The image of four ruined castles standing on a rocky crest high above a river is a romantic one. In the case of the Châteaux de Lastours, the reality is even more spectacular.
Lastours is a little village 12 kilometres north of Carcassonne situated by the side of the River Orbiel. On a spur above the village are the four Châteaux de Lastours – their names are Cabaret, Surdespine, Tour Régine and Quertinheux. They were originally built to control access to the Montagne Noire and the Cabardès region and during the Cathar Crusade became one of the strongest centres of resistance to the French crusaders.
The French government has now classified the Châteaux as historic monuments and for a ticket price of 6 euros you can walk all the way around and inside them. That trek takes two hours and you wouldn’t want to do it at midday in the height of summer. A less energetic alternative is to see them from the viewing platform called the bélvèdere that looks across the valley to the four Châteaux on the opposite side. The day we visited was a hot, still day in July and as I stood on the bélvèdere the four ruins were one of the most dramatic and historic sights I’ve ever seen. For a lovely YouTube video of them see: www.payscathare.org/histoire-17.
Lastours isn’t only famous for the Châteaux but also for a one Michelin star restaurant called Le Puits du Trésor, which is right beside the entrance to the Châteaux. The day of our visit was also my birthday and we decided to celebrate it by having lunch at Le Puits du Trésor. Because it wasn’t yet high tourist season I had decided it wasn’t necessary to book a table. When we arrived at the restaurant only two people were in there eating so I thought I had been right. The waiter who greeted us then informed me that if we didn’t have a booking the restaurant couldn’t accommodate us. If it hadn’t been my birthday I don’t think my husband would have spoken to me for the rest of the day.
Fortunately the restaurant’s chef, Jean-Marc Boyer, also runs the bistro called L’Auberge du Diable au Thym which is next to the restaurant. We had lunch on the terrace of the auberge overlooking the river. The lunch was good quality and much cheaper than the restaurant would have been but not quite the special meal we had been anticipating.
Twice a week in July and August a sound and light show takes place at the Châteaux, starting at 10.30pm to allow for nightfall. On our next trip to the Aude I really hope to see one of these shows, which are apparently stunning. The 10.30 pm start will give us time to have a leisurely dinner at Le Puits du Trésor first, with maybe a digestif or two to finish off and this time I will book.