Narbonne is a lively, medium-sized town in the South of France which claims to have 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. That shouldn’t be your only reason to visit this lovely town though, as you can easily spend a day happily roaming the historic streets. Every street corner reveals interesting remnants of its 2,500 years of history. And all this at a leisurely, walkable distance.
It’s always a pleasure visiting charming Narbonne. Coming from the A9 highway, I usually enter the town via the Quai Victor Hugo where you can find free parking, if you are lucky. Crossing the Pont de la Liberté gives you a postcard-view of Narbonne. From here, I can see the Palais des Archevêques peeking above the plane trees and the colourful houses on the Pont des Marchands reflecting in the Canal de la Robine. On the left of this canal is Narbonne’s famous covered market, simply called ‘Les Halles‘. This Baltard-style cast-iron building is a must-visit for foodies, and has been since 1901!
Palais des Archevêques
Walking toward the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville by following the Cours de la République will reveal the imposing Palais des Archevêques step by step. This view still impresses me after all these years of visiting Narbonne. The Archbishop’s Palace forms, together with the cathedral, the medieval heart of Narbonne and now hosts the town hall and a museum. Founded in 118 BC, Narbonne was the first Roman colony outside of Italy. An important vestige of this ancient civilisation is still visible in the middle of the square: La Via Domitia. This isn’t just a collection of stones but the Roman road which connected Italy’s Rome with Cadiz in Spain. It is also my prefered spot to enjoy an ice cream.
Saint-Just et Saint-Pasteur Cathedral
The Passage de l’Ancre, a most charming cobblestoned alley between the old and new palaces (Le Palais Vieux and Le Palais Neuf), brings me to the vaulted cloister of the Saint-Just et Saint-Pasteur Cathedral. This inner garden offers some welcoming shadow while admiring the many gargoyles. Since the 4th century, several religious buildings have been built on this spot. However, it wasn’t until the 13th century that the construction of today’s cathedral began. This overambitious, medieval project was never completed though, which means it has no nave. This was mainly due to defensive reasons and misfortune, like lack of resources and the plague, which spread to Narbonne in the 14th century.
Jardin de l’Archevêché
You can visit the vaulted cloister and admire the cathedral from the inside most days, with opening hours from 10h00 to 17h45. One tip: it is worth walking around the cathedral (via the Rue Droite and Rue Armand Gauthier) to find a small, but serene garden along the Rue Gustave Fabre. I only recently discovered this garden, called Le Jardin de l’Archevêché. And if you go up to the terrace of the garden, you will find a hidden selfie spot, right on the giant public bench. This ‘Banc Public’ was created by Lilian Bourgeat for the In Situ 2014 festival, in order to reactivate your senses. A nice place to pause a moment and reflect on my visit to Narbonne.