Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Narbonne and there-abouts

We love the Languedoc & Roussillon region of France. It was our first introduction to our travels to France. Sue's sister suggested that we needed to stay at Saint Chinian and she wasn't wrong. She and her husband stayed there previously and even put us in touch with Anthony and Andreas who organise stays in the region.
Today's trip wasn't meant to be a big day but that's the way it turned out. We had a few "don't miss spots" on our day out.
Oppidium D'Enserune (a pre-Roman settlement) that nestles above the Canal du Midi , Narbonne and Lagrasse, a sleeply little village that offered a memory that still instills a little chuckle in me due to a certain encounter.
But more about that one a little later.

Boats on the Canal du Midi taken from the bridge at Capestang.

On the banks of Canal du Midi looking under the ancient bridge.

Looking from the bridge, towards the village of Capestang. This village was on the route of Via Domitia, the first Roman road built in Gaul travelling from Rome to Spain.
We travelled through a town that we drove by on our way to Carcassonne two years before. This time we stopped to enjoy its serene atmosphere - Capestang sits on the Canal du Midi. Barges, boats flow under the bridge while ducks frolic near the edges of the canal. Looking towards the village a church/cathedral rises above the village homes. Capestang is on the route of the ancient Roman Via Domitia, the road that ran from Rome to Spain. We didn't know this as we lingered on the banks of the Canal du Midi while Sue salivated over the frolicking ducks.

Capestang is on the way to to Oppidium D'Eserune, which we wanted to visit. Its situated on the highest ridge within the district and you feel as if you are on top of the world. The early settlement dates back to more than 2500 years and later came under control of both the Romans and Hannibal. As luck had it, we turned up just as they were closing for lunch but it didn't stop us from fossicking around the hillside and admiring the view.

Some early settlement can be seen on the site of Oppidium D'Eserune.

The site was inhabited as early as 600 BC.

Looking down from Oppidium D'Ensebrune you see this cartwheel of fields that was a reclaimed waterland during the 13th Century. Quite an amazing site that can't be appreciated from ground level.
 It was definitely lunchtime so we moved on the Narbonne. We entered the city with a population of near 50,000. That's my sort of city, not too crowded and easy to manage. Parking was easy despite that we had entered on market day. It was held on the parkland beside the Canal de la Robine. Lunch was at a Cafe on the corner of Rue Gambetta and Cours de la Republique overlooking the canal. We don't remember much about lunch but the view and atmosphere of Narbonne on market day is to be remembered. It deserves more that a visit of several hours.
After lunch, we wandered over to le Halle, the covered market place and then to the former Abbey-Church which is now a Lapidary Museum - well the outside was impressive....

A close up of Narbonne's market Halle

Cheeses are my favourite, my passion, my downfall - two cholesterol tablets tonight please.
Walking down the canal passing what seemed to be a very French inspired McDonald's we discovered the Arch Bishop's Palace where a portion of a recent discovery of the Roman Via Domitia was uncovered. I couldn't believe that I could walk down and on to this piece of ancient history.
Further around through small passages was the Cathedrale de St-Just et St Pasteur - It amazed me, the architecture, stone masonry - gargoyles, it is magnificent.
As we walked through the old town towards the car, it was time to move on.

A small section of the ancient Roman road in Narbonne.
 Lagrasse is the largest and from our travels, the most picturesque village in the Corbieres region, although there are still many that we are yet to visit. We decided it was the place to stop for an sunny afternoon refreshment. We parked the Citroen and walked back up to the several cafes and restaurants in the main street and so rested our feet. While sitting there we were invaded by a group of Lycra clad cyclists who arrived for a refreshing ale. These were my sort of people. I asked if one of the group would take our picture and learnt that they were from Belgium.

Scenes from Lagrasse.

A sunny afternoon, a glass of wine and a group of cyclists to take our photo.
 One of them said he was from the same village as Tom Boonan,  a recent past world champion. Not wanting to boast too much I mentioned that I was from the same village as Stuart O'Grady (Paris Roubaix winner) and Cadel Evans (World Champion and TdF podium cyclist). I told him that Australia was a very large village. It was a nice meeting with some very nice people and probably the highlight of my day. I think Sue enjoyed the humour of the encounter as well.

With the weather being quite balmy, we returned to Saint Chinian for dinner and a chilled Rose before going to bed with the knowledge that we would be moving on to our next Destination. We had arranged two nights in Albi, home to Toulouse Lautrec and the great naval Officer and explorer that may have colonised Australia  for the French, Laperouse. Had it not been for the English arriving first by days, Australia may have been quite a different place.


  1. Fantastic photos, and yes cheese is my big downfall as well!!
    I like the large village LOL. Diane

  2. Happy memories for us as well, love that part of France and is an area we would not have minded living had we chosen France.

  3. Diane - From around this time on the trip, the photos are mostly ours. You might remember I posted that some earlier ones have been deleted and lost forever.

    LLM - With so many great places in Italy and France, how do you choose a place to live - sometimes you find that a place chooses you and just feels right.

  4. It seems that you might know more about France that most people. You take the time and actually stay for a while, instead of "clicking time".
    My son and I visited Enserune 2 years ago. I have the same pictures as yours.

  5. Nadege, I guess the guided tour in a busload of other tourists has not been our thing. We sort of like the surprises that come your way with a flexible timetable. Plenty more of "Wednesdays in France" to come yet.

  6. Absolutely, there are so many places we would be happy to call home, but somehow we ended up here, for now anyway :)

  7. Just came across this page by accident. By a very strange coincidence we arrived in Saint Chinian on 14 March 2011 but we are staying here for a full year (8 months down 4 to go). We are from Canberra and have gotten to be good friends with Anthony and Andreas (had lunch with Anthony at a local pub today). Also managed to make some very good friends with local French residents, not easy to do when your French is rudimentary but helps build up the language skills. It is a great village and a great start point for exploring the whole of southern France and northern Spain.
    Wayne and Sue Mitchell Canberra

  8. Wayne and Sue - what a great comment, love to hear more of your time at St Chinian. Do you have a blog.
    Keep in touch thru our blog every Wednesday with our travels thru France.
    Thanks for the visit.


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