Sacred France 2013
Secrets of the Cathars and Mysteries of the Magdalene
with Kathleen McGowan & Philip Coppens
May 14-21, 2013
Since 1995, we have been exploring the mysteries of Sacred France. The journey has been a transformational one through a world filled with magic and mysticism, and steeped in some of the most inspirational stories in human history. Over the years we have shared these mysteries with you through our books, Kathleen through the fiction of her Magdalene Line series and The Source of Miracles, and Philip through a number of non-fiction publications, all inspired by the powerful energies of the Languedoc.
In 2011, we began with three sold-out tours to this region, enabling people to see France through our eyes, and experience why we call it our Spiritual Homeland. In 2012, we did four more tours through this magical region. You are not tourists in our groups, you are pilgrims, and you will be treated as such by the local people, who are thrilled to share their heritage with you.
Please note that this is not a “tour” per se – it is a spiritual and historical journey, and we ask that everyone who chooses to attend arrives in the spirit of community and open-minded exploration. Experiences in this region can be very intense and transformational. They can also be just plain fun. Be prepared for anything. The region has a way of designing the journey for you – there is a reason that this land has been sacred ground for thousands of years! You will notice that there are a few places in the itinerary where it says: “if conditions allow” or “when possible”. This is because, unlike the USA, rural France does not operate on traditional schedules. The village woman who has the key to the church we want to visit may be called away on an emergency or something unforeseen. But know that we will take every precaution in advance to ensure our ability to see everything listed. But also know, if for some reason we cannot access something on the itinerary, we will find something equally wonderful to show you! There are so many gems in this region, it would take years to see them all!
As the people on our previous trips experienced, we also add spontaneous treats to our schedule as they materialize, including wine tasting, encounters with crystal skulls, or the angelic music of the lovely local talent known as Devayani. Magical things happen on magical journeys! Each trip so far has manifested something miraculous and completely unexpected – what will YOUR presence manifest in this place?
Almost all of your meals (we leave you free to roam Carcassonne one afternoon and evening), including wine with dinner, are included in the price – and we hand select most of the wines you will be offered based on local experts and our own preferences. We chose to do this so that you literally have nothing to worry about and can truly relax. We have gifted French chefs at the hotels we stay in and will be visiting some of our favorite local restaurants along the way. Every location is chosen because it is truly special, filled with local flavor and has become a favorite in our years of visiting here.
We are strictly limiting the number of attendees on this journey to ensure everyone’s maximum enjoyment.
Your Guides on the journey are:
We have chosen two very special locations as our bases for this journey, so you will be immersed in the medieval flavor of the region from the moment you arrive.
Hotel Le Donjon, Cité of Carcassonne (4 nights)
Le Donjon is a three star hotel within the walls of a UNESCO heritage
center, the medieval Cité of Carcassonne. You cannot be more central
or more atmospheric! Its location means that once the tourists leave,
you can roam the streets and ramparts of the Cité on your own and
take in the magic and antiquity of this extraordinary place. We will take
night walks on the ramparts and tell stories of the exceptional people
whose stories are part of the stones themselves. The hotel offers air
conditioned rooms, a restaurant and bar.
Hotel Chateau Ducs de Joyeuse (3 nights)
Ducs de Joyeuse is a three star, authentic castle hotel in Couiza, at
the foot of Rennes-le-Château. This listed 15thcentury castle is
located on extensive grounds on the banks of the River Aude, with a beautiful
interior courtyard. Each room has tasteful medieval themed decor and is
equipped with satellite TV, a spacious private bathroom and stylish, period
windows. The hotel has the distinction of having formed the inspiration
for Kathleen’s Chateau des Pommes Bleues, the castle inhabited by
Bérenger Sinclair, and it is an absolute pleasure to welcome you
inside these grounds where we have so many amazing personal memories!
