drinks you can find few secret signature drinks at Finnca Café.  They’re not on the menu, so only the regulars order them, but anyone can order, if they know to. These are the two I know:

  1. Violet Macchiato (espresso macchiato with whipped cream and the intense violet flower from Toulouse
  2. Kilimanjaro Kangaroo (one scoop of vanilla ice cream, double espresso shot, mint leaves, coffee whipped cream).

The food options aren’t very extensive, but at Finnca it isn’t uncommon for guests to bring an own lunch. Carlos won’t mind at all.  There is a kitchen corner to warm it up, so you can do it like the co-workers from next door do.

Lastly I will mention the cultural events and coffee tastings that Carlos organizes at Finnca. The first include “speed dating” with books and philosophical questions, as well as cultural exchange meetings. The coffee tastings have a wide range. Some are combined with a tasting of foods in between the coffee cupping. He is curious to see how that changes the particapants’ palates. Usually you will eat a simple pastry or some chocolate in between sipping the coffees. However soon he will sample these tastings with insects too.  You can find all events on his homepage here.

For a specialty coffee or creative and philosophical event, I highly recommend the quest to this unique, unpretentious spot that Carlos has created.

2 Rue d’Austerlitz (enter into the courtyard with the double doors, then head straight for the door in the back, walk up some flights up stairs till you reach Etincelle Coworking, then just head in or ask someone where it is )
Mo-Fr: 8:00-16:30

L’Anartiste

“Ni Anarchiste, ni artiste, mais anartiste” – Marcel Duchamp

“Neither anarchist, nor artist, but anartiste” is what the founder of contemporary art said. Bruno, who crafted this café last year, used to be one himself. Well he still is, which you will tell once you come. L’Anartiste feels like a philosophic French café, where smart guys would have philosophised if it were some decades ago. Only here, in current time, you come to enjoy specialty coffee and local, organic lunches. It is located off the main buzz of the old town, in a wonderful calm street.

I came for lunch, and enjoyed the last midday sun rays in peace outside. The dish changes daily, as do the homemade cakes. There is only one choice for lunch, which is the dish, with a coffee and cake.  If you don’t know what coffee roast to take, choose the cake first. Then Bruno can find the perfect flavour profile that matches your cake. In the evenings hours you can come for an apéro, like the French do. Bruno’s other passion, apart from contemporary art and specialty coffee is wine.  But he also offers farmers beer (beer that is grown, cropped and brewed all on one farm) and French ciders along with these appetizer platters.

Google didn’t give me high hopes of L’Anartiste, but I’m more than happy that I got to discover this local spot for myself.  It’s really genuine and feels exactly like a “local tip”, that I try to find as a non-local.

13 Rue des coutelier
Monday closed, Tu-Wed: 8:30-19:00, Th-Fr: 8:30-22:30, Sa: 10-22:30, Sunday closed
13,50€ lunch with dessert and coffee

Café Cerise

After stalking some of Alexandra Müllers favorite avo-toasts, I had no doubt what to take at Café Cerise.

But in first place this café is a specialty coffee shop. It is welcoming and calm, with alternative-indie music.  There are seating spots on a mezzanine, as well as outside across the river Garonne. If I were a student in Toulouse, I would come here a lot in the afternoons – have their fresh lunch bowl or avo-toast and get some studying done in a relaxed, undisturbed atmosphere.

4 Quai de la Daurade
Mo: 8:30-17:00, Tu-Fr: 8:30-18:00, Sa: 9:30-18:00, Sunday closed
Flat White 4€, Avocado Toasts 6,90€

La Fiancée

Seeing how little has evolved since then, it’s hard to believe that Toulouse’s specialty coffee scene started in 2012.  However La Fiancée has stayed a popular hit, since it pioneered Toulouse’s coffee scene back then.

The two friends and owners of La Fiancée were trained by Coutume. Since day one they serve their light coffee roast from Paris, along with american-inspired food.  La Fiancée has a very small, retro interior with two floors, and full sized windows.  You’ll be amongst many anglo-tourists, a few instagram-girls but predominantly specialty coffee lovers.

