Andorra & Occitania
History, rural traditions and natural wonders abound in this pastoral, romantic and remote part of Europe. Dr Martin Locker, a Pyrenean specialist, reveals the picturesque Cathar castles, Carolingian heritage and prehistoric cave art of the hidden valleys and glistening peaks of the Pyrenees and the Languedoc.
- The spectacular mountain scenery of the Pyrenees.
- The atmospheric castles of the Cathar Knights.
- The rural charm and Romanesque heritage of Andorra.
- The Palaeolithic cave paintings of the Grotte de Niaux.
- Legendary medieval sites, including Monsegur and Carcassonne.
The mountain landscapes of the Pyrenees retain a wild mystique, rugged beauty and proud cultural identity reaching deep into prehistory. These Catalan and Occitan lands have long been a place of refuge, a natural border between nations, and a stronghold of enduring traditions and legends. It is said that Andorra was founded by Charlemagne himself, and each village has a Romanesque church at its heart. Among the ancient vineyards of the Languedoc dramatically-sited castles are romantic reminders of a time that spawned the spirituality of the Cathar knights, the literature of the Troubadours and the exploits of the Albigensian Crusaders.
See the ‘Itinerary’ tab for full itinerary details.
Dates & Prices:
- 05 – 14 September 2021. Only £1875. Last few places.
- 24 June to 03 July 2022. Early booking price only £1875. Booking Open.
Single supplement £360. Reserve your place early for the lowest prices.
- Nine nights’ accommodation with one night in Toulouse, three in Couiza, three in Andorra, and two in Foix.
- Charming hotels, including a converted French Chateau (see ‘Hotels’ tab above).
- All breakfasts and six evening meals, with two nights free to enjoy local restaurants.
- Daily excursions with all transport, entrances and guiding.
- Airport transfers in France (see ‘Flights’ tab above).
- Flexible flight arrangements.
- 100% TTA financial guarantee.
Please be aware that a good level of mobility and reasonable fitness are required for this tour. Whilst there are no very long or difficult walks, the castles are situated on hilltops and can only be reached by uphill walks of up to 30 minutes, sometimes over uneven, steep ground and with steps. Please note also that the hotel in Couiza is a converted chateau and historic building and does not have a lift.
Flights and Extended Stays
Flights are added on a personal basis rather than included in the tour price. This gives you complete freedom to choose your preferred departure airport, flight times, length of stay, airline etc. We will be pleased to quote and book flights for you, and any extended stays, or you can book your own if you prefer. Flights booked with us are fully ATOL protected and can be available from as little as £100 return.
Your Tour Director
Dr Martin Locker holds a PhD from University College London, for which he focused on medieval pilgrimage. He has over a decade of experience on research and excavation projects throughout Europe, and his knowledge of the medieval world has led to several publications. A fluent French speaker, Martin currently lives in Andorra where his research on the history and culture of the Pyrenees has led to his latest book “Gods, Spirits and the Pyrenean Complex”.
How To Book
Reservations & Enquiries: To reserve your place or enquire further simply fill in the booking form on this page, or call us on (UK) 0121 444 1854. There is no commitment and no payment at this stage; reservations are purely provisional until we have confirmed availability and proceeded with booking and payment.
Booking & Payment: Once you have checked availability and reserved your place, we will require your full details and a deposit of £350 per person to secure your booking. This can be done with a credit/debit card over the telephone (0121-444-1854) or by sending us a completed booking form and cheque. To print a booking form click here.
See our booking conditions for further details.
All Hidden History’s tours include a host of fully guided excursions and interesting talks to create an enriching travel experience. They also include some luxury and leisure by choosing great hotels and keeping the itineraries fairly relaxed and varied. More about What to Expect…
- Departure Time05 September 2021 and 24 June 2022
Day 1: Arrivals.
You are met on arrival at Toulouse airport and transferred to your hotel in the heart of the city. Your tour director is on hand to help you get acquainted with the hotel and its surroundings.
Day 2: Toulouse and transfer to Couiza.
Toulouse is the capital of the Occitania region and is known as La Ville Rose (the Pink City) because of the warm red colour of the city’s brick facades. The red brick has been made since Roman times from the clay of the river Garonne beside which the city developed. In the fifth century the city was the short-lived capital of the Visigothic Empire, and from Charlemagne’s time in the 9th century it was the seat of the powerful Counts of Toulouse who held sway over the Languedoc until suppressed by the French Crown in the Albigensian Crusade.
Our walking tour this morning explores the enchanting Old Quarter of Toulouse, a dreamy jumble of coral-coloured shopfronts and churches. We include a visit to the Basilica of San Sernin, historically an important stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella and now the largest surviving Romanesque church in Europe. Along with the Canal du Midi, it is now also one of Toulouse’s World Heritage Sites.
