Last week my OH and I headed off towards Perpignan, which neither of us had been to before, for a bit of exploring. We had lunch in a delightful little town on the edge of the Pyrenees – I have no idea what it’s called because it was on the edge of the map on two pages of our French road atlas, the atlas had kind ly overwritten it with ‘See Page …’ in both places. Afterwards we’d decided to do a leisurely drive through the Pyrenees via the scenic route, a wise choice since we met a ‘Route barré’ sign about 20 minutes out of ‘See Page…’ and discovered that they don’t seem to sign deviation signs in the Pyrenees.
The sun was out, the scenery was stunning and there weren’t any caravans so that was OK. Presently, after we’d been around and up several mountains, the OH went, ‘Just look at that!’
That was the Chateau de Peyrepertuse, a Cathar castle perched high on the spine of a mountain. Very high indeed. The OH got vertigo in the car park and announced he couldn’t go any further.
To be fair the drop in front of where the car was parked was similar to the drop from the castle above. I left the OH to take pictures while I walked up to the castle, which a sign said would take about 15 minutes.
Peyrepertuse was never a place for softies, the men who lived in it didn’t bother with anything like roads leading up to the main gate. Instead you got there by a mule track that went around the back of the mountain, probably much like the path that visitors take now, only easier to navigate. Mules aren’t that stupid.
The present path is about one mule wide, is made of uneven rocks and earth, goes up and down, has the mountain on one side and on the other – let’s put it this way, there are several places where is you tripped you’d find yourself doing a vertical hundred metres in under ten seconds. There are no rails, no posts, nothing to help you apart from some bushes which were occasionally very necessary.
It was quite slippery too.
The castle itself was fascinating but had its – ahem, interesting moments. I was following la sens de la visite, came out of the keep and was presented with this to get back down to ground level:
I stopped worrying about looking stupid and descended on my bottom.
The French attitude to places like this is that you should look after yourself. I suppose it works, I doubt anyone has actually fallen over the edge at Peyrepertuse. Otherwise I’m sure there would be the odd warning notice with a bit more than the existing one that states the path is unsuitable for pushchairs and the castle is closed during summer storms because of the risk of lightning strikes.
However it is apparently OK for small children and the infirm. There is a handicappé entrance. I kid you not. It’s a ramp which avoids two wooden steps up to the gift shop and ticket office. Sadly due to his vertigo, the OH, who has a gammy leg, was still in the car park so we weren’t able to put it to the test and see if they’d have sold him an entrance ticket.
It was getting late so I turned down the chance of climbing up to the Chateau du Queribus
it actually had quite a reasonable gravelled path leading up to it but I’d had enough of drops by then.
Of course we didn’t know what was awaiting us at our chambre d’hotes.
We didn’t get off to a good start. It had an electric gate, no bell and Madame had switched her mobile off. Luckily someone living in one of the mobile homes scattered over the property (certainly not visible in the brochure) arrived and let us in. Madame emerged, full of apologies.
‘Is your husband all right with stairs?’ asked Madame’s daughter, who’d noticed he has a limp.
‘Perfectly,’ I said breezily.
‘Good,’ she said, ‘because you’re up there-‘
‘We did have a rail along the outside but it broke,’ she added cheerfully. What she didn’t say was the rail on the other side was also cracked and wobbled atrociously if you put any weight on it.
We made it to our room and found it had this-
directly opposite the bed. The curtain didn’t have an opaque lining either so you had to use the facilities without turning the light on; otherwise whoever was lying on the bed, reading a book, got to see a lot more than they wanted.
We’d thought about having one of those flying loos when we were doing up the house but the OH, who is 6’2″ and not fat but built on a Viking scale, said that he’d always be worried about whether it could bear his weight properly. This one was set so high up the wall that when I discreetly left him alone after breakfast his feet didn’t touch the ground properly.
There was a general systems failure.
If Madame and the rest of her family hadn’t been so utterly charming we’d have felt justifiied in slapping warnings all over Tripadvisor and the like, but they were delightful and it would be just mean. So I suppose there’ll be other visitors experiencing the delights of that staircase after an excellent fish dinner and half a bottle of wine… at least it’ll give them more to talk about than when they stayed in a Mercure with a fully functioing lift
love it – you’ll have to go back to do the other castle though, and see if you can ‘snap’ the loo off – or did that already happen under the title ‘system’s failure’!
No, the loo in the chambre d’hotes is still there. There’s a stone loo at Peyrepertuse, a hole with a drop of some 300 metres and it is the only thing in the whole place which has a proteective grill.
Oh Victoria, I hate that castle! That where I tore my Achilles tendon last August with my family on holiday. I’ve spent the last 7 months try to recuperate. Arrgggh! That castle isn’t safe to walk up or down not to mention they put no warnings about wearing proper shoes. Atrocious!
Oh goodness, poor you! I did wonder how on earth they’d get anyone down who hurt themselves there.
I hobbled down alone ma chère. No one should go up that castle unless they are fit and well. There aren’t any places to hold on to rope barriers or anything. C’est un danger public! but the view is apparently spectacular.
Helen Devries said:
I visited it years ago…when considerably more mobile and it gave me the heebies coming down even then…
What was Madame’s star or epi rating, I wonder?
Being France she probably got points for the placement of the flying loo…
Amazingly enough she’s got a good rating on a couple of review sites, probably from those who thought she’s as nice as we did.
While it’s encouraging to know that the Elves haven’t yet managed to beat all the adventure out of travelling, that does look a bit hairy and I think you were very brave, not to mention fit. I’d have stayed with your husband. Was there a foot stool for shorties to reach the loo, or did you have to spring up onto it or find somebody to lift you up?
I think foolhardy was the word – not brave. I think certain French ladies or even my friend Mary who isn’t quite 5 foot would have had serious problems with the loo, as I’m 5’10” that was one thing I didn’t have to worry about.
Peyrepertuse has been on my list to visit for some time, although now I read your experiences (and those of your other readers), I’m not so sure! I have constantly been astonished at the lack of barriers etc in French tourist sites.
My daughter is in charge of a medieval castle and says blithely that it’s well known that if you put up a barrier people lean on it whereas if there’s nothing they keep away from the edge. I’m not sure I agree with her entirely…