FOIX MONTSÉGUR MEDIEVAL TOWNS
Why visit Foix, Montségur and the medieval towns of Ariège?
- Exceptional medieval history with the crusade against the Cathars.
- A collection of historical sites all near to each other: Château de Foix, Château de Montségur, Château de Roquefixade, Mirepoix medieval town.
- A Top Occitania Site linked to the Pays d'art et d'histoire in the Cathar Pyrenees.
- Saint-Lizier, a hotspot on the Santiago de Compostela routes.
- A stunning natural setting, the Ariège Pyrenees.
CHATEAU DE FOIX
Your first conquest
Start your tour of medieval Ariège with the Château de Foix (11th century). It overlooks the world from the top of its rock with pride in its unspoilt walls, towers and machicolations. From the top of the keep you can see the Pyrenees just as Gaston Fébus, one of the castle's famous owners, saw it when he was here.
The counts of Foix were very involved in defending the Cathar cause and their château withstood the attacks well. The town nestled at the bottom of the castle has held onto its period features and treats you to medieval events in May, August and October.
Simon de Montfort, leader of the crusade against the Cathars, made the following announcement in front of Château de Foix: "I'll slice through the rock like butter to grill the master on it!". But the château remained impenetrable.
CHÂTEAU DE MONTSÉGUR
Feel the Cathar soul
You can see Château de Montségur perched on top of its 1200m high pog 35 mins from Foix. Your 30 min climb will be rewarded by the incredible view of the Pyrenees and the site's atmosphere: the ruins of Montségur radiate a powerful emotion that has shone through the centuries. You are now in the last Cathar refuge due to the Church's persecution.
Montségur Museum, in the village at the foot of the mountain, depicts Cathar "heresy" and the terrible crusade that followed in the 12th century.
2 legendary footpaths run beneath Montségur: the Cathar trail from Port-la-Nouvelle to Foix, and the Chemin des Bonhommes (another name for the Cathars in French) from Foix to Berga in Spain. Experienced hikers, you've been warned!
A 45 min trail from the lovely village of Roquefixade takes you to the ruins of the Roquefixade Cathar castle: magical views of the Olmes peaks and Corbières in the distance.
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Explore a stunning UNESCO village
You'll find the only Roman cloister in Ariège and remarkable frescoes similar to Byzantine art. Saint-Lizier, population of 1600, has a palais épiscopal (bishop's palace) and two cathedrals (one in the village and the other at the top). Stop on the Chemin du Piémont trail, the whole thing is listed as UNESCO World Heritage as part of the Santiago de Compostela routes.
Notre-Dame-de-la-Sède Cathedral is next to the Palais des Evêques which has unobstructed views of Saint-Lizier, Saint-Girons and Couserans.
The easy life in a historical setting
You're going to love the main square in Mirepoix. Half-timbered houses watch over the buzzing square with its cafés and shops nestled under covers. Picture it! Their oak pillars are over 800 years old.
Mirepoix was rebuilt using a bastide model after being flooded in 1289 and was a major Cathar site too. Its cathedral and unusually wide nave mark its return to Catholicism.
Your quest, however, is to sample the local and organic produce at the famous Monday market under the village's lovely hall.
Put the Mirepoix puppet festival (MIMA) in your diary for early August. It's one of the biggest in France. Actually, Mirepoix has a pretty busy schedule all year round!
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Experience: the Middle Ages in vivo in Foix
Unmissable event: Château de Foix Medieval Festival in the last weekend in May and the first weekend in October. You'll meet knights (sword fighters) and acrobats, you'll try archery, you'll see fire performers, explore medieval watering-holes and more. Vidéo © Sites Touristiques Ariège.
- By car: Foix is on the N20 between Toulouse and Andorra. Mirepoix: on the D119 Carcassonne - Pamiers road. Montségur: from Toulouse, drive towards Foix then Lavelanet (D117) then the D109; from Carcassonne: D119 to Mirepoix then the D620 to Lavelanet.
Saint-Lizier: D117 from Foix or the N127 then D117 from Toulouse
- By plane: from Toulouse-Blagnac and Carcassonne Airports.
- By train: regular stops in Foix on the TER Toulouse-La Tour de Caroll regional train. Regular stops in Saint-Lizier on the TER Toulouse-Saint Girons regional train (station is 2km from the village).