Languedoc - Cathars & Crusaders

Toulouse
Toulouse
Castle of Carcassonne
Castle of Carcassonne
Castle of Carcassonne
Castle of Carcassonne
Castle of Carcassonne
Castle of Carcassonne
Chateau de Foix Castle
Chateau de Foix Castle
Quertinheux tower at Lastours
Quertinheux tower at Lastours
Lastours Castles
Lastours Castles
St Nazaire, Beziers
St Nazaire, Beziers
Narbonne
Narbonne
Berbie Palace, Albi
Berbie Palace, Albi
Berbie Palace, Albi
Berbie Palace, Albi
Minerve
Minerve
Village of Cordes-sur-Ciel
Village of Cordes-sur-Ciel
Village of Cordes-sur-Ciel
Village of Cordes-sur-Ciel
Village of Cordes-sur-Ciel
Village of Cordes-sur-Ciel
Fontfroide Abbey
Fontfroide Abbey

Languedoc is a stunningly beautiful region of south-west France bordering the Pyrennees. In the Middle Ages it was a stronghold of Catharism – an ascetic Christian sect that eschewed the orthodox beliefs of the Roman Catholic church, which Pope Innocent III was determined to eliminate. In 1209 he launched the Albigensian Crusade, named after the city of Albi. For thirty years the Catholic establishment of royal France was pitted against the age-old traditions and customs of the region, resulting in horrific acts of war, and fundamentally altering the religious and secular landscape. One of its legacies was the Inquisition, founded to root out those who stubbornly adhered to the heretical faith: another was a fine architectural legacy. We shall explore Cathar cities with Roman roots, including the eternally imposing Carcassonne, Catholic abbeys and spectacular castles perched, often in an apparently impossible manner, on craggy ledges and summits.

  • See ruined castles and deserted villages atop craggy hills, set among beautiful green rolling landscapes
  • Heretics and Holy War, the struggle for hearts and minds in medieval France
  • Stay in a restored 16th century castle in Couiza
  • Let the beauty of Cordes-sur-Ciel inspire you

Themes

  • Romans
  • Medieval
  • Historic Churches
  • Conflict

Practicalities

  • Special Access
  • All Inclusive

Itinerary 2019

Day 1

We arrive in Toulouse, the ‘rose pink city’ 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.

Hotel: Overnight in Toulouse
Meals: Dinner included

Day 2

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 over low-hanging clouds. Surrounded by 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, built in the late 13th century as a tribute to the triumph of the Catholic Church. 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, residence of the archbishops, and now home to the Toulouse-Lautrec museum.

Hotel: Overnight in Toulouse
Meals: All meals included

Day 3

This morning starts with an exploration of Lastours, a cluster of four Cathar strongholds spread over a rocky spur above the village. Besieged many times, they held out for twenty years before falling in 1229. Rather than undertake the strenuous hike necessary to reach these ruins, we shall have a short lecture from a viewpoint that affords a spectacular view of all four monuments in their landscape setting. We then depart for Carcassonne, a pivotal city in this story. We shall be at home in the remarkably well-preserved city, with a visit this afternoon to the Château Comtal and 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.

Hotel: Overnight in Carcassonne
Meals: All meals included

Day 4

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. Next, we make our way to Béziers, where the Albigensian crusade began in 1209 when the invaders burnt the Gothic Cathédrale St-Nazaire and the town was pillaged and set on fire. The garden of the cathedral offers fabulous panoramic views. Later we pass on to Minerve, a town where, despite its defences, citizens were forced to surrender to Simon de Montfort after his siege of 1210 and were burnt as heretics.

Hotel: Overnight in Carcassonne
Meals: All meals included

Day 5

Today we visit three castles that started as Cathar strongholds, each significant in the final throes of Cathar resistance against royal power and rebuilt or radically altered under the new regime that followed. Our first destination today is the spectacular Castle of Peyrepertuse, almost impossibly perched on a knife-edged ridge. After lunch in Cucugnan, we will visit Chateau de Queribus, equally precariously perched on a cone of rock. Finally, we head east to Arques, a much more domesticated castle given to one of Simon de Montfort lieutenants, Pierre de Voisins, in 1231.

Hotel: Overnight in Couiza
Meals: All meals included

Day 6

We begin our day in the peacefulness and gardens of 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. After lunch, we drive to Lagrasse to pay a visit to the Abbey of St Marie d’Orbieu. 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 priests – was burned at the stake in 1321. This late date is a reminder that Catharism survived underground well into the fourteenth century.

