Transcript for Episode 480: Hiking the Sentier Cathare

Categories: Active Vacations in France, Occitanie

Discussed in this Episode

  • GR367
  • Port-la-Nouvelle to Foix
  • Sentier des Bonshommes from Montségur to Spain
  • Semi-itinerant hiking
  • Vineyards in Vingrau
  • Chateau of Aguilar
  • Tuchan
  • Staying in Padern for the night
  • Using walking sticks
  • How much water to carry
  • Using the Komoot App
  • The eSIM card not working but getting 5G with Verizon's international plan
  • Best times to hike are May and October
  • Favorite part of the trip: hiking between Padern and Quéribus
  • Getting a ride from a local to the next town because of a storm
  • Dinner in Cucugnan
  • Spending two nights at a Gîte in Duilhac
  • Another favorite: Chateau de Peyrepertuse
  • La Malle Postale
  • Easy walk to the Gorges du Verdouble
  • Hardest day: Duilhac to Camps-sur-l'Agly with a detour to Gorges du Galamus
  • Camps-sur-l'Agly to Caudiès-de-Fenouillèdes
  • Peak of Bugarach a place where the end of the world did NOT take place
  • Best preserved: Chateau de Puilaurens
  • Last destination on the trail: Axat


[00:00:00] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France, episode 480, quatre cent quatre vingt.

[00:00:22] Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent, and Join Us in France is the podcast where we take a conversational journey through the beauty, culture, and flavors of France.

Today on the podcast

[00:00:31] Annie Sargent: Today, I bring you a trip report with Christian Chauret, I’m not sure how to say his name Chauret, about his hike on the Sentier Cathare in Occitanie on the GR 367.

[00:00:48] So you know, that’s one of the Grande Randonnée, one of the big trails that you can walk in France, and throughout Europe, as a matter of fact.

[00:00:57] One of the most wonderful things you can do in life is set some time away from your regular life and take a hike, a long walk, I’m not going to make the joke about take a hike.

[00:01:06] Christian did something a lot of us dream about doing, and I know you’re going to learn a lot about this episode because it’s just a wonderful thing to do.

Support the Podcast

[00:01:17] Annie Sargent: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my Itinerary Consult Service, my GPS self-guided tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app, or take a day trip with me around the southwest of France in my electric car.

[00:01:33] And you can browse all of that at my boutique,

2024 Bootcamp Registrations Closed

[00:01:38] Annie Sargent: Registration for the bootcamp in May 2024 is now closed. I’m saving a couple of seats for the significant others of bootcamp members who might decide to join us after all. That’s happened last year and it’s happening this year again, so I’m just saving a couple, just in case. We’re going to have a grand time, you guys.

Magazine: Ranking of Best Places to Live in France

[00:01:58] Annie Sargent: For the magazine part of the podcast, after my chat with Christian today, I’ll discuss the cities in France that get the most highly ratings by French people, by French standard. Not to go on vacation particularly, but to live, even though many of these towns are also wonderful for visitors.

Introduction and Welcome to Christian Chauret

[00:02:25] Annie Sargent: Bonjour Christian Chauret, and welcome to Join Us in France!

[00:02:29] Christian Chauret: Bonjour, Annie, merci, thank you.

[00:02:32] Annie Sargent: Wonderful to talk to you about your hike of the Sentier Cathare, which is also goes by the name of the GR 367, in the Occitanie, so the region where I live.

Inspiration Behind the Hike on the Sentier Cathare aka the Cathar’s Way

[00:02:46] Annie Sargent: Tell me what inspired you to do this hike? And when did your trip take place?

[00:02:52] Christian Chauret: The trip took place in late May and early June, so in 2023. What inspired me? I have always done a lot of hiking here in the US and Canada, and I’ve done some backpacking as well. So I think like many people during COVID, I was thinking about doing a trip to Europe. You know, I’ve been to Europe before. I’m French Canadian, so I have some French roots.

[00:03:12] And then I start to think, I haven’t seen much of France, I’ve been a little bit in Alsace and a little bit in Paris many years ago. I thought the south of France would be really interesting. I was thinking about one of the Compostelles, you know, the Voie de Saint Jacques. And then of course, I found your podcast and I listened to many episodes and you had two episodes on the Cathar’s Ways or the Cathars rather and so I was very intrigued by that and I started to do a little bit of research and that’s when I found out about the actual hiking path, the Cathar’s Way.

[00:03:44] And I thought, well, that sounds just about right. I can do it in a week or two, in the end, I decided to do it in one week. And there’s a lot of history, a lot of scenery, so that was just sort of the perfect, perfect trip to plan. So I got really excited about it.

[00:03:58] Annie Sargent: Yeah. So we had done two other episodes about the Cathars, 387 it was about Cathar Beliefs and Lifestyle. And 388 about the crusade against the Cathars, and so perhaps that kind of put a bug in your ear or something?

[00:04:15] Christian Chauret: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s what got me interested.

[00:04:19] Annie Sargent: Fantastic. Fantastic. Yeah. It’s a beautiful part of the country.

Comparing Hiking Experiences: Difficulty and Enjoyment

[00:04:23] Annie Sargent: And, so you’ve done other hiking. How would you compare the level of difficulty compared to other places where you’ve hiked?

[00:04:31] Christian Chauret: It’s definitely strenuous. I have done here in the US, I’ve done a little part of the Appalachian Trail, you know, the famous AT Trail, which is also very strenuous. So I would compare it a little bit to that. So lots of pretty big hills. I mean, you’re not in the Rockies or in the Alps, but it’s still, at the end of the day you’re tired, you’re very tired.

[00:04:53] Annie Sargent: And you can count on what? 15, between 15 and 20 kilometers a day, more or less.

[00:04:58] Christian Chauret: About that. Yeah. 15 to 20. It depends on your age and your physical abilities, but that’s a good average 15 to 20 kilometers, so 10 to 12 miles, 15 miles at most, maybe.

[00:05:08] Annie Sargent: Hmm. Mm hmm.

Planning the Hike

[00:05:09] Annie Sargent: You did this with a friend of yours?

[00:05:11] Christian Chauret: Yes, so, it’s a long story, but my wife and I were planning to go to Spain, so we started to plan a trip to Spain, and then I told her I would really like to do this hike in France. She was fine with that, so I was planning the trip to Spain, and then the hike to France, and my friend found out that I was doing the French part on my own, and he kind of reached out, and he said, you know, do you want a trail buddy?

[00:05:32] Do you want a companion on the trail? And so I said, sure, then let’s do it together.

Starting the Journey

[00:05:36] Christian Chauret: So we met in Barcelona and took the train to Perpignan and then we started from there.

[00:05:42] Annie Sargent: Right. So you actually started walking from Perpignan?

[00:05:45] Christian Chauret: No, no, we took a bus from Perpignan to the small town of Vingrau, which is actually not on the Sentier Cathare, it’s a little bit south of it. So we took, sort of a secondary trail, a smaller trail, for about, I don’t know, three or four miles, and that brought us to one of the first castles. And then we were on the Sentier Cathare from there.

[00:06:06] Annie Sargent: Okay.

[00:06:07] Christian Chauret: There was no easy way by public transportation to get to sort of where we wanted to start.

