Le Columbier is a lovely family run restaurant away from the tourist area in Toulouse. Nestled between a couple of shops, an unassuming front opens up to a rustic, friendly restaurant. They have something to cater for all tastes. They specialise in cassoulet and classics such as magret de canard. After a heavy main course try a refreshing sorbet "drowning" in champagne. A delightful meal from start to finish.
This is a 'brocante' (antique/flea market) that is not to be missed. It's medium-sized and takes about an hour or so to wander up and down, and it has the most wonderful selection of goodies. There's all sorts of classic antique French tableware including stunning linen and lace, as well as homeware objects and furniture set out alongside old posters and adverts on old weatherbeaten enamel panels. The last time I was there I picked up a huge one and a half metre high neon-lit 'Tabac' sign (I was there with my car, admittedly!) for just 60 euros. There are food stalls at either end so you can stop for a coffee and a croissant, and if you're feeling cultural there's also the Muséum Naturelle d'Histoire de Toulouse next door on the edge of the equally impressive Jardin des Plantes. It takes place the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday of each month from around 8am until lunchtime.
Allée Jules Guesde, Toulouse (next to the Muséum Naturelle d'Histoire de Toulouse in the Jardin des Plantes). Nearest métro stop: Carnes / Palais de Justice
Google map: bit.ly/y9eyzz
It is the countryside outside of Toulouse stretching almost as far as Carcassonne. In this area you will find the Canal du Midi, beautiful villages and stunning scenery. Markets, antique and reproduction furniture. Foie Gras and excellent local wines from the Corbieres, Minervois and Fitou.
You can fly into Toulouse or Carcassonne, exit the Autoroute A61 at Villefranche Lauragais and head in the direction of Revel where you will find a beautiful market every Saturday morning. Worthwhile stops are St Felix Lauragais. There is a 16th century farm doing B&B in Belesta Lauragais, a good base for exploring the Lauragais.
You can visit the Airbus plant in Toulouse and actually see the new A380 jumbo being assembled. You also get to visit one of the Concordes on the site and the A340 assembly line if you're interested. And Toulouse is a very lively city for a weekend break!
Airbus tours are organized by FRANCE A LA CARTE, 6 Place St Sernin, Toulouse. Ph: +33 561 120 794. www.francealacarte.com. If you fly to Toulouse with easyJet you arrive on an Airbus A319 or A320 which gets you into the mood!
A beautifully kept and secluded campsite overlooking the valleys of the Dordogne.
Particularly recommended for off-peak camping, the site also hires out "mini-chateaux". Very warm staff, great location with nearby watersports, medieval villages and superb local cuisine.
Camping les Hauts de Ratebout,
A guesthouse in the midi-Pyrenees and the base for Jonathan's tours - walking holidays in the beautiful Ariege region of France. The village manor house has been restored with sympathy and flair. The garden - where Jonathan grows organic fruit and veg - a hidden oasis of terraces and lawns, provides a delightful lunch setting for Myriam's wonderful meals - all food is sourced locally and where possible, is organic. Jonathan is passionate about the area and an enthusiastic guide. When not based at home he's running similar walking tours in Crete.
If this sounds like an advertisement, well I'll come clean - I run creative writing holidays at Le Clos Enchante - also painting holidays, but we first met Jonathan and Myriam in Crete and have the greatest respect for his style of guiding - always taking his clients to meet local people, putting money into the local economy wherever possible (meals taken with shepherds) - both in France and in Crete.
And to save on those polluting airmiles why not travel to Le Clos Enchante by train on the excellent French rail service - as we did last year when our camper van broke down. After a B&B in Toulouse, we took an early morning train - changed in Bordeaux and Paris and got to Roscoff in plenty of time for our overnight crossing to Plymouth.
By day, a tapas restaurant; by night, a bar/club. A lively mix of French and Spanish influences in music, food and drink. The young crowd here can be relied upon to dance with a passion and energy that is quite uplifting for a visitor from the UK.
This excitement is partly due to the live trumpet player at weekends, who, to disguise the DJ's average mixing skills, blasts out the south of France fanfare heard at rugby games and all over the region. This works the crowd into a frenzy, tempered only when the trumpeter slows things down for the Spanish national anthem. Then another fanfare, and the crowd go wild again. It's like this every weekend.
1 Rue Gabriel Peri, Toulouse. Nearest station: Gare Matabiau
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