June 27, 2018

My Long Weekend in Montolieu Book Village – A Booklover’s Paradise

Book Village

Montolieu is a charming village in the Aude département of France – half an hour’s drive from World Heritage Site, Carcassonne.  The utopian brainchild of bookbinder Michel Braibant, since 1989, Montolieu has been known as the “Village du livre”, or Book Village.  This village of 800 inhabitants boasts more than 10 independent, second-hand bookshops, a bookmaking museum and numerous art galleries and jewellery/curiosity shops too.  It is also located in a beautiful setting, with the Provencal countryside very close by and a river running beneath the village that visitors can sit by and swim in at their leisure!

Intended as a way to reverse the decline of this small village in the South of France, the Book Village idea has created a thriving tourist attraction that also hosts literary events – conferences, authors’ visits, exhibitions, lectures, book fairs, children’s literary workshops and an educational book trail.  Since 1991, over 50 buildings have been renovated and many have been turned into accommodation for the 52,000 tourists that visit every year.  The old paper mill has also been brought back into use and there are several artists and bookmakers in the village.

I spent a long weekend there very recently and wanted to share my thoughts on the village with you and perhaps inspire you to visit this wonder of French creativity that can also be a great place to practise your language skills (reading and speaking) if you are learning French.

Great atmosphere

I found that the village’s many bookshops are all very well-stocked and sell everything from collectors’ editions of La Fontaine’s Fables to pocket editions of the most famous (and not-so-famous) French authors.  There are antiquarian and new books, non-fiction and fiction books, children’s books, comic books, novels and more.  Most of the works on sale are in French but there are also a fair amount of books in other languages, mainly English, and occasionally Spanish or other languages too.  The booksellers take pride in their work and only choose the best books but they are all very reasonably priced.  They are also happy to chat about their books, or books in general, so it is a good opportunity to practise speaking French.  A lot of the booksellers speak good English as well as French, so even if you are not learning French, you can talk to the shop owners and likely find a book you like too – you might even get a recommendation.

The atmosphere in Montolieu is very relaxed and jovial, and everyone is happy to have a chat and will at the very least say “Bonjour” as you pass by.  The village is also very cosmopolitan; I was told that 25 different nationalities are represented among the residents.

Lots to see and do

The bookmaking museum (to give it its full title, the “museum of bookmaking as an art and a profession”) is worth a visit as it explains the history of bookmaking and celebrates the beauty and charm of books and reading.

I went to Montolieu at the end of June, which is a very busy time of year because there are several festivals going on that everyone can participate in for free (or almost free).  While I was there, I went to the “Fête de la Musique” (music festival) on 21st June, where there are street concerts and music in almost every venue; the “Fête de la St Jean” (Saint John’s Fête) which consisted of a huge plate of paella, music from a brilliant brass band, fireworks and dancing on the local sports field, all for €15; a “vide-grenier” or car-boot sale in the middle of the village and a book launch in one of the restaurants, followed by wine-tasting and nibbles.  I was told that there are events on all through the year, so you don’t have to go in June to join in the festivities; in nearby Carcassonne for the whole of the month of July there are three nightly concerts, two of which are free and which attract big names like Sting, Elton John, Simple Minds and Beth Ditto to name but a few.  Then, in August there is the Montolieu village fête, three days of non-stop music that goes on well into the night.

Where to go

I stayed at the lovely Maison de Mallast guest house, which has several princely rooms in the 18th-century French style and a garden restaurant where they serve fish and chips at the weekend.  There are also numerous other hotels and guest houses to choose from, in and out of the town centre.

Around Montolieu, the places to visit are Carcassonne and other beautiful French towns, Saissac and St-Denis.  We did not hire a car this time (the taxi from the airport was €35) but we would like to go back and hire one next time to have the freedom to travel around (although there was such a lot to do in Montolieu that we did not need to go anywhere else for the 4 days we were there).

All in all, my trip to Montolieu was both enjoyable and educational as I learnt more about bookmaking and brought a few French books home to keep me going.

My next trip…

Montolieu is not the only Book Town in Europe – two others that are nearby are Redu in Belgium and Hay on Wye in Wales (the first ever Book Town) that are also a must for booklovers and served as inspiration for Michel Braibant when he came up with the idea for Montolieu Book Village.

