Languedoc - Cathars & Crusaders with Andante Travels

Knights, saints and sinners in a battle for Medieval hearts and minds…

  • Enjoy a special traditional performance by a trobairitz – or female troubadour
  • Wander around the charming commune of Cordes-sur-Ciel, perched high above the clouds
  • Pay a visit to the Cistercian abbey of Fontfroide and sample the fantastic wine produced there

The Languedoc experienced one of the bloodiest episodes of the medieval era: the Albigensian Crusade, led by Simon de Montfort, which set out to obliterate the Cathar heresy and colonise the region for the kings of France. The land, beset by the crusaders, was one rich in history and culture. Unravel the truth about Cathars, Templars and the Holy Grail – exploring the story of the Languedoc before, during and after the crusade.

Discover the world of the troubadours, whose poetry and song were famous across Europe, and meet the fiercely independent local lords who were their patrons, and who fought to defend the strongholds of the Languedoc from the northern French crusaders. Learn of the rise of the Cathar faith, and of the beliefs and experiences of the women and men who adhered to it, and of the crusading knights who laid siege to the castles and fortress-towns of the region. Join us as we visit the great abbeys of the monks and the palaces of the bishops, who supported the Crusader cause, and discover more about the Dominican Order that was set up to combat Cathar heresy. Finally, we see how the region changed in the wake of the crusade, as the forceful ambition of Capetian kings brought the region under the power of the French crown.

Historical Trips have joined forces with Andante Travels to offer a series of History & Archaeology tours.

Itinerary 2019

Day 1

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.

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 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.

Day 3

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.

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. 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 set on fire. There is a chance to visit the cathedral, decorated with gargoyles.

Day 5

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.

Day 6

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.

Day 7

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.

Day 8

On our final day, we explore Toulouse’s basilica of St. Sernin and its crypt. We return home this afternoon.

What's Included

  1. Tour Manager & Guide Lecturer
  2. Meals - All meals included with wine at lunch and dinner
  3. Transport - Return flights and all local travel
  4. Hand-picked hotels throughout the tour

Shining light on the Dark Ages

The Medieval era was filled with breathtaking artistic achievement spurred on by tremendous religious faith. Alongside the beauty, life could be coarse and cruel; cut short by famine, disease or the religious zeal that spurred on wars that still echo today.

This era is one of the most intriguing yet misrepresented periods of history. Did people really think the world was flat? No, that enduring myth was created by a 19th-century American journalist. Were witches put on trial and burnt at the stake? Yes, but you’d have to wait for the refined Renaissance period to bear witness to that. Travel alongside an expert guide lecturer, and separate fact from fiction in this fascinating period.

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