Occitanie

  • Tourism is serious business in France. And so this week, the Tourism Office of the Haute-Garonne Department held their annual press conference to explain their strategy for marketing their corner of France and attracting those economically important tourists. In a Department that stretches from the cosmopolitan city of Toulouse to the upper reaches of the Pyrénées, it’s a varied stretch. But seducing those tourists is critical, particularly for those small, independent businesses that produce local delicacies or run lodging of some sort. To that end, this year’s promotional focus will be: The Secret Haute-Garonne. Yes, people know about the big…

  • One of the things we love about Toulouse is how quickly we can escape from the city on the weekend and be in a place that feels remote. Thanks to some friends who organized a hike this weekend, we dashed out to the small village of Montgazin for a wonderful 2-hour walk. Mongazin is a blink-and-you-missed-it town about 45 minutes south of Toulouse. Its main feature is a chuch whose date of origin we couldn’t quite pinpoint. From the church parking lot, we walked straight back on the main local road which led us to a trail. You can see…

  • With last-minute getaways, sometimes you just get lucky. That was certainly the case for us when we left the Thursday after Christmas for a two-day escape to the Pyrénées. With no firm destination in mind, other than to just be in the mountains and away from work, our frenzied internet searches stumbled upon La Soulan, a gite and restaurant located just up the hill from the town of Boutx. Snow in the Pyrénées during winter vacances can be hit or miss, and this year it was definitely a miss. But instead, we found spectacular food at La Soulan and a…

  • 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…

  • 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…

  • 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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