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Cities in the southwest France: history, tourist sites, activities.

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Eight suggestions for touring the southwest of France.

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Traditional dish recipes from southwest part of France.

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France in facts and figures! Interesting less known facts about France

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"Les Cathares - The Crusade Against the Grail" Suggested Travel Itinerary


Aguilar Castle

Cathar Castle
Aguilar Castle
One of the "five sons" of Carcassonne the castle was build at the beginning of 13th century.
During the cruisade was owned by the family de Termes - cathar defenders and vassals of the counts of Carcassonne.
It fell to the crusaders army lead by Simon de Montfort in 1210 and after that it became one of the royal fortresses guarding the frontier with Aragon....

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Plus Beaux Villages de France
Castelnau-de-Montmiral is another "bastide" in the department of Tarn. It is also a member of the "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France" organization.
The "albigeoise" bastide was built in 1222 by the Count of Toulouse, Raymond VII, a cathar sympathizer, during the times of the crusade against the Cathars.
Its name that comes from Occitan language - "Castelnau" means new castle and "mon mirailh" means watch point - reflects its location on the top of a promontory above the river Véze.
The little town has many interesting sites like its beautiful central square, Miramond House that dates from the 16th century, a beautiful statue of the Virgin located on a headland that allows a magnificent panorama of the surrounding...

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Catharism Museum and Hautpoul Village
The museum housed on the second level of the Tourism Office of Mazamet building is dedicated to the History of Occitan Catharism and through its descriptive panels, audio and video material gives the visitor a "crush" course on the heresy’s emergence, its customs and traditions, its main leaders and its decline during the Albigeoise Crusade. Unfortunately the museum - unlike the museum of Montsegur - lacks any artifacts. It is also a supporter of the school of thought that the Catharism was a variation of the Eastern European Bogomilism opinion contested by many scholars. It is however a "must" for anybody interested in Catharism.

The Hautpoul village situated at only several km from Mazamet can be the "practical" session after the...

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Cordes sur ciel

Listed as Great Site of Midi-Pyrenees
Cordes sur ciel
Cordes sur ciel was named until 1993 just Cordes. The change of name, to reflect the town's unusual location on the top of a 100 meters (330ft) high rocky outcrop, "cordes sur ciel" translates as "rope in the sky", was required by its inhabitants and decided by a local referendum.
In 2014 this 800 years old community was declared "village préféré des Français" or "favorite French village".
Cordes sur ciel was built between 1222 and 1229 on the order of Raimond VII, Count of Toulouse, in full swing of the Albigensian Crusade, during the period of occitane offensive that followed the death in 1218 of Simon of Montfort.
The main purpose of this "bastide" or "new town" was to give a...

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Episcopal City of Albi

UNESCO Heritage List
Episcopal City of Albi
The Cité épiscopale d’Albi - The Episcopal City - with its crown jewel Sainte Cecile Cathedral is listed in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 2010.
The complex includes the Cathedral, the Berbie Palace, the Saint Salvi Church, the Old Bridge and the old residential area of downtown Albi and covers a surface of 63 hectares.
Sainte Cecile Cathedral - 113 meters long, 35 meters wide and with a 78 meters high bell tower - is the biggest brick made Cathedral in the world.
Built between 1282 and 1480 and consecrated on the 23rd of April 1480 - the cathedral’s magnificent size stands for the triumph of the Catholic faith over the cathar heresy. It is a superb example of the "gothic meridional"...

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Foix Castle
"Touche-y si tu oses" - "Touch it if you dare!"
Gaston Fèbus, Count de Foix motto, an allusion to his impregnable castles, including Foix Castle .
The Castle of Foix dominates from its rocky promontory the town of Foix and the Valley of Ariege River. According to some legends a sanctuary dedicated to Abellio - the sun God of the Iberians - was situated on the castle cliff.
The first mentions of the existence of the castle date from the 10th century AD. In the 11th century the fortress became the power hub of the newly created Foix earldom.
During the centuries the castle that was never abandoned (for 2 centuries starting from the 18th century it was used as a...

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Fontfroide Abbey
Fontfroide Abbey is situated in the beautiful masif with the same name - small rolling hills not higher then 300 meters covered by meditereanan vegetation - close to the city of Narbonne.
The abbey initially founded in 1093 joined the Cistercian religious order in 1145 and kept on being expanded until the 14the century.
During the cruisade The Albigensian Crusade of the 13th century it was one of the headquarters of the Papal forces, under the leadership of the abbot Arnaud Amalric.
The abbey it is a wonderfully preserved monasic residence and is listed as Historic Monument by the French Ministry of Culture.
Finish your visit with a very nice easy hike to the Cross of Fontfroide...

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Lagrasse Abbey and Village
The medieval little village of Lagrasse is a proud member of « Les Plus beaux Villages de France « organization. It is situated in the department of Aude and is crossed by the little river l’Orbieu. The village’s name comes from the Occitan "grassa" that means fertile since it is surrounded by fertile vineyards and olive fields.
The village was formed around its Abbey. Later during the 13th century the newer fortified town was built on the other bank of the river l’Orbieu opposite from the Abbey.
During the Hundred Years War (1337- 1453) the fortifications of the town were rebuilt on the order of the Seneschal (the royal officer in charge of justice and control of...

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Lastours Castle

Cathar Castle
Lastours Castle
The Lastours Castle is a fortification with 4 towers: "Cabaret", "TourRegine", "Surdespine" and "Quertinheux". During the albigensian crusade it was a powerfull heretic stronghold under the leadership of its owner Pierre-Roger de Cabaret. The castle fell into the crusaders hands in March 1211.
Like all the medieval fortification the castle sits atop of steep rocky promontory, in this case above the small village of Lastours - population 167 - and the river L'Orbiel.
There are two legends that make the place even more interesting: the first one tells that Roland - the companion of Charlemagne made famous by "The Song of Roland" left his horse's shoe mark on one of the rocks, and the second one that claims that the grotte that...

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Les Jacobins

UNESCO Heritage List
Les Jacobins
The Jacobin Convent - "Les Jacobins" - is an Occitan gothic architecture jewel.
The convent was built in stages during the 13th and the 14th centuries by Dominican monks.
The first church of the monastery was erected between 1229 and 1234. It was a humble structure 46 meters long, 22 meters wide and only 13 meters high, in accordance with the Order's modest living creeds.
It is here that the first University of Toulouse was founded in 1229 by the Dominican monks.
Due to the popularity of the Dominican preachers - who with their dialogs and discussions played an important role during the crusade against the Cathars - the church became rapidly too small to accommodate the big number...

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Lombrives Cave
The Lombrives Cave belongs to a network of caves of the valley of Vicdessos in Ariege.
With its length of 40 km is recorded in The Guinness Book of Records for more than 20 years.
The cave combines outstanding speleothems with the mysterious aura that different legends have given it.
The cave that has 7 level, from which only 2 are accessible to the tourists, was inhabited- as attested by a multitude of artifacts found inside - during the prehistoric times.
In antiquity the legend wants that the lost love of the legendary hero Hercules, Pyréne found her death in the cave and was buried there - hence the name "Tombeau de Pyréne" given to a stalagmite.
In the middle ages the cave was...

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Cathar Village
Situated on the southern part of the Natural Park of Haute-Languedoc, at the foot-hills of Montainge Noire and only 1 hour drive from the Mediterranean sea, the little village of Minerve, population 122, is in the same time the historic capital of the Minervois region, an outstanding historic AND geologic site and a member of the "Most beautiful villages of France" - "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France" - community.
Built on a rocky bluff, Minerve, or Menerba in the local Occitan language, overlooks from an altitude of more than 60 meters (200 feet) the gorges of the Cesse and Brian Rivers.
The Minerve village region - "le Minervois" - was inhabited since the prehistoric times. The region, together with the whole...

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Montsegur Castle

Cathar Castle
Montsegur Castle
Richard Wagner has celebrated it in Parsifal:"In a remote country, far from your steps//A castle exists that is called Montsalvat" and according to the legend the cathar Grail - a stone that fell from the sky and illuminates the whole world - is still hidden in the bowels of the mountain the castle sits on the top of.
This legend was taken to its face value - and it is maybe true! - by the German writer Otto Rahn, who spend several years in the '30s in the search of the Grail. He did not find it but his travels and actions seem to be, according to some, the inspiration for the "Indiana Jones" movies by George Lucas!
Montsegur Castle is...

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Penne Village and Castle
The little medieval village of Penne - population just over 500 - lies on top of a hill overlooking the Aveyron River canyon. Looking like it will fall anytime from the tip of the hill are the ruins of the Penne Castle.
The first mention of a castle in the village of Penne dates from 825 AD and its first known senior was Geoffroi mentioned in 1096 in documents related to with Raymond, Count of Toulouse, whose vassal Geoffroi was.
The castle took part in all the conflicts that shook the southwest region of France during the middle ages.
During the Albigesian crusade, it's lord being a Cathar sympathizer, the castle was seized by Simon de Montfort, the crusade leader,...

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Peyrepertuse Castle - A Cathar Fortress
After Carcassonne the most important fortress Cathar and one of the five "sons" of Carcassonne fortress - along with Queribus, Puilaurens, Termes and Aguilar.
It is situated on a 800m high rocky promontory above the village of Duilhac - population 90 ! - and only around 5 Km from another cathar fortress - Queribuss. On a clear day from its highest point you can see the Mediterranean see. It is easily accessible.
During the crusade the castle is owned by the heretic sympathizer Guillaume de Peyrepertuse. The castle falls into the crusaders hands on the 16th of November 1240 and becomes a border protection stronghold....

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Puilaurens Castle - A Cathar Fortress
Puilaurens Castle is perched on a 700 meter high rock above the villages of Lapradelle and Puilaurens at the border between Aude and Pyrenees-Orientales departments.
It is France's most southern fortified castle.
After the fall of Monsegur many cathars sought refuge in other castles among them Puilaurens. The castle was one of the last to fall into cathare cruisaders hands. After the cuisade when Languedoc became a part of the French kingdom the castle became a fortification that ensured the protection of the border with the neighboring Spain.
After the treaty of 1679 when Rousillon - the region in which it is situated - was anexed to the French Crown, the castle lost its strategic importance....

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Queribus Castle - A Cathar Fortress
Queribus Castle is considered the last stonghold of the cathare resistence.
Its fall in 1255 marks the end of the Crusade against the cathars.
The castle is situated on a 729 meter high rock above the picturesque village of Cucugnan.
From this isolated pointy promontory the castle surveys the Languedoc plains, the Alberes massif and further the Mediterranean sea.It is considered to be one of the "Five Sons of Carcassone" along with Termes, Puilaurens, Peyrepertuse and Aguilar the famous line of five strategically placed castles that was protecting the french border with Spain - until 1659 when the border was moved after the "Treaty of the Pyrenees" more south.
The castle still preserves many vestiges of the times when it...

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Saint Dominic House
Saint Dominic (or Dominique) founder of the "Order of the Preachers" more known under the name the Dominican Order, lived in Toulouse during different time periods between 1210 and 1216.
His first stay in Toulouse, between April 1210 and May 1211, was actually the longest and was prompted by the help that Fulk, bishop of Toulouse and a friend of Dominique's, needed in order to fight the spread of catharism.
Actually Saint Dominique first arrived in the region that is now the south west of France in 1206 when, being on his way to his native Spain from a trip to Danemark and encountering the Catharism phenomenon, this new heresy that was taking Languedoc by storm, decided to remain here....

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Saint Nazaire Cathedral
Saint Nazaire Cathedral of Béziers stands on the site of an old church destroyed by the fire on the 22nd of July 1209 when the whole city is burned down by the cathar crusaders led by Simon de Montfort.
The Cathedral perched on a hill above Orb river is visible from a long distance and is a symbol of the city. It was built starting in 1215 and its architecture is typical of the "Gothic Méditerranéen" style.
The Cathedral interior is ornate with sculptures, murals and stained glass dating from as early as 13th century.
The western side flanked by two towers has an exceptional 10 meters in diameter rosette....

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Saissac Castle

Cathar Castle
Saissac Castle
Saissac cathat castle is located almost in the center of the Saissac town.
Being built around 900 AD it is the oldest of the Cathar castle.
In a document dating from year 960 the castle is donated by the bishop of Toulouse to the Count of Carcassonne.
Just before the Cathar Crusade the castle was in the property of Bertrand de Saissac (1140-1202) a protector of the heretics. Bertrand de Saissac was also the tutor of Raimond Roger de Trencavel at the time heir to the viscounty of Carcassonne.
At the beginning of the crusade the Lords of Saissac surrender to the armies of Simon de Montfort and that triggers the shared possession of the castle and of the viscounty’s lands...

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Termes Castle

Cathar Castle
Termes Castle
The Termes Castle was the place of the longest siege during the Crusade against the Cathars. The siege that was lead by Simon de Montfort lasted from August until 23rd of November 1210 and was documented in detail by Pierre des Vaux de Cernay, who wrote "Historia Albigensis" in 1212.
After the Crusade the castle becomes a French frontier fortification, one of the so called "5 sons of Carcassonne", guarding the Spanish border.
The Castle is situated on top of a hill overlooking the Termes village, a beautiful tiny - population 54 - community. The walk from the village to the castle takes around 15 minutes and is easier then it looks!...

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The Fortified City of Carcassonne

UNESCO Heritage List, Grand Site de France
The Fortified City of Carcassonne
Carcassonne citadel "Cité de Carcassonne" is the crown jewel of the southwest of France medieval fortified towns. It is the real fortress that Disneyland's or any other amusement park's castles (or the Excalibur casino in Las Vegas!) take as model. It belongs to UNESCO's World Heritage list since 1997.
Standing on a hilltop overlooking to the north the Aude river and to the south the vineyards of the Languedoc region, the "Cité of Carcassonne" is, with its 3kms of fortified walls and 52 towers, the largest Middle Ages fortified town of Europe.
The oldest traces of human settlement in the region date to about 600BC. During the time of the Roman occupation of Gaul (that territory that included modern France)...