Hotel: Overnight in Couiza
Meals: All meals included

Day 7

On our last full day in Languedoc we make our way to Foix to visit an imposing Cathar castle that actually survived the crusade, largely due to the political dexterity of its owner. We move on to lunch in Montsegur, scene of the last stand of the Cathars against the Albigensian crusaders in 1244. Here 220 Cathar martyrs were burned after a protracted siege. We also visit the small museum, where finds from the excavations at the castle evoke the day-to-day lives of the last Cathar resisters. Then we journey to Puivert castle where an exceptionally well-appointed tower has famous carved representations of medieval musicians, an evocation of the strong troubadour tradition of the region.

Hotel: Overnight in Couiza
Meals: All meals included

Day 8

This morning we drive to Toulouse where we shall visit the Romanesque basilica of St. Sernin and its crypt. The church was one of the recognised starting points for the famed medieval pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. Then we will drive to the airport for our flight home.

Meals: Breakfast and lunch included

Itinerary 2020

Day 1

We arrive in Toulouse on the banks of the River Garonne, and enjoy a lecture at our hotel – an introduction to the thrilling world of Cathars and Crusaders.

Hotel: Overnight in Toulouse
Meals: Dinner included

Day 2

We travel to the fortified Cathar refuge of Cordes-sur-Ciel, where 13th and 14th century townhouses are perched high on a hill. We see Albi’s red-brick cathedral, built as a lasting testament to the Christian faith in response to the Cathar heretics. We also visit Musee Toulouse-Lautrec in Berbie Palace.

Hotel: Overnight in Toulouse
Meals: All meals included

Day 3

Today we explore Lastours, the Cathar stronghold besieged by Simon de Montfort, where four of the few surviving Cathar castles remain. From here, we drive to Carcassonne, Europe’s largest medieval city with fully intact walls. Visit the Château Comtal, built on the remains of a Visigoth fortress, and the Grand Basilica of St Nazaire, first established in the 6th century.

Hotel: Overnight in Carcassonne
Meals: All meals included

Day 4

This morning we travel to Narbonne for a walking tour of its centre. View the Cathedral of Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur and the Palais des Archevequers. We continue to Béziers with its Gothic Cathédral St-Nazaire, burned by invaders as part of the Béziers massacre. Our last stop is at Minerve.

Hotel: Overnight in Carcassonne
Meals: All meals included

Day 5

Our first destination today is the vast and ruined Capetion Castle of Peyrepertuse, which towers high above the countryside. After lunch in Cucugnan, we visit Château de Queribus. Finally, we head to Arques, a castle gifted to one of Simon de Montfort’s lieutenants, Pierre de Voisins, in 1231.

Hotel: Overnight in Couiza
Meals: All meals included

Day 6

We start at the Cistercian abbey of Fontfroide, a major power in the fight against the heretics during the 13th century. After lunch, we drive to Lagrasse to visit the Abbey of St Marie d’Orbieu. Our final stop today is Villerouge-Termenès in the heart of the Corbières region. Here, we see the castle in which Guillaume Bélibaste, the last of the Cathar parfaits, was burned at the stake.

Hotel: Overnight in Couiza
Meals: All meals included

Day 7

On our last full day in Languedoc, we visit Puivert castle, which has an exceptionally well-appointed tower. Next, it’s on to Montsegur, scene of the last stand of the Cathars against the Albigensian crusaders and the burning of over 220 Cathar martyrs, to visit the castle and the museum.

Hotel: Overnight in Couiza
Meals: All meals included

Day 8

After a visit to the rock-cut church in Vals, we explore the Basilica and crypt at St. Sernin. Later, we travel home.

Meals: Breakfast included

What's Included

  1. Expert Guide Lecturer
  2. Tour Manager
  3. Local Travel - Private a/c coach
  4. Meals - Most meals included with wine at dinner
  5. Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
  6. Field Notes
  7. Hotels
  8. Flights

Travel Information

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2019 Tour Details

Mon 23rd Sep - Mon 30th Sep

Call for Availability

Guaranteed Departure

£2,515

inc.

sgl supp: £450

LCR19B

Led By: Dr Pamela Marshall

2020 Tour Details

Mon 1st Jun - Mon 8th Jun

Available

£2,595

Full Price £2695 Save £100

inc.

sgl supp: £495

LCR20A

Led By: Dr Pamela Marshall

Mon 7th Sep - Mon 14th Sep

Available

£2,595

Full Price £2695 Save £100

inc.

sgl supp: £495

LCR20B

Led By: Dr Pamela Marshall

Guide Lecturer

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