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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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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.
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.
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).
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: email@example.com.
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
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).
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. Turn left again on meeting another track. On reaching the corner of a formerly cultivated field, turn right and pass, on your right, a ruined stone building. The track bears to the left around the edge of the open patch, climbs a little and reaches a point where it bears left. At that point, take a path going off to the right, and very soon reach the top of some impressive limestone cliffs (14), looking down into the valley below.
Page 66 – approaching Padern
Between the Grau de Padern and Padern (4), the trail has been moved off the road. This is the new route description:
As you approach the Grau de Padern, the path, now quite stony, descends to meet the D14. Follow the road for a short distance through the gorge. Where the road turns left to cross the river, continue straight ahead, down an unsurfaced track. The track bears to the left and reaches a fork, with open ground on the right. Go right at the fork. Where the open area ends, a little further along, continue straight ahead. At a junction with a better-made lane, turn left. Follow that lane, alongside the river, towards Padern. Cross the river on a low footbridge and turn right into the village.
(If the river is in spate, it is better to keep to the D14 road from the Grau de Padern, as far as the village.)
Near point (8) there has been a minor route amendment (again, to take the trail off a road):
After a short distance along this lane, you come to a fork. Go right, then follow the lane ahead for over a kilometre, as it passes through an area covered mostly by vineyards. Eventually this lane approaches the D14 (8) again. But, just before that point, go right, then immediately take a footpath on the left. Descend to meet a rough track and turn right there. Ahead, Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse, and behind and above it Peyrepertuse Castle, form a highly photogenic landscape.
Shortly after the start of this stage, there has been a minor route amendment:
Climb up through Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse (1) and emerge onto the tarmacked access road to Peyrepertuse Castle. Turn right and follow the road to just past a left bend. The trail then follows a stony path on the right. It climbs steadily, then reaches a large open area. Here the trail rejoins the road. At point (2) the road to the castle swings to the right, while the Sentier Cathare continues straight on, along a jeep track. (To visit the castle, turn right here, and return to this point later.)
Pages 77–79 – between Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse and the Galamus Gorge
From the Pla de Brézou to the Agly river at point (6), there has been a major change to the route of the trail. This is the amended route description:
The trail enters woodland and climbs stiffly beneath limestone crags, finally emerging onto an open plateau, the Pla de Brézou. Here, the GR36 (and the former route of the Sentier Cathare) goes left, while your trail goes right, just below the northern edge of the plateau.
There follows a very steep climb. Take care at a couple of points where the path approaches a cliff edge on the right.
You ascend to over 900m altitude. You then descend into the upper part of a ravine, climb again and arrive at a stretch of open ground. This affords one of the finest viewpoints on the whole trail. On a clear day, there is a stunning panorama stretching from the coast to the Ariège mountains, with the rugged Fenouillèdes hills to the south.
The path descends and enters woodland. At a path junction, turn right and climb for ten minutes or so. There follows a splendid section of "balcony" path, where the slopes on the left plunge into the Galamus Gorge. At a small clearing, the trail is joined, on the right, by an alternative route for horseriders. Go straight across there. The trail then winds down a long way through woodland, eventually reaching the D10 road opposite a former mill (10).
The "Main Route" of the Sentier Cathare now turns left and follows the D10 (later D7) road through the whole length of the Galamus Gorge. At the southern end of the gorge, there is a car park from where you have a magnificent view up the gorge. You will also see a celebrated "hermitage", perched on the cliffs.
About 300 metres further along the road, the trail rejoins the GR36 (5).
(If you want to go to St-Paul-de-Fenouillet from here, continue down the D7. To return to the trail from St-Paul, follow one of the various possible routes by road, track or path that are marked on the 1:25,000 map. Small sections of 1:25,000 maps can be consulted on www.geoportail.fr.)
The trail turns right to descend steeply towards the Agly river. After some zigzags, go right at a path fork. Eventually, you arrive at the bottom of the valley, by a small canal. A large building (la Tirounère) can be seen on the other side of the wide River Agly. Cross the river here by a wooden footbridge (6).
However, in bad weather, especially in strong wind, it is best to keep to the GR36 from the Pla de Brézou, following the route description in the book as first published, to point (5).
Pages 83 & 85 – the "North Variant" to Camps-sur-l'Agly
The whole route description in this chapter should now read as follows:
Follow Stage 4 of the Main Rout
Route Map Key
Map of Stages and Cathar Castles En Route
Map of Administrative Departments
The Sentier Cathare, ‘the most celebrated footpath in France’
The Cathar Region
The Sentier Cathare, Port-la-Nouvelle to Foix
Origin and Character of the Trail
Waymarking and Route-finding
Changes to the Route
Castles and Other Features of Interest
How to Use This Guide
Planning a Trek Along the Cathar Way
Equipment and Water
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
APPENDIX 1 Accommodation and Further Information
APPENDIX 2 Taxi Services
APPENDIX 3 Some Suggestions for the Future Development of the Sentier Cathare
APPENDIX 4 Other Long-distance Paths in the Cathar Region
APPENDIX 5 Useful Publications
APPENDIX 6 Useful Addresses and Websites