This is our last night in France, which makes me sad, though I also miss my cats and people at home so I will be glad to see them! Today I am exhausted not from staying up sightseeing but from hiking up to the Château de Montségur, where the Cathars made their last stand. It's a long, steep hike up at elevation, surrounded by snow-covered mountains, and completely worth it. Earlier in the day we visited another Cathar castle, the Château de Puivert, which has several restored rooms among its ruined towers including one that celebrates the troubadours from the region who gathered there. It's an easy walk up the hill from the parking lot to Puivert, though there's no running water anywhere in the area so the only bathroom is three trees to the left of the trail.
We brought cheese sandwiches for lunch from our hotel because we weren't sure we'd be able to find an open cafe in the remote areas in which we were traveling, so we had a picnic beneath Montségur, then continued on to Toulouse. After so many days in gorgeous, spiritually important small towns, I wasn't sure whether the city would be disappointing, but the historic areas are right next to the university here and it's like a big, happy college town with dozens of cafes and hundreds of people sitting by the Garonne River enjoying a spectacular sunset. We visited two famous churches and had falafel at one of the cafes near this city's Pont Neuf. We're going to try to see Toulouse's Roman amphitheatre before we head to the airport in the morning!
Outside the ruins of the Château de Puivert, which has short films about its history and structures, including its festival for troubadours...
...and inside by the round table surrounded by the accoutrements of knighthood.
About to hike up the incredibly steep trail to the Château de Montségur. Remember I said it was tough going to the Sainte-Baume grotto? Forget I ever said that; I had no real experience of "tough going" then!
The hike goes past patches of snow as well as some signs of spring -- flowers, lizards, snails, butterflies (though every Pokemon on the mountain is a flopping, gasping Magikarp, which is entirely appropriate despite the lack of water). The Pyrenees rise up along one side.
Everyone who gets to the top is very sweaty and happy and there are amazing views in every direction, until one remembers that Crusaders burned alive every unconverted Cathar man, woman, and child who survived the siege in 1244, in the field that one passes on the way up to the castle.
This is the beautiful Château de Foix seen from the road headed toward Toulouse. We also saw the Château de Roquefixade as we drove away from Montségur, and it appears that Roquefixade is in an even greater state of disrepair.
The exterior of the imposing Basilique Saint-Sernin, named for the first bishop of Toulouse, though it is more famous because the stone that killed Simon de Montfort, a brutal leader of the Crusade against the Cathars, was thrown from the roof of Saint-Sernin while he was besieging the city.
Toulouse's original Black Madonna at the Basilica Notre-Dame de la Daurade was stolen and later burned by Revolutionaries in the late 1700s, but the copy there since 1807 has kept the church a pilgrimage site.