Narbonne City Guide
Narbonne, Languedoc's charming baby-city...
All in all, Narbonne is not a bad destination. True, it has none of the grandeur of Avignon or Carcassonne, but it’s still a pleasant place to wind up for a couple of days wandering around the old medieval core and its lively streets. Narbonne’s glory days though, when the town was the capital and steaming metropolis of the entire Languedoc region, are long gone and today the town is a compact and satisfying sort of a place that’s home to just 47,000 people. The local economy is based squarely on the wine industry making the most of the renowned nearby vineyards of Corbières. Narbonne also functions as a transportation crossroads: at the junction of the A9 and A61 motorways, it’s a doddle to reach from Toulouse, Barcelona and all points east along the Mediterranean.
Built by decree from Rome in 118 BC as a trading post along the newly constructed Via Dolmitia, Narbonne (then known as Narbo) grew to become the capital of the Roman province of Narbonensis and one of the most important cities in southern Gaul. Following the departure of the Romans, it became the capital of the Visigoths when they moved in during the sixth century. However, a series of disasters during the Middle Ages took their toll: dykes burst, the port silted up and the plague hit. Things only really improved during the mid-1800s when the railway arrived and the wine industry began to have success.
Narbonne’s Top 5:
- Archbishops’ Palace. On the northern side of the main square, the place de l’Hôtel de Ville, this Gothic wonder is now home to the town hall and a couple of Narbonne’s museums.
- Cathédrale de St-Just and St-Pasteur.This is the only Gothic cathedral in the Mediterranean that comes anywhere close to rivaling those in the north of France. However, it remains uncompleted because at the time of construction in the early 1300s it was considered too risky for defensive reasons to knock down the Roman defensive wall nearby. Hence, there’s no nave.
- Gruissan beach. Twenty kilometres south of Narbonne, the beach at Gruissan was used as the setting for the film, Betty Blue (known as 37.2 degres le matin in French). It’s here you’ll find the unusual beach huts on stilts that featured in some of the location shots.
- Horreum. Despite Narbonnne’s importance in Roman times, this former granary is the only building to survive from the period. In fact, until 1838 it remained undiscovered. Only when demolition work was underway hereabouts did the horreum reappear. Only a fraction of the original has been excavated and consists of a warren of tiny storage chambers.
- Patisserie Combot. At Rue de l’Ancien Courrier, this bakers is a Narbonne institution known for its gooey cakes and pastries – don’t leave town without trying their bouchons du Languedoc, coarse biscuits made of honey and almonds with generous helpings of pine nuts.