Happy Thursday! Today I'm rewinding to the very beginning of my most recent trip through France to share about my time in Toulouse and just outside Montpellier. While Paris is one of my favorite cities in the world (check out my Travel Guide and Hotel Guide for more about the city of lights) there are SO many other destinations in this beautiful country that I knew I wanted to see. So I did some homework, mapped out a route and set out on a two week road trip from the south-west corner all the way up to northern coast.
Full disclosure, this is not a comprehensive post where I break down the intricacies of every-single-thing you need to know. While I want to be a helpful resource to show you the "best of the best" of every destination, I also want to help show you different styles of traveling. I (personally) don't believe seeing this region of France is something you do with a grand agenda. Since these are less-popular destinations than some of the "heavy hitters" in Europe, there's not really a laundry list of things you're "supposed to do." So instead, I recommend to relax a little, let yourself go with the flow and take everything in along the way. I will say that the best way to visit either of these, especially if you group them together with villages in Provence, you'll want to rent a car to get around (and as I mentioned in my Étretat post, we spent quite a bit of cash on tolls so I'd advise planning accordingly - this is a good resource for more information.)
After my trip to Prague, I had 24 hours on my own to kill before meeting up with my friend Marcia. I caught a flight to Toulouse, nicknamed "La Ville Rose" (aka The Pink City) known for the hues of its terra-cotta bricks. Toulouse is someplace that's been on my radar for a while now. I'd read articles in Condé Nast Traveller and Vogue praising this soulful metropolis in southwestern France. It's situated between the Pyrenees mountains, very close to the Mediterranean and just around the corner from one of the most beautiful and popular regions in France, the Dordogne. In the short time I spent here, I quickly became very aware of how much history, culture, epicurean excellence and beauty this city possesses. I set out with no agenda and simply got lost roaming through the narrow blush alleys and strolled along the Garonne river.
In the heart of the city is a breathtaking courtyard and domineering façade known as "Le Capitole"-- serving as the City Hall. Here, you'll find a variety of musicians, cafes and anything else embodying the "Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler" (let the good times roll) lifestyle. I stayed at Grand Hôtel de l'Opéra, a beautiful four-star hotel that's rich in history, modern in comfort and overlooks the Capitole square.
This hotel was a former Monastery dating back to the 17th century. Today, the 57 elegant rooms offer a refined style with unique charm (and lots of them offer a balcony or terrace that overlooks Le Capitole). They also have a Gastronomic restaurant, Les Jardins de l'Opéra, on site which offers delicious cuisine and a beautiful atmosphere.
The staff was most welcoming and accommodating and I couldn't have been in a more optimal location for exploring the city by foot. I'd highly recommend this gem to anyone paying Toulouse a visit!
While my time in Toulouse was fleeting, one thing I know about this beautiful city is that they know how to have a good time. Whether in bustling food markets, the impressive wine cafés or relishing in the hum of the jazz, techno and rock scenes, the pink city is sure to captivate your heart. I can't wait to return again in the future!
Once my friend Marcia arrived the next day, we hopped in the car and set out for Montpellier, France. This (almost) coastal town is only 10km inland from the Mediterranean Sea and is known for its medieval streets and warm subtropical climate. We stayed slightly outside the city for more of a tranquil retreat so that Marcia could recover from jetlag and I could recover from 6 weeks on the road.
The Domaine de Verchant is a place that disconnects you from the outside world in a cozy cocoon of luxury. Set in the heart of a restored vineyard estate, this five-star castle/ hotel/ château offers a wide array of unique apartments and villas- each with unique decor. The setting is deliberately intimate to maintain a low accommodation capacity to promote optimal service and comfort. No matter if we were at the impressive breakfast spread or lounging by any of the beautiful pools, it felt as if we were the only ones there.
To be perfectly honest, we planned on exploring more of Montpellier that evening but we loved Domaine de Verchant so much that we ended up staying on property the entire time! For dinner that evening, we ate a gourmet meal at “Verchant” one of the restaurants on-site with sweeping views of the vineyards. The staff was very accommodating and everything we ate was fantastic. But then again, that was true for our entire experience overall. Domaine de Verchant was exactly what we both needed: a place to rest that's set in a beautiful and quintessentially French atmosphere. I highly recommend staying here to anyone passing through the southern region of France who is looking for the same.
Toulouse and Montpellier (or Domaine de Verchant anyway!) were each unique in their own way, but both were destinations I'm glad I visited. From here we journeyed onto Provence (which you can read about in my Provenceal Travel Guide). No matter what you're looking for in a destination, I sincerely can't recommend going off the beaten path enough. It's places like these little towns and villages that you truly get a taste of the local culture- something you could accidentally miss in a big city like Paris where there is so much going on. Visiting less-popular destinations has become one of the most rewarding parts of travel for me, and it's my hope that introducing you to some of these places encourages you to get outside your comfort zone and try something new.
Any questions about these destinations? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for stopping by, and stay tuned for another stop on my road-trip through France: Dijon!