Discover mechanical monsters in Toulouse and exotic wildlife at French festival

ENCOUNTERS with exotic wildlife are all part of the fun when you are on holiday.

But while I’m not one to freak out over a daddy long legs in the shower, I think a four-storey-high spider ­striding past your window might be one to call the hotel manager about.

Giant Minatour at the Gardien Du Temple street festival in Toulouse
Getty – Contributor

I was on the streets of Toulouse, staring up as a fire-breathing Minotaur and 42ft mechanical spider sauntered down the road as if in a scene from Godzilla.

Instead of causing mass panic, these monsters were surrounded by a crowd of flashing cameras and selfie sticks.

Made of lime tree wood and metal, the steampunk giants were the centrepiece of the Gardien Du Temple or Guardian of the Temple culture festival.

The four-night, live action spectacle unfolded in a different location each evening, from the Place du Capitole square, to the rooftop of Hotel-Dieu and the Pont Neuf, a 16th Century bridge.

Go: Toulouse

GETTING THERE: Return flights to Toulouse from London Gatwick are from £46pp. See
STAYING THERE: One night’s room-only at the Mama Shelter Hotel is from £39.50pp based on two sharing. See
MORE INFO: To plan your Toulouse trip see For information on the Halle de La Machine exhibition, see

Weighing in at 47 tonnes, the Minotaur alone needs 16 technicians to operate it.

A few yards behind the overgrown marionettes, a cast of opera singers and musicians accompany the show, adding to its surreal theatrical atmosphere.

Glide through the medieval city via the river

Using this intricate system, the story of the Minotaur and the Spider was told — a reinterpretation of the ancient myths surrounding Ariadne and the Minotaur.

Famed as one of the most gruesome monsters in Greek mythology, the half-man half-bull creature was said to reside at the centre of the Labyrinth on the Greek island of Crete.

This imaginative form of storytelling is the work of La Machine Company, a street theatre troupe led by artistic director Francois Delaroziere.

The same group recently created a 37-tonne spider that roamed the streets of Liverpool, passing through the city from the Echo Arena to the Royal Albert Dock. Meanwhile, Beijing got a 40ft dragon.

A giant spider is also a spectacle at the French festival

Delaroziere‘s vision for the one-off project in Toulouse was to foster local engagement with the arts, where “the whole city becomes a place of theatre.”

After the four-night show concluded in November, the Minotaur and spider were both transported to their new home in Halle de La Machine, a former aerodrome in Toulouse.

Open from Tuesday to Sunday each week, visitors can get a behind-the-scenes look at the work of La Machine Company and some of its other inventions.

That includes a madcap machine designed specifically to throw bread rolls. Up close, the craftsmanship of the huge puppets is even more incredible — they also have sound effects of breathing to make them as life-like as possible.

Mama Shelter
The orange rooms at Mama Shelter give the hotel an artistic vibe

A flight from Gatwick to the “Pink City” will take you one hour and 45 minutes.

But due to early flight times, a stay at the Gatwick North Terminal Premiere Inn and a chicken makhani curry at the hotel’s restaurant, Thyme Bar & Grill, eased the pain of the early alarm for me.

For a more quirky, memorable stay, visit one of Toulouse’s newest hotels, Mama Shelter.

It is the fifth Mama Shelter to arrive in France and these mid-priced properties have an urban, trendy vibe. Think bright orange bedroom walls, pig masks guarding each side of your bed, and ceilings covered in graffiti.

The hotel even has its own 45-seat move theatre called the “CineMama”. Slap-bang in the city centre, steps from Place Wilson and Jean Jaures metro, it is the perfect spot for access to Toulouse’s restaurants and nightlife.

You will find tapas everywhere. Try local favourite, Cosmopolitan, serving up jamon serrano, aioli-coated squid, home-made beef ­carpaccio and fish ceviche.

Or dive into cellar restaurant Monsieur Georges where you can feast on Andalusian gazpacho, roasted camembert with cherry jam and salmon gravlax to the clash of upbeat music and thunderous conversations — perfect for people-watching.

A fashionista’s haven, the city centre is filled with home-grown fashion brands, from The Kooples to Le Comptoir des Cotonniers, as well as some of the biggest names in haute couture.

Glide through the medieval antique-dealer’s district with the neo-Gothic style St Etienne cathedral surrounded by private Renaissance mansions.

And space enthusiasts will love the Cite de l’Espace, which is Europe’s premier astronomy and space science centre. The nine-acre site houses a 3D Imax experience on a screen that is as tall as a six-storey building.

There are also full-scale models of the Ariane 5 rocket and Mir space station and a control room mock-up where you launch a rocket yourself.

It is a beautiful city big on culture. What have you got Toulouse?


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