Read more about my Self Care Sabbatical and the other places I’ve visited!
On our days off from working the grape harvest, we had a chance to explore the area around Corbières. It was nice to see some of the historic sights in the area (plenty of castles), as well as enjoy some downtime at the beach. Since we were living in such a small town, it was nice to get out every few days!
I arrived in Narbonne from Bayonne, but never really got to see the town. A few weeks later, a group of us spent a few hours wandering around the center of town which has a lovely cathedral (Cathedral Saint-Just, currently under construction) attached to the Hotel de Ville. As in many of the towns in this region, the Canal du Midi runs through the center of town.
As it was a Monday, many of the shops and cafes were closed while we were there (and we arrived too late to visit Les Halles). We opted for a late afternoon glass of wine at Brasserie des 4 Fontaines before buying snacks and hopping on the bus back to our town in Corbières (only 1 euro for the bus which took about 40 minutes).
Carcassonne was high on my list when I was planning travel to southern France. The charm of the city lies within its medieval city walls and it’s the kind of place that draws in A LOT of day-tripping tourists. In fact, when we left the city around 6pm, it seemed completely emptied out. Many of the shops and cafes were closing around this time (and unsure if they would reopen later in the day). There are a few hotels within the city walls, but many more just below the old city (along with more restaurants).
The town is SMALL and it doesn’t take long to walk around the whole thing. Also, it’s very touristy. There are quite a few “museums” of torture and the Inquisition, though not sure how legit any of these are. There’s a castle which you can visit for 9 euro; your ticket also grants access to the city’s walls. There are so many souvenir shops in Carcassonne, as well as ice cream and crepe shops. Despite its super touristy vibe, it is a really beautiful old village and nice to visit for a few hours. I highly suggest popping into Le Bar a Vins after walking around – this wine bar is near the Basilique Saint Nazaire
Carcassonne is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary of being a UNESCO World Heritage site and as part of the celebration, the city walls are being used as part of an art installation by Felice Varini. Apparently, this art is not beloved by all.
Note: We returned to Carcassonne on October 2nd and found it much emptier. Many of the shops and restaurants (including that lovely wine bar) were also closed. Definitely a place to visit during the summer as it was clearly shutting down after September!
Leucate / Port La Nouvelle
It has been hot while we’ve been working so we have taken advantage of the warm days to hit the beach We first visited Port La Nouvelle which is an extensive beach, much of which is left open (and frequented by nudists as it’s a naturist beach). Part of the beach is close to the town where you can find snack shops and a casino. But the wilder part of the beach is far more interesting (and not just because of the naked people). When the tide is low, the beach seems to extend forever and looks like a vast moonscape. It’s stunning and a bit surreal. Both times we went to this beach there were not many people there which was also really nice.
On our second visit, the tide was high and the water came up nearly to the road. Driving in was tricky, we found the driest area where we could turn in toward the beach and parked quite a bit away from the main beach area so we could walk the rest of the way. The vast moonscape was now a giant reflective pool (also stunning) and the beach was nearly empty since the rising water likely scared some people away from where we had gone.
Around the other side of that cape is Leucate, where the beach is much smaller and more concentrated around the town. When we came here the water was pretty calm and this seemed much more like a relaxing, family beach. I think I preferred the wilder nature of Port La Nouvelle but Leucate was a bit more manicured. The strip in front of the beach includes some hotels, restaurants, and snack shops as well – a very cute little beach town. Plenty of windsurfing happening here.
Abbaye de Fontfroide
Close to our town is this Abbey which was taken over early in the 20th century and turned into this historical site. It is quite lovely to walk around and admire the cloisters, the beautiful chapel, and especially the gardens. It was also not very crowded which made for a nice visit. After walking around the Abbey, you can walk along one of three paths that take you into the hills surrounding the Abbey. We chose to take the path up to the cross at the top of the hill – the walk took about 30 minutes each way and made for some stunning (though super windy) views of the countryside.
There is also a restaurant (a bit pricey) and wine shop at the Abbey, and they host nighttime concerts here during the summer (which I imagine would be pretty cool).
Le Pays Cathare Châteaux
On my last day in Corbières, we visited two more of the castles in the Cathar region, Quéribus and Peyrepertuse. These are both positioned very high on a mountain (to better defend the border near Spain, about 800m high) and there are quite a few steps to climb to get to each of them. I was impressed by the people bicycling up the road to the castles as the road is very steep! You can definitely visit both of them in one day as they are close to one another. We went to Quéribus first (after a quick pitstop in Cucugnan) and after walking up and around the castle, we came back down for a picnic lunch. It was sunny while we were there and quite hot when not in the shade.
After lunch, we drove over to Peyrepertuse which took about 10-15 minutes. This castle is much bigger than Quéribus and much more of a climb to visit. There are actually two parts to this castle and with all of the climbing, it takes quite a while to visit.
As both of these castles date back to the 10th century, there isn’t that much of left of them though the areas around the castle have been well restored. The most impressive thing about these castles is the view – you can see out toward the Mediterranean and all around the countryside (including the Pyrenees in the distance). It is quite breathtaking and I am so glad I had the chance to visit these castles (this is not something I would have sought out on my own). Also, I am so curious about how these castles were built considering just how high up they are!