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In the high Corbières

The vineyards here scramble across slopes between 300 and 450m above sea-level; the name Termenès is derived from the Latin terminus, because it marked the limit of the early Roman cultivation. The steep, scrubby hills are separated by deep, wooded gorges with narrow roads clinging to the sides. Villages are few, and remote; you can see how the Cathar heresy managed to hold out in these inaccessible places, despite the depredations of the crusaders.

This is castle country; at Villerouge-Termenès itself the castle stands proud in the centre of the village and, unusually, is not in ruins. In fact it has recently been attractively restored, complete with medieval restaurant. The castle, apart from being a textbook example of medieval military architecture, houses an interesting audio-visual exhibition telling the story of Guillaume Bélibaste, the last of the Cathar perfecti to be tried by the Inquisition; he was captured and burned alive here in 1321. Information is available either from the castle itself (tel. 04 68 70 09 11), or from local tourist offices.

More typical is the château at Termes, a ruin perched on a crag high above the village. Termes held out boldly against Simon de Montfort in 1210, eventually succumbing for lack of water; 140 Cathars were burned here. Having come into the possession of the French kings later in the 13th century, it became one of the "five sons of Carcassonne", fortresses protecting the frontier with Aragon. However, in the 17th century it was occupied by a band of brigands who used it as a base from which to harass the surrounding country; exasperated, the king had it razed to the ground. There is a small museum in the village; the walk up to the castle from here takes 20 minutes or so.

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Guillaume Bélibaste, the last of the Cathar perfecti to be tried by the Inquisition was captured and burned alive here in 1321

There are other ruins dotted about: for example the château de Durfort, between Vignevieille and Montjoi, and at Montgaillard, a village at the summit of a rocky outcrop. Montgaillard is said to be a place beloved by the mitouns (fairies and water nymphs).

If you want to stay in this area, take a look at the high-quality self-catering accommodation offered around Mouthoumet.

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