While I generally look only at a few of our local or national newspapers, Bill has a more rounded approach that incorporates sources outside of France, including the US. He spotted an article by Terry Ward in the travel section of CNN that he knew I would want to see. The title was “The secret stretch of coastal France that’s nicer than Nice” so naturally I wanted to find out where that was. It didn’t take more than two sentences to see the mention of our region, Occitanie, and then our departement, Aude, to know that the author was talking about Carcassonne and our coastal neighbors Narbonne and Gruissan. Now to find out why it’s a secret.
We’ve been to Nice a few times and we will return there to use it as a base for exploring more of Provence. When I looked online to see why others enjoy going to France’s 5th largest city, websites tend to mention the same attractions: the sea, the beach, the boardwalk, the architecture, its chicness, and overall beauty. That’s a lot for any other city to compete with but the author did her best to explain why she felt that our part of the Mediterranean coastline was worth a visit.
She first mentions that we live in France’s largest wine producing region, that in 2017 produced the world’s best red wine, Château l’Hospitalet Grand Vin Rouge, and now is beginning to take the lead in organic wine production. When the Greeks and later Romans first planted grape vines here over 2000 years ago, the emphasis was on quantity rather than quality to supply the tables across their empires, all of which was shipped through the port of Narbonne. That finally changed in the 1970s to successfully challenge the well-known brands in Burgundy and Bordeaux.
Food and wine compliment each other and the seafood can’t get any fresher than having been harvested only a short distance from where you are eating it. We’ve been to the Salin de Gruissan, a sea salt farm with a beachside restaurant that can offer platters with fish and shellfish including pink oysters that come directly from their own ponds. That rose color comes from a reaction by the algae to the sun so it can be seen in the salt, the oysters, and in the well-represented pink flamingos. Naturally a glass of rosé wine goes with your meal!
History is next and definitely no stranger to this part of the country that saw ancient Rome’s first colony established here in 118 BC. We’d visited the Roman road, Via Domitia, in the middle of Narbonne and we knew about the nearby Horreum, a 1st century BC underground grain storage building, but we haven’t yet been to the brand new Narbo Via museum that showcases 1000 ancient works of art such as ceramics, mosaics, and carved stone blocks.
The Canal de la Robine runs through town and right beside the central covered market, Les Halles, that we think is worth visiting the city for that alone. There are at least 70 vendors selling fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, breads, pastries, meats, fish, and wine. Once seeing all of that has made you hungry there are on-site restaurants that will prepare your lunch from everything you’ve just been admiring.
This article from CNN concludes by admitting that compared to Americans, “For many Europeans, the region’s allure is less of a secret….” attributing the desire to flee large cities after the confinements due to Covid that has driven a boom in house sales in the countryside. Interestingly, the day after I read that, there was an article in our local paper saying that this region of Occitanie was the number one choice of French vacationers and that for each euro the local government has invested in tourism, the return has been 15-fold for the community.
So, Nice is nice but are Narbonne and Gruissan better? As we often hear, ça dépend, that depends. We certainly can’t decide since we like them all and I’ll include some photos in the gallery below to indicate why, including a couple of shots from beach towns we’ve enjoyed further south along the same coast on the way to Spain.
Notes: Bill took most of the photos (that’s La Clape pond featured across the top and the bridge behind the Narbonne palace in the first paragraph) but if the file name starts with “Gruissan” it came from their Office of Tourism website, as did the attached pdf booklet “My Gruissan”. The pdf tourist map of Narbonne comes from the Côte du Midi tourism website. Pete took the picture of all of us at the Narbonne market restaurant. And finally, thank you to blog reader and Carcassonne visitor Dorina for confirming that we had indeed seen the article about our secret coast.