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This holiday focuses on the history andnatural history of Languedoc, aspectacular landscape blessed withpicturesque and colourful villages, theheartland of the Cathar movement duringthe Middle Ages. Here we will not only visitthe magnificent city of Carcassonne andsome of the many Cathar villages andhistorical sites, but we will also explore thewealth of habitats within this charmingregion. Coastal Languedoc offers salt flats,marshlands and lagoons, punctuated withrocky outcrops, whilst inland lie ancientvineyards, Mediterranean garrigueand thefoothills of the Pyrenees, each habitatattracting numerous migratory birds at thisseason, and awash with colourful springflowers, amongst them many orchids. Catharism was a Gnostic movement thatbegan in the 10th century and wasconsidered heretical by the RomanCatholic church. Although it existedthroughout much of Western Europe, itshome was in Languedoc and thepersecution of the Cathars here wassevere, especially during the 20-yearmilitary crusade against them between1209 and 1229. During our tour we willexplore the cobbled streets of the medievalfortified city of Carcassonne, which wasbesieged during the early phase of thatcrusade. We will also visit the castle ofQuéribus, perched high upon a rockyoutcrop in the Pyrenean foothills. Thisstronghold served as a sanctuary toCathars, finally falling during the lastcrusade in 1255. Also included within ouritinerary are the picturesque medievalvillages of Minerve and Lagrasse. Theformer, overlooking the Cesse Gorge, wasthe scene of a massacre inflicted duringthe early crusades. The latter, reputedly themost beautiful village in France, lies in theCorbières massif and holds a 7th centuryBenedictine abbey which was of greatinfluence during the crusades. To concludeour lesson in Cathar history, a visit to theCistercian abbey of Fontfroide is essential.Founded in 1093, the abbey played apredominant role during the crusades andis a monastic estate miraculouslypreserved in its entirety.Between these cultural highlights, thisholiday will also be packed with naturalhistory excursions. At coastal wetlands wewill look for Flamingoes, Purple Gallinulesand Bitterns, plus a wide variety of egrets,ducks, waders, gulls and terns. On theLeucate plateau nearby, a hotspot formigrating birds, thousands of springmigrants may be seen during favourableconditions. Many vagrant birds of preyhave been observed here, but it is suchcommon species as harriers, Red andBlack Kites, Short-toed Eagles and HoneyBuzzards that we are likely to see, plusstorks, hirundines, flycatchers andwarblers. One of southern France's bestkept secrets is the Vendres Lake, a vastwetland area where Cattle Egret, Purpleand Squacco Heron, Glossy Ibis, Red-crested Pochard, Osprey, Little Gull,Whiskered and Black Tern and Fan-tailedWarbler may all be seen. To the north ofthe lake, wet meadows and steppesharbour Little Bustards, Great SpottedCuckoos, Woodchat Shrikes and, on arocky outcrop, nesting Eagle Owls in mostyears. On the banks of the River Aude, andin the surrounding meadows andvineyards, we will search for Rollers,Hoopoes, Bee-eaters, Ortolan Buntingsand the rare Lesser Grey Shrike. Moving inland, we will enjoy that typicallyMediterranean habitat, the garrigue,covered with fragrant thymes and sagesand, at this season, awash with floweringplants. Asphodels, rock roses and broomsare dominant, but a wealth of otherspecies will also be in full bloom, attractingan abundance of butterflies on sunnydays, amongst them Green-undersideBlue, Mazarine Blue, Chapman's GreenHairstreak, Western Marbled White andBath White. This habitat is also favouredby a wide variety of birds, includingMontagu's Harrier, Crag Martin, Woodlark,Tawny Pipit, Black-eared Wheatear, Red-rumped Swallow, Red-backed and Woodchat Shrikes, plus suchMediterranean warblers as Orphean,Spectacled, Subalpine, Sardinian, Bonelli'sand Dartford. In the Clape Hills we will