Today we’d like introduce you to Estefania and Ferran. This adventurous couple went on their first ever campervan trip, and so they decided to plan their detailed itinerary well in advance. They set off from Barcelona, driving their own car north, before swapping seats and taking a brand new Activans campervan , just south of the French border at our Activans site. After a thoroughly-detailed presentation of the campervan and its features from Nora and Ronan, they then continued their journey to the other side of the Spanish-French frontier. Their little dog Lia also went with them.
Estefania and Ferran wanted to spend a week in a motorhome visiting the Cathar castles, driving from one castle to the next. Their first stop was Carcassonne.
If you have never been to this amazing city, it's really beautiful, although it is very touristy. However, it was definitely the perfect start for this trip.
Like many visitors to France, they were also keen to try out plenty of cheese and wine, so they bought some provisions in the city, as they planned to spend quite a few of the next few days in some pretty isolated spots. There’s no problem with stocking up a well-filled fridge in our campervans, as even without external power your food is still kept fresh, thanks to the solar cell panel and the inverter. All our Activans campers are fitted with these useful - and often essential - features.
We’ve chosen to outline this route as it’s perfect for hikers and mountain lovers who also like to enjoy a bit of culture and architecture. Even at the peak of the high season, Ferran and Estafania were on their own in most of the parking areas they chose to overnight in, and they were able to enjoy the views and some well-deserved peace and quiet in their RV.
What’s more, they didn’t have to drive far, the two returned their motorhome to the Activans site, having covered some 650 km on the road.
After 6 nights in inland France, they spent their last evening by the sea in their Activans motorhome. We always recommend the parking area next to the Hostal Empuries near L'Escala to all our clients. For just a few euros you can wake up with a sea view and you’re a stone’s throw from the beach and an early-morning dip in the waves. The famous ruins of Empuries are a short walk away, while L'Escala, a charming little fishing village with its bars and restaurants, is worth a visit and is just a 15-minute stroll from where you spent your night. There are also great beach bars on the beach, just in case you get thirsty.
Now back to the details about the route in France and the castle itinerary:
Day 1, from Activans to Carcasonne
The couple left for France in the afternoon and their first stop was Carcassonne. So where did they spend the night? Here’s what Estefania wrote.
"We arrived in Carcassonne where we saw a lot of parking areas for campers. We parked 5 minutes from the old bridge, in a quiet street, and we had no problems. We went up to the old town, made a visit and had an evening meal on one of the many terraces".
Day 2, from Carcassonne to Mirepoix
"In the morning we finished visiting the citadel and after crossing the old bridge, we went to visit the city of Carcassonne, its centre, main shopping street, the Canal du Midi and the basilica. At midday we drove our camper to Mirepoix where there is a fully-serviced parking area for motorhomes, but unfortunately it was totally booked when we arrived, so we parked on a nearby street, 5 minutes’ walk from the town centre".
The town of Mirepoix retains its medieval appearance almost entirely intact, dating from the late 13th century, when it was rebuilt. It stands inside the confines of a wall with a magnificent gateway, built in the Middle Ages.
"We spent a very peaceful night."
Day 3, from Mirepoix to Foix - Roquefixade
Just 5 minutes from the centre of Foix, and next to the river, a free car park with all motorhome services is available.
Foix is a castle and former mountain prison that was built in the 10th and 15th centuries. It also has a museum of regional history. The castle of Foix, on the Cathar route, offers an unforgettable view at dawn; as it stands silhouetted against the sky. The castle itself rises some 200 feet above the town of Foix, dominating the access roads to the Aliège Valley. Foix is well-worth a visit, especially due to of its medieval layout of streets and alleyways, the façades of its houses have been built with a traditional wooden framework, forming rows, in a style that can be found in all the towns on the Cathar route.
"After lunch we headed to Roquefixade to spend the night there. It is a small, quiet village in the mountains. We spent the night in a public car park and slept very well in our campervan. We were practically alone there with the whole valley at our feet".
Day 4, Castle of Roquefixade-Castle of Montsegur- Puivert
- Roquefixade Castle. No entrance fee. Located 20 minutes from the village
- Montsegur Castle. Car park near the castle.
"The ascent to Montsegur Castle was the "toughest" of all the climbs we found on our way along the Cathar route. It’s a hike of about 20 minutes up quite a steep slope; I recommend going light, carrying water and above all comfortable shoes."
