Soul Journeys - walking in the footprints of the Cathars

Walking holiday with both guided and self-guided options in France

From € 455.- / 8 days

Price per person based on 2 people sharing

  • Dogs welcome
  • One accommodation
  • Walking holiday with guided and self-guided options
  • Overlooking countryside from a rocky outcrop
  • Track crossing a shallow stream
  • People posing on an eagle-view terrace

Based just 25 minutes south of Carcassonne in the sleepy village of Escueillens, Soul Journeys offers guided and self-guided walking holidays through the gently rolling Razès countryside and up some of the most celebrated and breath-taking Cathar castles.

This holiday offers walkers a choice from 35 circuits and 10 linear trails covering the length and breadth of the rolling Razès countryside, ranging from 5 to 40 km. For those who specifically want to include historic guided walking tours in and around the most renowned of the Cathar castles, including those which formed the backdrop for Kate Mosse’s book, Labyrinth, our Cathar Specials include: Carcassonne, Montségur, Peyreperteuse and Rennes-le-Château among others.

For us, the most important factors of a Soul Journey holiday are that you determine your own routes and thus distance and difficulty and, most importantly, you get to walk at your own pace. For walkers who want to know more about the role of the Cathars in the 13th century, we’re happy to share our knowledge of the history over aperitifs. Best suited for individuals, couples or small groups, Soul Journeys are about making the walking choices that suit you, walking over unspoilt lands richly steeped in history, following in the footsteps of the Cathar martyrs.

Discounts for single walkers apply. Airport transfers from Carcassonne are included. Picnic lunch boxes are available.

Woman posing on a track, a castle in the background The extensive remains of an old castle seen from above

Accommodation in the Razès

There are three gîtes at the Razès – Soujeole, Corbières and La Cour du Blé. Soujeole and Corbières are suitable for singles or couples; La Cour du Blé can accommodate a further 2 to 4 people. Each has its own private entrance, parking, fully equipped kitchen, dining and lounge areas, double bedroom(s) and bath or shower room. Each gîte individually offers privacy and has its own place and space, and yet, all three can be booked together to accommodate for larger groups travelling together.

There are also several secluded gardens offering areas of shelter from or full exposure to the sun, perfect for your outdoor dining or relaxation; all conducive to quietly snoozing away your cares, keeping you tucked safely away from the outside world.

Living room with stairway Gite seen from garden outside Bedroom

Each gîte has been carefully fashioned from the original wine-making vignoble and barns and so has a unique ambiance and rustic character. All three gîtes have been modernised for greater comfort during your stay, whatever the duration or the time of year.

Each gîte has a double bedroom, bath or shower room, well equipped kitchen, dining and lounge area with TV, DVD and CD player. Full linen and towels are provided at no extra charge. The gîtes have heating for those who prefer to sojourn outside the summer months.

You'll find a collection of books and music within each gîte, as well as an up-to-date supply of local information on events taking place in and around the Aude département. A large and continually expanding selection of films, and local books on Cathar castles are also available upon request. Our extensive range of detailed road and walking maps are kept in the grange. A meditation and yoga room is available for use.

The grange is a beautiful place in which you can stop and stare at the great outdoors from the snug comfort of the warm indoors. There are more cooking & BBQ facilities in the grange for outdoor dining in the gardens. The grange also houses a games area for table-tennis and darts. There are boules for use in the village boulodrome 50 metres down the road. You'll find a variety of board and card games in the bar area. A clothes washing machine is also available in the grange. There are four bikes for use by those who wish to challenge the rolling hills or merely foray into neighbouring towns, the local lake or even the nearest wine château. The medieval town of Mirepoix is a flat'ish 15 km away.

Jo & Bob live in the adjoining property and are only too happy to help with any queries you may have.

Lagarde castle seen from afar Two women on a track in the winter

If you are hiring a car and wish to explore the local area, your hosts are very happy to give recommendations and make reservations on your behalf. If you've already made your own plans or simply don't want to make any, then you'll be left tranquil in your own peace and space. If you don’t want to hire a car, we can organise airport transfers and trips to the local shops and markets.