We end the day by transferring to our hotel in the charming village of Couiza. Your three night stay here in an elegant converted chateau includes all evening meals.
Day 3: Carcassonne
The splendid medieval city of Carcassonne is the capital of the Aude department and a World Heritage site. Our guided tour of its history and architecture reveals the size and state of preservation of its medieval fortifications and buildings, which are second to none. Bristling with battlements and towers, they enclose atmospheric cobbled streets linked by the gothic Pont Vieux (Old Bridge) to a lower town across the River Aude. The city’s location on trade routes had seen it fortified by Gauls, Romans and Visigoths, but its heyday came in the 12th and 13th centuries as a stronghold of the Cathars and the Crusading Catholics who replaced them. The fall of Carcassonne to the Crusaders in 1209 was one of the opening engagements of the Albigensian Crusade.
On our way back to the hotel this afternoon we stop at the Belvedere of Lastours for a wonderful view of the Chateaux de Lastours, actually four castles perched on a rocky spur. These resisted Crusader attacks by Simon de Montfort for many years until capitulating in 1229. Dinner is included in the hotel this evening.
Day 4 : Termes and Lagrasse.
Today we explore the countryside of the Corbieres region of the Aude, where the soils and sunshine have produced quality wines since ancient times. The rugged landscape of high ridges, deep gorges and sloping vineyards is dotted with picturesque villages and dramatic castles. We stop first at the magnificent Chateau de Termes which, in 1210, withstood four months of siege by the English Crusader Simon de Montfort. It then became one of the ‘five sons of Carcassonne’; five royal castles strategically placed to defend the French border against the Spanish.
We stop for lunch in Lagrasse, classed amongst the beautiful villages in France. Across its river we find the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary of Orbieu, founded in the 8th century by King Charlemagne. It grew into one the country’s most prosperous and influential abbeys and still retains much historic and architectural interest. Our scenic route takes in many other landmarks before rounding off the day with another fine dinner included at the hotel.
Day 5 : Transfer to Andorra via Puilaurens.
On our way to Andorra we stop to visit one of the most spectacular and best-preserved Cathar castles in the Aude; Puilaurens. It overlooks the village of Lapradelle-Puilaurens, in the middle of a pine forest, and has many interesting features and superb views of the region. In its White Lady’s Tower there is a speaking-tube, built into the stonework to allow people to communicate from one floor to another. Numerous Cathar priests sought refuge here, and it is thought that the castle was finally forced to surrender around 1255, after which it became one of the ‘five sons of Carcassonne’ under the French crown.
After time for lunch in one of the attractive small towns of the region, we head into the mountains of Andorra. The little principality of Andorra is a hidden gem of Pyrenean culture nestling among some of the most impressive peaks in the Pyrenees. It possesses a wonderful combination of natural splendour and cultural heritage, including five national parks, over forty Romanesque churches, and a UNESCO world heritage site. Our three night stay in the capital includes dinner in our city centre hotel this evening.
Day 6: Casa Rull, Ordino and Santa Coloma
On our first day amid Andorra’s majestic mountain scenery we start by visiting two fine examples of 17th century Pyrenean houses; the Casa Rull and the Casa d’Areny-Plandolit. In their village settings these houses introduce us to the traditional way of life in Andorra and to the social history of the principality in recent centuries. We then stop for lunch in the charming village of Ordino, which has fine examples of traditional architecture, some interesting small museums and a botanical garden. Continuing to Santa Coloma, we visit the Romanesque Interpretation Centre which reveals the main characteristics of this artistic style and explains its evolution in the region—ideal preparation for tomorrow’s visits to Andorra’s emblematic Romanesque churches. This evening is free to enjoy La Vella’s fine selection of restaurants.
Day 7 : La Vella and the Romanesque Churches of Andorra.
La Vella has been the capital of Andorra since the formation of the principality in the 13th century. This morning we enjoy a walking tour of its Old Quarter and include a visit to the 16th century Casa de la Vall, home of the Andorran government, where we learn how this historic principality continues to exercise its autonomy.
In the afternoon we visit a series of beautiful church buildings nestled in the quiet, rural villages of Andorra, including Meritxell, Canillo and Cortinada. These Romanesque churches are the principality’s most treasured national monuments. They tell the story not only of the evolution of the Romanesque artistic style but also of the early history and culture of the region from about the 11th century onwards. New ideas took time to penetrate these remote valleys, but once here they endured and found expression in a rustic, unpretentious art and architecture, redolent of the power and mystery of the natural surroundings. This evening is free to enjoy La Vella’s fine selection of restaurants.
Day 8: Foix via the Cave of Niaux.
