Author

Chris O'Brien

  • Toulouse

    A festive December in Toulouse

    by Chris O'Brien
    by Chris O'Brien

    This marks our fifth holiday season in Toulouse, and we still love the atmosphere of the city this time of year. From the Christmas market, to just the everyday sights, sounds and smells, there remains something magical about the holiday season in the soutwest of France. These are some of my favorite photos taking over the past few weeks.

  • On the Sunday before Christmas, we took a day trip to see some dear friends in Montepellier. About 2.5 hours by car from Toulouse, it wasn’t a quick aller-retour. But beyond the chance to see our friends, we were more than rewarded with a sunny walk on the beach, a tour of the Christmas market, and a cozy dinner in the city center. We decided to meet at Le Petit Travers, probably one of my favorite beaches in France, and one that makes it easy to understand why people love living in Montepellier. Just a 20 minute drive from the…

  • On an early December weekend, I drove from Toulouse to Agen with my daughter to meet my wife at the train station. The official story I had been told was that she had rented a place somewhere for a quiet weekend to celebrate my 50th birthday. Instead, what unfolded was an epic surprise birthday party with old and new friends, armagnac, and the warm, generous culture of Gascony. Leaving from Agen, I wasn’t even entirely sure which direction I was driving, turned around by the labyrinth of old streets and round points. Eventually, I realized we were headed south, but…

  • I spent several weeks this fall exploring a controversy that echoed across the southwest of France: The question of whether the heretics known as the Cathars existed or not. You can read more about the discussion in my story for the Los Angeles Times. Whatever comes from the debate, the Cathars are destined to remain an important part of the tourism draw to this region, particularly in the Aude Departement which has embraced the label “Pays Cathares.” The tale is a fascinating and critical part of early modern European history, and the sites associated with the Cathars offer a stunning tour through…

  • The 6th annual Mister Freeze exhibition is just wrapping up this weekend, and this was our second year touring the astonishing works of graffiti. The exhibition was held from September 29 to October 7, and included the works of 30 local, national and international artists on display in the former Latécoère airplane factory. The exhibition covers a total of 11,000 square meters. Basically, the artists are given free rein to do as they wish with their sections of the massive concrete walls. The results are sometimes moving and sometimes just mind-blowing.

  • Driving about an hour southeast from Toulouse, a short hop off the highway just before Carcassone puts one right in the middle of the Aude Department. Beyond the famous fortress, the Aude produces fantastic wines and offers tantalizing views of the Pyrenees. For the second year, we roused ourselves early on a Sunday morning and drove down here with our friends Rebecca and Bernard to Château Guilhem. Situated in the little town of Malviès, in the territory of Malepère, the wine estate was holding its annual harvest fundraiser to support Autisme 31, a non-profit. It’s a great cause, but for us, it’s…

  • During our trek from the Chamonix region to Paris, we made a quick stop in Bourbon-Lancy, a small town in the Saône-et-Loire Department, located in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region. Alas, we did not get to visit its most famous feature: its thermal baths. But we did spend a couple of hours wandering around its medieval district after a picnic lunch. It’s beyond picturesque, and a great example of many of the styles common in the Middle Ages. One enters through an arch under the clock tower, which apparently used to be the wooden-gated entrance to the city. (see photo above). If…

  • With busy work schedules and kids’ activities, we had a hard time this year planning a weekend escape to the Pyrénées. Which was especially a bummer because the region was getting more snow than it had in several years. But we finally managed to pull it off, and decided to head to one our favorite regions, the valley that leads to Loudenvielle. We stayed near Loudenvielle for our first trip up here in 2014. So this time we decided to make camp in a different town situated just to the west: Aulon. From the highway, the drive took us up…

  • During our latest trip to the Pyrénées, I took the kids skiing for a day at Saint-Lary-Soulan. Having skied for many years in California’s Lake Tahoe area, one of the nice things about the Pyrénées is that the cost of lift tickets and equipment rental is much more reasonable. For instance, an adult lift ticket is about $50. On our way from Aulon to Saint Lary, we stopped at Kangri Sports to rent skis and boots for the kids for about $30 for the day. Saint-Lary-Soulan is a solid, medium-sized station with 100 km of slopes and thirty ski lifts. We had beautiful…

  • On Sunday morning, we drove about 90 minutes southeast to the town of Lagrasse, France to visit a friend and do some hiking. The town is in the Aude Departement, tucked in between Carcassone, Narbonne, and the Pyrenees. It’s tough to get a sense of any French town on a Sunday, as most everything is closed. But Lagrasse’s city center has a reputation for attracting a lot of artists and creatives, and we passed a lot of local shops that allowed us to glimpse some of that in their window displays. And we did to happen to find a shop open for…

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