The area between Narbonne and Gruissan is home to an impressive natural site: the Massif de la Clape. This small limestone mountain chain, part of the Parc Naturel Régional de la Narbonnaise, overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and hosts some excellent hiking trails. One of my favourite hikes is the Notre Dame des Auzils Chapel trail. It combines a bit of culture- with the marine cemetery and the chapel- as well as the green setting of the la Clape natural site.
The Notre Dame des Auzils hiking trail starts in the parking lot just below the chapel (check here for a French map of the hike). It is a rather remote place, so just driving up here takes you through some stunning scenery. Last time I did this walk, I brought Chéri and the kids along. This meant that we had to begin by walking to the chapel via the more adventurous marine cemetery. Here, you walk passed 26 cenotaphs- the empty graves to honour the lost-at-sea sailors. Reading the inscriptions on the tombstones led to some wild imagined stories from the children. The Notre Dame des Auzils Chapel has been around for quite some time, since 1635. And even before that! In the 11th century, monks set up a convent on the site where they could come to pray.
As the chapel was visible from far out at sea, the local fishermen felt like the Notre Dame des Auzils was watching over them. If you have the chance, it is definitely worth having a peek inside the church, with its sea-themed decorations and paintings. To continue the hike, you have to take the stairs on the left of the chapel and turn right once above where there is a sign. It says: ‘la Clape, secteur la Chapelle’ with a walking person next to it, and that’s the direction we followed. Shortly afterwards, you have to pay attention not to miss the yellow labelled path on your left. From here, you will regularly find the yellow stripes to guide you. The first part of the hike leads you through a rocky landscape, with a gravel path, soon to be alternated with the typical Southern French scrubland called garrigue.
As we started our hike at the end of the morning, we wanted to look for a picnic spot in the shade before reaching the plateau of the Notre Dame. I had brought some local sausage and the first cherries of the year, so we enjoyed a royal lunch. After this re-energising food, we were ready to continue on our path. Garrigue once again replaced the shade-bringing trees, which made room for the plateau overlooking the beautiful la Clape area. On one side we saw the shimmering blue sea of the Mediterranean, while the other side treated us to a panorama of Narbonne and the lagoons.
Descending from the plateau, the route gets a bit tricky. The descent led to a T-junction with more of a road than a path. There we found the same sign as at the top near the chapel (the ‘la Clape, secteur La Chapelle’ one) and no more yellow signs. So, we decided to follow the sign and turned right on the T-junction. It gave us another wonderful view of the Med and the seaside resorts of Narbonne-Plage and Gruissan. Man high yellow flowers stood along the way, almost like a cheering crowd that encouraged us to finish the last few kilometres. So we did! Returning to the parking lot of the chapel we felt boosted with new energy from this gasp of fresh air.