Retrace the footsteps of the ancient Cathars as you follow the spectacular Chemin des Bonshommes walking route in the heart of southwestern France
Author Kate Mosse must be kicking herself for not having negotiated a deal with the
However, if you can avoid visiting during peak holiday periods and take the time to walk around the citadel’s ramparts (3km), you can still relive a little medieval magic. The top spot to stay in the Cité is the upmarket Hotel de la Cité, nestled between the Château Comtal and Gothic Basilica of Saint-Nazaire, with delightful private gardens – bag a room with a terrace to soak up the fantastic views.
The rife consumerism within the Cité de Carcassonne is ironic when you consider the basic tenets of the dualist religion of Catharism: believing the world to have been created by a deity identified with Satan and associated with material things, Cathars lived ascetic lives, eschewing meat, alcohol and material possessions in an attempt to rid themselves of corruption, enabling them to join the "good" God in heaven.
Catharism flourished in Europe, and southern
Fleeing persecution, the inner circle of Cathar leaders (referred to as ‘Bonshommes’, literally ‘good men’) embarked on a 220km-long trek from the town of
For a genuine insight into Cathar history, you could do no better than to enlist the help of a local guide (I recommend the excellent team at La Rebénne) to follow all or part of the ancient Cathar path. When not hounded by bloodthirsty Crusaders, it’s a relatively unchallenging yet incredibly scenic route that cuts across arid Mediterranean lowlands, high above regimented rows of vines, through tranquil Alpine meadows, dense forests and dramatic gorges and over mountain passes. Completing the entire route with the help of La Rebénne takes 12 days but the company also offers six-day guided walks along sections of the route.
The itineraries involve four to five hours of walking each day (about 16km). While you make your own way to the start of the walks by public transport or taxi, your guide will deliver you back to the cities of Foix,
Get your Cathar adventure off to a good start, by spending your first night in the simple but comfortable Gîte d’étape de Roquefixade, run by Paul and Brigitte Périlhou. The Périlhous will set you up for your first day of hiking with a warm welcome and delicious food (Madame Périlhou’s homemade apple tart is a triumph).
Once united with your guide in the morning, you strike out for Montségur, one of the most infamous Cathar strongholds. The dramatic fortress was the scene of a gritty 10-month siege after which 200 defeated Bonshommes descended from the lofty castle to be burned alive. The medieval town of
From Montségur, the walk continues through forests and across the spectacular Gorges de la Frau to Comus and on from there to the château de Puivert, a popular refuge for poets and troubadours of the Middle Ages. Highlights of the last few days of the walk include tours of the ruins of Peyrepertuse and Queribus, two of
The passion and encyclopaedic local knowledge of La Rebénne’s mountain guides will leave you with a thorough understanding of the people who have lived in and travelled through this stunning countryside. However, your New Best French Friend will ensure that your experience of the Chemin des Bonshommes bears little likeness to the arduous journey of the ‘good men’ themselves: accommodation is organised for you; your luggage is conveyed to the next village each day by vehicle, leaving you to walk unencumbered by heavy bags; your guide prepares (and carries) tasty packed lunches for you; and you never have to worry about losing the way.
Where to stay
Hotel de la Cité in
Paul and Brigitte Périlhou offer dinner, bed and breakfast at the Gîte d’étape de Roquefixade.
Hotel Costes in Montségur has 10 rooms and an excellent restaurant.
Adventure travel agency La Rébenne organises six-day walks along the Chemin des Bonshommes with or without a guide. English-speaking guides are available. Prices start from c€590 per person including breakfasts, picnic lunches, dinners, accommodation, transport of your baggage and transfers.