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Traveling in France
If you have followed this blog-project for a while you might think I am a kind of travel-veteran who probably has plenty of good travel stories in mind (all worth writing about, of course).
This would indeed be a cool thing, but I have to admit that this is unfortunately not the case. I never traveled that much in my life, and I visited France, one of my favorite destinations by now and the immediate neighbor of Germany, after all, for the first time as I was well over twenty.
Much later, in my mid-thirties, I started to visit France at least twice a year, but avoided the more popular tourist destinations like Paris or Bordeaux for various reasons.
And so one of my very first more extensive hiking tours took place near the border to Spain, on parts of the Sentier Cathare (“Cathar Trail”) between the towns of Foix and Montségur.
The whole tour was rather random sightseeing and I didn’t even wear adequate hiking boots. But in hindsight it was a noteworthy experience nonetheless, not least since Montségur in particular boasts a colorful and tragic history.
The Sentier Cathare is a long distance trail in the very south of France with an overall length of about 220 kilometers. It is split into twelve stages, with the end points Foix in the Ariège department and Port-la-Nouvelle at the Mediterranean Sea.
Of these twelve stages, you can find the first (or the last, depending on the starting point) between Foix and Roquefixade, and the second between Roquefixade and Montségur.
Those two stages that I had chosen to march through will be the subject in the following paragraphs.
The Castle Foix (Château de Foix) with its three distinctive towers dominates the surroundings of the small town Foix (10.000 inhabitants), located eighty kilometers south of Toulouse.
The conspicuous architecture stems for the most part from modifications of the castle structure during the 15th and 16th century. The towers served different purposes, but the (most recent) round tower was mainly utilized as a dungeon.
The château, whose individual parts appear in some sections like mere ruins, houses a museum today (Musée départemental de l’Ariège). The ascent to the castle itself starts usually at the church Abbatiale Saint-Volusien de Foix, but is actually not part of the described trail.
The trailhead of the Sentier Cathare lies near the train station in Foix next to the stream Ariège, and leads after sixteen kilometers to the village of Roquefixade, the second stage of my tour.
The village of Roquefixade
Roquefixade is a very small village of about one hundred inhabitants somewhat aloof from major traffic ways.
The place possessed a castle as well (built in the 11th or 12th century), until its complete demolition in the 17th century.
The site used to serve as a quarry for local residents after the château was destroyed, which led to further extensive deterioration of the ruins.
So outlining the original appearance of the castle is virtually impossible for only debris and a few parts of the walling still remains on the castle hill.
The final destination of my tour was Montségur fifteen kilometers south-east of Roquefixade.
This very location was the last resort for the Cathars, a persecuted Christian movement in the 13th century who are the actual eponym for the Cathar Trail.
After the capture of Montségur in 1244 by a large contingent of French royal troops and burning alive its still resisting inhabitants (the usual verdict for alleged heretics at the time), the Cathar castle on the crest was razed to the ground and replaced by a new château shortly after. The remains of this latter castle are visible today.
The pictures might suggest an exhausting ascent to the former castle grounds, and indeed, climbing up the steep hillsides is not a piece of cake though you can do it in around thirty minutes. The great panorama view from the crest makes up for your efforts.
My tour on sections of the Sentier Cathare was a mere foretaste of what would follow the next years: hiking in high altitude mountains and on really challenging trails like the GR20 on Corsica.
Nevertheless I want to repeat, or even complete this tour one day. I cannot imagine ever getting bored of such small adventures, however short they may be.
Featured image: View from the Montségur crest