Cathar Country – Part One

Inspired by the summer weather and end of the SNCF strike, I took the train towards Spain today to explore a small part of the pays cathare, a dramatically beautiful area dotted with ruined castles and villages that survived the Albigensian Crusade in the early 13th century. It is rough, dry country, and at least today, windy as hell. But there are plenty of small rivers flowing through the area that help lush up the place a bit, not to mention feed the many decent vineyards of the region.

For the first part of my ride I was on large, nasty ‘red’ roads, that I couldn’t seem to avoid, but after 15 km or so I entered officially into Corbieres, at aptly named Portel-des-Corbières.

And it really was a door to a different world. Immediately I lost the flatness of the plains and entered into a tiny river gorge, along which were signs that spring is really here to stick this time. Vines are one the last things to sprout leaves here.

And shortly after, a sign to let me know I hadn’t taken a wrong turn.

Feeling like my knee would survive a long ride, I took a 14 km detour to Durban-Corbières to see its 12th century chateau (or what’s left of it) that was built on an earlier Roman foundation.

The Cathars, by the way, were a religious order that believed in God (or two), but had an aversion to power and material riches. It was a popular movement in Languedoc, where I live, and threatened the hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church – hence the crusade and many massacres that took place – often in or around the castles that remain till today.

But back to the ride. Here is a nice, lonely stretch of road, heading north in the direction of Carcassonne.

I really have to realize how wide my wide angle is, I think. I do this type of thing way too much. Here is Chateau Beauregarde (I think. I couldn’t find it online, so maybe I made up that name…), but you’ll have to look closely – it’s pretty small.

Finally, the Abbey of Fontfroide, which I thought better to save for Shoko, so I didn’t pay the admission price. This was a very powerful monastery way back when and one of its monks became famous for being the catalyst for the crusade mentioned above. The murder of Pierre de Castelnau was the spark the Church needed.

Here’s the front (free) area of the abbey.

And one last ruin for the road. I passed this one near Narbonne, my destination for the day. And that was it. 70 km, nearly 3 hours on the train, and I was still back in time to catch the end of Liege-Bastogne-Liege…I wish all Sundays could be like this.


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3 thoughts on “Cathar Country – Part One

  1. Hi, I’m so glad I’ve found your blog. We’re a cycling family too, living in Creuse. It’s fascinating to read about your rides. Our scenery isn’t quite as stunning as yours, but beautiful in a less dramatic way. Your photos are wonderful.
    Kindest wishes,
    Yours in blogging and cycling,
    Stephanie

  2. I’m not sure, but based on the inscriptions on that old church up there, I think Pierre de Castelnau was from Castelnau-le-Lez and somehow affiliated with that church.

    Man, I’m envying you that ride! I had visitors last week, Americans marooned by the volcano, but we never did manage to rent a car and get out into the countryside, which must be amazing this time of year!

  3. I was wondering the same thing when I read about him way back. I’m sure there’s a way to find out, but can’t be bothered at the moment.

    And yes, the countryside is amazing. Really lush and green at the moment. I am telling myself it’s because of all the rain we had this winter, but may be it’s like this every year. Beautiful though.

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