An old textile mill serves as the entrance to the grounds of the four ruined castles of Lastours, which stand proud from the bare, rocky landscape between the Orbiel and Gresillou valleys. The four castles seen today are Cabaret, Surdespines (also called Fleur d’Espine), Quertinheux, and Tour Regine although only the first three were in existence at the time of the Albigensian Crusade. Tour Regine was built around 1260.

As previously described it was to Cabaret a line of a hundred men went from Bram, their faces disfigured by the Holy Catholic soldiers of Christ carrying out what they described as “God’s Business”. Cabaret, Surdespine, and Quertinheux were the northernmost of the Cathar castles and even today, if you arrive early enough, it’s still possible to feel the remoteness of these castles on a river bend in the mist-shrouded hills. Some of the paths to the individual castles are steep and the steps are uneven, but once I entered each of the castles I felt an eeriness I felt nowhere else, as though the stones still felt sadness about the plight of the people who sheltered within those walls 800 years previously. Everyone who was there was in constant fear for their lives even though the site was conducive to repelling a siege.

In March 1211, a few months after the fall of Termes, a new crusader army arrived at Carcassonne. Pierre-Roger de Cabaret feared he could not withstand a siege like that of Termes. Taking a massive risk he released his prisoner Bouchard de Marly, gave him fine clothes, and his castle at Cabaret.

By 1223 the position had changed significantly and the crusaders were more hated than ever. Pierre-Roger took back his property and once again Cabaret, Surdespine and Quertinheux became the foremost centre of resistance against the French invaders. The Lords of Lastours lead resistance to the Crusaders between 1220 and 1229, a period known as the Guerre de Cabaret. The Cathar bishop of Carcassonne, Pierre Isarn, was given refuge here until 1226 and it became the seat of his bishopric.

In 1227, the castles were again besieged, unsuccessfully, this time by Humbert de Beaujeu during the Guerre de Cabaret. After the Council of Toulouse in 1229 the Lords of Cabaret were obliged to abandon their stronghold. It was then confiscated by Humbert.

For a tremendous view of the four castles, I headed to the viewpoint on the opposite side of the Gresillou Valley where their majestic defensive position could be truly appreciated.

This extract is from the book Travels through History : France by Julian Worker