The Cafés on the Garonne

By Eva Kristinova (Sciences Po Toulouse, France)

With the sun once again creeping into the lovely streets of Toulouse, it is the start of the café season! Not that these quintessential staples of French cultural life should ever complain of not being busy, since the Toulousains apparently don’t care in the least about the weather. Come rain, come shine, come snow, come sleet, the show must go on! And there is always something to be seen in a French café.

While the appeal of a warm coffee and some delicious cake is especially strong when you feel like escaping the catastrophe outside, there is no doubt about the fact that even French cafés are especially busy in the summer. And in southern Toulouse, summer starts early. No matter the temperature, on sunny days the streets flood with people looking to indulge in their favourite past-time activity – afternoon… coffee. As such, almost every café in the city finds itself rapidly busy. Unfortunately, not all cafés are born equal (not even in France), and so I feel it is my job to introduce you to the best of them around the popular Garonne area. At the same time, you may take this with a grain of salt, at least when it comes to the coffee – this list is coming from someone who actually doesn’t drink coffee.

1. Sweet Home Café

This cosy two-story coffee place is extremely popular among students particularly, and you can often find yourself turned away. Not because they are not happy to serve you, but because they are simply too busy and have no place left. Aside from its in-house coffee specials, the café serves delicious smoothies and milkshakes. A selection of typical accompanying cakes is of course a must as well. I have not yet had the opportunity to taste any of them, unfortunately, but if they taste as good as they look, you cannot go wrong there either.

2. Café Perle

Honestly, it is amazing that any café is able to survive sitting right next to the Sweet Home Café. But we have to give credit where it’s due, and Café Perle is certainly doing a great job staying in the coffee shop competition. About a sixth of the size of its popular neighbour, this cute little place wastes no time taking full advantage of the wide pavement on its doorstep. So, don’t worry if there’s no place inside, they can probably find you a spot outside, especially on those beautiful sunny days that will soon become the order of the day in southern France. Now, good coffee aside (from what I hear anyway), the real gem of Café Perle is its small but really high quality cakes. And if you’re on a diet or something, I at least recommend trying the carrot cake… it’s simply a must.

3. Bistrot 12

Now we are moving away from the centre, although we are going to return in the next one, to the busy square in St. Cyprien quarter of the city. This is a part of the city frequented by many students since a lot of them find accommodation here. In the corner of this bustling square is Bistrot 12, a coffee shop by day, a bistro by night. I should mention that a number of places in Toulouse adopt this chameleon nature, which means you are never at a loss finding somewhere to spend any part of your day. While it is conveniently situated, meaning a lot of people stop by to grab a coffee and sometimes breakfast on their way to work, Bistrot 12 is definitely not the only café in this area. It definitely has an edge over its competitors, and that is its, in some respect, even more convenient location. Because despite sharing a space next to a bustling, often noisy street, the café has found the perfect quiet spot that makes its customers comfortable. But, of course, location is not everything, and I guess I don’t even have to mention the quality of its coffee. Once again turning to food though, I would argue that they have some of the best chocolatines (some of you may be more familiar with the northern French name, pain-au-chocolat, but for reasons I might explain in a future post, you are absolutely NOT allowed to call it that in the south).

4. Chez Léonie

Probably my favourite café in terms of decor. Again quite small and cosy, Léonie’s place is the perfect spot to randomly walk into and find yourself instantly falling in love with. With its old-fashioned brick walls and warm colours, all the way down to the small chalkboards showing the menu around the place, it is perfect for quiet work, a reading session, or just to hang out with friends and family. And if you get tired of spending too much time inside (although I’m sure you won’t!), the city centre gardens and Capitole square are just around the corner.

5. Café Bong

Now we come to a bit of an unusual place, but one worth it just the same. I am talking about a café that is not just your typical café – it is also one of the best places for bubble tea! And one of the cheapest in this regard, which never hurts either. You would think it is about the size of Café Perle from its entrance, but this façade is indeed misleading, since beyond lies a space about three times larger. The very layout of the place creates a very welcoming atmosphere. It just looks like one of those places you want to hang out with friends in. And, once again, if you want a taste of their delicious cakes (I recommend the lemon poppy seed one!), you better get there early, as they are often in danger of running out. But don’t worry… even if that happens, you are certainly in no danger of running out of great cafés in Toulouse.

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