Most of the walks are day or half day circuits. This means that you can return to your own safe haven in a Razès Gîte each evening to relax and unwind in comfort.

Since your gîtes have kitchens, you choose whether you want a self-catering, B&B or Half Board walking holiday.

Walking in the Razès and across the Cathar hills

The Razès is a canton (rural area) in the Aude département of the Languedoc Roussillon region and is about 90 km inland of the French Mediterranean coast and 90 km north of the Pyrenees. Rich in its Occitan heritage, the clocher-mur style churches centred in many rural villages can be seen from the surrounding hill and vantage points.

Montsegur castle on a rocky hilltop Calm river surrounded by green trees

It's a beautiful, rolling landscape decorated with hills and dales, valleys and peaks, rivers and streams. There are occasional steep hills to climb on some trails but generally speaking the Razès offers walkers easy to moderate terrain.

The Aude département is also home to the majority of the Cathar castles (and associated walks). You'll find vineyards, woods and old villages nestled throughout. Copses of oak and pine dot the area's landscape everywhere and contribute to an ever-changing annual show of deciduous versus evergreen. Depending on the time of year, walkers will typically pass alongside vineyards and fields of sunflower, poppies or barley and over rocky garrigue (scrub) outcrops, through country lanes and woods, past farms and crop fields, hamlets and villages.

Persecuted by the pope’s crusade, the Cathars had the choice of resisting or fleeing. Many of those who chose to stay died at the hands of the Inquisition. Those who fled escaped south across the Pyrenees or east to the Mediterranean. The countryside in and around the Razès still carries the many pathways and trails forged by the Cathars. Due to the secretive nature of the Cathars on the run, the paths are generally known to pass through what was considered the most inhospitable terrain to avoid contact with the persecutors. They therefore tend to go up and over steep hills, heavily wooded forests, and around sheer cliff tops edging over ravines, rather than pass through open valleys. Wherever you walk, you walk in the footsteps of the Cathars and, as such, you breathe their lingering message of martyrdom and freedom from the lands.

Each Soul Journey affords its own spectacular views of the Malepère Massif and the Corbières region to the East, the spectacular Pyrenees to the South and the Montagne Noire in the Minervois to the North.

People walking on a path uphill church seen over a field of sunflowers

Also seasonal are deer and wild boar, rabbits, hares and foxes crossing these same trails. Butterflies are everywhere, no matter what the time of year, thriving on the apparently random but certainly abundant fruit trees on these walks: apricot, apple, plum, cherry to name but a few. There are also many walnut and almond trees and blackberries hiding in the bramble-lined paths. Wild orchids and sweet-smelling broom thrive in this climate as do wild thyme, sage, lavender, rosemary, chives and juniper.

Avid bird observers come back year after year to this area because of the sheer variety of birdlife. Many types of birds of prey are always present soaring overhead.

Of the 45 walking routes available in the Razès, 35 are circuits and 10 are linear routes. There are a further 10 walking routes taking in the historic Cathar Castles and their environs. The walks range from 5 to 40 km. Jo will give a full briefing prior to each walking day and answer any questions you may have. You determine your own routes, distance and difficulty and, most importantly, you get to walk at your own pace. If you wish to include some walking meditations and/or re-connecting with nature trails, simply ask Jo for more details at the time of booking or as late as upon your arrival.

The majority of the walks (excepting the Cathar Castle walks) start from your very doorstep at the Razès Gîtes. Jo leads all the guided walks but should you wish to self-guide, detailed maps and route guides are available.

Wherever you walk in the Razès or on the Cathar trails you cannot fail to absorb a calming sense of peace and stillness emanating from the tranquillity of the lands. Many of the Razès walks criss-cross to form diversionary circuits and extensions offering access to another valley and a new panorama depending on the distance you want to cover.

Razès walking holiday itinerary

Below is a selection of example walks. Please contact the holiday provider for a personalised itinerary.

Example walks

Le Tour du Roquefixade (8 km circuit) - One of the shorter Cathar walks leading around and up to Roquefixade castle itself, the sister castle to Montségur. This tour offers some of the most impressive vistas looking out south to the majestic Pyrenees looming up at 3000 metres.

