Places to Go, Things to See and Do in the Area

Here are just some of the things you might want to do, or places you might want to visit in the area. There are masses more (if you think there are things we’ve left out that should be included, please email us).
Admire the Pyrenees
(from close by!)
A 40 minute drive will bring you well into the foothills with a huge range of walks, from “granny and the kids” (great in high summer) to “compass, and bivvy” (probably better enjoyed in May, June or September), all very beautiful. Click here to get a flavour of just how varied and beautiful and inviting the opportunities are for working off some of that gastronomic over-indulgence.
Canal du midi The Canal du Midi runs peacefully and very beautifully all the way from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. We’re only 20 minutes away from the quiet lock at Villefranche de Lauragais, and 25 minutes from the bustling bassin at Castelnaudary. Both make excellent start points for a leisurely walk along the plane-tree-shaded towpath, and will lead you sooner or later to a café where you can watch the tranquil canal traffic passing by.
Canoeing There are dozens of opportunities in and around the Pyrenees, some under ½ an hour’s drive away. Here one link:
Carcassonne You have to go and see it. It’s a Walt Disney take on a medieval walled city – except that this time it’s real! It’s a 40-minute drive, and you’ll need at least 4 hours to walk the streets and the ramparts, and it’s a bit of culture that even kids enjoy. Be warned, however, in high season, it can become very crowded, and they’ll make you park a long way away. Worth thinking about taking a picnic. In the summer months it can get very hot in the city, and you might prefer to save this trip for a cooler day, or go first thing in the morning while it’s still cool, and before the crowds arrive. There are some pretty spectacular events in Carcassonne, details to be found on their website. For some idea of the history and present appearance of this amazing city, click here
Castelnaudary Not only a delightful market town in its own right, with many splendid restaurants at all price levels, it also claims to be the home of cassoulet. It is also the high point of the Canal du Midi which drops away towards the Atlantic to the West and to the Mediterranean to the East. Quite a few events and fairs during the year. Visit the town’s official website.
Falconry From June to September there’s a daily display of falconry and hawking just outside the Carcassonne city walls.
Foix An impregnable citadel – that even Simon de Montfort would have preferred to avoid. Narrow medieval streets; good restaurants, good shopping, and, everywhere you look, dominated by the 10C castle built by the flamboyant Gaston de Foix, known as Gaston Phébus (1331-1391). Today only three towers remain. There is a superb panoramic view from the top of the round tower over the town, the Ariège valley and the Montgaillard sugar loaf.
Quad Bikes
There’s one track near Carcassonne, and another at Varilhes, just south of Pamiers
Golf There are half-a-dozen golf courses within an hour’s drive or so, 5 at Toulouse, two at Carcassonne. Or, for some spectacular Pyrenean views while you putt, drive southwest for an hour to the magnificent course at Bastide de Serou.
Horse Riding There are dozens of riding centres within easy striking distance of Loustalviel, the nearest is about 10 minutes down the road towards Mirepoix.
Le Petit Train Jaune For a lazy way to enjoy the magnificent scenery of the Pyrenees, try a day trip on this mountain railway. This link will take you to the official website, and this one to another English-language description. The line climbs dramatically from Villefranche de Conflent to the highest station in Europe at Bolquère and then meanders across the plateau of the Cerdagne to La Tour du Carol. It is a lifeline in winter to the communities in its path, and in summer a must for the tourists.
Les Grottes
de Niaux
These prehistoric caverns contain cave paintings thought to be about 12,000 years old, as well as more recent inscriptions (one, for example, thought to be from the 18th century reads Ici j’hay perdu mon pucelage à l’âge de treize ans).The name ‘grotte’ (cave) doesn’t really do justice to the three kilometres of rough subterranean tunnels that link the caverns under the Massif of Cap de la Lesse. As you penetrate ever deeper, you’ll find 12,000 year-old paintings of deer, bison, ibex and other animals. Less than an hour’s drive from Loustalviel
Mirepoix A 20 minute drive takes you to this medieval town with its cathedral (500 years in the building, and the widest nave in France) and its picture-book, arcaded central square. You must go the weekly market on Mondays. To find out more, click here.
