Les châteaux de Lastours or castles of Lastours stand on a spur above the village of Lastours in the Black Mountains of Aude.
From Toulouse you take the the A61 autoroute des deux mers towards Narbonne. About 45 minutes into the one hour 20 minute drive to the village of Lastours, the medieval city of Carcassonne will reveal itself in all its splendour to your left. Just past Carcassonne, once off the motorway and on your way to the 4 Châteaux de Lastours, you will pass through the pretty wine roads of Cabardès.
You can also visit the nearby Grotte de Limousis on the way.
As you arrive at the village of Lastours there is a free carpark. The entrance fee is 8 euros.
Of the four castles Cabaret, Surdespine and la Tour Régine are aligned and Quertinheux is built on a separate pinnacle close by. The site was classified as a historic monument in 1905.
In the Middle Ages, the site belonged to the lords of Cabaret, mentioned for the first time in 1067. Their wealth came mainly from the exploitation of iron mines.
Probably only three castles were built in the 11th century; their sites evolved over the years following demolition and successive rebuilding. During this period, there were at least 22 lords of Cabaret.
The castles existed through the Albigensian Crusade. The lords of Cabaret were closely linked to the followers of Catharism and the villages surrounding the castles welcomed many Cathars.
I couldn’t and won’t attempt to define in any detail who the Cathars were but should you know less than me:
Catharism is a dualist Christianity. Confronted with the Roman Church, which, according to them had lost its way (they called it the church of Wolves) the Cathars thought that they embodied the true Church of God. The movement, between the 12th and 14th centuries thrived in northern Italy and southern France. The followers were known as Cathars, self proclaimed good Christians who are principally remembered for a prolonged period of persecution by the Catholic Church, which did not recognise their variant Christianity. Les Cathars are sometimes known as Albigensians, after the city of Albi where the movement first took hold in France. Their idea that there were two gods, one good and one evil was central to Cathar beliefs and clashed vehemently with the Catholic Church which held the belief that there was only one god. The Albigensian Crusade was a military campaign initiated by Pope Innocent III to eliminate Catharism in the Languedoc, in southern France. Interestingly (to me) they renounced eating meat. In a nutshell things did not go well for les Cathares. It makes for some fascinating reading though. I recommend Cathar Country by Discover.
Catharism at Cabaret
The Lastours castles held out as a centre of opposition to the conquests of Simon de Montfort, who was determined to wipe them out. De Montfort decided against attacking the castles and instead resorted to a cruel ploy that typifies the barbarity of this war. He brought prisoners from the village of Bram, and had their eyes gouged out and their ears, noses and lips cut off. One prisoner, left with a single good eye, led them to Lastours as a warning. The ploy failed; the castles put up more resistance and held out until the supposedly impregnable fortress at Termes fell in November 1210. The lord of Cabaret then surrendered.
Simon de Montfort finally met his maker at the Siege of Toulouse in 1218, allegedly from a rock launched by a woman.
Cabaret castle is the main citadel with a barbacan defence system. It consists of a north tower, a polygonal keep in the south and a group of residential buildings in the centre. The whole is surrounded by ramparts with a round walk. The crenellated wall is built with irregular material, with large stones forming the corners and openings.
The Tour Régine or Régine Tower, closest to Cabaret, is the most recent fortress and the smallest. It consists of a round tower, surrounded by a small curtain wall which has collapsed. Below ground, the tower contains the largest cistern of the four castles. The tower has three storeys and is flanked by a spiral staircase. The white limestone used is identical to that at Cabaret.
It is thought that this tower was built after the Albigensian Crusade : the name Régine means Royal and there is no written evidence of its existence prior to 1260.
Also called Fleur-Espine or Thornflower this castle is the least preserved of the four, but possibly the best for picnics these days offering shelter from the sun at lunchtime. On the highest part of the site, it consists of a square tower, a house and a cistern. A rectangular curtain wall gives protection. It is noted for the rarity of its ‘meurtriers’, narrow openings in the stone walls for launching attacks on the enemy, and the four semicircular arched windows.
The Quertinheux castle is furthest south along the crest on an isolated rocky outcrop. It consists of a circular tower and a polygonal curtain wall. A chicane defends the entrance. It overlooks the remains of a destroyed Romanesque church.
Head up to the viewpoint for a breathtaking views of the Lastours mountain ridge and its 4 castles! This site has disabled access. You can book guided tours for this accessible site. The entrance and parking at the Belvedere are included with your ticket from the 4 Châteaux.
The viewpoint is 2km from Lastours, and is indicated at the village entrance as you come from Carcassonne. There is also a second viewpoint just two minutes walk from the first one, also giving spectacular views of the site.
Oenotourism en Occitanie The local wine……
Cabardès , an appellation since 1999 near Carcassonne which produces mainly red as well as some rosé wines that testify to its location on the cusp of Atlantic and Mediterranean influences. The grape varieties planted also represent a Bordeaux/ Languedoc cocktail of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec, known as Cot in this part of the world. There is also some Fer Servadou as well as the more meridional Syrah, Grenache and Cinsaut, mainly for rosé. Production here is mostly done by a few committed individuals constrained by low financial returns however they tend to produce wines with the potential for longevity (vin de garde) which is unusual for this part of France. Cabardès is said to be the prolongation of the Minervois wines.
For more information visit http://www.languedoc-wines.com
There are a few places to eat in the village of Lastours : Le Puits du Trésor, Le Moulin de Lastours and the Auberge de l’Orbiel.
Even though restaurants were still open the day we visited a few days before lockdown 2, we chose to picnic in the fresh air with a killer view.
I hope that you have enjoyed this post about the 4 châteaux de Lastours and that you will soon be able to visit yourself, as travel restrictions ease and the world slowly but surely opens back up. Follow me to keep up with me on my travels around beautiful Occitanie………à bientôt Christina.