Last year the holiday I have been dreaming about for so many years finally came to be. We hired a boat and went cruising down the Canal du Midi in the south of France. From there we went on to experience the picturesque Provence before finally ending our trip on the beautiful Côte d’Azur. It took careful planning… how to make the most of our limited time and to stay within budget!
One place that I really wanted to include in our schedule was Narbonne. Rick Stein briefly visited its fresh produce market (one of the largest in southern France), in Rick Stein’s One place that I really wanted to include in our schedule was Narbonne. Rick Stein briefly visited its fresh produce market French Odyssey (the tv show that was really the starting point of our aspirations to cruise the canals of southern France) and because it is not a big city it seemed like it would be a great stop to catch our breath before we embarked on our trip to Provence.
Apart from the market we didn’t know much about it, so I must be honest in saying that we had no real expectations; apart from buying some great produce at the market that we could make back in the self-catering apartment we rented!
We arrived by train and because we only stayed two nights we set off to explore the medieval center of town straightaway. I was immediately taken with how picturesque it was. I loved the streetlights in the streets surrounding our apartment and the buildings were so beautiful. The Canal de la Robine goes through the middle of town and each bridge that crosses the canal was covered in beautiful flower baskets. I just loved the feel of the Narbonne. It felt authentically French; it was without pretense, without masses of tourists and without trying to be anything that it was not.
We found our way to the tourist office, which was not far from the Pont des Marchands, or Merchant bridge, which basically is the foundation for a row of houses and shops. (It actually reminded me of a miniature version of the Ponte Vecchio.)
Armed with a map in hand, we were amazed at all that Narbonne had to offer. It might be a small city but it had so many hidden treasures. It is hard to pick just a few (and we definitely did not get to see all that we would have liked to) but here are our favourites:
Cathedrale de St-Just and St-Pasteur
Building on the cathedral started in 1272. If you climb the adjacent Donjon Gilles Aycelin you can really marvel at the architectural beauty.
The Roman Horreum
This was a fantastic experience and a must do if you visit Narbonne. It was a Roman underground warehouse and dates back to the end of the first century BC. It has been set up with a wonderful display of light and sound… goosebump stuff!
This is another must do. Inside the old church of Notre Dame de La Lamourguier about 1 300 blocks of stone from all kinds of Roman buildings are housed. We paid for our entrance tickets and when the door opened I literally gasped for air – the setting is that beautiful. (The lady selling the tickets was bursting with pride; the biggest smile on her face!)
For the culinary part of our visit we spent quality time in Les Halles de Narbonne. We arrived early morning and drank coffee with the locals at one of the coffee bars inside. And then we went on the hunt for what we came for… sardines! Rick Stein made sardines on the barbeque when he was there and although we would not have the luxury of that, we hoped to pick up a few that we could fry with some butter, garlic, lemon and parsley back in our little apartment. Oh, and we were not disappointed. Apart from all the wonderful seafood on offer, the market was brimming with everything your heart can desire. One can easily stay in Narbonne a month and would still not be able to eat your way through the market!
Our supper that night consisted out of a starter of fried sardines and a main of fresh pasta with clams, tomatoes and parsley, while we sipped wine from the region.
So Monday was a public holiday in South Africa and hubby and I had some gardening to do… more specifically, it was time to harvest our olives! After such hard labour we sat back with a glass of chilled dry rosé and barbequed a few sardines. Although this can hardly be called a recipe – because it really just relies on the wonderful flavour of the fish and the smokiness of the barbeque – here is our take on sardines on the barbeque. We enjoyed it with our fond memories of Narbonne.
Sardines on the barbeque
6 sardines, gutted and cleaned
3 tablespoons of olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Handful of roughly chopped parsley
Coarse sea salt flakes
- Light barbeque and wait for the coals to get hot
- Rub the fish with olive oil and sprinkle with lemon juice and salt
- Place the fish on the barbeque once the coals are really hot and grill for 6 minutes on each side
- Remove from heat, sprinkle with parsley and lemon juice
- Serve with lemon wedges and a side salad
Sardines on the barbeque
- 6 sardines, gutted and cleaned
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- Juice of half a lemon
- Handful of roughly chopped parsley
- Coarse sea salt flakes
- Step 1 Light barbeque and wait for the coals to get hot
- Step 2 Rub the fish with olive oil and sprinkle with lemon juice and salt
- Step 3 Place the fish on the barbeque once the coals are really hot and grill for 6 minutes on each side
- Step 4 Remove from heat, sprinkle with parsley and lemon juice
- Step 5 Serve with lemon wedges and a side salad