Category Archives: Occitanie

Narbonne, City at the Crossroads, Episode 163

Narbonne, City at the Crossroads

Narbonne City at the Crossroads

Narbonne is a city at the crossroads due to its geographical location in France.  But we think it’s a great place to visit, especially if you are looking for a lovely beach city at a reasonable cost.

If you’re interested in Narbonne, you should also listen to Episode 117, a Detour into Catalonia and Episode 105 about nearby Montpellier, and Episode 107 about The Best of Sète, also a favorite in this wonderful area of my region: Occitanie.
French Tip of the Week [62:45] Ma carte ne marche pas, je ne sais pas pourquoi. My credit card isn’t working, I don’t know why.
Places Mentioned in this Episode: Narbonne, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Canal de la Robine, Via Domitia, Narbonne Horreum, the Archbishop’s Palace, Abbey de Fontfroide, le Pont des Marchands, the unfortunate Cathedral of Beauvais, Massif de la Clape, Gruissan, Port-la-Nouvelle, Baltar-style covered markets.
Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

[00:00] About this podcast, host, and how you can participate.

[03:00] In today’s episode, I bring you a conversation with Elyse about Narbonne, a city that doesn’t get a lot of love, yet has been at the crossroads since ancient times. If you’ve ever crossed France north to south, chances are you at least drove past Narbonne. And that’s the problem with this city: most people pass by and don’t stop. But maybe they should, as explained by Elyse on today’s episode.

[04:00] Narbonne is a place that a lot of people go through (major train station and freeway hub), but rarely stop. Other cities nearby get a lot more tourism, for instance Nîmes,  Béziers, Pézenas, or especially Carcassonne.

[06:30] We think we need to talk about Narbonne because it’s a major historical center. There are 52,000 people there today and the old city center is very interesting to visit, and of course it’s a beach town.

[07:30] Narbonne is one of the sunniest cities in France and well off the beaten track. Narbonne has not been able to turn itself into a destination but has remained a pass-through city. The beaches nearby are a destination especially for French vacationers. No mistral wind here but rather the tramontane wind.

[08:40] The population of Narbonne has been growing because a lot of retirees want more sunshine and there’s plenty of it there. Also, and this is going to sound counter-intuitive to people who don’t live in France, but people who live in Paris can’t wait to get out of Paris.

[10:40] Narbonne is a city at the crossroads, many people have heard of it, but most would be hard-pressed to tell you what’s there.

  • Great city center with Roman and Medieval history
  • Canal de la Robine (a section of the Canal du Midi)

[12:12] Narbonne is the first city the Romans established in Gaul with all the commerce that goes along with that. The 10th Roman Legion was established in Narbonne, so it was also an important military city. Then in 22 BC Narbonne becomes the capital of Gaul. The port of Narbonne was the second biggest port of the Roman empire 2000 years ago.

[18:16] After the 400s, just like the rest of France, there are a number of crazy groups that come through and take over, including the Visigoths  who stayed a little longer than most. Visigoths were pushed out by the Franks who stayed.

[20:22] In the 700s, the Moors from Andalusia take over Narbonne for 40 years. When the Moors took over, they did not force people to convert to Islam, they simply taxed non-Muslims. Narbonne became a place of great intellectual and philosophical activity. The Troubadours were really important in Narbonne.

[22:48] Vikings also got to Narbonne in 859 and they pillaged the area and left. Then we get into the bulk of the Middle Ages, the age of Monasteries and Churches. There are still a few Roman ruins that you can see in the center of Narbonne (some of the Via Domitia in front of the Archbishop’s Palace for instance), but most of what you see there is left from the Middle Ages.

[24:12] You can see a piece of well-preserved Via Domitia in Narbonne.  You can see the ruts for the wheels of the wagons and the rise which makes the curb and the walkway for pedestrians. This is the way Romans made their roads everywhere. You can also see some digs where they are working on excavating some Roman ruins.

[26:12] The horrea or horreum in Narbonne. Those are underground galleries and storage, experts speculate that they were probably used as public storage. There are several buildings that still have this horreum. It was both underground storage and a way to get places under ground.

[28:00] At one point Narbonne had all the buildings you would find in a major Roman city: Forum, Coliseum, Circus, Theaters, etc. All of those are gone today. Arles has a lot of that left, Nîmes has some, cities like Toulouse and Paris have almost nothing left. Stones were re-used to make new buildings.

