Every so often, you come across a place so magical you have to quite pinch yourself to confirm it’s real. Thanks to yet another Les Plus Beaux Villages de France recommendation, we discover Apremont-sur-Allier this afternoon, a village so quintessentially French it may well have unfurled itself from the pages of a mediaeval French fairytale.
But before we sample the delights of Apremont-sur-Allier, there’s the day’s drive to contend with.
We’re still in the north eastern quarter of France, on our quest to its north western shore. Along the way we come across Saint Pere, stopped in our tracks by its impressive cathedral, quite unusual in a village of barely 350 inhabitants. I learn later that inhabitation of this area goes back to 6,000 BC, thanks to its rich alluvial soil. Archeological digs discovered tools from that period along with Roman bath ruins (“clean, those Romans” Himself says. “They had to be” says I “for all the sex they had” 😂) and evidence of local salt production.
The cathedral is Gothic, built in the 13th to 15th centuries. With a 50 metre high tower, it’s also 50 metres long. Rather pleasing, in a mathematical sense.
It’s been expensively restored in recent times, thanks to the generosity of Saint Pere’s tiny population.
Set on the river La Cure, Saint Pere is a pretty, if sleepy spot.
The only activity observed is from the most enormous bumbles I’ve seen, totally drunk on pollen, reeling from one flower to the other, covered in the fruits of their labours.
I rather love this about France – these random delights, discovered kilometres off any tourist path.
But onward we must, as yet unaware of the charms of Apremont-sur-Allier. For once, our book has sold it quite short.
We arrive by mid afternoon and it’s immediately clear this is a special place. Complete with a row of rose covered stone cottages river side and just one other row forming the main street,
impeccably manicured gardens and an impressive hilltop chateau, it’s picture postcard perfect.
“Oh”, says I, “This place. This is the place” and immediately set about making my selection of which cottage I’d like. It only takes moments to walk the main street, and moments again to walk the Allier river frontage, all the while me saying “This one, no, wait, this one”. In the end I tell Himself, “Actually any one. Just pick any one, and I’ll be happy”. I can’t fault a one.
There’s the Parc Floral garden to tour, and it’s here we learn more. The chateau dates back to the 12th century: it’s owners own the whole village. Just let me repeat that – they own the whole village. Our tickets include a tour of the Musuem in the chateau’s stables, the gardens and the perimeter of Chateau Apremont-sur-Allier.
We learn that the chateau was used as a prison in the 1400s and that the area is famous for its wood and berry stone – both grace the Orleans Cathedral, cut and quarried here, then brought down river for the build. The chateau owner, in homage to the village’s history, set about restoring the whole village in the 1970s. His work also included the establishment of the stunning Parc Floral, home to over 1,700 plant varieties. It’s utterly glorious, with three follies (the Turkish pavilion,
and the Chinese bridge),
lakes, ancient trees and endless flower beds.
I’m elbow deep in garden envy. There’s much gnashing of teeth to discover we’re late for the wisteria bower flowering which, depending on the severity of Spring, usually starts mid May. I think we’ll have to return for that.
The disappointment is somewhat appeased by the lakeside sighting of a bewhiskered ragondin nibbling his afternoon grass and a veritable Esther Williams chorus line of frogs, gracefully leaping into the water as we pass.
And if we thought Saint Pere was tiny, Apremont-sur-Allier is a mere a dot, with 71 residents at last count. The houses are available for rent only. An internet search reveals very reasonable options for holiday letting.
We tour the garden, visit the museum, which is a surprising display of marionettes and coach house (I’d know more if I could read French, an issue I really need to solve)
and make our way up hill to the chateau,
falling a little further in love with Apremont-sur-Allier with each step. Just the other day we were discussing the perfect spot to live in France: “It would have to be in the centre” I said. “Close enough to get to Paris, but also within easy reach of the rest of Europe and the UK”. Do I need to describe where this village is? No? I didn’t think so.
We end the day with drinks by the river,
companionably accompanied by a couple of hens, going about the business of being hens, who just happen to have a cafe in their way.
I love it here, as does Himself. For once we’re in perfect agreement – Apremont-sur-Allier is one of the prettiest places we’ve seen.
Deep into the night, under a very starry sky, I hear the gentle yip of a fox. He’s confirming, I think – “yip, this the place for me”.