Narbonne, formerly known as “Narbo”, was a Roman settlement on Via Domitia that made its fortune from maritime trade through its natural harbour.
You can experience the splendor of the Roman mansion of Norbor in the Archbishop’s Palace, where frescoes recovered from ancient villas constitute the largest collection of Roman paintings in France.
The medieval palaces that contain them are a showcase for Narbonne, and the clutter of towers, halls and courtyards conveys the city’s changing fortunes.
This lucrative harbour was silted up in the Middle Ages, but Narbonne adapted to the Canal de la Robine, a green belt flanked by historic bridges and elegant boulevards that connects it to the Canal du Midi.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Narbonne:
1. Fontfroide Abbey
Founded in 1093 on land granted to Benedictine monks by the Viscount Narbonne, this abbey’s history really begins in 1145, when it was affiliated with the Cistercian order.
This makes it one of a string of Cistercian monasteries in the region and a satellite of the Catalan Poblet Monastery.
During the bloody crusades in the region in the 13th century, the monastery was an important base for Catholic orthodoxy.
When you come here, you’ll be amazed at how well Romanesque and Gothic buildings have survived, such as churches, cloisters, and quarters for ordinary clergy.
Located in the Corbières Massif, Fontfroide Abbey is famous for its wines, which you can taste at the end of the tour.
2. Archbishop’s Palace
Just in front of this monument in the Plaza de la Ville, there are steps leading to an exposed fragment of Domitia’s Roma Road, which runs through Narbonne and connects Cadiz in Spain with Rome, across modern southern France.
The Archbishop’s Palace started as a simple bishop’s residence, but later developed into a sprawling complex consisting of three towers and a Romanesque “Old Palace” and a Gothic “New Palace”. Go in and learn about medieval intrigue and politics, visit museums, climb the castle and try not to get lost in the courtyards and gardens.
3. Archaeological Museum
The first of two museums at the Archbishop’s Palace presents the city’s medieval, ancient and prehistoric history through 12 fascinating rooms.
The Gallo-Roman era takes center stage and is known as the largest collection of Roman paintings in France.
These frescoes will adorn the luxury villa and have been restored from the Close de la Lombarde archaeological site.
They are painstakingly installed on the walls against useful backdrops that suggest all the missing elements.
There are also mosaics, as well as evocative marble statues, columns, reliefs from buildings and milestones on the Via Domitia Roman road that runs through modern Narbonne.
4. Museum of Art and History
In the Archbishop’s 17th-century apartment there is another museum of the palace: the Museum of Art and History, which invites you to marvel at the richness of these interiors, while also browsing the vast collection of art and ceramics from the 1600s to the 1900s.
Much of the fun lies in the diversity of the collections; you’ll stumble across three large cabinets with potion jars marked from the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as an oriental room with a replica of the Mosque of Cordoba and 125 exotic paintings Atmospheric paintings, such as a 19th-century Arabian souk.
5. Gilles Aycelin Donjon
At the turn of the 14th century, Archbishop Gilles Aycelin fortified the palace with a four-story castle that continued to occupy the western side of the complex.
This is a minor attraction, but worth it if you have a multiple pass to the Narbonne museum.
The stairs to the top battlements are for the down-to-earth, with 64 steps, must have been designed for little medieval feet.
Bask in the sun and be amazed by the views of the Corbières Massif, the Clape Massif and the Pyrenees.
You can also overlook Narbonne and see the green ribbon of the Canal de la Robine, which passes under the Pont de la Marchand.
6. Narbonne Cathedral
This tall 14th-century Gothic cathedral is unfinished, which only gives it more character: the transept (the cathedral’s “weapon”) was never added, as doing so would have meant removing the city from the city as war ravaged France. Remove stones from fortifications.
What’s built is not only impressive, but also very consistent in style as nothing has changed.
Marvel at the ribbed vaults above the choir, find terracotta sculptures from the tomb in the Saint-Etienne church from the early 1500s, and explore the cloister with two columns from the Roman Forum of Narbonne.
In the treasury above the Church of the Annunciation, there are various medieval liturgical arts, like tapestries woven from silk and gilt in the 1400s.
7. Rapiddale Museum
The former abbey of Notre-Dame de Lamourguier was built in the 13th century and is now the stately home of one of the largest gem factories in Europe.
There are 1,300 stones in total, and each one is an interesting clue about the city’s distant past.
To illustrate this, there is a shrine and lintel belonging to the 4th century Cathedral of Constantine, on the site of the Cathedral of Narbonne.
