Languedoc - Cathars & Crusaders with Historical Trips
Languedoc was once a thriving province in southwest 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 that are perched on craggy hilltops, and, of course, the polished turrets of the renowned Medieval Carcassonne.
- Visit the well-preserved, fairytale Château de Foix
- A private musical performance that reflects the region
- Sample unctuous local wines during a special tasting
- Discover the stories of this enchanting part of France
- Let the beauty of Cordes-sur-Ciel inspire you
- Historic Churches
- Special Access
- All Inclusive
On arrival in Toulouse, affectionately known as ‘La Ville Rose’ because of its red rooftops and warm-coloured churches, we enjoy dinner together as a group and then sit down to an introductory lecture at our hotel.
This morning, we depart from our hotel and travel to the Cathar refuge of Cordes-sur-Ciel. This is a stunning and well-preserved town, perched high on a hilltop that sometimes can be seen peeking out from the low-hanging clouds. Surrounded by amazing vineyards, this location is filled with history and we have time here to explore its gothic townhouses. Later, we make our way to Albi to see the red-brick St. Cecile cathedral, which was built in the late 13th century as a fortress. Its interior is breathtaking and boasts a vaulted ceiling decorated with Italian Renaissance frescoes. Before our day comes to an end, we also pay a visit to the Berbie Palace, a fortified residence for the town’s bishops, which is now home to the Toulouse-Lautrec museum.
An exploration of Lastours, the Cathar stronghold besieged by Simon de Montfort, is on the cards this morning. Situated atop a rocky spur just above the village, the castle was classified a ‘Monument Historique’ by the French Ministry of Culture in 1905 and archaeological excavations continue to be carried out around the site. Troubadours such as Raymond de Miraval and Peire Vidal visited the castle at the request of the Seigneurs of Cabaret to dedicate verses to the Cathar Ladies. Intrigued by their medieval verses, we will depart for Carcassonne. Here, we continue to uncover the rich culture of the troubadours at Château Comtal before making a final stop at the grand basilica of St. Nazaire. Showcasing harmony between the Romanesque and Gothic, this is a truly beautiful church and one that houses some of the most famous stained glass in France’s southern regions.
Today, we drive to Narbonne to visit the fine but unfinished cathedral. The ambition of its founder Pope Clement IV, was thwarted by the unwillingness of the town to demolish the city wall to accommodate the new church. We will also visit the Bishop’s palace. Later we pass on to Minerve, the town where citizens were burnt as heretics in a 1210 siege. This continued for another 34 years until the fall of Montsegur. The village itself is charming, made up of small alleys and a 12th century church. Next, we make our way to Béziers, the site of an October 1167 revolt. In 1209, invaders burnt the Gothic Cathédrale St-Nazaire, the town was pillaged and it was set on fire. There will be a chance to visit the aforementioned cathedral, which is decorated with gargoyles and is home to a garden that offers fabulous panoramic views.
Another morning of fascinating visits awaits us. Today, we begin with a visit to Peyrepertuse Castle, on a high crag. A major fortress during the Cathar wars and later a French royal fortress it is a striking ruin. We go on to the Château de Quéribus, which may have been the final Cathar stronghold following the fall of Montsegur. Finally we go on to Arques and the Chateau d’Arques.
We begin by visiting the Cistercian abbey of Fontfroide whose fantastic self-produced wines we are lucky enough to taste over lunch. Founded in 1093, this abbey is spectacularly preserved and is also home to cloisters, a 12th century chapter house, a lay clergy building, and church. After we experience the atmospheric and unspoilt Benedictine abbey of St Marie d’Orbieu at Laagrasse. From here, we continue on to visit the Château of Villerouge-Termenès.
Today, we visit Puivert, the centre of Troubadour culture, and Vals’ rock-carved church, thought to pre-date Roman occupation. Here, we can admire beautiful frescoes, the fact that it is partially stone-carved and the third-level chapel, from which amazing views can be enjoyed. A travel on to Montsegur to visit the museum and field of the martyrs. We will see the towering castle where the Cathars made their last stand from a distance.
On our final day, we explore Toulouse’s basilica of St Sernin and its crypt. We return home this afternoon.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - Most meals included with wine at dinner
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
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