Suzannah Young

June 20, 2018

Saint-Petersburg Locals’ choice (part 2)

Along with must-see tourist places I would recommend some really interesting spots which are very popular amongst locals. You will experience how the youth in Saint-Petersburg live nowadays and will see that this city develops rapidly.

One of my favourite places is New Holland.

This is a well-known place, a tiny island in the city centre which has a huge history. A former military base, it has since been reconstructed into a modern park with different leisure activities and places to dine.
The place is full of nice little shops, cute coffee shops, and cafés. Also, there are some cultural programs including concerts of trendy musicians, educational courses and various kinds of events that you need to be informed about in advance. This park is the best choice for spending time a nice during the summer, although it is still open in the winter and has  an ice rink. 
You can combine visiting New Holland Park with a trip to the Mariinsky theatre because they are located in the same district.

New Hooland in winter

New Holland in summer

Night out

If you want to go out for a meal or for a drink, the most popular area in Saint-Petersburg for spending a great night is Ulitsa Rubinsteina. Located in the heart of the city centre, it has become the main restaurant street in Saint-Petersburg. There are 40 houses here and more than 50 restaurants!  If you are a fan of jazz, you can go to “48 Chairs” with its live music and stylish atmosphere. Something more simple? No problem! Visit the local craft beer bar “Punk Brew”. Fancy karaoke after that? “Poison Bar” is just next door and waiting for your finest hour. Poison Bar is very popular for its good selection of famous songs and its friendly atmosphere. Hungry and want something exotic? Go to “Bekitzer” which makes the best Israeli street-food and holds great parties in the evenings.

Café Rubinstein

Ulitsa Rubinsteina

Poison Karaoke Bar

Ulitsa Rubinsteina

Monument to Russian writer Sergei Dovlatov

Zoom Café.

Small and cozy Zoom Cafe has been an established spot for lunch in the city for a few years. You can find it as a suggestion in every city-guide throughout Saint-Petersburg. The atmosphere is homely and relaxed. Soft lights, pleasant music and friendly staff help to make your visit comfortable. The food is simple and reminiscent of Russian home cooking.

You can entertain yourself playing board games, or reading the books and latest magazines while waiting for food.

Please note that Zoom Café is very popular and you will need to book a table in advance.

“Teplo” Restaurant.

Another nice and cosy place owned by the same people as Zoom Café is Teplo. A great location near St. Isaac’s Cathedral makes it a good opportunity to combine both places in one day. This restaurant is perfect for families with children: it has a fireplace and a nice terrace. The interior meets the name of the place; it is very cosy and warm, the staff are super friendly and you will want to come here over and over again.

Georgian Food

Georgian cuisine is very popular in Russia and Saint-Petersburg has a great selection of restaurants on offer. The most popular dishes are khachapuri (a traditional Georgian dish of cheese-filled bread) and khinkali (Georgian dumplings with a variety of fillings).

Here are some places I would recommend:


Khachapuri I Vino

  • Soviet Leningrad:
  • Visit a ”Ryumochnaya”.

Ryumochnayas (the name is derived from the Russian word for shot glass) are as close as you’ll get to the drinking traditions of 20th-century Russia. Cheap and unpretentious, they were a step up from drinking at home (or in the street), the place to go if you couldn’t afford a restaurant in both the USSR and 90s Russia. The local favourite is Mayak Café, going since the 80s and now filled with Soviet memorabilia. There is no sign outside but you can spot the place by the large head of Lenin in the window. A traditional order would be zakuski – Russian d’oeuvres of dill pickles, sausages, pickled herring – consumed with alcohol.
20 Mayakovskogo Street

Visit Udelnaya Flea Market.

If you are interested in vintage and authentic soviet antique souvenirs you definitely need to visit Udelnaya Flea Market. It is considered to be the best flea market in Russia and attracts a lot of tourists because of the unique things you can buy there. The place is quite hard to find and takes some time to get to but, once you are there, you can get lost amongst the numerous stalls of soviet badges, books, stamps and porcelain.

