This year we really travelled a lot. We felt like, before reception class starts for my boy – we should take advantage of the freedom, whilst we can. Traveling with small children can be tricky sometimes so we plan a lot ahead, making sure that everything go as smooth as possible – which is important for Bobcat. We read lots of reviews and feedback before we book. So we took 2 summer holidays! Our first one during the last days of June took us to Narbonne, which we visited before and this time we rented a holiday house there, as we really fell in love with this part of France. We love the French Riviera, but wanted to try the other part of it. Why? Because it has got a lovely combination of stretchy, sandy beaches and the vine yard filled country side. We love the Riviera, but in summer it’s just too much, especially with children. It can be too busy, too expensive and too hot. There aren’t too many tourists around here, even in the middle of summer, Narbonne and the surrounding beaches and towns are relatively quiet: no party places, no beach bars, no busy roads.
Narbonne is 20 minutes drive from the Mediterranean sea. The nearest major airport is Béziers but we flew in to Toulouse, where we stayed for a night before driving down to Narbonne, it was the best thing to do with the children being tired when we landed. It also gave us the option to explore Toulouse a little bit before heading to to Narbonne in the afternoon.
As it was really hot – which did not seem unusual when speaking to locals -, we’re talking about 32-34 Celsius during the day! So we spent almost every day at the beach but we still had the chance to explore the surrounding area a little bit in the late afternoons and do some fun things with the children.
Narbonne has a magnificent gothic cathedral, the Saint-Just et Saint-Pasteur, where the kids found all the gargoyles hilarious insead of scary – but they mostly enjoyed the gardens, walking along the Canal de la Robine and buying bread and cheese at the Marché Le Halle, the old market. Narbonne is surrounded by 80,000 hectares the Regional Natural Park of Narbonne. So the countryside is very diverse, from lagoons of the beaches to the vineyards of the hills there are a lot of natural beauty to see.
We have visited quite a few beaches during our holiday and all of them were great, very similar though: long and wide sandy beaches, almost like the Atlantic beaches, but of course lovely and warm with a slight breeze even on the hottest days too. No wonder that the beaches around here are dubbed as the Secret Riviera – they are perfect: clean, shallow water for kilometers long and it feels like, there are hardly anyone around. We have even wondered: where are the people? Well, they are there, but unlike the real Riviera, these beaches are not crowded and it’s a lovely! Narbonne plage was probably the smallest but neatest I would say. Then I really liked Gruissan beach with it’s surfers around and surfer schools, and this has also got a few shells scattered around which the children really enjoyed collecting. And here, they also caught a little crab with their bucket – they were absolutely delighted with their catch and let it back to the sea later. Leucate beach was the largest beach I’ve ever seen in Europe – it just looked so American or Australian to me! Might be the pier, which is not very common in the Mediterranean. And finally, there was Fleury d’Aude which was another of the typical beaches around here. Which was common, that there was just one or no beach bars at all on the beach. So better pack refreshments and food if you spend a few hours on the beach.
Gruissan is a small fishing village near Narbonne. It’s very picturesque and famous for its Tour Barberoussa ruins in the old town. The tower is all that remains of a castle built at the end of the 10th century. It worth the climb up to the tower – even with a buggy – it’s not too bad, honestly. The view from the ruins are spectacular, you’ll get almost 360 degrees view to the town, the seaside and the forests. The harbour is also very pretty with some cute, laid back, family friendly restaurants.
We didn’t take too many photos here as it was too dark – the park opens at 8pm so the kids had a night out one evening and it was an absolute blast for them. Not for us, because they couldn’t go to sleep after all the excitement (and napping in the car at 6pm), but they had the best time. It’s not a very fashionable amusement park, some of the rides are a bit outdated but well maintained, the staff is very nice and there are rides for the little children too. It’s not too expensive either, but of course it will add up if you spend 2 hours there.
Compared to the big US water park we went to last summer this one is so quintessentially European. It’s fairly small, but it has got everything you need and it never gets too busy. It’s also very conveniently located at the seaside so it gets hit by the sea breeze which is very nice on a hot day. It has a few trees planted and only 4 main pools for different ages with slides. It’s attended of course but they the pool attendants are there to save your life if they must – they generally not stopping children running around on their own, jumping into the water or taking age inappropriate slides on their own. There are also plenty of other things to do apart from the water fun, bouncy toys, playground, baby entertainment room, trampolines and a shack where we had ice creams and naturally, crépes! It’s fairly cheap, €15 for an adult.
Montpellier was my absolute favourite around here, even its name is so pretty. Unfortunately we picked a too hot day for getting to know it better so we did not see all the things we wanted. The children liked the zoo, the Parc Zoologique de Lunaret, which is a park indeed, huge territories are provided to the animals (altogether, the park has a footprint of 2600 m2). But in the heat we just could not spend all the time outside what we wanted. It also has a Greenhouse – for this one you need to buy tickets, but the zoo itself is free!
Monpellier is a gemstone of cities. It’s beautiful. The old town is large, you can get lost for hours just marvelling the beautiful buildings. We will be definitely back as we feel like we did not explore it properly. It has a down town tram system so it’s very easy to get around, because it’s quite a big city.
Carcassone is about an hour and a half drive, so did this on our last day before heading back to Toulouse where we booked an airport hotel for the night. We’ve been before with Bobcat, but he was only a few month old then. Carcassonne is the largest walled city in Europe, it has an amazing architecture. It looks like a place straight out of children’s story books, you’re waiting to see a dragon at every corner. It’s very pretty but at the same time quite commercial: lots of little shops selling tatty souvenirs and the restaurants are not great either, but very pricey at the same time. It’s worth to spend a few hours wandering around anyway – but not very buggy friendly!