When I was a kid I was entranced by stories of mythical beasts. My favourite tale was of a Minotaur who roamed a labyrinth on the Greek island of Crete. Small me believed that Minotaurs, a species which had the head and tail of a bull and the body of a man, really lived, much like dinosaurs. I dreamed of one day meeting a minotaur. Growing up, your childhood imaginations fade away – but sometimes, dreams do come true…
The Minotaur of Toulouse
In the sunny city of Toulouse there live many mythical beasts. They are fanciful and fantastical, weird, whacky and wonderful and they live in the Halle de la Machine. One of them is a Minotaur called Asterion.
Opened at the end of 2018, the Halle de la Machine is a place of wonderment whatever your age. If you go there at 10.15 you’ll be greeted with the sight of a giant, and I mean giant, Minotaur. Right before your eyes, he will awaken from his night’s slumber. First you hear him gently snoring, his huge body moving as his heart beats strong. Then his eyes blink, long eyelashes flutter and the bluest of eyes look around and then focus intently on anyone watching. He stretches his head up, shakes out a leg and then goes for a walk with visitors who can sit in a temple on his back.
Watching this scene unfold, you know of course that he’s not real, and yet… there is something vulnerable about this blued eyed beast. He has come from the fertile imagination of François Delaroziere, the genius behind the Ile des Machines at Nantes, and from La Machine Company. Asterion seems almost lifelike. This is despite the fact that he’s made from wood and is 14 metres tall. He weighs a massive 47 tonnes and is operated by a number of people.
He wanders around the outside of the Halle de la Machine. Children squeal as he snorts water and everyone smiles. It’s a truly incredible sight, a real life fairy-tale beast come to life.
Curious beasts and crazy contraptions
The Minotaur has friends – giant friends – spiders who can walk and turn their heads to look at you. The great hall in which the contraptions live is like an enormous hangar of magic. It’s filled with crazy and fabulous machines. Drum machines which spout flames, rotating guitars, giant wings which rise into the air piloted by a machiniste. On the grounds is one of the quirkiest carousels you’ll ever see where you can ride on a giant grasshopper or frog. It’s as much fun for big kids as it is for little ones. I watched as a group of mature engineers from the nearby Airbus company broke into spontaneous applause with huge grins as a flying pepper grinder hovered over the weirdest table layout I’ve ever seen.
This place is like Leonardo da Vinci met Mad Max then became best friends with Steam Punk. And, together they created a magical, marvellous and mad show.
There’s nothing that quite prepares you for the absolute fantasticality (it’s not a word but it’s appropriate here) of this place.
Enjoy lunch or a snack at the Minotaur Café. I doubt there’s anywhere else in the world where you can eat in the company of giant spiders and a Minotaur. The food is superb with a local, seasonal menu with daily specials and not expensive. You don’t have to visit the Halle de la Machine to eat here, lots of locals visit regularly for the enticing dishes or to have a glass of wine at the bar.
The Halle de la Machine will make you believe in magic – it’s an absolute must-see in Toulouse: www.halledelamachine.fr
How to get to the Halle de La Machine Toulouse: It’s located just outside the city centre. There’s plenty of parking on-site. You can go by bus from the city centre. It’s a few minutes’ walk from the Gare de Montaudran (5 minutes by train from the main Toulouse Matabiau station).
While you’re there, pop next door to the L’Envol des Pionniers museum dedicated to the history of air post in France. It might sound dry but it’s a surprisingly interesting history which began more than 100 years ago and spawned incredible adventures and legends…
More on Toulouse: www.toulousetourisme.com; Discover what’s on in France: www.france.fr/en
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