Travelling by train to Bordeaux we had to stop in the lovely French town of Narbonne. We absorbed as much as we could with only 22 hours before our onward journey. We certainly were tempted to stay longer.
We were able to visit most of the recommended sites but it wasn’t at a frenzied pace. In fact we stopped for a leisurely glass of rosé wine and a cheese plate followed by a light and creative salad and salmon tartar that we shared. Ahh, the delicious french food!
Canal de la Robine
When we first set out to walk around Narbonne we were immediately captured by the picturesque canal that runs through the town. Called Canal de la Robine, it was built in the 18th century. A number of riverboats were moored along the edges of the waterway which reaches inland more than 150 km and links multiple little towns.
The second thing that caught our eye was Narbonne Cathedral! The building of the cathedral began in the 13th century on this astonishing Gothic Cathédrale Saint-Just et Saint-Pasteur.
After visiting so many churches in Spain we thought we were immune to the “next beautiful building” that stops you in your tracks as you round a corner. We were not prepared for, or expected, the beauty and immensity of this cathedral.
Although the cathedral was never entirely finished, (it was interrupted by the 100 years war) the architecture is impressive and authentic as very little has changed over the years.
The Archbishop’s Palace began as a simple residence, but eventually was built up to become this massive collection of connected buildings, with three towers, two palaces, a dungeon, gardens and multiple courtyards. Today the palaces house an Archaeology Museum and a History of Art Museum.
Treasures in this museum showcase the prehistoric and medieval past of the area. The most impressive display is what is claimed as the largest set of Roman paintings in France. Most of the frescoes were excavated from a nearby archaeological site and would have come from large wealthy estates and homes. We also saw statues, mosaics, columns and reliefs from buildings. Not surprising really, as we learned modern day Narbonne is built on top of the ancient Via Domitia Roman road.
Musee d’Art et Histoire
The former archbishops’ apartments today house the Museum of Art and History. There is quite an assemblage of art and ceramics from the 1600s through to the 1900s to browse through. Pieces that specifically caught our eye were some of the many Arab paintings of exotic scenes from the 19th century.
We always thought that prisoners were kept in the very top of the tower but this is not so. The very top, the roof, is reserved for soldiers on watch looking over the countryside from the battlements. And what a view they had. It was worth the climb up the 150 curved steps to see the beautiful views of the square, the Canal de la Robine, the town and the Pyrenees in the distance.
The room below the roof is where the soldiers kept weapons and materials and below that is the tower dungeon. Eight small rooms at each corner of the large central room. Today the main room and the cells are empty with the doors removed. The climb was fun but nothing other than the amazing view really presented a photo opportunity .
The large art nouveau-styled Central Market also caught our eye. It is just a few steps from both the canal and a pretty little walking bridge decorated with overflowing potted flowers. Always our favorite place in town, the market is filled with butchers, greengrocers, bakers, cheese shops, florists, fishmongers and more including a tempting variety of prepared foods. The energy is palpable.
Narbonne is absolutely worth a day or two visit. We haven’t been in France for a few years and we are so glad we chose this town to be reintroduced to the culture and stay overnight.