CORDES-SUR-CIEL, France — High in the hills of the Midi-Pyrenees floats a medieval town that time has seemingly forgotten. Cordes-sur-Ciel (sur-ciel means in the heavens or sky, named for the clouds and mist that rise from the valley giving the town a magical quality. Until 1993, the town was simply Cordes, a word thought to come from the Indo-European root “corte” meaning “rocky heights.” That year, the sur-Ciel was added.
This well-preserved town is approximately 15 miles from Gaillac and its vineyards (The French are very possessive of their wines so ask for the local wine by name, just ask the waiter what he suggests and you will get the full focal experience). Cordes has a population of a little more than 1,000 and covers slightly more than three square miles. At its highest point the altitude is 320 meters. In 1222, Cordes received its charter from the Count of Toulouse and is generally considered to be the first of the bastides of Southwest France.
Since the late 20th century, the village has become a popular tourist destination featuring markets and the annual Fêtes Médiévales du Grand Fauconnier —a three-day event with with a fair and a costumed Bal Médiéval.
Market square on the top of the hill, the Halle de Cordes-sur-Ciel provides a wonderful of valley below. The church, Eglise St-Michel, is is relatively plain on the outside but worth a quick look inside.
As the town retains its medieval architecture, there are no cars allowed, but visitors but can catch a trolley bus to the top of the hill and gently stroll back down. Even the walk up is so picturesque one hardly notices one hardly notices the workout.
The narrow roads weave in and out and visitors should take the time to go exploring. Around every corner one discovers different architectural ornamentation and shops, gothic facades and gates, ramparts and alleyways. Don’t miss the town’s well, which is nearly 985-feet deep and supplied the town during the Crusades.
This is no dead town, as people still live in Cordes-sur-Ciel proper, and it is as close as one can get to experiencing a bustling medieval town.