Author

Chris O'Brien

  • The Toulouse Whisky Festival was held this past weekend and the event delivered some surprises about the French and their relationship to this spirit most popularly associated with Scotland. This was the second edition organized by the Hopscotch Pub & Brewery of Toulouse. And like the first one, this one sold out. It also attracted about 40 distilleries, primarily from places you’d expect — Scotland, Ireland, and the U.S. — but also from Japan, New Zealand, Denmark, and Sweden. Included in that last group is France itself. When I first heard about the festival, I was both mystified and excited…

  • Paris has selected London-based architectural landscape firm Gustafson Porter + Bowman to transform the area surrounding the Eiffel Tower into the city’s largest garden. The city had been running a design competition with the goal of reinventing an area famous for this icon, but which can often be clogged with cars and tourists. While the project will eventually cover 54 hectares, the city hopes to have Phase I completed before it hosts the Summer Olympics in 2024. Along with the winning selection, the city and the firm released renderings, including a video, of what the area will look like. We…

  • Presqu’Île de Crozon in the Brittany region turned out to be the perfect place to finally indulge our love of camping in France. Avid campers in California before moving to France four years ago, we had shipped enough camping equipment with us to stage an invasion of a small island nation. But since arriving, our jumble of family tents, sleeping bags, and campfire cooking equipment had sat unused and silently taunting us in a closet. In part, that was because we were having a hard time grasping the French camping scene. We were accustomed to either hiking into the wilds…

  • Italian inventor, designer, and painter Leonardo da Vinci spent the last years of his life living in the Château du Clos Lucé where he died on May 2, 1519. In honor of that anniversary, the presidents of France and Italy visited today to mark the occasion. Comme ambassadeur de @RCValdeLoire pour le 500e anniversaire de la #Renaissance et de la mort de Léonard de Vinci, je serai heureux d’accueillir ce 2 mai, aux côtés de @fbonneau, les présidents de la République française et italienne @ChateauAmboise @closluce @domainechambord pic.twitter.com/RCaaBAdj1k— Stéphane Bern (@bernstephane) May 2, 2019 Les cinq cents ans de la…

  • One doesn’t need much of an excuse to visit the Gers Department, the vast region that lies to the west of our doorstep in Toulouse. But attending a meeting in Condom last week gave me one anyway. And on the leisurely drive back I stumbled across plenty of reminders of why this corner of France remains so alluring. Sitting in the heart of the Gascony region, Gers is one of the most rural streteches in all of Europe. Less than 200,000 people live in a region stretching across 2,416 square miles. And it remains far less trampled by hordes of…

  • Riding our bikes along the Canal du Midi to eat lunch at L’Écluse de Castanet is one of those perfect days that reminds us why we moved to France. We had been meaning to do this since just about forever, but sometimes the grind of daily life gets you in a rut. Fortunately, my wife had a fit of inspiration and suggested an outing at the last minute. Pulling away from the inertia of routine is never easy, and work’s siren song is often hard to ignore. That is particularly true for us eat-lunch-at-our-desk Americans. Still, we roused ourselves and…

  • France’s Occitanie region is stuffed with visual and architectural delights. But the region highlights a select number of these gems with the label “Grands Sites.” During our winter holiday in Cauterets we had the chance to explore one of the more majestic ones on that list: Pont d’Espagne. Located at about 1,493 meters up, the Pont d’Espagne was once upon a time a trading route between France and Spain. Located in the Pyrénées National Park in the Hautes Pyrénées Departement, the valley now is pastoral wonderland in the summer that leads to Lake Gaube. But in the winter, it’s another…

  • During our visit to Cauterets over vacances, the decision to eat dinner at Le Brasero offered a reminder of a how even such mundane outings can still be an adventure. Even after four years in France, we can open a menu and understand the words without knowing what they actually mean. An onglet de bœuf? What is a “tab” of beef? (Answer: skirt steak). Google Images has often been our savior in such instances, helping us decode the culinary vocabularly, which essentially remains a third language to us. I’m not sure we could afford to eat out often enough to…

  • After a slow start, the snow has hit the Pyréneés with a vengance. And with more than 4 meters of snowfall, Le Cirque du Lys in Cauterets has the most snow of any station in France. Ski season can be short, and temperatures are already projected to start rising in the coming weeks. So best go now, if you can. For a last-minute getaway to Cauterets, here’s a few tips. Snow Skiing You can reach Le Cirque du Lys with a 12-minute gondolan ride from Cauterets. The summit offers a wide panoramic view. And its altitude makes it one of…

  • The village of Saint-Rome, with its 40 official habitants, offers one of the more quirky sidebars in the southwest of France thanks to its legacy as a former utopian village. Last weekend, having just recently heard about Saint-Rome for the first time, we decided to visit and hike around to see just how much of its unusual past we could see. The village is about a 30 minute drive southeast from Toulouse, following the highway toward Carcassone. Unlike most historical sites in France, there aren’t a ton of guideposts and signs pointing the way. You just have to trust Google…

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