It’s an excursion of 140 km of distance that we made in a single day, and we visited 4 landmarks of the Catharist country. However you can modify the itinerary if you want to see some other points of interest like Limoux, because you won’t walk many more kilometres anyway.
We left Carcassonne by the R6113 road and we headed to Lagrasse (our first stage). Shortly after that we took the D111 road, and then the D212, after 35 km, in the turning to Fabrezan. This last road took us directly to our goal.
Lagrasse – This is a lovely cobbled village where there is a remarkable abbey which at the present day is divided in two different properties. The first one is a monastery with a very short visit schedule and the other one is most suitable for the visits. This part is ruined and the visit is not very long. There are big empty halls and some other parts under reconstruction. The parish church and the center of the little village are also worth seeing in Lagrasse, and I think these landmarks are even more valuable than the abbey. We also walked around the local cemetery.
We left Lagrasse by the D23 road to reach the next point of our route, so we took later the D613.
Villerouge-Termenès – This is a much smaller and lonely village which surrounds the castle we wanted to visit. There are so many houses surrounding it that we couldn’t take any panoramic photo of the town. Strangely, the castle isn’t located at the top of a mountain, but in the flat ground, so it’s very vulnerable against any attack. I think the castle is too empty, but during the visit you’re at least accompanied by the voice of the audio-guide. There is a medieval restaurant inside the castle, where we were told that they try to recreate the ambient and the food of ancient times.
We followed our route until the next point, by the D613 road:
Arques – our will was only to take some photos here of what remains from Arques castle: the Homage Tower. We didn’t even think of entering inside, but the outside is really impressive. The tower has about 25 meters of height and 11 on each side, and it’s crowned by four little towers in the corners.
We left Arques by the same road and later we passed near Coustaussa. After this village we turned to Limoux by the D118, which took us near our last stop. In order to arrive you must find the “Route de Saint Hilaire”, which took us right there.
Saint Hilaire Abbey – It was too late so we couldn’t go inside, but at least we could take a walk around the cloister (it’s worthy). It happens here the same as in Villerouge castle: it’s so full of buildings everywhere that it’s hard to have a panoramic view of the area. You must get away some streets to see it well.
Then we went back to D118 and returned to Carcassonne. We entered La Cité again, to enjoy it one more time.
The River Orbieu divides the abbey, which is built in the left bank, from the village, which is on the right one. It’s useful to know that this place is considered one of the most beautiful towns in France. The walk around the village is really nice, although it’s a bit uncomfortable because almost every street is cobbled. You should visit the church inside the village, too. It’s cheerfully painted and it has nice and impressive marble works, and huge stained glass windows.
Not long ago the abbey was sold and separated into two parts, and that division remains still today. We visited the old side, because the new one was closed until the afternoon. From 11.30 a. m. I think it’s reserved for the monks to pray.
The old area from the part of the abbey that can be visited has two floors. In the ground floor there is an old cellar which is used to organize events like the local celebrations. In the upper ground you can access to a pair of oratories and a great hall which was used as the bedroom for the monks before. It’s an impressive hall for its size and for the asymmetry of the arcs which bear it.
A great part of the abbey that can be visited is still in restoration process, so the present visit isn’t very long and it’s almost empty everywhere you walk. Considering the price, this visit to the abbey left us a bad feeling.
– January to March and from November to December: 10 a. m. to 12.30 p. m. and 2 p. m. to 5 p. m.
– April to June and October: 10 a. m. to 12.30 p. m. and 2 p. m. to 6 p. m.
– July to September: 10 a. m. to 7 p. m.
GPS Coordinates: 43.091276, 2.617117
The castle of Villerouge-Termenès dates from early XII century and it’s pretty well conserved, although it’s a bit empty in the inside.
The place is worth visiting if you don’t go on a wheelchair. The access is from the village and you have to climb some stairs to enter. The castle has 3 floors and the access is through staircases too.
The visit consists of a walk inside the castle (which isn’t very big) and in the last part it has a very complicated descent from the tower, where the steps are too narrow and high. I made it but the truth is that I needed some help… Now I understand why the princesses stayed in the top of the towers waiting to be saved, because… there’s almost no way to go down! I must say that you have also the choice of not making this last part of the visit and take instead a shortcut to the beginning of the circuit.
The visit is made with the help of an audio-guide, which tells you the history of the castle and the judge and testament of Simon de Montfort, leader of the Albigensian Crusade. Maybe the part where you’re told about the judge and the testament become a little slow and pompous, but in general the visit is quite interesting. The castle is completely restored.
Moreover, there is a medieval oriented restaurant at the courtyard of the castle. I mean that the waiters are disguised, the food and the dishes recreate the medieval food and… well, this is a true medieval theme park (expensive as almost all of them in the region).
Opening Hours: from 10 a. m. to 1 p. m. and from 2 p. m. to 6 p. m.
GPS Coordinates: 43.006762, 2.6268
Our next visit was in the remains of the Castle of Arques. We didn’t know if we should go inside, but some kids around there warned us not to do it. They told us that it was too expensive, the rooms were empty and the panoramic view weren’t good at all. So we dismissed the visit, but I must say that the outside of the castle is really amazing, and we were taking some photos of it.
The building is made of a rectangular enclosure from which only remains the south side. A gate with a pointed arc and decorated with the shield of the Voisins gives access to the courtyard. The South West area is strengthened by a square tower.
The best conserved part, which can be visited, is on the central area where there is a square tower which looks very high and robust. The base is 11 meter long and 25 meter high, more or less. The top of the building is flanked by four little watchtowers that give a funny look to the ensemble, because it looks quite different from other castles in the region.
Opening Hours: from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.
GPS coordinates: 42.952842, 2.367554
Saint Hilaire Abbey
We began the last stage of our journey, although we stopped before to have lunch at some of the picnic areas that there are all around the region. Despite it was October the temperature was still warm enough to eat outdoors without feeling very cold.
Outside of the vineyards of the famous blanquette wine you can find the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Hilaire, which is 15 km away from Carcassonne and 10 km from Limoux. It’s located at the picturesque valley of Lauquet and it was founded at the end of VIII century.
The medieval age was significantly important for the village. It was built and evolved around the abbey and under the dependence to the monks and the Lords of Saint Hilaire. Until the early XIII century the abbey was benefited with the protection of the Counts of Carcassonne. However, during the crusade against the Cathars the monks were accused of being heretics and lost their autonomy and most of their goods. The monastery was devastated later by the crusaders.
According to the tradition the abbey is the cradle of the “Blanquette de Limoux” sparkling wine, because in XVI century the monks began to elaborate it, without knowing that centuries later it would become famous all over the world.
We arrived here a bit late, because we had to find a gas station that allowed cash payment. If you don’t have a credit card with a “wallet chip” you’ll have a serious problem (like we had) at many gas stations, mostly at night and holidays, when it’s almost the only way to pay at these places.
The access to the abbey is after a half round slope which is not very long but it’s full of steps. We arrived too late, so we weren’t allowed to make the touristic visit, but we walked instead a bit around the cloister (which has free admission). It’s very well preserved and it’s surprising the amount of columns that bear the arcs.
Opening Hours: from 10 a. m. to 12 p. m. and from 2 p. m. to 6 p. m.
GPS coordinates: 43.09336, 2.308438