Author

Chris O'Brien

  • Perhaps no major city in France has been transformed over the past decade as much as Toulouse. The country’s fourth-largest city has grown more cosmopolitan, in part thanks to Airbus consolidating its headquarters in this region, bringing a greater international influence even as the city thankfully lacks the hordes of tourists found in other fashionable destinations. City leaders have been pouring money into frenzied renovations of seemingly every corner of its historic city center famed for its light-colored brick facades. Much of that work has wound down and the wraps have come off. So with the coronavirus lockdown over and…

  • The Louvre Museum has announced the rules for visiting its famed exhibits when it reopens on July 6. The museum has been closed since March when France’s coronavirus lockdown went into effect. During that time, it has been offering virtual visits of its exhibits. With France’s lockdown finally lifted for the Paris region, the museum and its staff are preparing to again welcome visitors. But the rules for anyone to enter the museum will be quite strict, according to a press release from the museum. First, to gain entrance, visitors must purchase a ticket online in advance for a specific…

  • As the French summer tourist season arrives, one of the most appealing options for seeing this country is a trip along one of its numerous bike paths. Travelers like this choice because it gets them outdoors in a way that also offers some measure of safety and peace of mind. You can ride at your own speed, and keep as much distance as you want if you’re still feeling anxious about crowds while the coronavirus is still circulating. The nation’s tourist industry is promoting this because they’re eager to entice people to travel this summer to get some much-needed Euros…

  • Camping is finally on the rise in France and the folks at Glamping Hub have taken notice. Based in Seville, Spain, the outdoor accommodations company says its neighbor to the north has become one of its fastest growing markets. Glamping Hub focuses on unique, higher end outdoor experiences. It currently has 338 accommodations in France, according to partnerships manager Amy Ahlblad. “It’s one of our trending marketplaces,” she said. “We’re noticing a lot of demand from countries outside of France.” With camping seen as potentially an even more popular choice for the summer vacation period following the coronavirus lockdowns in France,…

  • The drive from Toulouse to La Ferme de Souleilles took about 90 minutes and led us through some of our favorite landscapes in this southwestern corner of France. After a short stretch on the highway, we exited into the Lot-et-Garonne Department where a slowly winding road took us through the region’s small and rounded hills. The department remains deeply rural, and so we passed through occasional small towns and viewed scattered farmhouses in the distance. Within about 2 km of Souleilles, we began to see bright red and yellow signs indicating that we were headed in the right direction. Pulling…

  • With the confinement over, we’ve dusted off our bikes and have started exploring the region around Toulouse on Sunday mornings. Pedaling south, we kept the Garonne river on our right. After only 15 minutes, the landscape shifted from urban to rural, and for about an hour we had a pleasant journey over a mix of bike paths, bike lanes, and local roads. Le Parc du Confluent remains closed. After passing that, we were now along the Ariège River. We made it to the south end of Lacroix-Falgarde and passed the Pont de Fer, a small bridge that is badly in…

  • France

    How to spend 48 hours in Lyon, France

    by Chris O'Brien
    by Chris O'Brien

    Visiting Lyon for the first time, it’s tempting to do nothing but eat your way across France’s third largest city. While it boasts plenty of cultural, historical, and architectural attractions, Lyon’s well-deserved gastronomic reputation means that a seductive plate of food seems to be calling out from every direction. The city has more than 4,000 restaurants and 19 chefs with Michelin stars. During a long weekend in Lyon, I managed to resist that siren song as much as possible so I could explore the city. Eventually, I just gave in, and happily so. France’s food culture in general is such…

  • La Halle de la Machine closed in January for its annual pause to make repairs on its celebrated giant mechanical menagerie and to prepare for the year ahead. On a recent visit, I got to glimpse the work that goes on behind the scenes. The focus of much of the work was the Minotaur, which made its debut in 2018 during a 4-day street opera in Toulouse. The Minotaur, made of wood and metal and weighing 46 tons, runs on a complex hydraulic system and is operated by more than a dozen people. A short time after that, La Machine,…

  • During a quick getaway for a day of skiing in the Pyrénées, my friend suggested that rather than head to Ax 3 Domaines in Ax-les-Thermes, we go a bit further toward a small station called Ascou. I had never heard of Ascou, but I was game to try something different. Ax-les-Thermes in the Ariège Departement is home to Ax 3 Domaines, a large ski station that is one of my favorites in the Pyrénées. But as we entered Ax on this Saturday morning in January, we could see that the streets were already clogged with cars and people renting skis…

  • Béarn is a one of those French names that has leapt into our view now and then without me ever having a clear idea of where it is or what it signifies. Sometimes it appears to be linked to Gascony and the Pyrénées but other times it’s described as its own distinct region. While the real D’Artagnon is the most famous Gascon of all, his fictionalized namesake in “The Three Musketeers” was from Béarn. It’s hard to nail down. Even doing a little research on the website for the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, the department where Béarn is located, left me confused. On…

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