The lovely city of Narbonne, by the Canal de la Robine, lies near the Mediterranean in the department of Aude, in Occitanie. A 2500 year old city located just under 15 kilometres from the Mediterranean coast, Narbonne ville is somewhat unknown to foreign visitors. A city with a dazzling medieval heritage, scattered with ancient remains, that tells the story of this once immense Roman colony.
The main square is place de l’Hotel-de-Ville with sprawling outdoor cafés. At the heart of this square are the remains of the via Domitia reminding us of Narbonne’s Roman history. The Via Domitia was the first Roman road built in Gaul, linking Italy and Spain through Gallia Narbonensis, across modern day southern France.
It lies in front of the Palace- Museum of the Archbishops – admired by tourists and played in by local children.
The historical centre of town also includes the Pont des Marchands (merchants bridge) and the imposing gothic cathédral of Saint-Just and Saint-Pasteur. The gothic cathedral was started in 1272 and is known for being ‘unfinished’, not that this should in any way deter you from visiting. Neither finished nor the first church to be built on these grounds, the idea to build a gothic cathedral came from Pope Clement IV. He proposed a monument made in the magnifient style of the Kingdom of France in 1264, but the first brick was not laid until 1272 by Archbishop Maruin. The choir was finished in 1332 but the rest of the building was never completed for many reasons not least of all financial. Finishing the building would have involved demolishing part of the city walls, so work stopped in 1340 and never resumed. The town survived an invasion by the Black Prince in 1355 as did much of the surrounding area.
On the outside, the structure is majestic with large flying buttresses. Inside, the height of the cathedral is amazing with some very impressive 14th century stained glass windows.
You can also visit the Horreum Romain – underground roman galleries thought to have served as a warehouse at the end of the first century BC.
Until the Middle Ages Narbonne was a prosperous city and port although the plague, war and a harbour that tended to become blocked by silt led to a down turn in the city’s prosperity.
Narbonne is a ‘Ville d’Art & Histoire‘; meaning it is classified as a city of art and history, due to its exceptional historical and cultural heritage. Each street in the historical centre gives witness to the richness of the city’s history, from Antiquity through the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, the 2500 years of history have left a rich cultural heritage which you will also find in the museums.
The Palais des Archevêques (the Archbishops Palace). This very imposing building includes various styles and is dominated by a large 13th century tower and two other medieval towers. There are actually two Palaces here: the Old Palace in the roman style of architecture, and the New Palace in the gothic style. The palace houses the Narbonne Town Hall as well as the Archaeology Museum and a Fine Arts Museum. Le Cour de la Madeleine, the old palace courtyard, is entered through a gateway, and the area is dominated by the Saint Theodard bell tower and the cathedral.
Narbo Via – the newly opened Narbo Via museum exhibits the riches of the ancient city of Narbo Martius, the first Roman colony founded in Gaul in 118 BCE. It’s also an archaeological research centre, with restoration workshops for ceramics and mosaics and a study room for the collections as well as for the archaeological furniture. It is located at the east entrance of the city by the canal.
Wine 🍷 – The local wine, Coteaux de Narbonne is IGP (Indication géopolitique protégée ), a wine classification that has replaced vin de pays (wine of the land), referring to its provenance. To be honest ‘local wine’ in France sometimes refers to an area so local that you can see it (from the restaurant terrace). A kilometre or two away and it has another name and is not considered the local wine. Most of the IGP Coteaux de Narbonne is red but there are also some whites and rosés. Most of the reds are made with classic Mediterranean grapes like Grenache and Carignan but there are also varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The main white varieties are Sauvignon Blanc and Charonnay. La Clape is another of the renowned local appellations. Needless to say, one simply must drink the local wines!
The Corbières to the south is an important wine from the area as are the Minervois and St-Chinian appellations, found to the north west heading towards the Black Mountains. All good choices when visiting Grand Narbonnais Mediterranée.
Wine making in this area developed in the 18th century with the construction of the port of Sète and the completion of the canal du Midi (known as the Canal de la Robine in Narbonne).
A serious crisis in winemaking at the beginning of the 20th century led to the Revolt of the Languedoc Winegrowers, a mass movement in 1907 sometimes known as the ‘paupers revolt’, or the Revolte du Midi, including winemakers from the Languedoc and Pyrenees Orientales.
Pont des Marchands is lined with restaurants, bars and cafés. It’s lively and pretty and most of the tourist sites are within walking distance.
Getting around – walking around the city is easy as everything is centred around the Pont Marchand near the place de l’Hotel de Ville. You can also bike ride along the canal. There is a market on Wednesdays on the Cours Mirabeau. This is also the main place to view the les nuits merveilleuses in Narbonne. During the summer, when it gets dark, there is a light show projecting images and telling the story of Narbonne. It’s free and short and it would be a shame to miss it. It runs for around five weeks from the the 10 July until 22 August.
🚌 – 🏖 Take the bus to the beach
During the summer months, if you don’t have a bike or a car, you can take the #8 bus to the beach. There is a bustop (les halles Vallières) just across the street from les Halles, the large indoor food market which is well worth a visit. It takes around fifteen minutes to reach Gruissan on the bus. There are two other summer beach buses going to Narbonne Plage and St. Pierre la Mer. You can also take the bus from the train station.
Outside of the city of Narbonne, in Grand Narbonnais Méditerranée, there are many places of interest to discover such as the Abbaye de Fontfroide , just fifteen minutes from town. A veritable treasure from the Middle Ages, this majestic abbey is surrounded by serene gardens.
Peyriac-de-Mer and Bages are two villages nearby to visit as you make your way through the Corbières wine region if you head south. Gruissan is a very pretty village on the sea with a charming setting less than ten minutes away by car. Heading towards Toulouse if you opt to take the no toll road you can discover the Minervois with plenty of pretty villages along the Canal du Midi.
I like to stay at the La Résidence, a super little hotel bang smack in the centre of town. Stylish, comfortable and perfectly located by the canal and tourism office. See http://www.hotelresidence.fr for info.
The culinary discovery of this trip was Gaïa, tapas and more in a lovely garden setting 2 minutes on foot from the centre of town. http://www.gaia-narbonne.fr for details
I hope that you have enjoyed this post about Narbonne. Follow me to keep up with me on my travels around Occitanie. A bientôt …………………. Christina.