Medieval Villages of the Languedoc

Overview

Join us 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!

Itinerary at a Glance

Day 1
Toulouse / Carcassonne

In Carcassonne, a magnificent World Heritage Site, we enjoy a day of exploration in the cobbled lanes and an overnight in our magnificent heritage hotel in the fairytale setting of La Cité, with its towering walls and turrets.

Days 2-3
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 above the Roussillon plains, to Peyrepertuse Castle, stretching along the crest of a limestone cliff, and to the charming village of Cucugnan.

Days 4-6
Puilaurens / St-Julia-de-Bec

We hike the open countryside to the quaint riverside village of Puilaurens, 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, the ancient Romance language also known as the Langue d’Oc.

Days 7-8
Gorge de la Frau / Montsegur / Mirepoix

Panoramas stretch to the snowy Pyrenean Pic de St. Barthelemy (7,700') as we hike over the Col de la Gargante then through the Gorge de La Frau. Another hike starts at the most dramatic of all the Cathar castles, Montsegur, sitting 4,000 feet above the surrounding land. In Mirepoix, a Cathar stronghold and one of the most beautiful towns in southern France, we explore the weekly farmers’ market in the square.

Days 9-10
Roquefixade / Niaux Caves

Our last hike is below the ruined 13th century stronghold of Roquefixade Castle, with views of the jagged Pyrenees. Depart on Day 10 via Toulouse.

Highlights

Highlights

Explore Carcassonne, a striking Cathar citadel and World Heritage Site
Hike to the lofty castles of Peyrepertuse, Queribus, and Puilaurens
Enjoy medieval Mirepoix, with its fantastic farmers’ market, and charming Cucugnan
Hear the romantic songs of the troubadors, sung in the ancient Occitan language
Stay in welcoming auberges in historic villages

Details

Length: 10 days
Cost From: $4995  
Arrive: Toulouse, France
Depart: Toulouse, France
Lodging: 9 nights hotels and auberges
Meals: All meals included except 1 lunch and 1 dinner
Activity: Walking, Hiking / Trekking
Trip Level:

8 hiking days on moderate to steep trails, 5-6 hours a day, van support (for luggage or if you wish to skip a day’s hike). This is a strenuous hiking trip, read “What the Trip is Like” for more details.