With a long weekend ahead of us, Tom and I decided to take the opportunity for a night away in the wine-growing region to the South-East of Quillan.
Driving east on the D117 and not in any hurry, this was our chance to do some exploring along the way, so we planned a relaxed start, a leisurely walk up to one of the many neighbouring Cathar castles, a long auberge lunch, and a mid-afternoon wine tasting on the domaine where we’d booked to stay the night in a simple gite.
When the weather dawned cold, misty, wet and windy on the morning of our departure, we refused to be put off. But it did make for a more interesting and memorable experience.
Turning off at Maury, we wound our way up to the Chateau de Queribus, one of the smaller, but more impressive Cathar castles in the area. I had forgotten just how narrow and winding the road is as it climbs, or I might not have attempted it in our second-hand car. Passing manouevres were interesting, but eventually we made it to the car park.
Already at an altitude high enough to be dizzying, we had a further ascent ahead of us to reach the fortress, perched high on the precipice. I had thought it might be closed, being winter and a public holiday, but was pleased to find it open, and somewhat surprised to see a busload of tourists already ahead of us. The weather was best described as ‘bracing’.
When we bought our tickets, the attendant warned us to be careful on the ‘pass’ – “it can be breezy up there.” With the wind howling past us, even at the bottom of the path, I raised my eyebrows and clarified: “But it is safe to go up today, right?” “Oh yes,” she replied. “Everybody seems to have got through so far!” Not that this was reassuring, as she was not counting, and who knows who many poor forlorn tourist souls had been lost over the edge already that morning?
Climbing steadily up, we came to what was very clearly the ‘pass’ the attendant had referred to. At a break in the high castle walls that protect the climber from the worst of the elements, the wall height decreases, and a soaked and fraying rope handle is fastened to the stone. Already quite gusty, as we passed out into the relative open, the wind was howling a gale and we bent low, and clung with white knuckles to the rope, moving forward as fast as we safely could, unable to hear our own yells of fear, desperate to get to the protection of the next turn in the ascending staircase.
The English brochure we were given about the castle warned that it is strictly forbidden to walk up to the castle in a storm. It must have been borderline. Ironically, when we returned to the bottom of the path, we realised that we didn’t have the brochure anymore – it had been blown out of my pocket in a wind gust on the pass.
Eventually we made it, like everyone else before us (as far as we know), and were rewarded with the fairly intact remains of the inner ward, sporting various staircases in reasonable conditions, interlinking rooms, and some beautiful colonnades and vaulted ceilings.
At such a height, the view was necessarily spectacular. At the top of the castle, we were a long way above the car park, which itself was a long way above the village of Maury, down on the plains of the Fenouilledes below. It was like being in the clouds.
We rewarded ourselves for our daring climb – and safe return – with a warming lunch at the appropriately named Auberge de Queribus in Maury. Just like dining in someone’s front room.
When our car subsequently broke down on the outskirts of the village where we’d booked to stay the night, I was just glad it hadn’t died on the highest corner of the narrow castle road, in the mist and rain. That would have been a real pickle.