Languedoc - Cathars & Crusaders with Historical Trips
Languedoc was once a thriving province in south-west France and the home of Catharism – an ascetic Christian sect that eschewed and threatened the power of Rome. In 1209 Pope Innocent III launched the Albigensian Crusade to eliminate the ‘heretics’ of Languedoc. Twenty years of fighting followed, leaving behind spectacular castles and abbeys, and fundamentally altering the religious landscapes of Medieval
Europe. We explore Cathar cities and Catholic abbeys; grand ruinous castles perched on craggy hilltops, and the polished turrets of Carcassonne.
- Ruined castles and deserted villages atop craggy hills, in beautiful green rolling landscapes
- Heretics and Holy War, the struggle for hearts and minds in Medieval France
- Stay within the walls of Carcassonne and in a restored 16th century castle in Couiza
- Visit to Rennes-le-Château, associated in legend with the Holy Grail, and a tour of the Château Comtal
Andante Travels have joined forces with Historical Trips to offer a series of History & Archaeology tours.
- Historic Churches
- Special Access
- All Inclusive
We arrive in Toulouse on the banks of the River Garonne, and enjoy a welcome lecture at our hotel – an illuminating introduction to the thrilling world of Cathars and Crusaders.
After a filling French breakfast we travel to the fortified Cathar refuge of Cordes-sur-Ciel, exploring picturesque 13th and 14th-century townhouses perched high on a hill in the Midi-Pyrénées. Corde is widely considered to be the first “bastide” of the region – a town founded to house those displaced by the crusades.
Later we visit Albi’s colossal red-brick cathedral, built as a lasting testament to the Christian faith in response to the Cathar heretics. We also discover Berbie Palace, a fortified residence constructed for the town’s bishops in the 13th century. One of the best-preserved castles in the country, Berbie is surrounded by extensive formal gardens; an enduring remnant of the power and might of the Medieval Catholic church.
Today we rise to explore Lastours, the Cathar stronghold besieged by Simon de Montfort, where four of the few surviving Cathar castles stand strategically elevated atop the rocky outcrops.
From here it is just a short drive to stunning Carcassonne, Europe’s largest Medieval city with fully intact walls, a famous stronghold of the Occitan Cathars. Here we visit the Château Comtal, built on the remains of a Visigoth fortress. The château gives us access to the walls of La Cité, and allows us the chance to wander the battlements, marvelling at the spectacular views from the highest point of the town. Here we also learn about the culture of the troubadours, the courtly Medieval poets of Provençal.
Our final stop today is the Grand Basilica of St Nazaire, a masterpiece of Gothic-Romanesque architecture, first established in the 6th century.
This morning we visit the beautiful village of Minerve. Perched above the rivers Cesse and Briant, this is where, in 1210, some 140 Cathar residents were burned alive as heretics, following a siege from Simon de Montfort that lasted six weeks.
We continue on to Béziers, where, in October 1167, the citizens rose up and killed their lord. 42 years later, the “sack of Béziers” took place within the limits of the town: a bloody massacre resulting from the residents’ refusal to hand the sheltering Cathars over to besieging Catholic forces. In the violent massacre that followed, not even the town’s Catholic priests, or those sheltering in the churches, were spared their lives.
This afternoon, we visit the splendid Gothic Cathédral St-Nazaire – burned by the invaders as part of the Béziers massacre, and subsequently reconstructed – before arriving at the coastal town of Narbonne, a historically prosperous port established by the Romans in 118 BC.
We begin our day in the unspoilt surroundings of Lagrasse’s Benedictine Abbey, which dates from the 7th century AD, and somehow endured the troubles of the 13th and 14th centuries, when its prosperity dramatically declined. A religious community was re-established here in 2004.
Our restful day continues at the Cistercian abbey of Fontfroide, close to the Spanish border. A major power in the fight against the heretics during the 13th century, the abbey has been producing its own wines for over 900 years. We sample a selection of the best during a leisurely lunch on site.
Our final stop today is Villerouge-Termenès in the heart of the Corbières region. Here we enter the imposing Medieval castle at which Guillaume Bélibaste – the last of the Cathar parfaits, or monks – was burned at the stake.
After a restful night we start the morning with a visit to the internationally renowned Rennes-le-Château, a rugged hilltop village recently associated with the Holy Grail. According to legend, a vast hoard of treasure and controversial religious parchments were discovered at the old church here in the 19th century, and were used by the local priest to blackmail the Vatican.
Following our brush with the conspiracy theorists we head east to Arques, a mountainous region gifted by Simon de Montfort to his lieutenant, Pierre de Voisins, in 1231. Our final destination today is the vast and ruined Cathar Castle of Peyrepertuse, which towers high above the surrounding countryside. Despite successfully resisting attack during the Crusades, its ownership passed between Catholic and Cathar hands three times. It was abandoned in the 17th century.
On our last full day in Languedoc we make our way to Puivert, a centre of troubadour culture, and site of a well-preserved Cathar castle, captured by de Montfort in 1210.
Our journey takes us next to the tiny village of Vals, location of a rock-carved church thought to pre-date Roman occupation. The foundations of this fabulous church are the massive rocks themselves: an extraordinary vision rising from the valley. After admiring the impressive views we pay a visit to the fairy-tale Château de Foix, a strategic stronghold of counts, and an important shelter for persecuted Cathars.
For our final evening we are treated to a special private performance by a trobairitz, or female troubadour, who will bring the region’s past to life through song.
This morning we explore Toulouse’s Basilica, the largest Romanesque church in Europe, with its magnificent bell tower and beautifully-vaulted crypt. We also enter the brick-built Church of the Jacobins, former seat of the Dominican order, where Catholics were trained to combat Cathar heresy through preaching.
After lunch we say “au revoir” to our wonderful group and make our way back home.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included with wine at dinner
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
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