We are on the Little Train – the tourist train – that winds through the steep streets of Cordes-sur-Ciel and takes us almost to the main square right at the top of this remarkable hill top medieval town. We are sitting next to an elderly Australian couple who have a house here. They live here in Cordes for several months each year but also have a home in Oxford in the UK where they live for the rest of the year. They are a very interesting couple, Bruce Two (we already met another Australian called ‘Bruce’ on our campsite you will recall) and Mrs Bruce?! Julia tells them that we are taking the Little Train because her husband has ‘old knees’. Bruce Two sympathises and we agree that it is all due to all the sport we both played when we were younger. He tells me that he was an ‘A’ grade elite athlete – like all Australians – ‘A’ grade in sport and bullsh*t!?
Bruce Two tells us an amusing story on the journey up to the top of Cordes. Apparently when the Tour de France came through Cordes a couple of years ago the local tourist board decided to make an English translation of the already existing Internet Guide to Cordes-sur-Ciel available. Unfortunately they used Google Translator to translate the French into English. As a result every time ‘Cordes’ cropped up it was translated as ‘String’?! You will be pleased to know that the error has now been corrected on the official Cordes-sur-Ciel webpage.
Bruce Two and Mrs Bruce clearly love Cordes … and so do we. We enjoyed our visit to the Saturday Market the first weekend we were here – even though it meant queuing for ages in order to avail ourselves of the excellent wares on sale at the fruit and veg stall! For a few moments I thought we were back in the UK – the queuing not the excellent fruit and veg? On a subsequent visit we once again took the Little Train to the top of Cordes and then wandered around the various sites and shops before walking back down the steep road to the market square. The views from the top of Cordes are amazing and so is it’s history.
Cordes-sur-Ciel occupies a remarkable site on the Puech de Mordagne rocky outcrop overlooking the CérouValley. The bright sunlight enhances the soft pink and grey hues of the old façades, and our first sight of the village, as we walked in to the supermarket, the day after our arrival was one of those ‘stop you in your tracks’ moments. Cordes was built as a fortified town in 1222 by the Count of Toulouse, Raymond VII, during the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathar heretics (as the Roman Catholic Church considered them), after Simon de Montfort’s troops destroyed the stronghold of St Marcel. Cordes became a refuge for the Cathars until the Inquisition finally put an end to their stay there – although not until after the local people had thrown two of the Inquisitors down a well!?
The end of the Cathar disturbances brought prosperity to the town and leather and cloth trades flourished in the 14th century with locally cultivated linen and hemp, blue dyer’s woad and saffron. The beautiful houses that date from this period bear witness to it’s wealth at this time. The Wars of Religion and two periods of serious plague brought an end to this period of prosperity and essentially Cordes fell into decline until the early 20th century. In 1923 artists and craftsmen campaigned for the preservation of Cordes’ Gothic houses and this put the town back on the map. In the 1970s Cordes became a musical venue and today the town’s beautiful old houses that line the winding cobbled streets are home to enamellers, sculptors, weavers, engravers, and painters. We love it here – the town, our campsite nearby, the friendly people and amazing characters – we will certainly return here in the future. For us it has struck chords of love!