Overnight in Montpelier - Mercure Montpelier or similar (B, L)
Today after breakfast we will explore two extraordinary Cathar castles; Lastours and Cucugnan. We will then head to Fontfroide for a guided tour of the abbey before proceeding to Montpelier for the night.
The Cathars were a religious group who appeared in Europe in the 11th century, their origins are something of a mystery though there are reasons to believe their ideas came from Persia or the Byzantine Empire, by way of the Balkans and Northern Italy. Records from the Roman Catholic Church mention them under various names and in various places. Catholic theologians debated with themselves for centuries whether Cathars were Christian heretics or whether they were Christians at all. The question is apparently still open. Roman Catholics still refer to Cathar belief as "the Great Heresy" though the official Catholic position is that Catharism is not Christian at all.
The Cathar view of the Catholic Church was as bleak as the Catholic Church's view of the Cathar Church. On the Cathar side it manifested itself in ridiculing Catholic doctrine and practices, and characterizing the Catholic Church as the "Church of Wolves". Catholics accused Cathars of heresy or apostasy and said they belonged to the "Synagogue of Satan". The Catholic side created some striking propaganda. When the propaganda proved unsuccessful, there was only one option left - a crusade – the Albigensian Crusade.
The war against the Cathars of the Languedoc continued for two generations. In the later phases the Kings of France would take over as leaders of the crusade, which thus became a Royal Crusade. From 1208, a war of terror was waged against the indigenous population of the Languedoc and their rulers. During this period, an estimated half-million Languedoc men, women and children were massacred, Catholics as well as Cathars. The Crusaders killed the locals indiscriminately.
The first spot we will visit will be the four castles on a rocky spur above the village of Lastours. Isolated by the deep valleys of the Orbeil and Grésilhou rivers, the site belonged to the lords of Cabaret, mentioned for the first time in 1067 during the Middle Ages. Their wealth came mainly from the exploitation of iron mines. This is a fantastic destination for lovers of history and those interested in geology or Mediterranean fauna and flora. Archaeological excavations have been carried out around Cabaret Castle - where a village once stood - during the last two decades, exposing a large number of interesting 13th century relics. The houses in the village ran down the steep slope to the river, and were abandoned hastily during the Albigensian Crusade, explaining the large number of artifacts.
We will then continue on to Cucugnan for a guided visit of the village and Queribus Castle. In the 13th century, during the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars, the Lord of Cucugnan participated in the Cathar resistance before he was forced to submit to King Louis IX. In 1495, the Spanish invaders destroyed Cucugnan and a new village grew up around the ruined medieval site. The Château de Quéribus, which sits 1.3 miles southeast of Cucugnan, is a notable historical monument and is sometimes regarded as the last stronghold of the followers of the Cathar faith after their defeat at Montségur in 1244. Quéribus was originally built to defend the border between France and Aragon. After lunch, we will proceed to Fontfroide for a guided tour of the abbey.
Surrounded by trees such as cypress, box tree and pine, this quiet abbey’s origins go back to the end of the 11th century. Having originally followed Benedictine rule, Fontfroide finally adopted the Cistercian order in the middle of the 12th century. As early as the beginning of the 13th century, Fontfroide had set up eight subsidiary abbeys. During the Crusade against the Albigensians, Fontfroide rose as a powerful stronghold of Catholic orthodoxy confronting the Cathar religion, which it fought against virulently. Two monks of Fontfroide stand out particularly at that time: Pierre de Castelnau and Raoul, who were appointed Papal Legates by Innocent III. After our visit we will head back to Montpelier for the night.