St. Loup is by far my favourite small town nearby. Only twelve minutes from Pressigny, it boasts a wonderful chateau that has staged many a stunning wedding. Next to the chateau is an ancient castle, which would have served Mervyn Peake well as the inspiration for Gormanghast. Pointed turrets with gaping holes in the tiles, crenels collapsing, and stonework in a stage of terrible decay; the eccentric owner and his wife live in the building, which seems strangely remote from this world. Situated as it is next to a river and seen in the early morning mist, the towers rise above the haze in what can only be described as a fairy tale scene.
The grounds of the chateau are being restored by the owner and are immensely picturesque. With an ancient pigonniere and a restored long barn as the backdrop to formal gardens, it makes a stunning picture. Inside the chateau, it’s a case of gloriously shabby chic, charming in a remote and unlived in way. The owner, educated in England, takes potential couples around the property himself and seems oblivious to the modern day requirements of caterers in the ancient room that serves as a kitchen…or so it was told to me!
The surrounding mediaeval town – bigger than a village, but supporting only a couple of shops, a hotel and two restaurants, is too big and the buildings too grand to be called a village, but it hardly warrants being labelled a town. The choir practices in the church on Thursday evenings, which is by far the best night to sit outside the Pizzeria L’Expresso at one of the tables that look out over the church, the square and the street of mediaeval houses that leads up to the chateau and the river.
Not to be put off by the name, the small unassuming restaurant is the be all and end all of pizza restaurants and is generally full from shortly after the doors open at 7pm. We all sit and wait patiently until Coco is ready to bring our drinks – and frequently the water, in 1970’s coffee pots, comes first followed, in our case by the refreshingly cool house wine. The anticipation of the arrival of the pizzas is palpable. The crisply thin base is a delight after heavy, thick ones found in many a restaurant. This is like eating crisp air and the toppings are sublime – from the ones in the menu to one created by you from a large list of ingredients. They are truly delicious and the comments guests have made generally include the words ‘best they have ever tasted’. The dressing on the green salad is homemade and I just want to bottle it and sell it, it is so good.
Choose to be there on a Thursday evening and the sound of the choir practicing wafts over from the church in the warm sultry air. As customers come and go they address everyone in the restaurant with their ‘Bonjour’ or ‘Au-revoir’ and all but the unknowing English reply. For the restaurant is a favourite amongst French and Brits alike. And Coco is equally welcoming to both – and she has a great fondness for small children, who are treated quite royally. She welcomes well behaved dogs too and has a special bowl for them on the bike propped outside the restaurant where they can also quench their thirst on warm summers evenings.
After a lovely meal, a walk around the block in the gloaming takes you past roses and flowers that no one can quite work out how survive in the heat of the summer. Hollyhocks hug the walls too and the short walk along the river leads to the biggest wisteria imaginable, where the mighty branches are held up along the wall by iron brackets that have obviously been in place a very long time. The massive trunk must be three feet across and in season, it pours forth hundreds of blue blooms that are a sight to be seen.
Hidden treasures are found around every corner of St. Loup – next to the church, behind high walls and large gates is a beautiful old presbytery, shuttered and closed up. Houses in the village have turrets hidden from the outside world, secret courtyards and secret passages. The river meanders slowly past an ancient mill, whose ‘modernisation’ every hundred years or so can be traced clearly on the exterior of the building. Herons will rise in the early morning and fly under the bridge, where steam gently rises in the spring and autumn air. My very favorite French village!