Author

Chris O'Brien

  • 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…

  • A 4-day bike ride through France’s famed Loire Valley promised to be a big adventure for our family. Though we are all bike riders to some measure, we had never done a tour like this with our two teenage children. Fortunately, the Loire Valley offers moderately easy terrain, spectacular views, an embarassment of castles, and the good food you’d expect from this region. While there are countless companies that will book the whole tour for you, we opted to cobble together our own route and accommdations. For those who wish to follow in our wake, here is our itinerary. Day…

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