We’ve already explained it in this blog. The first half of 2019 has been very intensive for us (with a move, our wedding and our honeymoon!), but fortunately at the end of February we could save a weekend for a French winter break. 🙂 The south of France has a lot of interesting sites and the best thing is that we can reach them with a few hours driving from Barcelona.
This was Dídac’s first visit to Narbonne, but I (Laura) had already been there some years ago. At that time, I didn’t have the chance to visit the Abbey of Fontfroide, a Cistercian monastery that has been a reference for some other monasteries in the south of Europe. We love monastic architecture, so we couldn’t wait to visit the area.
So one Friday after coming back from work we took our car and drove towards Perpignan and Narbonne. Narbonne is not a big city, it only has around 50,000 inhabitants and a really friendly atmosphere. However, Narbonne’s history is quite long. Due to its convenient location, Romans established there in 118 aC, founding their first settlement out of Italy, Narbo Martius. It was later the capital of the Gallia Narbonensis province.
Romans, Visigoths, Jewish and even Arabians have lived in Narbonne since its foundation. Let’s see what we, XXI century visitors, will find there.
1. Cathédrale Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur
Together with Palais des Archevêques, the Cathedral dominates the skyline of Narbonne. It is amazing inside and outside. The history of this religious site is quite long, since a Constantinian basilica was erected there in 313. However, the construction of the current Gothic temple started in the XIII century.
The choir was finished in 1332, but the remaining parts of the building were never completed. It was due to financial constrains and also because the plans required the partial demolition of the town wall, which was not allowed by the council. This is why now we find a misterious half finished building.
Entrance to the Cathedral and its cloister is free, but a ticket needs to be bought to enter the Treasure room, also known as acoustic hall. If you speak to the wall, a person standing in the diagonally opposite side will perfectly hear you.
2. Palais des Archevêques
Jointly with the tickets to the Cathedral’s Treasure, you can also buy the tickets to Palais des Archêveques (Archbishops’ Palace), which is formed by a new palace and an ancient palace of Roman origin. The palace was at the same time a residence and a fortress. Nowadays it constitutes a monumental complex that is home to the city hall and two museums.
In front of the Palace, in the city hall square, you will find the remains of the Via Domitia, a Roman road that was built to link Italy with the Iberian Peninsula.
3. Les Halles de Narbonne
Les Halles is a market, nothing more and nothing less. But what a market! Placed just next to the Robine channel, its façade makes it one of the most beautiful markets in France.
Les Halles are open 365 days in the morning (from 7h to 14h) and the area is specially vibrant on Sundays.
In Les Halles you can find bars, restaurants and all kind of stores where you can buy regional products such as cheese, sausages and honey. Edible souvenirs are the best ones.
4. Canal de la Robine
This channel is the heart of Narbonne and crosses over the city centre. It is a former passage of the Aude river. Canal de la Robine is a lateral branch of Canal du Midi (thus, a World Heritage site) which allows the connection of the Aude river to the Mediterranean sea.
The beautiful bridge called “Pont des Marchands” (Merchant’s Bridge) stands over the channel and gives us one of the most distinguishing pictures of Narbonne. It was constructed by Romans in the 1st century. At that time, it had six arches but now the bridge has a sole arch that is 15 metres long. Houses and shops still remain over the bridge.
5. Les Grands Buffets
While in Les Halles you can buy food and bring it back home, in Les Grands Buffets you can enjoy a two-hour culinary journey across Occitania. Yes, it is only a buffet restaurant, but it has become a tourist attraction itself. In fact, Les Grands Buffets are really crowded at the weekend so you need to book your table quite in advance through their website.
Eating in Les Grands Buffets is an experience itself. They officially have the largest cheese selection in a restaurant (111 kinds of cheese!). Of course we couldn’t taste all of them because we also ate seafood, foie gras, steak tartar and much more. Apart from the buffet, there is a meat section where they prepare anything you want straight away.
Drinks are not included in the buffet price, although they have a good offer of wine bottles.
And, last but not least, the Abbey of Fontfroide is located just 14 km driving from Narbonne. It is one of the most beautiful monasteries we’ve visited so far. We expect to write soon about our visit to Frontfroide and its winemaking industry!