Cathar Castles, Cats, Cows and Good Company ~ La Randonnée Pyrénéenne (days 10-11) ~ Montségur to Roquefixade

View of church bell, wooded mountain and snow-capped mountain background.

Montségur in the Pyrenées

Even with someone else transporting your baggage, a hike in the French Pyrenees is no walk in the park! By Day 10 of our rondonné (“tour”) along the mountainous Cathar Trails in April, we were truly ready for a day off. I guess we are not alone, as the walk organisers have built an extra night’s stay at Montségur into their itinerary.

Trip Notes:
  Day 10: Montségur

The delightful town of Montségur is the perfect place to spend an extra day or two. The trip notes suggested a 12 kilometer hike along steep rocky trails to the Massif of Tabe. We opted instead for  a more “touristy” day, climbing up to the fortress in the morning before lunching half the afternoon in a charming restaurant with style (and prices) worthy of any Parisian café. It was a wise decision, as half way through the afternoon the skies opened up, and we were caught in the first real rain of our trip. The local museum was the perfect umbrella.

Sun angling into a large black wrought iron cross

Morning has broken... Montségur

Moss and lichen growing on rounded terracotta roof tiles

Moss on the roof tiles ~ a sure sign the climate is temperate and damp in Montségur.

Two bright purple wild orchids on the forest floor

Wild orchids line the path between the town and it's fortress.

The climb up to the ruins of château Montségur is steep and treacherous, especially in windy weather. What remains of the castle, which was predominantly built in 1204, is not particularly impressive, but as it is perched 1216m high on a “pog”, a massive rock, overlooking the current village and the surrounding mountain ranges, the views are worth the effort.

Montségur is the best known of the Cathar castles, and was one of the last strongholds during the Albigeois Crusade. It seems like an unassailable location, but in 1244, after ten long months of seige to an army of 10,000, the community of Cathar refugees living on the rock succumbed to what the Michelin Green Guide calls the “Montségur holocaust”.

Two visitors reading the sign at the foot of the Château Montségur demonstrate the scale of the rock.

The colours of spring: dark blue skies, the fresh green of new growth, and the red of a tourist's sweater.

Visitors clamber over the rocks outside the Montségur fortress walls.

Fresh air and good views: Visitors on the rocks outside the fortress walls of Montségur.

Looking from the Pog of Montségur over the access road, the town and the Pyrenees of the Ariège region.

Looking from the Pog over the town of Montségur and the Pyrenees of the Ariège region.

A little girl in pink sitting on the grey stones of a fortress walls

"Can we go now, Mum?" Not everyone is thrilled with the view.

Parchment quote from Louis IX

One of the many heartbreaking quotes up the stairway at the museum in Montségur: roughly, "The only way to have a discussion with heretics is to put a sword in their chests..."

Fluffy cat hiding in grass

Huge numbers of feral cats are fed by our hosts - even after six years of daily feeding, they don't allow humans close.

Our hosts at L’Oustel were true characters: round and rosy, Annick is the embodiment of “apple-faced” as an adjective; Serge is a laughing, bawdy cross between David Jason in “Darling Buds of May” and Gérard Depardieu. The food was, naturellement, superb, and provided topic for discussion as the merits of, for example, illes flottant were compared with des blancs d’oeuf en neige. Ample muscat and wine smothed out any possible edges.

These tiny Pyrenean villages are refuges for artists, many of whom come from other parts of France. Serge, our host, was able to pursue his artistic passions once they moved away from the city, and after working in many mediums found his calling in metal-work. His pieces can be seen around the house and yard, and it is his commisioned oxen that grace the entry to the village.

Two ox sculpted from rusting metals

Serge's oxen welcome visiters to Montségur.

Trip Notes:
 Day 11:  Montségur to Roquefixade    

From Montségur the Cathare trail weaves its way to the village of Montferrier, traversing the Modini forest before reaching the Pyrenean village of Roquefixade, an ancient bastide of the 13th century.

Points of interest: Monségur fortress, Montferrier village, Mondini forest and Roquefixade

17 kms/10.6 miles. 4hrs30. Altitude gain/descent: +400m -760m 

Delicate purple flowers on a mossy forest creek-bed.

Flowers, moss and fallen trees followed the creek bed with us.

We were working our way downhill, following damp paths along side a riverbank, delighting in the delicate colours of spring flowers in the wet undergrowth and the hum of the insects in the air, when the silent stillness was broken first by runners from behind us, and then by moto-cross bikes screaming and leaping towards us. Spring had truly arrived!

Moto-cross riders on a narrow forest path

Crashing into the Silence! Well, it IS a shared trail.


A duck on the pathway - can houses be far away?

I got really excited when we reached Montferrier and I saw a building brightly painted with a sign for a café… unfortunately, the sign was all that remained of the coffee shop, and we had to make do with picnic supples from the local grocers.

Door knocker in the form of a hand holding a ball.

Door Knocker ~ Montferrier

White cows on an emerald green field

There is always one cow who marks our passage while the others graze.

Cut-away path through a dense mixed forest.

... Another forest...

Pine bough, heavily laden with dense cones.

Pine Cones

Fresh green oak leaves against a blue sky

Look Up!

Shell of an old blue French car, rusting in the woods,

There is a prize around every corner.

Green heart-shaped vegetation

Beautiful leaves surround us.

Ruins of stone house, overgrown with green.

Modest ruins in the afternoon light.

Delicate blue flower, white stone and rusty wire fencing

Delicate flowers line the path.

When the notes say: “The waymarking is good”, it is no grounds for complaceance; although there were plenty of signs as we traversed two more forests, there were also plenty of sign-less cross-points. But, we eventually worked our way under and around Roquefixade – another Cathar castle dug into the top of another imposing rock – and after enquiries of several locals, found our home for the night.

The fortifications of Roquefixade behind a house and colourful foliage and flowers.

Roquefixade comes into view ~ our accommodation must be close!

Text: To your Health

Of course, we were met with muscat, wine, glorious food, new good hosts and our familiar French walking companions, for another wonderful evening around a dinner table.



  • Signe Westerberg - October 4, 2011 - 3:07 am

    How pretty is my first thought but again, i’m not doing the walking… thanks as always for sharing your trip XXReplyCancel

    • Ursula - October 6, 2011 - 1:50 pm

      Thanks for sharing it with us, Signe!ReplyCancel

  • Jim Muir - July 4, 2012 - 8:00 pm

    …. and further to my last comment, what great photographs! JimReplyCancel

  • Patrick Gallagher - June 12, 2013 - 1:26 am

    A lovely photo tour, Ursula. Thank you for sharing.ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - June 13, 2013 - 3:03 am

      Thanks, Patrick! Thanks for looking in. 🙂ReplyCancel

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