Cathar Castles and Catalan Cathedrals
Discover the fascinating ancient Catalan and Cathar cultures in the picturesque regions straddling the eastern Pyrenees Mountains of France and Spain. Travel through landscapes of rugged beauty to explore outstanding examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, exemplified in magnificent cathedrals, abbeys, monasteries and fortifications. These extraordinary architectural achievements reflect the great religious fervour and growing wealth of many regional communities during the Medieval era.
Explore Toulouse, before driving through France’s Cathar country visiting imposing castles, including Carcassonne and the charming cities of Albi and Narbonne. Then, enjoy the traditional Catalan cities of Perpignan, Girona and Barcelona and conclude in idyllic Mallorca, the largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands.
This tour is part of the World Art Tours program organised by the Art Gallery Society of NSW in partnership with Renaissance Tours.
Depart Australia or New Zealand on suggested Qantas / Iberia flights to Toulouse. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements.
Arrive in Toulouse in the afternoon (if travelling on suggested flights) and make your way to the hotel for check-in.
At 19:30 join Brian and fellow travellers for a welcome briefing followed by a special welcome dinner.
Following a morning talk by Brian, explore Toulouse, the thriving capital of the Languedoc region in the 12th and 13th centuries. It was here that Catharism, a fiercely independent religious sect, rejected the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.
Visit the Church of the Jacobins, constructed in 1230 by the Dominican friars, an order founded in 1216 to preach against the ‘Cathar heresy’.
After lunch, continue to Hotel Assézat, a 16th century hotel belonging to a former capitoul, a member of the ruling elite. The fine brick and stone Renaissance palace holds an interesting collection of paintings by old and modern masters, including Tintoretto and Canaletto, and Monet, Pissarro, Gauguin and Bonnard.
Discover Les Abattoirs, the city’s new contemporary art gallery, and view the impressive collection of artworks encompassing paintings, sculpture and multi-media installations.
Explore the Musée des Augustins to view the outstanding collection of Romanesque and Gothic sculpture, much of it saved from now-destroyed Toulouse churches.
Visit the Basilica of Saint Sernin, begun in 1080 to accommodate masses of pilgrims making the Camino de Santiago. The imposing basilica is the largest Romanesque church in France.
After lunch, visit the historic Capitole precinct, the site of the city’s government since the 12th century and enjoy free time to stroll through the ‘Pink City’.
After a talk by Brian in the morning, journey into the Languedoc region for a day at Albi. Albi was a major centre of Catharism, giving its name to the so-called ‘Albigensian heresy’ and the papal crusade to suppress it.
Visit the Cathedral of St Cecilia, a remarkable Gothic cathedral, begun c. 1280.
After lunch in town, explore the 13th century Palais de la Berbie, a fascinating building which houses the Musée Toulouse Lautrec. The museum holds a major collection of artwork by this leading Impressionist artist, who was born in Albi. Afterwards, wander through the gardens with panoramic views over the city and the River Tarn.
This morning, depart Toulouse and drive to Carcassonne. The spectacular fortified city of Carcassonne was once a stronghold of the Cathars, who were tolerated and protected by the Viscount of Carcassonne in his lands. Perched on a cliff promontory, its massive defences encircle the castle, ancient streets and a fine Gothic cathedral. The fortress-town of Carcassonne was restored to its almost too perfect condition in 1844.
Enjoy the traditional dish cassoulet for lunch and continue to Narbonne. While in this region see the Canal du Midi. Commenced during the reign of Louis XIV, the canal was a brilliant piece of engineering that linked the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.
In the late afternoon, arrive in the charming city of Narbonne. The city was the capital of Rome’s first colony in Gaul, Gallia Narbonensis, a thriving port city in Classical times and again during the Medieval period.
Explore the enormous Gothic Cathedral of Saints Justus and Pastor. The cathedral, linked to the Palace of the Archbishops with its forty-metre keep, forms a massive landmark that dominates the old town. Visit the ancient Roman Horreum, an unusual underground grain store and see the attractive tree-lined Canal de la Robine.
