Cathars, Sunshine & Wine

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A view over vineyards in the valley

The Languedoc region is blessed with many things but I think three of the most enticing things for visitors is the climate, the wine and the history and here at Vin en Vacances we have devised a tour that guarantees all of this.

Catharism was a religious cult that spread through many parts of Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries but it was in Languedoc where it flourished and was openly practised.  

As it took hold the Pope tried to control the people and bring them back to the Catholic faith but his efforts failed and he realised he needed armed men to crush the Cathars in Languedoc. He eventually persuaded the King of France to join him in a Holy War, a crusade against Catharism. The king wanted Languedoc to be part of his realm and saw the crusade as a chance to achieve this dream so he raised a massive army led by the Dukes of France and the warrior Catholic churchmen who marched on Languedoc.

The first siege took place in Béziers in 1208 and although it was expected to take many months it was over before it began as reckless lads headed out of the city to taunt the soldiers who over whelmed them and entered the city. It was at this point that the Cistercian abbot and commander of the crusade is reported to have been asked how the soldiers would know Cathar from the Catholic? The reply came ‘Kill them all, the Lord will know his own.’

Later at the siege of Carcassonne a Catholic knight from northern France showed his prowess as a fighter La Cite Carcassonneand for the next 10 years Simon De Montfort led the crusade until his death at the siege of Toulouse.

By 1229 Catharism had been sent underground and many of the Bons Hommes and Bonnes Femmes, named Perfects by their enemy had gone into hiding. Many of them fled to hide in the many castles that littered the land including Montségur, Quéribus and Peyreperteuse and it was at the castle of Montségur where the final mass burning of the Cathars took place in 1243.

Today the castles of Montségur, Quéribus and Peyreperteuse are amazing places to visit and because the later two are in wine country we have created a tour that relates the Cathar story and takes you to visit two of their hiding places and along the way taste some fine Roussillon wines

The Roussillon region takes a little over an hour to reach from Carcassonne and the journey is very rewarding as you get to see the coast and the étangs or lagoons that form a barrier between the Mediterranean Sea and the land. Our journey takes us through the Roussillon Plain with an impressive view of Le Canigou, a mountain that’s part of the Pyrenees and known as the sacred mountain of the Catalans, for this part of France once belonged to Spain before the treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659.

Just before we reach Perpignan we head towards the mountains away from the coast and to the village of Maury, home to one of my favourite wines which goes by the same name. These days dry versions are available but for me Maury is a sweet red wine that is my favourite pairing with a chocolate dessert.  We taste this nectar and also dry wines at a wonderful domaine in the village before heading up to Château Quéribus which has stood on a limestone bluff protecting the region for many centuries.

Our exploration of Quéribus is rewarded by a delicious traditional lunch at a local auberge known for its fresh and tasty food and we often follow this with a stroll around the village to visit the boulangerie housed in an 18th century working windmill where they bake wonderful bread, cakes and biscuits.

Our final visit of the day is the Château Peyreperteuse and I have to admit this is my favourite castle of them all. It’s a tough walk up to it but at least you’re walking off some of your delicious lunch and at the top there are two castles for the price of one! The original Spanish fortress and the later French one which covers a part of the mountain that had once born a pierced rock which is what the name Peyreperteuse means.

We end the tour with an impressive drive through the Galamus Gorge dubbed the ‘Gorgeous Gorge’ by past clients and for good reason. It’s a little hair raising to drive through but we promise to look after you and give you a tour to remember for a long time.

If you’re tempted to join us on this tour take a look at the Cathar Castles & Roussillon Wines Tour itinerary on our web site and for more reading on the Cathar Crusade plus a great overview of the wines of the region you will find all this in my book ‘The Wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon’ the perfect travelling partner if your visiting this magical region – à bientôt..!

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