Discover the Cathar castles

Perched on vertiginous rocky peaks, the Cathar castles are an integral part of Occitanie’s spectacular landscape, silent witnesses to a rich and eventful history. These medieval remains, once the refuge of a persecuted religious community, now invite visitors to step back in time and discover an exceptional cultural and natural heritage.

Cathar castles, sentinels of a fascinating history

Medieval remains steeped in history

Built between the 11th and 13th centuries, Cathar castles served as fortresses and refuges for the Cathars, a dissident religious community that defied the authority of the Catholic Church. These castles were not built by the Cathars, but merely served as a refuge from the Inquisition, as the local aristocracy was generally sympathetic to Catharism. Considered heretics by the papacy, the Cathars were the victims of a bloody crusade in the 13th century. Their castles, perched on inaccessible sites, resisted the crusaders’ assaults for a long time. The term “Cathar castles” therefore covers all these fortresses, steeped in history.

Today, these ruined castles bear witness to the military architectural ingenuity of the time and the ability to adapt to hostile environments. Their thick walls, watchtowers and walkways perfectly illustrate the challenges faced by soldiers and the need to protect themselves during assaults.

Emblematic sites to discover

Among the most emblematic Cathar castles around Carcassonne are :

  • Peyrepertuse: Nicknamed the “heavenly Carcassonne”, it is the most imposing of the “five sons of Carcassonne”(1). It is the best-preserved Cathar castle around Carcassonne. Its slender silhouette dominates a natural gorge almost 800m above sea level, offering spectacular panoramic views of the Corbières while facing the Château de Quéribus. – Château de Peyrepertuse, Carcassonne
    Good to know: In August, discover the medieval festival of Peyrepertuse, in the village of Duillac-sous-Peyrepertuse at the foot of the Château.
  • Quéribus: Also a member of the “citadels of vertigo”(1), Quéribus stands on a rocky spur overlooking the Aude valley. A former Cathar stronghold, the castle was gradually abandoned following the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, which pushed the frontier into the Pyrenees. Restored in 1951, it offers an exceptional 360-degree panorama of the surrounding vineyards and villages. – Château de Quéribus, Carcassonne
  • Montségur: Perched on a promontory overlooking the Lauquet valley, Montségur was the last bastion of the Cathars. Besieged and taken in 1244, it was the scene of a bloody massacre that marked the end of Cathar resistance. – Château de Montségur, Carcassonne

(1)Peyrepetuse, Quéribus, Puilaurens, Termes and Aguilar are the “five sons of Carcassonne”, Carcassonne being the main city that could rely on the 5 fortresses for protection during siege warfare. There’s also the term “Citadelles du Vertige”, so named for their high-altitude position atop rocky mounts that are difficult to access.

Many castles to explore

There are many other Cathar castles to discover and visit, bearing witness to the region’s cultural history. These include the 4 castles of Lastours, the closest to Carcassonne, which offers a magnificent spectacle as well as a wildlife trail; Château de Termes, which boasts a breathtaking view over the Termenet gorges; and Château de Puilaurens, not far from Peyrepertuse, which according to legend has its keep haunted by the Dame Blanche, others still to be discovered on your travels in the region.

Guided tours and historical immersion

For total immersion in Cathar history and to learn a little more, guided tours are offered in most castles and villages. These tours, led by enthusiastic guides, will allow you to discover the secrets of the castles, learn more about the daily life of the Cathars and understand the stakes of the Crusade against the Albigensians. Thematic tours are also available, allowing you to deepen your knowledge of specific subjects, such as the architecture of these castles, the rites and beliefs of the Cathars, or the lives of the Crusader knights.

“Les Terroirs” Gîte

A small, beautifully decorated gîte, ideal for an overnight stay, but also suitable for a couple with two young children.

Hikes and discoveries in the Cathar countryside

Trails for all levels

The Cathar castles are nestled in the heart of a beautiful landscape, offering hikers a multitude of trails to explore. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced hiker, you’ll find an itinerary to suit your level and interests.