In the morning, check out from the hotel and travel though the countryside to visit Fontfroide Abbey, a sumptuous Cistercian complex dating from the 12th century. During the Albigensian Crusade, the abbey was established as a Catholic bastion against Catharism.
Discover two remarkable castles which originally offered refuge to the Cathars, but were no match for the Pope’s brutal military campaign, which began in 1208 and ended in 1244 with the annihilation of the Cathar communities.
Visit the ruined castle of Termes, built on a promontory. Despite its deep ravines on three sides, the castle was defeated after a four-month siege, considered the hardest siege of the Albigensian Crusade. View Queribus Castle, the last stronghold of Cathar resistance holding out until 1255.
Arrive in Perpignan in the late afternoon.
Perpignan has been an important centre of Catalan culture since the 13th century.
Visit the Palace of the Kings of Mallorca. Although later walls surround it now, the two-storey palace and its impressive arcaded courtyard date from the 13th century. The sophistication and fine detailing on this architecture show Mudéjar or Spanish-Moorish influences.
Enjoy a walking tour of the old city of Perpignan and visit the Catalan Church of St James. Walk through the maze of streets in the Arab and Romani Quarter on the way to the 14th century Gothic Cathedral of St John the Baptist with its elaborate Catalan altarpieces. Continue to Place de la Loge, the heart of the old town. Admire the Gothic Loge de Mer, an interesting building designed to hold the city’s stock exchange and a maritime court. The Loge sits next to the Hotel de Ville (town hall) and the 15th century Palais de la Deputation, once the parliament of Roussillon. At the end of the tour, view the 14th century city gateway ‘Le Castillet’.
In the afternoon, visit the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Michel de Cuxa outside Perpignan. This abbey is an excellent example of Romanesque architecture, which often featured solid churches, abbeys and monasteries, constructed in cities as well as and remote mountain locations. These religious structures reflect the strength of religious faith and growing wealth of local Christian communities.
Drive along the last stretch of French coastline before reaching Spain, known as the Côte Vermeille. The area has attractive seaside villages such as the pretty village of Collioure set on a lovely bay. Fauvist artists Henri Matisse and André Derain experimented with vivid colour in landscapes painted here. Visit the Château Royal founded by the Templars in the 12th century and modified by the kings of Mallorca and Aragon in the 14th century.
After crossing the border, arrive in the Spanish town of Figueres to visit the Teatre Museu Dalì. The renowned Surrealist artist was born in Figueres and, later in life, returned there to create this remarkable museum dedicated to his art and life; Dalì and his wife Gala are buried under the stage.
Continue to Girona, considered the centre of Catalan culture.
After a morning talk by Brian, visit the fascinating historic old town of Girona. The fortified city was built and re-built by the Iberians, the Romans and the Catalans. Enjoy a walking tour and wander the historic streets in the old town. Visit the imposing cathedral, including its Tesoro (Treasury), reached by a great stairway.
Continue to the impressive and well-maintained Jewish Quarter. Girona’s Jewish population was the second largest in Catalonia, after Barcelona. Before lunch, visit the Banys Arabs (Arab Baths)
The remainder of the afternoon and the evening are at leisure to continue your exploration of Girona at your own pace.
Check out from the hotel and journey to the nearby town of Besalú to view the fortified Mediaeval bridge, the ancient city and fortifications, and the Romanesque church of St Peter.
Continue to the Monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll, a splendid Romanesque achievement from the 9th century.
In the afternoon, continue to the greatest Catalan city (and the second largest in Spain), Barcelona.
The focus this afternoon is on Antoni Gaudì, Catalan’s and Spain’s most celebrated architect. Discover remarkable Art Nouveau architecture (known as ‘Modernisme’ in Catalonia, of which Gaudì was a leading exponent. Visit his Casa Milà, known locally as La Pedrera (Catalan for ‘The Quarry’) and Casa Batlló.
Begin the day at Park Guell, an extraordinary park designed by Gaudì as a modern garden suburb for the middle class. Explore Gaudì’s greatest work, the massive unfinished Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Church of the Holy Family), a Catholic church begun in 1882 and still under construction.
