Author

Chris O'Brien

  • The Musée des Arts Forains is far from Paris’ most well-known attraction. But it certainly may be one if its most unusual thanks to its whimsical and moderately creepy tribute to old-time fairgrounds and carnivals. Tucked in the southeast corner of Paris, just past the Parc de Bercy, the Pavillons de Bercy – Musée des Arts Forains includes four separate areas: The Musée des Arts Forains, The Théâtre du Merveilleux (marvels); The Salons Vénitiens; and The Théâtre de Verdure (greenery). Each celebrates some version of amusement by including old carnival games, merry-go-rounds, or artifacts preserved and carefully restored. The space…

  • Château de Chambord today is celebrating the 500th anniversary of the first stone being set in a massive construction effort that would eventually create one of France’s most majestic castles. We visited Chambord two years ago during a bike ride across the Loire Valley. This architectural wonder will likely be on any list of Top 10 Must See castles in France, and for good reason. It is a masterpiece of French Renaissance architecture, and the largest castle in a region that was a popular spot over the centuries for royals to build their dream lodgings. The castle itself sits in…

  • Gascony has rightfully developed a strong reputation for rich, traditional southwestern food enjoyed with hearty wines and strong spirits at a slow pace. These and other traits are why this rural stretch of land has become one of our favorite corners in France. But it’s also easy to stereotype a region like this one and miss the broader pleasures it offers beyond its famous foie gras, armagnac, and magret de canard. During a last-minute getaway to Gascony, we spent a week sampling the traditional as well as the modern twists offered. No need to ignore one for the other. We…

  • In the frenzied attempts to plan a last-minute getaway to Gascony, we stumbled across a new bed and breakfast that turned out to be the ideal combination of location and comfort for exploring the western part of the Gers Departement. Chez Brunet opened this season and is located just outside Gondrin. The B&B, or “chambres d’hôtes” is an old farmhouse that has been lovingly renovated by its owners, Andy and Pam, an English couple who began the work three years ago. The buildings are surrounded by fruit trees (apple, fig, nectarine, and peach). We contacted Andy and Pam on Thursday…

  • Producing a lavish musical like “Bernadette de Lourdes” would represent a massive risk no matter where it was being staged. It’s far from a sure thing that audiences would embrace a religious-themed story packed with power ballads and rousing songs about a 19th-century teenage saint who claimed to see visions of Jesus’ mother. But “Bernadette” faces other considerable hurdles. It’s a French musical premiering in a country that has never really shown much enthusiasm for the art form. (Don’t even get the French started on “Les Miserables.”). And it is being performed in Lourdes, the southwestern city that Bernadette made…

  • Living in Toulouse, it was only a matter of time before we found ourselves on the road to Lautrec in the Tarn Departement. The Medieval village’s famous Pink Rose Garlic Festival provided the perfect excuse for making the hour-long drive through Tarn’s rolling farmland. While Lautrec has less than 1,700 residents, the two-day ‘Fête de l’Ail Rose’ packs the narrow stone streets with visitors from around the region who want to experience this particular culinary curiosity. Lautrec’s Pink Garlic has an official gastronomic designation in France, the “Label Rouge,” which recognizes it as a high-quality food item grown in the…

  • Stepping inside the Maison Samaran boutique across from Toulouse’s Victor Hugo Marché is more than just a chance to forage for the essential elements of Southwestern French cuisine. It is an opportunity to visit and pay homage to the Mecca of all things duck. On a recent morning, I arrived and spent a few minutes browsing the display case full of magret de canard, duck thighs, duck confit, duck hearts, and dried duck. On the shelves, there were jars full of cassoulet, duck fat, patés, terrines, and rillettes. I had come to interview the head of this empire, Christophe Samaran…

  • Château de Chambord officials know well that moving a priceless artifact by Leonard da Vinci is every bit as delicate and painstaking as you can imagine. But when the occasion is the massive 500th anniversary celebration for one of the Loire Valley’s most magnificent castles, then having the Italian’s artist’s work on hand seems worth the effort. To mark the milestone, Chambord is in the process of assembling one of the largest exhibitions ever held at the castle: “Chambord, 1519-2019: utopia at work.” The exhibit runs from May 26 to September 1. As part of that showing, a series of…

  • The 75th anniversary of D-Day hadn’t registered on our radar when we decided to visit the Normandy region in early May. Our decision to plan a trip there was driven by a combination of random circumstances. To wit: Another two-week school vacation was upon us; We would be spending the first week in Paris; A friend we had not seen in some time lives near Le Havre. So, hey, let’s visit Normandy! It seems strange to admit this, but Normandy had not been particularly high on my list of places to visit in France. In part, that’s because it’s considered…

  • Antoine de Saint Exupéry, the author best known for “The Little Prince,” has a special connection to our lives in Toulouse.  A pilot, he was based for a time in this city, which has long been one of France’s main aviation hubs. After France signed an armistice with Germany in 1940, he fled to North America where he stayed 27 months. In 1943, he joined a U.S. naval convoy that would take him to Algiers so he could join the Free French as a wartime pilot. It was on this ship that he penned an extraordinary letter to future Americans.…

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