[30:00] Around the year 1000 they build a monastery 12 km away from Narbonne, and that is one of the major things to see if you spend a day in the area, it is called the Abbey de Fontfroide. It is a Cistercian Abbey and Church. This is a Mediterranean climate where it smells and feels like Provence even though technically it is not. Very much worth a visit!

[32:09] The Cathedral of Narbonne is called Saint-Just Saint Pasteur (Elyse mis-spoke and called it Saint-Just Saint-Paul, she got the wrong saint!). It is a large Cathedral (4th largest in France) and what is unusual is that you can go up the tower and stand outside on the parapets. You can see out towards the sea and get lovely views.

[33:38] The story of the Cathedral of Beauvais which collapsed 3 times when they tried to make it too tall. As a result, the Cathedral of Beauvais is half of a Cathedral!

[35:04] Narbonne is 41 meters tall and still standing! And it is gorgeous and impressive. You can see the cloister, there are many buildings attached to it, some of which have been turned into museums. The only Cathedral that has the Bishop’s Palace right up against the Cathedral (it’s that way in Avignon too) and you can visit some of that too.

[36:54] Other Churches you can visit in Narbonne. The city center of Narbonne is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it is getting taken care of very well. It is not a very large city center. There are a few lovely pedestrian streets. There is the Canal. There are pagan times remnants as well.

[38:20] If you walk around Narbonne, you have a couple of old buildings like a 1600s or 1700s Synagogue and others that may be of interest to you.

[38:53] Narbonne went into decline after the Wars of Religions (XVI Century) because it’s an area that mostly produced low quality wines and you can’t make a fortune on that.

[39:40] Recap of what you can see in Narbonne:

  • Horreum or underground tunels
  • Via Domitia
  • The Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace
  • Le Pont des Marchands on the Rabine, the only bridge left in France that has actual houses on it
  • Narbonne is a great place to stop for lunch, either near the Cathedral or near the Canal
  • You can take a ride on the Canal
  • Go to Fontfroide and there are often concerts there, especially in the summer

[42:16] Cistercian monasteries were not painted to keep them austere and they have wonderful acoustics.

[43:12] From Narbonne you can go east to the Massif de la Clape. It’s a lovely place for bike riding and hiking, this is also where you’ll find the Gouffre de l’Œil Doux a sink hole with turquoise water.

[45:29] The beaches around the Massif de la Clape are not high-end beaches. It has been kept natural for the most part with some campgrounds, a few vendors, including wine vendors.

[47:07] The AOC Languedoc-la-clape wine is a good wine, similar to Corbières or Minervoix, full-bodied.

[47:42] Other places you could go nearby are Gruissan Plage with houses built on stilts. You could also get to Port-la-Nouvelle, a bigger  and more modern town.

[48:30] Narbonne also has two Baltar-style markets (like the old Halles de Paris which were destroyed) with beautiful glass and iron work. One of those markets in Narbonne (Les Halles Centrales) is a great place to have lunch, there are restaurants.

[49:12] Narbonne food specialties: food, grilled fish, sausage, seafood dishes, and oysters. There are oysters and muscle beds nearby.

Conclusion

The Romans put Narbonne, city at the crossroads on the map. It’s not super famous but it’s a lovely place to visit if you’re in the area and want to explore the Languedoc and parts of the Mediterranean that are lovely and not too expensive. Narbonne is the closest beach to Toulouse, so it’s a place where Toulouse teens like to go. There are flamingos in the lagoon too!

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Sorèze and Revel, Great Day Trips from Toulouse, Episode 156

Sorèze and Revel: Great Day Trips from Toulouse (or Carcassonne)


Toulouse is a great place to come stay for a few days because not only is it a lovely city, but once you’re here, there are a lot of great places you can visit as day trips.  Most of those day trips around Toulouse require a car, and such is the case with the one we’re discussing today: Sorèze and Revel: Great Day Trips from Toulouse (or Carcassonne)

Other great day trips around Toulouse: Carcassonne, Albi, Figeac, Carla-Bayle

Places mentioned in this episode: Saint-Felix de Lauragais, Sorèze, Revel, Saint-Ferréol Lake, Lac de Belleserre, Aeroscopia near Toulouse