After lunch, visit the Museu National d’Art de Catalunya, to view the Romanesque and Gothic art collections, and then continue to Fundacio Joan Mirò, dedicated to the renowned Barcelona-born abstract artist Joan Mirò.
Continue your exploration of Barcelona with a morning walking tour in the heart of the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), where much of the city’s ancient and Medieval architecture is contained within a few blocks, including the Roman wall and gateway, the Cathedral and Palau de la Generalitat. Stroll along the famous boulevard Las Ramblas.
After lunch in a local restaurant, visit the celebrated Museu Picasso dedicated to the towering genius of twentieth century art, Pablo Picasso. This modern museum is housed in five Catalan-Gothic-style palaus (palaces) dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, located in the Barri Gotic district.
The afternoon is at leisure to further explore Barcelona.
In the morning, check out from the hotel and transfer to Barcelona Domestic Airport for a flight to Palma de Mallorca (included in tour price).
Explore the city of Palma de Mallorca, the most important city on the Balearic Islands. Between 1262 and 1349, the short-lived Kingdom of Mallorca was established by King James I of Aragon after the islands were captured from the Moors in 1229. The kingdom united the Balearic Islands with mainland Roussillon, Perpignan and Montpellier in present-day France. Visit Palma’s historic Cathedral of St Mary, La Llotja, a unique 15th century Gothic commodities exchange, and see the city’s impressive 15th and 16th century Italianate mansions.
In the afternoon, enjoy some free time before an afternoon talk by Brian. Dinner tonight is at a traditional local restaurant.
Today, travel outside Palma and enjoy an orientation tour of the Island of Mallorca, including La Costa Rocosa (the Rocky Coast) from Palma to Alcúdia on Mallorca’s west coast. Visit the old village of Sóller located in a valley famous for its delicious oranges, and the charming natural port of Sóller.
Enjoy a delightful sightseeing ride through the Sierra de Tramuntana mountain range and stop in Deià for lunch.
Continue to Valldemosa and stroll through the peaceful cobbled streets. Visit the ancient monastery and the famous house of Frédéric Chopin before returning to Palma.
This morning, visit the Museu Fundacion Juan March, which contains works from the leading Catalan and Spanish avant garde artists of the 20th century, including Pablo Picasso, Joan Mirò and Salvador Dalì. Part of the collection is also dedicated to contemporary art, introducing innovative art movements and a new generation of Catalan and artists.
In the afternoon, drive north to the Medieval town of Alcúdia. Discover the neo-Gothic Church of St James before exploring the streets and Medieval walls of the old town.
Return to Palma in the afternoon. This evening, celebrate the conclusion of the tour with a special farewell dinner with Brian and fellow travellers.
Tour arrangements conclude after breakfast.
Make your way to Mallorca Airport for suggested Air Europa / Qantas flights to Australia or New Zealand. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including any extra nights’ accommodation, either before or after the tour.
*Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.
Final payment due
11 March 2019
Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness level definitions.
Australian and New Zealand passport holders do not require visas to visit France or Spain.
Qantas, Iberia, Air Europa
Please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for current airfares and flight reservations.
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in centrally located 4-star hotels with breakfast daily (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L = Lunch, D = Dinner) including wine
- Economy Class flight from Barcelona to Palma de Mallorca (23kg luggage allowance)
- Comprehensive sightseeing, including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Transportation throughout on comfortable, air-conditioned coaches
- Talks with your tour leader, Brian Ladd
- Gratuities for local guides and drivers
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person)
Tour price does not include
- International airfares (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Airport/hotel transfers on arrival and departure
- Items of a personal nature (e.g. telephone, laundry, mini-bar, taxis etc.)
- Airport porterage
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
Toulouse – Grand Hotel de l’Opéra ****
Narbonne – Clarion Suites Narbonne Île du Gua ***
Perpignan – Villa Duflot ****
Girona – Hotel Ciutat de Girona ****
Barcelona – Hotel Granados 83 ****
Palma de Mallorca – Nakar Hotel ****
NB. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.