The Toulouse metropolitan area is the fourth-largest in France, after Paris, Lyon and Marseille. Here some quarters of the population still speak 10th century Occitan; others focus with unabated passion on the here and now.
Musee des Augustins, and the Pont Neuf.
We particularly enjoyed a visit to the Chateau d’Eau, a water tower which has been converted into a photography gallery. Founded by French photographer Jean Dieuzaide in the 1970s, this unique space is in itself as fascinating as the exhibitions.
Another must-see tourist destination is the Canal du Midi. Originally built to boost export opportunities for 17th century wheat, wine, textile and salt producers, it is now a place where visitors can hire leisure craft for boating holidays.
Other activities we enjoyed during our holiday included rummaging for second hand bargains at a bustling Sunday street market, tapping our feet to music as we ate tapas at a jazz cafe, and cheering with rapturous enthusiasm as more than a thousand rugby fans tried to break the world record for creating the biggest ever scrum in the Place du Capitole!
We told ourselves we needed the caffeine as there was much to see and do in cosmopolitan Toulouse. Secretly though, we delighted in just hanging out at cafes people-watching. Toulouse is a hotchpotch of personalities and temperaments, a multicultural mix; more friendly than Paris, more edgy than Nice, more chic than Marseille.
Lunchtime in Toulouse - The start of a love affair with luscious Labneh…
The French are renowned cheese makers but that day it was not a classic camembert, a piquant brie, a rustic Roquefort or a nutty Comté that tempted me. The one I went for was not even French. It was Labneh from Lebanon. Labneh is a traditional Middle Eastern delight made from strained yoghurt, which is essentially their version of cream cheese. It might not sound the most palatable choice to select from the gourmet menus that surrounded us in the sizzling capital of south west France, but the labneh, cucumber and mint wrap we ate hit the spot - a refreshing treat on a scorching day.
Longing for labneh…
I’m aware that it will not taste exactly like the wrap I had in Toulouse, but then holiday flavours do not travel well. That feeling of gratification, delectation, is as much in the moment as it is in the ingredients.
Debra Greenhouse, freelance journalist