Characters on the Road: La Randonnée Pyrénéenne (Day 7) ~ Quillan
 to Puivert

Shadows of two people on a gravel road

We’re on the Road Again!

Palm Sunday. Hotel Cartier, Quillan.

My husband and I sat in the hotel breakfast room, people-watching surreptitiously over our coffee and croissants. The only other occupant of the room was a woman in walk-pants, about my age, with a round quirky face and short curly hair. She sat in a booth opposite us, unhurriedly drinking café au lait and thumbing through a glossy magazine. Meanwhile, in the hotel lobby, a fit-looking man of about the same age, in impossibly-short shorts (of the kind only Europeans would wear), woollen socks and solid hiking boots, hoisted a large back-pack onto his shoulders and paced: alternating between coming into the dining room to talk to the woman; checking the roll of topographical maps and guide book he was carrying; and querying the elderly proprietor in the lobby as to the best routes out of town.

It was the first morning of the second half of our walk through the Cathar Castles of the Pyrenees. I have written before about the colourful characters that inhabit the region, and once again we were to find the people on the road every bit as fascinating as the area’s history and scenery. The two French-speakers we’d been watching seemed to be together, yet they were so clearly not marching to the same rhythm!

Trip Notes:

Day 7: Quillan
 to Puivert

From Quillan walk to the village of Nebias. From here the walk starts along the Cathar footpath to the 13th century Chateau of the Troubadours in Puivert.

Points of interest: Nébias Animal Museum, le Château de Puivert, Quercorb Museum (La musique médiévale)

21 kms/13 miles. 5hrs45. Altitude gain/descent: +700m -495m 

After our breakfast, we too, got instructions from the hotel proprietor and, leaving the French couple behind, set off on a shortcut to find the sentier Cathare (the Cathar trail). We strode out at a good pace, reaching Ginoles, the first of our Pyrenean villages, ahead of schedule.

View of Ginoles, small Pyrenean village, set in the mountain foothills.

Ginoles, home to 369 people in 2007, comes into view.

Modern church clock and bell tower against a blue sky

Every small village: a church.

Looking back over Ginoles, small village in the Pyrenees, with mountains behind.

A long, relentless climb up a shale mountain rewarded us with a view back over picturesque Ginoles.

From Ginoles, it was all up hill! Literally.

Up a coline de schiste noir, a black oil shale hill, radiating with heat and riddled with loose stones that threatened the safety of our ankles, knees and hips, we played leap-frog with the French couple: over-taking or being over-taken by one or both of them, each time with a polite “Bonjour!”,  as we made our way up the seemingly endless hill before entering a pass through the forest and coming out the other side at Coudons.

Hunting dogs in a wire cage.

Hunting hounds greeted us, back on the D613 at Coudons.

Two garden gnomes: one male, one female

Gnomes Point the Way ~ La Fage

Scenic View: Mustard, Brambles, and Mountains

Mustard, Brambles, and Mountains ~ La Fage

Pine needles and cones against a blue sky

Pine Cones ~ La Fage

Brown wooden window shutters on white stucco walls

Typical French Pyrenean housing ~ Nébias

Nébias ~ sign posts in two directions, pointing out the sentier cathare

It was nice when the pathway was clearly marked! Nébias (Photo by Gabe)

According to our notes, there was a restaurant at Nébias offering regional cuisine (Restaurant Le Thury, 66 Allée Promenade – no internet!). Not withstanding how good our packed picnics had been along the way, we were ridiculously excited by the prospect of eating our lunch in chairs! We sat at a plastic table outdoors in the sun, savouring our main course and salad with wine, and enjoying our coffee with desert.

Château de Puivert on a distant hill.

Next stop: Château de Puivert on the hill in the distance. Privately owned and well maintained, this historic monument is the location for a number of movies, including The Ninth Gate – which I have seen and honestly can’t remember in SPITE of Johnny Depp’s star power!

