Narbonne in the Aude department, in Occitanie, southern France is a lively, medium-sized town. It’s also very sunny with around 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. That shouldn’t be your only reason to visit this lovely town though, as you can easily spend a day happily roaming the historic streets. Every street corner seems to reveal interesting remnants of its 2,500 years of history and everything is within walkable distance. And it’s just 15km from the Mediterranean sea.
If you visit Narbonne via the A9 highway, you’ll enter the town via the Quai Victor Hugo where there is free parking. Crossing the Pont de la Liberté gives you a postcard-view of Narbonne. From here, the Palais des Archevêques can be seen peeking above the plane trees and the colourful houses on the Pont des Marchands reflected in the Canal de la Robine. On the left of this canal is Narbonne’s famous covered market ‘Les Halles’. Since 1901, this Baltard-style cast-iron building has been a must-visit for foodies.
Palais des Archevêques
Walking toward the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville by following the Cours de la République will reveal the imposing Palais des Archevêques step by step. The Archbishop’s Palace forms, together with the cathedral, the medieval heart of Narbonne and now hosts the town hall and a museum.
You can visit the museum inside the Palais des Archevêques daily from June to September. During the other months it is closed on Tuesdays. Buying a ticket also gives you access to the 13th century Donjon Gilles Aycelin, the tower on the left if you are standing facing the palace. From the top you’ll have great views over the city.
Founded in 118 BC, Narbonne was the first Roman colony outside of Italy. An important vestige of this ancient civilisation is still visible in the middle of the square: La Via Domitia. This was the original Roman road which connected Italy’s Rome with Cadiz in Spain. It is also a great spot to enjoy an ice cream.
Saint-Just et Saint-Pasteur Cathedral
The Passage de l’Ancre, a most charming cobblestoned alley between the old and new palaces (Le Palais Vieux and Le Palais Neuf), brings you to the vaulted cloister of the Saint-Just et Saint-Pasteur Cathedral. This inner garden offers some welcoming shadow while admiring the many gargoyles.
Since the 4th century, several religious buildings have been built on this spot. However, it wasn’t until the 13th century that the construction of today’s cathedral began. This overambitious, medieval project was never completed though, which means it has no nave. This was mainly due to defensive reasons and misfortune, like lack of resources and the plague, which spread to Narbonne in the 14th century.
Jardin de l’Archevêché
You can visit the vaulted cloister and admire the cathedral from the inside most days
Tip: It’s worth walking around the cathedral (via the Rue Droite and Rue Armand Gauthier). Here, you will find a small, but serene garden along the Rue Gustave Fabre, called Le Jardin de l’Archevêché. And if you go up to the terrace of the garden, you will find a hidden selfie spot, right on the giant public bench. This ‘Banc Public’ was created by Lilian Bourgeat for the In Situ 2014 festival.
Tip: When it comes to parking, if you’re lucky you may find a spot at the free parking lot just before arriving in Narbonne (on Quai Victor Hugo). If you don’t find a place here, you can drive further along Quai Victor Hugo for paid parking or try the Cours Mirabeau parking lot (paid as well).
Office de Tourisme www.narbonne-tourisme.com
By La Ramoneta, who lives between Montpellier and Perpignan. Find out more about the South of France on her blog www.laramoneta.com