Walking Holidays – Cathar castles & history tour
Explorer – Cathar country
Walk in the footsteps of the Perfects through the foothills of the Mediterranean Pyrenees. This trip uses three bases to explore the Cathar Country of the Langue d’Oc: Foix, the Aude Valley and Corbières.
During our hikes, we’ll enjoy the varied hill scenery and historical sites of the beautiful Eastern Pyrenees. We will delve into the rich history of the area, following the tragic fate of the Cathar heretics, whose “Perfects” (priests) and followers were brutally persecuted by the Catholic church of the time.
As well as its rich and evocative historical heritage, this beautiful area has outstanding scenery, wild flowers and birdlife.
Highlights of this holiday include: Cathar Castle circuits of Roquefixade and Montségur in the Pyrenean foothills near Foix; Puivert Castle (Aude), via the plateau and karst labyrinth of Nébias; and castle circuits of Peyrepertuse and Quéribus through the maquis and vines of the Corbières, Aude.
We’ll also enjoy the fruits of the terroir with a wide selections of wines, cheeses, charcuteries and fine local dishes.
About the Cathars
The Cathars were a religious group concentrated in modern day France’s Langue D’Oc region. By the middle of the 1100s they were a big enough group to be regarded as a threat by the ruling Catholic church.
What followed was a brutal extinction, killing many innocents and changing the history of this region forever.
This period of history left behind many fortresses, castles and churches where the key moments of this time were played out. We approach the castles using lesser-know trails through scenic countryside, then take time to explore and absorb the atmosphere of each castle.
Accommodation is based in 3* and 2* hotels, of a high standard, in the historic Ariège town of Foix, the quiet village of Sougraignes in the heart of the Cathar Country of the Aude, and the pretty Corbières village of Duilhac. We have two nights in each hotel, with up to 80 minutes transfer between areas.
Your leader for this week is Julien Johnston, a qualified, experienced International Mountain Leader, who is an expert in local history, flora and fauna.
What the price includes
- 4 nights half board accommodation
- 2 nights B&B accommodation
- 5 packed lunches
- Transport to and from the hikes
- Transfers to and from Toulouse train station
- Qualified, experienced, bilingual (English and French) Mountain Leader, with a detailed knowledge and passion for this area and its history, who will be your guide for the whole week.
- Entrance to all historic sights on the itinerary
Your holiday price does NOT include:
- Two evening meals. Many of our guests value the opportunity to try food a la carte in a local restaurant. Rather than commit to a set meal or a specific budget, on these nights you can select your own menu.
Generally warm and sunny, although in Spring or Autumn storms can blow through. At these times of year, you can expect temperatures in the low to mid 20s°C. Surface water can be in short supply, so we advise carrying at least 1.5 litres per person.
Please read our Kit List for more information on what we’d advise you bring with you.
Please contact us for more details and booking.
A typical week’s itinerary
Sunday – Pick up from Toulouse, drive to Foix
Meet the guide at Toulouse SNCF railway station early Sunday afternoon, then transfer to the historic small town of Foix, arriving in time for a visit the town’s labyrinth of narrow streets and squares. The castle high over the town, with its two keeps, dates back to the times of the Albigensian wars with France when the Count of Foix was the strongest of defenders of the Cathar cause. Our accommodation for two nights is at a traditional, family run, 3 star hotel with a good restaurant overlooking the river Ariège. The buffet breakfast is served here too.
Monday – Roquefixade castle, using a circular ridge route
Today we take a superb off-the-beaten-track circuit on the limestone ridges of the Plantaurel hills, taking in the evocative ruins of Roquefixade castle, which towers directly over the untouched mediaeval village. The views of the Ariège Pyrenees are superb and in Spring and early Summer a wide variety of mountain and Mediterranean flora awaits us. The trail goes from sunny grassland to oak woods to rocky cliff-top (no need to approach the edge!), to varied farmland. Great birdlife too. Afternoon refreshments available in the old village…
Hike 12kms, Total height gain 500m.
Tuesday – Transfer East, Montségur and Puivert
A transfer east to Quillan stopping to hike up to the famous Montségur castle, perched atop the high limestone cliffs at 1200m. Monségur is not only one of the foothills’ finest viewpoints but also the most poignant of all the great “Cathar” castles, as it was here, in 1244, that over 200 “heretics” were burned alive for their refusal to renounce their faith. This is also a rallying point for Languedoc nostalgics, a historic site with a unique story behind it.
In the afternoon we should also have time to walk up to the castle of Puivert further east (the most “genteel” of the castles, having been constructed post-conflict) and hopefully for a drink in the small, typical town of Quillan, where we our hotel for the next two nights is located.
Vehicle transfer 1 hour with visits. Hike 6 kms, Total height gain 300m.
Wednesday – Bugarach
Into the Corbières…for those in the know, the little village of Bugarach and its handsome limestone peak, are rich in folklore both ancient and modern. Cathar treasure, the Templars, witches, energy lines and even elves and UFOs converge here to make this unassuming place one of the focal points of Alternative France. And for those not in the know, just a varied walk through gorgeous landscapes around this summit whose peak is the high point of les Corbières at 1230m. We may even make it to the top if the group wishes.
Hike max 16km, Total height gain 620m (for tour not including summit)
Thursday – Puilaurens Castle, the Gorges de St Jaume, Fenouillet castle, Galamus gorges and hermitage
We head to the sunny eastern Corbières region, taking in sights such as castles, gorges and hermitages clinging to rocky edges, in an area of vines, herb-scented “garrigue” heath and evergreen oak woods.