  • Les sentinelles de l’Orbiel: A hike near Carcassonne to discover the site of the four Châteaux overlooking Lastours. It offers superb views of the fortresses as you hike along the Grésilhou stream. You’ll pass by a cave known as the “Trou de la sorcière”, where you may find Salimonde, a goat-bodied witch who makes rain and shine.
    • Distance: 5 Km
    • Route: Departure from Lastours
    • Period: mid-April to October
  • The Cathar Trail (GR367): This long-distance hiking trail crosses the Corbières over 200 km, linking the main Cathar castles (Aguilar, Quéribus, Peyrepertuse, Puivert, Puilaurens, Montségur, Roquefixade and Foix – which was never in Cathar hands). It offers a variety of landscapes, from vineyards to steep gorges, and allows you to discover the region’s rich history.
    • Distance: 226 Km
    • Route: Port-la-Nouvelle to Foix
    • Period: to be avoided in July/August (high temperatures)

    Good to know: These trails can be explored on foot, horseback or mountain bike. Many service providers offer to rent you a mount for all or part of the route.

  • Le chemin des Bonshommes (GR107): This historic trail follows in the footsteps of the Cathars fleeing persecution. It passes through villages, vineyards and verdant forests, offering a glimpse of rural life in medieval Occitania. The route passes close to several historic sites: Château de Foix, Château de Montségur, Château de Roquefixade.
    • Distance: 224 Km
    • Route: Foix (France) to Berga (Spain)
    • Period: to be avoided in July/August (high temperatures)

Breathtaking panoramas

The Cathar castles and their surroundings offer landscapes of rare beauty, ideal for contemplation and photography. From the castle terraces, you can admire spectacular panoramas of vineyards, gorges and picturesque villages. On the hiking trails, you’ll marvel at the diversity of landscapes, from wild garrigues to verdant forests.

The Cathar castles in and around Carcassonne are an ideal destination for lovers of history, nature and hiking. Whether you’re looking for adventure, discovery or breathtaking scenery, these unique sites will transport you to another era and leave you with unforgettable memories.

Practical advice

  • Before embarking on a hike, make sure you’re well equipped and check the weather forecast.
  • Don’t forget water, sunscreen and a hat, especially in summer.
  • Respect natural sites and leave no trace of your passage.
  • For more information on Cathar castles and hiking trails, consult the websites of local tourist offices or specialized associations.

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Gîte "Les Terroirs" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Terroirs" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Terroirs" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Terroirs" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Terroirs" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Terroirs" - Calmel & Joseph

Cottage
“Les Terroirs”

75 m² | 3/4 pers. | 2 rooms

From 150€/night

(minimum of 2 nights)

Gîte "Les Crus" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Crus" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Crus" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Crus" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Crus" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Crus" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Crus" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Crus" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Crus" - Calmel & Joseph

Cottage
“Les Crus”

130 m² | 8/9 pers. | 4* rooms

From 280€/night

(minimum of 2 nights)

Gîte "Les Cuvées Rares" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Cuvées Rares" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Cuvées Rares" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Cuvées Rares" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Cuvées Rares" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Cuvées Rares" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Cuvées Rares" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Cuvées Rares" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Cuvées Rares" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Les Cuvées Rares" - Calmel & Joseph

Cottage
“Les Cuvées Rares”

140 m² | 6 pers. | 3 rooms

From 280€/night

(minimum of 2 nights)

Gîte "Le Domaine" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Le Domaine" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Le Domaine" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Le Domaine" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Le Domaine" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Le Domaine" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Le Domaine" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Le Domaine" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Le Domaine" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Le Domaine" - Calmel & Joseph
Gîte "Le Domaine" - Calmel & Joseph

Cottage
“Le Domaine”

240 m² | 9 pers. | 4 rooms

From 500€/night

(minimum of 2 nights)