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Cathar Trails (Guided or Unguided)

Overview

The Cathar Trail takes its name from the religious group who inhabited the area during the medieval period. The trail runs between various towns and villages in which they lived, showing the ancient Cathar castles which they built to defend themselves against crusaders. Catharism was seen as hereti…

Highlights

  • Adventurous guided and unguided trails
  • Explore the Cathar Trail
  • Mountains, forests, valleys and lakes
  • Very fit endurance horses

Essential Facts

  • 2 itineraries available
  • Max 6 riders per group
  • Average of 5 - 6 hours riding per day
  • Weight limit: 95kg / 210 lbs / 15 stone - there are two horses that can carry up to 100kg

Description

The Cathar Trail takes its name from the religious group who inhabited the area during the medieval period. The trail runs between various towns and villages in which they lived, showing the ancient Cathar castles which they built to defend themselves against crusaders. Catharism was seen as heretical by the Catholic Church and Pope Innocent III declared a crusade against this group, also known as the 'Albigensians'.

The rides here are in the Aude department of France, located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees Mountains. Each region here has its own particular landscape but the area features beautiful forests of oak and beech, deep valleys and coastal lakes. Combined with the rugged mountain tops, this scenery makes enjoyable viewing from horseback and also provides the habitat for an array of wildlife. There are several species of delicate orchid here and the exquisite Pyrenean Lily is a delight for plant lovers. The region has a Mediterranean climate with hot and dry summers, perfect for the cultivation of vines and olive trees. In fact, the local Corbiere area is known for its wine, as well as its wild landscapes and low population density.

The horses here are chosen for their ability to navigate the tough terrain whilst also remaining a pleasure to ride. They will take you safely through the region and offer you exhilarating canters as you travel between lodgings, exploring this unspoilt part of Europe. The comfortable accommodation in family homes brings a wonderful end to each day.

Horses & Riding

Tack

English and trekking saddles

Horses

Arab and Arab X, Andalusian

Riding

There are 2 itineraries:

  • Unguided Trail is a trail ride
  • Guided Trail is a trail ride

Ages

12+

Health

Very fit

Weight

95kg / 210 lbs / 15 stone - there are two horses that can carry up to 100kg

Food & Accommodation

Food

Food consists of good breakfasts, picnic lunches and excellent dinners at your lodging for the night. Food is usually traditional family style meals and is prepared by your hosts. These meals are often complimented by products from the local area.

Accommodation

Accommodation is in various lodgings, all of which are comfortable. They are usually small gites and family homes with dormitories or private rooms (optional supplement). The accommodation is charming and in lovely locations with welcoming hosts.

Itineraries

Unguided Trail Standard accommodation.

Guided Trail Standard accommodation.

Other Activities

There is lovely hiking available in the area and most nights bring a new destination to explore.

Travel

Flights are to Carcassonne where we can arrange your transfer. Transfer is 35 euros per person, including travel both ways. Airports flying to Carcassonne include East Midlands, Liverpool, Stansted & Glasgow Prestwick

Testimonials

Perry C., Sept. 20, 2022

Fabulous. (Favourite memory?) Riding into small towns and castles. Small B&Bs . Beautiful countrysides. Saddles were so great that two of us are going to buy one each. The horses were in great shape, obviously well cared for, and great rides.


Gayle B., Sept. 20, 2022

A friend had done this trip in the past. It was a dream vacation for me. Seeing castles in the sky, watering horses in village square.


Canny D. (Unguided Trail), Nov. 27, 2014

An experience to treasure, so much so that I have just about finished writing it up as a memoir!


Itinerary & Pricing

Day 1

Riding: No riding.

You should arrive at the stables in the quaint little village of Granes by 5 pm (transfers from Carcassonne are available at an extra cost). This village is surrounded by forests and vine groves with a natural spring in the village square - the water is a delight to drink. You will be introduced to the organisers, guides, staff and, of course, your horse today and will be able to familiarise yourself with the tack you will be using over the next few days of riding.

Dinner and overnight at a small hotel in Quillan (about 10 minute's drive from the stables)

Day 2

Riding: 4 - 5 hours

Today is a 'test' ride with a guide to see how well you are able to read a map and compass. You need to be very comfortable with your horse before embarking on this trail as well as being competent in handling him/her both in and out of the saddle. If all goes well, you will be able to head out on your own on the following day.

You will ride through woods past the village of Rennes-le-Chateau. After a picnic lunch, you will make your way back to Granes through a green oak forest for dinner and overnight as on the previous night.

Day 3

Riding: 5 - 6 hours

Today you will start your adventure and leave Granes to make your way to Puivert. You will cross the upper valley of the Aude River, studded with vineyards, and arrive on the plateau of Nebias.

You ride across the plateau and up into the courtyard of the Puivert chateau ruins. The Chateau de Puivert* was subjected to a three-day siege in 1210, by the army of Thomas Pons de Bruyere, and became the property of the northern barons (having originally belonged to the Cathar family of Congost). From this high vantage point, you will have an amazing view across the valley which was once an immense lake.

