When you travel as much as we do, you learn to temper your expectations of places. Guidebooks and websites invariably embellish, waxing poetic about all of the good stuff while failing to mention any of the negatives. Heck, I’ve written some of that stuff while working in the travel industry myself.
If you don’t expect too much then you won’t be disappointed, right?
Every so often, however, you come across something that not only lives up to your expectations but exceeds them. A place so spectacular that you can’t help but be held in awe by it. Peyrepertuse Castle is one such place.
Peyrepertuse Castle: A Fortress in the Sky
The ruins of Peyrepertuse Castle tower 800 metres above the vineyards and scrublands of the Aude département in Southern France. One of the ‘Five sons of Carcassonne’, the castle is primarily known for being a Cathar stronghold during the Albigensian Crusade, a religiously motivated military campaign that took place at the beginning of the 13th century in Languedoc.
That the site was used as a stronghold is unsurprising, being as inaccessible as it is. As we wended our way along the narrow mountainous roads on our way to the castle, the fortress towered above us and I could not see how we could possibly make our way to the top.
By car, Peyrepertuse Castle is approached from the small town of Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse from which the castle looks like an extension of the sheer cliffs which tower in all directions. No path or entrance is visible, and being that I was wearing a dress and flip-flops I didn’t much fancy scaling the limestone, regardless of the vistas that might open up from above.
Thankfully, after a quick change to more suitable clothing in the parking lot and paying the €6.50/person entrance fee, we discovered the path which snakes around the castle and brings you to the top. No crash-course in mountaineering would be needed on this day!
Once at the top, it’s all about the views. Sweeping vistas which stretch across the landscape seemingly forever, taking in mountains, valleys, vineyards, quaint French villages and one of the other Sons of Carcassonne, the Château de Quéribus, some twelve kilometres away.
On a clear day like the one that we were blessed with, there was nothing but blue skies, eagles and paragliders above us. We spent about three hours exploring every nook and cranny of the fortress, marvelling at the views and pondering what a life lived in such a remote location might have been like for the Cathars who were held up here in the 13th century. On a sunny day there could be few places more beautiful, but in the grips of a winter storm I can image that nowhere on earth could seem more hopeless.
As one might expect, getting to this remote fortress in the sky isn’t easy. Peyrepertuse Castle is in the middle of nowhere, and unless you’re a hardcore hiker you’ll be needing a car. The castle’s appeal, however, is in no small part due to this remoteness, and anyone who puts in the effort, whether by foot or by car, will be treated to a site which is simply out of this world.