[00:06:12] Annie Sargent: Right. Because I mean, if you do the whole thing, it starts in Port la Nouvelle on the coast, and it goes all the way to Foix, which is in the Pyrenees. So it’s 145 kilometers or so if you do the whole thing.

[00:06:28] Christian Chauret: I think it’s more than that. I think it’s 220 kilometers, I think.

[00:06:33] Annie Sargent: Oh, okay.

[00:06:34] Christian Chauret: So we ended up doing a segment sort of in the middle, if you will.

[00:06:38] We started maybe a third of the way and we ended up, you know, maybe a third or so before the end, before Foix.

[00:06:45] Annie Sargent: Right. And you did a day hike also, one of the days, and we’ll go into details about that in a second. But yeah, there were cathars all over this area, they obviously walked, this was the way that people got around. It’s impossible to say this was the one and only way, you know.

[00:07:03] They took any route they wanted to, they often had to flee. So they probably went over the mountain, because this is pretty much a east to west path, which you could also do west to east, I’m sure. But they also went south into Spain where persecutions were not as prevalent, for some of the time anyway.

[00:07:24] Christian Chauret: Right. There’s actually a second hiking trail called the Sentier des Bonshommes, which is GR 107, I think. That one goes into Spain, so it goes north-south from Montségur to some of the towns in Spain.

Lodging Throughout the Hike

[00:07:39] Annie Sargent: Mm hmm. So was this completely itinerant? So did you carry all your stuff? Did you stop at hotels? Did you have camping gear?

[00:07:47] Christian Chauret: We did not camp, so we carried all our stuff, stuff being clothes and toiletries, but we stayed in hostels and bed & breakfasts. Brought a little bit of food along, but basically we weren’t camping.

[00:07:59] That’s kind of what I like about hiking like that in France. There’s a lot of little inns every 20-25 kilometers, so you don’t have to bring your tent, and you don’t have to rough it too much.

[00:08:10] Annie Sargent: Right, right. Yeah. So you took this hike late May, early June, 2023.

[00:08:17] Christian Chauret: Correct.

[00:08:18] Annie Sargent: And so I assume that most of the places, the stores, the inns, the restaurants, most of that was open for the season anyway, right?

[00:08:29] Christian Chauret: The inns definitely were open. The restaurants, we ran into some, you know, just minor issues. We were in a lot of small towns or villages, maybe most of them with three or four restaurants, and in the evening maybe one out of three would be open. So you had to kind of learn along the way that, not to count that all the restaurants would be open.

[00:08:49] I think they take a turn, they alternate, like one night, you know, one restaurant is open, the next night it’s the next one,

[00:08:56] The Google Maps is not very good at telling you which one is open, so…

[00:09:00] Annie Sargent: Yeah, well, it’s not, there’s nothing wrong with Google Maps, it’s just that they don’t tell Google Maps the details, you know, because it would change constantly. I mean, honestly, some of these people, they just, you know, they’re just friends like, okay, I got to take off, you open.

[00:09:14] Christian Chauret: Yeah, but anyway, other than that, yeah, things were open.

[00:09:19] Annie Sargent: You never went hungry.

[00:09:21] Christian Chauret: No, we did not. In fact, I think I gained some weight.

Challenges and Surprises

[00:09:26] Annie Sargent: Did you encounter any major difficulties? Were there huge surprises, things that kind of caused some trouble?

[00:09:34] Christian Chauret: No, not really. I don’t think so. We had a very good map, but I guess we didn’t look at the topography as well as we should have. So some days, the hills were a little bit bigger than we expected. So I would say that’s part of the fun of, you know, not knowing fully what to expect all the time.

[00:09:53] Once we got done with the hike, on one of, because we took a couple days off after hiking, on one of the days, there was a train strike, so we were a little bit worried about that, but in the end, we were able to take just like some buses, and that was fine, they weren’t on strike. So that was the only thing that was maybe just a minor issue, but you know, it really didn’t have any impact on us.

[00:10:15] Annie Sargent: Yes, and I’m sure that in this part of the country, the fact that you are fluent in French really helped.

[00:10:23] Christian Chauret: Yeah, it didn’t hurt. Yeah, that’s for for sure.

[00:10:25] Annie Sargent: Yes. I’m sure most people don’t switch to English immediately, right?

[00:10:29] Christian Chauret: No, they don’t. But my friend spoke a little bit of French, but mostly English, of course, and I don’t think he had any major issues. So, people were quite friendly and willing to help him.

[00:10:40] Annie Sargent: Very good. Okay.

Day by Day Hiking Experience

[00:10:41] Annie Sargent: So why don’t you take it day by day and tell us more about the details of each day?

[00:10:46] Christian Chauret: Okay. So as I said, the first day we were, the first morning we were in Perpignan, so a larger city on the south side of France. And we took a bus for maybe an hour, an hour and 15 minutes to Vingrau, small village just at the foothills of the Pyrenees.

[00:11:03] And that’s where we started. So we climbed through the vineyards in Vingrau and ended up at the first castle, which is the castle of Aguilar, the château of Aguilar.

[00:11:13] Mostly in ruins, that one. It’s a small castle, but it was a first one, so it was fun to see it.

[00:11:18] Annie Sargent: Yeah.

[00:11:19] Christian Chauret: Then we hiked down into the village of Tuchan, and we had a late lunch there. I think we got there around two o’clock. And again, it was one of those where most of the restaurants were closed, and finally, we found this cafe that was open. The people were very friendly. We got there, we were tired, we were especially thirsty.

[00:11:41] And it just kept bringing water, so it was very nice, you know, roughly. And the lady brought us a pitcher of water, which I think we finished in 30 seconds, and then she brought another one, and then finally she just brought two.

[00:11:54] But anyway, that was fun, and then we hiked after lunch to a smaller village called Padern, a little bit further away and that’s where the first inn was. So we stayed in Padern for the night. We were the only ones in the inn, there was nobody around, so it was quite empty. But we were tired, so it was good to have the place to ourselves.

Types of Trails and Finding Them

[00:12:16] Annie Sargent: Let me ask you, what sort of hiking trails are these and how well marked are they? Did you have any difficulty finding the trail at any time?

[00:12:27] Christian Chauret: Absolutely not. The trails, the trail system is fantastic. The markings are great. Especially on the G.R. The Grande Randonnée, they have the red and white marks painted everywhere, every 100 feet or so. It’s really easy to find your way. Plus we had a GPS, so of course we were cheating a little bit, but no, the markings were really good.

[00:12:49] The trail, mostly is rocky, very rocky, in some areas it’s wide, in most areas it’s fairly narrow, so it is a good trail, but it’s a very rocky trail. So it’s not like walking in a park, definitely not.

[00:13:04] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Yeah. Did you have walking sticks?

[00:13:08] Christian Chauret: Yes, we did, yeah. I would say that’s really important, especially when you’re in the hills, in the mountains.

[00:13:13] Annie Sargent: Yeah. How much water did you have to carry with you?

[00:13:17] Christian Chauret: So the goal is usually to have about one liter of water. And since we were in places where there were villages on a regular basis, so that was enough. And, you know, the first day was a little bit warm, but after that it was not too warm, so I don’t think we ran out of water at any time.

[00:13:34] Annie Sargent: That’s good that it’s well marked because that’s always a worry. So you mentioned that you had a GPS. Did you have an, is there an app specifically for this trail?