Our first visit is a short, strenuous hike up to the castle of Puilaurens, another stronghold in the line of fortifications at the foot of the Pyrenees, hosting many features of mediaeval military architecture and beautiful, far-ranging views.
Further East again we visit the Gorges of Galamus, a great gash in the limestone hills, with an improbable road winding its way high over the river, and the Hermitage lodged in the rocks: a spectacular site with its cave chapel and tunnel access…
Finally we arrive at our hotel for two nights in the charming village of Duilhac, below the mighty castle of Peyrepertuse.
Transfer 1 hour, Hike max 10 km, Total height gain 420m
Friday – Woodlands of Corbières and Peyrepertuse Castle
Leaving our hotel on foot, we’ll enjoy the rich Mediterranean landscapes of the Corbières hills and then head up to Peyrepertuse Castle, the biggest of all the Cathar Country.
Our trail takes us through evergreen “maquis” woods, which in Spring are full of wildflowers, to the quiet Corbières village of Rouffiac. From here it’s a rewarding climb through the woods to reach the castle via its northern, much forgotten approach. Peyrepertuse is in fact two castles, the original to the east and the western keep added by Louis IX, “Saint Louis”, at the time of the conquest in the 1240s. The long, worn stairway up to this keep is still today known as the Stairs of St. Louis. It’s a fascinating place with the two keeps, intact ramparts, remains of chapels, great views over the Corbières…
Depending on your travel arrangements, possibility of visiting Queribus castle at the end of the day or tomorrow Saturday.
Hike max 13 km, Total height gain 600m
Saturday – Queribus Castle and return to Toulouse
Depending on your flight or other travel times, our final morning includes a short walk and visit to Queribus Castle. This was the very last castle to surrender to the forces of the French crown. It’s a compact, evocative, well-preserved site with views from the top of the little keep reaching as far as the Mediterranean sea and the border with Spain: a superb finish to our holiday.
We’ll then head to Toulouse, stopping off en-route for a picnic, before arriving at the station or airport mid-afternoon.
Hike max 3 km, Total height gain 150m.
Please check individual holiday descriptions to find out what the price includes. In some cases discounts are available for groups or family rooms. For some holidays accommodation is provided in mountain refuges, or by 3rd party suppliers – please see individual holiday descriptions for details.
PLEASE NOTE – Our calendar is flexible. Please contact us if you have a different trip or date in mind to the ones shown or if you would like a bespoke itinerary.
|3rd – 10th||Walking – Spanish Pyrenees Kingdom of Aragon hike.||£810|
|10th-17th||Walking – Cathar country Explorer The Cathar Trail, castles, views and history of the Albigensian crusade.||£895|
|23rd-30th||Walking – Valleys & views Taster Sight seeing and walking||£810|
|30th-6th||Walking – Valleys, villages & cirques Explorer Gentle guided walking||£790|
|6th-13th||Walking – Lakes, cirques & summits Discoverer Intermediate guided walking||£790|
|13th-20th||Walking – Valleys, villages & cirques Explorer Gentle guided walking||£790|
|20th-27th||Walking – Lakes, cirques & summits Discoverer Intermediate guided walking||£790|
|20th-27th||Walking – Neouvielle Lakes – Discoverer walking (2 nights at manned refuges) – Pyrenees Lake District||£810|
|27th-4th||Hiking – Peaks, ridges & refuges Adventurer Unlimited trekking to the guides favourite spots, 1 night in catered refuge.||£810|
|27th-4th||Walking – Valleys & views Taster Sight seeing and walking||£810|
|4th-11th||Walking – Valleys, villages & cirques Explorer Gentle guided walking||£790|
|18th-25th||Trekking – HRP Stage 1 The Pyrenees Haute Route Trek (Coast to Coast long distance hike)||£890|
|18th-25th||Walking – Gavarnie & Ordesa Discoverer France and Spain inc. 2 night mini-trek in catered refuges||£810|
|18th-25th||Catered Accommodation for independent activities/hiking||£450|
|25th-1st||Trekking – HRP Stage 2 The Pyrenees Haute Route Trek (Coast to Coast long distance hike)||£890|
|25th-1st||Catered Accommodation for independent activities with afternoon tea||£450|
|CLOSED in 2020|
|5th-12th||Walking – Gavarnie & Ordesa Discoverer France and Spain inc. 2 night mini-trek in catered refuges||£810|
|5th-12th||Trekking – HRP Stage 1 The Pyrenees Haute Route Trek (Coast to Coast long distance hike)||£890|
|5th-12th||Catered Accommodation 4 nights Half board with afternoon tea and 3 nights B&B||£400|
|12th-19th||Walking – Valleys, villages & cirques Explorer Gentle guided walking||£790|
|12th-19th||Trekking – HRP Stage 2 The Pyrenees Haute Route Trek (Coast to Coast long distance hike)||£890|
|12th-19th||Bespoke guided walking/trekking/climbing/activity week Your choice! contact us||—|
|19th-26th||Trekking – HRP Stage 3 The Pyrenees Haute Route Trek (The Aneto -3404m, ascent stage)||£990|
|19th-26th||Walking – Lakes, cirques & summits Discoverer Intermediate guided walking||£790|
|26th-3rd||Walking – Gavarnie & Ordesa Discoverer France and Spain inc. 2 night mini-trek in catered refuges||£810|
|26th-3rd||Bespoke guided walking/trekking/climbing/activity week Your choice! contact us||—|
|4th-11th||Walking – Cathar country The Cathar Trail, castles, views and history of the Albigensian crusade.||£895|
|11th-18th||Walking – Spanish Pyrenees Kingdom of Aragon hike.||£810|