(Narbonne) We were on vacation on the Côte d’Azur and had to go to a wedding in the South West three days later. With this weather ahead of us, rather than staying on the crowded Var beaches, we opted for adventure!

But after passing Montpellier, we were caught in huge traffic jams in Sète, then in Agde. Annoyances, panic. The clock was ticking. Where were we going to stay in the middle of August?

We practically “resigned” to staying in an upmarket hotel in Narbonne-Plage, the Château L’Hospitalet, the most expensive place we’ve ever stayed in France. Since it was only for two nights, we thought: we only have one life to live! Our decision, we have not regretted it. This property, which turned out to be that of winemaker Gérard Bertrand, an SAQ supplier, is full of charms.

First, art lovers are delighted with a summer exhibition. Last summer, French artist Robert Combas presented paintings, sculptures and a nighttime animated projection on a hotel building.

The next day, we discovered the beach, deserted in the middle of August. Splendid water, beautiful fine sand and a wind that reduces the feeling of heat. We had rented two mattresses from the L’Hospitalet restaurant installed directly on the sand. Resting and swimming was nice… but there were jellyfish. Children had fun putting them on the sand. In the water, you had to be careful not to cross them! There may also be sharp spots in the sand, at the limit where you no longer have a foothold. My boyfriend experienced this fish with backbones. Not lucky ! It was the second time a tourist had been stung during the summer, a waitress at the restaurant told us. She took steps to fix the problem by putting her foot in a container of hot water for 45 minutes. Yes, nautical shoes are recommended…

After Narbonne-Plage, we visited Narbonne, founded by the Romans in 118 BC. A city that is both lively and peaceful. With a pedestrian heart, cycle paths and a small train for a guided excursion. We walked through the Archbishops’ Palace, a Romanesque and Gothic building built from the 13th century.

The Museum of Art and History of Narbonne was the highlight of the visit to the palace, along with that of the dungeon which dominates the city. The museum contains collections of fine arts and decorative arts, with magnificent earthenware, paintings by the great masters, Tintoretto, Veronese or Jacques-Louis David, and a magnificent Orientalist exhibition.

We were also charmed by the small streets of Narbonne, cool and quiet in the middle of August. Through the doors of often narrow houses. How do owners enter appliances?

But also by the pleasure of cycling along the Robine canal. This allowed us to connect the city to the Domaine Saint Domingue, an inn where we came to stay after the wedding… Because we had decided to return to Narbonne, we had been so won over! Run by a Dutch couple, Jan and Cynthia, the hostel allowed us to rest in the countryside, to enjoy the two swimming pools and the pond and to be only 15 minutes from Narbonne by bike.

Our hosts had recommended that we visit Minerve, a small village less than an hour from Narbonne by car. What a great suggestion!

If you like picturesque stone villages, you will be served. Minerve is perched on a limestone bar surrounded by two canyons where the Cesse and the Briant flow. The view is spectacular. Going around the Cathar village, a stage of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, is very pleasant. The Romanesque church dates from the 11th century and its altar from 456! Its history is marked by the tragedy of 1210 when 140 Cathars – dissidents of the Roman Church – perished on a stake placed at the confluence of the two rivers.

The small village has several restaurants, but don’t arrive too late. Afternoon siesta! Do not miss the natural tunnel of the Cesse, carved by the river over a few hundred meters. You can walk on its bed made of pebbles and go from one opening to another.

Les Natur’Ailes: free kite festival

National Amateur Theater Festival

Jordi Savall Festival at Fontfroide Abbey (15 minutes from Narbonne)

L’Hospitalet Jazz Festival with Ben Harper, Nile Rodgers, Ibrahim Maalouf, Tower of Power, Selah Sue, Big Band Brass

Music in the Present Festival, at the Archbishops’ Palace

Festival Boats on stage in the heart of the city. Free. With Bernard Lavilliers