[00:13:44] Christian Chauret: Not specifically for that trail, but there are apps where you can have access to all the trail system in Europe, or even in North America, so we were usingan app called Komoot. So Komoot is really good for that. I also have access to another app, but Komoot was good enough.

[00:14:01] Annie Sargent: So you had data on your trip? You had bought some sort of package to be able to connect to the internet?

[00:14:09] Christian Chauret: Well, yeah, now that you mentioned that, that was maybe the second minor issue. I had bought an eSIM card for my phone and for some reason that was not working. Maybe that was an issue with my phone, I think with the phone plan I had in the US. So we ended up, I ended up at least using the Verizon International plan, which is very expensive.

[00:14:28] So I don’t recommend doing that. It’s like $10 a day. So next time I go to Europe, I’m going to have to do a little bit more homework about eSIM cards.

[00:14:36] Annie Sargent: Yeah, because most people say that the eSIMs work very well.

[00:14:39] Christian Chauret: I think my phone was locked.

[00:14:40] Annie Sargent: Oh, well, yeah, that would do it.

[00:14:42] Christian Chauret: I need figure out what to do with that.

[00:14:44] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Recently I ran into a problem with my phone at home, and I needed to change, my iPhone kept on saying no SIM card. I’m like, what? There is a SIM card. So, you know, I removed it, cleaned it off, put it back in, still was complaining about no SIM card.

[00:15:02] So my husband went to get me a new SIM card one day and they offered an eSIM instead of the SIM. So, I think more and more the providers are going to go to eSIM even for your home plan.

[00:15:16] Which, you know, might be a smart way to go.

[00:15:18] Christian Chauret: But other than that, yeah, we had very good reception. I mean, 5G most of the time, on the trail in the mountains. So, yeah, no problem.

Weather and the Best Time of Year to Go

[00:15:25] Annie Sargent: That’s really good. And did the weather cooperate?

[00:15:28] Christian Chauret: Mostly, yeah, our second day, we had quite a bit of rain. And then on our last day on the trail, we had a little bit of rain. But other than that, yeah, the weather was good.

[00:15:36] It was, as I said, the first day was a little bit hot. Not terrible, but just a little bit. And then the other days were milder. So, very, very pleasant to walk. And that was part of the reason for going in May and June, was to avoid obviously July and August, which can be brutal.

[00:15:52] Annie Sargent: And this year it turns out that May and June were a little rainier than average and September and October were all drier than average. So I don’t know if this trend is going to continue, obviously, but from mid of June until just a week ago, we virtually got no rain at all over most of France.

[00:16:16] And so that’s really strange, I mean that’s just, we normally get some, especially in September and October, but this year, mm mm, none. So perhaps it would also, what I’m trying to say is, September and October would also be a good time to walk this, I think.

[00:16:31] Christian Chauret: Absolutely. I think that’s what a lot of people try to do is to walk in May or in September and try to avoid the very hot months.

[00:16:38] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Did you run into a lot of, so you mentioned that in your first inn, there you were the only people. Did you run into a lot of other people on the trail?

Encounters on the Trail

[00:16:47] Christian Chauret: It was a bit surprising. So I think, I mean, I could count maybe 10 or 12 people we ran into over six days. So, it was definitely not as busy as expected.

[00:16:59] Annie Sargent: Did you ever have to walk on roads or things like that?

[00:17:05] Christian Chauret: Just a little bit on one of the days, I think we walked maybe about 3 or 4 kilometers on a road. Partially it was our fault. We wanted to see a site and basically we had to take a little detour to get there. But mostly, the trails were really in nature, they were away from the main roads.

[00:17:21] So that was very pleasant.

[00:17:23] Annie Sargent: Not a lot of bikers?

[00:17:25] Christian Chauret: I mean, the trails I don’t think were really designed for bikers, but we saw some bikers on the roads, obviously.

[00:17:30] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Very good. Sorry, I interrupted your description of the first day. I apologize. So you went, you started in Vingrau and you went to Padern, right?

[00:17:42] Christian Chauret: Correct.

[00:17:43] Annie Sargent: Right. And visited the Chateau d’Aguilar, which is near Tuchan. Okay.

[00:17:49] Christian Chauret: And then Padern, Padern was mostly quiet, I would say, it was not very busy. I think it was a Tuesday night, so maybe that was part of it. So the next morning we left Padern, we climbed up, there’s a small castle in Padern, so we just went to see that, but that was a very, very small one, so it was just a small detour.

Château de Quéribus

[00:18:09] Christian Chauret: And then we hiked all the way to the first real big castle, which is Quéribus. So that was a pretty long hike, mostly up all the way, but the scenery was really nice, really gorgeous. That was probably that hike from, from Padern to Quéribus was the, the best part of the hike overall. It was just gorgeous.

[00:18:31] I mean, there were some other sections that were gorgeous too, but that one was really nice. And at some point you turn a corner and you see the Quéribus castle in front of you, it’s in the distance, but it’s just quite a sight to see.

[00:18:41] Annie Sargent: Yeah.

[00:18:42] Christian Chauret: So we went to Quéribus and visit, Quéribus is really nice, it’s quite compact, it’s not as big as some of the other castles, but it’s well preserved, mostly. I mean, these castles are mostly in ruins. They’re not like the castles on the Loire River near Paris, so, just to get, it’s not the same deal.

[00:19:02] Annie Sargent: These were defensive castles from the early-ish Middle Ages and did not, yeah, and they’re not maintained. Most of them were not maintained very well. So they are in various degree of ruin.

Practicalities of the Hike

[00:19:15] Christian Chauret: But Quéribus was really nice. Actually, it was kind of funny. We ran into some Americans in Quéribus, so it was interesting. You’re in the middle of nowhere in France, or what seems to be like in the middle of nowhere, and suddenly there are Americans there.

[00:19:28] Annie Sargent: Yeah. They go everywhere, these people.

[00:19:31] Christian Chauret: They go everywhere.

[00:19:33] Annie Sargent: Well, yeah, and honestly, for French families, they mostly will go to these places on the weekend because they have to work, you know, weekdays. So if I’m following this right, this is a Wednesday, so perhaps on Wednesday afternoon, there could have been some parents taking their kids to the chateau, but…

[00:19:52] Christian Chauret: There was a lot of Dutch people.

[00:19:54] Annie Sargent: Is that right?

[00:19:55] Christian Chauret: Yes, all wearing orange.

[00:19:58] Annie Sargent: Why?

[00:19:59] Christian Chauret: Well, that’s their color, isn’t it?

[00:20:00] Annie Sargent: Oh, perhaps. I don’t know. I don’t know.

[00:20:04] Christian Chauret: So Quéribus is where we got caught in the rain. So basically, there was a little sort of shelter area where the cash register was to get into the castle. They had a little shop there. So anyway, there was a little shelter, so we were waiting for the rain to stop. We, in fact, we didn’t have any food.

[00:20:21] So it was like one o’clock, 1:15, and the lady who ran the cash register at the castle said, you know, my shift ends at 1:30, so if you want to wait, I’ll give you a ride into town. And we’re going like, okay, sure. Why not?

[00:20:34] Annie Sargent: That’s very nice.

[00:20:35] Christian Chauret: Yes. Because it was, it was a good 3-5 kilometers downhill to the the next village. So she gave us a ride and in fact, afterwards we ran into some of the people who were at the shelter and they had fell, you know, on the trail because it was so muddy and slippery. It was pouring rain that day.