54 Rue Peyrolières
Mo-Fr: 9:30-18:00, Sa: 10-18:00, So: 11:30-18:00
4,80€ Flat White, 8,50€ breakfast

Visiting Toulouse for organic and local food:

You can find the whole collection of food spots on the map above. Toulouse surprised me in how many pure vegan restaurants it had! However most of these were very standard – how I imagine vegan restaurants from twenty years ago. The interior suffers a bit in these places, but the food seems quite sophisticated. Still, I prefer the hipster cafés (or bobo, how a French local would call it),  So I only window-dined* at the vegan ones.

*That’s an Ookie Dough neologism: like window-shopping, but with cafés.  I do it all the time.  Inspect the café from the outside, take pictures, peak in the windows, walk in, ask for the menu, spy on people’s tables … and put the café on my list (or not) for the next visit.

Organic and Hyper-Local

The spots I did try were only partially vegan, but they put high value on food sourcing. Their dishes were either organic or hyper-local. You can read every market, epicerie and farm, where they get their products from, on the menu. This isn’t uncommon in France. I’m amazed how many cafés in the country advertise being 100% organic, seasonal, local, homemade and co. I hope this trend will swoop over to Germany soon!  At the moment, only Kropka and Balz und Balz in Hamburg proudly present these qualities too.

                                                                                                    

Les Façonniers

Les Façonniers, organic lunch, Toulouse
Les Façonniers, Toulouse

I came to this 100% organic restaurant for lunch.  The French, how I will now never forget, are legit lunch eaters, as well as fancy gourmandes.  So this spot is a fine but casual restaurant, that opens only for lunch, dinner and Sunday’s brunch. Yes, the modern French have incorporated Sunday brunches to a tradition.

At Les Façonniers everything is home-made, even the cold-pressed juices and craft beer. Lunch dishes include artisan burgers, sandwiches and a changing “bento”.  All have local meat and vegetarian or vegan options. Now “sandwiches” and “bento” sounds like fast food to me, but that is not at all what this restaurant is like. Their dishes are creative, beautiful and comforting delicacies. Here is my vegan “bento” for yourself to see:

The main is multi grain rice from Camargue, with Tikka Massala, chickpeas, and crisp sautéed white cabbage.  The salad has mixed greens with a glazed roasted carrot, grilled hazelnuts, roasted pear, and a super amazing, “Alain Passard style”, vinaigrette.  For dessert I chose the gluten free chocolate cake. It was just as perfect, fine and special as my lunch and this whole place in all.

16. Rue Gambetta
Monday closed, Tu-Fr: 12-14:00, Fr: 19-22:00, Sa: 12-22:00, Sunday brunch 11:30-16:00
12-14€ for lunch

                                                                                                    

“Nothing after 14:30”

I have learned by now that in France you can’t have nice savory food in the afternoon. Along with their legit lunch culture, comes the strict timing of it: 12-14:30. After that, your only choices are fast food, bakeries and grocery stores. The coffee shops occasionaly still offer a croque monsieur or quiche too. However, call yourself lucky to find a good quiche at that time.

                                                                                                    

Pêcheurs de Sable

Luckily I found Pêcheurs de Sable, for although I knew it, I had still not accustomed myself to French lunch times. This hole-in-the-wall restaurant was a saviour for my late lunches and early dinners – my linners.  But I recommend it for a timed lunch too, when you have all the options.

Pêcheurs de Sable turned into my favorite place in Toulouse. It was a natural escape from the brick town streets. The name literally translates to fishers of the sand, – which I think is supposed to mean that they have good fish from the ocean.  Anyhow, it is beside the Garonne river too. Here you will be amongst locals and have delicious meals on picnic benches in a wonderful atmosphere outside.

Imagine a German beer garden, but with local French tapas plates. The menus are subtitled with “snack gourmand”.  They offer sweet and savory meals suiting all hunger levels – hummus, sardine rillette, small soups, olives, appetiser platters, seasonal salads, quinoa vegetable bowls, local meat and fish dishes. . .

