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Cathar castles of France’s Languedoc

Today a poignantly romantic series of ruins, the Cathar castles of France’s Languedoc were once the focus of bitter battles between radical Christian rebels and the established Catholic church.

As the focus of a cultural tour, the Languedoc is bursting with riches: the Cathar castles nestle close to ancient Roman roads and ruins - as well offering diversions such as the Canal du Midi and sandy beaches rated among the finest in France.

The ancient castles are perched high on rocky outcrops and fortified with soaring walls of stone. The incredible efforts made to build them shows how important the area once was, which makes their current ruined state all the more moving to see.

The Cathars - religious revolutionaries - travelled from Persia, through the Byzantine Empire, the Balkans and Italy to Western Europe. They found a home in the Languedoc but the Catholic Church was furious about their teachings, seeing them as heretics. After mainstream clerics failed to convert them, Pope Innocent III launched a full scale crusade.

The historical stories may be bloody but today, the land around the Cathar castles is a hauntingly beautiful region - perfect for anyone wanting to escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

Barcelona

If you fancy a few days in Barcelona, the city would be a great starting point for a wonderfully scenic drive to the Spanish border