[00:20:52] Annie Sargent: Very slippery. Yes. It gets, this kind of stone, if it’s wet, you really need to hang on to your poles and use them. Yes. It can be dangerous. Yes.

[00:21:02] Christian Chauret: So that was our own, our little cheating, I guess. We took a car for a few kilometers.

[00:21:07] Annie Sargent: Well, nice person to give, to offer you a ride.

[00:21:10] Christian Chauret: She was very nice. Yes.

Reflections on the Hiking Experience

[00:21:11] Christian Chauret: And that, that was kind of my take home message. It was, nice people everywhere and very friendly, very willing to help with finding restaurants and things like that.

[00:21:21] Annie Sargent: So you got into Cucugnan a little bit late, you still found food?

[00:21:25] Christian Chauret: We found, again, just the one restaurant that was open.

[00:21:29] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Well, yeah.

[00:21:30] Christian Chauret: We started to see the trend, but that one was also interesting because it was very full and we’re wet, we’ve got our rain jackets, we got our backpacks, and the place is full, they have some groups, and I’m thinking, you know, they’re not going to be very happy to see us, you know.

[00:21:45] But no, they were very, you know, the lady said just give me a few minutes, I’ll find you a table, and she found us a table, and they were very friendly, and they got us food.

[00:21:54] And then the rain eventually stopped, so we were able to then get back on the trail, because our stop was the next village over to Duilhac. So after that, you know, it went very well. The rain came to an end.

[00:22:05] Annie Sargent: All right. So then you hiked to Duilhac, how far was it?

[00:22:09] Christian Chauret: It was maybe five or six kilometers from Cucugnan. It was not too bad. And that was mostly flat at that point.

[00:22:15] Annie Sargent: Very nice.

[00:22:16] Which was good, because by then we were a little tired, you know, we’d been rained on, that was a good way to end the day.

[00:22:21] Yeah. Yeah. And once you got to the gîte there in Duilhac, what do you do? I mean, these are not villages where there’s very much right?

[00:22:29] Christian Chauret: Right, so I mean there’s… there’s a couple things you have to do. The first one is you have to do a little bit of laundry.

[00:22:37] Because when you travel like this, you’re not traveling with a lot of clothes. So every two nights or so you have to do a little bit of, you know, you have to wash your clothes.

[00:22:47] Take a shower and look nice.

[00:22:49] And then you start to look for food. So either a grocery or a restaurant that might be open. So in our case, we’re mostly looking for restaurants. So basically, by the time you’ve done all of this, it’s eight or nine o’clock, you sit around a little bit to chat and it’s time to go to bed and get ready for the next day.

[00:23:06] Time goes by very, very quickly.

[00:23:08] Annie Sargent: Yeah. So you didn’t run into a lot of other hikers. This is different from the people who do the Camino, you know, the Compostelle, even on the French side, in May, you would run into quite a few people, I think.

[00:23:23] Christian Chauret: I think so, yeah.

[00:23:24] The gites would be very busy. Now, the gite in Duilhac was, I would say, reasonably busy. There were maybe six or seven of us. So that most of the people we saw on the trail were actually in Duilhac. But, you’re right, if you do one of the Caminos in France, I think they have dorms maybe with 20 or so people.

[00:23:43] And then if you go to Spain, I think those are the big dorms with 100, 200 people.

[00:23:49] Annie Sargent: And most of these gites places like that, did you have to bring anything besides yourselves? I mean, did you have to bring your own sheets, things like that?

[00:23:58] Christian Chauret: No, you can if you want. But we booked, I mean you have to pay extra for the sheets, but we booked that ahead of time, we wanted to make sure, we were trying to travel as light as possible, so we wanted to make sure we had beddings essentially in all those places, so we did. You have to pay like an extra five euros in most places and then they’ll get you a pillowcase and some sheets and things like that. But a lot of people will travel with a light sleeping bag, which is something I, you know, we considered, we thought about it, but then that was, you know, you try to shed as many pounds as you can. That’s something that we were able not to have to worry about that.

How Much Weight Should You Carry?

[00:24:34] Annie Sargent: Yeah. How big were your backpacks?

[00:24:36] Christian Chauret: Less than 20 pounds.

[00:24:38] Yeah, with water, just about 20 pounds, roughly.

[00:24:42] Annie Sargent: That’s really good.

[00:24:43] Christian Chauret: Oh yeah, that’s your goal, you want to be less than 20 pounds.

[00:24:47] Annie Sargent: So the rule of the thumb is you have to be less than 10% of your body weight. And people will argue about that 10-15%, you know, things like that. But, yeah, 20 pounds was good.

[00:24:57] Christian Chauret: You have to realize, yeah, you’re walking every day, five, six, seven hours a day, so the pounds do add up after a while.

Gîtes Offer Basic Ameneties, B&Bs Are More Pluswho is this bor

[00:25:05] Annie Sargent: Yeah, definitely. What was the comfort level in those inns? I like it a bit plush. I’m assuming it’s not very plush.

[00:25:12] Christian Chauret: It’s not very plush.

[00:25:14] Annie Sargent: Okay.

[00:25:16] Christian Chauret: I mean, you don’t want to have the best mattresses, let’s put it that way.

[00:25:19] Annie Sargent: Yeah. So thin mattresses, perhaps a bit hard.

[00:25:23] Christian Chauret: Yeah. And they’ve been used before. But you know, some of those places you pay 25 euros a night, or 30 euros a night. So you can’t expect too much. We had one, actually we had two bed & breakfasts that were definitely several notches above that, those were really nice. But the inns that are made specifically for hikers, yeah, it’s very basic comfort, but you have a roof, you have a shower, you have a place to sit and cook if you want, so it’s… it’s quite nice, you can’t complain too much for, as I said, 30 Euros a night.

[00:25:54] Did you have a lot of choices as far as where you spent the night? Or it was just the one place there and that’s it?

[00:26:02] Right. You don’t have a, I mean, in some of the places there may be a couple, but mostly when you go from one village to the next, there’s one place in each village. So, in fact, your path is a little bit guided or based on where the accommodations are.

[00:26:18] So, there’s not like one every five kilometers. So you really have to go where you can find one.

Finding Accommodations Along the Way

[00:26:24] Annie Sargent: So I found a website that looked interesting to me, it’s sentiercathare.Fr because it starts at Port-la-Nouvelle, and then it gives you like, on the side, on the left side, it gives you the distance between all of these things. And it gives you the name of the accommodations, some phone numbers, sometimes it says whether they speak English or not.

[00:26:48] I think that’s where I would start if I was trying to arrange a thing like this, because, and obviously, like in Port-la-Nouvelle, you have a bunch of choices, it’s a tourist town. But as you go along, there’s fewer and fewer, you know, you have this one place, but then you can kind of decide, you know, I want to walk 10K or 20K or whatever it is.

[00:27:13] So I think that site is done pretty well.

Using Guidebooks and Websites for Planning

[00:27:16] Annie Sargent: How did you pick, I mean, I want to know how you sat down and organized this.

[00:27:21] Christian Chauret: So I actually bought a guidebook, so the Fédération Française de Randonnée Pédestre, so the French sort of organization for all these hiking trails, they publish those really good guidebooks. And they’re not very big, they’re you know, very thin. So I bought one of those and it sounds a little bit like your website.