Leaving the village, the path meanders along open meadows and farmlands, climbs up through ancient woodlands, down steep rocky slopes and emerges on craggy mountain sides offering views of the Pyrenees, Montségur castle, memorials to the Résistance, ruins and shepherd huts as well as looking back on the village of Roquefixade itself. Touring the castle itself takes a further hour. Beautiful in its variety and impressive in its outlooks, it’s a wonderful walk to warm up for some of the longer and perhaps hillier Cathar castle mountain walks available.

Women posing for a picture in the forest Peyreperteuse castle seen from below againste a blue sky

Cathar Trail to Montségur (20 km circuit) - You may want to follow the Sentier des Tisserands (20 km) which is a circuitous loop leading up and down the Cols surrounding Montségur, following the historic Cathar trails through centuries-old forests which simply ooze with tranquillity and well-being. Including the ascent of the château of Montségur itself, this walk offers a marvellous opportunity to enjoy the flora, fauna and panaromic views of the Pyrennees, the Aude and Ariège départements. A tough and physically demanding trip but very rewarding in terms of opportunity to see, hear and smell the ever-changing beautiful and vibrant valleys and mountains, richly embued with both history and intrigue. Passing through two towns offering food and drink, the rest of the trail is very much a soulful walk in solitude embracing the thriving life of the natural world all around.

La GR7 (Grande Randonnée) to Mirepoix (18 km 1-way or 36 km full circuit) - The trail leads uphill from your Razès gîte to the GR7, leaving Hounoux on your right and walking parallel to the Pyrenees on your left, you will actually be following part of the age-old pilgrim's route, the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. We are not suggesting you go quite that far, but just enjoy the diversity of flora surrounding the peaceful GR7 track as you pass ponds and hamlets, farmyards and garrigue with rolling plains stretching up to the Pyrenees on your left. Woods mix with copses where boxing hares abound in Spring and the deer still gamble in the peaceful meadows.

Sun rising from behind a mountain range in reds and oranges Inside a castle on top of Montsegur hill

Finally turning south towards the medieval town of Mirepoix for a beer or late lunch in a bistro or perhaps a visit to the cathedral, before being picked up for the return to your gîte. Alternatively, to make a complete circuit and day of it (36 km), return via the Voie Verte (old railway track) which snakes cross-country through the lowlands of the rolling valleys and woodlands back to the village.

Les Tours de Rennes-le-Château (8 km, 12 km or 13 km circuits) - In the Pays de Couiza, there are many Cathar routes to choose from, some passing through ancient woodlands (where hardly a person ventures these days), others following trails over the open scrublands across the terres rouges (red lands), characteristic of the scenery in these parts as popularised by Kate Mosse in her novels. One option is to leave the town of Couiza below and follow a path that meanders up through a fairly steep, wonderfully shaded, heavily scented and wooded forest, emerging into open meadows which offer unique views of the castle, unseen from the roadsides. Emerging directly under the Tour Magdala, it takes about an hour to tour the house and church. Lunch and refreshments are available as well as souvenirs before descending by the same path back to Couiza.M

A second option is to leave Couiza by foot, heading north east into the gently climbing hills and fields of the terres rouges, passing shepherd huts dotted in the garrigue (scrub) lands and heading towards the impressive reddy pink ruins of Coustaussa which affords wonderful views of Rennes-le-Château to the south. As with all the Cathar trails, there is a tangible sense of peace and reverence imbued in these dry lands and it’s easy to slip back through history with each hypnotic footstep. The circuit turns north away from Rennes and then west as it loops back through meadows and farmlands tucked in alongside a prominent range of hills to the north.

A third option starts at the castle itself and heads south towards the Pyrenees, the path undulating gently up and down through meadows, farmlands and woods which alternately rise and fall, heading towards a rocky outcrop affording beautiful views of the Pic de Bugarach to the east. Looking back on the castle, there are once again magnificent views impossible to see from any roadside. The path climbs to a Pic giving a 360 degree panoramic view of the Pays de Couiza and which is a favourite haunt for birds of prey. Descending through a rocky plateau and more meadows and farmlands, the trail brings you back to the foot of the castle, passing deserted turrets from bygone centuries.

