09 October 2020 by Jessica Boston
Discover why Cathar country should be on your travel bucket list….
If you are looking for a region of France to explore that has stunning landscapes, gorgeous food and wine, and a history infused with intrigue, heresy, conflict and mystery, look no further than Cathar country!
The backdrop to some of France’s bloodiest history
The Cathar region is in the South of France and stretches from the Pyrenees mountains on the Spanish border, to the vineyards and orchards of the Mediteranean, and the wild beauty of the Haut-Languedoc Natural Park. This diverse landscape was the backdrop to some of France’s bloodiest history when religious differences sparked years of conflict during the crusades.
By the 12th century the Languedoc had become a stronghold for a new duellist Christian faith, the ‘Cathars’ rejected the Catholic sacraments and the grandiose excesses of Catholic priests and bishops, instead focusing on simple, honest virtue and fairness. The Counts of Toulouse were in favour of the Cathar movement allowing it to thrive in the region, however the Pope at the time denounced Cathars as heretics and launched two crusades between 1209 and 1226 to wipe out the Cathars in the region. The siege of Beziers illustrates well the violence endured in the conflict; the crusaders demanded the Catholics of the city ‘give up’ the Cathars to spare themselves, all refused and the crusaders retaliated by slaughtering the entire population of 20,000 citizens. Many were burnt alive in the cathedral with the legate declaring ‘kill them all and let God sort them out!’
Visit stunning Cathar castles
After the crusades the Cathars remained only in secret, and the Catholic Church asserted it’s dominance of the region building the fortress-like cathedral in Albi. The cathedral is just one of many medieval buildings that remain to tell their part of the story. The Cathar castles that top the tallest hills here range from majestic chateaux to rocky ruins. Many are quite difficult to reach, but if you make the hike up to Lastours, Saissac, Cabaret, La Tour Régine, Surdespine or Quertinheux the views will be more than worth the climb! Other fascinating places to visit include the macabre chapel at Rennes le Chateau (said to be the hiding place for the Holy Grail), Montsegur where you can feel the influence of the infamous Knights Templars, and, of course, the impressive walled city of Carcassonne rising out of the landscape like something from a fairytale.
Relax with a local delicacy (or two!)
Cathar country is a wonderful place to visit with a dark history and a gorgeous natural landscape to explore. And when you’ve spent the day hiking, climbing, cycling, riding or paddling to see all this beautiful region has to offer, you can relax with a glass or two of delicious local wine and a bowl of cassoulet, the rich, meaty, bean stew that’s the speciality of the region.
Take a look at our selection of holiday homes in Aude to book stay in the heart of Cathar country and plan your next French adventure!