[00:27:40] It goes, you know, town by town with the inns and the hostels, and the distances and things like that. So that’s kind of what I use, and then obviously the internet to kind of narrow down in some cases, where to go exactly. But that guidebook was definitely my bible on the trail, or at least to plan the trail.

[00:27:58] Annie Sargent: Right. Did you give me a link to it in your notes? Perhaps.

[00:28:01] Christian Chauret: I don’t think so. I can do that afterwards.

[00:28:04] Annie Sargent: Perhaps you should do that so people know exactly which one you use, because there’s a lot of different books about this path, and several websites. So did you call them ahead?

Booking Accommodations in Advance

[00:28:16] Annie Sargent: Did you book everything before you arrived, like the week before or whatever?

[00:28:19] Christian Chauret: Yeah, we booked everything ahead just by sending some emails. People were quite good about responding to emails. I think one site actually was through the website. One bed & breakfast was through that website. But everything else was just by email. I didn’t call because from North America it’s always a little bit complicated to call France or Europe.

[00:28:40] Annie Sargent: Yeah, yeah, the time difference, yeah. But emailing was fine.

Château de Peyrepertuse

[00:28:42] Annie Sargent: Alright, so, we left off in Duilhac, and from there you went to…

[00:28:51] Christian Chauret: Château de Peyrepertuse, castle number two. So we actually spent two nights in Duilhac. Yes, it goes up and up. So for those of you who’ve never seen pictures of that castle, it is on a ridge. It’s about 800 meters above the town of Duilhac. And that’s why we stayed in Duilhac two nights, because we really wanted to take our time to go to that castle.

[00:29:14] And it took essentially half a day to do the whole trip. But it’s a fantastic site. The entire castle is like 300 meters in length, so about 900 feet. I could compare it to, sort of a big ship that’s sitting on top of a ridge on top of a mountain. You feel like you’re on the Titanic or something. And it’s spectacular. It’s definitely, that was my favorite. It’s in ruin, I mean, you don’t see much as far as structures. There’s some walls left, a little bit of a couple towers, things like that, but just the site, it’s just amazing. And when you’re at the bottom, actually, it’s kind of hard to see the castle because it looks like it’s part of the rock formation.


[00:29:55] Annie Sargent: A lot of these kind of melt into the rock unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. And that was the idea was to not give away the location of the castle.

[00:30:04] Christian Chauret: But yeah, it was just a fantastic site, quite a climb to go up there, especially when you start from town. So we climbed up and I don’t remember, we might have had lunch at the top. Maybe we did, but then we climbed down and came back into town afterwards.

[00:30:21] And then in the afternoon, we went for a shorter hike to a small sort of waterfall, pool area, and that was close to town. A gorge area, so that was nice, that was a, an easy, very easy hike.

[00:30:34] Annie Sargent: Mm hmm. Yeah, by comparison. So most of these places where you were staying, could you leave your stuff there or did you have to, like, if you were going for an afternoon quick hike, could you leave your stuff at the gite or wherever you were staying?

[00:30:47] Christian Chauret: Yeah, you could leave it there, so that was not a problem, and it’s pretty safe, plus we don’t have anything really of any value. I mean, we had day packs, so things like passports, things like that, we always carried with us. But other than that, you know, it was perfectly safe to, to leave your dirty clothes at the inn.

[00:31:04] Annie Sargent: Yeah. I assume you had your phone, perhaps an extra battery pack for your phone.

[00:31:09] Christian Chauret: Yes.

[00:31:09] Annie Sargent: That’s standard travel stuff.

[00:31:12] Yes, so Peyrepertuse is the name of it, is…

[00:31:16] Christian Chauret: It’s a mouthful.

[00:31:17] Annie Sargent: Yes, it is spectacular, I saw that they have a car charger at the bottom, so now I have to go do it. But the last time I was there, I got there like quarter to six and they were about to close.

[00:31:29] Because there is a, there is a fee to go up that one, there’s a bathroom at the bottom.

[00:31:35] Christian Chauret: Yeah. At least the big castles, they charge maybe seven euros, something like that. And it’s really worth it. It’s absolutely worth it.

[00:31:44] Annie Sargent: It’s good to have somebody keep an eye on the place because decades ago when I was a youngun in this area, because I grew up in this area, people would just hike up these things and have parties and whatever and, uh, no, that’s not so good.

[00:31:57] Christian Chauret: They have Small exhibits and they have a shop and most of them you can buy a sandwich or, you know, coffee or something like that.

[00:32:05] Annie Sargent: Yeah.

[00:32:05] Christian Chauret: So it’s quite nice.

[00:32:06] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Did you run into any services, people offering to take you to a different spot or taxi services,for people who didn’t want to carry anything, I guess?

[00:32:17] Christian Chauret: As far as when you’re hiking?

[00:32:18] Annie Sargent: Yes.

[00:32:19] Christian Chauret: There are services like that, but we decided not to use that.

[00:32:23] Annie Sargent: I know there are most places. So if you’re into that, you need to call them, email them and see if they can recommend someone who does this in that particular town.

[00:32:33] Christian Chauret: I know that’s very popular on the Caminos, you can certainly hike and get all your luggage transported from one end to the next. But yeah, I think you’re right, I think on the Cathare’s way, you can do that as well. But it can get very expensive. I think they charge like 40 euros per day, something like that.

[00:32:49] Mm hmm.

[00:32:50] Annie Sargent: There’s a service called La Malle Postale. That’s what they do. They just, and you can arrange from anywhere to anywhere. I don’t know how they manage to have people all over, but apparently they do.

[00:33:00] Christian Chauret: Yeah, think maybe on the busier trails, maybe it’s worth it.

Gorges du Verdouble

[00:33:05] Annie Sargent: All right, so, then, you went to Peyrepertuse, then you hiked to the Gorges du Verdouble, okay?

[00:33:16] Christian Chauret: Yeah, so that’s the small waterfall, the pool area, there were a few people swimming there. So that’s just maybe four or five kilometers from Duilhac and it’s sort of a local place for people to go swimming or just go for a picnic.

[00:33:31] And it was just pleasant, it was just an afternoon walk, we wanted to do something easy in the afternoon.

[00:33:37] just a nice gorge. said. Yeah, mostly flat, it was nothing spectacular, but it was, you know, it was nice.

[00:33:43] Annie Sargent: Fantastic. And you’ve met several other hikers? All French, oh, okay. Very good. Tell us about day four.


[00:33:50] Christian Chauret: So day four was, we left Duilhac, that was definitely our most strenuous day, day four. So we went from Duilhac and our goal was to reach Camps, I think you pronounce that Camps.

[00:34:04] Annie Sargent: I would say Camps-sur-l’Agly I’m not sure, Camps-sur-l’Agly.

[00:34:09] Christian Chauret: So we took the southern route at this point, and even ended up on a different GR, the 36 for a while because we wanted to go see the Gorges of Galamus. It’s a canyon, I mean, it’s not Grand Canyon, but it’s a very nice canyon. It’s fairly big. And we wanted to see that. So we had to climb up through a mountain to go down into a different valley to get there.

[00:34:37] So that was quite a hike that day. Very rocky trail. In fact, we encountered some cows that were hiking along the trail with us. So that was, was kind of funny.

