Author

Chris O'Brien

  • 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…

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  • 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…

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  • 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…

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  • 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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  • 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…

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  • 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…

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  • 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…

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  • 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…

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  • 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…

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  • 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…

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