Innumerable hilltop fortresses can be found in the department of Aude with a fascinating history dating back as far as the 11th century. They are a continuing reminder of the bitter feuding between the French nobility (representing the Catholic Church) and the Cathar religion. Although the castles are largely ruins today they still have fabulous settings and provide a pleasant option for a short trip and a bit of exercise (some of the castles have very steep climbs to reach them!). For convenience, we’ve also grouped some abbeys worth seeing in this section.
Abbaye de Fontfroide
Description: This is an old but fascinating Cistercian abbey dating back nearly 1000 years. It’s privately owned and can only be visited as part of a one hour guided tour (in French). The gardens can be wandered unaccompanied.
Location: The Abbaye de Fontfroide is located about 5km to the south west of Narbonne via the D613.
General Info: Tel: 04 68 45 11 08. Website.
Our recommendations: It’s best to come early in the morning, or later in the day to avoid the inevitable crowds.
For the children: Although this is an amazing place, there’s probably not so much to interest children. So we’d recommend that you combine an early morning visit here with a trip south on the D611 to see the Cathar castles at Queribus and Peyrepertuse. There are several places along the way where one can stop for a picnic lunch. Or you could make an extended day out by combining it with our Cathar Castle tour.
Abbaye de St Martin-de-Canigou
Description: This active monastery is located in a dramatic setting above Vernet-Les-Bains. It is a 45 minute walk from the car park. Or you can take a 4×4 trip which can be organised at the tourist information office.
Location: Take the N116 west from Perpignan as far as Villefranche-de-Conflent where you turn left on the D116 towards Vernet-les-Bains. Continue through Vernet and follow the signs to the car park.
General Info: Admission prices approx €5 for an adult, €4 for a teenager, under 12s get in free. Access to the abbey is with a guided tour only.
Our recommendations: It’s worth going for the scenery and views. But honestly speaking it’s not ideal for younger children as the guided tours are in French only and the walk up is a very hard slog!
For the children: Make it up to them by following up with a trip to nearby Villefranche-de-Conflent for a Pizza and a shopping experience!
Château de Queribus
Description: Arriving from the coast, this fortress marks the entrance to Cathar country and is dramatically perched on top of a rocky outcrop. Probably the best preserved, it is also one of the most photographed of all the Cathar castles, famed for its polygonal keep and Gothic-style hall. At over 700m high it provides an excellent viewpoint over the Roussillon plains and the Corbieres vineyards.
Location: Take the D117 20km inland from Perpignan and you will find the Chateau de Queribus off to the right along the D19.
General Info: Tel: 04 68 45 03 69. Open in the summer from 9AM – 8PM. Entrance fees are reasonable.
Our recommendations: Combine a visit here with a visit to several of the other castles in the region. There is quite a steep climb to reach the castle but the view is worth it!
For the children: The children will enjoy a visit here (look out for the long dark passageway at feature no. 18!), but don’t plan on spending a full day, they will prefer to head to the lakes in the hills for a picnic or a swim! Or try our Cathar Castle tour.
Château de Peyrepertuse
Description: The castle sits majestically astride an 800m high pinnacle which is so sheer as to seem utterly inaccessible. However, the climb from the car park to the castle is quite easy, just 10 –15 minutes’ walk along a shady path with very little scrambling required. The ruins are extensive, and impressive.
Our recommendations: This is the dominant castle in the area – if you only visit one of these castles then it should be this one!
Location: Take the D117 20km inland from Perpignan and you will find the Chateau de Queribus off to the right along the D19. The Chateau de Peyrepertuse is just a few km further on the D14.
General Info: Website. Tel no: 06 71 58 63 36. Open from 9AM – 8PM in the summer. Entrance prices are quite reasonable.
For the children: A great place for the kids to explore with lots of nooks and crannies. But for younger children you will want to keep them close as there are some dramatic drops here!
Château de Puilaurens
Description: This is one of the best preserved of the Cathar castles in a great setting above the village. At a height of 690m the Château de Puilaurens appears suddenly on your left as you drive along the main road from Perpignan.
Location: On the D117 about 50 km west of Perpignan.
General Info: Entry prices are €4* for an adult, €2* for a child age 6 – 12. In February, March and the first 15 days of November it is only open in school holidays and at weekends.
Our recommendations: Can be combined with a visit to the other nearby Cathar castles or the Gorge de Galamus or as an addition to our Cathar Castle driving tour.
For the children: As with many castles we find the children don’t mind these attractions as they make their own entertainment with things like hide and seek, or simple things like counting the steps! But to make it a more memorable day out you could combine a visit here with a trip canoeing or white water rafting in the gorge between Axat and Quillan.
Description: Perched dramatically at a height of 1200m, this now ruined castle is regarded by some as the last resting place of Catharism. Dating back to the 13th century it was the location where more than 200 Cathar martyrs were burned at the stake. Location: 15km south of Foix, heading in the direction of Perpignan (105km away) on the D117.
General Info: Guided tours every day at 11AM. Montségur website.
Our recommendations: Frankly there is not so much to see inside the castle, but the setting is fabulous and not to be missed.
For the children: To add some variety to the day you could combine this with a visit to one of the nearby lakes at Montbel or Chalabre.
Other Cathar castles worth a visit:
Lastours. Just 12 km north of Carcassonne within the valley of the Orbiel lie the four fortresses of Lastours. In the foothills of the Montagne Noire.
– Cathar Country – website on the Pays Cathar.
*All prices approximate, please check with operator.
Here’s more information to make the most of your visit to Languedoc:
- Canoeing / Rafting
- Car tour