Find the whole list of their suppliers on the ninth chalkboard, naming and locating where they get their coffee roast, vegetables, fruits, cheeses, meats, fish, bread, Breton cider, wines, desserts, patisseries, and ice cream from.  Or just trust that they do it good, lay back and enjoy the atmosphere with whatever you’re craving. Pêcheurs de Sable will have you covered.

Quai de la Daurade
Mo-Sa: 11-22:00, Sunday closed

Les Dépanneuses:

This is partially an epicerie, partially a café.  I only came twice, both times for the cookies – crunchy, buttery, soft, with tasteful and creative variety.  They are to die for. Apparently I am not alone with this opinion, come in time, otherwise they will be sold out.

Les Dépanneuses as a whole isn’t big, but it feels a bit like a shabby-chic, but personal, common area in a market hall. The left half is the delicacy shop, in the middle is one large wooden bar table and the right side has more eclectic seating spots with small tables, cushions and vintage lamps.  Unfortunately I came too late for the buddha bowls, but those are on my bucket list for next time. She makes them different daily depending on what ingredients she finds at the market and serves them till all veggies are used up. The breakfasts also sound like something I could like – smoothie bowls, granola, detox juices . . .

20 Rue Sainte-Ursule 
Mo: 12-19:30, Tu-Sa: 9:30-19:30, Sunday closed
1,70€ cookie, 10,20€ buddha bowl, 6,50€ breakfast menu incl. drink

Ekylibre:

This is another hole-in-the-wall café, however it is very different from Pêcheurs du Sable.  Ekylibre is in a side street off the main buzz of downtown.  The owning lady makes everything herself in the small kitchen – buddha bowls, avocado toasts, different smoothies, good coffee and last but not least açai bowls.  This was the only spot I saw açai bowls during my whole four months in France – and they didn’t disappoint. You can choose from three sizes and add many additional toppings. I asked for almond butter which wasn’t on the menu, and she crammed through all her shelves to find it hidden somewhere

It’s a great to-go place, but the few bar tables on the pedestrian alleyway aren’t uncomfortable either – do some people watching, and benefit from the free wifi 🙂

23 Rue du Fourbastard
Monday closed, Tu-Sa: 9:00-17:00, Sunday closed
4,50-7,50€ açai bowls, 6€ salads and buddha bowls, 3-4€ avocado toast/wraps

                                                                                                    

Epiceries & Grocery Stores

Epiceries:

An epicerie is a little grocery boutique.  They are very common in France, one of the things I like a lot about this country. An epicerie can be specified, like a fromagerie (cheese shop), or general, selling many local delicacies. They are perfect spots to buy worthy souvenirs or presents but also come in handy for a personal picnic snacks on the go. Just like every French town I visited, Toulouse showed many nice Epiceries.

  • Les Biquettes: little cheese store with homemade sandwiches and mixed appetizer platters
  • Les Dépanneuses: a café and epicerie – the café part has mouth-watering cookies and awesome sounding buddha bowls with daily veggies from the market; the epicerie presents a mix of local products, spreads, confitures, oils, mustard, chips, chocolates . . .
  • Épicerie Le Talon: outside the old town, a very rustic, farm-like grocery shop with local products – artisan bread, veggies, cheese, oils, tea, craft beer . . .
  • Les Maquisadres: tiny shop in a busy street with specialties from Corsica, you can buy but also dine appetizers here
  • Xavier – L’Esprit du Fromage: amazing cheese store, with not few samples – I was especially amazed how one can have dozens of different kinds of goat cheeses, all in different colors/forms/sizes and tastes

Grocery Stores:

The organic grocery stores in France impressed me.  They were the places I would have gone if I were homesick. I immediately felt and smelled like I was “at home” when in these shops. The selection of fresh and local foods is abundant, as is their bulk section. Also the chains (like BioCoop or La Vie Saine) are like this.  However the tiny, individual shops are even better.

