Ah, the city break. Before having kids we were quite big fans of city breaks: meandering around back streets, in and out of cafes and the odd bar, heading out in the evening for a meal in a cosy looking restaurant. Oh, those were the days. Not that we had them very often but, being country folk at heart, we always quite enjoyed a few days in the hustle and bustle before skulking off back to our quiet life in the sticks. So it was that we were looking for somewhere to go for a few days away in the holidays. Our first instinct was to look to the mountains. James was keen to explore the area around Les Angles, having talked to someone who regularly goes there for holidays, so that was the first place we looked. If it had just been the two of us, fine, no problem. But out of season, with cold weather approaching, possibly in the wet, what would there be to do with two small children? After trawling the Internet and having a good look at various maps, we hadn’t found anything that was much different from our regular life here. If we struggled to get out for “proper” walks where we live, which is pretty wild as it is, spending a couple of days somewhere even wilder might not be much fun. I also didn’t want to drive too far. I don’t think it’s fair on the kids to spend too much of the day in the car and would rather just get somewhere than take up too much of the holiday travelling.
The idea of a trip to the mountains just wasn’t cutting it. Then were remembered the city break. Why not!? We’d really enjoyed a few days in Cahors on a trip back from the Charente earlier in the year and there was the added bonus that it would probably be warmer than out in the sticks and have a few more wet weather options. But which city? We haven’t been to any French cities, ever – other than a trip to the Carcassone to register the car. Toulouse was an option but in the end we decided on Narbonne as we could also easily reach Gruissan, somewhere we had wanted to visit in the summer but had decided against due to the travel factor and being unable to find accommodation for a short camping trip (and also not having the bottle for a camping trip!) I found a nice-looking apartment a short walk from the city centre, promptly booked it, and that was that: we were going to Narbonne.
As with so many things these days the whole trip was a bit flying by the seat of our pants. For example, it was only as we approached Narbonne that I even looked up the address of the place to get directions. In days gone by I’d have printed maps and had a least some idea of where it was. No more. It was a miracle we all ended up in the car, frankly, as the morning we were due to set off did not go well! James had done a little bit of research previously but hadn’t turned up anything particularly good to do with kids. Just the usual site-seeing stuff: old buildings, city tours (for the full list, check out Trip Advisor). I did a bit of Googling while we drove down and managed to write a very small list of child-friendly things to do, thinking also that it might be cold and wet, so with wet-weather as well as child-friendly activities. Here’s what I found and what we did.
Narbonne Swimming Pool
Narbonne Piscine Municipale
Top of the list was a visit to the swimming pool. DD loves swimming and is as happy as anything splashing about in arm bands. The pool looked quite impressive, with some fantastic outdoor facilities (not open in November, of course) as well as some fun indoor things, like a waterslide and a play area. The reviews weren’t great with some people saying it was a bit dirty, but there was only one way to find out whether that was true. So off we went.
And it was great! It seemed pretty clean to me, plus it was warm in both the changing rooms, the pool area, and the water. I hate a cold pool! There was plenty of room in the small pool, which started at 40cm and then dropped down to 70cm, which was perfect for both DD and DS. There wasn’t a massive queue for the water slide, so DD went on three times, twice with James and then with me, and DD enjoyed the play area once the water sprayer went off. Once she discovered how fast she could go on the small slide, she really went of it! We passed a happy hour there and only left because DS was getting hungry and showing signs of tiredness. We’d definitely go back!
Pricing was hard to find on their website though. For the four of us (two adults, one 3 year old and a one-year-old) we paid 11 euros 30 cents. Not bad. It’s a bit more than we pay locally but there were more facilities. You’d definitely get better value for money in the summer, given the access to the outdoor facilities, but really it was perfect for us on a grey and stormy looking afternoon.
Other facilities at the same site include a skate park – very popular, looking at the numbers on it – and an ice-skating rink, which DD was fascinated by. Another one to revisit if we end up in Narbonne again.
Google Maps reckoned it was a 30 minute walk from the centre, so we drove. I’m glad we did because it was dark when we came out and everyone was tired. There are supermarkets near by as well as a few fast food places, if that’s your thing.
As far as refreshments go at the pool, there’s a restaurant (open for lunch and dinner) and a couple of vending machines in the foyer.
The Indoor Market
Les Halles de Narbonne
An indoor market wouldn’t have been my first choice with two small children but as it was we struggled to get DD out of there. She loved it, especially the lobster tank (kids, or at least my kids, really don’t care about the killing and eating thing) and the baskets with all the strange-looking shellfish, including the very odd looking (for a foodstuff) sea urchin. Who would want to eat those!?
