Occitanie

  • 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…

  • 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…

  • 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…

  • 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…

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

  • 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…

  • 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…

  • 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…

  • Train-Ski packages from SNCF-TER are a great deal There is simply no beating the price of the convenience of buying the SKIRAIL package from SNCF-TER. For less than €50, you can get a round-trip train ticket from Toulouse to Ax-les-Thermes which also includes a ski pass for the day. If you want, you can also reserve ski equipment from a partner for a reasonable price. The trip is about 2 hours on the regional TER train. Ax 3 Domaines It’s easy to take this station for granted becasue it’s probably the most accessible from Toulouse. But Ax 3 Domaines is…

  • The snow has returned to the Pyrénées, much to the relief of tourists and the tourist industry alike. And so if you’re looking for quick getaway for the family to play in the white stuff, Val D’Azun is a great place to start. We made the long and windy drive from Toulouse up to the Station Val D’Azun. One passes through the town of Argelès-Gazost in the Hautes-Pyrénées Department before climbing the last few kilometers. But once there, we discovered a sweet, family-oriented station that offers three distinct experiences: Cross-country skiing (or “Nordique”) Snow shoe trails (“Raquettes”) Nordic Park, a…

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