[00:34:47] Annie Sargent: Cows are not dummy. They take trails, they take roads…

[00:34:52] Christian Chauret: In fact, I’ve got a little video of a cow, you know, climbing the trail in front of me. But anyway, so we went up and down and finally made it into the, that big gorge, the Gorges of Galamus, and there’s a hermitage down in the gorge that’s built in the rock, and that’s very nice. It’s not big, but it’s a very nice area.

[00:35:13] I forget how long ago it was built, but you know, it’s five, six hundred years ago, something like that. And they have a small shop there, a small cafe.

[00:35:22] Annie Sargent: Oh, that’s cool.

[00:35:23] Christian Chauret: Yeah, that was very nice. And then we climbed out of the gorge, back onto the sentier cathare, and eventually reached the next inn, which was more of a bed & breakfast in this case.

[00:35:34] But that was a long day for us, that was 23 kilometers with lots of ups and downs. It’s on that day that we did a little bit of road walking, because with the gorges, there’s no trail for part of it, you have to walk on the road that goes through the gorges. So we were very tired by the time we got to the inn, the bed & breakfast. That was definitely very difficult.

[00:35:53] Annie Sargent: More tiring than Peyrepertuse, I can’t even imagine.

[00:35:57] Christian Chauret: Yeah, for a different reason, I think, but it was a longer day, I think that was the main thing.

[00:36:02] Annie Sargent: Very good. Very good. Yeah. So I hope, I don’t remember if you sent me a photo of this, but I will, I’ll be looking through your photos to see if I can see what it looks like. Because I’ve never been there. I’m quite sure I’ve never been there.

[00:36:14] Christian Chauret: Yeah, I would recommend it.

[00:36:16] Annie Sargent: Awesome. All right.


[00:36:17] Annie Sargent: Day five.

[00:36:18] Christian Chauret: So day five was again crossing a mountain to go into a different valley. So this time, we were in Camps-sur-l’Agly and we had to cross into, I think you pronounce that Caudies, Caudiès-de-Fenouillèdes.

[00:36:34] Annie Sargent: Caudiès-de-Fenouillèdes

[00:36:37] Christian Chauret: So we had to basically cross a mountain into the next valley where Caudiès was located. We ran into some horses, so the day before was cows, that day was horses, some wild horses on the trail.

[00:36:51] And it was very nice, it was, it was quite interesting. At first, we just couldn’t believe it, but then there were maybe a dozen different horses there on the trail.

[00:37:01] I assumed they belonged to someone, but there was no sign of anyone around.

[00:37:06] Annie Sargent: Well, horses are pretty smart. I’ve known people who have horses that just go in the mountains and they come back whenever the weather is not to their liking, or they’re very hungry, or very thirsty, they come home when they need to. Independent horses.

[00:37:22] Christian Chauret: But on that day, we had a great view of the peak of Bugarach. So Bugarach is quite a sight. It’s this big rocky mountain right there, and that’s where New Age people go, and I guess they went there, I think it was in 2012, you know, expecting the end of the world. And in any case, it’s kind of a touristic attraction for that reason.

[00:37:43] Annie Sargent: We love to go places where the end of the world did not take place.

[00:37:46] Christian Chauret: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:37:49] Annie Sargent: Which is a lot of them by now.

[00:37:51] Christian Chauret: So eventually, we reached the town of Caudiès, you know, it’s lunchtime, so as usual, most restaurants are closed except for one. We found this little cafe that didn’t look like, it was more like a bar in fact. So it didn’t look like much from the outside, but the owner, the manager was again, very welcoming.

[00:38:08] He said, yeah, yeah, we serve food, because we said, we don’t, you know, we’re just looking for food. And so he brought us into the back and in fact, we had a great lunch there was one of our best, best meals of the trip at this little, little bar in the town of Caudiès. Served like a curry with very nice vegetables.

[00:38:27] So it was, it was quite nice.

[00:38:28] Annie Sargent: Good.


[00:38:29] Christian Chauret: And then from there we went through a few more villages, saw some churches, and eventually reached our inn for the night. That one was really interesting, that was a farmhouse, literally in the middle of nowhere. We had to walk on a dirt road for maybe six, seven kilometers to get there.

[00:38:47] And it was an active farm. They had 45 cows. Lady there was very, extremely friendly. Very, very friendly. Colette, she was from near Lyon, I think. Talked to me a little bit about that. I think Valence, maybe. But she and her husband had been operating this farm since the 80s, or 90s, I don’t remember. I think she was looking forward to retirement, but she still enjoyed the farm and being an innkeeper.

Running into Americans who were doing this trail on horseback

[00:39:16] Christian Chauret: What was also very interesting at that inn is we ran into four Americans who were on horseback. So, they were touring. They were kind of doing the same circuit we were doing, but in the opposite direction, and of course, they were on horses. We were walking, they were on horses. I guess there are places like that, that will rent horses.

[00:39:35] Annie Sargent: Oh.

[00:39:36] Christian Chauret: They give you tour guides, and all the information, and anyway, they were on horses.

[00:39:40] So, we spent the night, had dinner with them. That was a very pleasant evening. Colette made some steaks, so that was very good. And yeah, that’s very, very pleasant evening.

[00:39:52] Annie Sargent: That’s great. When you run into people like that, you know, they’re very dedicated to what they do.

[00:39:59] Christian Chauret: She was.

[00:40:00] Annie Sargent: Farmers and innkeepers, clearly they’re not doing it to make a million, you know.

[00:40:05] Christian Chauret: Oh, no, I’m sure she’s not getting rich out of…

[00:40:08] Annie Sargent: Yeah, they just enjoy their everyday life and their animals and their lifestyle, I guess.

[00:40:14] Christian Chauret: And she told me, you know, she wants to retire. I guess she’s getting to the age where, she’s ready for that, but she doesn’t want to just get rid of the farm. She wants to make sure she finds the right person to own the farm and maybe continue the inn. And so I thought that was, it was very nice.

[00:40:30] She obviously thinks about the future. She likes what she’s built, you know, with this farm and the inn.

[00:40:36] Annie Sargent: Well, yeah, you build a business, kind of, you want it to continue. Even if it’s a small, very small business, that serves just a few people who are coming through, to her it’s a life.

[00:40:45] Christian Chauret: It’s her life, yeah. As I said, she’s been doing this for, I think, 30, maybe 40 years.

[00:40:50] Annie Sargent: Very nice. Very nice. And then let’s talk about your day six, which is, oh, we have several more days to talk about.

[00:40:58] Let’s, let’s go. Let’s go. Day 6.

The castle of Puilaurens

[00:41:00] Christian Chauret: Well, day 6 was the last day on the trail, so to focus on the trail, that’s our last day on the trail. So, we were at near Puilaurens. That farm was a little bit outside of town. So we walked to the village of Puilaurens to buy some, a little bit of food. We were out of food. You know, every day you try to have like sausage, and cheese, and maybe a baguette or something in case you don’t have a restaurant for lunch.

[00:41:23] We were definitely out of food at that point. We made a detour to town, got some supplies. And then we walked to our last big castle, our last castle in fact, which was the château, the castle of Puilaurens, which is probably the best preserved castle on the trail, at least of the ones that we’ve seen.

