Cordes-sur-Ciel, "the pearl of the French bastides" has several buildings with Gothic facades that are listed or referenced as Historic Monuments. In a medieval eagle's nest on its rocky peak, the bastide seems to be on first-name terms with the celestial domains. To set foot in this fortified village, elected a few years ago as the "favourite village of the French" and whose roofs stand out against the sky, is certainly striking. An excursion not to be missed

Emblematic bastide

Cordes-sur-Ciel is a medieval city founded in the early 13th century (1222), just after the Albigensian Crusade. The Count of Toulouse, Raymond VII had to rebuild the territory that had been burned to the ground by the Albigensian Crusade and this reconstruction would involve the foundation of new towns that would have a vocation: that of trade. These will be the Bastides. That of Cordes, one of the most emblematic of the country, enjoys an international reputation. The upper town can be reached by car - or by paying the shuttle bus, but it is on foot that one really discovers Cordes. You will be able to make as many stops as the city has architectural treasures: the remains of the successive walls due to the expansion of the city, the remarkable gates - of the Abalones, the Jane, the Winner, the Clock - and the superb facades of the Gothic houses enhanced with sculptures of strange real or phantasmagorical creatures. The city has not yet revealed all its mysteries and many questions remain: what was the purpose of the 113-metre deep well in the market hall? What do these gargoyles, which are not gargoyles, mean on certain façades? What do some street names in the village refer to?

Gothic treasures..

Gothic architecture is one of the major interests of the bastide. While many of them are admirable, a few deserve special attention. For example, the Maison du Grand Veneur is the only one with 3 floors. Its success comes from the hunting scene depicted on its façade, which is subject to interpretation, as some see it as a symbol of the Cathar persecution. The House of the Great Falconer, made of ochre sandstone, is one of the most recent of the Cordaise Gothic houses. It deserves a careful observation, because some of its elements show an accentuation of the style: thinning of the columns, stretching of the capitals, lightening of the tympanums, more marked breaking of the arches... The facade of the Grand Écuyer's house appears to be the most finely decorated with strings. Its sculptures have remained intact since the 14th century and with remarkable details, some of which are surprising: hybrid characters, winged woman with webbed legs, dragon, fake gargoyles... The eclecticism of the decorations has raised questions and some see in them a symbolic representation of alchemy, or the clues of a processional path.

... and remarkable museums

It is under the shelter of the painted portal of the first enclosure of the city that the Charles Portal Museum of Art and History was set up, with its 7 rooms, from Prehistory to the 19th century, four of which are classified as historical monuments. To discover it is to take the keys of the city to understand its exceptional wealth of heritage and history, to pass under two of the oldest fortified gates, to contemplate Gallo-Roman and Merovingian remains, and to decipher the mystery of the 113 m well of the hall, explored by means of a squirrel-cage wheel reconstructed as in the Middle Ages; and, finally, to admire the details of the largest model of the palace of Raymond VII. Two very pretty perspectives are offered to visitors: the rooftops and the west of Cordes, and the streets Saint-Michel and Raimond-VII with the great Squire.

Behind the magnificent Gothic facade of the Maison du Grand Fauconnier, classified as a historic monument, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art offers a journey through the artistic creation of the 20th century, following in the footsteps of Yves Brayer, a figurative painter who settled here in 1940 and died in 1990, to whom a room is dedicated. He had created opera costumes and sets, and illustrated the works of Musset, Rimbaud or Giono, but we also owe him, with several of his friends, painters, sculptors and poets, the birth of the "Académie de Cordes", an artistic movement that can be rediscovered here. In the Espace André Vernet, a southern poet and patron of the arts, you can admire works by Picasso, Léger, Miro, Prévert, Klee, Fromanger, Pignatelli, Jenkins, Magnelli, Christo or Kijno, as well as works by regional artists. In the Baskine-Meunier room are the works of one of the pillars of Surrealism, Baskine, who introduced André Breton to alchemy, and all the works of Meunier, a painter from Corsica who died in 1968. Finally, the Aline Gagnaire room, a surrealist painter from Corsica. At the same time, one of the rooms is devoted to the embroidery of Cordaire as well as paintings, sculptures and ceramics by local artists. We will also visit the Embroidery Museum. Cordes was indeed a city of craftsmanship and a renowned embroidery centre which reached its peak from 1880 to 1930. Built in 1881, the building known as "La Gaudane", then called "La Fabrique", housed some twenty-six embroidery looms. From decorations for clothing to insignia for the army, many items were embroidered in the town. Among them is the famous crocodile of Lacoste clothing! In the private embroidery museum created by Jacques Roquefere, you can discover beautiful pieces from the past as well as documentation from the period. During the visit (by reservation only), you can also see some copies of the last order made. The factory also houses very spacious and nicely arranged apartments where you can stay in complete peace and quiet.

After the cathedral builders and their stone lace, after the glassblowers and their crystal, after the embroiderers, today the pastry disciples of the inevitable Meilleur Ouvrier de France, Yves Thuriès, work with sugar like their forefathers, like a noble material. They sculpt it, stretch it, blow it, pour it. The Yves Thuriès Museum of Sugar and Chocolate Arts thus gathers a hundred or so pieces of art, the best works made entirely out of sugar, proving the breathtaking finesse of the work in all its forms: sugar-rock, pastillage and other royal ice-creams tell medieval scenes, legends, mythology, form flowers or characters, or evoke love... With some 15,000 visitors a year, the museum achieves the feat of being, after the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Albi, the most visited in the department.

Smart info

When? The most pleasant periods to visit Cordes are May-June and September-October

Getting there. By plane (via Toulouse-Blagnac or Rodez-Marcillac airports), by train (TGV to Toulouse, Brive or Albi and TER to Cordes-Vindrac) or by car (A20 from Paris and A86 from Toulouse).

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