Join Trip Leader Skye McDonald for village to village hikes across the wild mountain paths of the Sentier Cathare (Cathar Trail) in Languedoc-Roussillon, a realm of rich history, fabulous scenery, great food, and most importantly, super hikes. In this hidden corner of southern France, we’ll hike on high, flower-filled meadows, through hillside vineyards (a third of France’s wine is produced here), into limestone gorges—and on most hikes, there is even a castle ruin to explore, with views stretching to the snow-capped Pyrenees.
Who are the Cathars, you are probably asking, and you’ll be forgiven for not knowing! Cathar devotees arrived in Languedoc-Roussillon around the 13th century and were followers of a pacifist brand of Christianity, which the local nobility and many others admired. But Cathar beliefs challenged the Roman Catholic Church, and Pope Innocent III launched a brutal crusade against them. The lofty hilltop castles of this region (which once marked the border with Spain) is where the Cathars were sheltered by sympathetic noblemen during the 40-year crusade. History will be all around us on our hikes, and our exploration of these brooding castles adds to the mystique.
This is France, so it goes without saying that we’ll taste superb cheeses and local wines including Blanquette, a bubbly white that predates Champagne. This is also the land of the troubadours, itinerant musicians and poets who perform in Occitan, the local language, and we’ll hear their music on a couple of evenings, including one in the fabulous Chateau des Ducs de Joyeuse, a restored castle that is one of our atmospheric hotels. In medieval Mirepoix, we’ll join in the bustling weekly market, and in stunning fortified town of Carcassonne, we’ll marvel at the grand-scale medieval splendor of this World Heritage Site. Come and share the richness of this incomparable area of France with us!
Day 1, May 29, 2017
Toulouse / Carcassonne
Heading into the World Heritage Site of Carcassonne, a magnificent Cathar citadel, we enjoy a day of exploration in the cobbled lanes and an overnight in an atmospheric heritage hotel right in the heart of the medieval town.
Days 2-3, May 30-31, 2017
Queribus / Peyrepertuse / Cucugnan
Our first Cathar Trail hikes bring us through quiet villages and vineyards below the mighty Queribus Castle, perched like a bird’s nest overlooking the Roussillon plains, to Peyrepertuse Castle, stretching over 1,000 feet along the crest of a serrated limestone cliff, and to the charming village of Cucugnan.
Days 4-6, Jun 1- 3, 2017
Puilauren / Pech de Bugarach / St-Julia-de-Bec
We may see eagles soaring on the thermals above as we hike the open countryside, crossing a col to descend to the quaint riverside village of Puilauren, then ascending to Puilauren Castle. On our trail below the highest mountain in the Corbiere region, the Pech de Bugarach, we'll cross the Col du Vent to reach St-Just-et-le-Bezu, a tiny farming hamlet, then make our way to picturesque St-Julia-de-Bec, whose street names are in Occitan, an ancient romance language also known as the Langue d’Oc.
Days 7-8, Jun 4- 5, 2017
Gorge de la Frau / Montsegur / Mirepoix
Panoramas stretch to the rugged, snowy Pyrenean Pic de St. Barthelemy (7,700’) as we hike over the Col de la Gargante (4,463’) then follow a trail through the Gorge de La Frau. Another one of our hikes starts at the most dramatic of all the Cathar castles, Montsegur, sitting 4,000 feet above the surrounding land. It was the site of a notorious Cathar massacre. In Mirepoix, a Cathar stronghold and one of the most beautiful towns in southern France, we'll be there for the weekly open-air farmers' market in the medieval square.
Days 9-10, Jun 6- 7, 2017
Roquefixade / Niaux Caves
We’ll start our final hike on a trail below the ruined 13th century stronghold of Roquefixade Castle, with views back to Montsegur and the jagged peaks of the high Pyrenees. For a final treat, we'll visit the incredible Niaux Caves, a prehistoric art site in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Depart on Day 10 via Toulouse.