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Has anyone walked/hiked the Cathar Trail?

My husband and I plan to hike the Cathar Trail in May. If anyone has hiked/walked it, we would like some advice. I am trying to figure out if we need to book a different lodging everynight or would be better off using 3-4 towns as bases. Can we use taxis to get to trail heads each day or need to rent a car? I have seen companies that support self-guided hiking, however we're locked into their timetable instead of having the freedom to do stay over days in a town if we want to do so.

Thank you,

Posted by
9110 posts

Bits and pieces, never a through-walk.

Those little villages are so small that they might not have taxis Someplace like Mirepoix and Lavelanet probably will, Pamiers certainly will. The problem becomes one of not only getting you to the starting point, but meeting you at where you stop for the day if that's required.

The solution is going to be getting the folks where you're staying each night to arrange a taxi for the next day. This could get pretty steep if the taxi has to drive a great distance to get to where you are.

I've used a car for treks like that. It's a pain in the tail. You only have two good options with a single car:
- - an out-and-back each day
- - hornswoggling somebody into helping you preposition your car at the end point and then taking you to the start point

The remaining problem is what to do with your junk if you're not carrying it with you all the time.

Posted by
3 posts

Wow, thank for you rapid reply! Any sections you did that are must-sees and are there any sections you would say we could skip.
Thanks again,

Posted by
9110 posts

No help: "bits and pieces". I haven't seen enough of it (maybe fifty of the two hundred or so kilometers?) to make a value judgment between the sections.

Nothing was horrible, but I never went back into the area a third time with the mission of polishing it off.

Know that I have a prejudice against Whisky Trails, Romantic Roads, etc. since I feel they're all just gimmicks. Something called a Cathar Trail along a chain of castles gets under my skin. The Cathars built no castles: they didn't have the knowledge, time, manpower, or equipment to do it.

It's still a nice part of the country however. If I ever finish the stinking GR10, I might have another whack at it.

Posted by
34 posts

ED, I have to disagree with you, the Cathar trail very much exists, it is quite a piece of hiking, very challenging if you do it completely with all your gear on your back. The Cathar castles are called Châteaux Cathares, and are interesting to see, even if there are only ruins left. Of course they are nothing like the Loire castles or Versailles, they're more like fortresses, what makes them incredible is the amount of work it took to build them on the top of those mountains.

Posted by
9110 posts

Abbreviated History Lesson

The Cathar Trail certainly exists and, from what I've seen, it's a scenic, easy walk without much long stretches of abrupt elevation change.

But it has nothing to do with the Cathars. The notion of the Cathar Country (Pays Cathare) was something invented by the Aude tourist bureau sometime back in the late eighties. The movement actually (and arguably) started in either Bulgaria or Germany. The largest concentrations were in southern France and northern Italy. Total adherents only numbered in the few thousands, including those in England.

The initial, early castles in Languedoc were built by both sides along the shifting Aragon/France border during the Aragonese/French Wars and thus pre-date the Cathars.

The Cathars actually lived in lightly fortified familial homesteads of less than a hundred people. In comparison, thousands of workers were required to build the Edwardian castles and thousands more were employed in the supporting structure to provide food and such.

The later castles were post-Cathar.

The only real link between the Cathars and the castles that comes to mind is during the Albigensian Crusade when a couple hundred Cathars had holed up in what was left of the castle at Beziers and subsequently massacred by the Papal Legate.

Posted by
7720 posts

It looks like a fun idea even if it was developed by TI, and it's nice that the trails and some infrastructure have been developed. I'm eager to see if anyone else has had experience hiking these trails. If you notice, the organized tours have lots of van pick ups and deliveries, so I'm not so sure how scenic the whole thing is. It's not an old established itinerary like St. Jacques or St. Jean, whatever language one is speaking.

Now here's my old-timer's story: when we hiked down there in the 1970s, there was no Cathar Trail, much less GRs that were passable. We used an outdated IGN map bought directly from the IGN store with trails (mis)marked. We did get to Montsegur, and hiked for a few days after that. Accommodations--very sketchy, whatever a village had. Lots of questions as to whether we were "some kind of hippies" or something. Hence, before tourism was developed.