The French television chain, France 2, has had a competition to choose France's favourite village from 22 preselected to represent the various regions of the Hexagon.....and the votes went in favour of Saint-Cirq Lapopie, in the Lot in south west France.
It seems that the mostly French voters had the same idea of what constitutes a favourite village as the foreign tourist....there have to be narrow streets, preferably cobbled, geraniums must be launched from every window and the place has to be gussied up to within an inch of its life while a chateau doesn't go amiss either....
So I suppose it was the possession of a well known chateau which tipped the balance for the Pays de la Loire candidate in favour of Montsoreau, alongside the Loire, though it has a dearth of geraniums, few cobbles and a main road running through it.
As for the gussying....my own theory is that the monthly brocante market on the riverside is held to hide the true ghastliness of the place.
Visitors always want to go there...but not twice.
One encounter with a trader intent on selling you a so called Quimper chamber pot with an eye in the bottom at a price that has your own eyes watering is enough for even the most hardened tourist.
My vote would have gone to one of Montsoreau's neighbours - Turquant - even if its chateau isn't associated with the novels of Dumas.
It has two places where I used to buy wine, for a start - and wine had to be good to get me to travel miles to get it - though while this personal note would weigh nothing in the scales the vignerons' places of business certainly would.
The man who made one of the best dry white wines in the region had his cave in, literally, a cave.
You can see it above, last on the right, alongside the house. The cliffs overlooking the Loire have been hollowed out both for building stone and deliberately to create dwellings since far back in time and some of the caves contain decidedly sophisticated houses.
When I was first in France, no one wanted to live in them any more....they preferred a nice new breezeblock bungalow in a development...so they were going for a song.
By the time I left they had become trendy des res for Parisians and arty types with the dosh to pay the astronomical prices demanded.
My vigneron had lived through it all and just used his cave for storing his wine....the walls were black with the mould deemed indicative of a healthy balance of temperature and humidity and the wine was superb.
The other vigneron produced red wine and lived in the village. The houses on either side of the quiet road that leads up from the river to the vineyards above are built of the local stone and glow softly gold in the afternoon sunshine, wallflowers blooming red and yellow in the cracks in the blocks and the breaks in the crepi. There are even geraniums in summer...though only in window boxes.
And to my mind the chateau has a lot more going for it than the one at Montsoreau. That one has only the Dumas connection now that the museum of the Moroccan troops has moved out, while the chateau at Turquant housed Ben Bella, freedom fighter and the first president of independent Algeria in the six years of his captivity in France after he was kidnapped by French colonial forces.
So why do the French televison voters go for Saint-Cirq Lapopie?
Because it as different as possible from their high rise flat in town...and from the village of their grandparents in La France Profonde.
The most banal village in France.
A square where there is a market once a month.
One veg stall.
Where the hairdresser has closed down for lack of custom.
The chemist could find no one to take on the business.
The dentist likewise.
And don't even think about putting out the umbrellas on the pavement outside the caff 'le Pot de Vin'...the local English would nick them.
So, enjoy the most beautiful villages in France...but don't believe that that they are alive.