With Barcelona being located in northern Spain, close to the French border, we had planned from the beginning to cross it at some point during the trip. I thought going all the way up to Paris might be a bit too ambitious, as I like to have significant time in one city to actually enjoy everything, rather than rushing through it. Eventually, considering time and cost issues, I decided the best course was to visit Narbonne and Carcassonne.
Narbonne is a small town with few tourist attractions, and probably wouldn’t have been on the radar if it wasn’t a train hub. In order to get to Carcassonne from Barcelona, you have to go through Narbonne. Since Narbonne does have a few things to see, we planned to stay one night in Narbonne before going to Carcassonne (which was only a half hour away by train) the next day.
Tickets aren’t particularly cheap and the cost does increase the closer time gets to the booking date, so I would recommend booking as ahead of time as possible (tickets must be reserved). Seat61.com is an extremely informative and useful site to use for extensive information on train travel from Barcelona and throughout Europe in general. I used the website Loco2.com to book, and I was pleased with their service. They simply email the train tickets and I printed them out.
The French trains are very nice and comfortable, even more so than the Spanish trains. On high speed, Narbonne was a little over two hours away. Originally, I had planned to spend about five days in Barcelona first and then head to France, but after five days, we would have had to leave on a Saturday, and from what I’ve read, public transportation in Narbonne is very spotty on the weekends. (We didn’t wind up using it much, since we stayed in the city center and walked everywhere, but I wanted to at least have it available).
The hotel we stayed at was the main city center hotel, called La Résidence. I would highly recommend it, since the few tourist attractions in the town are located a short distance away, and the service and rooms were great. It’s about a fifteen minute walk from the train station, but due to exhaustion we took a cab (which was a mistake, since it was a 10 euro flat rate and the ride was only a few minutes).
The lobby area in La Résidence is very quintessentially French, like the rest of the town.
Breakfast at the hotel was simple, but good. I limited myself to just a croissant (which was delicious) and some coffee because unfortunately, I had a bad stomachache while in Barcelona. I won’t go into too much detail but, while there, I lost my lunch. The strange thing was that my mom had the exact same lunch as me and was fine. I went about a day after that without eating, and by the time we were in France I was feeling better but still cautious.
The hotel was moderately priced, at about $100 per night. I though it was completely worth it since it was a nice place and I was sick and exhausted. There are a few hostels in the area though so more budget options are available.
Narbonne is best known for being an important port city during the Roman Empire, which was then in a region known as Gaul. In the middle of town, a portion of a road built by the Romans has been excavated.
Though probably the most famous landmark is the Narbonne Cathedral, also known as the Cathédrale Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur. The construction of the church began in 1272, and remains actually unfinished.
Narbonne also has a lot of narrow streets and shops to explore. Unfortunately my phone camera couldn’t really capture the charm of the area.
When we searched for a place to eat for dinner, we came across a crepe place that was fairly cheap. My mom got a dinner crepe, whereas I got a sweet nutella and strawberry crepe (which luckily my stomach handled fine).
After dinner though, we couldn’t find our way back to the city center, and at the time, neither of us knew that Google Maps worked without wifi via satellite. So we spent hours walking around, until it eventually got dark. We tried asking for directions but no one we came across spoke English. Finally, a short middle aged Frenchman basically walked us the full 20 minutes toward the city center (he spoke no English, but chatted a bit in French until we told him “no comprende”, but even after that he was pretty talkative.) Once we saw the cathedral spire, we both breathed sighs of relief. We shouted “Merci! Merci!” numerous times to the man who was nice enough to go far out of his way to assist us.
Narbonne was actually my favorite place on the trip, despite the fact I went there more because it was on the path rather than seeking it out on its own. It doesn’t have a ton of attractions (particularly while we were there in winter, when boats along the Canal du Midi, a tourist attraction in the area, generally aren’t running). But nothing beats just sitting back and relaxing in a French cafe, walking the cobblestone roads and checking out the shops. If you are taking a train through Narbonne, I would highly suggest actually stopping there for a night.