The Cathar Way - A Walker's Cicerone guide

Cover of The Cathar Way
Availability
Reprinted
Published
12 Jun 2012
ISBN
9781852844868
Edition
First
Size
17.2 x 11.6 x 1.3cm
Weight
230g
Pages
192
1st Published
1 May 2006
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The Cathar Way

A walker's guide to the Sentier Cathare

by Alan Mattingly
Book published by Cicerone Press

A guidebook to walking the Cathar Way, a waymarked trail through France's southwest, linking historic castles associated with the ill-fated 13th-century Cathar heresy. This 250km (two-week) route runs through the foothills of the Pyrenees in the Languedoc region of southern France, from the Mediterranean to Foix. Beautiful and historic area.

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Description

The Cathar Way - the Sentier Cathare - is a popular, well-waymarked trail which links several of the world-famous 'Cathar castles' of south-west France.

A challenging, fascinating and rewarding route, it is not an arduous mountain trek. The trail runs for about 250 kilometres – from the Mediterranean coast westward to the historic town of Foix. It can be walked in two weeks or less by anyone who is well-equipped and moderately fit. Good-quality accommodation is available at regular intervals along the entire length of the trail.

The trail traverses the dramatic foothills of the Pyrenees mountains, a beautiful countryside which enjoys plenty of sunshine and is rich in wildlife.

The highlights of the Cathar Way are the 'castles in the sky' like Quéribus, Peyrepertuse and Montségur. These incredible medieval fortifications will forever be associated with the ill-fated Cathar 'heresy', which was brutally suppressed in the thirteenth century.

  • Seasons
    Ideal Easter to early autumn, but can be hot in some areas from early June to mid-September.
  • Centres
    Port-la-Nouvelle and Foix (end-points). Acces via Toulouse, Montpellier, Nîmes, Perpignan, Barcelona, Girona, Carcassonne.
  • Difficulty
    Hillwalking but not an arduous mountain trek (highest altitude 1300m). Can be walked by anyone who is well equipped and moderately fit.
  • Must See
    Cathar castles of Quéribus, Peyrepertuse and Montségur.

Update September 2016

The Cathar Way, Stage 3, between Tuchan and Padern

A fire between Tuchan and Padern is reported to have burnt over ten square kilometres of vineyards, woodland and hill scrub land on September 5th and 6th 2016. The fire was said to have been extinguished by September 7th, but it will undoubtedly have affected land crossed by Stage 3 of the Cathar Way. This may lead to temporary diversions or closures of parts of the trail in this sector.

May 2016

The Cathar Way, Stage 4 ("Main Route", now the GR367A) - Galamus Gorge and River Agly crossing

The major works which were started last year in the Galamus Gorge, to stabilise the cliff face and to prevent further falls of rock (see Update, May 2015 below) took longer than expected, but have now been finished.

The road through the gorge is once again open to walkers (and to motor traffic).

However, the footbridge over the River Agly just below the gorge, at a place called "la TirounËre"(referred to as point (6) on pages 76 and 79 of our "Cathar Way" guidebook), is still missing (see Update, July 2015(1) below).

There seems to be no indication of when the footbridge will be replaced.

It is possible to ford the river on foot at this point during dry periods (there are calm sections of water which are about ankle-deep).

But, to repeat the warning given earlier, on no account should you try to ford the river at this point (or anywhere else) during or just after periods of heavy rain. The river can rise very quickly and become very dangerous.

The diversion of the route via St Paul de Fenouillet (see Update, July 2015(1) below) is still in place.

September 2015

The chambres d'hotes, MAISON 1800 in Lapradelle is closing indefinitely on October 1st 2015.

Update July 2015 (1)

A wooden footbridge over the River Agly near the Galamus Gorge, on stage 4 of the Cathar Way, has been washed away and probably won't be replaced until 2016.
 
The footbridge, near a place called "la Tirounère", is referred to on page 79 of our "Cathar Way" guidebook.
 
A long diversion via St Paul de Fenouillet has been waymarked. For walkers travelling between Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse and Prugnanes, this adds a good 10km to the distance to be covered in that day. To shorten this distance, follow instead the "bad weather route" mentioned at the top of page 76. That is, from point 3a on the Pla de Brézou, follow the GR36 down to the D7 road, at point 4. Turn left there and follow that road down to St Paul de Fenouillet. To return to the Cathar Way from there, see the second paragraph on page 79 and the sketch map on page 76.
 
