Author

Chris O'Brien

  • 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…

  • 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…

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