Narbonne – While its status today has lessened considerably, Narbonne is still a vital link by road and rail for those traveling in the region. A tremendous boost has come from the wine industry and the tourists who come for the sea, sunshine, food, culture and more. Despite the fact that it is larger than Carcassonne, Narbonne has a leisurely, festive atmosphere.
The Canal de la Robine runs through the heart of Narbonne and connects to The Canal du Midi. Boats full of tourists stop to spend the day and it is a lovely backdrop for dining at a waterside cafe or shopping. Les Halles a large covered market was opened in 1901, is packed with vendors of local produce, wines, cheeses, baskets of spices, vats of olives and anything one could desire for a meal or picnic. There are also open air markets on Thursday and Sunday mornings and a Bio (organic) market every Saturday morning.
Places to visit:
Cathedral. The medieval Cathedral of Saint-Just with its 40m-high apse and choir making it the third tallest Gothic structure in France. The reredos, which had been hidden for 250 years, was restored and put on display in March 2000. You can climb the 251 steps of the north tower for a view over the rooftops of Narbonne. On a clear day you can see the Pic du Canigou in the Pyrenees from here. The Cathedral treasury contains two fine Flemish tapestries of the early 16th century. (More below)
The Basilique de St. Paul, the oldest Christian building in Gaul, is also worth a visit.
Palais des Archêveques (Archbishop’s palace). Three square towers of the fortified Palais date from the 13th and 14th centuries. The Gothic-style town hall was added to the palace in the 19th century. The building now houses two museums containing collections of Roman artefacts, paintings, and ceramics.
Roman ruins. Including L’Horreum the only extant Roman building. . Roman underground merchants’ warehouses.
Basilica of Saint-Paul-Serge. Mainly 12th century. An example of southern French early Gothic architecture.
Archaeological Museums. The Musée Archéologique is housed in the Archbishop’s Palace, restored by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, the architect responsible for the restoration of the fortifications of Carcassonne. The museum has a large collection of statuary, pottery, and examples of Roman wall paintings and mosaics from excavations in the city.
Musée Lapidaire. Stone Museum – an impressive collection of Roman stones from around Narbonne, housed in an empty church.
The Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, next door to the Archaeological Museum, has a collection which includes Dutch, Flemish and Italian paintings, and some 18th century French painted ceramics.
Via Domitia. Recently, work in the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, the main square, uncovered part of the Roman road, the Domitian Way (Via Domitia). This has been conserved and is now open to view.
La Poudrerie, a 17th-century powder house, has been converted into a museum of winemaking.
A pleasant way to see the surrounding countryside is to take a cruise along the canal, either to the coast (at Port-la-Nouvelle), or inland (to Le Somail on the Canal du Midi. You can join a boat which leaves from the Pont des Marchands; originally a Roman bridge carrying the Via Domitia into the port, it is now lined with medieval buildings housing small shops.
For more information, visit the tourist office in the Place Salengro, behind the cathedral (Tel. 04 68 65 15 60; fax 04 68 65 59 12).
Narbonne lies on the Canal de la Robine, an extension to the Canal du Midi, built by Pierre-Paul Riquet a notable Languedoc resident. The Canal is popular for boating holidays and through France’s extensive canal network provides a way to get to the Languedoc from the Atlantic Ocean, Northern France and Mediterranean Sea.
The annual Braderie
Each summer, at the beginning of August, the braderie gathers in the town center, a large fair and a massive wholesale (stock clearance) of all the shops of the town center, joined by some 300 stallholders. If you shop until you are ready to drop, this is also the place to be revived!