Each of these walks is very rewarding for spectacular views over the uniquely red-coloured lands.

Castle Puilaurens on a rocky hilltop Village on a low hill in a winter landscape with a light dusting of snow

Les Tours de Lastours (4 km, 5.5 km or 17 km options) - Moving up past Carcassonne into the Minervois, the terrain is characterized by garrigue-clad hills and vast sloping vineyards for kilometres around.

Starting from the village of Lastours, the shortest of the walking options takes you through a sheer rocky valley, following alongside a stream, then up a fairly steep path into the woods. The path emerges near a campsite and leads you up and down through an olive grove to a belvedere for a fabulous view of the four towers of Lastours. The return journey takes you up and down small country lanes, through the hamlet of Lacombe and back down the valley to the village.

The second slightly longer option takes you on a circuit to the northeast of the four castles. Starting at Les Ilhes, it’s a steep climb up the track leading form the village into the woods behind; by far, the toughest part of the journey. Depending on the time of year, these ancient woods and pathways smell wonderful thanks to the wild thyme, lavender and rosemary but, above all else, because the paths are bordered with beautifully scented and scraggy broom.

The old Cathar trail follows south alongside the edge of the woods, contouring the hillsides and offers marvelous views of the castles from a different angle which can’t be seen by car. Continuing along the trail, a fork turns left to Fournes and right on the Chemin Bas back to Les Ilhes. For this option, turn right and descend back down into the valley to the village of Les Ilhes.

The third longer option would have the walker turn left instead to Fournes village following the Chemin to the Bosc Grand. From Fournes, the route takes you on a circuit over open hilltop fields, through silent woods and small hamlets, up to high viewing points for great views of the Pyrenees, Narbonne, the Mediterranean and Carcassonne. Moving down the garrigue slopes, the track emerges at Marmorières and the GR36. You pass the impressive Grotte du Limousin (cave) after 11 km. It’s worth a visit if you have time. The trail then takes you out to the quaint village of Limousis and on through to the bottom of a dry valley bed which you now climb for some kilometres back up to Fournes. From Fournes, you follow the route back to the Chemin Bas and on to Les Ilhes. A wonderful walk with many stunning views, ever changing scenery and thousands of butterflies.

Le Sentier des Crêtes d’Hounoux (12-17.5 km circuit) - Starting from your Razès gîte, this walk takes you across country lanes and past vineyards to exit the village. A steep climb up to the ridge for a breath-taking view of the snow-clad Pyrenees followed by gently rolling trails up and down through garrigue (scrub land), past a myriad of wild lavender, thyme and juniper, fields of horses and farm yards. Down country lanes and back into woodland, passing alongside stream and copses and climbing once again to emerge heading north with stunning views of the Montagne Noire.

The walk turns east and passes through the typical Occitan village of Hounoux, down tracks and across an open plateau over-looking the whole of the lower Razès domain, the Malepère Massif and Corbières off into the east. The trail continues downhill through old woods to return.

Le Chemin de Dominique (15 km 1-way or 28 km full circuit) - A 28 km ramble of largely gentle up and downhills, passing through a few villages, two of which offer food and drink at either end. Starting early at the high point of Montréal, through the circular village and past its Dominican Abbey, following the Cathar trail (GR78) past fields of sunflowers, poppies, vineyards or other crops depending on the time of year and two villages, Villeneuve-les-Montréals and Lasserre de Prouilhe.

Montsegur castle seen from below walking track leading through a low mountain landscape

Follow the trail through the valley to Fanjeaux for a light lunch or beer before setting off on the return leg past the Monastère de Prouilhe. The trail leads you through a Jurassic era water-created basin now home to sparsely dotted farms, passing through copses and across open fields, the scenery is ever-replete with vineyards and wine-tasting is even possible en route if you have the time! Views of the Pyrenees are wonderful from the high points in Fanjeaux (this being the only real steep climb) and Montréal. The Montagne Noire looms large and ever-present following the walker on this east-west circuit.

A demi-circuit is available should walkers wish to spend more time at Fanjeaux with its atmospheric Cathar-rich historic town, cathedral and excellent restaurant or even a visit to the Monastère de Prouilhe for wine-tasting and honey.