[00:41:40] And that one is also on a ridge, you know, it’s up there, very well preserved as far as the Cathare’s castles are. So that was also interesting, you know, very nice views, very scenic like the other ones. We weren’t there at the right time, but in the summer they told us they have like a little feast there, you know, they bring activities, you know, crafts and vendors for this and that.

[00:42:04] So, you know, I think that seems to be fairly touristic.


[00:42:08] Christian Chauret: And then we left the castle and got a little bit of rain that day and made it to the town of Axat. So Axat with the T that you pronounce, we learned that.

[00:42:18] Annie Sargent: Yes. I know this one. So this one I know for a fact, it’s Axat. Yes.

[00:42:22] Christian Chauret: And so that was our final destination on the trail. Very pleasant city, little town, really enjoyed, the river Aude goes through the city. So it’s, it’s quite nice, very scenic.

[00:42:33] Annie Sargent: Mm hmm.

[00:42:34] Christian Chauret: We had a very nice bed & breakfast there.

[00:42:37] Annie Sargent: Yeah, that one probably has more accommodations, I mean, a few anyway.

[00:42:40] Yeah, there was a hotel, which actually amazingly, was fully booked, but yeah, I know. I was like, I don’t know who’s in town, but… Perhaps somebody was getting married or something. That’s what happens in these little towns is if somebody’s having a party for whatever. Like when my brother, he has a house not very far from Axat, and when we go for New Year’s Eve, for instance, we fill up all the inns around. You know, and so you’d be like, who’s coming here?

[00:43:09] Because he can’t, if he’s throwing a big party, not everybody can sleep at his house. It’s too, you know, so we all fill the little inn not too far. So that’s why it happens. That is full.

[00:43:19] Christian Chauret: So Axat was very pleasant. We walked along the river for a while and then found a little pizza place for dinner. And again, had a nice dinner with the locals. It was one of those places where they just had picnic tables on the sidewalk. It was kind of fun, you know, those little towns, you feel like you, I mean, it’s not like you get to know the locals, but you get to see a little bit of their lifestyle.

[00:43:39] Annie Sargent: Yeah. And I think Axat is one that has a, it has a, the pizzeria is a food truck, right? It’s a little truck on the side of the road. No?

[00:43:47] Christian Chauret: No, no, it wasn’t. It was on that main street there.

[00:43:50] Annie Sargent: Okay.

[00:43:50] Christian Chauret: It’s just a little hole in the wall, like we say in the US.

Preparing for the Physical Demands of Hiking

[00:43:53] Annie Sargent: What kind of advice do you have for people who want to do this? What would you tell them?

[00:43:58] Christian Chauret: Well, certainly to, if you haven’t done a lot of hiking, you should definitely get in shape. And I do that myself, you know, if I’m going to do a big trip like that, several months ahead of time, I’m going to try it out, a schedule, you know, three times a week, I need to walk so many miles.

[00:44:12] And then as we get closer to the trip, I’ll go to state parks and things like that with my backpack and just practice, and do some ups and downs with 20 or 25 pounds on my back. So really plan that well, the physical aspect, because if you’re not in shape, you’re going to suffer. And then your trip is not going to be fun. You got to think about your footwear. It’s really, really important to have the right hiking shoes and then you don’t want brand new shoes when you start on a trip like this.

[00:44:41] So you want to make sure you wear them for several months so you break them in and make sure that you’re comfortable with your footwear. That’s probably the most important thing, your footwear.

[00:44:51] Annie Sargent: One pair or two pairs of socks?

[00:44:53] Christian Chauret: I usually just wear one. So I know there’s debates about that, but I have very good hiking socks and I just wear one pair.

[00:45:01] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Did you get any major, like, were your feet in trouble at some point or were they fine?

[00:45:07] Christian Chauret: I had some blisters. I mean, it’s hard to avoid that. At least in my case, I always get blisters, but nothing too serious that, you know, nothing that was extremely painful.

[00:45:15] But yeah, usually you tape them or, use moleskin, things like that. So I would say, yeah, the physical part is really important.

[00:45:23] The second is obviously, plan the trip. Make sure you know what you’re getting into, make sure that you have places to stay. Some people like to hike and not book things in advance, and that’s fine, but then if you do that, then you have to make sure there’s several options in front of you, because you might run out. You might be surprised.

[00:45:43] Otherwise, in my opinion, it’s better to book ahead of time and then to make sure that you’re going to a place where you’ll be able to do that every 10 to 15 miles, every 15 to 20 kilometers, 25 kilometers. So there’s a little bit of planning to be done.

[00:45:58] And if you go to one of those GRs, like the Sentier Cathare, usually there are places like that along the way.

[00:46:05] That’s why they’re designated, you know, GRs. The planning is important. Very important. And then be flexible. You never know what’s going to happen you know, even with the best planning.

[00:46:15] Annie Sargent: You mentioned that you can get baguettes from vending machines.

[00:46:18] Christian Chauret: Yeah.

[00:46:19] Annie Sargent: In those villages, yes.

[00:46:20] Christian Chauret: Yes, I had to, I posted one of those pictures on my Facebook site, you know, just for my friends back home. It’s like, look, you can get baguettes here from the vending machine.

[00:46:31] Annie Sargent: Yeah.

[00:46:32] Christian Chauret: Because we often joke that it’s hard to find a baguette sometimes here, at least a good one.

[00:46:37] Annie Sargent: Oh, in France, you’re never too far from one. You might have to wait until they open though, that’s the thing. They’re not open constantly. And that’s usually the limitation of these places is that they, it’s one person running it, perhaps a couple, perhaps a, you know, and they’re not going to work constantly, like, obviously.

[00:46:57] Duh. All right. Well, thank you so much. That was really, really interesting. And I’m sure lots of people want to do this.

Conclusion: La France Profonde

[00:47:05] Annie Sargent: I think that’s a great way to explore a country, like, to see France, to see the rural places that people say they want to go to. Would they, do they really go to them?

[00:47:14] You know, some do, and it’s interesting, they can do it on a horse as well. I wasn’t aware of that.

[00:47:19] Christian Chauret: And some people do it by bike. So I think it’s good to travel that way, obviously, it’s not for everyone, but it’s a way to really experience the, both the terrain and meeting people along the way. So I enjoy doing that.

Who Is the Sentier Cathare For?

[00:47:33] Annie Sargent: And who do you recommend this for? What kind of people? Like what age range?

[00:47:38] Are there people that should not do this?

[00:47:40] Other than people who are out of, completely out of shape and…

[00:47:42] Christian Chauret: Right, I don’t think so. I mean, I’ve seen people on trails that were in their 70s, so I think, you know, people can do that up to a point when they’re older, you just have to pace yourself, maybe do shorter trips, or maybe trails are not as strenuous. But obviously, I would say the majority of people are middle age, you see some younger people, but, you know, it’s mainly, mainly people my age, I guess, that you encounter on trips like this.

[00:48:08] I think for people who really want to experience, as you said, the countryside, you know, meet people along the way, you’re not, you know, you’re not going to go into big cities, so if you want to see museums and the major sites, and maybe that’s not the kind of travel that you, you want to do. But if you want to experience France, you know, what I would say, the real France, that’s a great way to do it.

[00:48:30] Annie Sargent: La France Profonde.

[00:48:32] Christian Chauret: Yeah, the deep France.

[00:48:34] Annie Sargent: Thank you very much, Christian.

