Escape onto the Cathar trail with Jérémy Banel

Stretching from the Pyrenees along to the Mediterranean, the Cathar trail offers a surprising variety of landscapes over almost 300km. The hike takes in breathtaking views and the rich heritage of the Cathar castles. Passionate hiker Jérémy Banel leads the way.

Starting point: Foix

We start our visit to Cathar country in the town of Foix, capital of Ariège, with its castle/museum dating from the 12th century. Recently restored, this emblematic landmark now offers a museum space of over 2,000 square metres. We don’t have too much time to linger, though, as the mountains are calling. It’s time to head out for a superb course with stunning views of the Haute-Ariège peaks. This classified GR367 route runs for 270km, and can be broken up into several stages. The hike is flexible according to experience and what you want to see – it can be taken from west to east or the other way around, and tackled on foot, by mountain bike or on horseback!

Le château/musée de Foix (External link)

Roquefixade: the village and château

Our first stage brings us to Roquefixade, whose village itself already sits 700m above sea level. Perched atop an impressive 900m-high mound, the fortress of the Château de Roquefixade dates back to the 11th century and provides an exceptional 360-degree view of the Pyrenees and surrounding area. This place has witnessed significant events in recent centuries, from the beheading of the Duke of Montmorency to the destruction of the castle, as ordered by Louis XIII. Good news: it’s free and open to access all year round.

Crossing the beautiful forests of the Monts d’Olmes, we then pass near the Pog de Montségur. It’s up to you if you want to climb to the top! Did you know that the word ‘pog’ is an Ariège form of the Latin word ‘pŏdĭum’ (meaning ‘eminence’), which is ‘puech’ in Nîmes and ‘puy’ elsewhere in France? Here it refers to this mountain, which has a particular sugarloaf form.

The village of Roquefixade (External link)

The mysterious Pech of Bugarach

This second stage of our Cathar hike takes us to the village of Bugarach, which enjoys a privileged position at the heart of the Corbières massif. The place is known for its famous Pech, but also for its mysterious aura. Its legend was built little by little, first by Victor Hugo, and then by certain inhabitants of the village who said they witnessed aliens flying around the mountain. Others even claim that Bugarach is an energy exchange site, a high vibrational place that was known to the Templars, and even to the Cathars.

There are two trails to access the summit of Pech de Bugarach: a circuit of around seven hours, which leaves from the village and passes the Mathieux waterfall, the Lac de la Venne and the famous rocky window; or a shorter circuit of three and a half hours, leaving from the Linas pass.

Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse and its hilltop château

From Bugarach, a section of around 20km takes us to Peyrepertuse, where we can admire one of the must-see châteaux of Cathar country. After a short passage through the Gorges de Galamus, we arrive at Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse. Built on a rocky outcrop, the village overlooks a small crater where the majority of the plots are cultivated, including many vines.

The château of Peyrepertuse is known for being part of the ‘five sons of Carcassonne’ alongside the châteaux of Quéribus, Puilaurens, Termes and Aguilar, all located at the top of impregnable rocky peaks. We are here on a site with an incredibly rich history: recent excavations have shown that the first activities date back to the beginning of the first century BC.

Note that from Duilhac, you can climb on the cliff of the château of Peyrepertuse. You can also go paragliding, and many swimmers enjoy the nearby Verdouble waterfalls.

Château de Quéribus: a unique panorama

Only a dozen kilometres separate Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse from the château of Quéribus, which stands at a height of 728m, on a rocky plateau that marks the border between the departments of Aude and Pyrénées-Orientales. From a distance, the château looks like an eagle’s nest perched on the ridge, seemingly defying the horizon. Recognisable by its immense dungeon surrounded by three enclosures, it was the last bastion of Cathar resistance to fall into the hands of the Crusaders in 1255. Accessible by a steep path, it offers magnificent views of the Corbières, the Roussillon plain, the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean Sea, which begins to come into view in the distance.

As we come down from the heights, we approach the sea towards Port-la-Nouvelle. The trail ends with sublime landscapes of vineyards on hillsides as we finally pass through the Mediterranean scrubland, in the footsteps of the famous Via Domitia.