Friday, July 22, 2022

A trio of medieval Tarn villages

The fortress of Penne is the high point of our visit to several
medieval villages in France's Tarn department.

We climb to a seemingly impossible-to-reach fortress perched on a cliff while exploring some pretty medieval villages in the Tarn department during a recent trip to Albi. 


Although we're too early for a cup of coffee, we help ourselves
to a self-guided tour of Castelnau-de-Montmiral.

It's sprinkling a bit as we reach our first stop, Castelnau-de-Montmiral. Even worse, no place is open to get a cup of coffee! We pick up a map from a rack at the Tourism Office, and spend an hour or so exploring the village, which has a Les Plus Beaux Villages de France designation.

The village of Castelnau-de-Montmiral slowly
begins to awaken during our visit.

Le Pilori stands at the edge of Place des Arcades. This pillar is where animals were chained to before being sacrificed; petty thieves and adulterous women as well. (There's no mention of where the adulterous men were chained and shamed.)

Hmm ... What's behind this weathered door in Castelnau-de-Montmiral?

Down the street, we find Place de la Rose, a meeting place for pilgrims setting off for Rome or for Santiago de Compostela. A sculpted rose marks the wall of a noble house where Louis XIII stopped by exactly four hundred years ago, in 1622.


A few kilometers before we reach our second stop, we pick up a hitch-hiker, a first for us. The affable young man lives in Penne, and he offers advice on where to park and how to access the fortress. We should have paid closer attention, because we miss the path and end up walking an extra couple of kilometers on our way to the entrance. 

Forteresse de Penne is seen from the village's mairie (town hall).

It's not hyperbole to call the Forteresse de Penne a masterpiece of medieval military architecture. Privately owned, but open to the public, this fortress is under constant renovation. It's fascinating to see how the various towers and chambers are being rebuilt from the rubble. 

We need a pause before reaching the summit of Forteresse de Penne.

Forteresse de Penne has been occupied for more than a thousand years. It was a major site for Albigensian Crusades and for Catharism. Throughout history, the Counts of Toulouse, a king of Aragon, and kings of France have coveted the fortress. The French crown took possession in 1271, but the English held Penne during the Hundred Years War. 
The rubble shows the challenge of restoring the magnificent fortress in Penne.

Visitors can take a self-guided tour, and in spring and summer a costume-clad guide can show you around. On the day of our visit, school children are engaged in hands-on activities. Special events and spectacles are held several times a year, too.


I talked a bit about Cordes in a recent post, where I promised I'd return. This time, I bring my husband and show him around the picture-book-pretty streets of this artsy village. Despite getting lost while making our way up to the top of the town, we find our restaurant, have lunch, and set off in search of sites, scenery, and some ice cream. 

This shiny horse stands in Place de la Bride in Cordes-sur-Ciel.

Even though the busy tourist season is nearing its peak, the village isn't crowded on the day of our visit, perhaps because it's a weekday. There are plenty of benches in the shade to sit on, people-watch, and admire the views.

Wild flowers seem to lean in for a view from Cordes-sur-Ciel.

The "Golden Age" of Cordes, from 1280 to 1350, left the town with splendid gothic palaces, many of which still stand today. Whether you come to Cordes-sur-Ciel for the heritage, the artisans, or to try to catch a glimpse of the city seeming to float over the clouds, it's easy to see why this Tarn village is so popular.

An arch punctuates the foot of a cobblestone lane
in Cordes-sur-Ciel.

I'm clearly happy to have enjoyed two visits to this area of the Tarn this year.