Here’s my guide to visiting the beautiful hidden gem town of Cordes-sur-Ciel in southwest France. It’s an easy day trip from nearby Toulouse.
It was a languorous, sunny mid afternoon in the town of Albi, which sits charmingly on the banks of the Tarn River in southern France. Albi’s brimming with style, imposing brickish architecture, and inimitable post-Impressionist art. I loved Albi. It was decidedly an off the beaten path gem.
But I was obsessed with visiting nearby Cordes Sur Ciel, an isolated hilltop village. When something catches my whim on a geographical cure, I can become singularly focused. I can spend hours in the car if need be to satisfy my impulse.
Fortunately, in this case, Cordes Sur Ciel was only a half hour away. And my travel partners were energized and on board. So we jumped in our rental car and made our way to the artsy village.
When the valley below is misty, Cordes Sur Ciel seems to sit in the sky. Hence its name, which translates to ropes on the sky.
Cordes Sur Ciel is so ancient, so cobbled, so dreamy that it has a time warp feel. The dawn of modernity seems to have passed it over, exodus style, leaving a sweetbox escape for those like me who want to go back in time.
Lonely Planet describes the village as “spellbinding.” Even doughty existential philosophers have caved to the delights of this town. Albert Camus once said:
“One travels over the years without quite knowing what one is searching for, wandering amid the clatter, caught up with desires or regrets, and one arrives unexpectedly in one from those two or three places which await each one of us in this world. The traveller who, from the terraces of Cordes, looks at the summer night sky, knows that he needs to travel no further, because the beauty here, day after day, will remove any loneliness. “
Cordes certainly had me in state of dreaminess, as if under a spell. A magic spell with a nasty twist of Gothic perversity. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to commit one of my worse travel gaffs ever.
There have even quite a few gaffes over the years. Mercifully, my brain has blocked out many of those sad events, but this one … this one is stuck like epoxy glue, causing a red flame of shame whenever I think of it. Like now, I look disgusting and can feel my pulse race at my wrists reliving the moment.
The Lovely Spell Casting Village
Cordes sur Ciel was one of the first fortified villages in southwest France.
The little village began life in 1222, founded by Count Raymond VII of Toulouse. During the Albigensian Crusade, the 20 year war between the Cathars and the French crown, Cordes sur Ceil was prosperous. Its wealth derived from the leather, textile, and silk industries.
Today, Cordes Sur Ciel is an artsy village, a treasure trove of local art. Its cobbled streets are filled with quaint galleries and ateliers. You can find contemporary painting, pottery, sculpture, handmade jewelry, glassware, woodcarvings, and artisanal leather.
You can also visit the Musée de l’Art du Sucre et du Chocolat, dedicated to sugar. As a lover of backed goods, I applaud this kind of museum. And Cordes boasts the Jardin des Paradis, recognized as one of the most “Remarkable Gardens in France.”
The Evil iPad Spell
It was in this maze of dreamy cobbled streets, in a heady state of intoxication, that the spell was cast. I lost my friend’s iPad.
Yes, you read that correctly, to my chagrin. I was going to say I misplaced the iPad. But I flat out lost it. Left it somewhere as I was too drunk on the scenery, baked goods, and my own repository of romantic daydreams. What a shitty friend I was.
An iPad, you say? How could anyone lose an iPad? Isn’t an iPad rather large? Didn’t you have something to put it in? A backpack, perhaps? Wasn’t it just in your hand?
I have no real explanation, except that I am sometimes an absent minded professor type. I get it from my father who, unlike me, was a professor. Plus, I’m super talented at losing things. I’m also talented at getting lost.
They two problems seem to go hand in hand, in terms of personality and genetic defects. “I get lost and I lose things.” That’s me. I’d so much rather say, Tyrion Lannister style, that “I get drunk and I know things.” But such is life. We can’t always have our heart’s desire.
My friend had given me his iPad for “safekeeping” while he browsed for gifts in a small shop on a small street. My head in the clouds, I too started window shopping. I don’t recall what shops I went in or even whether I purchased anything. I was under a spell.
Later, as we strolled down yet more quaint streets, my friend casually said, “Can I have my iPad back?”
