How about discovering some of Toulouse’s heritage? Often looming behind imposing doorways in the city centre, the hôtels particuliers – grand townhouses or palaces – are some of Toulouse’s greatest hidden treasures. So let’s go and explore a few.
The Hôtel de Bernuy: a beacon of the woad trade
Nowadays, this beautiful palace is home to the school ¨Lycée Pierre de Fermat¨ which has been located on the Hôtel de Bernuy site since the 19th century. But, that’s not the only thing that has made it famous, the hotel was the first pastel (woad) townhouse in Toulouse and was built in the early 16th century by Jean de Bernuy, a wealthy woad merchant. In 1553, the king of France himself visited! Having risen to the rank of Capitoul, or chief magistrate of the city, Jean de Bernuy had one of the tallest towers in the city built. You can see it either from Rue Gambetta, where the palace is located, or, for an even better view, from the two magnificent inner courtyards.
Hôtel du Vieux-Raisin: an historic monument
Here’s another palace belonging to a Capitoul, and it’s a good one as well! The Hôtel du Vieux-Raisin was built in the 15th century just a stone’s throw from the Place des Carmes, at 36 Rue du Languedoc. Never noticed it? That’s perfectly normal as it’s hidden behind a red brick wall. But you can still catch a glimpse of the architectural beauty of this building, which has been a designated historical monument since 1887. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the gate will be slightly ajar and you’ll be able to nip into the courtyard. There you’ll discover decorative façades and ornate window frames. But what makes it really worth it is the wooden spiral staircase in the back left of the courtyard…shh, it’s a secret!
The Hôtel Dumay: from palace to museum
Built for the doctor Antoine Dumay in 1585, the house bearing his name is a bit plainer than the last one. Just a short walk from the Capitole, at 7 Rue de May, it is now home to the Musée du Vieux Toulouse. The museum contains several exhibition rooms dedicated to the institutions, artists, life and folk traditions of Toulouse. So the palace is super easy to visit! We also love sauntering through the archways of the courtyard, strolling among the trees, and admiring the façades, the rectangular tower, the carved marble and the motto over the lintel.
The Hôtel d’Ulmo: the fruit of ill-gotten gains
The Hôtel d’Ulmo can be found in the Saint-Etienne neighbourhood, in one of the prettiest streets in Toulouse, Rue Ninau. Jean d’Ulmo, a senior legal official at Toulouse’s parliament, had it built in 1526 during his (short-lived) glory days. To cut a long story short, it was funded by fraudulent activities, but that doesn’t make it any less flamboyant. It’s built around a leafy main courtyard and made from a harmonious mix of materials with carved busts, engraved mottos and traditional roses. It’s a shame it’s so well hidden!
Fancy visiting these hidden gems? Want to take a look behind the scenes? Then take part in one of the tours organised by the Toulouse Tourist Office or the Pays d’Oc organisation. Take a step back in time!