France: Hiking in the Land of the Cathars

Medieval Villages of the Languedoc

Repertory Trip: No Future Dates Set


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, superb 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 one evening 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 the 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

Days 1-3
Toulouse / Carcassonne / Quéribus / Cucugnan

In the stunning fortified town of Carcassonne, once a Cathar stronghold, we marvel at grand-scale medieval splendor, and overnight in the fairytale-like citadel of La Cité, with its towering walls and 52 turrets. Our first hikes bring us through Syrah and Grenache vineyards below mighty Quéribus Castle, perched like a bird’s nest above the plains, and to the 1,000-year-old hillside village of Cucugnan.

Hotel de La Cite
Carcassonne, France
Day 1 (1 night)
La Tourette
Cucugnan, France
Days 2 to 3 (2 nights)
Auberge de Vigneron
Cucugnan, France
Days 2 to 3 (2 nights)
Days 4-6
Puilaurens / Bugarach / Couiza

Our hikes take us through vineyard-filled valleys and across rugged limestone hills, past crystal-clear pools, into a valley beneath craggy mountains where eagles soar on thermals, to 10th century Puilaurens Castle. We head to magical Pech de Bugarach, the “upside down mountain,” and through woodlands to the pass above Col de Pechines, where we’re rewarded with lovely views of the Pyrenees. We’ll sample local Blanquette, a delicious bubbly white wine. This was the land of the troubadours, itinerant musicians, and poets, and we’ll hear their music on one evening in the fabulous Chateau des Ducs de Joyeuse, a restored castle that is one of our atmospheric hotels.

Days 7-10
Gorges de la Frau / Montségur / Mirepoix / Roquefixade / Niaux Caves

Panoramas stretch to the snowy Pic de St.-Barthelémy (7,700') as we hike over the Col de la Gargante, and to the most dramatic of all the Cathar castles, Montségur, perched 4,000 feet above the surrounding land. In medieval Mirepoix, a Cathar stronghold and one of the most beautiful towns in southern France, we explore the bustling farmers’ market, with a final hike below the ruined 13th century stronghold of Roquefixade Castle. The Salon Noir, with silhouettes of bison, horses, ibex, and stag, is a highlight of the 13,850-year-old rock art gallery in the Niaux Caves. Depart on Day 10 via Toulouse.

Maison des Consuls
Mirepoix, France
Day 7 (1 night)
Relais de Mirepoix
Mirepoix, France
Day 7 (1 night)
Auberge La Barguillere
Saint Pierre de Riviere, France
Days 8 to 9 (2 nights)



Explore Carcassonne, a striking Cathar citadel and World Heritage Site
Hike to the lofty castles of Peyrepertuse, Quéribus, and Puilaurens
Enjoy medieval Mirepoix, with its fantastic farmers’ market, and charming Cucugnan
Stay in welcoming auberges in historic villages
Hear a performance of traditional music, evoking the spirit and times of the troubadours


Length: 10 days
Cost From: TBA  
Arrive: Toulouse, France
Depart: Toulouse, France
Lodging: 9 nights hotels and auberges
Meals: All meals included except 1 lunch and 1 dinner as indicated in the Detailed Itinerary (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Hiking / Trekking, Cultural Adventures
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.