I halted. I felt queasy. A stinky pinch of fear stabbed at my stomach. I’d felt this stinky pinch of fear before. I didn’t seem to have his iPad on my person. Panic and horror were setting in, faster than shit rolls down hills.
F*ck, how could I have done that?! I emitted a pitiful shriek. People nearby stared at me disprovingly. I didn’t really care.
My husband is quite accustomed to my seemingly random shrieks that punctuate an otherwise quiet uneventful day. The shrieks are typically associated with computer or technology problems. But may also come in more plebeian varieties such as when I stub my toe, drop my iPhone on the street, or forget doctors’ appointments.
Or while losing a dear friend’s iPad.
I wanted to cry. Sob. Blubber. I was on the verge and felt terrible. I knew we needed to do something, but at that moment I had no idea how to go about it. I was frozen to the ground in horror, my feet seemingly mired in cement. I was providing a master class on how not to react in a difficult situation.
“Curse this picturesque hamlet,” my mind wailed.
While clearly dismayed my friend didn’t say a word in censure. He should have, he could have. But he didn’t. He somehow knew I felt dreadful enough, and had the decency not to state the obvious — that I was a blithering careless idiot who deserved purgatory at a minimum.
We agreed to split up, retrace our steps, and check in every shop we’d been in. Of course, I couldn’t really remember which ones I’d patronized. It was all a blur, at that traumatic moment. But I was determined to check every single store, if need be. How hard could it be? Cordes was tiny.
But what if someone had stolen it? What would I do then? I know my friend was thinking “everything’s on that iPad.”
My mind was racing.
I wondered if there was an Apple store in nearby Toulouse? An emergency purchase might be required. Toulouse was only 50 minutes away; we could speed stream there before it closed. If there was one.
Surely all his photos would be saved on the cloud? Not that I trusted iCloud. It had let me down before. Everyone I know is constantly running out of iCloud storage. It almost seems like a scam sometimes.
And so we set out. I had no idea where I was or where the iPad was. I just had a vague notion that I should cut horizontally from my current position.
Was the iPad in a shop down this beautiful street? Apparently not.
Or this one? No, it looks rather empty (though impossibly cute).
This way? No …
Was it in this shop? I definitely went in here. It has books, after all.
Sadly, no Ipad.
In this shop? Look, it has the word “terroirs” in its name. That sounds like someplace a dunce like me would leave a valuable item.
But no, it wasn’t there either.
Then, like a miracle, I heard a voice coming from a distance. I strained to hear. “Leslie, Leslie,” it said. The voice sounded friendly. It didn’t sound chastising or aggravated.
“Leslie, we found the iPad.”
I turned, and to my immense delight and relief, I saw my friends with the lost iPad held aloft in the air. A nice shopkeeper had safeguarded it. I ran and hugged my friend.
I could breath again. Disaster averted. Now I could settle down to replaying the incident a thousand times in my head for years to come. Like right now.
There is nothing like a dose of Ipad adversity to give you a hearty appetite. We were all hungry. But it’s France, and dinner doesn’t start before 8:00 pm. We sat down at Le Panoramique for drinks and views. I had two drinks.
Perhaps if I drank enough, I mused, I would “drink and know things.” I know wine doesn’t make stress go away, but at that moment it seemed like the perfect tonic.
After drinks we moved on to dinner at Terasse Sur Ciel, which also amazing views of the surrounding countryside.
I wondered if this cautionary tale would change my future behavior.
Would I be more careful, more vigilant? Or would my wake up call be temporary? One hopes that an epiphany will last, serve to prolong the lesson learned, and forever stave off repeating the same mistakes. More often, as time passes, the epiphany dissipates and disappears into the ether.
Such was the case. It didn’t take long for my absent minded carelessness to rear its ugly head again.
Just eight months later, while traveling in Andalusia, I left my own iPad in a coffee shop in the Royal Alcazar gardens in Seville. I almost had a heart attack. But I was just outside with my espresso and sprinted back in to retrieve it, before wandering away with my head in the clouds. A few days later, I got horrifically lost in an Air Bnb garage in Granda Spain.
“I get lost and I lose things.” It’s my badge of shame. And it doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere anytime soon.
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