The tour is lead by the historian and polymath James McDonald. James has extensive experience as a public speaker and broadcaster, and lives locally in the heart of Cathar Country. His has an encyclopedic knowledge of all aspects of Catharism and its history in the Languedoc. He is an author and the translator of Voltaire's work on the Cathars, published in English as "The Crusade Against the People of the Languedoc" and of the leading authoritative website on the cathars www.cathar.info.
His tours in "Cathar Country" are consistently rated as the best available. He makes the past come to life, combining absorbing history with fascinating details from other disciplines from theology to medieval military tequniques and from international politics to daily life in Occitania. Though academically rigorous and based on extensive solid research, these tours are are also entertaining. They are consistently assessed by participants as clear, interesting, breathtaking, captivating, immensely pleasurable, and extraordinary.
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"James and Sophie have done a superb job with the Advanced Cathar Tour. Once again you are in the pleasant company of James, Sophie and your driver, Robert who is always so courteous. James threads the story of the Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade into the tour so each little village or landmark comes to life - the Languedoc is a spectacular backdrop to the saddest of stories.
James links personal Cathar experiences to the brutality of the inquisitors. He also attempts to balance the stories when appropriate to do so.
Follow the steps of the Counts of Toulouse and the inquisitors while you dine in superb restaurants, drink fine wines and engage in deep conversations with James and new friends. Sophie's choice of Hotels and restaurants were hand picked for quality and comfort. Once again visit their beautiful château for dinner and pinch yourself that this is really happening. Highly recommended."
Elayne & Katrina, Australia
"Thank you too for the opportunity to experience 13th century Occitan life in a particularly turbulent period of its history. The magnificent scenery and delicious food, organised by Sophie, absorbing history by James and all shared with such good company have given us a perfect week."
Elizabeth & Gerald, Fleetwood, UK
"... such gracious hosts and kind souls. The personal attention to the tour details and to ourselves was outstanding. James provided a wonderful balance of information on the Cathars along with general history of the region and to a host of other topics. Opening your beautiful and historical home was a great treat and I could not be more pleased with your ability to make us feel right at home."
Brian, New York, NY, USA
"James gave a fascinating presentation that brought the Cathars back to life. Not only that, he put the whole period into the context of European history probably known to us all even it derived from films such as The Lion in Winter and The Name of the Rose. He also incorporated how the Occitan region and its language form such an important part of the life and culture of the South of France of today."
"French Gentleman Farmer"
"Absolutely excellent. We enjoyed every minute of our tour"
John and Lisa, Boston, MA, USA
"Spectacular castles; magnificent scenery; splendid food; great hotels; wonderful food & wine; tragic history; impeccable information. An interesting, informative and fun tour."
Rupert, Sarah & David. Twickenham, UK
"... an enjoyable and instructive week. James is a true polymath. His introductions were concise and full of relevant information. The sites were spectacular. Thank you, too, for your warm welcome and all the trouble you took over the arrangements.
La Chaumiere offered very comfortable, spacious and well appointed rooms. ... Some of the meals out were superb and the dinner at Couiza an exceptionally happy occasion.
... Altogether a memorable week"
Tony, Norwich, UK
"Thank you for arranging our stay, for your hospitality, and for the education on the Cathars and Cathar country. I recommend the two of you for your wonderful warmth and efficiency. James is a true historian and geographer of everything Cathar. He is a solid researcher and a splendid teacher. Please list us as fans."
Karl & Susan, Cornell University
"I loved every minute of it"
Grant , New York
"Great talk by James on the Cathars clear, interesting, well illustrated. A real help to understanding the area."
Mike Westwood, September 2012, France
If youre looking for an experiential journey back in time to the 13th century Cathars, I highly recommend James and Sophie McDonalds Cathar Country-Languedoc Tours. James in-depth academic knowledge of their history and the local terrain is extraordinary well balanced by Sophies organizational skills in providing client comforts. For the history buff and researcher alike, this experience is one that wont disappoint.
"I signed up for two day tours with James MacDonald and figured when I was told to meet at the Dame Carcas statue at the gate of Carcassonne that I'd be one of five or six on the tour. I was alone. Imagine my delight to have James personalize the tour for two full days. Overnight, he even printed up web sites answering my personal research questions. It was such a pleasure to have long conversations on everything from plague to the history of the Eucharist to local folk traditions with a man with an Oxford education who knows everything, or at least everything I'm interested in. Not to mention the Cathars, all of this in breath-taking surroundings--like the top of Montsegur. This is a pretty demanding tour, physically, and not cheap, but I'm busy right now trying to figure out a way to sign up for the advanced tours Sophie and James offer. And I want to stay in their castle."
