Sites Visited

None of the sites visited are difficult for anyone of average fitness. Sites on hill tops typically require an uphill walk on a rough path, but they are not particularly steep.

Aguilar — Cathar Château.

Albi — picturesque town which gave its name to the Albigensian Crusade, Cathedral, palace, viestiges of Cité and site of medieval castles.

Alet-les-Bains — Natural spring, Medieval Cité, Ruined Abbey / Cathedral.

Arques — Crusader Château & museum. Click for more about tours of the Château at Arques

Avignonet — Site of a Château belonging to the Count of Toulouse where a team of inquisitors were murdered in 1242.

Béziers — City and Cathedral. Site of the famous massacre of 1209.

Bram — Circulade & site of an atrocity during the War against the Cathars.

Cabaret (Lastours) — — 3 Cathar Châteaux + medieval village.

Carcassonne — Cathar Château (Château Comtal), Cité, Basilica, museum, Canal du Midi. Click for more about tours of Carcassonne

Cordes-sur-Ciel — Bastide founded by Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse, as a stronghold and refuge for dispossessed Cathars.

Foix — Cathar Château, Capital of the medieval county of Foix.

Fontfroide — Cistercian Abbey.

Hautpoul— Cathar stronghold  besieged by Simon de Montfort. Vestiges of two castles.

Lagrasse — Benedictine Abbey.

Lastours (Cabaret) — — 3 Cathar Châteaux + medieval village. Click for more about Lastours

Lavaur — Cathedral, site of atrocity during the Cathar Wars.

Le Bezu — Cathar Château.

Les Casses — Vestiges of Cathar town and site of a mass burning of Cathar Perfects.

Mazamet — Museum of Catharism.

Minerve — Cathar City and Château.

Montaillou — the famous Cathar village where everyone was arrested by the Bishop of Pamiers.

Montsegur — Cathar Château, medieval village & museum. Click for more about Montségur

Muret — Site of an open battle where King Peter II of Aragon was killed.

Peyrepertuse — Cathar Château.

Prouille — The first Dominican convent, founded by St Dominic.

Puilaurens — Cathar Château.

Puivert — Cathar Château & museum. Click for more about tours of Puivert

Queribus — Cathar Château.

Rennes-le-Château — Roman town, now a Hilltop Village with a notable church & museum.

St Hilaire — Benedictine Abbey.

Termes — Cathar Château + medieval village. Click for more about Termes

Toulouse — Capital of the county of Toulouse,Museums, Cathedral, important Churches.

Villerouge Termenes — Château of the Archbishop of Narbonne where the last known Cathar parfait was burned alive.

Key

— Very easy walk on the flat, OK for wheelchair users
— Easy walk on the flat, with steps
— Easy walk, c15 mins
— Moderate walk, rough paths, hilly. c30 mins.
— Moderate walk, rough paths, hilly. c45 mins.

The walks are not particularly steep or dangerous, but stones can be slippery in wet weather. French standards of maintenance and the provision of safety rails might not be what you are used to at home. We recommend taking hiking sticks for sites rated and above.


 

 

 

What to Bring

The Languedoc is highly seasonal, but over the last few years weather has become less predictable. You should therefore bring a range of clothing, including waterproofs. You should also allow for extremely hot weather in the summer (light clothing, sun hats, sun cream, etc). Some Cathar Castles are located on mountain tops. Climbs are not too demanding - 10-40 mins. Safety precautions in France are not the same as those in most English speaking countries, so sturdy footware and hiking sticks are recommended as a few of the paths are very uneven. Holiday Insurance is recommended, as is a mobile telephone (cellphone).

Other things you might find useful: camera, torch, binoculars, map of the languedoc, compass, books on the Cathars or Cathar Castles. (see Books)


 

 

 

Recommended Reading

You do not need to know anything at all about Catharism or the Cathars to come on our tours, but you might get more out of it if you have some familiarity with the subject.