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
We have figured collection time from Toulouse airport at approximately 12 noon given that the majority of flights into Toulouse from JFK on major carriers arrive between 10:40 and 11:45, including Delta/Air France (11:45 am), American/Iberia (11:15 am), British Air (10:40 am) and Lufthansa/United (10:50 am). Because Ryanair offers an inexpensive flight from London (Stansted Airport) which arrives in Carcassonne at 1:05 pm, we will also be able to collect passengers on the way to our hotel who choose to take this flight.
For our friends who are not able to book flights that arrive within this
time frame, we can arrange a private pick up, which usually costs an additional
50 Euros per person to accommodate your individual travel arrangements.
Our privileged hotel position within the walls of the medieval city gives you fantastic opportunities for evening walks along the walls, where you will really feel like you have gone back in time.
In the evening, we will have our welcome meal featuring the local sparkling wine in the hotel. The “Blanquette de Limoux” is at the origin of the champagne and its creation is true alchemy. Throughout your stay, you will be wined and dined with local food and drinks, becoming one with the country.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
The Cathar memorial monument in Minerve
We make our way to Minerve, one of the most important Cathar sites, a place where the Book of Love was once lived by all of its enlightened citizens. Although it became the site of one of the most tragic massacres in Cathar history, this beautiful place retains the energy and power of LOVE – the way the Cathars lived, rather than the way they died. We will walk to the gorge where, on July 22, 1210, the Feast of Mary Magdalene, 140 Cathars were executed for their belief in the power of The Beloveds, and say a prayer in their honor while taking in the breathtaking atmosphere. We will come face to face with the Cathar cry of “Demori” – I Remain! – in the town itself as we tour the tiny but powerful and inspiring Hurepel Museum.
On our return to Carcassonne, we will stop briefly in Aigne, the tiny, one thousand year old “snail village”, which is built in a spiral. Tune in to appreciate its unique energies. If possible, we will enter the special village church where a tiny Black Madonna was found in the wall in the 18th century. We also hope to be able to offer you a local wine-tasting session in this, the Minervois region, schedules of the winemakers permitting.
Breakfast and Dinner at Hotel. After dinner discussion.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
After breakfast, we explore the stunning walled city of Carcassonne in more depth. We will learn about the formidable Dame Carcas for whom the town is named and view the alchemist window and some special madonnas in the Cathedral of St Nazaire. At lunch we savor the famous Cassoulet (alternate selections will be available for vegetarians). Admission tickets are provided for you to enter the museum and the ramparts and explore them at your leisure.
The rest of the day and evening are free time for you to explore – and do some medieval shopping. Dinner is on your own, if you are still hungry after all that Cassoulet!
Optional evening discussion with Kathleen and Philip –and for the more adventurous, a late night walk around the medieval walls!
Friday, May 17, 2013
The Weaver’s Cross, Mas Cabardes
Today we visit the tiny town of Mas Cabardes with its special church and its “Weaver’s Cross” monument on the way to the Cathar stronghold of Lastours. Mas Cabardes was the surprise hit of the 2011 tours, with our groups really responding (often dramatically) to the special energies of this special sanctuary, well off the beaten path. Tourists do not come here! But we do!
A memorable lunch in the village of Lastours is prepared by a one-star Michelin chef for us before conquering the climb at Lastours.
Although Lastours is deemed to be the most beautiful of all Cathar sites, containing the ruins of four separate Cathar chateaux, this gem is not well known outside of France. Together, the sites of Cabaret, Surdespine, Quertinheux and Tour Régine highlight a different aspect of Catharism: its devotion to the arts and music, making the sites a shrine to the theme of Courtly Love. You will hear the legend of Etiennette du Pennautier, known as La Loba, the She Wolf, who was the muse for Troubadours before becoming a great defender of Catharism – she defended her castle of Cabaret along with her knights, and also provided a safe haven and hospital for Cathar victims (she is the heroine of a future novel by Kathleen on the region). Catholic clerics used the legends of the heretical “La Loba” to scare children!
There is some moderate hiking involved for those who choose to explore the Cathar Castles of Lastours.
Caution: previous groups have been known to break out in song and dance when in the special troubadour energies of the castle at Cabaret!
