We Almost Ended Up in Spain

Today (May 24th), dear Readers, it is time to refresh your recollections of that now-distant European history class that dealt with the “Albigensian Revolution”.  Quickly now, for the bonus round; who can remember who the Cathars were, and why they were relevant to the  development of Europe?  Our adventure du jour  was to visit the many Cathar Castle sites in  the southern Languedoc region, and re-learn the answers to these questions.

The drive we planned would take us about an hour and a half’s drive south and slightly east from Carcassonne.  The former Cathar area of Languedoc is south and west of the coastal town of Perpignan, which is about a half hour from the Spanish border.  It’s also very close to the tiny nation of Andorra. We debated a detour there just to check it off our nation list, but I was already taxing Jim with today’s drive, so we scrapped that idea. However, Perpignan is also the beginning of the east-west road that runs through the Pyrenees, and was a distinct changing point in the terrain.  Huge limestone hills/mountains rose up from the valley floor and were topped with jagged limestone outcroppings, and we could see the snow-capped Pyrenees in the distance.  However,  on the valley floor, there were miles of vineyards planted, and every road boasted numerous invitations to taste wine in the local caves.  We stuck stalwartly to our historical mission, however.

The Cathars were a religious sect that identified themselves as Christians, but the Catholic church called them both heretics and non-Christians. Whatever they were, their belief system was somewhat kinder and gentler than that of the Catholics at that time, with generally more liberal inclusive views, which were in line with those of their ruling aristocracy.  However, by the 13th Century, the Catholic church was under many challenges, including having to move the papacy to Avignon, and threatened attacks from Moorish ruled Spain, and then the Great Schism, where the French reused to return the papacy to Rome.  All of this culminated in the papacy joining forces with the French king to launch a genocidal war (they called it a “Crusade”) against the Cathars (or Albigensians) to try to consolidate their respective powers in the south of France beginning in 1208.  The end result was that the Counts of Toulouse, Trencavel and Foix (famous Cathar castles) and their supporters at the castles of Quéribus and Peyrepertuse, as well as others, were vanquished even high atop their limestone fortifications.  The estimates of those indiscriminately killed in this Crusade was about 500,000 men, women and children from the Languedoc region. Interestingly, the Cathars of the time had been much more highly educated than their Catholic counterparts, and the Cathar rulers were replaced by much less sophisticated rulers, such as Dominic Guzman (later, St. Dominic), who founded the Dominican order and later, the Inquisition. There is much more information about the Cathars and this historical period in the excellent treatise online by James McDonald, Cathars and Cathar Beliefs in the Languedoc, <a href=”http://www.cathar.info&#8221; title=”All about the Cathars: history, castles, sieges, theology, photographs. ” target=”_blank”><img alt=”All about the Cathars: history, castles, sieges, theology, photographs.” src=” http://www.cathar.info/adverts/logo_03_150.jpg&#8221; border=”0″ width=”150″ height=”143″></a>

We ended up visiting the castles at Quéribus and Peyrepertuse, and had a tremendous (read; arduous) climb up to both sites. Actually, after the climb up to Quéribus, we only climbed part of the way up to Peyrepertuse, but the views of each were absolutely outstanding!

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Quéribus Castle

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Cucugnan Village

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Peyrepertuse Castle

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Auriac Castle

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As we headed back to Carcassonne, we decided to drive back over the hills which took us through some lovely forest, verdant farmland and some beautiful vineyard acreage.  Jim had read a review of the lovely Chardonnays grown in the town of Limoux, which was on our way back to Carcassonne, so we made a detour there for a brief tasting, and found Jim’s reviews had been true. Besides the Chardonnay, Limoux is well known for its long tradition of producing sparkling wines (Cremate and Blanc de Blanc), and the monk who originally started the champagne making at Dom Perigean was originally trained in Limoux.  The Languedoc region also produces some great rosé wines, although those of Provence, and especially the seaside town of Cassis are better known.

As we drove around, we noticed long lines at each gas station we passed. We resolved to find out what this was all about.

We arrived back in Carcassonne with just enough time to do a daylight tour of the town and grab some great photos of the town from the river flowing beside it.  Then it was off to dinner at O’Vineyards.




And what a dinner it was. The link to our Trip Advisor review is here, but suffice it to say that this vineyard and restaurant run by an American couple, Joe & Liz McDonnell, is a must do experience if you are ever in the village of Carcassonne!




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