The Big Smile Adventures Sentier de Cathar trip is an intoxicating mélange of great trails, rugged landscapes, deep limestone gorges, wine growing areas, ancient forest slopes and quaint French villages. But how can we say all this without mentioning the rich history of the Cathar’s and their castles that give name and weight to this beautiful GR route.
With five days of running/fast hiking and a day off in Quillon we complete the Sentier de Cathar in a total of 6 days finishing in the beautiful Eastern Pyrenean town of Foix.
With easy connections from Toulouse, Perpignan and Carcassonne for the Start and finish of this trip, it makes a perfect one-week holiday.
The days are big days with an average of 35-40 km’s per day with ascents and descents between 1200 to just over 1700 mtrs, so a good level of fitness is needed for this trip.
But remember this is not a race, it’s about enjoying the trails and covering good distances and remembering it’s a holiday as well.
The Sentier de Cathar trip is a Land only holiday and you must make your own way to and from the starting and finishing points of the holiday.
Luggage delivery of your main bag is included every day, so you just have to run with your running vest each day. Dinner and breakfast are included, and you buy your own lunches along the way.
Cathar trail Itinerary:
Total km’s: 193km Total Ascent: 6978 mtrs Total Descent: 6748 mtr
These trips are based on a land only tour, with twin sharing accommodation and small group numbers.
Day 1: Arrival day – Tuchan Inc – Dinner
Settle into your accommodation and meet your guide/guides at 6pm to talk over the trip and then have dinner before getting ready for tomorrow.
Day 2: Tuchan – Curbieres sur Cinoble Inc – Breakfast/Dinner/luggage delivery
Distance: 36.5 km Ascent: 1720 mtrs Descent: 1440 mtrs
This first day we pass by three of the Cathar castles – Chateau de Padern, Chateau Queribus and Peyrepertuse. Arriving in Curbieres sur Cinoble we will take a transfer through the Gorge de Galamus to St-Paul-de-Fenouillet and our accomodation for the night.
Day 3: Curbieres sur Cinoble – Quillan Inc – Breakfast/Dinner/luggage delivery
Distance: 41.5 km Ascent: 1514 mtrs Descent: 1671 mtrs
After breakfast we re-take our transfer back through the Gorge de Galamus to Curbieres sur Cinoble, where we start our day.
Today we traverse through beautiful forested areas for the morning section, climbing up steeply towards the Col de Péchines and then dropping down with the Pech de Bugarach towering above us into the vast pasture lands of Campeau where ancient ruins remind us of the long ago lives of the farmers that lived there. Following the trail we arrive at the small village of Bugarach where we can find shade in the village square, fill our water bottles and have our lunch before heading out for the afternoon section which finds us running through quaint French villages and arriving arriving in the historic town of Quillon (with its large cliffs towering over the town that show the start of the Pyrenean mountain chain) and our hotel for the night.
Day 4: Rest day / Day off in Quillon Inc – Breakfast
A day to recover the legs, explore this beautiful town and to re-stock on snacks if needed. If you are feeling that you would like to run more, there are a host of signed trails that circle and climb straight from the town’s center. There is also the possibility of white water rafting, canyoning in the area.
Day 5: Quillan – Espezel Inc – Breakfast/Dinner/luggage delivery
Distance: 38.6 km Ascent: 1361 mtrs Descent: 786 mtrs
Leaving Quillan we look up at the high cliffs and understand that climbing up through them is the start of our day. The trail is on good switchbacks and winds through beautiful forests where the Mediterranean zone gives way to the Pyrenean zone and we leave the vineyards and open pastures of the Aude behind as we cross over into the fir tree forests of the Pyrenean domain. By lunchtime we should be at Puivert a beautiful village with its chateau sitting high above it. We can grab a drink, eat our lunch and re-fill our water bottles before heading out back onto the trails and heading up into large forested areas before arriving on the high plateau area of Espezel where we stay for the night.
Day 6: Espezel – Montségur Inc – Breakfast/Dinner/luggage delivery
Distance: 35.5 kms Ascent: 1144 mtrs Descent: 1107 mtrs
Today we start by traversing the trails of large upland pasture areas of the plateau de Sault that then lead us into old forested areas where we start the climb up to Comus. Here we can re-fill the water bottles, grab a coffee and have our picnic lunch. We then head on and through the gorge de la Frau with its high limestone walls towering above us and as we exit the gorge we arrive into the super tiny hamlet of Pétail. From here we climb steeply through deep forests to Montségur and our Chambre de hôte for the night. Montségur is infamous for being the Cathar Chateau where apparently the Church of Rome burned 225 Cathar believers at the stake for not renouncing their faith.
Day 7: Montségur – Foix Inc – Breakfast/Dinner/luggage delivery
Distance: 40.7 km Ascent: 1239 mtrs Descent: 1744 mtrs
Our last day of running the sentier de Cathar but what a day, crossing the verdant Pays d’holmes (land of wool and horns) and now we are totally submerged in the Ariege region of the Pyrenees (wild bears still roam here). Passing through the village of Roquefixade and its medieval castle, we make our way along the forested trails of the Ariege and tiny hamlets to arrive at the capital of this region Foix. The castle sits dominating this beautiful town and we arrive in the center to finish with a cold beer or glass of wine to celebrate. We then head off to our hotel and final evening and dinner of the trip.
Day 8 : Leaving Day Inc – Breakfast
The trip finishes after breakfast at the hotel and we say our goodbyes to each other and start on our journeys home.