Kelly Hayes-Raitt has spent the past 13 holiday seasons house sitting in different cultures. Here are her favorite things to do while house sitting in Toulouse at Christmas.
9 Fun Things To Do While House Sitting in Toulouse
By Kelly Hayes-Raitt
The holidays can be a lonely time for house sitters who are far from family, but house sitting in Toulouse at Christmas provides many festive opportunities to make new friends, traditions and memories. Here are my favorite ways to leap into French holiday revelry:
1. Explore the Christmas Markets
A beloved European tradition are the enchanting Christmas Markets that pop up at the end of November, heralding the holiday season….and Toulouse is no exception! Revel in the festivities created by holiday lights, music, and fragrant mulled wine or roasting chestnuts.
Mingle with the various craftspeople selling unique hand-made gifts, gourmet holiday treats, and locally sourced artisanal foods that you can sample (sometimes for free!) while house sitting in Toulouse.
Favorite Marchés de Noël include:
Place du Capitole is at Capitole Square in the heart of Toulouse.
Saint-Étienne in Place Saint-Étienne is set around the Saint-Étienne Church.
Des Carmes in Place des Carmes has a cozy and intimate ambiance.
De Saint Aubin in Place Saint Aubin has a bohemian and artistic feel.
De la Daurade at the Quai de la Daurade runs along the Garonne River.
D’Esquirol is in Place Esquirol.
2. Indulge in festive treats while house sitting in Toulouse at Christmas!
The city’s culinary scene thrives during the holiday season, offering a perfect blend of traditional French flavors and festive creativity. Get ready to loosen that belt while sampling these delicacies:
Bûche de Noël is a quintessential French Christmas dessert. This Yule log is a rolled sponge cake filled with flavored buttercream, ganache, or whipped cream. It’s often decorated to resemble a log, complete with meringue mushrooms and chocolate bark.
Galette des Rois, or King Cake, is more traditionally associated with the Epiphany in January, but it’s a rich treat available throughout the holiday season. An airy puff pastry is filled with almond cream and a small santon is hidden inside. The person who finds the little statue of a magi, saint, or shepherd in their slice is crowned king or queen for the day. Chew carefully!
Macarons are a particularly delicious Toulousain treat. These delicate almond meringue cookies are often flavored with gingerbread, chestnuts, or spiced orange to capture the warmth of the holidays.
Vin Chaud is a mulled red wine spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and orange peel. Sipping it is a cheery way to keep warm while strolling through the markets or along the Garonne River.
Pain d’Épices is a spiced bread enriched with honey and perhaps cinnamon, nutmeg, or cloves. Sliced and enjoyed on its own or with a layer of butter or jam, it’s a comforting treat during the holiday season – much like American gingerbread.
Calissons de Toulouse are traditional French candies made with a paste of candied fruits and ground almonds, often flavored with orange blossom. They make great gifts to make your friends back home jealous that you are house sitting in Toulouse during Christmas!
Chocolate Truffles flavored with peppermint, hazelnut praline, or orange-infused chocolate are perfect for indulging in holiday fun!
Fougasse, while not exclusive to the Christmas season, is a traditional bread that may be shaped into festive designs during the holidays. It’s a flatbread often adorned with sweet or savory toppings to make a delicious and visually appealing treat.
Mont-Blanc is a classic French dessert from the 1800s that makes a special appearance during the holiday season. It’s a sweetened chestnut purée spiraled like vermicelli and topped with whipped cream and candied chestnuts or powdered sugar.
Chocolat Chaud – hot chocolate! Toulouse’s chocolateries are known for their high-quality chocolate, and a steaming cup of creamy chocolat chaud is the perfect way to warm up while savoring the festive season.
Aligot is hands-down my favorite! While not specifically associated with the holiday season, aligot is a traditionally festive Occitan dish — comfort food on steroids. Mashed potatoes are blended with melted cheese (typically Tomme or Laguiole) and sometimes flavored with garlic to create a smooth and stretchy treat any time of the year – and will be my main reason for house sitting in Toulouse!
