What a difference a day makesSeptember 26, 2017 in France
Waking up and looking out the window, we saw that it was a fine clear day, a contrast to the previous day. Things were looking up already. After breakfast we headed off for the 25 minute walk to the station, planning this time to catch the train to Narbonne, another place we'd been recommended. Would it prove to be any better than Limoux?
The half-hour train ride was through really picturesque countryside, mainly grape-growing. The vineyards all looked so orderly and immaculate. We reached Narbonne and walked the kilometre or so to the Tourist Office. It was well signposted, an improvement already from the previous day's experience. The fellow in the Tourist Office was most helpful and gave us a rundown of the places which could be visited on foot. It was only a few hundred metres to the main square and already we could feel that this was one very pleasant and friendly town. For starters it was spotlessly clean, there were nice open squares with plenty of seating and many mature trees. We started at the Archbishop's Palace complex, which adjoins the square. The Palais des Archevêques was the Archbishop's Palace in Narbonne. It consists of an old Romanesque palace with Gothic alterations. It has three square towers dating from the 13th and 14th centuries. Today the palace hosts a city hall, the museum of art and history and the archaeological museum. Narbonne Cathedral also forms part of the complex. One good thing - maybe the only thing - which religion has given mankind are some truly magnificent cathedrals and artwork, and this is certainly no exception. Very impressive.
Our entry passes then allowed us to visit the archaeological museum. A lot of ancient artefacts, some dating back to the Stone Age have been uncovered in and around Narbonne. It also has a very extensive Roman history, so there was much to see in terms of frescoes and other items from Roman times. The whole museum is really well laid out.
We then visited the archbishop's chambers where paintings, mostly from the 16th to 18th centuries were on display. These had been accumulated by the various archbishops, so as one might imagine, they all had a strong religious theme. No problem with that, but we really felt that the works themselves were nothing special, especially when compared with the art we had seen so recently in the Musée d'Orsay and elsewhere.
Our final port of call within the complex was the so-called dungeon. Now, we always thought that dungeons were subterranean places, but this in fact is a square tower. It was built between 1290 and 1311 by Archbishop Gilles Aycelin. This historical building rises four levels until the upper terrace. This attraction offers tourists a panoramic view of the Pyrenees and the Corbieres, the city, as well as the coast. In fact, this attraction is not a dungeon, but a fortified tower. Not knowing what we were letting ourselves in for, we decided to climb the spiral staircase to the very top. Later, we found out that there are 167 steep steps, so were very proud of our effort. It is not for the faint-hearted but it is definitely worth the climb to get a fantastic 360-degree view of the towns, city and cathedrals over the roofs of Narbonne. The view was great. In the twenty minutes or so that we were up there, only two other couples were brave/foolish enough to make the climb, so that's one way of escaping the tourist hordes.
Displaying a certain degree of ignorance we next decided to look at the Musée Lapidaire, believing that it would house gemstones or jewellery, which could be of some interest. The entry tickets we'd bought earlier at the Archbishop's Palace complex included entry to this and other attractions within the town, so it all made sense. The so-called museum is housed in an old deconsecrated church, but all it contained were hundreds of carved blocks and other sandstone carvings which had been collected from round the district. The place was dusty, and the pieces were arranged in huge stacks in what seemed to be a haphazard fashion. At the time we visited, we were the only people there. Hardly compelling. It's a museum in search of a good curator.
Brian was intrigued and felt that we just had to visit a building called the House of the Three Wetnurses. Our tourist brochure told us that it is one of the most outstanding examples of Renaissance private architecture in the region and unique to Narbonne. It was built in 1558 and gets its name from the buxom caryatids framing its south window. We were even more intrigued when we were able to count five such ladies in the facade, rather than the purported three. It was intriguing for its uniqueness, though it is not compelling. The facade is high up, at least one floor above street level, and can only be seen from the entrance to a modern hospital building directly across the street. The building is not open to the public.
Narbonne is certainly tourism-orientated, and has a tourist mini-bus which runs every five minutes or so in a circuit round the major features of the town. As our final activity before catching the train back to Carcassonne we did the mini-tour. there was no commentary, but it at least gave us a chance to see more of this beautiful town. If we'd had more time - and a car - there were a lot of other tourist features there which we'd like to have seen.
Reaching our hotel at about 5pm, Brian decided to do the 15 minute climb once more up to the Mediaeval City, hoping to get a few photos while the place wasn't too crowded and maybe picking up one or two souvenirs to bring home. It was still quite busy, though nowhere near as jam-packed as it had been on our earlier visit. He took a few more photos, but didn't find anything compelling enough to buy. Not surprisingly, prices there are high, and there is an awful lot of shoddy rubbish. The really nice stuff is ridiculously overpriced.
Sadly, sadly, sadly this was the last day of our holiday, so we decided to commemorate it with a special dinner. There was a restaurant, Le Trivalou, a couple of hundred metres from our hotel which we'd tried a couple of times to get into. Each time, it was booked out. Not to be caught out again, we saw that the place was due to open at 7pm, and Brian was right there on the doorstep and made a booking for 8pm. Even then, it was the last available table. No wonder the place is so popular. We had a great meal there that night, and it was very reasonably priced.
Our last day was a great success, and we ended it on a high. All that remained was the long trip home, and that was something we weren't looking forward to. On previous overseas holidays, by the time we'd reached this point we were well and truly ready to head home and to sleep once more in our own bed. Not this time. It was such a great and varied holiday that we really didn't want it to end, but we had to face reality.Read more