The site of a bloody religious war is now a gentle, but spectacular walking route through some of France’s most beautiful countryside.
The revolt of the Languedoc Cathar heretics who dared to defy the Pope and French royalty in the 13th century was brutally put down, leaving only the ruins of their castles perched on rocky hilltops to remind us of their story.
Now the Sentier Cathare, or ‘Cathar Way’, attracts walkers from around the world to tramp sections of the 250km trail that runs between the Mediterranean coast and the handsome castle town of Foix.
We tackle a six-day stage walking west from Quillan.
It’s a walk anyone with working legs can manage (most of our group are the wrong side of 60), through rolling farmland and forest, with the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees as a background.
Each night we arrive in a village, not always a particularly attractive one, and there’s a warm welcome (and spectacular food, and lots of Languedoc wine) waiting for us in each gite d’etape or chambre d’hôte.
We set ourselves a stage of about 5 hours walking each day, allowing plenty of time for rests and a long lunch. We cover about 20-22km a day, with a vertical climb/descent of up to 700m, which is challenging for anyone, in my opinion.
The guidebook The Cathar Way by Alan Mattingly, is published by Cicerone. Apart from maps and history it includes practical information on accommodation.