"After visiting these two castles, we headed to Puivert for the night. This small village has a simple campsite, with just about all the services you might ever need. It’s right next to a lake, which looks really inviting for a refreshing swim. There are also a couple of very nice restaurants. The campsite for 2 people with our Activans Campervan cost €17 per day".
Day 5, Château de Puivert- Gorges de la Pierre- Lys - Château de Puilaurens - Gorges de Galamus
- Puivert Castle - we only saw it from the campsite, we didn't go up to the castle
- Belvédère du Diable - Gorges de la Pierre Lys
A unique view of the Gorges de la Pierre-Lys, the "Devil's Walls" that dominate the dizzy peaks overlooking the Aude. The path climbs up steadily, and it is cloaked by the shade of the Carach Forest.
"We parked our camper near the river, where we found a few picnic areas. The road passes through this spectacular spot among the rocks".
- Puilaurens Castle. Camper vans are allowed in the free car park.
“There are spectacular views from the car park of this castle and you can walk up to the fortress in about twenty minutes. The slope is impressive. I recommend wearing comfy shoes (trainers) and taking water, especially in August! The path up to the castle looks like a botanical garden, and the plants native to the Aude region are named and identified."
"After lunch we took a break, before heading to Gorges de Galamus. There is a free car park for motorhomes where you can also spend the night. You can swim in the canyon, although you need to go down a fairly steep path".
The Gorges de Galamus is a very deep canyon, some 2 km long, and you visit the hermitage of Saint-Antoine in its impressive, dizzying location.
You have to visit the canyon on foot. Car parks are available on either side, in both the Pyrénées-Orientales and in the Aude region (these are 2 French “départements”). Electric shuttle buses are available. You can trek on foot (highly recommended, it's only a kilometre and a half) and make the most of nature and the wonders that this landscape has to offer, and return by one of the shuttles, back to the free caravan park (if you choose). There is a shuttle bus service between car parks 1 and 2.
The hermitage of Saint-Antoine is built in a natural hollow in the cliff face, and it overlooks the canyon of the Gorges, providing a breathtaking spectacle.
"We slept entirely on our own, with no problems at all, in the car park, with its spectacular views. The car park is free with no toilets."
DAY 6: Gorges de Galamus- Château de Quéribus- Cucugnan
We visited the Château de Quéribus.
"The Castle of Queribus is one of the most characteristic of the Cathar castles and it stands at an altitude of 730m. We climbed up to the castle, it takes about 20 minutes, there are 200 steps at the end.
"After that we visited the village at the foot of the castle, Cucugnan, we strolled through its streets, ate in one of its small restaurants and we bought some bread (as you do) in its artisan bakery. The tourist office is on the access road and has public toilets and free parking."
"This whole area is full of small rivers that form small pools that the locals use to cool off or pass the time. The water is very clean and fresh. It’s easy to find access from the roadside rest areas and a swim in August is definitely a great idea. We spent the night all alone at an access road to the river, just off the main road from Cucugnan to Padern, we could hear birdsong and the sound of water in the background."
Day 7: Château de Peyrepertuse - Orgues D'Ille Sur Tet – the return to Spain
Castle of Peyrepertuse (in the end we did not hike our way up to this castle as the heat was way too much). It is said to be about 20 minutes uphill from the ticket office.
“From the bottom of the castle and on the way back, we passed the Orgues D'Ille Sur Tet. The Orgues are sandstone formations that are constantly changing and are being eroded by the wind and rain. The scenery is spectacular.”
"Our trip ended here and we headed back towards L'Escala to spend the last night and day in our Citroën Jumper Camper next to Sant Martí d'Empúries where we had dinner at a beach bar, the Mar d'Empuries and from where we took in the spectacular views of the bay of Roses."
All in all:
This route is very easy to do in a camper van. We found some fantastic roads in France that were always wide enough to go through with our Activans Camper. The services are excellent and the service and prohibition signs are easy to spot. The road sections you need to take are relatively short, as there are only about 30-50 kilometres between one place to another. In total the round trip from the Activans base in the Empordà came to about 650km.
We enjoyed the freedom that a campervan trip gives you and the variety of eating out in fantastic French restaurants and the simple snacks we ate in the camper van.