There are lots of books on the subject in English as well as in French. Many are very good. Below are some of our recommendations for books in English, divided into general reading and advanced reading. If you click on the links you will go to reviews in a new window, which in turn will link to Amazon if you like the look of any of them (both com and co.uk)

 

General Reading

Zoë Oldenburg, Massacre at Montsegur: a history of the Albigensian Crusade

Malcolm Barber, The Cathars, Dualist Heretics in Languedoc in the High Middle Ages

Malcolm Lambert, The Cathars

Stephen O'Shea, The Perfect Heresy: The Revolutionary Life and Death of the Medieval Cathar

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou: village Occitan, 1294-1324

Jonathan Sumption, The Albigensian Crusade

René Weis, The Yellow Cross: The Story of the Last Cathars, 1290-1329

Michael Costen, The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade

Marcus Cowper, Cathar Castles, Fortresses of the albigensian Crusade 1209-1300

 

Scholarly Texts on the Cathars

William of Tudela and an Anonymous Successor (J. Shirley, translator,) The Song of the Cathar Wars

Peter des Vaux de Cerney (English translation by W.A. & M.D. Sibly) The History of the Albigensian Crusade

William of Puylaurens (English translation by WA Sibly and MD Sibly), The Chronicle of William of Puylaurens

Walter L Wakefield and Austin P Evans, Heresies of the High Middle Ages

H J Warner, Albigensian Heresy (2 vols)

Steven Runciman, The Medieval Manichee, A Study in the Christian Dualist Heresy

 


 

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

I know some of the classic "Cathar Castles" are on mountain tops. How difficult are the climbs?

None of the sites we visit are inaccessible for participants of average fitness. While sites on hill tops typically require uphill walks on rough paths, most take less than 30 minutes. (Incidentally, in photographs the walks tend to look harder than they really are).

The walks are not particularly steep or dangerous, but stones can be slippery in wet weather. Montsegur and Peyrepertuse are more difficult a climb than the other sites. The paths we use are maintained in a relatively natural form – meaning that you will find few concrete steps or railings, but they also lack chasms, pot-holes or slippery gravel. They are often lined with box trees that serve as hand rails in turns and other key points. The things we caution guests about include the occasional tree trunk semi-buried on the path and narrow portions of trail.

French standards of maintenance and the provision of safety rails might not be what you are used to at home, so we recommend bringing hiking sticks.

For ratings showing the relative difficulty of all sites included on our tours, see the list at Locations

 

Could you give me more detail about what James does on a tour to a château or other historic site versus an ordinary tour guide?

James offers the insights of a historian to Cathar Country Tour participants. Think of him as the history teacher you always wished you had had. Better yet, James brings his deep knowledge of the history and the sites of the Cathar region out of the classroom and to the very places where history was made. His broad and deep understanding of the region’s history is based on decades of meticulous, research into the theological, academic and scholarly sources that illuminate the region and its history. Our clients praise his erudition, enthusiasm and flair for addressing the level of his audience.

James will paint a coherent picture of both the specific events and personalities linked to each site you visit with him and its contribution to the bigger historical tableau. His combination of wit and erudition enable him to make complex historical themes accessible in a way that is unique and memorable. He does not need or use scripts, and is unlikely to be unable to answer any question you might have.

 

We have children of various ages, can they be accommodated on a tour?

As the father of an inquisitive young son, James is comfortable answering the many questions younger family members have (in fact, he reports that they pose some of the best questions). So feel free to include them in the tour if you feel they would benefit from the experience (children under age 16 are half price). On the other hand, because not every child is looking for this kind of experience we can arrange day-care with a trusted and registered nanny.

 

I have already visited Carcassonne. Why should I see it again?

We guarantee that 75% of what you will see and learn will be different from from what you have seen and heard before. It is likely to be more like 90%. Most of our clients have previously seen Carcassonne, and not one has so far been disappointed by their tour with James.

 

Cathar history is fascinating, but our interests extend well beyond that to include other historical periods, architecture, the Languedoc’s legendary natural beauty and much more, can James include those topics in a tour?

