Corbieres castle circuit

We recently bought a ‘passport’ to the Cathar castles – a discount deal to 21 castles, abbeys and historic sites associated with the Cathars. So we now have every incentive to visit more – as if we needed an excuse.

Yesterday we visited the castles at Villerouge Termenes and at nearby Termes, in a long day trip into the Corbieres, which included more narrow gorge roads.

Taking the turn-off at Couiza for Arques, we stopped at the small village of Serres, very attractive with its houses of red stone, and sparkling creek. There is good access there for walks (see my post A short walk in the hills) and a cafe culturel, which is open at weekends, serves good coffee, and runs a programme of music gigs over the summer. It’s a pretty spot. It’d be lovely to have a house here…

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The creek at Serres is a lovely shady spot for a picnic

On past the turn-off to the thermal town of Rennes-les-Bains, through Mouthamet and Pont d’Orbieu to Villerouge Termenes. Parking on the outside of the village is obligatory – but free – from where a walkway with information boards winds you into and through the mediaeval village, clustered around the castle. This is the village where the last Cathar Perfect was killed – burned alive at the stake – in 1321. The castle is rather cute, and a lot of money has been poured into its restoration, an impressive illustrated audio commentary and the maintenance of the village. Given its isolation on small back roads, you have to wonder whether its worth it.

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Back tracking and in on an even narrower road through to Termes, a wonderful riverside village, again beautifully maintained, lined with flower boxes. A 12th century church, largely untouched since that time. A castle perched on its crag above the village. The meandering creek, criss-crossed by pedestrian bridges, a cluster of houses on the hillside. In the heat we could not face the climb to the castle, but dabbled our feet happily in the water.

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A glimpse of the castle on the hill, high above the Chateau Accueil building

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 Bridges traverse the reed-strewn creek

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One of the beautiful 12th century stained glass windows in the simple stone church

Beyond Termes, the road narrows to a lane, and passes through the Gorges du Terminet. Impressive tunnels hewn through the rock give access above the river.

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Further on, the Gorges de l’Orbieu bring us back to Pont d’Orbieu, where we close our small loop and head back to Quillan on the ‘main’ road through Arques.

Just time for a quick late afternoon swim at our favourite swimming hole on the Salz before home for dinner. We all slept soundly after the long hot day, fresh air and river swim – even Nick slept through until after 6.30am for the first time in weeks.

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