Note: The market is only open on weekends. When exiting Udelnaya metro station, cross the rail tracks, keep going right through the modern part of the market, and mind your bags and valuables while there.

Anna Petrova

June 13, 2018

Why to raise children bilingually? (2)

Last month, we introduced a new series of video interviews and online interviews which are devoted to the subject of bilingualism. We find the topic of bilingualism fascinating and we want to discuss some of the issues and benefits linked with being bilingual, as well as many other bilingualism-related topics. If you have any ideas or questions related to bilingualism, let us know in the comments below.

Today, in our second YT video, we attempt to answer  the question “Why to raise children bilingually”. Our special guest is Łucja Miniewska, an expert on bilingualism both academically (she holds an MSc in Bilingualism) and practically (she’s a mum of two bilingual children). Please click the link to watch our YT video.

Kinga Macalla

June 6, 2018

Learning a language: Where to find foreign-language film and TV

In several of our blog posts, we have promoted the benefits of watching films or TV programmes in the language you are learning as a way to help you practise listening and pick up new words and expressions.  It’s not always obvious where you can find film and TV in other languages, though, as in the UK there is not always the same access to foreign-language TV channels as there is in other countries – and if you want these channels you may have to pay a lot more.  This blog post gives you ideas of where you can find film and TV in other languages to help you practise without breaking the bank.


Here is just a selection of what you can find online.  An internet search will reveal more options.

Netflix is a subscription service (around £10 per month, with the first month free) that provides streaming media and video-on-demand online.  It is an international service and lots of its original creations are in other languages.  It is also a great repository of foreign-language film and television programmes.  There are 42 titles in “French-Language Movies”, 15 Italian, 42 Spanish, 4 Polish, 42 German, 13 Russian, 42 Chinese, 15 Arabic and several Portuguese titles.  You can also change the audio of English programmes and add subtitles to help you follow the dialogue.

All 4, the on-demand channel from Channel 4 has a category called “World Drama”, which currently has 1 Czech title, 3 Danish titles, 9 Dutch-language, 12 French, 8 German, 2 Hebrew, 1 Icelandic, 1 Italian, 4 Norwegian, 2 Portuguese-language, 5 Spanish-language and 4 Swedish titles.  You need an account to access these programmes.

BBC iPlayer is an internet streaming, catch-up, television and radio service from the BBC. At the moment, there are Danish/Swedish, Dutch/French and Spanish programmes.  Most of these are available on BBC Four.  You must have an account and a TV Licence to access these programmes.

Arte is a public Franco-German TV network that promotes programming in the areas of culture and the arts and is free to view online.

On YouTube, you can find several full-length films with subtitles as their copyright period has ended.  Ask your tutor for recommendations.

MUBI is a film website that integrates a subscription video-on-demand service, a database, and an online magazine. It has been described as an “online cinematheque”.  You can search by language in its database and find classic films in a variety of languages.


Freeview lets you watch 70 TV channels and 15 HD channels with no monthly cost or contract, including Arte in some areas.  Which channels you can get depends on where you live.  You can search for the channels available in your area online.

BBC4 is where you will find most foreign-language films on BBC television.  You need a TV Licence to be able to watch it.

Film4 often shows foreign-language films and is free to watch but you must have a TV Licence to watch it.

In Bristol

Odeon Cinema Bristol often shows Polish films and sometimes other language films too, including Russian. They also do deals if you go with a group of friends.

Watershed is an independent cinema and digital creativity centre on Bristol’s historic harbourside. It shows foreign-language films almost every week and often does seasons of particular directors or themes, including films in other languages.

The Cube Microplex Cinema is a social art experiment existing in the shape of an autonomous, non-profit, collective, cinema and event venue.  It has affordable tickets to foreign-language films (£5 full price or £4 concessions).

The Orpheus Cinema occasionally has foreign-language films – have a look at the list of showings to see if there is anything coming up.

If you are not a fan of cinema-going or you are looking for something more affordable, your local library should have DVDs of foreign-language films that you can borrow for several weeks (and watch several times if you wish!).

Please let us know in the comments if you are aware of any other places in Bristol where you can watch foreign films!

Suzannah Young