Leaving Andorra we head back into southern France to explore the delightful Ariege department, including its capital town of Foix. En route we stop at the Grotte de Niaux to see some of the finest Palaeolithic cave art in Europe. Unlike the famous Lascaux cave, where now only reproductions can be viewed, those at Niaux are the originals, still on the cave walls after some 14,000 years since their creation. The most impressive gallery is the ‘Salon Noir’ decorated with hundreds of remarkably lifelike paintings of bison, deer and horses, which give us a vivid insight into the world of our hunter-gather ancestors.
A short distance further on, we come to the charming medieval walled town of Foix. Overlooking the old market square and pretty alleyways is the town’s jewel, its castle, which dates back to the early tenth century and withstood repeated attacks during the Albigensian Crusade. The most famous Count of Foix was Gaston Fébus, who refused to pay homage to the king of France. He also left us with an Occitan song, still sung at festive meals, and a recipe for his favourite apéritif, which you’ll surely want to try. Our hotel has a delightful lakeside setting, and your two night stay here includes both evening meals.
Day 9: Montségur and Mirepoix.
For a fitting finale to our tour we see the legendary hilltop castle and museum at Montsegur. This quintessential symbol of the Cathars was the site of their last stand in 1244, and is linked popularly with the legend of the Holy Grail. It sits proudly on top of a rocky outcrop with magnificent panoramic views of the village below and the surrounding meadows and forests.
Nearby, the small town of Mirepoix is the perfect place to stop for lunch and enjoy our final afternoon. The central square of this beautiful medieval bastide town is surrounded by colourful timber-framed houses painted in a variety of pastel shades and jutting out over an intricately carved wooden arcade leading to many interesting shops and cafes. The town’s cathedral of St Maurice has a nave that is the largest in France. Returning to our hotel by the lake we include a farewell dinner to celebrate your week’s experiences, new knowledge and friendships.
Day 10: Departures
You will be transferred from your hotel to Toulouse airport for your flight home (see ‘Flights’ tab). Or why not stay longer and enjoy more of the cultural and natural splendors of southern France?
Please note that we sometimes have to change hotels for reasons beyond our control. However, we always choose 3 or 4-star hotels with high standards and great locations, designed to give you a little luxury and leisure alongside your cultural enrichment.
1) Novotel Toulouse Centre Wilson.
15 Place du Président Thomas Wilson, 31000 Toulouse. Website: HERE
This 4-star hotel in the heart of Toulouse is ideally placed for easy exploration of the Old Quarter.
2) Château des Ducs de Joyeuse, Couiza, Aude, France.
1, Allée Georges Roux, 11190 Couiza. Website: HERE
This elegant 4-star hotel was originally a castle built for the Dukes of Joyeuse in the mid-16th century. Set in its own beautiful grounds in the Aude countryside, it has been skilfully converted to combine a medieval atmosphere with modern comforts. Its well-regarded restaurant lovingly prepares home-made dishes based on locally sourced products, and its cavernous wine cellar occupies the castle’s former chapel. The hotel facilities include a heated outdoor swimming pool, tennis court, and a boutique selling local products. Please note that the building does not have a lift and is not well equipped for those with reduced mobility.
3) Hotel Mola Park Atiram, Andorra La Vella.
Josep Viladomat, 22 Escaldes-Engordany, AD700 Andorra la Vella, Andorra. Website: HERE
This stylish, modern 4-star hotel is very well appointed and in an ideal location in a quiet, top-rated area close to the Caldea Thermal Spa, only a few minutes’ walk from Carlemany Avenue, La Vella’s main street.
4) Hotel du Lac, Foix, Ariege, France.
Route Nationale 20, 09000 Foix. Website: HERE
Built in 1599, the Hotel du Lac is a former sheep farm beautifully located at the edge of the lake of Ariege and surrounded by centenary trees. The rooms are spacious and comfortable and have individual balconies. The hotel’s restaurant features a lakeside terrace and serves fresh, regional produce and a range of local wines.
The preferred arrival and departure airport for this tour is Toulouse in southern France.
Rather than reserving group seats for a particular flight, we keep your flight options open to give you greater choice of departure airport, airline, flight times, cabin class etc. However, as stated above, for this particular tour our included transfers need to synchronise everyone’s arrival and departure times as closely as possible. We can advise more fully about this when it comes to booking flights.
Book with us or book your own: Once we have confirmed availability of the tour, you can choose either to book your flights with us, or to make your own travel arrangements. Before booking any flights of your own please ensure we have confirmed the availability of the tour as our tours are subject to minimum and maximum numbers of participants.
Airfares: Ask us for a quote. Use the reservation/enquiries form or call 0121 444 1854.
ATOL Protection: If you book your flights with us you will be ATOL protected, which means that you will not lose your money or be stranded abroad if things go wrong. If you book your own flights they may not be ATOL protected, even if you book direct with the airline or with an online search facility.