About the Landscape
The Retreats are held on our organic farm, a few kilometres north of the market town of Mirepoix in the departement of Ariège, south-western France.
The 40 hectares [100 acres] we have the privilege of taking care of, are in the foothills of the French Pyrenees mountains.
It is a landscape characterised by a myriad of steeply carved hills covered in dense oak woodland. The valley floors are a mixed tapestry of beautiful flower-rich meadows and fields of wheat, maize and the unmistakable sunflowers.
Though wary of the presence of man [hunters abound during the season], the region is incredibly rich in wildlife. From butterflies to wild boar, vultures to fiery yellow salamanders and even the rare sighting of lone wolves and lynx, the woods and meadows and rivers contain a genuine treasure of natural beauty.
Influenced by both the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, the climate is at best unpredictable. A scorchingly hot summer’s day may end with hour upon hour of thunder and lightning and a dramatic drop in temperature.
A mild and most pleasantly sunny winter afternoon can suddenly be turned by slate-grey skies bringing snow straight out of the mountains.
The mountains themselves are a veritable treasure-trove of natural wonder. Lofty peaks tower over a mass of deeply carved valleys, each one unique in its own particular way.
The natural history of the Pyrénées Ariégeoises is the region’s true and outstanding wealth. Brown bears, Ibex, Mouflon [mountain sheep], Golden eagles, Lynx and Capercaillie really are the shining jewels in its crown.
As well as these splendours of the natural world, the landscape is equally endowed with a rich and fascinating cultural history, none more so than that of The Cathars.
The Cathars were a religious group who appeared in Europe in the eleventh century. The religion flourished in an area often referred to as the Languedoc, broadly bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, the Pyrenees, and the rivers Garonne, Tarn and Rhône -— and corresponding to the new French region of Occitanie (or the old French regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrenees).
Their complete and utter rejection of the entire structure of the Roman Catholic Church of the time lead, ultimately, to their complete destruction.
The head of the Catholic Church, Pope Innocent III, called a formal Crusade against the Cathars of the Languedoc region and appointed a series of military leaders to head his Holy Army.
From 1208, a war of terror was waged against the indigenous population of the Languedoc and their rulers. In modern terms, it was nothing short of genocide.
Within a few years the first papal Inquisition, manned by the Dominican Order of monks, was established explicitly to wipe out the last remnants of resistance.
The Languedoc started its long economic decline from one of the richest regions of Europe to become the poorest region in France; and the language of the area, Occitan began its descent from the foremost literary language in Europe to a regional dialect.
Our farm and local town of Mirepoix lie right in the heart of what was once Cathar country.