The museum was established in the 1800s after the walls were demolished; these walls contained many Roman marbles from tombstones and sarcophagi, where the best works were brought.
8. Grusan Beach
In a few minutes you’ll be relaxing on the sand, and the good news is that the closest beach to Narbonne is also one of the best in the region.
Gruissan Plage is a wide sandy beach adjoining a resort community with no towers or overdevelopment. There are several places to have lunch or a snack, and lifeguards patrol the beach throughout the summer.
Almost stranded by salt marshes and oyster farms, the town of Gruissan is guarded only by the 13th century Tour Barberousse on an isolated outcrop.
9. Horreum Romain
The only Roman building to visit in Narbonne, the Horreum is a 1st century network of underground galleries served by corridors.
They will be used for storage under the warehouse (horreum), and amphorae stacked here and there help you imagine what it was like 2000 years ago, while the sound effects create the atmosphere of the market.
In the niches between the galleries there are small artworks from Nalbo, including carved marble bull heads, fragments of statues, reliefs and faint frescoes depicting games in the amphitheatre.
10. Maison Natale Charles Trenet
For the uninitiated, Charles Trenet was a singer with a huge career from the 1930s to the 90s, during which time he was known for recording only the songs he wrote, making him a trendsetter.
One of his most famous songs was 1945’s “La Mer,” which was adapted into English as “Beyond the Sea,” which has since been covered by hundreds of artists.
Trenet was born in 1913 in the apartment at number 13, which was later named Charles Trenet Avenue.
There is a statue of the artist in front, and the interior is decorated with many of his belongings, including a transistor radio and a grand piano, as well as manuscripts of several of his songs.
11. La Robin Canal
After Pierre-Paul Riquet’s huge Canal du Midi opened up trade routes to southwest France in the 17th century, Narbonne also got a share of the 18th century Canal de la Robine.
This is connected to the Canal de Jonction, which in turn is connected to the Canal du Midi at the Écluse de Cesse, a few kilometers north of Narbonne, thus connecting the city to the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of kilometers away.
Rent an electric boat, cycle or stroll and witness some 18th-century engineering, flower-decorated bridges and a proud row of plane trees along the shore.
12. Marchand Bridge
An unforgettable and picturesque spot on the Robin Canal is the Pont des Marchands, an arched bridge with houses along it.
The bridge was built for the Via Domitia in Roman times, and this is where the complex history of the Aude needs to be explained, as the river once flowed under this bridge, but was diverted after a flood in the 1300s.
The canal simply utilizes the original riverbed.
People who live in beautiful houses on the water have the privilege of occupying one of the only inhabited bridges in France.
Massif de la Clape is a pristine natural buffer zone between Narbonne and the Mediterranean, covering 15,000 hectares, it was actually an island in Phoenician times.
A typical landscape of La Clape is the vineyard, surrounded by exposed limestone ridges, with evergreen forest at the base.
Cycling and walking among the Mediterranean scrub and the refreshing woodlands of stone pine, cypress and red oak, or visit the many wineries in these mountains.
These make wines for AOC, Coteaux du Languedoc and Corbières, often blending Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah grapes to make red wines.
14. The Great Hall
Narbonne’s central market is located in a beautiful Art Nouveau hall just a few steps from the Canal de la Robine.
It was built in 1901 when they ran out of rooms in front of the Hôtel de Ville in Place aux Herbes.
Open daily from 07:00 to 13:00, there are 70 stalls, butchers, greengrocers, bakeries, farmhouses, florists, fishmongers and more selling the best Aude has to offer.
If you love food, it’s easy to get off track and rave about artisanal olive oils, spices, jams, Luke’s olives, vinegar, and honey.
Then, as lunch nears and business begins to wind down, take a seat at restaurants like Chez Bebelle, which has meat straight from its own butcher counter and horse meat on the menu.
The wild vegetation around Narbonne, in areas such as Corbières and La Clape, is called “garrigue”. This is a Mediterranean bush with wild herbs such as thyme, lavender and rosemary, the nectar of these plants makes honey that was voted the best honey in the world by the Romans.
Amazingly, because the flowers bloom at different times of the year, honey can have different flavors depending on the season.
As mentioned earlier, the slightly elongated shape of the lucques olive is a delicious local specialty.
Finally, the Aude department is cassoulet-central, where a rich and delicious pork and bean casserole is the first thing you must try.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Narbonne, France
Lowest Price Guarantee