While our tours will always highlight key Cathar sites and history, James has lived in the region for decades and shares your passion for those (and many other) topics. He is delighted by the opportunity to explore these themes with our guests. Ancient hominids, Greeks, Etruscans, Romans, Celts, Visigoths, Moors, Knights Templar, Medieval Counts, Troubadours and others have all left traces behind and James is uniquely qualified to bring this rich heritage to life. The Languedoc is studded with spectacular mountains, megaliths, caves, castles, churches, abbeys, wildlife, thermal springs and even dinosaur fossils. As an Oxford-educated scholar like James, this region is a living library of human and natural history that he passionately believes must be shared with a wider audience.

 

What about regional cuisine, wine, contemporary culture and the other opportunities that can enrich our scholarly pursuits?

Because our goal is to make your visit the most memorable experience possible, we offer tour options that include aperitifs, local wines, local delicacies, and other enhancements in carefully selected venues.

We will be part of an organized coach tour of the region and would like to have James join us for a day or two; what arrangements can you make for us?

James can meet your group anywhere in the Languedoc and adjacent regions to provide expert insights tailored to your touring plans. Because we are a small, family-owned business we have the flexibility to adjust to your needs. In fact, part of what makes Cathar Country Tours unique is our ability to work with guests (and tour organizers) to customize our services. Pricing information is available for a variety of options.

 

We want James all to ourselves for a day or more of touring; what arrangements can you make for us?

In addition to scheduled tours, which generally accommodate up to 7 guests, we offer customized tours limited to you and other members of your party. We guarantee both exclusivity and the flexibility to match your specific interests. To explore all the options available, Contact Us.

 

What happens if I’m the only person who signs up for a scheduled tour?

We set the scheduled tour dates ourselves and are committed to doing each of these tours regardless of the number of participants.

 

What happens if the weather is bad?

Fortunately, the weather here is good most days of the year. Like everywhere else, blustery weather occasionally occurs but it is rarely severe enough to cancel an outing. On those rare days when weather conditions force a cancellation, the tour can be either rescheduled or we visit one of the sites indoors. Participants are encouraged to wear sensible walking shoes for all weather conditions and to bring wind breakers or other suitable attire in the case of showers or windy weather. To date we have never had to cancel a tour.

 

What happens if I get ill or have some other emergency that prevents my participation?

Should you have unexpected, unavoidable alterations to your holiday plans we can offer an alternative scheduled tour or provide a letter required for your travel insurance claim.

 

Does Cathar Country Tours offer special arrangements for pre-existing groups?

Yes, we have found that pre-existing groups work well for all parties and we can offer discounted rates. Contact us to discuss potential arrangements.

 

Do the scheduled group tours offer opportunities to shop, buy postage stamps and do other non-tour related activities?

Many museums, abbeys and castles we visit sell themed items and time will be available to do some quick shopping in those cases, but to accommodate the schedules of all participants, post office stops and the like are limited on scheduled group tours. Adequate time is allowed in all our schedules for rest stops. Customized tours can, of course, be designed to address any of your special wishes, including our insights on shopping for wine, cheese and other local temptations. Please enquire in advance.

 

Is there a way of avoiding the summer queues?

Yes. We make special arrangements to avoid queues and crowds.





Our Tours

A selection of our tours and other services. Click on one of the boxes for more information

Scheduled One-Week Tours

Join one of our scheduled week-long tours which take place in May/June and September each year, including iconic sites such as Montsegur.

Private Tours for Individuals

Customised Tours for 1 person to 5 people: you get to chose how long the tour is, where you visit, and what topics you want to learn about.

Private Group Tours

Customised Tours for groups of 6 or more: you get to chose how long the tour is, where you visit, what topics you want to learn about, and where you stay.

One-Day Scheduled Tours

Join one of our limited number of scheduled day-tours which take place in May/June and September each year, including iconic Cathar sites such as Montsegur.

Talks, Lectures, Seminars

If you want an entertaining but intellectually rigorous and historically accurate account of Catharism, the Albigensian Crusade and the Medieval Languedoc..

Other Services

We offer a Concierge service to help you plan tours focused on the Languedoc / Occitania (including topics other than the Cathars). We also offer services to established Tour Operators organising visits to Cathar Country.