Bonjour, la France! For years, we had this incurable desire of doing a road trip through the South of France. It is thanks to our collaboration with Atout France (the French National Tourist Board) that these plans finally become reality. For two weeks we explored the South of France, starting our trip with a few days in the Département of Aude.
In this blog article, we will share with you what you can expect during a holiday in the Aude region and which sights you absolutely should not miss. Extra tips: if you read until the end of the article, we will also share with you our personal hotel tip. In Narbonne, we were able to spend the night in one of the most beautiful accommodations of our entire South of France trip. Highly recommended!
- 1. Département Aude in the South of France: Things to Know
- 2. Carcassonne: Things to Do in the Medieval Fortress Town
- 3. Narbonne: Things to Do in the Cozy Town on the Canal de la Robine
- 4. Water Sports in Saint-Pierre-la-Mer
- 5. The Fishing Village of Gruissan
- 6. Hotel Tip for Narbonne: La Maison Gustave
1. Département Aude in the South of France: Things to Know
The Département Aude is located southeast of Toulouse in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. The most famous tourist destination is clearly the medieval fortified town of Carcassonne. In addition, the pretty town of Narbonne along with the neighbouring coastline, is definitely worth a stop too.
On our road trip through France, we stayed for two nights in the Aude, both of which we spent in Narbonne. We would say that this is also the minimum amount of time you should spend if you want to see the most important places (Carcassonne, Narbonne, coast).
Of course and as always, the more time you can spend here, the better. Then you can also include a visit to Lagrasse, for example. Lagrasse is located between Carcassonne and Narbonne and is considered one of the most beautiful villages in France.
2. Carcassonne: Things to Do in the Medieval Fortress Town
The world famous old town of Carcassonne is the tourist magnet and the main attraction of the Aude region – and for good reason. This Old Town, called “La Cité” – is perched on a hill with a total of 52 Watchtowers! The fortress wall of Carcassonne also makes for a great photo opportunity from a distance. But you absolutely cannot miss a walk through the streets of the Carcassonne Old Town.
The majority of the Old Town, which lies within the castle walls, is accessible to the public for free and has no fixed hours, which is fantastic! There you will find narrow streets, plenty of souvenir shops and some (of course quite touristy) restaurants. If you want to visit the heart of the Cité – the castle complex (“Château et remparts de la cité de Carcassonne”) – then you have to keep to their opening hours. During the tour (either free or with a guide) you can take a look inside the premises and take a walk on the fortress walls. You should allow at least an hour for that.
The fortification of Carcassonne is the largest in France and a UNESCO World Heritage Site – this probably explains the comparatively large number of visitors. But don’t worry: you will always find a nice spot from which you can enjoy the sights of the Old Town.
Information about visiting the Cité of Carcassonne
Castle opening hours: from April to September between 10am and 6:30pm; from October to March between 9:30am and 5 pm (These opening hours are only for the castle, the rest of Carcassonne is open 24 hours a day.)
Prices: 9 Euros (for a self-guided tour with leaflet, the rest of Carcassonne is accessible for free)
Parking: in the car park opposite the Porte Narbonnaise (paid parking)
You can buy your ticket in advance here: Carcassonne Castle and Fortress Walls
By the way: If you’re wondering about the yellow “stripes” on the castle walls, which you can see in this photo – this was a temporary art project that was up for a few weeks.
3. Narbonne: Things to Do in the Cozy Town on the Canal de la Robine
There was an instant spark between Narbonne and us. Narbonne exudes a very authentic, southern French flair. You see the older generation meeting on the park bench for conversations, you see boys skateboard down the boardwalk. You feel like you just dove straight into the lives of the locals and we get the impression that Narbonne is a fairly liveable city.
The Cathedral of Narbonne
If you are looking for photographs of Narbonne, you will come across one particular monument over and over again: the Narbonne Cathedral, also known as Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur Cathedral. It’s pretty impressive looking up from the bottom.
However, you certainly can’t top a bird’s eye view. In fact, the best view of the cathedral is from the tower of the Palais des Archevêques. Because we wouldn’t want you to leave Narbonne without having seen this view, we are going to share with you below how you can get there.
The most beautiful view in Narbonne: Palais des Archevêques
The Palais des Archevêques is an architectural complex located next to the cathedral. It houses the city hall (Hôtel de Ville) as well as some art collections. The highlight, however, is the ascent of the tower, the so-called Donjon Gilles Aycelin.
The climb is a bit sweaty but it’s well worth the effort: From the top you have a 360-degree view over Narbonne and of course a great view of the cathedral. Another tip: Access to the tower is via the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville.
Market halls “Les Halles”
Another place highly worthy of a visit, are the market halls of Narbonne. In the so-called “Les Halles”, the urban market takes place 365 days a year! With about 80 market stalls you will find regional and international delicacies, including fruits, vegetables, bread, meat, fish and of course a lot of Pâtisserie.
The charming market hall itself is already worth the visit. Seeing with your own eyes, the pavilion that was built at the beginning of the 20th century, you will certainly be impressed with its stone and metal architecture.
Information about visiting Les Halles
Hours: daily from 7am to about 2pm (peak time is definitely in the morning)
Address: 1 Cours Mirabeau, 11000 Narbonne, France
Our personal tip: Glacier Marguerite
When we asked a young local about the best ice cream in Narbonne, she didn’t even have to think twice: the newly opened Glacier Marguerite was her absolute favourite. So of course, we couldn’t resist and had to take a picture of this lovely place.