After visiting the castle you make your way down to the village nearby where you will spend the night.

* It's possible to take a tour of the castle - entrance fees will have to be paid locally.

Day 4

Riding: 5 - 6 hours

After getting your horse ready you will ride along the other flatter side of the valley which will allow you some good opportunities for some cantering, before climbing up to the village of Coudons for a picnic. After lunch, you will ride along a stretch of the trail with some beautiful panoramas overlooking the Pyrennees. Overnight stay in the pretty village of Quirbajou, which seems almost to have been stuck on the side of the mountain!

Day 5

Riding: 6 - 7 hours

Today you will follow the valley of Rebenty where there are more opportunities for faster riding. You will be able to visit another famous Cathar castle called Puylaurens*. This is an amazing castle described as a true masterpiece of military architecture and design. This magnificent fortress is placed high on a mountaintop, surrounded by dark forests, and was once an impenetrable stronghold.

You will spend the night in a farmhouse where the owners Collette and Christine raise cattle**. The home-cooked food here is delicious.

* It's possible to take a tour of the castle - entrance fees will have to be paid locally.
**If Collette's farm is full then your horses will stay here and you will be accommodated at a B&B in the village instead.

Day 6

Riding: 5 - 7 hours

Leaving the valley of Ayguebonnes you will descend into and then traverse the valley of Fenouilledes - a big wine-growing region. Ride across the village of Caudies, then climb up to the plateau of Malabrac to see its abandoned hamlets at more than 900 metres above sea level. From here, you can enjoy wonderful views over Bugarach, the highest summit of the Corbieres and for many years rumoured to be the scene for the end of the world! Eventually, you will descend slowly to the village of Camps sur Agly and then arrive at the gite of La Bastide, a templar farm dating from the 12th century - and where you will stay tonight.

Day 7

Riding: 5 - 6 hours

Today will be your final day of riding as you head back to Granes. Leave La Bastide and skirt around the Bugarach mountain to pass through the hamlet of Linas and toward the source of the river Sals. The river is named due to the salt that was collected here in roman times. Climbing up through forests of beech and evergreens will afford an opportunity for a gallop before descending to the village of Sougraines for a picnic. After lunch, you will return to the stables through more forests, but this time of ancient chestnuts and holm oaks, alongside a pretty limestone outcrop.

Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Quillan again.

Day 8

Riding: No riding.

Departure after breakfast. Transfers back to Carcassone can be organised at an extra cost.

Accommodation

Accommodation is in various lodgings, all of which are comfortable. They are usually small gîtes, guesthouses and family homes with dormitories or private rooms (optional supplement). The accommodation is charming and in lovely locations with welcoming hosts.

Experience Experienced

Experienced in riding and horse care, confident and fit - you should be comfortable riding at all paces and happy to dismount and lead your horse on rough ground. Riders must be competent at map reading and using a compass. This would suit those with TREC experience or with a spirit of adventure. Some paths are narrow and steep and riders must be comfortable with this. Some spoken French, even just a few words, is also helpful.

Minimum group size 2
Maximum group size 6
Departure windows

At any time during: April 15, 2023 - Oct. 15, 2023  (Dates available to suit, for a minimum of 2 guests, with flexible arrival and departure days.)

Pricing

2023
Sharing Twin/double room
£1145 $1410 €1335
2023
Sharing Dormitory room (3 or more beds)
£985 $1210 €1150
2023
Single room (2 single rooms maximum)
£1305 $1605 €1525
Included 7 nights of accommodation in shared rooms, all meals from dinner on arrival day to breakfast on departure day, wine with evening meals, 6 days of riding, use of equipment and maps, transport of luggage between overnight stops.
Not included Flights, travel insurance, extra drinks, transfers from the airport or train station, tips and other personal expenses.

Extras

2023 - Airport Transfer €45
Paid locally
Carcassonne transfers can be arranged from the airport and occasionally the city. Cost is per person, including travel both ways.
2023 - Private Guide €625
Paid locally
* Each ride will include an initial assessment with a guide in order to make sure you are safe to ride unguided and able to read the maps. Should riders fail to pass this initial assessment or be deemed unsafe to ride alone, then you will be charged this supplement locally for a guide to accompany you instead.
Note: All programmes and itineraries are weather dependent; in the face of adverse, or unexpected, weather conditions reasonable attempts will be made to provide equivalent riding. All programmes are accurate at the time of writing. However, the team may adapt or modify details, whilst aiming to provide a similar experience.

Day 1

Riding: No riding.

You will arrive at the stables in the quaint little village of Granes by 5 pm. This village is surrounded by forests and vine groves with a natural spring in the village square - the water is a delight to drink. You will have a chance to meet your hosts, guides and the horses, before being introduced to the tack you will be using over the next few days and have a chance to discuss your preferences in more detail.

Dinner and overnight at a small hotel in neighbouring Quillan (c. 10 minutes away).