[00:48:36] Christian Chauret: Thank you very much, Annie.

[00:48:37] I hope you continue to have wonderful adventures.

[00:48:40] Thank you. This was a lot of fun.

[00:48:42] Merci. Au revoir.


Thank you, patrons

[00:48:50] Annie Sargent: Again, I want to thank my patrons for giving back and supporting this show. Patrons get several exclusive rewards for doing so. You can see them at That’s P A T R E O N, join us, no spaces or dashes. Thank you all for supporting the show. Some of you have been doing it for a long time, you are wonderful.

New patrons

[00:49:11] Annie Sargent: And a shout out this week to new patrons, Scott Bradley, April Abate Adams, who I think is the one I met in Utah, hello to you, even if it’s, even if you’re not the one I met in Utah, I’m terrible with names, I’m sorry. Barbara Wolf also, wonderful to have you on board in the community of francophiles who helped this podcast going. And to join them and join me in the community, go to and to support Elyse go to E L Y S A R T.

[00:49:45] Patrons got the first installment in a new series I’m calling Casual Convos with Annie and Elyse. We’ll do one a month or so and we chitchat about our lives, our projects, our visits, the things that are occupying our minds, what we’re reading, what we’re cooking, things like that.

[00:50:00] It’s not scripted obviously, it’s just a chitchat. The casual convos go to both mine and Elyse’s patrons. And my patrons will also get monthly Zoom meetings for the February Zoom in the next couple of days and I look forward to talking to you live where you can actually talk back.

[00:50:21] Thank you for your one time donation, Paula Parks Fitzhugh, you also bought several of my audio tours in the Join Us in France boutique, which means that you got the listener discount, and who does not love a discount?

[00:50:35] If you’d like to support the podcast but don’t want to sign up for Patreon, go to and click on any of the green buttons that say, Tip Your Guide. And thank you so much, have a wonderful time in Paris, Paula.

[00:50:51] And I’m not going to explain the itinerary planning service again. There are two levels, Bonjour and VIP. To read all about it, go to the boutique. You know where it is.

Favorite Cities in France for French People

[00:51:05] Annie Sargent: Okay, I posted this about favorite cities in France for French people.

[00:51:11] I posted it on Facebook and it got lots of reactions, including one from Diane Boch, that found what I thought was a secret sauce for the ranking, which is not so secret after all, but it was well hidden.

[00:51:24] So how did they come up with this ranking? There are 187 criteria divided into 11 categories. And I’ll just give you the main categories.

[00:51:34] Quality of life, security, finance and local taxes, health, transport, shopping and services, environmental protection and education, solidarity, sports and leisure, and real estate situation. I’ll put a link to the whole study in the show notes for those of you who want the details.

[00:51:56] It’s all in French, it’s a PDF, it’s all in French.

[00:51:59] All right, so what are these wonderful towns where we all want to live? Well, the surprise is that Paris is very far down the list, and so are most towns in Provence. Very far down the list. So there you have it.

[00:52:14] Toulouse is also quite far down the list, by the way. Not quite as far as Paris, but it is far down the list.

[00:52:20] So let’s see, the top five are Angers, so that’s in the Maine et Loire, so that’s a little west and south of Paris. Bayonne, that’s in the Basque country. Biarritz, in the Basque country. Anglet in the Basque country. Well, everybody wants to live in the Basque country, Annecy, which is in Haute Savoie, which is also a very highly praised visitors tourist town kind of thing.

[00:52:50] So these are the first five.

[00:52:51] And then the ones below are a little surprising. Lorient in the Morbihan, which to me sounds like it rains all the time. Like that’s what I have in my head. Rennes, same. It’s in Brittany. I think of it as a place where it rains all the time, but probably that’s not true, or perhaps people don’t care.

[00:53:09] La Rochelle is number eight. Brest is number nine, which is amazing. Also, like, really windy and cold. Why do people want to live there?

[00:53:23] And then number 10 is Rodez in the Aveyron, which is the only one that makes the top 10 list from my fair region, the Occitanie region. So congratulations to the 10 cities.

[00:53:37] It’s very clear that people would like to live in the west of France, where the weather is perhaps not as hot, but apparently they also have very good quality of life, security, finance, you know, they have money, local taxes are not too bad, there’s plenty of health services, good transportation, they have good shopping, they have good environmental protection, good education. Although the education in France is national, so you don’t really, I mean, you know, it’s not going to make a huge difference. It’s more of a difference of what teacher your kids get than anything else.

[00:54:14] Solidarity is a great one to look at because it is my opinion, and I think a lot of French people’s opinion, that I’m better off if there are not too many people struggling in life. If there are ways to help the people who are struggling, I’m not sure why they’re struggling, but there we are, they are struggling. My life is better if we help them.

[00:54:39] Sports and leisure are really important as well as real estate, and I’m sure that real estate prices in Bayonne, Biarritz, Anglet, Annecy are very, very expensive as well as Angers, although I don’t really know Angers that well. So it, you know, I’m going to go visit all of these towns.

[00:54:56] I just want to see for myself what it is that is so fabulous as far as French people are concerned. I understand Rodez in the Aveyron, because the Aveyron is a part of France that does not get talked about enough. It is so beautiful. The weather is a bit rough though. It’s one of those parts of France where it really freezes, like hard freezes.

[00:55:22] Which, eh, as I get older, I don’t take that so much. So I’ll stop gabbing and just read you the next ten, and then I’ll stop, I’ll let you look at them yourself.

[00:55:33] Caen, in the Calvados, so that’s again the west of France.

[00:55:37] Le Mans, where the car race takes place, is on number 12.

[00:55:42] Nice, finally something in Provence, Nice is number 13.

[00:55:46] Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, so that’s in the Manche, that’s You might as well be in England on this one.

[00:55:52] Pau number 15, so that’s in the Pyrenees, it’s in the Bordeaux area, I guess. La Roche sur Yon, again, that’s the west of France, in the Vendée.

[00:56:05] Lannion, Côte d’Armor.

[00:56:07] Saint Brieuc, Côte d’Armor.

[00:56:09] Ah, now we have Strasbourg, in very far east of France, and Le Havre, which is very north of France. So really, really interesting to see the result here.

[00:56:21] And let me look, let me search for Paris to see how far down Paris is. So Paris is at number 103 in this ranking, and Toulouse is at number 63. So yeah, you know, there are a lot of things to think about when you’re moving somewhere, but in my case, I was born in Toulouse. That’s why I wanted to come back. My siblings are there, my parents were there. And so that’s what it matters to me. If you’re just going to look for a place to live, I think finding a place where quality of life is high and where, you know, you can get a lot of enjoyment from everything, your surroundings, everything like that is fantastic.

[00:57:05] And I’ll put this in the show notes for the episode.

[00:57:10] My thanks to podcast editors, Anne and Cristian Cotovan, who produce the audio and edit the transcript.

Next week on the podcast

[00:57:18] Annie Sargent: Next week on the podcast, an episode with Elyse about Simone Veil, an amazing, amazing trailblazer in French politics and a woman that we don’t talk about often enough because she really made a huge difference in French life.

[00:57:37] Thank you so much for listening, and I hope you join me next time so we can look around France together. Au revoir.


[00:57:45] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France travel podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2024 by AddictedToFrance. It is released under a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives license.

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Categories: Active Vacations in France, Occitanie