We leave our castle in the morning as the donkeys are intrigued by our bikes. The shelter was a good deal, 5°C inside (instead of 0°C or lower outside) and wind-free, and without entrances for those donkeys.
We are making our way until Ax-les-Thermes today, and want to stop on the way in Montségur to visit the famous castle, perched on its steep mountain.
We make a first stop in Leran for breakfast, but find a take-away meal stand, that happens here on Saturday mornings. They actually cook calamar à la sétoise and it smells good. We share one plate for breakfast at 10am, and it’s good, and opens our appetite. We move on with a quiche lorraine each, and that’s enough for starting the day.
We don’t stop for too long in Lavelanet and take the hill straight to Montségur castle. It is a pass above 1000 m, plus a 150 m hike up to the hilltop where the castle is built. The castle hosted the Cathar church, the “heretic” and the “alternative” religions until 1244, when it was besieged for 8 months by the Catholic church. At the end of this long and tough siege, the Cathars who didn’t give up their faith were burnt.
The location of this castle is simply magic. It is really above everything on a tiny area on the tip top of a steep hill.
The sky is very nice, the view on the Pyrénées is almost perfect and we forget about how cold it is.
We hurry downhill because we have to get to Ax-les-Thermes by tonight, and take a good rest in the thermal baths, regenerate our legs before the ascent of the highest pass of the Pyrénées, the Pas de la Case at 2400m.
Before that, we have to get down from Montségur to 500 m in Belesta, and up again to 1400 m, and down again to Ax-les-Thermes at 800 m. At 3 pm, it is … quite a challenge. Up from Belesta, we reach the Col de la Croix des Morts (Pass of the Cross of the Deads) and the villages a few kilometers further.
The plateau with the snow and the sunset is really worth it. We finally cycle at a decent speed there (relatively to the previous kilometers of the day, of course). But suddenly, while stopped at a crossroads, we notice a sign reading “Ax-les-Thermes: 30km”. It’s way too far to be done within the 30 min of daylight we have left. We decide to stop in Belcaire, and after exploring all possible options not to sleep outside (it’s already freezing), we head to the only B&B of the town. The road is already icy and it’s very dangerous to cycle. Luckily a shop is still open and we buy enough to make another feast and sleep warmly.