Occitanie

  • In the frenzied attempts to plan a last-minute getaway to Gascony, we stumbled across a new bed and breakfast that turned out to be the ideal combination of location and comfort for exploring the western part of the Gers Departement. Chez Brunet opened this season and is located just outside Gondrin. The B&B, or “chambres d’hôtes” is an old farmhouse that has been lovingly renovated by its owners, Andy and Pam, an English couple who began the work three years ago. The buildings are surrounded by fruit trees (apple, fig, nectarine, and peach). We contacted Andy and Pam on Thursday…

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  • Producing a lavish musical like “Bernadette de Lourdes” would represent a massive risk no matter where it was being staged. It’s far from a sure thing that audiences would embrace a religious-themed story packed with power ballads and rousing songs about a 19th-century teenage saint who claimed to see visions of Jesus’ mother. But “Bernadette” faces other considerable hurdles. It’s a French musical premiering in a country that has never really shown much enthusiasm for the art form. (Don’t even get the French started on “Les Miserables.”). And it is being performed in Lourdes, the southwestern city that Bernadette made…

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  • Living in Toulouse, it was only a matter of time before we found ourselves on the road to Lautrec in the Tarn Departement. The Medieval village’s famous Pink Rose Garlic Festival provided the perfect excuse for making the hour-long drive through Tarn’s rolling farmland. While Lautrec has less than 1,700 residents, the two-day ‘Fête de l’Ail Rose’ packs the narrow stone streets with visitors from around the region who want to experience this particular culinary curiosity. Lautrec’s Pink Garlic has an official gastronomic designation in France, the “Label Rouge,” which recognizes it as a high-quality food item grown in the…

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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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 a pastoral wonderland in the summer that leads to Lake Gaube. But in the winter, it’s…

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  • 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…

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  • 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…

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  • 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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