Sometimes you wonder why on earth a hotel chose its name. Or what they were inspired by. Or who thought of it in the first place. And this is exactly what I put to the manager of Parenthèse Concept Room – a gem of a secret hideaway in the divinely terracotta city of Toulouse. “Parenthèses is the French word for brackets,” explains Jean-François. The perfect name for this boutique apartment, so it would seem. “It’s a secret place where time is suspended,” he told me. “When you stay here it’s as though you put your life in brackets, you put everything else on hold. And that’s what our apartment is all about. It’s your chance to get away from the demands of everyday life, and escape.”
Standing outside a rather lacklustre building, on a somewhat uninspiring street, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d taken a wrong turn, for wondering how on earth you can trust the words of a travel writer ever again. But once you’re in the rather ragged-looking apartment block, have shaken hands with fabulous Jean-François (“but people call me Geoff”) and you step outside onto the top floor balcony of the highest building in Toulouse, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief. You did do the right thing after all.
Toulouse, in all its higgledy-piggledy beauty, stretches out before you. Its church towers and its hidden courtyards, its river rippling with kayakers and its pavements dotted with early-evening explorers. It’s stunning. “This is your moment. Take it,” urges Jean- François. And we do.
While I could perhaps have predicted how beautiful Toulouse would be from above, I didn’t predict quite what would await us once inside the apartment.
Picture this: circular bed (it may not be practical if you’re a tall couple with a tendency to starfish in your sleep, but it’s most certainly comfortable), modern ensuite, a wall garden overlooking a huge jacuzzi with its fabulous view over the skyline, a swing seat plumped with cushions hanging from the ceiling, fitted open-plan kitchen and a table set for two – complete with candles and champagne. Oh, and I should add, don’t be surprised when you jump into bed and your reflection is beaming back at you. This is a brazenly sexy room.
Celebrities stay here for no-fuss, under-the-radar, we’ll-sort-everything-for-you treatment – and I can certainly see why. You can order food in advance – fresh, local ingredients prepared nearby and delivered to your apartment ahead of your arrival. Breakfast comes straight to your door (more on that later), and any other queries and questions will be dealt with in a heartbeat.
Once we’d been shown the ropes (which mainly consisted of understanding how to change the lights - they have every colour and every setting - and learn how to make the music bubble out from the jacuzzi), we sat down to our delicious dinner. Vibrant salad, succulent duck, red wine, melt-in-the-mouth chocolate pudding, cheese and, of course, the compulsory crusty French baguette.
We could have ventured out straight after dinner to get our first real taste of Toulouse, but we wanted to make the most of every second of this apartment. The city could wait. Instead, we filled the jacuzzi, poured another glass, and enjoyed a luxurious evening of relaxation and bubbles (of the champagne and jacuzzi kind).
We’d asked for our breakfast to be delivered at 9:30am the next day, and as promised we received a text message right on time to say it was outside our door. So many of my favourite French delights were tucked into a delightful little basket. Madeleines and macaroons and warm pain au chocolats - the chocolate perfectly melted. The very best excuse to break any no-crumbs-in-the-bed rule.
With satisfied stomachs we headed out, armed with a map, very helpfully annotated by Jean-François, and our rusty French. Toulouse is the perfect strolling city – a city of character and charm, with little French cafés and cosy bars tempting you at every turn. The riverbank is a theatre of performers and arm-in-arm lovers, the city’s meandering streets leading to unexpected squares filled with clinking glasses and the murmur of satisfied diners.
If you’re searching for somewhere to eat in the city, then Chez Emile comes highly recommended, as does its cassoulet au confit de canard. It’s a popular place, so book ahead to make sure you get the choice between a table in its little restaurant or outside in the bustling square.
Luckily, none of these delights are far from Parenthèse. The town centre can be reached on foot in 15 minutes, there’s a Métro stop a short walk away so there’s no awkward dragging of suitcases and complaining feet, and it’s easy to reach the apartment from Toulouse airport. If you’re planning on escaping for a few days there’s no need to hire a car.
My expectations were high, and I wasn’t disappointed. Yes, the building itself does leave a little to be desired, but the apartment is a quirky haven. At the moment there’s only one apartment, but the team are looking to expand soon with another even bigger and bolder room next door.
In the meantime, the table-for-two and the jacuzzi and the breakfast basket are waiting. When it comes to living your life in brackets, even for just one night, Parenthèse are pros (and I promise you, it’s well worth it).
To find out more or book the apartment: