In the early thirteenth century Simon de Montfort rode through the towns and villages of southwestern France at the behest of the Pope and carved a kingdom for himself out of the grandiose scenery of the Languedoc.
What had started as a crusade against the Cathar heresy became a bloody attempt to lay claim to territory and then defend it from local rulers, men who had nurtured a civilization of troubadours and poets only to see themselves dispossessed and exiled from their lands and castles. The people of the Languedoc, and the strange heretics that we now know as the Cathars, took to the mountain fastnesses in the face of the French troops and the Inquisition. They built some of Europe’s most spectacularly sited and impregnable fortresses high against the skyline from where they continued to make journeys through the countryside preaching their brand of Christianity. Eventually they would be forced even from these extraordinary places, leaving behind skeletons of white stone stark against the azure sky. Legends abound concerning their enormous wealth, salted away under one of these strongholds or smuggled out to sympathizers. Some claim the true grail is among the hidden treasure.
Our journey takes us to many of these dramatic castles: Montségur, the centre of Catharism for many years and scene of its most important siege; Puylaurens, tucked away in the heart of the mountains; the twin castles of Quéribus and Peyrepetuse. Walking from the deep forest we slowly leave behind the higher wooded slopes with their quiet villages to cross the garrigue and the vineyards of Corbières and Fitou to the Mediterranean. As the wines get stronger and darker and the vegetation thins and lightens so the food too turns from the game and trout of the hills and becomes more influenced by the shining sea ahead.