Our writer rides a minotaur and gets hooked on hydro at four very different Toulouse museums.
Halle de la Machine
The Halle de la Machine is truly a place of wonder, like a window into another world where gargantuan mythological beasts roar and stomp and carry truckloads of visitors on their broad, unlikely backs.
The cavernous building showcases the incredible work of Francois Delarozière and La Machine company, who build giant automatons for street parades in France and Quebec. A ride on the 14-metre-high, 47-tonne animatronic minotaur is a highlight of any visit to Toulouse. It's also amusing to watch various gigantic and complicated contraptions built to perform simple tasks for which no machine could ever possibly be needed, such as strumming a guitar or buttering toast. Magical.
Open Tuesday-Sunday, check website for times. Admission is 9.50 euros ($16) for adults, 5 euros for children.
Cité de l'Espace
Meanwhile, in the planetarium at Cité de l'Espace (in a building cheekily named "Astralia"), visitors can gaze at actually existing other worlds. But Cité de l'Espace is a slightly tired museum of spaceflight that never seems to have lived up to its potential in the capital of the European aerospace industry.
The best exhibit is probably the walk-through scale model of a section of a space station. Children will probably enjoy this place more than adults.
Unlike most Toulouse museums, it is open seven days a week. Entry fees are a hefty 24.50 euros for adults, 18 euros for children.
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As befits a museum of antiquity, the basement at the Musée Saint-Raymond is a third-century necropolis. The museum's collection includes a fascinating array of elaborate sarcophagi, as well as more familiar statuary and carvings from ancient civilisations. It's well presented and diverting and just the right size. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-6pm. Admission is 5 euros for adults, free for children, museum curators and journalists. (Good luck trying to convince staff that you're a journalist. I only succeeded through determination, attrition and dismal command of the French language.)
EDF Bazacle Complex
Despite its clear potential to be the most boring place in Europe, the EDF Bazacle's museum of the history of hydroelectric power in Toulouse is oddly compelling - although low expectations might be the key to enjoying it to the full. I chanced upon the EDF Bazacle (brilliantly marketed as "a thing to do in Toulouse") when I happened to be staying at an Airbnb overlooking the old ford in the magnificent River Garonne, the source of Toulouse's aforementioned energy supply. Since entry is free of charge, I wandered inside and found myself in the bowels of an active power plant. To be frank, this had never been a particular ambition of mine, but I was impressed by the sight of the "fish ladder", built to help pike and carp (not generally noted for their ability to climb steps or rungs) to negotiate the weir.
Open Tuesday-Sunday from 11am.