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The hill-top village of Rennes-le-Château
A reader interested in a book making a reference to Rennes le Château will have a hard time choosing among the more then 100 books offered only by on this subject. Of course the best known are: "The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail" by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, "The Sion Revelations, Inside the Shadowy World of Europe's Secret Masters" by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, for the more pragmatic Umberto Eco's "Foucault's Pendulum" and of course Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" - that even though does not make any direct reference to the village it is still related to it by the names of some key character names like Jacques Sauniere and a man called...

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The Maurand House
While not exactly a cathar tourist attraction like the cathar castles or the monuments that celebrate the victory over Catharism, the Maurand House is an interesting building even only because of its age: it was built in the 12th century and with some modification is not only still standing but is now the home of the Graduate School of Broadcasting.
The house was in the 12th century the property of Peyre Maurand a rich dignitary of Toulouse that was in the same time one of the leaders of the local cathars.
During the years of cathar persecution Peyre Maurand is forced to renounce his religion and to embrace Catholicism.
The history does not record if he remained Catholic for the rest of his...

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The village  of Saint Felix de Lauragais
Situated between Toulouse and Carcassone, Saint Felix de Lauragais is a small village - population 1354 - that offers from its highest point at 339m altitude an exceptional panorama of Languedoc and Midi-Pyrenees regions from "Montagne Noir" all the way to the Pyrenean Mountains, panorama that includes no less then 7 departments.
Like many old villages of France Saint Felix de Lauragais is a place where layers of history are heaped one on top of the other.
The village was inhabited since Neolithic times and was through the ages a Roman camp, a Visigothic fortress, a bastide.
It is here that the first Cathare Council took place in 1167. The council, attended by Nicetas,...

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The village of Avignonet-Lauragais
Avignonet-Lauragais is a small village -population a little over 1000 –situated in the department of Haute Garonne not far from the "Autoroute des Deux Mers" that links Toulouse to Carcassonne to Narbonne. It is also a village situated on the banks of the Canal du Midi. The site of the village was inhabited since 8,000 BC.
Arguably the most important event in Avignonet-Lauragais's history took place in 1242, during the last years of the crusade against the Cathars, when in May of that year the Inquisition set up a tribunal here. The village was at the time the turf of Raymond d’Alfaro one of the officers of Raymond VII Count of Toulouse, a known cathar supporter.
During the night of May 12,...

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The village of Bruniquel
When coming from the south road towards Bruniquel its castle hanging over the cliff above Aveyron River will immediately draw your attention
Bruniquel’s history goes back to the prehistoric times.
The vestiges that were recently discovered in the cave Pouxets, attest that the location was inhabited since the Lower Paleolithic.
During the Crusade against the Cathars the village, already equipped with its first protection wall since the 12th century, and whose signor was Baudoin the half-brother of the Earl of Toulouse and a cathar sympathiser, houses the Occitan troubadour Guillaume de Tudèle who leaves up a "poem-reportage" about this war.
During the Hundred Year War, in 1355, the city acquires its second fortified wall.
In the late 15th century the village is divided...

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The village of Puycelsi

Plus Beaux Villages de France
The village of Puycelsi
The name Puycelsi comes from the roman fortification - whose remains still exist - close to hill the village is located now: Celsium Podium, which means a high platform.
It is a member of "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France" family.
Puycelsi's more recent history goes back to 1180 when the abbot Pierre d’Aurillac hands over the village to Raymond V, Count of Toulouse, who fortifies the place. At the beginning of the Crusade against the Cathars the village is known to be a cathar stronghold.
The crusaders army lead by Simon de Montfort in 1211 and later in 1213 by his brother Guy de Montfort besiege the fort twice without conquering it.
In 1229 at the Treaty of Meaux...

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Villerouge-Termenés Castle
Situated in the heart of the village of Villerouge Termenès the castle that bears the same name is a wonderful example of the medieval military architecture of the Corbiére region. The castle was probably built in the middle of the 13th century on the site of an older one. From its foundation until the French Revolution the castle belonged to the powerful Archbishop of Narbonne.
The castle now presents an very interesting audio visual exhibition that traces the life of the village in the 14th century.
The castle is intimately related with the history of the Catharism. It is in its central court that one of the last "Perfecti", Guilhelm Bélibaste, was burnt at stake on the 24th of August 1321.

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