Ann C, Tripadvisor, Visited September 2014
"I have had the good fortune of travelling much of the world through the years, but I have never had such an entertaining and stimulating journey as I recently enjoyed with Sophie and James MacDonald, the founders of Cathar Country Tours set in the breathtakingly beautiful Languedoc department of Southwestern France. What they present is an exciting and adventurous exploration of the 13th Century Albigensian Crusade and the subsequent genocide of the gentle, Buddhist like Albigensois, more familiarly known as the Cathars. It is a remarkably dramatic story partly because they were defended to the death for a half a century by much of the nobility of that region, the very people who should have joined in the crusade against them, which found these gentle peoples beliefs a gateway to a new world of peace and hope in a time of terrifying darkness. It is also remarkable because of the seemingly inaccessible castles where so many of the battles were fought and so many died.
But for me, most remarkable were my hosts, James and Sophie. James is a scholar and business consultant to start with, and Sophie, a woman for all seasons to put it mildly. But both are also lovers of bread, wine, the journey and good company. I left them feeling as my companions did that they had adopted me.
Everything is arranged in advance, from the incomparably charming hotels of the French countryside, lunches and dinners including all the wine you could wish for, to the local transportation, and of course to this deliciously versatile experience. Often, it is a climb to a hilltop fortress to experience the unique way of castle life that existed 800 years ago and almost always resulted in its subsequent and devastating demise a healthy climb but not too taxing for most by the way; sometimes a visit to the local towns and cities; and even a trip to the vineyards, especially thrilling at harvest time. And always, always, in every way, it is a celebration of the French way of country life, intense, leisurely, passionate, and above all, immensely pleasurable.
For me, my favorite memories will always be the two
occasions when Sophie and James, both Renaissance people non-pareil, invited
us to their awe-inspiring château at the top of the tiny village
of St.Ferriol in the foothills of the majestic Pyrenees where they presented
us with meals and hospitality straight from heaven.
Anthony Call, Tripadvisor
"... we joined a small group of people
for a Cathar Country Tour - it was a truly wonderful and memorable experience,
exceeding all our expectations. James and Sophie McDonald were perfect
hosts; James shared his in depth knowledge and understanding about Catharism
in such a captivating and entertaining way that we were all hooked on
The itinerary was well planned, visiting a variety of Cathar sites which illustrated very well the turbulent history of the so called heretics - complemented by some superb scenery.
Not only did we enjoy the history, but also the fine food and wines of Languedoc; this included being dinner guests of James and Sophie at their stunning château in St. Ferriol. The camaraderie between our hosts and everybody in the group was exceptional.
We highly recommend Cathar Country Tours, 5 stars all round and "thank You" again to James and Sophie for their attention to detail and individual needs."
Peter C, Visited September 2014, Tripadvisor
"We spent a memorable week visiting Cathar Chateaux and abbeys in the Languedoc - at Termes, Lagrasse, Arques, Fontfroide, Villerouge, Queribus, Peyrepertuse, Puivert and Montségur, Toulouse and of course Carcassonne.
I have visited Carcassonne several times before and thought I knew it. How wrong I was. It turns out to conceal vast amounts of interesting history that tourists never hear about.
Visiting some of these sites was extremely moving, especially when you learn exactly what happened and exactly where. Our historian-guide (James) was exceptional - however far we drilled down for detail he always knew the answer and could explain the context. It was especially moving when he read out extracts from contemporary sources.
You dont need to be interested in Cathar history, castle architecture or medieval warfare before you come, but you will be afterwards.
The walk up to Montsegur is not too bad, but if youre getting on, you might want to take sticks. All the other sites were much less demanding."
Jack L, Tripadvisor
"James and Sophie MacDonald have succeeded in combining the best of both worlds with their Cathar Country Tours. James is a walking encyclopedia on the medieval history of the region in which they live, and the horrific persecution of the gentle Cathar community as heretics by the Roman Church.
Sophie's gracious and enthusiastic efforts to make certain that clients are well looked after in the realm of creature comforts, is the icing on the cake! I have no doubt that their continued tweaking of offerings and details in order to meet client's desires and needs, will guarantee further success in years to come."