3. Ice skate at Place du Capitole
Break out your inner Surya Bonaly and lace up your skates to enjoy the outdoor ice rink in the Marché de Noël Place du Capitole where the crisp air twinkles under the enormous Christmas tree.
4. Visit the “Room Where it Happens”
Borrowing from Hamilton, you can visit the Town Hall – including the room where debates occur and laws are laid. More impressive are the dignitary halls and grand staircase.
While not necessarily a “holiday thing,” Le Capitole gets decked out for Christmas and is a great free tour while house sitting in Toulouse.
5. Get creative at a Christmas workshop while house sitting in Toulouse
Many of Toulouse’s art galleries and bakeries offer hands-on holiday and craft workshops where you can create special holiday decorations or participate in festive culinary classes. Here’s a sampling that will keep you busy while house sitting in Toulouse at Christmas:
Blow your own glass ornaments (or more!) at Tipii Atelier.
Decorate your own special holiday mug at Thé Coul Pottery Gallery.
Concoct a French holiday feast at one of these cooking schools.
You can even create your own signature perfume!
6. Stroll along the Garonne River
While beautiful any time, Toulouse’s ribbon of river is particularly bejeweled at night during the holidays when it reflects the Christmas lights.
While house sitting in Toulouse, you can ride along the river on an evening dinner cruise or during a daytime sightseeing tour.
Some cruises offer themed cruises (such as jazz music or wine tasting). There are even special holiday-themed events.
Whichever cruise you choose, you’ll enjoy the city’s landmarks, historic bridges, and waterfront architecture as you pass Toulouse’s iconic sites such as the Pont Neuf, the Basilica of Saint-Sernin, and the Hôtel-Dieu Saint-Jacques.
For a more independent experience, rent your own self-guided boat. You can navigate a small electric boat, exploring at your own pace. (But you might want to wait on that glass of mulled wine!)
7. Attend a Christmas concert
Nothing says “Christmas” like a holiday concert! And Toulouse’s rich cultural scene provides opportunities to enjoy a variety of performances ranging from classical to contemporary.
Here is a sample of venues to check out while you are house sitting in Toulouse:
Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, based at the Halle aux Grains concert hall, often presents Christmas-themed concerts.
Orchestre de Chambre de Toulouse performs at various venues and might be performing your Christmas favorites!
Church concerts. Check the web sites of the major churches (such as the Basilica of Saint-Sernin) to see if they are featuring Christmas choral performances, classical music, or traditional carols.
Conservatoire de Toulouse, the renowned music school, often showcases its students at the Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional de Toulouse.
Christmas jazz and contemporary concerts. Toulouse has a vibrant jazz and contemporary music scene. During Christmas, you might find special performances that infuse holiday tunes with jazz or modern twists. Check local listings for events at venues like Le Taquin or Connexion Live.
Théâtre du Capitole, known for its opera and ballet productions, hosts special holiday-themed events.
Cultural centers and music halls. Check out the schedules of cultural venues. These spaces may feature Christmas concerts with diverse genres, including indie, folk, or world music, providing a different musical experience during the holiday season.
8. Attend a midnight mass on Christmas Eve
For an immersive, solemn experience while house sitting in Toulouse, attend a mass at one of the city’s historic churches.
Learn about the times for services (and, perhaps, special concerts) by checking specific churches’ web sites (such as the Basilica of Saint-Sernin or the Cathedral of Saint-Etienne).
9. Gawk at the festive window displays
Many stores in Toulouse go all out with their decorations, creating a winter wonderland that adds to the holiday charm.
For up-to-the-minute news about events you might consider attending while house sitting in Toulouse during Christmas, peruse Toulouse’s official tourist web site. Happy holidays!
During her years as a full-time house sitter, Kelly Hayes-Raitt has celebrated Christmas in a variety of places from Mexico to Mozambique, from London to Edinburgh. She’s always had fur-friends to celebrate with!
She’s the author of How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the Housesit Diva. She looks forward to house sitting in Toulouse!
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