Whether you’re seeking inner peace or outer solitude, a re-connection with the wonders of nature or gentle exercise in the fresh outdoors with friends, all the Razès trails will happily meet your walking needs.

Dates and availability

Soul Journeys guided and self-guided walking holidays based from the Razès Gîtes are available all-year round - come in the season that best suits you!

ruins of caste on hillside Rocky mountain in a pointed shape

You can choose whether you want to come for 7 or 10 days, a long weekend or two weeks, even a month if it suits! We understand that co-ordinating arrival and departure dates with flight companies can be very stressful and so we don’t tie you down to Saturdays only – it is entirely up to you how long you come for and on which days you plan to arrive and depart.

You can come on your own, with a partner or friend, safe in the knowledge you have the privacy and space of your own gîte. You will be able to go for your guided walks at hours and times that suit you, assured that you will not be forced to participate in a larger group.

If you wish to come and walk as a small group, combining the resources of all 3 gîtes together, the Razès Gîtes can accommodate a maximum of 10 people. Either way, quite simply put, since this is your experience, your Soul Journey, we want you to enjoy it and so you choose how you want it to unfold.

Typically, for two people sharing a gîte, half-board for 8 days costs: €810 in Winter; €910 in Spring & Autumn; €965 in Summer. B&B and self-catering options are also available.

The number of walks you do is entirely up to you. If you want to walk every day, simply choose your circuits and you will be guided by Jo or self-guided if you prefer. If you want to walk every other day and have a rest day in between, the tranquil gardens offer you a beautiful space within which to relax and unwind.

Pair of walkers huged on a track Fields of yellow rapeseed flowers

Please contact the holiday provider, through the contact form, for more information.

Additional information

Price of this walking holiday

  • Half-Board from €455 per person for 8 days
  • (Self-catering from €245 and B&B from €280)

Holiday type and Accommodation

  • We offer walking holidays through the Razès countryside and the Cathar castles with both guided and self-guided options available.
  • Singles, couples and/or small groups are all welcome.
  • The ‘Night under the Stars’ option is guided and includes bivouacking in the Razès countryside for one night. Light weight tent & sleeping bags are provided.
  • Accommodation is always in a Razès Gîte. Inclusion of a ‘Night under the Stars’ option means bivouacking in the countryside for one night (tent & sleeping bag are provided)

WALKING_HOLIDAY

Holiday type

One accommodationWalking holiday with guided and self-guided options
Walking holiday with both guided and self-guided options
Board basis: Half Board options are quoted. Self-catering & B&B are also available

Price

From € 455.- / 8 days

Price per person based on 2 people sharing

  • Dogs by prior arrangement

Included

7 nights accommodation half-board (breakfast, 4 course evening meal, wine, morning & afternoon tea/coffee) in a fully equipped gîte. Welcome drink and introductory information session; wide range of walks & maps available, self-guided or guided options. Airport transfer to and from Carcassonne, unlimited local walks and 4 guided walks around and in up to 4 Cathar castles (admission fees included).

Not included

All other costs, including travel costs to the starting-point of this holiday.

Walking holiday reference

WH-SGG-FRSJ02


Walking grade

Walking holiday in hills only
  • Hills
  • Easy walking
Walking holiday in hills to low mountains
  • Hills to low mountains
  • Easy to moderate walking
Walking holiday in low to high mountains
  • Low to high mountains
  • Moderate walking

Remarks

  • Dogs by prior agreement. Tailor-made walking possible

Best time of the year

April - October


Walking Holiday by:

Soul Journeys

Jo and Bob Norton

souljourneys.co.uk

Contact details

Languages spoken

English, French

Getting there

  • Carcassonne Airport (22 mi)
  • Béziers Airport (63 mi)
  • Toulouse Airport (63 mi)
  • Perpignan Airport (75 mi)
  • Carcassonne Train station (23 mi)
  • Bram Train station (13 mi)
  • Castelnaudary Train station (16 mi)

Note: You may want to consider hiring a car, since the village is remote. The nearest shops are 7km away and the nearest town for restaurants is 15km.



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