Enjoy a seven day cultural journey and freedom trail, following in the footsteps of the Cathar people. You will begin in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Carcassonne, before setting off on the Cathar Way escape route into the Pyrenees. Immerse yourself in the culture and cuisine of the area, all in the company of your knowledgeable guide.
This trip is available in May, June and October 2021 and 2022.
Cathar trail & Carcassonne – Le Chemin de Bonhommes, part 1
Duration: 7 days – 5 days trekking or Cathar castle visits.
Guided in June or Self guided between May and September according to availability
6 nights Accommodation: Hotels x 3 nights, Gîte d’Etape, Auberge or hotel and Mountain Refuge.
About the Cathar Way:
Ariège was a stronghold of the Cathars. ‘Bonshommes’ or ‘good Christians’ was how the believers of the Cathar movement referred to themselves. But the Catholic Church thought otherwise and launched a crusade against them in 1209, followed by an Inquisition to complete the job of rooting out these ‘evil spirits’. From around 1230 to 1310 or so, countless bonshommes sought refuge in the mountains of Ariège and across the border in Spain rather than risk prison or being burned at the stake. This superb escape route follows in their footsteps as they fled persecution. Along the way you will experience a smorgasbord of culture and wine tasting, while enjoying fabulous mountain scenery.
Since the pre-Roman period, a fortified settlement has existed on the hill where Carcassonne now stands. In its present form it is an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, with its massive defences encircling the castle and the surrounding buildings, its streets and its fine Gothic cathedral. Carcassonne is also of exceptional importance because of the lengthy restoration campaign undertaken by Viollet-le-Duc, one of the founders of the modern science of conservation. A visit is a fascinating experience. In the spring there will be plenty of wildflowers, summer is warmer but should never be really hot, especially when you are in the mountains and the autumn is a fantastic time to go when the fruits are ripening and the days are still warm.
June – October 2020 and 21 (Guided) £695 / Self – Guided £575
Transfer from Carcassonne airport to the stunningly beautiful Carcassonne fortified city. Since the pre-Roman period, a fortified settlement has existed on the hill where Carcassonne now stands. In its present form it is an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, with its massive defences encircling the castle and the surrounding buildings, its streets and its fine Gothic cathedral. Carcassonne is also of exceptional importance because of the lengthy restoration campaign undertaken by Viollet-le-Duc, one of the founders of the modern science of conservation.
Set high up on a hill, Carcassonne’s ancient walled city is Disneyworld-perfect. This fairytale collection of drawbridges, towers and atmospheric cobbled streets was reputedly the inspiration for Walt Disney’s The Sleeping Beauty, and it’s a must-see on any trip through this part of southern France. Its medieval core, the cité, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997.
Although both the Romans and Visigoths were here, Carcassonne really flourished under the well-to-do Trencavel family of the late 12th century. In 1355 the lower town was burnt to the ground by the Black Prince, one of the key figures in the Hundred Years’ War of the Middle Ages, miffed at his failure to capture the citadel. Carcassonne’s key role in cross border trade with Spain, however, dried up with the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, when Roussillon was restored to France.
We stay the night in one of the following splendid options: Hotel du Pont Vieux ***, La Rapière or Hôtel Montmorency & Spa ***
Foix – Roquefixade 5hrs 30 18km, 5h30, +660m, -770m
In the morning we visit Carcassonne castle after having explored the city the previous day. There is a chance to visit the Chateau de Foix on the final day of our trip. We transfer to Foix from Carcassonne and the trail begins in the Gorge de la Frau heading towards Roquefixade and its ruined castle. At the end of the 13th century, Roquefixade became a stronghold at the end of a line of royal fortresses built along the Corbières hills, to keep watch on the territory of the Count of Foix. The keep was remodelled in the 14th century, and other alterations were made in the 15th and 16th centuries.
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.We will stay at the Gite d’Etape de Roquefixade. (B,L,D)
Roquefixade (720m)- Montsegeur via Montferrier (920m) 17km, 4h30, +400m, -760m
We walk towards the mythical village of Montségur. Montségur was considered the sacred heart of the Cathar region and their last stronghold, though some small remnants of the sect hid out for some time after the traumatic events at Montésegur at castles further east. The trail weaves its way to the village of Montferrier through the forest of Modini to Roquefixade, an ancient bastide of the 13th century. You’ll also enjoy an introduction to Cathar history and legend on your visit to this famous castle, before traversing the spectacular Frau gorges where the Mediterranean influence is more present.Accommodation: Hôtel Costes ** Montsegeur or Le Pèlerin twin, double or triple rooms. 3hrs 30 (B,L,D)
Montségur – Comus (1160m) (3hrs 50) Comus – Refuge de Chioula (1610m) (3hrs 50)
From Comus we follow the Chemin des Bonshommes to Prades. (The Bons Hommes were the itinerant Cathar preachers). Prades is a pretty village with many flowers in the spring. Sout west of Prades the road climbs up to the Col de Marmare. This one of the trails used by Peire Autier, one of the last Cathar bonshommes, to visit his fellow Cathars hiding out in the mountain villages of the Sabarthes area. Peire Authier was a lawyer from Ax les Thermes, and was caught by the Inquisitiion and burnt at the stake in Toulouse in 1310.