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

 What You Will Learn About in this Episode

  • 2’ 03 This Join Us in France episode 156 aboutSorèze and Revel: Great Day Trips from Toulouse (or Carcassonne)
  • 4’ Annie and Elyse argue about how to say the name “Revel” + the lake of Saint-Ferréol.
  • 6’ The Lauragais area with rolling hills. A wheat-growing area, villages on the top of hills.
  • 7’22 The first place you get to on our drive is Saint-Felix de Lauragais
  • 8’38 Revel is a small town of around 10,000 people, which makes it a small city by French standards
  • 9’50 Furniture-making in the Lauragais: they make good quality copies of classic French furniture styles
  • 10’40 Biscuiteries and cookie makers in the Lauragais
  • 11’20 One of the main reasons to visit Revel is to visit the Saturday Market. Revel is a “bastide” with an old covered market with a belfry at its center
  • 13’44 Weighing stones at the Revel Market
  • 16’ There is a great bakery in Revel, they make lovely “croustade” with apples and lemon. They call it “pastel” there
  • 18’30 The Montagne Noire in the Lauragais
  • 19’20 The village of Sorèze, a town founded in the 700s and famous for its “Abbaye-école de Sorèze”. Hughe Auffrey is a French singer who attended this school
  • 25’20 Dom Robert the Benedictine Monk who became a tapestry artist, the museum in Sorèze specializes in tapestries because of him
  • 27’ When is a good time to visit Sorèze to enjoy the artist colony side of things? There are craft fairs in the summer, try to
  • 27’30 There is a small glass museum in Sorèze because there is a history of glass-makers who lived in the woods long ago
  • 30’ The Saint-Ferréol Lake: Annie hates it, Elyse likes it, we’ll let you be the judge and let us know in the comments! This lake was created by Pierre-Paul Riquet to help bring water to the Canal du Midi to help it enough water in the canal year-round.
  • 35’15 Why Annie hates the Saint-Ferréol Lake
  • 39’ There is another, more wild lake nearby also: Lac d’en Brunet (or Lac de Belleserre)
  • 43’30 Aeroscopia Museum in Toulouse

There are gems of architecture and history in areas of France that never get any love or attention from travel writers. We’re not shy about loving the South-West and share gems that will take you to the heart of France off the beaten track.

Got Feedback or Extra Information? Write a comment below or call the voice mail box! 1-801-816-1015

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Visiting Southern France in Winter, Episode 148

My guest today is Christine Hegerty from Australia, and she joins me today to talk about visiting Southern France in winter. They started their trip in Nice and exited the country via the Basque Country, so they really went all the way across.

What is it like in France in the winter? Are the weather conditions good enough for touring? Aren’t most attractions closed? Christine answers all my questions and brings a lot of zest and astute observations about visiting southern France in winter.

Places Mentioned in this Episode: Nice, Toulouse, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille, Nîmes, Pont du Gard, Uzès, Montpellier, Carcassonne, Mirepoix, Forges de Pyrène, Grotte de Niaux, Foix, Camon (09), Rennes-le-Château, Carla-Bayle, Grotte du Mas d’Asil, Toulouse,  Albi and the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, Cordes-sur-Ciel, Moissac, Bordeaux, San-Sebastian, New Caledonia.