My favorite organic grocery store was definitely Ceci & Cela. This is a bulk store. (Well it is two bulk stores – one with all the fresh products, the other with dry ingredients, cosmetics, cheeses and so on. They even had fresh hazelnut butter in bulk, delicous cookies from a vegan café nearby and little toothbrush baggies!  Boêmbio is a little organic store, right across from L’Epicerie Talon, so also outside the old town. They don’t have too many groceries – cookies, gluten free pasta, local craft beers, superfoods.  Their specialty is cosmetics and it was hard not to take anything of it along. I did however leave with bamboo socks (and I don’t regret it, they are amazing!).  Lastly I won’t forget Le Moulin. This shop is nothing outrageous, just a cute tiny grocery store with fresh fruits, veggies, spices and co.  It served as my carrot saviour when I was craving something fresh after too many coffee shop pastries.

Local Concept Stores & Boutiques:

You might think my city visits start and end with food. Well they do, but in between I do a lot of walking and window shopping, trying to cover as many different streets as I can. Still it is true that I usually end up spending all my dough on the cafés.  The shops that strike me I only admire, take pictures, sadly leave and remember them for my “next visit”.

Toulouse has lots of great boutiques and concept stores. If you like walking around all day, you’ll stumble upon them yourself.  However if your time is short, then the following four are my top tips:

  • Kaqoty & Les Squaws: cute, decorative, bright, local jewellery, home decorations, accessories, local ceramics (and my all-time favorite ceramics from Marinski Heartmades from Croatia)
  • SLOW Concept Store: recycled products, jewellery, ceramics, homeware (dishes), decorations
  • Mademoiselle Nuage: a tiny store all about clouds, jewellery, plates, cloud formed tea bags, decorations, purses, pouches – I have a thing for clouds, maybe because my dad works in meteorology – so I love anything with clouds (except the real ones that make a gray blanket above wet Hamburg)
  • VOUS Atelier: “personalize your own product” shop – I usually think these things are sort of cheap and unnecessary, but this location was seriously unique – they can personalize anything from pouches, aprons, pillows, stationary, mugs within a few hours, ready for you to pick up later!

⇒ Visiting Toulouse: all in all . . .

Toulouse wasn’t my favorite city – but I have high expectations and am good at critizing things – so not bad means quite good in other words. I definitely enjoyed the organic eateries, and local concept stores. There were calm neighbourhood alleys, little water ways and of course the large, but peaceful Garonne river.  This was a great natural space to escape to and actually felt quite different, more calming, than the same riverside in Bordeaux.

The people of Toulouse seemed more culturally mixed and international than in Bordeaux too. This made the city vibe nicely mixed, but still French. Toulouse won’t be the first hit on my bucket list, but when I come back I look forward to:

  • learning more about the history and city itself – maybe a Toulouse I know in depth is even more interesting
  • trying the 12€ chocolate tart at Le Bibent, I was told that it is to die for
  • shopping some local ceramics to take home, they were beautiful! (at Kaqoty & Les Squaws or Slow Concept Store)
  • trying Les Dépanneuses buddha bowl for lunch

Have you ever been to Toulouse?  Tell me what strikes you, stayed with you or where you had your favorite treats!  My travel list for my next visit in Toulouse won’t get lost.

Ookie Written by:

2 Comments

  1. Bjorn Stevens
    November 29, 2017
    Reply

    I sometimes have to go to Toulouse to work, as the meteorological service is located in the suburbs, so now I am eager to go back. I always new that Toulouse was famous for its cuisine, but you managed to write a whole post about it without mentioning foie gras , which should get a prize. Your post captured a lot of the sun that I associate with the city, and the colorful characters that bring it to life. Funny thinking of life on the different ends of the Garonne… maybe for your next trip you should stand up paddle along the Garonne and survey the intermediate delicacies?!

  2. December 7, 2017
    Reply

    wow sounds amazing! i would lovveee to try that violet macchiato someday. and so cool that you were in france for 4 months!

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