Our food scene revolves around Les Halles de Narbonne, a stunning covered market and architectural gem from the late 1800s. It is open every day and is everyone’s favorite meeting place. More than a market, it has wine bars, bistros and tapas counters, plus fishmongers where you can feast on plump oysters and prawns. I go there every Sunday to shop. When I played rugby for Narbonne, the “third half” sometimes continued into the morning, when we arrived at 06.00 for a steak. And you will still find this atmosphere in Les Halles – along with good grilled meat – at Chez Bebelle.
Elsewhere, L’Auberge des Jacobins in the center of town serves traditional Narbonnaise cuisine. In the summer I love going out to La Cambuse du Saunier on the Gruissan salt lake, where you can watch the water change from pink to blue as you enjoy sea bass baked in salt, or freshly caught razor clams fried in parsley and garlic.
When I need peace and quiet for reflection, I sit down in the shadowy cloister of the Cathédrale Saint-Just et Saint-Pasteur. It is a timeless place: you never know what century it is. Close your eyes and you could be in the Middle Ages or the Renaissance. Narbonne was one of the world’s most important ports 2,000 years ago, and you can imagine this when you climb to the top of the tower at the Palais des Archevêques, which has a panoramic view of the city as far as the Mediterranean. Here you can also feel the wind, a crucial element for understanding Narbonne: 13 “winds” blow through our streets.
My neighborhood is Narbonne Plage, a three-mile stretch of sandy beach that may be nine miles from town, but is still an important part of Narbonnais life. In the summer there is a regular bus, but the hour-long bike ride through salt flats and wetlands is fantastic. I learned to swim here as a boy and trained for rugby by running on the beach. Families come here with their children. This quiet resort has avoided unsightly development, and visitors can enjoy sunbathing and swimming at a beach club, or ice cream on the boardwalk the glacier like Bakoua, while the nightlife continues late at the L’Insomnia discotheque. In the city, the Quartier de la Charité is worth a stroll: it has been gentrified, with bistros, patisseries, shops, tea rooms and a modern exhibition area.
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A small green oasis in medieval Narbonne is Le Jardin de la Révolution, where my mother used to take me to play. The flower beds and the mowed lawns have not changed a bit. The town is surrounded by the parc naturel régional de la Narbonnaise, which includes wetlands, hills, garrigue moors and lakes. My favorite place is the Massif de la Clape, where I grow my vineyards, and walkers and cyclists can spot wild orchids, thyme, rosemary and marjoram, and glimpse rabbits, hares and wild boar. It is also a paradise for bird watchers. Do not miss the Étang de Bages-Sigean, with its fishing village, where the water is incredibly calm, a marked contrast to the waves and movements of the sea on the other side of the lagoon.
The towpath along the Canal de la Robine has been transformed in recent years, and the Promenade des Barques is full of late-night spots: Le Rive Gauche and the waterside terrace of Le Centaurée, live concerts at Cadence and craft beers and fine wines at Macar Bar, hosted by Anthony Hill , an Australian rugby player who ended up being. If you want to party late, head to the aptly named Avenue des Noctambules in Gruissan, with the dance clubs Formentera and La Villa, or Paparazzo right on the beach.
Just behind Narbonne station is l’Île du Gua (doubles from €128) a design hotel in a renovated watermill on the Canal de la Robine.
Gérard Bertrand is a Languedoc winemaker, a former international rugby player and founder of Château l’Hospitalet wine resort