lookfor one of the last remaining nesting pairsof Bonelli's Eagle, and also three rareorchids, Ophrys bombyliflora, O. ciliataand O. fusca. We will find more rich flora in the Pyreneanfoothills; the wild tulip, Tulipa australis,Pyrenean Fritillary (Fritillaria pyrenaica) andsome spectacular and rare orchids -including Ophrys corbariensis, O.lupercalis, O. tenthredinifera, O. scolopaxand Orchis olbiensis- being amongst thehighlights. As for birds, we will look forAlpine Swifts, Crag Martins and Blue RockThrushes in the Calamus Gorge,woodpeckers and Crested Tits amongstthe hillside forests and, on the FeuillaPass, a well-known observation point forraptor migration, we may see Rock Thrush,Rock Bunting or perhaps a Golden Eagleor Griffon Vultures overhead.The warm Mediterranean weather in earlyspring, a rich natural heritage, magnificentscenery and a touch of history makes thisregion a rich cocktail indeed!55Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Montpellier andtransfer to Vinassan.Day 2/7Natural historyexcursions fromVinassan.Day 8Fly London.AccommodationA pleasant and traditional villagehotel serving good local Frenchcuisine. All rooms have privatefacilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Day walks only.FocusBirds, plants and butterflies, plusCathar historical sites.LeaderIain Bray (ornithologist) and MarkGalliott (botanist).Single room supplement£160.Web quick search: FRA07SPAINITALYSWITZERLANDGERMANYBELGIUMCALAISPARISTOULOUSEVINASSANBORDEAUXFRENCHALPSMASSIFCENTRALPYRENEESSTRASBOURGENGLISH CHANNELATLANTIC OCEANMEDITERRANEANSEAFRANCEMONTPELLIERRIVER LOTRIVER DORDOGNEBook direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationFrance - Carcassonne & Cathar CountryAn 8-day spring holiday focusing on Cathar history and the birds, butterflies and wild flowers (especially orchids) of the coastal wetlands, limestone garrigue and Pyrenean foothills of south-western France. Sunday 28th April - Sunday 5th May Cost: £1,295MinerveGlanville FritillaryOphrys tenthredinifera

The Camargue, in Provence,is undoubtedly France's -and indeed one of Europe's- best known wetlands. Lying tothe south of the historic Romantown of Arles in central southernFrance, at the very heart of the vast RhôneDelta, it covers about 750 squarekilometres and provides a veritable oasisfor a great many resident and migratorybirds, in an area otherwise acclaimed forits sunny Mediterranean beaches, ancientRoman ruins and fine Provençal cuisine. We begin our holiday with a flight toMontpellier, a modern airport to the west ofthe Camargue. The final approach to therunway typically passes over the Etang deMauguio where flamingoes are numerousand may be seen from the plane as weland! Our base for the next four nights is asmall and pleasing family-run hotel on theoutskirts of Arles, conveniently located justa short drive away from the Camargue,and for the next few days we will explorethis legendary region of white horses andfighting black bulls. The Greater Flamingois probably the best known denizen of thisarea, and we will spend time exploring thesaline habitats of La Digue and the Etangdu Fangassier where nearly 15,000 pairs offlamingoes breed alongside Avocets,Black-winged Stilts, Kentish Plovers, andboth Slender-billed and MediterraneanGulls whilst, in the nearby scrub, theelusive Spectacled Warbler may also befound. In peaceful lagoons and backwaterssmall numbers of Red-crested Pochardcan be seen, whilst the extensivereedbeds, dykes and shallows of theCamargue support many herons andegrets, including Bittern and Purple Heron,Little Egret, Little Bittern, Squacco andNight Heron. Whiskered, Black and Gull-billed Terns feed along the ditches, whilethe surrounding grazing pastures andvineyards are ideal areas in which to seeEuropean Bee-eaters, European Rollersand Hoopoes. The rice fields in andaround the Camargue are yet another ofthe region's rich habitats, beloved ofherons, egrets, waders and terns, andwhere it is also possible