Cathar Country Tours of Cathar Castles in the Languedoc, France.

Cathar Country Tours
Historical Tours of Cathar Castles in deep rural France
Led by James McDonald

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Tours of Cathar Castles in the Languedoc, France


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Prices & Reservations
What to bring
Recommended Reading
Locations & Sites Visited
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Tour Locations
Le Bezu
Les Casses
St Hilaire

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 involve uphill walks of 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 is significantly more difficult a climb than the other sites. In the past I would have said that Peyreperteuse was also verging on the extremely difficult, but on a recent tour one participant who was partially sighted and in his eighties happily climbed to the castle. 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: 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 rather than addressing the full range of cultural, recreational and entertainment options typically offered by tour guides. While we will gladly assist with hotel bookings, transportation options, restaurant recommendations and your other travel-related needs, think of him as the history teacher you always wished you had back in your school days. 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, unbiased 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.



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

As the father of a very inquisitive 7-year old 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.



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, Templar Knights, 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, meals, wine tasting and other enhancements in carefully selected venues. For example, our guests have often joined us for wine and cheese tasting (and other dining) experiences at our 16th-Century Château-Fort. Where else can you find this combination of scholarship and cultural immersion?

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.



Where and how do we meet James to begin our tour?

Because we are long-term residents of the area, we can work directly with you to arrange to either pick you up at a convenient location (such as your hotel) and transport you to tour sites or to meet you at a specific site. The latter approach works especially well if you’re visiting Toulouse, Carcassonne or other urban areas.

In addition to our week-long Original and Advanced Cathar Country Tours, we offer a variety of day-long tours (scheduled and customized) to over a dozen Cathar sites. Given the many variables involved, we will coordinate with you to arrange the most convenient meeting time and place to begin and end your tour.

We are headquartered in a semi-restored 16th Century castle located in the charming hill-top village of Saint-Ferriol, about an hour’s drive from Carcassonne. Convenient, low-cost train and bus options are available to towns in the immediate vicinity and throughout the region. When you arrive at Carcassonne airport you have a choice of a taxi or an airport shuttle to the train station. Fortunately, the taxi option to the train station is also very affordable (less than 12 euros, versus 5 euros for the local bus). Given the convenience and time savings offered by taxis, we encourage visitors whose plan ito join us here at our private château or nearby to consider that option. If you have a car, we can discuss the many options available for you – again 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 a full refund will be offered. 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 provide any 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.








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