Tonight, we will drink wine from the vineyards of La Loba’s descendants from Chateau Pennautier in honor of this colorful and controversial heroine. Our toast is: Demori! Even though the Cathars are most remembered for their brutal demise, for centuries, they were a religion of love and art. Through our remembrance, they remain!
Saturday, May 18, 2013
The Tour Magdala
This morning, we trade in our home base of Carcassonne for the Chateau of the Ducs de Joyeuse, the inspiration for Kathleen’s Pommes Bleus residence of Bérenger Sinclair. Our focus today is the mystery of Rennes-le-Château. This small village is at the origin of so many mysteries and has been the inspiration for so many books, including The Expected One, that it takes a full day to digest it all!
On our way over, we visit the very special energies of Notre-Dame-de-Marceille, with Philip as a guide – his book, The Secret Vault, explores the discovery of the underground network surrounding the church. A beautiful basilica on the outskirts of the town, the Black Madonna of Notre Dame de Marceille was considered so powerful and special that she has been kidnapped on several occasions. Sadly, the Madonna’s original head was taken a few years ago by unknown assailants, and has been replaced by a replica. The site was a place of worship for the Cathars as recently as the early 14th century – for Catharism did not die out with the fall of Montsegur.
After lunch in the Jardin du Marie, which was part of Saunière’s estate, we explore the town first to understand the perspective of the treasure hunters. What were they looking for? What is the configuration of the underground tunnels and crypts? We will visit the famously encoded church dedicated to Mary Magdalene and the Villa Bethania Museum (which includes the Presbytery). But that is just one aspect of this multi-faceted place. After lunch, we see the village in a different perspective: this was a “doorway to heaven”, a magical place, a portal to a new world – and to personal and universal transformation. As a special treat, our friend Tobi Dobler will present us with his observations as a regional leader of the European Knights Templar and as someone who has lived in the village for many years and is intimately acquainted with the mysteries.
Dinner at the hotel.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
After breakfast we head to the town of Alet-les-Bains, which means “The Chosen Place” and visit the encoded church with its mysterious Black Madonna – what is she holding in her hand? – and its gorgeous Book of Love windows. On the edge of the town square we will visit the exterior of the house where it is believed that Nostradamus once lived as a child before walking to the Angel Gallery.
The Angel Gallery is a very special environment, a magical example of the Renaissance of art and spirit which is happening throughout the region. Everyone we have taken to this place has been moved, if not transformed, by the energies here. Beautiful paintings of angels, meditation spaces, an ancient healing water source, and extraordinary stories told by beautiful people await you in this space.
After lunch, we head to the Gorge de Galamus, an extremely narrow and magnificent gorge near the enigmatic mountain Bugarach – the site of much mystery, including UFO activity, rumors of the Ark of the Covenant and a few mysterious deaths. We descend to the hermitage, where there has been a grotto dedicated to Mary Magdalene for as long as anyone can remember, and where legend says she once taught the Way of Love to local people. The chapel devoted to Saint Anthony has a “SatorRotas” magic square that is special to Templars, and the grotto itself was an alleged entrance into the Underworld. A compilation of mysteries awaits us, in one of the most dramatic and beautiful settings in the region!
Dinner at the Hotel.
Monday, May 20, 2013
The Mary Magdalene statue in Carol
We make our way to the magical grotto of Carol, near Foix, which, conditions permitting, we hope to enter. Like Rennes-le-Château and built during the same time period, the Monastery of Carol was the work of a single priest, Louis de Coma. The enormous church which once existed on the site was the original model for the Cathedral in Lourdes. But in the 1950s, the Catholic Church decided that everything Father de Coma had built needed to be eliminated by dynamite, including the church! The reason why this was necessary remains an enigma. But the grotto devoted to our Magdalene would not submit to the dynamite and remains today. It contains one of the most impressive Mary Magdalene statues anywhere in the world, the original which survived the dynamite, and she will leave no-one untouched!
