Narbonne is an ancient town in South West Languedoc which lies on the Via Domitia, the old Roman road which ran through the south of France connecting Italy with Spain. There is a section of the Via Domitia still visible in the centre of the city in front of the Archbishop’s palace, where you can descend some steps into a small pit and walk where the Romans walked. So often antiquity is kept behind glass and inaccessible so it seemed rather strange that walking on this piece of history was allowed. The Cathedral of St Just & St Pasteur is tucked in close to the Archbishop’s Palace making it very difficult to photograph in one piece, but it is well worth visiting. There is a peaceful 14th & 15th Century vaulted cloister and the cathedral has a very high vaulted nave, which we understood at 130 feet is one of the highest in France. The attractive and ancient, if rather worn, 14th Century altarpiece, or reredos, recounting biblical scenes and some equally old and worn frescoes took my eye. This reredos was re-discovered in 2000 after having been hidden for centuries. I find these ancient artworks fascinating, even if rather worse for wear and I am always amazed that they have survived the centuries at all. Narbonne town centre had many old buildings, those built on a bridge over the River Aude were attractively reflected in the water and there was a lively cafe atmosphere.
We were aiming for the town of Gruissan (pictured) which was as far west as we would travel this holiday. Gruissan is a fishing community, an ancient bastide town with concentric circles of streets and old buildings around its central 13th Century Barbarossa watch tower, which was built to protect the Port of Narbonne. From the top of the mound, in the shadow of the tower, in one direction there were stunning views across the estuary of the River Aude, whilst in the other there were views across red roofs to more salt pans and on out to sea. The way up was rather difficult, with loose stones as well as uneven steps, however there is a programme of restoration underway and it was definitely worth the clamber.
On the way home we detoured to walk up through the quiet wooded hillside of the Cimetière Marin on the Massif de Clape, where the gravestones tell of the many local sailors who have lost their lives, both near and in far flung places. We reached the chapel, Notre Dame des Auzils which was undergoing restoration and then continued up onto the open hillside which gave us breathtaking views down the coast and over distant Gruisson, into the rapidly setting sun and towards the distant Pyrenees.