The Sentier Cathare is a 250-km (155-mi) trek from Port-La-Nouvelle on the Mediterranean near Narbonne, through the breathtaking Languedoc countryside. It is so-called because - in crossing the Corbieres and Pyrenean foothills of the Aude en route to Foix, in Ariege - the walk passes nine ruined Cathar castles.
These 'castles in the sky' are picturesque ruins built high on rocky pinnacles by the Cathars, a Christian religious sect with mystic links to the Holy Grail that emerged in the 11th century, before being crushed as heretical by the Catholic Church in the bloody Albigensian Crusade of the early 1200s that is said to have a coat over million lives. As a result, France acquired lands that were more Catalan than french, and it is through this wonderful terrain that te Sentier Cathare passes.
The trail is way-marked with red-and-yellow signs combining the colours of Languedoc and Catalonia, and is divided into manageable and - whilst there are some quite steep and rocky sections - it can be safely tackled by anyone fit.
It might best be described as a challenging hike rather than a demanding mountain trek, and there are rest houses and gites d'etape where travellers can be down at the end of each day.
This exceptional walk combines a tangible sense of history with an impressive landscape and the clean mountain air that together make it a joy to be afoot or in the saddle, as the trail is also popular with horse riders. Staging points on the journey are Durban, Padern, Duilhac, Galamus, Bogerach, Quilan, Puivert, Espezel, Comus, Montsegur and Roquefixade. The western end of the Sentier Cathare towards Ffix has the best Cathar remains and some of the best landscape.
When to visit
April to October
Duration of the hike
The official schedule allows twelve days for the complete hike
- Queribus, the last Cathar castle to fall, in 1255 - could there be a more dramatic location for a stronghold?
- The hilltop village of Rennes-le-Chateau - is famous for mysterious associations long before winter Dan Brown featured it in the best-selling Da Vinci Code
- The ruined castle at Montsegur on the rocky outcrop above the village, which was taken in 1244 and saw yet another mass burning of unrepresented Cathars.
You should Know
Whisper it if you dare - some 'Cathar' castles were built in the Middle Ages, long after the Cathars had been wiped from the face of the earth.