Visit Cordes-sur-Ciel (Midi-Pyrenees, France)
If you are holidaying in the Albi region then a visit to Cordes is an absolute must. No matter which direction you come from, the sudden sight of the town built high on top of an isolated knoll, will always take your breath away.
If you visit early or late season you may be lucky enough to see why it was renamed in 1993, from Cordes to Cordes-sur-Ciel. Low cloud and mist often shroud the valleys in this area and at this time Cordes appears above the mist and seems to float in the sky, bathed in sunlight.
Cordes is a large and amazingly well preserved bastide with dozens of narrow streets to explore. For the photographer there are photo opportunities at every turn of a corner as gothic archways frame beautiful timber framed buildings.
Sadly, unlike many of the smaller bastides in the area, you usually have to share Cordes with a wealth of tourists. If you do get the chance to go off-season though, you can find quiet times where it is easier to view and appreciate the architecture without the crowds.
What to see in Cordes
The fascinating architecture of Cordes sur Ciel coupled with its amazing position perched on top of a hill surrounded by the beautiful Midi Pyrenees countryside makes Cordes one of the most remarkable medieval towns in France. It is particularly famous for the Gothic residences built between 1280 and 1350. This was the 'golden age' of the city which had been growing rapidly since it was founded in 1222 by the Count of Toulouse. It grew so rapidly that new defensive walls had to be built 5 times as the population kept expanding out of the existing fortifications!
Trade in wool and leather brought wealth to the city but its importance and population declined when the Canal du Midi was built and Cordes was no longer on an important trade route. After the war Cordes became an important centre for embroidery which saw a new period of wealth. Later again in the 1940s Cordes was discovered by a group of artists, a tradition which continues today with around 50 artists living and working here.
The beautifully preserved Gothic buildings include:
La Maison Prunet (end 13th century). This is one of the oldest of these houses and has fine arched gothic windows.
La Maison du Grand Fauconnier (14th century). A fine sandstone building.
La Maison du Grand Veneur (14th century). The tallest of the Gothic buildings with 4 stories. On the second story is a wonderful scene of a hunt sculpted in stone.
La Maison du Grand Ecuyer (14th century). Another building with sculptures on the facade, including one of a woman eating an apple.
Other places of interest:
The Halle in Cordes is 14th century and has a 13th century well. The Halle is surrounded by a number of restaurants who have their eating areas under the Halle. Its a lovely place to stop for lunch.
The Porte (Gate) des Ormeaux (13C). This is a huge gate surrounded by two huge towers. This protected the first defensive line.
La Portail Peint (13C). This also was part of the first fortified wall and originally had a drawbridge.
The Porte de la Jane (13C). This was an gateway through the second fortified wall.
The Porte 'Le Portanel' (14C)
La Porte du Vainqueur (13C). Interestingly this gate is positioned perpendicularly to the fortified wall.
La Porte de l'Horloge (14/16C). This was built with the 4th fortified wall and is also the clock tower.
If you love local art and craft shops then you will be totally spoilt in Cordes. There is just about every type of Potter, Artisit, Glassmaker you could imagine crowded into this little town and it is very rare for our guests to return home without a picture, painting or sculpture to take home as their holiday memento.
Places to Visit
Spoilt for choice, a few you might like to try are: The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art which also houses an embroidery exhibition; the Charles-Portal Art and History museum which focuses on the history of Cordes through the ages; Historma, with its 80+ wax models depicting life for the middle classes in the middle-ages; and for those with a sweet tooth a visit to the Musée de L’Art du Sucre is an absolute must.
Cordes sur Ciel Festivals
There are numerous festivals held throughout the season some of which literally take over the town. A fun one for all the family is the Medieval Festival of the Grand Fauconnier where visiters are encouraged to join in the fun by dressing in medieval costume and then enjoying the spectacles of street theatre, demonstrations of medieval crafts and also see local birds of prey. For music lovers then the Classical Music Festival is a must, with concerts held throughout the town in exquisite settings. Children tend to really love the Jousting Tournaments held on the outskirts of the town where they can cheer on their favourite.
Cordes-sur-Ciel is an excellent place to eat out – either enjoying a cheap and cheerful lunch under the shade in one of the two central squares or choosing a more sophisticated option in one of the many restaurants available. For a really romantic evening meal you can’t beat the atmosphere in Cordes at night and there are a lot to choose from, perhaps a special meal in the Michelin acclaimed LeGrand Ecuyer,or maybe even a medieval banquet at l’Escuelle des Chevaliers.
There is a wonderful garden in Cordes sur Ciel, 'The Jardin du Paradis'. It is just on the edge of town and is made up of lots of garden rooms which flow easily from one to another. Virtually every one contains interesting ideas or plant schemes that you can take back to your own garden.
There are many designated parking areas in and around Cordes but if you are not careful some can leave you with quite a hike to appreciate the old town. During the summer months our preference is to park just inside the newer town boundary and head for the central square. From here you can pick up the little tourist train which will take you up the back streets and drop you off at the entrance gate to the citadel, then you have the choice to either slowly meander through the old town and back down the steep cobbled streets to your car, or pick the train back up again and get dropped off at your starting point. Either way, good walking shoes (not high heels) are recommended for tackling the cobbles.
Our girls love to visit Cordes and we have to head there whenever someone new comes to stay. It is a great day out for any member of the family.
A little way north of Cordes-sur-Ciel at Ginals is the attractive 12th century Beaulieu Abbey.
Photos of Cordes-sur-Ciel
Click any picture to start the gallery
Address: Cordes-sur-Ciel, Albi, Tarn, Midi-Pyrenees, 81170 || GPS: latitude 44.064, longitude 1.9536
Map of Cordes-sur-Ciel & places nearby
Highlights close by
Suggested tourist attractions to visit near Cordes-sur-Ciel, France
- Jardin de Paradis - remarkable garden
- Jardins de Quercy - remarkable garden (15km)
- Najac - town of art and history (17km)
- Beaulieu en Rouergue Abbey - national monument (18km)
- Gaillac - recommended detour (19km)
- Parc Rochegude - remarkable garden (22km)
- Episcopal City, Albi - heritage site (22km)
- Jardin du palais de la Berbie - remarkable garden (22km)
- Albi - secteur sauvegarde (22km)
- Bruniquel - most beautiful village (23km)
Market days in Cordes-sur-Ciel: Regular market(s) are held in Cordes-sur-Ciel each Saturday & Saturday. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)
The French version of this page is at Cordes-sur-Ciel (Francais)