Posted by: Peter Springett | October 20, 2010

Who’s the king of the Cathar castles?

Peryperteuse or Quéribus? The simple answer is to visit both of these stunning castles that straddle the narrow spine of mountains that separates the departments of Aude and Pyrenees Orientales. But if you don’t have time, here’s a quick summary of the best (and worst) of both so you can make up your own mind.

Queribus: bring a torch and steady feet

I’ve got a soft spot for Quéribus. It’s not as big as Peryperteuse, but it feels more authentic in many ways. The main keep has been restored so that most of the outside walls are intact, and you can stand on top of the roof and play king of the castle with visitors staring up from below.

It also has one of the scariest spiral staircases I’ve ever descended. Actually, staircase is pushing it a bit. The steps gradually decay into a slippery slope that you follow in complete darkness to the very bottom of the keep. This part of the visit is optional, so the bravest should take a torch and quietly curse the French health and safety executive that authorised this part of the visit.

Other important stuff: the drive up to the car park involves several hairpins and requires hill start expertise to let descending traffic pass. The actual walking ascent to the castle takes about ten minutes, but is well worth the effort.

It’s vast. Peryperteuse sprawls like a small town perched precariously on a mountain ridge. Until you get up close, the complex with its intimidating walls looks like part of the cliffs. Smart, those medieval architects.

Peryperteuse: pack trainers, snacks and drinks for a long walk

Even if you park close to the vistor entrance, it’s a good half mile walk to the castle itself so for fear of stating the obvious bring trainers or walking boots – you’ll need them. Once you get inside the outer walls, you’ll see that you’re getting two castles for the price of one. The more recent is at the far end of the complex and you’ll need to walk up a vast stone staircase to reach its entrance.

But, once you get there, it’s a short hop to the very top and once of the most stunning views in the region as you look back down to the older fortress. You could easily spend two-three hours exploring all the hidden nooks and crannies and that’s something to bear in mind if you are bringing younger children.

As we mentioned at the start, an ideal trip would take a day starting with Quéribus followed by lunch in the nearby village of Cucugnan. Peryperteuse will take up most of the afternoon, and if you have the time, the best way home is via the Gorge de Galamus. The really adventurous will also stop off for olive oil tasting at Moulin Saint Pierre. Good luck, and like we said, bring your trainers.


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