Romantically known as ‘la ville rose’, the haunting ground of many’s a ‘Dieux du Stade’ hunk, is ideal for a perfectly pink break, says Neil Geraghty.
Mon Dieu! Nothing gets us gay lads hotter under the collar than the Dieux du Stade calendar. Now in its 14th year, this tour de force of homoerotic publishing has achieved such a cult gay following, the minute it’s published it sells out quicker than a Brian O’Driscoll drop goal.
Many of the Gallic dream men who have graced its pages over the years hail from Toulouse, France’s premier rugby city. These include Frederic Michelak whose naked black and white photo with his arm around a tousled team mate is one of the most iconic homoerotic images of the 21st Century. If the temptation of encountering a rugby mec in the bars of Toulouse isn’t enough to justify a visit, then the city is also romantically known as la ville rose. Named after the labyrinth of ancient red brick buildings that casts a seductive pink glow over the streets, you couldn’t find a better backdrop for a pink city break. With a quarter of its population students, France’s fourth largest city has a friendly, laid-back buzz to it and at night is transformed into a sea of outdoor bars and restaurants. Little wonder then that Toulouse is regularly voted France’s favourite city.
Rising above the city rooftops like a giant pink wedding cake, the bell tower of St Sernin’s Basilica is Toulouse’s most famous landmark. As you walk in, don’t miss the extraordinary medieval sculptures of dancing apostles above the portal; they wouldn’t look out of place in a Madonna video! The elegant arcaded Place du Capitole, Toulouse’s main town square, is awash with smart brasseries. People-watching doesn’t come any better than this, so grab a seat on the sunny terrace, don your sunglasses and mercilessly judge the crowds passing by over a lingering cafe crème. If you like your art modern and edgy, cross the river to Les Abattoirs, where the long, low-rise brick slaughterhouses have been transformed into one of the coolest art galleries in France.
Space geeks, meanwhile, will find Trekkie heaven in the Cite de l’Espace, the European Space Agency’s theme park. Here you can have a typically French deep space holographic cookery lesson, search for alien life (there are some cute blue flying dogs on Zokich) and hop on the international space station for a breathtaking IMAX experience. (Watch out for the hunky Russian astronaut squirting weightless water on his chest while having a shower).
At night Toulouse is transformed into one of the most beautiful floodlit cities in Europe. The lights are especially impressive along the quays of the River Garonne where you’ll need to tread carefully to avoid tangles of snogging couples. Just by the river, Le Beaucoup is a mellow early evening gay bistro with a charming front garden filled with trellises and candles. It’s an ideal place to stop for a glass of Tarriquet, a delicious local sweet wine before heading out for dinner. Outdoor dining is a summer passion in Toulouse and it’s not uncommon to spend two or three hours over dinner. Place St Georges is one of the best choices to head to, with top notch restaurants, gorgeous waiters and free outdoor concerts to liven up the atmosphere.
Toulouse’s gay village is located in a slightly seedy neighbourhood sandwiched between the railway station and Place Wilson. Le Beur’s is the friendliest gay bar of the bunch and is always packed with smiling Pyrenean mountain bears and their admirers. Teddy bears dangle from the ceiling and the walls are covered in Winnie the Pooh memorabilia. After Le Beur’s you’ll probably feel like something a bit harder, so head on over to Le Grande Cirque, Toulouse’s infamous cruise bar. The distinction between gay bar and sex club is often blurred in France and they don’t come any more schizophrenic than Le Grande Cirque. Upstairs is all glitter balls and Kylie while downstairs is a sleazy labyrinth of caves and camouflage. For a more upmarket attempt at gay life grab a cocktail or three at Le Mojito and sink into the mellow Gallic vibe.
Finally if you’re still dreaming of those Dieux du Stade, why not go and see the real thing? The Stade Municipal plays host to some pulsating rugby fixtures which are always packed to capacity. For 14 years now French rugby players have been teasing the world’s gay community with their brazenly homoerotic calendars, so isn’t it about time we had a slice of the action?
The Very Best…
HOTEL: Le Grand Balcon, www.grandbalconhotel.com
Deco design, iPod docking stations, free Wi Fi, Nespresso machines. All that’s missing is George Clooney.
BAR: Le Grande Cirque, www.legrandcirque.com
Mecs aplenty and up for more than rugby tackles.
CAFÉ: Terra Nova, www.libraire-terranova.fr
Budding Baudelaires ditch their Kindles in this mellow bookshop/café.
RESTAURANT: La Tables a Jules, 7 Place Arnaud Bernaud
Magret de canard has never been so gay friendly. See reviews here.
SAUNA: Le Colonial, www.lecolonial-sauna.com
Forget the market. This is the place to find that perfect Toulouse sausage!
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