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Forget St. Tropez! Explore France’s Hidden Beach Paradise On A Budget

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Saint-Tropez is perhaps the trendiest beach destination in Europe right now: it is part of the French Riviera, the leading sunny destination in the continent if not the entire world, and it's a bucket list item for millions of travelers keen on experiencing some of that joie de vivre.

Panoramic View Of Narbonne, Southern France, Southern Europe

Sadly, this little port dotted with beachfront bars can be a bit ‘trop‘ – pun intended – especially if you're adverse to crowds, and you don't exactly fancy breaking the bank on a one-week stint, but luckily, the upscale town is not France's only Mediterranean jewel worth discovering.

For smaller crowds, lower prices, and just as gorgeous summer weather, ditch celeb-frequented Saint-Tropez for Narbonne, France's beach paradise (on a budget):

A Gorgeous Ancient City In Southern France

Boats Traveling Down A Canal In Narbonne, France, Southern Europe

The largest municipality of the Aude department, in the sunny South of France, Narbonne is a classic example of a city with an inestimable cultural wealth that could rival all of Europe's most popular ancient coastal gems, yet it is somehow still flying under the radar.

Founded as early as the 1st century B.C. by the Romans, it was an important trading port in the Mediterranean, flourishing as a heavily fortified, prosperous city, a status it retained throughout much of its History, and under the numerous empires it existed under.

Abbaye De Fontfroide In Narbonne, France, Southern Europe

The UNESCO-listed Old Town is a clear reflection of the centuries of accumulated History, with its cobbled ways, narrow houses, Gothic cathedral, and monumental Archbishop's Palace, best known for its adjacent donjon, or defensive tower, that boasts views of the ocher cityscape below.

Unlike other historic cities of its time, however, Narbonne is not a mere open-air museum: it is probably its parent country's best kept coastal secret, even though it is not exactly coastal.

Beautiful Mediterranean Beaches

Narbonne Plage, A Beach Near Narbonne In France, Mediterranean Europe

Old Narbonne may be located inland, but the wider commune is part of the Mediterranean, with the city proper being a short 15-minute drive to the shoreline, full of sandy beaches bounded by warm, azure waters and quaint fishing villages.

Narbonne Beach is the most touristy of all, as it still lies within city boundaries, with plenty of restaurants and beachfront hotels to pick from, though driving 30 minutes south to Leucate is where tourists will actually find the clearest seas (and the best oyster shops in the entire region).

Wooden Lifeguard On A Sandy Beach In Narbonne, Occitanie Region Of France, On The Mediterranean Sea

Other gorgeous beaches in and around Narbonne include Port La Nouvelle, a secret favorite among locals as the sands are silky and the waters are shallow and swim-friendly, the resort-lined Valras, where a honey-colored coast awaits, and a more wild, unspoiled Portiragnes.

Unlike Saint Tropez, however, it won't cost you an arm and a leg to spend a few days lounging by the beach in Narbonne:

Narbonne Is Cheaper Than Côte d'Azur

Canal In Narbonne, France, Southern Europe

If you're staying on the oceanside, Logis Hotel De La Clape has overnight rates from only $110 this summer, with a pool and only 150 meters from Narbonne Beach; in Old Town Narbonne, it starts from an even cheaper $87 at the centrally-located Zenitude Hotel.

Compared to most Southern French holiday towns, restaurants in Narbonne are reasonably-priced: ordering seafood pasta and a glass of wine in a local, inexpensive brasserie will only set you back some $25, not to mention affordable street-corner boulangeries and snack shops.

Unfinished Cathedral In Narbonne, A City In Occitanie, Southwestern France, On The Mediterranean Coast

Even flying to Narbonne – from within Europe – is relatively cheap, with low-cost Ryanair flights to Béziers Cap d'Agde Airport, some 21 miles outside the city, available from only $18.63 from a number of departure points in the continent.

Needless to say, there are no nonstop flights available from the United States, so getting there will typically require a one-stop flight or flying nonstop first to Nice, in the French Riviera, before getting on the westbound train towards Narbonne.

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