Our conclusion: Highly recommended! Not only did the interior gel well with our taste, the ice cream itself was incredibly delicious! We opted for none other than the pistachio.
Address: 1 Rue du Pont des Marchands, 11100 Narbonne, France
Dinner at the Gaia Restaurant
Our evening at Gaia Restaurant was not only the best in Narbonne, but one of the culinary highlights of our entire South of France trip. The restaurant recently received the “Bib Gourmand” award from Michelin, and we can confirm that Gaia places great importance to local, fresh produce.
Something we thought was particularly fantastic was that they also offered a completely vegan menu. This is something that, as vegetarians, you will really come to appreciate after travelling through France. The prices are in the frame of ‘reasonable’ as eating out in France is pretty expensive. But at Gaia, the value for money is definitely fair. The vegan menu, for example, cost 24 Euros per person. Our bill added up to be a total of 73 Euros for two people (with wine and water).
Address: 8 Avenue des Pyrénées, 11100 Narbonne, France (We highly recommend you book to ensure a place here)
Dinner at Les Grands Buffets
The “Les Grands Buffets” is an institution in Narbonne. Nomen est omen: The buffet in this restaurant is really “grand”. More precisely, it is so extensive that it’s almost impossible to try every dish in one evening.
You will find a cross-section of the French cuisine in several rooms, so if you want to try the really unusual specialties of France (frog legs!), then this is the place for you. But don’t worry, there are also many standard dishes, including plenty of fish, seafood and meat dishes. We can only remark on the fact that the selection and variety of vegetarian dishes could have been a bit larger.
The cheese and the dessert buffet is certainly another highlight. In this department, we really couldn’t hold ourselves back. Conclusion: you have to like the buffet style of course but we have to say, it’s a nice change from your regular restaurant visit.
Address: Espace de Liberte, Rond Point de la Liberte, 11100 Narbonne, France
Price: 35.90 Euro per person (excl. Drinks)
4. Water Sports in Saint-Pierre-la-Mer
Narbonne is not far from the Mediterranean coast: A good 20 minutes drive will take you to the seaside resort of Narbonne Plage. However, we drove a few minutes further north to the neighbouring Saint-Pierre-la-Mer. Our destination: Glisse & Kite, a water sports school located directly on a lagoon.
If you like water sports then you will love it there. From kitesurfing to stand up paddling, wake-boarding, sailing, kayaking or windsurfing, you can try it out or improve on a skill you already have. Christophe (the owner) and his girlfriend Geraldine have created a wonderful and above all, a very idyllic place with a beach bar, lounge music and a view of the lagoon.
Not only did we come to enjoy the views, we were also able to wakeboard for the first time ever in our lives. The whole thing operates on a wakeboard lift, where you are pulled over the water. Although the beginner’s session lasts only 20 minutes, for a newbie, that is certainly enough!
All information and prices can be found on their official website: Glisse & Kite.
5. The Fishing Village of Gruissan
If you have ever driven to the coast, then we can highly recommend you to pay a visit to the pretty fishing village of Gruissan. The old town is perched upon on a small hill and offers beautiful photo opportunities from a distance.
In any case, it is worthwhile taking a walk through the streets up to the ruins of the castle. From there you have a wonderful 360 degree view over the city and the bays. In the streets there are a few restaurants and souvenir shops, but all in all, Gruissan can be explored quite quickly.
By the way: from the old town, Gruissan Plage is just a short drive away. This seaside resort is known for its boathouses built on stilts (for flood protection). The beach is incredibly wide and seems very inviting. We would love to jump into the water!
6. Hotel Tip for Narbonne: La Maison Gustave
We spent two nights at La Maison Gustave in Narbonne and highly recommend this place! The name is very appropriate in our opinion, as the La Maison Gustave happens to be located in an old, very charming and slightly crooked building right in the centre of Narbonne.
There are just 5 rooms, all of them very different and furnished with great attention to detail. We stayed in the Junior Suite “Explorateurs” and felt very comfortable. So comfortable in fact, that it was very difficult for us to leave after our two days here! With comfortable beds, air conditioning, a wonderful bathroom and cozy towels… we couldn’t have asked for more.
The breakfast was served in a basket and delivered at the requested time in front of the room door. In the more standard room category, this is served in the communal kitchen. So you can imagine how excited we were for our breakfast each morning. And the most important aspect: thanks to the capsule coffee machine, we enjoyed really good coffee too!
The location of La Maison Gustave could not have been better: from our room we had a direct view of the cathedral and all of the sights in Narbonne are within walking distance. Parking in the old town is a bit cumbersome, but with a little patience you will always find a spot. (Note: There is a blue zone right in front of the hotel, which means you have to pay during the day.)
The only mini disadvantage: There is no lift in the house. This makes the transport of the luggage a bit more difficult, but we didn’t mind it when you take everything else into account! However, for those who require mobile assistant, then the La Maison Gustave is perhaps not the most suitable. But to the majority, we can recommend it from the bottom of our hearts!
You can book the accommodation here: La Maison Gustave
For this blog article we collaborated with the French National Tourist Board (Atout France). As part of the nature campaign #gesichterfrankreichs we had the privilege of travelling for two weeks through the South of France – including in the Département Aude. Of course, this cooperation does not influence our opinion in any way.
This blog article contains our personal recommendations in the form of so-called affiliate links. If you book or buy something through the links, we will receive a small commission. For you, this does not change the price at all. A million thanks from the both of us!
Have you ever been to the Aude – for example in Carcassonne or Narbonne? Or do you have any other tips for the region? Leave us a comment with your experiences!