In June 2005, while living in the UK, we took one of our last European short breaks – to Lavelanet, not far from Quillan. During our week there with Ollie (3) and Tom (4 months) we had an amazing day trip to Montsegur, the site of one of the last great Cathar castles in the area, and vowed to go back again. Nine years later, almost to the month, we went back with the three boys, this time with Nicholas (7 months) in the front carrier.
Though it starts innocuously enough, it’s a long, steep and at times precarious climb from the road to the castle, particularly with a baby in the front pack. Several times I said to Stephen to be careful with his footing, carrying Nicholas. He recalled me saying the same thing, in the same places, but with Tomos in the sling.
It’s worth it for the 360 degree views from the top, including of the snow-capped Pyrenees not far off.
And the castle itself is an amazing site to explore, if largely in ruins, and with many dangerous, unfenced drops. In many other places (including elsewhere in France) sites like this would be well fenced, with regular warning signs. Not here. In fact, despite the 5 euro per adult entrance fee for the privilege of the long, rocky climb, the place is, seemingly, barely maintained.
In 2005 we got a bit of a fright when one of Ollie’s little legs disappeared right up to his waist through a rotten floorboard in the entrance platform, high above the path below. He was left hanging. We were pleased to see that the board had been replaced. You could clearly see the new board still against the old, which suggests that actually, it may only have been replaced relatively recently! Thankfully his legs are rather larger now.
Below the castle is the gorgeous mountain village of Montsegur. It’s great visiting at this time of year, when the place is still quiet. We were among a handful of visitors. From mid June to mid-September it’s busy enough that they restrict car traffic through the village, making it a pedestrian area only.
We found a playground with perhaps one of the best views in this part of the world, where Nick enjoyed his first ever swing.
We also re-located the rustic organic cafe and gite d’etape, where we had coffee in 2005, and eyed the amazing-looking fresh food with envy.
This time, having vowed to ‘come back one day’, we treated ourselves to slap-up three course menus: Ollie and I had goat’s cheese and honey salad, followed by trout, freshly caught, cooked over the open fire and served whole with roasted peppers and potato gratin. Stephen had delicious soup, followed by the best mushroom risotto I’ve ever seen. Tomos had the local saucisse with chips. For dessert it was creme brulee a l’orange douce (me), apple pie (him), chocolate ice cream and raspberry sorbet (them).
And so we followed in the footsteps of the Cathars – and ourselves. We MUST go back!