We now turn east and walk to the nearby village of Montaillou. Montaillou was a stronghold of the Cathars even sixty years after the end of the Albigensian Crusade. The bishop of Pamiers, Jacques Fournier, got wind of this and had the entire population of the village over the age of 14 arrested in 1318 and taken to Pamiers for questioning. All their responses (in Occitan ) were translated into medieval Latin and recorded by the monks. Fournier became Pope Benedict XII and took the records with him to Rome. They were rediscovered in the Vatican library and translated into French in 1972. This was the basis for an incredibly detailed account of medieval village life in the book ”Montaillou, Village Occitan” by Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie.
From Montaillou we continue to follow the footsteps of the Bonshommes to the Col de Balagues, then on easy tracks to the Refuge de Chioula. Refuge de Chioula lies in a gorgeous location and is very much a typical mountain refuge nestled in a area used for cross-country skiing in the winter months. In the East you will see the Corbières and the Pyrenees Audoises, dominated by the Pech de Bugarach. To the north the Toulouse plain, and finally to the West the Mont Valier and the high peaks of the Pays Couserans. Further on, past the impressive Frau (or dread) gorges, your steps take you across the vast expanses of the Sault plateau between Comus and the Chioula Refuge. (B,L,D)
Refuge de Chioula – La Forge (1090m) – Orlu – Orgeix – Ax les Thermes
We stay on the Chemin des Bonshommes south into the forest of the Vallee d’Orlu and descend to the village of Sorgeat. The village is perched on a flattening of the mountainside about 400m above the valley floor. Contouring round the hillside we reach Ascou and gently climb up the Lauze valley to La Forge, with its pretty lake. From here we climb up to the Col d l’Osque 1404m and drop down in a series of zigzags to Orlu. From here it is a pleasant almost flat stroll via the little village of Orgeix into Ax les Thermes.
3hrs walking to Orgeix followed by either a short descent to Ax les Thermes – a relaxing spa or walk around Ax. An alternative is to continue from Orgeix over the Col de Joux (1710m) to Merens de Vals which adds 5hrs walking time onto the day. Hotel Auzeraie ** or Le Grillon in Ax les Thermes. (B,L,D)
Rest day, spa trip or gourmet experience available. We love this town so much, it’s well worth spending an extra day there with summer ski lift, Orlu nature reserve and wolf park and the Bains de Couloubret, a perfect way to end the trip. The Bassin des Ladres (Lepers’ Pond), in the centre of the commune, is fed by hot springs supplying water from the ground at a temperature of 77 °C. The best known fountain is the ”fountain of cannons.” We offer an afternoon trip to Foix Chateaux and then all meet back in Ax les Thermes for our final celebratory dinner. (B,L)
Hotel Auzeraie ** or Grillon Ax les Thermes
Morning departures to Carcassonne airport or Toulouse Blagnac if you depart from there and are not staying on. (B)
Night 1 Carcassonne
We will stay in one of the following excellent, elegant and charming hotels. Hotel du Pont Vieux *** La Rapiere with pool with view of Carcassonne castle or Hôtel Montmorency & Spa ***
Night 2 Gite d’etap Roquefixade
Night 3 Hôtel Costes ** or Le Pelerin Guest house Montsegeur
Night 4 Refuge de Chioula
Nights 5 and 6 Ax les Thermes Hotel Auzeraie ** or Grillon
You can use public transport or a taxi to reach your evening destination.
Yes your luggage will be transferred and you will be just carrying your day pack with water, food, waterproofs, personal first aid kit, map and compass and GPS.
Navigation, Route Notes & Maps – for self-guided participants
Some of the walks will be way-marked with either a red and white GR sign, when on a GR Trail and some also signed with yellow signposts. However you will also need to be vigilant and be able to closely follow your route notes. We can provide you with detailed maps and GPS tracks for those who like to take a GPS.
Grade & Terrain
This tour has a moderate grading. This tour is suitable for walkers with medium to good physical fitness. There are significant elevation gains and losses on the final walk in Montségur and if it has been raining, there might be some muddy trails.