Nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Montségur is an enduring destination for Cathar history enthusiasts. As the site of the gruesome siege of Montségur, its historical significance in the annals of Cathar history is unmatched. Here’s a worthy addition to any France sightseeing itinerary that includes visits to magical villages in Occitanie.
How to Get There
Renting a car saves you time and allows much flexibility in making stops as and when you wish. You can cover Carcassonne and Montségur on a day trip from Toulouse. The autoroute from Toulouse to Carcassonne takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Exploring Carcassonne – one of the famous places in France – shouldn’t take more than 2-3 hours. Head south to the fortified medieval town Mirepoix and further on to Montségur.
History & Culture
Montségur is a village in the Ariège department, best known for Château de Montségur (also called Montségur Castle), a former fortress and bastion of the Cathars, standing serenely on a rock formation known as a pog. The area was home to Neanderthals and occupied by the Romans. It withstood several sieges in the 13th century and, in 1233, became the seat and head of the Cathar Church.
In 1242, a garrison of Cathar sympathizers killed two inquisitors and their retinue at Avignonet. A year later, 100,000 royal troops led by Hugues Des Arcis, seneschal of Carcassonne, besieged the fortress, and an estimated 300 dissidents who surrendered were burned in a bonfire at the foot. At the base of the mountain, a memorial called “Prat dels Cremats” (“Field of the Burned”) commemorates the victims. The names of the 25 Cathar Perfecti who took the vow of austerity and renunciation are displayed at a museum in the village. The village also finds a mention in the provocative best-seller The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which challenges the accepted view of Christ’s life.
Top Things to Do
Do the 15-minute walk to the ruins of Château de Montségur, the most famous Cathar Castle, and a historic site designated by the French Ministry of Culture. The current fortress is not the original structure but one built during a later period to guard France’s border.
The early fortress was built as a solar temple perfectly aligned with the rising sun. This architectural feature is observable in the alignment of the two windows in the fortress wall and attracts astronomers and spiritual pilgrims.
Visit the Musee de Montségur afterward. The entrance fee to the castle includes the museum too. Exhibits in the museum depict the life of Cathars and the tragic siege.
If you’re an arts and crafts enthusiast, make an appointment at Le Royaume Oublie, a workshop that pays tribute to the ancient civilization of Occitanie. You can commission a project or buy a piece of art.
There are indeed many things to do in France! There are a number of attractions not too far from Montségur. How many you can cover depends on whether you’re on a day tour or an extended holiday. If you’re here with kids, visiting Crapahut Parc Aventure is recommended. The climbing park has ziplines, tightropes, and trampolines, among other exciting activities.
About two hours from Montségur lies the mountain resort of Grandvalira atop the Pyrenees ranges between Spain and France. It has 118 trails served by 64 lifts, comprising 130 miles (210 kilometers) of downhill skiing.
The Station de Ski Mont D’Olmes is closer to Montségur but ideal for beautiful summer hikes. Musée du Textile et du Peigne en Corne in Lavelanet is worth a visit if you’re interested in learning about the hand tools and spinning tools used in the Middle Ages.
Eat and Drink
The choices in restaurants are sufficient for a small village, but the cuisines are primarily European. La Patate Qui Fume is a top dining place.
Multiple hotels and gîtes are based close to the Museum of Montségur and Montségur Castle.
Best Time to Visit
Mountains in Europe open at the end of November and offer skiing opportunities until late April. June until September promises pleasant temperatures and limited rainfall. If you’re keen on a family ski holiday to Andorra, Montségur can be a part of these French holidays.
A walking tour of Montségur is both enjoyable and easy.