Cathar Country – Mediaeval Cities & the Best Cathar Castles to Visit

Best cathar castles to visit Carcassonne

The Languedoc is famously known as Cathar country and consequently, you can easily reach some of the best Cathar castles to visit from the Château de Névian. There are also a number of other important sites in Cathar history close by.

The Cathars were a mediaeval religious sect that rejected the teachings and challenged the authority of the Catholic Church. They were prominent in the Languedoc between the 12th and 14th Centuries. Cathars believed in the dignity of manual labour and the virtue of living simply without possessions. They rejected the priesthood and largely believed in equality between the sexes. They also believed in reincarnation and vegetarianism and encouraged celibacy. Neither did they object to contraception, suicide or euthanasia on moral grounds.

 Catharism took hold in this part of southern France. By the 13th Century, it was the dominant religion in the Languedoc. The Catholic Church regarded the Cathars as heretical. From 1208 onwards the Catholic Church waged a brutal crusade against the Cathars in the Languedoc area. Historians estimate nearly half a million men, women and children were massacred. After this, there was persecution of the Jews and other minorities who had previously lived peacefully in the Languedoc for years.

Beziers site of a siege of a Cathar Castle


Béziers was the site of a notorious siege turned massacre ordered by Arnaud-Amaury, the Cistercian Abbot leading the Church’s forces. He famously said, when asked how to tell between heretics and believers, “Kill them all, the Lord knows who are His” Béziers was burned to the ground and 20,000 inhabitants were killed. As a result, there are no remains of the Cathar castle that once stood here.

Quéribus one of the best Cathar castles in France


One of the best Cathar castles to visit in the area is Quéribus. It perches on top of an isolated peak – the highest overlooking the surrounding countryside. You can visit what’s left of what was the last Cathar stronghold. Cathar survivors retreated here after the fall of the Chateau of Montsegur in 1244. In 1255 a French army was sent to deal with them but the Cathars slipped away across the border. Despite the castle’s elevation, visitors can drive almost right up to the ruins. However, you have to walk the last few hundred metres which are very steep. The drive from the chateau is an hour and a quarter cross country, right through the heart of the Corbieres. If you are taking a day trip to Quéribus, combine it with a visit to the mediaeval town of Lagrasse.


Nevian is 30 minutes drive from one of the most famous (and arguably the best) Cathar castles to visit – Carcassonne. The mediaeval city of Carcassonne is one of the best known visitor attractions in the Languedoc. It’s an easy drive along the Autoroute to Carcassonne. But we prefer to take the quieter national road which roughly follows the passage of the Canal du Midi. The canal weaves through the plain that lies between the Black Mountains of the Minervois and the hills of the Corbières. En route you will pass by vineyards and some charming villages, their stone houses tumbling down the hillsides either side of you. It is a picturesque route and doesn’t add much more than fifteen or twenty minutes to your journey if you have the time. 

Carcassonne accommodation

Most people visit Carcassonne for Le Cite, the Citadel that is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site and famously featured in the film Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves. Inside the gates of the walled city, you will step back in time as you wander through its narrow, cobbled streets or climb its ramparts. During the Summer there are often costumed performances which add to the atmosphere, but unfortunately, the crowds will leave you in no doubt that you are visiting a tourist attraction. Try to visit early in the day to avoid the worst of the crowds, or better still, in the off-season when you are able to soak up more of the atmosphere.    


Minerve, which is just half an hour’s drive from Chateau Nevian, was another site of a siege during the Crusades against the Cathars in the early 13th Century. It was led by the French nobleman, Simon de Montfort. He allowed soldiers and townspeople who were Catholic or renounced the faith to go free. However, the majority who would not renounce their faith – around 140 – were burnt at the stake. Minerve is surrounded by steep gorges and was only taken through heavy bombardment by the attacking forces.

Minerve in Cathar castle country

Today, very little remains of the original Cathar castle – you can see part of one remaining wall. However, it is worth a trip simply to enjoy one of the plus beaux villages in France and wander through the narrow mediaeval streets and well-preserved architecture of the town. The town is situated in a  dramatic natural landscape with caves and gorges and is a good spot for hiking.