B&B and Beyond: Côté Carmes, Toulouse, France
A restored 16th-century house brings up-cycled style to the heart of south-west France, as Laura Holt discovers
Sunday 17 February 2013
Ascenic taxi ride along the tree-lined banks of the Garonne River whisks you from Toulouse's airport to the characterful Carmes quarter in 20 minutes. This is the heart of old Toulouse, where grand 16th-century buildings line cobbled streets, their shutters painted in pretty pastel shades, their wooden doors imposing and heavy. A weighty shove opens Number 7 on Rue de la Dalbade, behind which you'll find Côté Carmes, the city's newest chambres d'hôtes. The building is owned by a co-operative of four local families, who joined together to buy it in 2010. With guidance from Toulouse's chief architect, they have spent the past two years restoring the property, which now comprises one self-catering apartment (Atout Carmes) and two B&Bs (Les Toits de la Dalbade and Côté Carmes).
There are three rooms to choose from at Côté Carmes, all with original parquet floors, a dusting of family antiques and French windows that look on to the communal courtyard. The one that claims to be the smallest is comfortably spacious, with creamy shades, an ornate wooden bed and matching sidetables. Our mid-size option had a window shutter reimagined as a headboard, a retro school locker converted into a cupboard and two old chairs that had been reupholstered with a jaunty striped fabric. The largest is impressive in scale. There were atmospheric old photos of Toulouse on the walls, a pull-out sofa bed to accommodate families and a small balcony with a table and chairs. All the en suites at Côté Carmes are of hotel standard, with twin sinks, monsoon showers and local Graine de Pastel toiletries, but the suite also has an indulgent oval bath.
… Is laid out and waiting for you when you wake. Each morning, there was a plate of oozing regional cheeses, pains aux chocolat, croissants and crusty French breads piled on our table in the breakfast room. The jams (strawberry, marmalade or pear) were all homemade, as was the delicious orange juice, which came with a dash of raspberry.
There's also a small kitchen, which is free for all guests to use. Here, you can help yourself to teas, coffees and fresh fruit during the day, or cook yourself an evening meal if you don't fancy eating out. The Marché des Carmes, just around the corner, is a great place to pick up local produce (marché-des-carmes.com; open 8am-5pm daily, closed Sunday).
Madame Claudine Duphil and her husband Jean met in Paris when they both worked in aviation – she for Swissair, he for Air France. Ten years ago, they retired and moved to Agen, a small town in rural Aquitane, where they ran Château de la Sevelotte as a B&B.
They moved to Toulouse in 2010, bought one-quarter of the property on Rue de la Dalbade and opened Côté Carmes in September. Everything still looks very fresh and new. The guest rooms and breakfast space are on the third floor, while Claudine and Jean live in a separate apartment across the courtyard with their graphic designer son, who did the B&B's website.
Toulouse is known as the "La Ville Rose" because of the dusty-pink hue of its buildings. It's a joy to walk around and is replete with historic chapels and churches. The frescos of the Carmelites Chapel (00 33 5 34 44 92 05; free) deserve a moment of quiet reflection, while the Musée des Augustins (00 33 5 61 22 21 82; augustins.org; 10am-6pm; €4/£3.40) is a trove of Gothic and Renaissance artworks, with a peaceful cloister and gardens.
Modern flourishes can be found on the Left Bank of the Garonne at Les Abattoirs (00 33 5 62 48 58 00; www.lesabattoirs.org; Weds-Sun 10am-6pm; €7/£6), the city's contemporary art gallery, which is currently installing a major multimedia exhibition of "solid light films" by British artist Anthony McCall in time for the grand opening on Thursday.
The Pit Stop
Eat your way around the globe at Rue de la Fonderie, a few steps east of Côté Carmes. There's Thai at Chaophraya (00 33 5 61 53 25 42), Afro-Creole at Le Bakassi (00 33 5 61 75 86 55; www.lebakassi.fr), Mexican at La Casita (00 33 5 62 88 32 13; lacasitamexicana.fr) and French at Le Bistrot du Baron (00 33 5 61 75 72 43). For a gastronomic treat, try Le Py-R (00 33 5 61 25 51 52; py-r.com), which offers an inspired three-course menu that skips through pigs' trotter, wood pigeon and John Dory for €42.
Côté Carmes, 7 Rue de la Dalbade, Toulouse, France (00 33 6 83 44 87 55; cote-carmes.com). Doubles start at €85 (£73), including breakfast.
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