Montségur has almost a cult following, attracting Cathar history enthusiasts, hikers, and lovers of charming small French villages. This tiny Midi-Pyrénées village is located in France's Midi-Pyrénées region (and the lovely Ariège Pyrénées department) on the edge of Cathar Country, near Foix and within easy striking distance of Perpignan. Montségur Château is arguably the most significant monument to the Cathar religious sect.
The Cathars believed in a natural, humble lifestyle and proved a thorn in the side of the Catholic church which they criticized relentlessly. It was in Montségur castle, perched up high and surrounded by the small streets of the village, that around six hundred Cathar 'heretics' held off the Crusaders for months. It was on March 16th, 1244, that the last Cathars surrendered. When they were finally conquered, they were given the choice to renounce their religion or perish in the flames, an agonizing death which most chose.
There is a legend even today that the Cathar 'treasure' which was supposedly taken by four men who had escaped on March 15, 1244, is, in fact, the Holy Grail, with the Cathars being the Knights of the Round Table. A bit far-fetched, but quite fun and it all adds to the mystique of Montségur.
Read on to follow a photo-guided walking (and hiking) tour of Montségur, with its magnificent château ruins and challenging Mount Pog.
Mount Pog in Montségur
As you approach Montségur, Mount Pog will appear between mountain peaks. Topped by the formidable Château Montségur, Mount Pog is a particularly well known and popular hiking spot for Europeans. While it doesn't take long to climb, it is challenging. It takes about 20-30 minutes each way, but they are a long 20-30 minutes. The aspects that make the climb difficult are precisely the secrets to the Cathar success in holding off the zealous Crusaders for so long. Today, there are wood planks to make the climb easier. Legend has it that local villagers snuck food and supplies up to the Cathars by climbing the mazelike pathways, leaving the Crusaders frustrated at the mountain's base. Many travelers return again and again to conquer the beast that is Mount Pog.
As you enter the village, there are just a few blocks of houses, a museum, a few locally owned shops, a couple of inns and a café or two. The small village church has an irresistible charm, its burnt tan color reflecting the southern France sun.
The Little Details
Montségur may be a small village, but its personality is the size of a mountain. Everywhere you turn, you see another small, almost-overlooked detail that just beams. This cross on the side of a building casts a long and mesmerizing shadow.
Start Your Climb
As you climb Mount Pog, you should turn around and look below you. You'll get a wonderful view of the village of Montségur and the surrounding countryside. Be sure to take a water bottle with you and a hat if it's really hot.
Inside the Chateau
Just when it seems you can't stand to take another step, almost like magic Montségur's magnificent château appears between the tree limbs. Once you step inside, the aura of the ruins is positively intense. Be sure to walk around the château's perimeter for breathtaking views of the nearby mountain peaks.
A Perfect Close to the Day
After a tiring day climbing Mount Pog, dine and sleep at one of the local inns. L'Oustal is a charming maison d'hote (bed and breakfast) with just three rooms. Its hosts are endlessly friendly; the place is cozy and welcoming with a large fireplace in the dining room.