Narbonne is an ancient town that has undergone many changes in ownership and influence in its 2000-year history. The Romans founded the town on the Via Domitia, the road that links northern Italy with Spain and which runs roughly along the route of what is now the A9. A genuine chunk of the Via Domitia can be easily seen in the centre of Narbonne where the main square in front of the Archbishops’ Palace has been excavated to reveal a tangle of large, flat stones.
The Romans came and went and the town passed to the Visigoths and thence fleetingly to the Moors. The town was later plundered by the Vikings but in the 9th century, it was decided that Narbonne needed to rediscover the lustre that it lost when the Romans abandoned it and so the great Abbaye de Fontfroide was built by the Cistercians and became one of the most powerful and wealthy religious centres in southern France. Consequently, when the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars took place in the early 13th century, Narbonne stood for the Catholic church, whereas most of the surrounding lords either supported, or were themselves part of, the Cathar cause. The Abbaye is still a beautiful place to visit, only 15km from Narbonne. Nowadays, it hosts a huge variety of events, including classical concerts, visits round its lovely gardens, and talks.
In the 20th century, Narbonne welcomed many Spanish families fleeing the Spanish Civil War, and later, the ‘Pieds Noirs’ - French colonialists who fled Algeria during the war of independence. Spanish surnames are very common throughout the Languedoc due to the numbers of people who resettled here in the late 1930’s.
The most spectacular building in the centre of Narbonne is the Archbishops’ Palace. After a couple of hours brushing up on your Narbonnais history, it will be time to head out into the town and enjoy a refreshing drink at one of the many cafés lining the main square. The kids will love exploring the exposed section of Via Domitia whilst you cool off in the shade a few yards away.
Then head off to Narbonne Plage where 5km of fine, Mediterranean sand await you. The water quality is such that it has been awarded the Pavillon Bleu — an assurance that the sea is clean for swimming.
Between the main town and the beach is a hilly, rocky area known as La Clape. This small but influential wine appellation is home to some very good wines. Try a dégustation and take a few bottles home with you to enjoy as the sun goes down.
For trips further afield, try Béziers or La Cité de Carcassonne, or even Spain — it’s only an hour away by car. If you want to try beaches that are smaller and rockier, head towards Collioure, a charming village perched right on the seafront with excellent seafood restaurants. For an African safari just half an hour away, visit Sigean African Nature Reserve where you will see lions, giraffes, wildebeest and many other animals in a natural setting by the salt lagoons.
Narbonne is steeped in history but there are loads of other things to do in and around the town so you can be sure there will always be something for all the family.
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