After lunch, we ascend to Montségur, the eternal symbol of Catharism. Though Montségur’s ascent might seem difficult, it is a pilgrimage worth attempting for those who are physically able. Pilgrims on crutches and octogenarians make the ascent regularly, but anyone with physical disabilities can stay in the lovely village if they choose not to make the climb. It will be a crowning achievement for an unforgettable adventure in France.
After our time on the Holy Mountain, we will descend to the village of Montsegur and briefly visit the two Black Madonnas which resides in the very special village church there.
Farewell dinner at the Hotel.
We will arrive at Toulouse airport by 10 am, where we will all depart for our onward journeys – transformed and enriched from an unforgettable week of community, inspiration, history and fun! If you want to experience our trip In The Footsteps of the Magdalene, you can enjoy Couiza at leisure, or return with us to the Angel Sanctuary in Alet-les-Bains.
We offer more than every other tour or retreat organized in this region:
All breakfasts, lunches and dinners included, except dinner on your afternoon
off in Carcassonne. This includes wine and other alcoholic beverages consumed
The weather in April in France is lovely and warm and you will be able to see spring colors the countryside clothes itself with at this time of year. However, France’s weather can change from day to day, especially in the areas we visit. So prepare for warm weather, but know it can be coldish or raining on occasion. Layers are your friend!
We are not responsible for any injuries, accidents, damages or theft, which may occur during the tours, the full period of your stay in France, or before arrival causing delay or cancellation. We therefore urge you make sure you have a good solid travel insurance including cancellation to cover any unforeseen circumstances.
If you suffer from food allergies or have ANY other dietary requirements – including vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free requirements, please tell us at the time of booking. We will eat in established hotels or restaurants, who are therefore equipped to deal with your needs, but let us know in advance, so we can make sure there are no problems whatsoever.
can be brought on the trip. It is entirely up to your parental judgment
and really depends on whether your children can adjust easily to a new
environment and traveling. We personally think travel is the best thing
in the world for kids. That said, there are some places we will be that
are pretty heavy in terms of the energy and the story, and there are places
where we will be meditating and praying that will require peace and quiet.
There will be a few long-ish bus rides – though never exceeding
two hours. If you have a child who you feel can adjust well to these circumstances,
they are welcome. Write to us for the children’s discounted pricing.
ALL INCLUSIVE PRICE FOR SEVEN NIGHTS (LAND ONLY)
dollars per person
dollars per person
Your deposit secures your place on the tour and is non-refundable unless your seat is either transferred by yourself or we can resell it.
Please contact us for the couple’s or single room payment schedules. There are a limited number of rooms and configurations available. If you are willing to share a triple room, please let us know and we will do our best to match you up with a roommate with advanced introductions. We will create a private Facebook page for retreat attendees where we can all begin to get acquainted in advance and remain in contact afterward!
can be made through Paypal, by personal and cashier’s checks.
In all cases, please contact us for further details to begin the booking process. Visa and MasterCard accepted (a 3% surcharge for credit and debit cards will be added to Paypal users – we have no control over this, it’s a Paypal thing)
To register for the tour, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please provide us with the number of guests and your preferences for accommodation. Please also inform us of the method in which you want to pay your deposit.
we have confirmed your accommodation, we will ask you to provide us with
the name, address, (preferably cell) telephone numbers, emergency contact
(name, address and telephone number), and any special dietary and health
needs you and any member of your party has.
We act only in the capacity as an agent for the passengers in all matters connected with lodging accommodations, sight-seeing tours and land transportation in France and shall not be responsible or liable for any injury, loss, theft, accident, health impairment, delay, irregularity or incident resulting from strikes, weather, fuel outages, government regulations or Acts of God. Nor shall they be responsible for any act or omission of any individual or organization providing the transportation, services or accommodations in connection with this journey, nor any delay or expense incurred due to disruption or revision of schedules, not for any cause beyond its control.
We retain the right to withdraw a tour or decline to accept any person as a member of the tour or make changes in the published itinerary whenever in sole judgment of conditions warrant or if they deem it necessary for the comfort, convenience or safety of the passengers.
We are not responsible for any physical, emotional reaction or trauma or ailment, during the tour or occurring after the tour.