Yes, Stationery Walks have gone abroad! Whilst there are many more obvious cities to start with, like that big French one with the Eiffel Tower for instance, we went a bit leftfield and started with Toulouse. For many people, Toulouse might generate a sense of where and why? Well, apart from it being the 4th largest French city (after Paris, Marseille and Lyon), it is also regarded by many as one of the most beautiful. Situated in the South West of France, think of it like Paris but with better weather and less hassle. Oh, and it is less than 2 hours from London.
For this walk I owe a big thank you to Julia, editor of Stationery Matters magazine, who we agreed would be credited as a fixer for supplying some key local knowledge of the city.
The walk starts at Saint Cyprien metro and after crossing the Garonne River and winding through the city centre it ends at Jeanne d’Arc metro station. That’s Joan of Arc, scourge of the English. As always it is an easy half-day walk and the route can be followed on Google Maps here. A full list of places can be found at the end of the article. You could cut it down to nearer 2.5 miles by starting at Esquirol station (that’s Squirrel station) if you so wish.
Bricks. As with all the stationery walks, whilst there are stationery shops and even cafes to enjoy it is ultimately also about soaking up a place you might not know. We just use stationery shops to link it all together. And for someone who has spent most of their life surrounded by terraced houses and red London bricks, it was the pinky-red bricks of Toulouse that left the biggest impression on me. Don’t be fooled – they are quite stunningly beautiful, used for houses and churches and almost everything in between. It is their pinky-red hue that defines the city giving it a warm glow in the sun. It’s a long way from Coronation Street.
I am also quite fond of a nice market and there is a sweet little one at Saint Cyprien you can check out before heading off. It has the usual mix of fruit and veg, fish and meat but with a nice local feel. You then head through the old city gates and emerge on the Pont Neuf. If you have ever been to almost any French city you will by now know that Pont Neuf means New Bridge and is often the oldest bridge in the city. It is also on a bend of the Garonne River and gently rises to the centre of the bridge, allowing for a nice view of the city ahead. Enjoy it because there will be many a narrow street ahead of you!
Alternative Shop Idea
After crossing the river you dive down your first side street, discovering a somewhat unusual shop to get you started. The Toulouse Circus Shop is what it says it is, a shop filled with circus accessories. So if you have ever wanted a unicycle or some firewater then you’re in luck. If not then just enjoy it for its curiosity value.
Heading back to the main road brings the first stationery shop of the day – Oscar. If I am brutally honest, it’s not the most exciting one in Toulouse but it does have a selection to get you going. Small but packed with the basics including notebooks and diaries and worth a visit if your needs are more utilitarian than pleasurable.
Alternative Shop Idea
On the way to the next stationery highlight you come across an unusual little shop. I have always had a soft spot for tinned food, something that has a more elevated status in other countries than in Britain where we seem to regard it as means of storing baked beans or tinned soup. Conserverie La Belle Iloise is a shop devoted to tinned food, mostly fish it has to be said but wonderfully retro tins. In a strangely modern shop. Only in France. This is a chain shop but oddly one that almost entirely exists in coastal towns only.
Which brings you to TRAIT. Whilst not a big store it is packed with beautifully presented stationery – assorted pens, a wall of coloured paper, jars of accessories, big displays and tables full of stationery to pore over. This is how stationery should be presented. Posters also seem to be a big thing in France and TRAIT also has a great selection of vintage posters to browse.
Heading west along Rue Peyras you should take a detour around the back into Rue Tripiere where there is a pretty medieval balcony hanging over the narrow back street. It’s quite unlike anything else and worth the 30 second detour.
Keeping west along Rue Cujas you find yourself in retro territory, an eclectic mix of vintage shops for your to take your pick from. The one I had a rummage around in had quite the most impressive Hawaiian shirt collection I have ever seen.
At this point you are very close to the Garonne River where there is one of my favourite bits of local history. In the sunken La Daurade gardens there is a small café/bar called Pêcheurs de Sable. What you might not know is that this little building in the wall was, in a former life, a morgue. La Morgue de la Darude was where bodies were fished out of the Garonne River and displayed for people to identify lost ones. A grim piece of local history that might pass you by. However you can do as I did on a nice day and sit out having a sandwich, and enjoy the park. You can also appreciate it all the more since this might have been buried under a main road if the planners had succeeded back in the day, and even fairly recently it was still just a car park. Now a pleasant green oasis by the river.
As you head back into the city centre it is worth the quick detour to the Couvent des Jacobins, a convent made out of the bricks you see everywhere but on a much larger scale. The church is free but the cloisters have a small entry fee.
Looping back to Rue Léon Gambetta there is Ombres Blanches (white shadows), a bookshop that will appeal if you like French books.
As you pass down one side of Place du Capitole, a genuine main square if ever there was one, you come to another of my favourite ‘hidden’ secrets. OK, it’s not exactly a secret but you do need to know it’s there. Head into Galleries Lafayette, take the lift to the 6th floor, and you get a free view out over Toulouse to the hills beyond. As it’s a city unspoilt by high-rise buildings it is a treat to see all those warm glowing bricks and tiled roofs below you. There is also a nice rooftop bar here should you need cooling down or feel it’s time for a break.
If you are not ready to stop but want to stave off that approaching hunger then here is an alternative idea. Cutting through the pretty Jardin Pierre Goudouli with its old school carousel you come to Maison Pillon, somewhere you can indulge in a local fondness for violets with a Marron Violette Brioche. You will find violets a recurring theme across Toulouse thanks to their arrival here from Parma in the 19th Century. There is even a Fête de la Violette in February.
Alternative Shop Idea
Around the corner is the Marché Victor Hugo, packed full of food stalls selling local produce and upstairs there are restaurants who specialise in cooking produce from the market. It’s a morning thing though, and if you want to eat upstairs you’ll need to get there early. Midday apparently. Across the road you will find Xavier, a decidedly impressive if smelly shop selling an amazing array of cheeses.
Just around the corner at the junction of Rue Rivais with Rue de l’Alsace Lorraine you need to lift your sights and look up. Right at the top of one of the buildings there is the most unusual of clocks you will see – a 24-hour clock. It is an odd and yet somehow entirely sensible idea once you see it.
Depending on the time of day you might be in the mood for a spot of afternoon tea, traditional style. Le Salon d’Eugenie has plenty of tea and some amazing cakes, all presented on old-fashioned plates. A recommended spot to refresh your batteries before the last stationery hit. Two more shops to come.
Further down Rue des Lois is Gibert Joseph, a well stocked store packed full of familiar names like Clairefontaine and Quo Vadis, and with a comprehensive pen section. A very nice if everyday stationery selection. Well worth a look.
And so to the final stationery indulgence. Edged out by TRAIT as my favourite stationery shop in Toulouse, Mucca is neverthess a wonderful shop with arguably the most impressive selection of notebooks anywhere, not just in Toulouse. Mucca is actually two shops next to each other. One has a wonderful collection of vintage posters and maps, whilst the other has the stationery. Tables piled high with notebooks and then yet more notebooks piled high underneath, plus yet more books on the shelves. A great way to end the visit.
On the way back to the metro you get to take in one of the highlights of the Toulouse tourist circuit, the church of St Sernin. Built around 1100 it is said to be the largest Romanesque building in the world, and it is the beauty of the bricks that makes this a worthy stop. It is as though all the bricks that you enjoyed across the city have been put to their ultimate use, a huge church with an even more impressive tower all made from the red-pink Toulouse brick.
Head round the corner to Jeanne d’Arc metro to get pretty much anywhere in Toulouse to end your walk.