Leaning casually against the high mountains of the southern Pyrénées lays a realm almost forgotten by the world. As brothers in arms, the southern districts of the Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon link up to form the ancient land of Occitania. A land of forbidden history and unsolved mysteries. Where troubadours, the minstrels of old, sang about courtly love in a typical dialect called Occitan. Where the Knights Templar, who possessed vast territories and secret vaults, may have hidden their treasures and scrolls taken from the Holy Land. It is the realm also known as Cathar Country, where gnostic Christians held on to a more ancient Christianity than that of the post-Constantine Rome.
The Cathars were almost wiped out during a 13th century crusade that took place not in the Holy Land, but on European soil. In 1229, Occitania was finally annexed to France, but the Cathars never really disappeared. The Pays d’Oc still consists of many spiritual inhabitants, while its many historical sites are silent witnesses of its rich history.
Today, Occitania has become a place of spiritual awakening and philosophical studies. People from all over the world are drawn to this region to discover the forbidden history of the early Christians and possible traces of Mary Magdalene. They come to experience the energetic and mystical places, the natural hot springs and the stunning beauty of the Pyrénées. Places which uplift the soul.
It is no secret that the Occitan landscape has been chosen as a background for several blockbuster movies. Sleepy little villages with their ancient churches and tranquil charm lie peacefully in the valleys or hill slopes, often overlooked by the ruins of a fortress or castle on a mountain top. The sound of chiming church bells carry through the river dales and winding roads which lead to ever more gorgeous views, medieval abbeys, romantic villages, ancient pre-historic caves, Romanesque churches or Cathar castles.
It is not difficult to sing its praise, for Occitania has it all. Unsurprisingly, Cathar Country has made it to the top 20 of National Geographic Traveller Magazine’s ‘Best of the World’, a list of the most popular destinations of 2014. This is the real south of France, unpolished and unpolluted.
Being fascinated by its culture and history, my husband and I were drawn to this region in 1998. We finally settled here in 2007 and in the year that followed we started a tour operating service called Barinca Travel & Tourism, aiming to assist visitors from all over the world to make the most of their stay. My husband Peter van Deursen is an experienced professional tour manager, while I am working as an official tour guide. We take on individuals as well as groups and have even had the privilege to work for VIP’s and celebrities, which was a lot of fun.
In 2011 I started an even bigger adventure by writing a thriller book called “White Lie” under the nom de plume of Jeanne D’Aout, which even took me to the US for a Live TV talk show in Las Vegas in 2013. As the story is largely based on the mysteries of the Knights Templar, Rennes-le-Chateau and Otto Rahn’s Grail quest, it even drew the attention of film producers, who are now looking into possibilities of having the story adapted for the big white screen.
After helping out with several documentaries in 2012, I decided to create a production company myself, called PanOccitania Media. We can assist any ground crew who wishes to come over for a documentary or film shoot with access, transportation, accommodation, meals, co-production and co-directing and/or presenting. We previously helped out a Discovery Channel team and several TV documentary film production teams with interviews and logistics.
By being all-round in both tourism as well as media services, Peter and I are hoping to contribute to the promotion and preservation of this unique Occitan culture, its fascinating history and unsolved mysteries… for the ancient realm of Occitania still exists in the unknown south of France…
By Anneke Koremans, author of thriller White Lie (under the nom de plume Jeanne d’Aout).