Wine and Castles

In association with Vin en Vacance

Indulge yourself with the ultimate single-day cultural experience in the South of France by blending some of the Roussillon’s most intriguing wine varieties with a drive through breath-taking scenery and escorted tours of stunning castles that played central roles in the region’s tumultuous history of religious crusading and siege warfare.

Passing the lagoons that divide one of Europe’s most celebrated wine-producing regions from the Mediterranean Sea, we leave the fast roads and traffic behind to reach the village of Maury nestling in the Agly Valley. Here we visit one of the finest producers of Côtes de Roussillon wines as well as delicious sweet Maury, the chefs’ choice for pairing with chocolate.  After enjoying a private tour of the cellar, where we will learn how distinctive wines have been produced in the region for scores of generations, we will take a look at the impressive French Oak barrel room and finish off with a fabulous wine tasting of the Côtes de Roussillon red and white wines plus the delicious Maury. Possibly some of the most interesting wines in this part of the South of France.

This informative visit is followed by a short drive to little Village of Cucugnan, made famous by Alphonse Daudet in his book Letters from my Windmill (published in 1869), where he sketched not only images of the area’s compelling landscape but colorful observations on the human condition. You and other members of the small party will have an opportunity to explore your own newly acquired geographical, vinicultural and historical insights over lunch at an excellent Auberge that serves traditional local dishes.

After lunch we plunge deep into history as we drive to Château Quéribus, sometimes regarded as the last stronghold of the mysterious Cathars, who were mercilessly hunted down by Papal Crusaders and Inquisitors beginning in the 13th Century. James will use his extensive understanding of early Christian history to illuminate who the Cathars were, what they represented and why the Vatican was determined to destroy them and their teachings.

Their tragic story, as told in most history books, ended in 1244 with the fall of Montségur, the sect’s best-known place of retreat. But, as James will explain, survivors fled to this remote site because it sits atop the highest peak for miles around. Today, you can either enjoy the view from the base or join James in a semi-strenuous hike to the castle itself.

When visited in the company if a knowledgeable guide like James, this mountain-top stronghold offers a lesson in stone on how to build a nearly impregnable fortress, including a steep and narrow entrance and an abundance of arrow slits covering the approach. Besieged in 1255, where better to learn about the realities of siege warfare, castle architecture and medieval diplomacy?

Throughout this and other phases of the tour, James will explain essential facts about Cathar theology and the perceived threat it posed to the Vatican as well as the tangled political context, involving such actors as the Viscount of Carcassonne and the Kings of France and Aragon, in which these issues were played out.  

If excellent wine, spectacular scenery, mysterious religious traditions, mountain-top castles and erudite conversation sound like the ingredients of a day well spent, plan to spend a day with Vin en Vacance’s Cathar Castles & Roussillon Wines Tour.

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