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

Visiting France in winter, Christine and husband

Visiting Southern France in Winter, Episode 148

Episode Highlights with Timestamps

  • [7’15] Why did you choose to come to France in the winter?
  • [8’50] What sort of weather did you encounter?
  • [10’30] Flying into Nice instead of Paris
  • [12’30] Finding accommodations where we could park a car + using a car elevator in Toulouse
  • [15′] A lovely cooking class in Nice
  • [22′] Panisse and Socca, food specialties from Nice
  • [23′] Aix-en-Provence and Marseille by Regional Bus
  • [24′] Cours Mirabeau, Les Deux Garçons, and the Christmas Market in Aix-en-Provence
  • [24’45] A day in Marseille: Musée d’Histoire de Marseille, great street for restaurants, rue Sainte, lunch at Les Echevins (best steak ever says John!),
  • [28’30] Walking tour with a volunteer greeter, meeting on Quai des Belges in Marseille, a look at the Mirror Pavilion by Foster
  • [30′] Musée Archéologique de Marseille in Le Panier
  • [31’45] Marseille City Greeters
  • [33’06] Lovely Tea House called Cup of Tea, tea shop and book shop
  • [34′] Great food in Marseille, and not just Bouillabaisse!
  • [35′] The realities of planing a trip from home vs. taking the trip: cutting things out
  • [36′] Worries about leaving luggage in the car and Annie’s recommendation about that
  • [37’48] Two nights in Nîmes and what they loved about it: les Arênes de Nîme, la Maison Carrée
  • [39′] Carré d’Art by Norman Foster in Nîmes, a great place for photography, among other things
  • [40′] Stumbling Upon a light show projected on the Maison Carrée in Nîmes. This happens a lot around Christmas, not just in Nîmes, but in other French cities too.
  • [42′] Around Christmas is busy for people, but tourist attractions are empty.
  • [43′] Pont du Gard and getting lost looking for it. Don’t set your GPS to the village called Vers-Pont-du-Gard. Set your GPS to either the attraction called Pont du Gard OR the village of Remoulins or Collias.
  • [46′] Lunch at Uzès on Place  Aux Herbes, great place to spend a couple of hours.
  • [47′] Tour Magne, Le Jardin de la Fontaine, le Temple de Diane in Nîmes
  • [48′] Montpellier, a large and charming city. Air B&B apartment that used to be a butcher’s shop for one night.
  • [50′] Musée du Vieux Montpellier, running into churches with Crêches and Santons, and
  • [50’30] More podcast listeners eating at L’Entrecôte, they should sponsor the show!
  • [52′] What’s nearby? Sète, Camargue
  • [53’30] Daylight hours are shorter in winter, fewer hours for touring.
  • [53’47] Christmas in Carcassonne, lunch at the Michelin Star at the Hôtel de la Cité, La Barbacane.
  • [57’39] Carcassonne is not busy and crowded in the winter, and certainly not on Christmas Day!
  • [58’33] The Christmas Market in Carcassonne.
  • [62′] Staying in Mirepoix for one week.
  • [65′] New Year’s Even in Mirepoix, le Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre with a group of all-French people who didn’t speak English! <–Funny
  • [68′] Typical New Year’s Eve celebrations in France
  • [72′] Attractions near Mirepoix: Montsegur (Cathat, hike), Les Forges de Pyrène (demonstrations of old techniques), Grotte de Niaux (painted caves), Foix (hike).
  • [78′] Most Beautiful Villages in France: Camon. Beautiful but completely empty this time of year. This is an obvious problem with visiting southern France in winter: many things are closed!
  • [80′] The Arriège is a part of France that doesn’t get a lot of tourists any time of the year, and in the middle of the winter, you have to find ways to keep busy.
  • [81′] Market Day in Mirepoix is Monday, the town comes to life. Visiting Rennes-le-Château, must read-up on the conspiracy theories. Pack a picnic!
  • [83′] Even in a remote part of France that is not very touristy, the food is quite good.
  • [84′] Visiting Carla-Bayle and the Grotte du Mas d’Asil on the way to Toulouse. Don’t go in the middle of the winter, it’s empty!
  • [86′] Toulouse is like a small little Paris, a lot of life, even in the middle of the winter.
  • [88′] Going to Albi and the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, Cordes-sur-Ciel (Cordes is also dead in the winter!)
  • [89′] Museums in Toulouse: Natural History Museum, Musée Saint-Raymond, Basilique Saint-Sernin, Musée des Augustins, Musée des Abatoirs, Les Jacobins where Saint-Thomas Aquinas is buried.
  • [91′] Which Toulouse Cloister is nicest: Jacobins or Augustins?
  • [93′] General observation about French Museums: they are well curated.
  • [94′] Go to the big open-air food market in Toulouse (Marché du Cristal, 33 boulevard de Strasbourg), every morning.
  • [97′] WizEat in Toulouse and the Toulouse accent.
  • [100′] Stop in Moissac to visit the chruch with beautiful cloister–but the cloister was closed on a Saturday morning (again, an issue with visiting southern France in winter).
  • [102′] Bordeaux: swapping the red stone of Toulouse for the white stone of Bordeaux.
  • [104′] The shopping areas were busy in Bordeaux (probably due to sales coming up, people like to “stake-out” the stores where they want to go back on the day when sales start.
  • [104’30] Attractions in Bordeaux: Saint-André Cathedral, Flea Market near the Saint-Michel Church, Marché des Capucins (covered market).
  • [115′] Instead of walking to the Cité du Vin, they took a ferry which gave them a great perspective on the city.
  • [118′] For a great view, go up the Tour Saint-Andrée, fantastic at sunset time.
  • [118’40] Another great thing to do at dusk in Bordeaux is to go to Place de la Bourse to see the water mirror.
  • [120′] Taking the bus between Bordeaux and Saint-Sebastian. They used OuiBus and had a good experience. The bus took them through several cities between Bordeaux and Saint-Sebastian and they enjoyed seeing them briefly. Christine recommends taking the bus.
  • [126′] New Caledonia, also in France, even though it’s close to Australia.

Conclusion

Visiting southern France in winter can be a wonderful experience with a little planning and some awareness of peculiarities of rural France in winter. Christine shares some great insights, listen close if you’re planning a similar trip!

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