Some walkers are sticking to the route of the Cathar Way at la Tirounère by fording the river on foot. That may well be quite feasible in hot, dry periods during the summer. But on no account should you try to ford the river at this point (or anywhere else) during or just after periods of heavy rain. The river can rise very quickly and become very dangerous.
 
 

Update July 2015 (2)

 
 
The official website for the Cathar Way (the Sentier Cathare) - www.lesentiercathare.com - now contains two new links which users of the trail might find helpful
 
The first link is to a downloadable pdf file of the "Carnet de Voyage" of the trail. This contains what is probably the most up-to-date list of shops, restaurants and accommodation establishments in towns and villages along the trail.
 
The second link (or rather pair of links) is for the GPS tracks for both the official main route ("Trace GR 367"), and its southern variant ("Trace GR 367-a (variante sud)").

Update - May 2015

The Cathar Way, Stage 4 (Main Route, GR367A), work in the Galamus Gorge
 
In May, June and September 2015 (and possibly in subsequent months), major works are scheduled in the Galamus Gorge, to stabilise the cliff face and to prevent further falls of rock.
 
This means that the narrow road through the gorge, which is followed by the Main Route of the Cathar Way (now also known as the GR367A), will be closed at various times during these months.
 
It is not clear whether this will mean that pedestrian access through the gorge will be closed, but it would be wise to act on this assumption.
 
This means that, during these months, walkers on the Cathar Way who plan to follow the Main Route should follow the bad-weather alternative, along the GR36, from the Pla de Brézou to the D7 road, then along that road to rejoin the Main Route near the southern entrance to the gorge. With reference to the map on page 76 of the guidebook, this means following the route from point 3a to point 4, then to point 5.
 
It appears that the works will not affect the North Variant of the Cathar Way (now also known as the GR367).

Updates December 2014

Waymarking of the path

On page 21 of our guidebook, it is noted that ‘In due course, the Sentier Cathare may itself be designated as a GR path (Sentier de Grande Randonnée). In that case, the whole of the route will be indicated by red and white waymarks.’

This has now happened. The Sentier Cathare is now officially the GR367. The GR367 takes in the North Variant via Bugarach and Quillan. What is referred to in our guidebook as the ‘Main Route’ (via Puylaurens) (and which is also known as the ‘South Variant’) has been designated the GR367A.

In addition, the whole of the route now carries red and white waymarks, and new signposts (see an example at www.alanmattingly.eu/GR367A-signpost.pdf). The distinctive blue and yellow waymarks which formerly designated much of the route of the Sentier Cathare have been replaced.

Temporary closure of the Frau Gorge, Stage 10

Once again, the Gorges de la Frau, north of Comus, is closed temporarily to walkers. The risk of accidents due to falling boulders and trees is judged to be too high at present. (In any event, heavy rain and flooding in the autumn and winter months not infrequently leaves the gorge blocked by debris.)

The closure period is 15 December 2014 to 15 March 2015.

A map showing a temporary alternative route can be downloaded here: http://www.lesentiercathare.com/fr/documents/actu-deviation-la-frau.pdf.

This alternative route begins near the Refuge des Gardes (point 5 on Stage 9) and descends to Pelail (point 4 on Stage 10).

 

May 2014

Accommodation
 
In Espezel (stage 8), the Hôtel Grau is now called "Le 100 Unique".
 
In Comus (stage 9), there is a new chambre d'hôte, recommended by a reader, 'L'Oustal d'Annetta'.  Address: Lieu-dit, 128 devant ville, La Thémis, 11340 Comus . Tel: + 33(0) 468 748 126; + 33(0) 622 452 537. E-mail: ghislaine.caria@loustaldelannetta.fr.

July 2013

Lapradelle-Puilaurens;

The Mas Occitan no longer excists and also the restaurant Le Viaduc has disappeared. There is another restaurant, but it is not open everyday. The B&B , maison1800  has a tiny shop in the village which is only open in the morning  ( bread needs to be ordered a day before ). In the season the castle is  now lit between 22.00 and 24.00 hours.
The nearest place to draw money is in Axat

January 2012

Significant amendments to the route of the trail have been made recently in Stages 1 and 4. A few relatively minor amendments have been made elsewhere. Policy on waymarking is also evolving. The accommodation section (Appendix 1) has been re-written. Useful new publications in French have recently appeared. These developments are described below.

Pages 21 & 23 Waymarking and Route-finding

The Sentier Cathare is still well waymarked throughout its length, but the system of waymarking is evolving, and is likely to change further in the years ahead.

