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Guide to over 30 walking routes around the Cathar castles of south-west France, reminders of religious turmoil from 1000 to 1250. Routes from 16 centres, including Béziers, Minerve, Lastours, Foix, Roquefixade, Lordat, Montailloe, Puivert, Montségur, Usson, Puilaurens, and Rennes.
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|Buy your choice of routes or chapters to read online, on your mobile device or to download as a PDF to print or read.||Browse Routes|
The guide offers 30 walks based on the once strategically important castles that dominate the foothills of the Pyrenees. Each walk has as its focal point a castle or other location associated with Cathar history (mostly the 13th century). Summaries of the historical connections of each location with the Cathar period are given, and together these relate the story of the downfall of the Cathar Church, from the massacre in Bèziers in 1209 to the siege at Montsègur in 1244, which ended with the burning alive of over 200 believers who refused to renounce their Cathar faith.
A reader has reported problems on the route of Walk 15, Rennes-le-Château. With reference to the route map on page 187 of our book, the difficulty (which was of the barbed wire variety) was encountered on the section between points 7 and 8. It seems as if one or more owners no longer want people to walk on this route (which may not be a public right of way).
There is at present no convenient alternative route here. Two other options are suggested:
- Walk from Couiza up to Rennes-les-Château, as described in the book between points 1 and 5, then return by the same route. That is a good morning's walk. For an afternoon outing on the same day, walk from Couiza out to Coustaussa and back, also on the route described in our book, between points 1 and 9. The route between Couiza and Coustaussa is indicated by yellow waymarks and is described in a leaflet that you can find on this web page: www.paysdecouiza.com/randonnees/pdf/fiche-randonnee-4.pdf.
- Try a completely different walk, starting at Rennes-le-Château. This is a circuit of 13km, known as the Circuit du Ritou, which follows a waymarked route in the hills south of Rennes- les-Château. It is described in a leaflet that you can find on this web page: http://www.paysdecouiza.com/randonnees/pdf/fiche-randonnee-7.pdf.
Since the latest printing of the guide, the following website addresses have changed:
http://perso.wanadoo.fr/tpcf has changed to www.tpcf.fr
|Who were the Cathars?|
|Languedoc, the ‘Cathar castles’ and the Pays Cathare|
|Weather, equipment, risks|
|Waymarked walking routes|
|The walks described in this book|
|How to use this guide|
|16 The Pech de Bugarach: final walk, final thoughts|
|1 Useful addresses|
|2 General publications|
|3 Summary of the Walks Described in this Book|
There is a huge amount of literature about the Cathars, in French, English and other languages. Many publications in French – walks guidebooks, general books, tourist guidebooks, special editions of glossy magazines, and so on – can often be bought in bookshops (librairies) and newsagents’ (Maisons de la Presse) in and around Cathar castle country. More and more publications in English are being stocked in such outlets.
In Britain, several bookshops stock literature about Cathars and Cathar castles. On the Internet, www.amazon.co.uk is always worth searching. Even when books are currently out of print, you may be able to buy secondhand copies, usually at very reasonable prices, via Amazon.
In France, Fnac is a big bookshop chain. Their website, www.fnac.com, is also worth browsing, especially if you are looking for books in French that you cannot easily find outside France.
For literature about travel and walking in Cathar castle country, try the addresses and websites (IGN, Stanfords, and so on) referred to in the Introduction.
The publications mentioned below – many of which the author found useful in preparing this book – amount to only a tiny fraction of the relevant literature. They are all worth recommending, but it is not suggested that they are necessarily the best of what is available.
Several guidebooks in French describe walks in Cathar castle country. Where any of them are relevant to a particular walk, details are given in the corresponding section. Here it is worth noting in particular the Topo-guides published by the FFRP (see Appendix I) and the Sentiers d’Émilie series. (The latter, published by Rando éditions, offers a selection of relatively short walks suitable for families with young children.) Those titles particularly relevant to Cathar castle country are:
L’Aude, Pays Cathare à pied (FFRP Topo-guide PR, ref D011)
L’Ariège à pied (FFRP Topo-guide PR, ref D009)
Le Pays de Foix à pied (FFRP Topo-guide PR, ref P091)
Le Pays d’Axat à pied (FFRP Topo-guide PR, ref P111)
Sur les traces des Cathares, le Chemin des Bonshommes (FFRP Topo-guide GR107, ref 1097)
Les Sentiers d’Émilie en Pays Cathare
Les Sentiers d’Émilie en Ariège
The FFRP Topo-guides can be bought by credit card via, for example, the IGN and Stanfords websites, but not via the FFRP website.
A good general tourist guide in English to that part of France including Cathar castle country is The Green Guide – Languedoc, Roussillon, Tarn gorges (Michelin Travel Publications).
Very readable books in English abut the Cathars include The Perfect Heresy by Stephen O’Shea (Profile Books) and The Yellow Cross – the story of the last Cathars, 1290–1329 by René Weis (Penguin).
In French, the classic texts include Histoire des Cathares by Michel Roquebert (Perrin) and Montaillou, village occitan by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (Gallimard). An English translation of the latter by Barbara Bray is entitled simply Montaillou (Penguin Books, 1978, reprinted 1990).
Anne Brenon is another leading authority on the Cathars. Her Petit Précis de Catharisme (Loubatières) is a gem: an erudite but clear and succinct portrayal of the Cathars’ beliefs, history and social context.
Succinct, too, is The land of the Cathars by Georges Serrus (Loubatières). Translated into English from French, this is a richly illustrated, glossy publication which describes each of the Cathar castles. Just as well illustrated, but with a more detailed text about the castles (in French), is Les plus belles balades en Pays Cathare by Gilbert Roussel (Les Créations du Pélican).
Clear Waters Rising (a mountain walk across Europe) by Nicholas Crane (first published by Viking in 1996) is referred to more than once in this book. It didn’t take him long to cross Cathar castle country en route for Turkey, but his account of that crossing is priceless.