Day 2

Riding: 4 hours

Today you will take a shorter introductory trail to ensure that you are well-matched with your horse and that you are happy with your tack and set-up as well. This ride will be about 4 hours long and will see you crossing the countryside to Rennes le Chateau for a picnic lunch in this mysterious village where the discovery of a certain treasure is still an enigma!

Return to Granes in the afternoon and head back to your hotel in Quillan for dinner and overnight.

Day 3

Riding: 5 - 6 hours

This morning, after breakfast, you will really start your adventure and leave Granes to make your way to Puivert. You will cross the upper valley of the Aude River, studded with vineyards, and arrive on the plateau of Nebias.

You ride across the plateau and up into the courtyard of the castle ruin. The Chateau de Puivert* was subjected to a three-day siege in 1210, by the army of Thomas Pons de Bruyere, and became the property of the northern barons (having originally belonged to the Cathar family of Congost). After visiting the castle you make your way to the village nearby where you will spend the night.

* Those who wish to may like to visit the chateau on foot (entrance fees apply)

Day 4

Riding: 5 - 6 hours

Today you will ride back on the flatter side of the valley allowing for some cantering, before climbing up to the village of Coudons for a picnic. After lunch, you can enjoy the beautiful panoramas overlooking the Pyrennees. Overnight stay in the pretty village of Quirbajou, which seems to have been stuck on the side of the mountain!

Day 5

Riding: 6 - 7 hours

Today you ride to Ayguebonnes, following the valley of Rebenty where there are again some opportunities for faster riding. You will be able to visit another famous Cathar castle called Puylaurens*. This is an amazing castle described as a true masterpiece of military architecture and design. This magnificent fortress is placed high on a mountaintop, surrounded by dark forests, and was once an impenetrable stronghold.

You will spend the night in a farmhouse where the owners Collette and Christine raise cattle**. The home-cooked food here is delicious.

* It's possible to take a tour of the castle - entrance fees will have to be paid locally.
**If Collette's farm is full then your horses will stay here and you will be accommodated at a B&B in the village instead.

Day 6

Riding: 5 - 7 hours

Leaving the valley of Ayguebonnes behind, you will take a long climb before descending to traverse the valley of Fenouilledes - a region famous for wine growing. Cross the village of Caudies and then climb up to the plateau of Malabrac and its abandoned hamlets (c.900 metres altitude). From here you can enjoy wonderful views over Bugarach, the highest summit of the Corbieres and for many years rumoured to be the scene for the end of the world! Descend slowly to the village of Camps sur Agly and then arrive at the gite La Bastide, a templar farm dating from the 12th century, for an overnight stay.

Day 7

Riding: 5 - 6 hours

Setting off from La Bastide, today will be your final day of riding as you return to Granes. Skirting around the mountain of Bugarach, you will pass through the hamlet of Linas and head toward the source of the river Sals. The river was so named because of the precious salt that was exploited here in roman times. Climbing up through forests of beech and evergreens you will enjoy an opportunity for a gallop before descending to the village of Sougraines for a picnic. After lunch, you return to the stables through forests of ancient chestnuts and holm oaks, alongside a pretty limestone outcrop.

Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Quillan again tonight.

Day 8

Riding: No riding.

Departure after breakfast. Transfers to Carcassone can be organised at an extra cost.

Accommodation

Accommodation is in various lodgings, all of which are comfortable. They are usually small gîtes, guesthouses and family homes with dormitories or private rooms (optional supplement). The accommodation is charming and in lovely locations with welcoming hosts.

Experience Intermediate / Experienced

Strong, confident intermediate with good level of fitness, capable of walking and leading your horse over difficult terrain.

Minimum group size 2
Maximum group size 6
Departure windows

April 9, 2023 - April 16, 2023

May 7, 2023 - May 14, 2023

June 11, 2023 - June 18, 2023

July 9, 2023 - July 16, 2023

Aug. 13, 2023 - Aug. 20, 2023

Sept. 17, 2023 - Sept. 24, 2023

Pricing

2023
Sharing Twin/double room
£1125 $1385 €1315
2023
Sharing Dormitory room (3 or more beds)
£960 $1185 €1125
2023
Single room (2 single rooms maximum)
£1285 $1580 €1500
Included 7 nights of accommodation in shared rooms, all meals from dinner on arrival day to breakfast on departure day, wine with evening meals, 6 days of riding with a guide, use of equipment and maps, transport of luggage between overnight stops.
Not included Flights, travel insurance, extra drinks, transfers from the airport or train station, tips and other personal expenses.

Extras

2023 - Airport Transfer €45
Paid locally
Carcassonne transfers can be arranged from the airport and occasionally the city. Cost is per person, including travel both ways.
Note: All programmes and itineraries are weather dependent; in the face of adverse, or unexpected, weather conditions reasonable attempts will be made to provide equivalent riding. All programmes are accurate at the time of writing. However, the team may adapt or modify details, whilst aiming to provide a similar experience.