Where the trail coincides with a national GR path, its route is indicated by the red and white waymarks of such paths. This applies to certain sections on Stages 4 and 5 (GR36); to a section on Stage 7 (the GR7); and to the whole of Stages 10, 11 and 12 (GR107), nearly all in Ariège.

In due course, the Sentier Cathare may itself be designated as a GR path. In that case, the whole of its route will be indicated by red and white waymarks. But, for the moment, the first nine stages of the trail are mostly indicated by blue and yellow (supposedly ochre) waymarks.

Where the trail coincides with a GR path, the blue and yellow waymarks sometimes still appear along with the GR path's red and white waymarks. But it is to be expected that this will be the case less and less in the future.

On one short section of Stage 5 (Main Route), the trail is indicated by red and yellow waymarks, where the Sentier Cathare coincides with a regional path, the Tour du Fenouillèdes.

Page 39 Maps

The sketch maps in this book offer only an indication of the key features along the trail. It is strongly recommended that you also equip yourself with a very useful 1:55,000 map called Le Sentier Cathare, published in 2011 by rando édition. It covers the whole trail. Further information on the map is given here: www.editions-sudouest.com.

Page 52 – Port-la-Nouvelle

The route has been amended between the wind turbines at point (5) and an underpass at point (7). This is the new route description:

Go straight ahead at a crossing of tracks by the wind turbines (5) and start to descend. After a short distance, take a left fork (ie, go straight ahead). Red and yellow waymarks indicate a right turn here, but that is for a different route, so ignore those waymarks. Stay with the blue and yellow waymarks of the Sentier Cathare. You are descending in the direction of another group of wind turbines. Pass a ruined building, come to a fork and go right there.

After nearly a kilometre, a track joins on the left. You are very close to one of the wind turbines, on the left. Here, the trail chinks slightly to the right then continues in the same direction. Not very long after that, look out carefully for a T-junction of tracks and turn right there.

The trail bears round to the right, seemingly turning back on itself. The edge of the plateau, on the left, is approached. You reach the top of a steep slope with cliffs to the right and left (6). Directly below on the left is a stony path going down between the cliffs. Scramble down that path.

The path leads to the edge of a vineyard. Continue downhill, in the same direction. On meeting a track at the bottom of the vineyard, turn left, along that track. This track leads you to a narrow tunnel under the N9 road (7).

Page 54

More wind turbines have been installed. The route of the trail remains essentially as explained in the book, but the section between points (12) and (14) is now better described as follows:

Cross the road and climb the track directly opposite. On reaching the top of the rise, emerge onto another limestone plateau and go under a large power line. More wind turbines come into view, almost straight ahead. You are on an access track leading to them. The track terraces along the side of a hill called the Estrons de la Vieille. At a fork with a less well-made track (13), keep to the main track and descend to the right.

From the bottom of this hill the route takes a number of twists and turns, so follow the waymarking carefully. Opposite a hunters' wooden poste, turn left, off the main track. Almost immediately turn left again, onto a footpath that winds through the undergrowth.

Contents

Contents
Introduction
The Sentier Cathare
The Cathars
Cathar History
Cathar Castles
The Cathar Region
The Sentier Cathare, Port-la-Nouvelle to Foix
Getting There
Getting Around
Accommodation
How to Use This Guide
Planning a Trek Along the Cathar Way
Stocking Up
Maps
Weather
Equipment and Water
Risks
The Sentier Cathare
Stage 1 Port-la-Nouvelle to Durban-Corbières
Stage 2 Durban-Corbières to Tuchan
Stage 3 Tuchan to Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse
Stage 4 (Main Route) Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse to Prugnanes
Stage 4 (North Variant) Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse to Camps-sur-l’Agly
Stage 5 (Main Route) Prugnanes to Puilaurens
Stage 5 (North Variant) Camps-sur-l’Agly to Bugarach
Stage 5 Link from North Variant to Main Route
Stage 6 (Main Route) Puilaurens to Quirbajou (or Labeau)
Stage 6 (North Variant) Bugarach to Quillan
Stage 7 (Main Route) Quirbajou (or Labeau) to Puivert
Stage 7 (North Variant) Quillan to Puivert
Stage 8 Puivert to Espezel (or Belvis)
Stage 9 Espezel (or Belvis) to Comus
Stage 10 Comus to Montségur
Stage 11 Montségur to Roquefixade
Stage 12 Roquefixade to Foix
 
Final Thoughts
Appendix 1 Accommodation and Further Information
Appendix 2 Useful Addresses and Websites, Taxi Services
Appendix 3 Other Long-distance Paths in the Cathar Region
Appendix 4 Useful Publications
Route Summary
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