"An Authentic Old French Hill Town" Cordes by hquittner

Cordes Travel Guide: 54 reviews and 114 photos

How We Came to Cordes

Because we were using our own vehicle (rented) and wanted most eagerly to visit Conques further north from Albi, and wanted to find stops en route into the northern reaches of the Midi, we consulted the local Michelin guide. (There was no VT , 15 years ago). Rodez was on our route and it did not look like a long stop. Just off out path to the west was Cordes-sur-Ciel with a 2* rating! A hill-town in France and we had never heard of it and nobody we consulted had either.

Some Unusual History

In 1993 Cordes (pop. 1K) was officially given permission to add “sur-Ciel” as a suffix and it is that set on the flattened top of a hill looking down on the Cerou valley. It is a French rarity and it is very old as a hill-town should be, and filled with artisans, determined to survive on tourism. It started as a bastide in 1222 during the Albigensian Crusade and became a refuge for many of these souls. The hill and ramparts made it uninviting. In spite of lynching two inquisitors, no attacks occurred and by keeping still and being off the beaten path the trades of dyeing and leather treatment using the fine local materials soon made Cordes a rich producer of wearing stuffs. In the 13-14C the rich entrepreneurs built lavish “Maisons” in the new Gothic style in stone. Many of these old buildings are here. We looked at 5 before traveling onward. They all have arcaded ground floors, a typical bastide style but they do not surround the centrally located covered market as in other bastides. Yet there are many gates in the two encircling ramparts. Being protected and isolated, the Wars of Religion did not hit them but 2 plagues did and things went quietly downhill as trade routes and outmoded pilgrimage-fever passed them by. Quietly averting the effects of the Revolution, the 20C found Cordes with the oldest Gothic secular buildings in France. The Maisons are 100 years older than the only two Gothic ones in Paris (the Hotels de Sens and Cluny) or the Medicis’ palace in Florence.

Cordes Today

Today Cordes is a haven for artists and artisans benefitting from tourists who wander off the beaten path. It is trying to leverage its unusual location and ancient buildings into a tasteful tourist trap and we hope it succeeds. If you are into old architectural forms, do not miss it.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:High But Not Mighty But Very Old
  • Cons:The Clouds May Bring Rain. We had it at noon.
  • In a nutshell:Worth A Detour
  • Last visit to Cordes: Oct 1995
  • Intro Updated Oct 18, 2009
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hquittner

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