Cathar Country, Carcassonne and Cassoulet

The ruined fortress of Peyrepertuse

The wild French hills where the church slaughtered 20,000 for heresy.

I once spent three months living in the Languedoc, writing my first novel. The highlight was the few days I allowed myself away from my monastic schedule to visit Cathar country. I’d been dying to see it because the castles and the landscape are so stark and dramatic, the history is so dark, bloody and weird, and because I wanted to try cassoulet in its proper location.

I can’t remember much about the various cassoulets I tried except that, though it’s impossible to go wrong with goose, sausage and beans, none of them was quite as good as the one I laboriously recreated at home from a recipe in my Larousse Gastronomique. But you never forget the castles, such as Peyre-pertuse, jutting, as so many of them do, from a vertiginous, craggy, razor-back ridge. I clambered over it at dusk, after it had closed, and had it all to myself. The wind whistled (it was December) and it was so easy to imagine the ghosts of those who had lived and died there, many of them horribly.

Read the rest at the Spectator.