White daisies on brown stony ground

Marguerites on the Path to Puivert

“Follow the red and white stripes!” Cathar Trail Markers

A European wolf standing on dry grass

The Family Pet ~ A European Wolf ~ meets us outside the Château de Puivert

Ruined Walls of the Château de Puivert

The Ruined Walls of the old Château de Puivert. The castle belonged to the Cathar Congost family when, in November 1210, it was subjected to three days of siege as part of the Albigensian Crusade.

Wooden door in a stone brick wall, Château de Puivert

Castle Doors ~ Newer parts of the Château de Puivert were built at the start of the 14th century.

Composite: Castle window seat and Mediaeval stringed instrument in a glass case

Puivert is considered the “capitale des troubadours et de la musique médiévale” – the capital of the troubadours, the composers and performers of Occitan lyric poetry and mediaeval music from the 11th through the mid 13th century. The castle owners, in conjunction with the Puivert town museum, pay tribute to these historical figures and their instruments in the musicians’ room.

View of the small town of Puivert from the castle above.

View of the small town of Puivert (497 inhabitants at last census) from the «sentier des troubadours», the walkway down from the castle.

We walked down from the castle above, following the Troubadours’ Pathway, into the town of Puivert – possibly the most picturesque and charming town we had visited in the Pyrenees – to seek out our accommodation: Le Relais des Marionnettes. Here we got to meet a whole new cast of characters.

Crowded, chaotic workspace, with an old black singer sewing machine surrounded by marionettes

L’Atelier des Marionnettes ~ The Marionette Workshop ~ A chaotic space, crowded with life

Our charming, articulate and rather bohemian hosts, Michel et Françoise Dubrunfaut, moved from Paris to Puivert ten years ago to follow their passion. In a chaotic workshop, crowded with fabrics, papers, paints, and clay body-parts, they create the most amazing marionettes. He moulds, carves and paints the faces and bodies, while she creates the costumes. Although many were caricatures, some were incredibly lifelike. With pride, Michel showed me his rendition of Mstislav Rostropovich, the celebrated cellist and conductor (1927-2007) as he looked, seated on his chair at the foot of the Berlin Wall playing Bach Suites, on the 11th of November 1989 when the Wall came down.

At 7:30 in the evening (the magic hour in the Pyrenees) we were downstairs in the common room, and over drinks (muscat, kir or pastisse) we met the other guests: seven other hikers from different parts of France, on various stages of their passage along the Cathar Trail. Katherine and Renaud, the couple we had been ‘meeting’ all day were from Paris. They, and two women, nurses from the Chamonix region, were walking the same direction as were were, while the other three women were walking the opposite way. Over a superb dinner of vegetable and nettle soup, rattatouille and chicken fettucini, and the best strawberry shortcake I’ve ever eaten, stories of walks across France and around the world bounced around the table (in French, of course) at a rapid rate.

Black and white portrait: two marionettes, a male Frenchman and a female witch.

Two repeated themes in the atelier, the French monsieur and the kitchen witch, bore a remarkable resemblance to their creators, Michel et Françoise Dubrunfaut – the artist and his muse.

Text: To your Health

That evening, the characters from the road danced around in my head, like marionettes on strings – each with it’s own own unique personality and story.

‘Till next time: To your health!


  • gabe - August 4, 2011 - 11:26 pm

    Yes is was a good day, difficult but as you said, we met a large range of individuals. Good weather and experience.ReplyCancel

  • Signe Westerberg - August 5, 2011 - 12:15 am


    • Ursula - August 5, 2011 - 12:45 pm

      Cheers! 😀ReplyCancel

  • Jim Muir - July 4, 2012 - 7:49 pm

    Hi Ursula – nice blog and useful as I plan to do this walk (the other way) along with three friends. Thank you. JimReplyCancel

    • Ursula - July 4, 2012 - 8:05 pm

      Hi Jim,
      I glad you enjoyed the posts! It is a great walk and I’m sure you will enjoy it.
      Bonne chance!ReplyCancel

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