Montségur This castle was the heart of the Cathar movement. Built in 1204, it was Esclarmonde’s stronghold, and, judging by the steep footpath up, just about impregnable. It was modernised in 1232 and  finally besieged in May 1243 by Hugh d’Arcis after the Cathars, very properly, killed off the Inquisitional tribunal at Avignonet. It fell through treachery in 1244, and 225 Cathars were burned below its walls, allowing themselves to be barbecued rather than pragmatically ‘renouncing’ their beliefs to fight another day.Depending on how fit you are, and how hot the day, the climb up from the road will take somewhere between ½ an hour and 1 hour. The rewards, when you get to the top are spectacular views, a real feeing of achievement, and the satisfaction of having worked off the lunch you had on the way. It takes about an hour by car to get to Montségur from Loustalviel.
Peyrepertuse This precipitously-placed pair of castles, balanced on a blade of rock comprise a lower fort, which was one of the last Cathar strongholds to hold out against King ‘St’ Louis IX. It is North of Maury (on the D117 West of Perpignan). After it fell, ‘St’ Louis built the higher fort to make a statement of domination over the Cathar fort. It is reached from the Cathar fort by an extremely dodgy staircase cut into the rock, which is wide but slippery & not to be comfortably contemplated in full armour. The Cathar castle is much the larger & must have been quite comfortable by the standards of the day. Across the valley, Quéribus Castle can be seen. It hung on until 1255 & after that, the Cathars lead a fugitive existence until the last overt one was burned in 1320.
Sailing and Windsurfing: The nearest decent windsurfing is at the Lac de Ganguise, about 25 minute’s drive away. Obviously, there are plenty of opportunities if you want to drive that little bit further (1¼ hours or so) to the Mediterranean resorts
Vals –
The Church
in the Rock:
A tiny church built into a cleft in the rocks. The Cathars hid and prayed here in the 13th Century, and left behind a serene air of tranquil spirituality. You won’t spend more than ½ an hour here, but we’ll be surprised if you don’t leave feeling calmed and uplifted. Visit on your way back from the market at Mirepoix (look for signs to “Vals – église rupestre”). This web page gives an idea of the simple grace of this little sanctuary.
Vineyards: There used to be a vineyard at Loustalviel. Now you have to travel a bit further.20 kilometres to the West of the Domaine is the wine-growing region of the Malepère (mainly reds, but some quite exciting and original whites. 10 kilometres beyond that, the Limoux , and they also do some of stunning whites. We buy all over the place, but keep coming back to three places:Just beyond Montréal (a 20-minute drive), you’ll find the Appellations Contrôlées of Malepère and Limoux.We recommend a visit to Domaine le Fort (04 68 76 20 11), between La Force and Montréal. It’s not very posh, but offers a wide choice of red, white, rosé and sweet wines grown and bottled on the Domaine, and ranging from 1€10 a litre (take your own container – it’s unleaded!) to 9€ a bottle.Or go to Limoux and visit the cellars of Sieur d’Arques for a range of sparkling (Crémant de Limoux claims to pre-date, and to be better than Champagne) and still white wines – not cheap, but we think classy, different, and mostly good value-for-money (04 68 74 63 45). Finally, we’re becoming more and more seduced by the wines on offer at Château Gayda. Not easy to find (it’s just outside Brugairolles near Limoux, which you’ll have to find – with difficulty – on the map). There’s a wide choice of whites and reds ranging from about 5€ a bottle to well up in the teens. We think they’re all good value, and we’re not at all surprised at the rumour that they supply the house wine for Gordon Ramsay’s gaffs – f-ing good stuff!