A bike or boat tour of Narbonne
Narbonne, a Grand Site Occitanie
Canal de la Robine, a UNESCO site
A walk in Narbonnaise Regional Nature Park
the best period
Spring and Summer
An original and relaxing way to explore Narbonne. Set off from Halles 1900 market in the city centre then ride the lovely Canal de la Robine bike path: soak up your natural surroundings from the old town to Mandirac lock. After a canalside picnic, head back into town to set sail on a traditional boat and see another side to the canal and its surroundings. A wonderfully relaxing day experiencing heritage and nature in a city with bags of personality!
Your day starts at Halles 1900, a local foodie institution in a glass and steel Art Nouveau building. It's where everything happens in the city and the locals adore it.
The Southern French vibes hit you as soon as you step inside: hustling, bustling, vibrant and warm all with the colours and flavours of regional produce like olives, fruit, vegetables, Mediterranean herbs, cheese, cured meats, seafood and more.
Stroll from one stall to the next, take your time browsing and soaking everything up because your mission is to fill your basket with a picnic to take on your bike ride! The hardest thing is to choose, you'll want a bit of everything!
Free car park at the end of Quai Victor Hugo (follow signs to the Théâtre). Be warned, Thursday's market day so get there early to avoid the crowds!
Visit Hugo at Languedoc VTT Evasion for a warm welcome and lots of advice. Once you're ready to put pedal to the metal, it's time to start your 16km jaunt from the Canal de la Robine banks to the Mandirac lock and back!
The towpaths are ideal for bikes: flat and lots of shade. A breeze for the whole family. The Robine was actually a riverbed abandoned by the River Aude in the Middle Ages. It was turned into a canal in the 17th century to link Narbonne and the Mediterranean to the newly-built Canal du Midi and make trade easier. The Robine is part of the same Canal group and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site!
The calm and relaxing setting has great views of Canigou Mountain on the horizon and Narbonne Cathedral. History meets nature, that's what Narbonne is famous for!
Keep an eye on the weather. If you don't want to slip and slide on the towpath then it's best not to ride when it's raining!
As soon as you leave the city, you enter another world of wonder: that's right, those are paddy fields all around you! Not many people know about the local rice growing tradition.
When you reach the Mandirac lock you can see the "marine carpentry", a back-to-work site protecting river freight heritage and renovating and rebuilding old ships. One of their projects is rebuilding a Roman boat unearthed by nearby archaeological digs (the site is free to visit all year).
Countless bird species live here: gulls, storks, terns etc. A whole host of wildlife. The Nature Park area is one of few protected natural sites to be home to so much biodiversity on the edge of the Mediterranean. Coastal lagoons, known here as "étangs", are shallow saltwater lakes. Countless species live here including migratory birds. Flora and fauna tours regularly take place here.
You work up an appetite after a bike ride among migratory birds and vineyards! It's time for a family picnic by the canal with the food you bought this morning at the Halles market. There's no picnic area on the towpath so bring cutlery and a blanket! Then have a leisurely ride back to town along the canal running right through the city. That'll do nicely!
Leave your bikes with Hugo then make your way to Gabare Le Solal moored in the city centre on Promenade des Barques. It's time for a boat trip on the canal. See another side to the city and its landmarks. Drink in the docks, beautiful Languedoc architecture, glide under Pont des Marchands... its Ponte Vecchio vibes make it one magical little bridge. The Monument Historique is one of France's few bridges with houses built on them that people still live in. Children love this boat trip!
The highlight of this canal ride is going through the Narbonne lock, a classic hydraulic structure. The hefty gates open slowly to let the water rush in. It's a guided tour so you learn all sorts about how the locks work and where the canal's water comes from. The ballet of boats crossing paths makes the adventure good fun and impressive since the lock isn't all that wide! Trip review: a great way to rest your legs after your bike ride and an original way to explore Narbonne's heritage.
Treat yourself to some downtime after your boat trip and sit in the shade of the plane trees opposite the wharf on Promenade des Barques. Sit on the grass and gaze at the scenery, lanes, canal, Pont des Marchands, the archbishops' palace and cathedral that tower over the trees.
Then it's time to visit the nearby Place de l'Hôtel de Ville for a drink and ice cream on one of the square's sprawling café terraces oozing Mediterranean vibes opposite the huge archbishops' palace. What a beautiful end to a fabulous day!
You can see it wherever you are in Narbonne: Narbonne Cathedral is a major landmark and huge gothic cathedral among the tallest in France. What stands out about it is that it's unfinished. The choir alone is complete so half the landmark is missing.
You can barely imagine how big it would have been if the archbishops had had enough money and time to finish it. It's next door to the archbishops' palace, a gigantic medieval palace housing several museums.