Midi-Pyrenees and Languedoc-Roussillon: Land of Cathars
This trip is not scheduled, but can be organized upon request
This trip focuses on the French Pyrenees and simply put – it is 10 days filled with beautiful mountain views, fresh air, ancient castles, haunting history, great food and inspirational discussions. We’ll take several mountain hikes, enjoy regional cuisine, immerse in the famous thermal baths, learn about the Cathars (adepts of a Christian dualist movement who were annihilated during the Albigensian Crusade in the 13th century) and visit the remains of their medieval castles.
Individual arrival to Toulouse. Those arriving in the first part of the day get the chance to explore Toulouse on their own. Things to see include Basilica of St.-Sernin and Old Toulouse, Church of Les Jacobins, Place du Capitole and Fondation Bemberg (if you like art and have the time for it).
21:00 - Meeting at the hotel to get to know each other.
Visit the small village of St.-Martin d'Oydes - a striking example of medieval circular architecture initially conceived for the defense of the inhabitants.
Visit the Foix Castle – probably the most well-known symbol of the region. Walk in the medieval center of Foix and taste local pastry - the Croustades (crumble pies) with delicious fillings, including the seasonal fig, or pear and chestnut filling.
Visit the underground river of Labouiche where we will embark on a boat and actually float inside the caves that extend for 1500 meters and go as deep as 60 meters under the ground.
Arrive at Tarascon-sur-Ariège and check into hotel. Dinner in a small town Rabat les Trois Seigneurs, restaurant La table de la Ramade. The restaurant features local cuisine, including Foie gras.
Start from hotel before dawn and take a narrow road into the Pyrénées Ariégeoises Regional Nature Park. Approximately at sunrise we will arrive at the start of a trail that will take us up to the view point of the Ars Waterfall.
After a quick lunch in the old thermal resort town Aulus-les-Bains we will continue to the Niaux Cave. The cave is famous for its size and the prehistoric drawings that have remained in very good condition.
Another night in Tarascon-sur-Ariège with a dinner at a local restaurant.
Visit the ruins of Montsegur. The Château de Montségur is known as one of the last Cathar strongholds. It fell after a 10 month siege in 1244. On a field below the castle over 200 Cathars were burned alive, having refused to renounce their faith.
After lunch we drive to the village of Puivert. Here we will visit the Musee du Quercorb and learn about the region, culture, architecture and the everyday life of the people. The Museum holds a small collection of medieval musical instruments reproduced from the sculptures of the troubadours.
Visit one of the most beautiful medieval cities – Carcassonne. It is the largest town in Europe with its ancient walls still intact.
After lunch we will visit the Lastours castles. The name Lastours comes from “Las Tours”, “The Towers” and reflects the presence of not one, but four 12-13th century towers. Three of them stand in line, while the fourth is built on a separate pinnacle close by.
If we have time on our way back to Carcassonne we will take a walk to find the mysterious Capitelles - prehistoric dry stone circular buildings.
Night and dinner in Carcassonne.
Free time till 12:00 to rest, visit the Carcassonne shops and/or walk down to the Bastide to meet the modern part of the city and get a good photo of the ancient fortress from afar. Lunch in the Bastide, restaurant Chez Fred.
Drive to Limoux where we shall taste the Blanquette wine. Blanquette de Limoux is considered to be the first sparkling white wine produced in France, created long before Champagne. The BAC limit in France is 0,05%, so everyone can have a sip.
Drive to the village of Sougraigne. On the way we will pass through the small towns of Couiza, Costaussa and Rene-le-Bains. We are free to stop for photos at any of them.
Visit to the Chateau Peyrepertuse. The name Peyrepetuse is derived from Pèirapertusa, Occitan, meaning Pierced Rock. Lunch at Les Maitres de Mon Moulin – a bakery that uses flour from the restored medieval windmill just above it.
After lunch we’ll take a circular walk near the Chateau Queribus (weather permitting). Quéribus is high and isolated. It stands on top of the highest peak for miles around. From different points of our hike we’ll get good views of the castle from a distance. It gives the impression of growing out of the very rock it stands on.
Оn this day we have several options. We can drive to the sea shore and enjoy walking the beaches of Saint-Cyprien and Banyuls-sur-Mer. Alternatively we can explore the Sougraigne neighborhood, including the mysterious town of Rennes-le-Château. Or we can drive all the way to the border with Spain and visit a unique settlement – the exclave town of Llivia. The town got its name from the Romans - Julia Libica. It was the ancient capital of Cerdanya (historical region of the eastern Pyrenees divided between France and Spain). In 1659 the Treaty of the Pyrenees ceded northern Cerdanya to the French crown. Llívia did not become part of the French kingdom as the treaty stipulated that only villages were to be ceded to France, and Llívia was considered a city and not a village because of its status as the ancient capital.
Drive to Chateau Puilaurens. Two towers strengthen the wall of this fortress, including the «White Lady» tower named after the ghost who haunts the ruins (Blanche of Bourbon, Philip the Fair's grand-daughter who stayed in Puilaurens and was murdered by her husband, Peter the Cruel, King of Castile).
If the weather is nice, we shall take another circular walk near Puilaurens to get a remarkable view of the castle which will actually be a bit below us. Afterwards we have a picnic lunch under the walls of the Chateau (included) and then go and look inside the haunted fortress.
Continue to Ax-les-Thermes – one of the major thermal resorts of the region. Relaxation and free time in the Bains du Couloubret. We get to enjoy the benefits of natural thermal water (33 – 38oC) and discover a series of Roman baths: the frigidarium (cold water bath), caldarium (hot water bath) and vaporarium (natural thermal water vapor). There are also saunas, hammam and heated outdoor pools.
Drive through the mountains via Belesta, Lavelanet and Mirepoix to the small town of Vals. Visit the Church of Vals. L’Église Rupestre is a small and peculiar church that dates from the tenth century when the first part of it was cut into the rock. Picturesque in itself, it has a view of the valley spread out before it. It is here that we say goodbye to the Pyrenees and head back to Toulouse.
Walk through the night city and dinner.
Individual departure from Toulouse.
The logistics of the trip
Our trip starts and ends in Toulouse. There are numerous logistic possibilities of getting there. You can fly directly to Toulouse Blagnac airport (also with low cost flight operators) or get there by train from Paris (and enjoy the views of the French countryside from the window). Other possible ports of entry include Barcelona, Nice and Marseille. Help and advice in planning your trip to Toulouse will be gladly provided.
From Toulouse we will travel by rented cars with not more than 4 persons per car.
If you feel that 10 days of vacation is not enough, you can individually extend your trip to visit Paris or Barcelona, or enjoy the still warm Mediterranean Sea at Valencia, or dive into the luxury of Côte d'Azur. Basically, you can extend your visit to include any destination in the Iberian Peninsula, France or even Italy. Help and advice in planning your extension will also be gladly provided.