The nice thing about the market is that there are also a few cafes and bars – more wet weather places to hang out. And you can also do your shopping while you’re there. We didn’t but a few stalls that caught my eye included one selling moroccan food, with various tagine-cooked meals for sale, and an Italian stall with some really tasty calzones and pizzas. DD was very interested in some the cakes, of course.
This isn’t really an official tourist destination of course, but anyone with small kids knows that you can’t beat a play ground. The kids get to let off steam instead of being dragged around the streets (or around boring churches and museums) and you get to put your feet up. The play area was clean – fenced off from the main park – and within a small, quiet park. We had a happy 20-minutes here.
It’s only a few minutes walk from the centre, just past the Cathedrale Saint-Just et Saint-Pasteur, behind the MJC building on Place Roger Salengro. Pick up a coffee then take a seat on the bench while your kids run about.
The Roman Road
Via Domitia of Narbonne
Website (Trip Advisor Review): https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187155-d11548276-Reviews-Via_Domitia_of_Narbonne-Narbonne_Aude_Occitanie.html
This is a section of the original roman road in the main square that has been exposed. What’s particularly nice is that you are able to walk on it – it’s not just something to look at. The striking thing about it is the depth. Roman Narbonne existed a metre or two lower than the present day. Also the stones are giant compared to anything we would consider road-worthy today. Cobbles these rocks are not.
On a quiet autumn day there’s space to sit while your young ones jump around all over the rocks. Again, DD was very happy there and could have stayed longer (in fact I’ve just remembered we promised to go back later on – but didn’t.)
On our last day, after leaving the apartment, we drove down to Gruissan Plage. We’d been given a map with some walks on it and wanted to look for some flamingos! Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great for walking, so we just headed to the nearest beach after driving through the small town of Gruissan and ended up on the Plage de Chalets, which was interesting in itself as I’d almost booked up as place there before deciding we’d be more comfortable in town, given the time of year. Anyway, with the wind blowing a gale, the sea was choppy and the kite-surfers were out in force, which both DD and DS loved. Obviously, given it was November, the beach was empty, so both kids had a really nice play: DD playing horses, galloping around, and even going in for a paddle, and DS rolling around in the soft sand! We picked up some shells and a short walk up the beach and back. DD walked on the rocks and DS on the wall. Both were happy (simple pleasure!) Afterwards we sidled into the “beach bar” which also happens to be the surf rental shop. We had a couple of coffees and they made a couple of babycinos for the kids (hot milk with chocolate sprinkles.) It was a bit of a rip off (12 euros!) but then it was a tourist spot.
From here it was an easy drive back to the auto-route through the salt marshes on the D32. Happily, really only a 100 metres from the bridge out of Gruissan, we saw some flamingos, stragglers stuck inland, most likely waiting for the wind to change before setting off. That rounded things off nicely. And we’ll definitely be back in warmer weather when the flamingos will also be in abundance for the walks around the Etang and other nature areas.
Royal Kids Play Centre
Royal Kids Parc de Jouet
This was on my wet weather reserve list. As it was we didn’t end up visiting as it was dry the next day so we were able to visit the beach, but we visited one of these when we were up in the Charente earlier in the year and it was a great place for the kids to let off some steam, especially before the journey back. Soft play, slides, and a cafe. We used to visit these almost weekly when we were in England but they’re few and far between here, usually just the odd one close to the city, so it would have been quite a treat for them to go. Another one for next time.
So there we have. We easily filled our full day there and I was happy that we also made it to the beach and saw some flamingos! The old town in Gruissan looked nice and in warmer weather we would possibly have walked a bit more and stopped there for a look around.
Narbonne itself, despite finding things to do, wasn’t our favourite destination. It was just too dirty. With two small children who like to touch everything and occasionally, spontaneously, throw themselves on the floor and roll/crawl around (while channelling a horse or a dog, presumably) it was one of those parenting-on-high-alert type experiences. It was marginally more relaxing once they were both on our backs in slings but still, as James pointed out, we weren’t getting to see much of Narbonne because we were constantly looking at our feet. It was dire, actually. Every wall had been peed on, recently, it seemed, and you could barely walk 5 metres without coming upon another patch of dog poo. Yuck, really yuck. On that basis, it’s unlikely we’ll go back to the town. The beach, on the other hand, and the area around Gruissan was clean, so our next visit will be to there, I think.
Have you visited Narbonne as a family? If so, what did you do? Have I missed anything off my list?