Author

Chris O'Brien

  • Searching out the best and most garish Christmas light displays had been part of my holiday routine since I was a kid. While the holiday season in Toulouse is festive, we lack both a car and neighbors who believe the best way to recognize the season is to cover their houses in multitudes of blinking lights and animatronic elves and reindeer. Fortunately, we do have the Gaillac Lantern Festival, which provides a very different kind of holiday light spectacle. We’ve visited Gaillac, the Tarn Department’s third largest city, several times to explore its surrounding wine region. It’s wine and culinary…

  • If you’re heading to the mountains this season but looking for something a bit more exciting than a hotel or bed & breakfast, you can now book a night or two in igloo accommodations scattered across the French Alps and Pyrénées. The igloos range from fairly basic snow structurs to ones that feature dinner, bars, and lively nightlife. All that under the relative isolation of a night on the mountain side. Here are 5 companies that offer 9 igloo accommodations. An Alpine Igloo Undiscovered Mountains has igloos in the Southern French Alps at the Orcières 1850 ski resort. Located at…

  • During a daylong bike ride, we passed through the village of Lagraulet-du-Gers and spotted this unusual water tower covered with an elaborate mural. Only later did we learn that it was converted into a bed and breakfast by the town’s mayor, called Le Château D’Eau Lagraulet. There is the main room, dubbed a “bedroom beneath the stars.” And roof is a terrace where breakfast is brought each morning. Jean-Paul Chambas is the artist behind the fresco. Depending on which days and the length of the visit, prices range from €90 per night to €150 per night.

  • Saint Paul Saint Louis du Marais in Paris is a church so nice, they named it twice. Originally Saint Paul’s church, dating to 1430, was the main cathedral in this neighborhood. But it was destroyed in the Revolution. So Napoleon eventually designated this one, then called Saint Louis and dating from 1627, to be the new center of worship for this corner of Paris. But as a compromise, the local bishop eventually convinced him to add Saint Paul to the name, in memory of the one old one. Pleasing the parish, even if the final name is a mouthful.

  • A desire to visit a long-time friend living in the village of Sainte-Pierre-du-Val inspired our first real trip to the Normandy region. We had barely crossed the border into Normandy once before after camping in Brittany to make the obligatory visit to Mont-Saint-Michel. Having checked that legendary site off the list, we didn’t really have a big agenda when we arrived for a longer stay. So when our friend proposed a day trip to nearby Honfleur, we were game to venture into the unknown. Upon arriving, it was easy to see the allure. We parked near the old port, and…

  • France’s craft beer boom has been building slowly for several years, but the impact of this hops revolution really struck me one summer evening while meeting a friend for a glass of wine. We had sat on the terrace of a bar across from the Marché de Carmes in Toulouse and ordered two glasses of red wine. As we waited for them to arrive, I noticed something odd as the waiter continued to take other orders. Young, old, middle age, they were all ordering beer. I craned my neck around and couldn’t see another glass or bottle of wine in…

  • What I knew about Lille before last month was pretty much zero. Tucked into a far corner of France, close to the Belgium border, the city seemed about as far as one could get from our lives in southwest France. Having a few days to play while staying Paris, I decided to make a detour to Lille with my daughter. While I prefer the south, one thing that I do envy about Paris is the ease with which you can get pretty much anywhere in France by train. A trip to Lille is just one hour by TGV, which makes…

  • Each visit I make to Paris is usually marked by a series of terrible decisions that leaves me slightly tormented and wondering why I came in the first place. The latest visit was defined by a decision to rent an Airbnb near the Porte Saint-Denis. On this occassion, I was traveling with my daughter for a few days. I saw the listing with a “jacuzzi” inside and a reasonable price (for Paris) and thought it would be a nice treat. The name of the listing was “Cocoon”, and between that and the pictures, I figured it would be small. But…

  • High on our list of places to visit when we first moved to France in 2014 was the Pyrénées. On a clear day, one could see the snow-capped peaks from Toulouse, beckoning to those who wanted to escape city life. And so, on the first vacation for the kids, that’s what we did. Amid the frenzied weeks of settling in and getting the kids enrolled in schools, we were shocked to discover the details of the vacances scolaire. It seemed they had just barely started classes in September, and now loomed a two-week break at the end of October, known…

  • Sète is one of those places in France that doesn’t necessarily have the high international profile it deserves. But having visited this Mediterranean seaside city twice, it’s become one of our favorite beach destinations in a country that hardly lacks for them. Located about 45 minutes southwest of Montpellier, Sète boasts 12 kilometers of beaches, a vibrant street arts scene, and killer views thanks to being built on and around Mont St. Clair. And while you can still get a hint of luxury here, we prefer Sète to many of the hotspots further up the coast which have become victims of…

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