Question: Where in the world is this city “in the sky” whose creation is said to have been overseen by the stars?
Answer: Cordes-sur-Ciel, France
French philosopher Albert Camus once remarked that any traveler who visits the French village of Cordes-sur-Ciel “knows that he needs to travel no further because the beauty here, day after day, will remove any loneliness”. The beauty of the town comes from the fact that it literally climbs into the clouds and balances on top of a 330-foot hill. As one of the first fortified villages in southwest France, it holds a treasure trove of art and immaculately preserved medieval structures.
This off-the-beaten-path village is located in the Occitanie region in southern France. It’s at its most enchanting when mist from the surrounding Cerou Valley rises to the foot of the hill making it appear like the town is floating between the sky and the Earth. Local legend goes that Corde’s creation was overseen by the stars. The town was originally just called “Cordes” but later, the suffix “sur-Ciel” was added to the town’s name which is French for “in the sky”.
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The hilltop fortress was built by the Count of Toulouse in 1222 and prospered as a leather and cloth trading town during medieval times. For centuries it attracted wealthy merchants who built homes in the Gothic style of architecture. Though it is high above the surrounding valleys, the town was not out of reach of the devastating Black Death and Hundred Years War. By the late 1800s, prosperity returned to the town, and the romantic setting was a haven for painters, sculptors, poets, and writers. This magical ambiance lives on today.
With winding lanes of cobblestone, ivy-covered, homes, art galleries, ateliers, and museums, the village evokes the timeless romance of living in another era. At the center of the town, you can find antique shops, jewelry stores, and street performers. The town’s park, Jardin des Paradis, is known for its beautiful mix of contemporary, oriental, and medieval design, and during December through February, the town hosts a truffle market with harvesters from around the world. Not only is the village popular with foreign travelers, but it was also voted as France’s favorite village in 2014 making it a must-see.
Carcassonne: Another Fairytale Town in Southern France:
- Located on top of a rocky hilltop with turrets, ramparts, walls, and drawbridges, the fortified citadel in Carcassonne (Cité de Carcassonne) looks like it’s something out of a storybook. Conjuring images of princesses and dueling knights, it’s said to have been the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.
- Carcassonne has about 2,500 years of history and was occupied by the Romans, Iberians, Visigoths, and Crusaders. During the Middle Ages, it grew and prospered thanks to its location near the border of Spain while expanding upon its imposing fortifications.
- The citadel was designed with two outer walls totaling two miles in length and 52 massive stone towers used to protect against attacks and sieges. From the towers, defenders would shoot arrows and drop projectiles onto attackers.
- By the 13th century, Cité de Carcassonne became part of the Kingdom of France and was the most important military posts between France and the Crown of Aragon in Spain.
- It remained in use until the 17th century when the surrounding area and the city were transformed into the center of the French woolen textile industry.
- By the 19th century, the castle had fallen into such disrepair that it was almost destroyed by the French government. Thankfully, a group of local citizens campaigned against its demolition and saved the historic landmark. Afterward, famed architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc was commissioned to renovate the entire city.
- Cité de Carcassonne was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The castle and its ramparts are also a French national monument.
- Outside of the walls in the lower town, there are lots of beautiful sites, including Canal du Midi which is a waterway that runs from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Its locks, tunnels, bridges, and aqueducts were built in the 17th century to blend in with the surrounding nature. It was awarded a UNESCO World Heritage designation and is a popular French retreat.
- Carcassonne is in the heart of one of the world’s largest wine-making regions. It accounts for about 36% of France’s wines and is the French leader for organic wines.
Traverse the delightful city in the sky during the Carcassonne pre-trip extension to Back Roads of Iberia: Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas.