Every year the Cathar heritage attracts hundreds and thousands of people who want to visit the castles that served as the strongholds of the Cathars before they eventually succumbed to the might of papal crusade. Many visitors experience a curious sense of reverence in popular castles such as Montségur, Carcassonne, Lastours, Quéribus and Peyreperteuse. Half-day and full-day guided tours are available to those who want to tune into the Cathar experience.
Walking the centuries-old Cathar trails in and around these 12th Century castles is both awe-inspiring and culturally-enriching. Richly steeped in the story of Cathar martyrdom, there are a large number of walks to choose from in and around the lands surrounding the castles themselves. A typical day trip on a Cathar walk can take you on winding trails ranging from 5 - 20 km, often culminating in the ascent up the steep hillsides and into the castle itself. Both guided and self-guided options are available.
Our favourite Cathar Castles
The last fortified stronghold of the Cathars, 200 of whom willingly flung themselves on the funeral pyres rather than undergo an enforced conversion to Catholic orthodoxy. Some say the Holy Grail is still hidden in the mountain of Montségur; others say that the Grail was carried off to escape capture by the crusaders.
The dizzying heights inspire awe and wonder to all because of its precipitous location at the southern end of the Corbières mountain range overlooking the valleys leading off to the Mediterranean sea. Its neighbour and sister château Quéribus formed part of the escape route for the fleeing Cathars heading into the Pyrenees and onto Spain.
The largest fortified castle in Europe, it dominates the Jurassic era valley at the foothills of the Montagne Noire. A 3 km walk around the ramparts, Carcassonne was besieged by Charlemagne giving rise to the legend of Dame Carcas for whom the bells rang out when Charlemagne's army left Carcassonne undefeated. Also besieged by the crusaders in 1209, the Liege Lord of the defenders, Raimond Roger Trencavel, was initially given safe conduct by the crusaders but was then captured. He died soon after imprisonment in his own city walls.
Choose the Cathar Castles to suit your taste
- Rennes-le-Château and the mystery of Abbé Saunière's riches (popularised in novels by Dan Brown and Kate Mosse);
- Carcassonne and its defeat through the treachery of the pope's crusaders;
- Lastours, a cluster of four castles that the crusaders couldn't conquer;
- Montségur, the largest funeral pyre of the Cathars and remaining citadel in the sky;
- Puivert, the home of the troubadours (and Johnny Depp in the film, The Ninth Gate);
- Puilaurens, the fairy-tale castle hidden in the woods, impregnable and never challenged by the crusaders;
- Roquefixade, the so-called female counterpart to the male Montségur, with its own legacy of haunting memories;
- Peyreperteuse and Quéribus, perhaps the most awe-inspiring and giddying of them all, historically the route to freedom for those Cathars who managed to escaped.