Ah, The South of France! This popular region known for its charming countryside and picturesque Mediterranean coasts is on the bucket list of many travelers. However, when most people think of the South of France, they probably think of Provence! Although it’s worth the hype, there are many other lovable regions in Southern France worth discovering. One of those regions is Occitanie, which combines the older regions of Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon. Here you can discover small villages, mountain wonders, gorgeous vineyards, seaside towns, and more.
On my trips to Toulouse, Montpellier, and even Paris, my train would either stop or pass through the town of Narbonne. A few months ago, I decided to make Narbonne my destination instead of a connection. Come along with me and discover what there is to do during a day trip to this Southern French town known for being a former maritime port, its links with Roman History, and birthplace of beloved French singer, Charles Trenet!
When I stepped out of the train station, I did not know what to expect. I hadn’t done any research before hopping on the train so I was left to discover the city without any preconceived notions. Since it was a Sunday, I thought there might not be much to do. I figured I would just walk around and see if there were any museums open. I was instantly charmed by the quaint buildings and the little canal that passed through the town, the Canal de la Robine. Even if nothing was open, I would have been content just walking around, enjoying the tiny little streets.
After walking around for a bit, I stumbled upon Les Halles, the covered market. When I entered I was taken aback by how many people were there. No wonder the streets were empty, everyone was at the market! The sights, smells, people to watch, and local products to discover are many reasons why I love markets. I even made conversation with an older man who couldn’t find his wife in all the hustle and bustle. I didn’t do much shopping since I was there just to visit, but I did walk out of there with a macaron à l’ancienne, which is a more rustic version of a macaron without the frosting in the middle. It wasn’t as pretty as a standard macaron, but the almond flavor was heavenly and it felt like I was actually eating a cookie.
Palais Neuf et parcours d’art
Once you hit the the old town, you will notice the cathedral and the Palais des Archevêques, once an archbishop’s palace, now an art and history museum/archeological site. You can choose to buy a ticket to visit each part of the museum, or a discounted ticket (around 10€) that will allow you to visit all parts of the museum as well other sites around town. Before lunch, I admired the art in the Palais Neuf. The exhibits that stuck out the most were the 18th century ceramic collection and my favorite exhibit, the “orientaliste” paintings.
Ancient Ruins and Sunny Terraces
The Museum was closing at noon for lunch so I decided to head back outside to find a place to eat. After doing a quick google search, I found La Fringale , which had a tasty looking menu with vegetarian options. Unfortunately it was packed, so I was turned away. If you want to eat here, I would suggest making a reservation! Walking around looking for more restaurants, I found myself back in the city center in the place de l’hôtel de ville. In the middle of this grand square there seemed to be some kind of hole in the ground. Maybe an ancient ruin? I thought to myself. What I stumbled upon, right in the middle of Narbonne are the remains of the Via Domitia, which is the first Roman road built in ancient Gaul, meant to connect Italy to Spain. Today it’s a landmark that kids play on and tourists photograph.
After admiring the piece of ancient road, I settled on a restaurant with a sunny terrace. I had a veggie burger, which wasn’t spectacular, but I enjoyed my lunch simply because I could enjoy the weather and people watch in the square.
Cathedrals and More
Even though I could have spent all day lounging on the terrace with a café and book or a glass of rosé and a journal, I reluctantly got up to check out the cathedral. After living in France for three years now, I can honestly say I’m a little bit tired of seeing cathedrals. However, they are often free to visit, so I go anyway. Dating back to 1272, the Narbonne Cathédrale’s gothic architecture is quite spectacular however and interesting enough it’s unfinished like another famous cathedral I know.
Following my visit inside the cathedral, I headed back to the palace to visit the donjon, not to be confused with dungeon in English – this word actually means keep! Once you climb up this tower, you will have a splendid view of the cathedral and the rest of the town. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip because I love a good view and a photo op!
Maison Natale de Charles Trenet
A little closer to the train station you will find the childhood home of Charles Trenet, singer and songwriter known for his hits such as La Mer and Y’a de la joie. You might recognize the song La Mer (The Sea), which was supposedly inspired by a train ride from Perpignan to Montpellier along the coast. I can attest that this is a lovely ride and if you look closely you might even see some flamingos wading in the water! Inside the house you can learn about Trenet’s life, his songs, and even do some karaoke.
The last stop on this day drip was the Horreum romain, a kind of ancient Roman warehouse. Thought to have been underneath a market, now destroyed, these tunnels were thought to have been used to store food-related goods. There isn’t much to see here besides the tunnels, which are well preserved, but if you like history and architecture, this could be interesting for you!
Thanks for coming along on this day trip with me! Let me know in the comments what you would most want to do in Narbonne!
À la prochaine,
Want to practice your French? Try singing along to La Mer and fill in the blanks and learning some vocab!
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