to see France'sonly breeding population of CollaredPratincole. Raptors are another highlight ofthe region, a healthy population and varietyattracted by the abundance of prey. MarshHarriers and Black Kites drift continuouslyover the delta, Hobbies dash madly afterdragonflies and hirundines, whilst a Short-toed, Booted or perhaps even an elusiveBonelli's Eagle may occasionally be seen.We will visit Le Marais de Vigueirat, a well-managed reserve where it is possible tofollow a walking trail into the reedbeds insearch of such breeding birds as GreatReed, Moustached, Fan-tailed and Cetti'sWarblers and also, perhaps, bothPenduline and Bearded Tits. On thewestern side of the reserve, near thevillage of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, is theParc Ornithologique. Originally a birdhospital caring for the many birds injuredas a result of illegal shooting, it nowsupports not only those birds that have notrecovered fully enough to be returned tothe wild, but also their offspring.Additionally, many wild birds are attractedto the site, for example the wild WhiteStorks that breed on top of the aviaryhousing injured storks! The habitats withinthe Parc are continually being developed,and now hold large breeding colonies ofMediterranean Gulls, Black-winged Stiltsand various herons and egrets, all of whichcan be seen at close quarters. We mayalso visit the saline lagoons just inlandfrom the beach at Piemanson which attractmany species of waders at this time ofyear, along with Little, Common and,occasionally, Caspian Terns.Other habitats are also within easystriking distance; for example, the drystony steppe known as La Crau whichcovers some 50,000 hectares. This aridhabitat, which in ancient times was actuallythe delta of the River Durance, has beenextensively irrigated and supports suchcrops as melons and the famous Crau haywhich is used to feed race-horses. Thesurviving areas of original habitat supportgood numbers of Little Bustard - rareelsewhere in France - and the country'sonly population of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.Other noteworthy residents includeMontagu's Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, StoneCurlew, Short-toed and Crested Larks,Tawny Pipit and Southern Grey Shrike. North-east of Arles lie Les Alpilles, a rangeof limestone hills - an extension of theLuberon range - rising to 387 metres andcovered with aromatic herbs and scatteredpines. The spectacular cliff-top fortress ofLes Baux attracts many raptors and, duringour visit, we will search for such specialitiesas Egyptian Vulture, Bonelli's and Short-toed Eagles, Eurasian Eagle Owl, AlpineSwift, Woodlark, Blue Rock Thrush,Sardinian and Subalpine Warblers, andShort-toed Treecreeper.This area of France is especially rich inwildlife, history and local culture and, onthis short holiday, we hope to enjoy aflavour of this diversity with an easy-paceditinerary that includes some qualitybirdwatching, good photographicopportunities, a visit to the Romanamphitheatre in Arles and ample time each day to enjoy our famous NaturetrekFrench picnic lunches!SPAINITALYSWITZERLANDGERMANYBELGIUMPARISCAMARGUEARLESTOULOUSEMONTPELLIERBORDEAUXFRENCHALPSSTRASBOURGENGLISH CHANNELATLANTIC OCEANMEDITERRANEANSEAFRANCE56Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Montpellier, transferArles.Day 2/4Daily programme ofbirding walks andexcursions in theCamargue region.Day 5Drive Montpellier; flyLondon.Accommodation A charming, family-run hotel (withprivate facilities) serving excellentlocal food.Food All included in the price.GradingGrade A. Easy birdwatching walksonly.Focus Birds and other wildlife.LeaderIan Nicholson or James Lees.Single room supplement£95.Web quick search: FRA19The Camargue in SpringA 5-day holiday focusing on the wetlands and Rhône Delta of the Camargue and featuring the best of the birdlife of southern France in spring.Wednesday 8th May - Sunday 12th May Cost: £895Greater FlamingoesNight HeronCamargue Wild Horses