Marilyn McFarlane, a long-established travel writer, has been published in national magazines, newspapers and online and is the author of several guidebooks. She travels the world seeking lesser-known places as well as familiar haunts. She makes her home in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, also a traveler, and their two cats.
Marilyn, a member of the Author’s Guild, is the author of Best Places to Stay in the Pacific Northwest, Best Places to Stay in California, Quick Escapes in the Pacific Northwest, and Northwest Discoveries. She is a member of the organizing committee for Travel & Words, the annual NW Travel Writers Conference. Her blog is
Read some of Marilyn's travel articles below. You can find more at the travel sites EuropeUpClose and in the online magazine Suite101.com.
Minerve, a Languedoc Village
This utterly charming, peaceful ridge-top village in southwestern France has a gruesome past. Back in the 13th century, the townsfolk fought the dreaded Simon de Montfort, the Hitler of his time. He was obsessed with destroying the Cathars, a religious group that Catholic authorities considered heretical.
The Cathars were a tough bunch who didn’t give up their beliefs easily. Since they didn’t approve of Catholic practices of the time, and gained converts, they were a threat to be removed. And some of them lived in little Minerve.
They were no match for Simon de Montfort’s troops and catapults, yet, when Minerve finally surrendered, more than 100 Cathars refused to give in. So they were burned to death on the village square. Legend says they leaped into the fire, singing.
Bits of that history can be spotted in various places around the otherwise cheerful town. There’s a museum with dioramas where little scenes show historical events; a store full of interesting books (coffee, too); and near the old church is a standing stone with a carved-out dove, a memorial to the Cathars.
Minerve is different today.
Minerve has more to offer to off-the-beaten-path visitors: antique shops, tastings of the excellent Minervois wines, a museum with treasures dating back to the early Romans and prehistoric times. Neolithic dolmens and tombs are a few minutes’ drive away, scattered over the plateau.
The village perches above deep gorges with limestone walls riddled with caves to explore. If there’s water in the river, it’s possible to paddle around on a kayak.
The best way to end a day here is with a fine meal and local wine at La Terrasse, an excellent restaurant. For a good hotel choice, Le Chatovent offers comfortable, light, airy rooms.
Loire’s Castles and Gardens
The price of gasoline in France is high — around $5.50 per gallon. That’s the bad news when you’re driving. The good news is that touring in the Loire Valley means you don’t have to travel far to see the grand chateaus and pretty villages that dot the landscape. John and I stayed in one place, Chenonceaux, and found a multitude of treasures on short day trips along and over the rivers that wind through this green, broad valley. Read more...
Greece’s Mani: Rugged, Rocky and Beautiful
If you look at a map of the Peloponnesian peninsula, the huge chunk of land that forms western Greece, you’ll see three long fingers jutting south into the Aegean Sea. One of them is the Mani. This rocky, ruggedly beautiful region, with part of the Taygettus mountain range, gets plenty of tourists but it’s still off the beaten path. It can be toured in a day or even less, though you need more than that to appreciate what it has to offer. John and I were glad we gave it several days. Read more...
Springtime in Amsterdam
A sunny spring day in Amsterdam is as good as it gets. Sunlight sparkles on the canals, cafes set up outdoor tables, flower stalls bloom with color. I could spend weeks strolling this picturesque city in the Netherlands, dodging bicyclists and admiring the architecture, but with only a few days to explore, John and I hit the highlights. Read more...
Mary Magdalene’s Bones, Old Stones, and “Chocolat”
For eight centuries, pilgrims have come to the great basilica in Vezelay to be blessed on their long journey to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, a pilgrimage that was, and is today, a significant spiritual journey. The Basilica Saint Mary Magdalene still awes visitors like John and me. A masterpiece of Romanesque architecture of the Middle Ages, it was famous in the 12th century for its relics of Mary Magdalene, which drew crowds of worshipers (and conveniently boosted the regional economy, as they all had to be housed and fed.) Read more...
Ancient Temples of Malta, Part I
The tiny islands of Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea 60 miles south of Italy, hold ancient secrets. Their temples, built 6,000 years ago, before Stonehenge, before the pyramids of Egypt, are the oldest stone monuments in the world. Who were the prehistoric people who, without metal tools or the wheel, cut slabs of rock, stood 20-ton megaliths on end, stacked them in circular walls 40 feet high, and carved their inner chambers? A friend and I went to Malta to find answers. Read more...