Discovering the Cathars in the Languedoc

A key reasons for visiting the Languedoc is to gain a greater insight into the Cathars and Catharism through the many nearby historic monuments and towns from the Cathar era. But who were the Cathars, exactly? Well, you might have some idea if you are at all familiar with the adventure novels of writer Kate Mosse, with her phenomenally successful Labyrinth in 2005 having been themed around the 13th century Albigensian crusade and the destruction of the Cathar heresy.


The story of the Cathars continues to intrigue many of those booking a luxury bed and breakfast in Languedoc today, and with good reason. Cathars themselves were followers of a dissident church that flowered in various areas of Europe in the early Medieval period. The term Catharism literally meant purity, and was a kind of proto-Protestantism that stood against the then Catholic church’s pomp, hierarchy and worldly wealth.

Believing that the world was the creation of a deity identified with Satan, and that this was an evil world in which the human spirit was trapped, Cathars sought to free themselves from worldly corruption by living ascetic lives in which material possessions, meat and alcohol were all rejected. In becoming free, Cathars believed that they would also become pure, enabling them to be accompanied by the “good” God in heaven.

Such beliefs were not, of course, to the approval of the Catholic church, and the fact that Cathar nobles also owned valuable land in the areas that you can now discover from a luxury bed and breakfast in Languedoc did little to lessen these tensions. It prompted Pope Innocent III’s 1208 decision to call the Albigensian Crusades against the Cathars. Over 20 years, the area was sacked and pillaged by the crusaders, with Cathars either massacred or forcibly converted to Catholicism. A brief revival in Cathar fortunes prompted a second wave of Crusading in the 1220s.

Today, the Cathars themselves may be history, but the tourist construct, ‘Cathar country’, is alive and well. Many of those visiting the area while taking advantage of a luxury bed and breakfast in Languedoc now routinely explore the fortified hilltops, castles, villages and towns most strongly associated with Catharism. Not all of the castles strictly date from the period of the Cathar heresy, with many having been built earlier, but many of them were nonetheless vital strongholds for besieged Cathars, with some being the scenes of atrocious massacres.

One other key Cathar site is the hilltop village of Minerve. Rendered a martyr city by the Crusades, it is today one of the most beautiful villages in France. Come here to sample tiny cobbled streets, impressive stone archways and picturesque squares, as well as such landmarks as the 11th century Saint-Etienne church and the palaeontology museum, the latter holding fossils and Roman documents.

These sites, encompassing such castles and abbeys as Saint-Papoul, Caunes-Minervois, Fontfroide, Lastours, Alet and many more, have fascinating but also turbulent and bloody stories to tell, and can be appreciated all the better today from a luxury bed and breakfast in Languedoc. Here at La Souqueto, a sensitively restored and renovated townhouse near the Canal du Midi, we are proud to arrange specialist trips to certain venues for our guests. Please contact us today to find out more.

Related Posts