On the fourteenth of February, France celebrates Valentine’s Day. And depending on your culture and age, this can pass by unnoticed or require serious forward planning.
Were you a teenager fraught with anxiety, desperate to receive at least one card, or has this date never really mattered to you?
Either way, Valentine’s Day is big business, with around £900 million spent celebrating the day in the UK alone, according to industry data firm, Statista.
The story of Saint Valentine
Encyclopaedia Britannica says that the tradition of giving cards dates back over 250 years, yet the original Saint Valentine lived over 1,700 years ago.
He was a priest in Italy who secretly wed couples to spare the husbands from having to go to war.
This romantic gesture defied the emperor’s orders and Valentine was consequently executed in 270 AD, eventually gaining a Saint’s day two centuries later.
But this historical event only became connected with romance more than a thousand years later, around 1385, thanks to Chaucer’s poem of courtly love, The Parlement of Foules. In love, as in all things, it pays to be patient.
Only one village in France named Saint-Valentin
Modern Valentine’s Day involves everything from joke gifts and schoolchild card swaps to marriage proposals and expensive getaways, but the best place to celebrate could be in Indre, 130kms southeast of Tours.
Only one village in France is named Saint-Valentin and it takes its moniker seriously: this year will be the village’s 60th annual celebration for those in love, and it is a popular outing for couples from all over the country.
What to do in Saint-Valentin
You can come to celebrate mass in the modest 12th-century church, stroll along Lovers’ Lane or enjoy the grounds of the Jardin des Amoureux.
This is a garden of nearly ten acres, created in 1989, that is filled with trees, mostly planted by generous donors, and winding lanes that are ideal for enamoured couples walking arm in arm, whispering sweet nothings.
And, of course, there are photo opportunities in romantic settings such as the mini bandstand and the Tree of Hearts, which offers a thoughtful alternative to an old-fashioned tradition.
Rather than using your penknife to carve your initials and those of your loved one into the bark of a tree, you can purchase a metal heart in the village, which is then professionally engraved and attached to the Tree of Hearts, allowing you to leave a permanent record of your emotions with no harm to plants or need for knives.
Those planning a truly special visit far in advance will have booked a table at the restaurant Au 14 février, which will be offering a Valentine menu on Saturday 10, Sunday 11 or Wednesday 14 (allow €110 per person).
The only establishment in Indre to have been awarded a coveted Michelin star, this extremely popular restaurant serves Japanese-inspired dishes, and is renowned for the excellence of its cuisine.
Even if you have missed out this year, it is well worth returning for the experience.
Pick up a certificate for lovers
With fewer than 300 residents, the village of Saint-Valentin works diligently to welcome visitors on its special day, particularly on the weekend closest to the date itself.
Elaborate, heart-shaped floral wreaths appear on the public buildings, a temporary post office pops up to offer commemorative stamps and postcards, and there are market stalls and artisan stands for you to browse.
Couples come from across the country and indeed from overseas to create a special memory of being valentines in this particular spot, and with good reason.
Here in this village there is even the option that your relationship can be officially recognised with a diplôme des amoureux (certificate for lovers), which is given to all couples who visit on February 14 and, if requested, can be awarded throughout the year to any couple who comes and vows that they are in love.
So even if you do not get there this month, you know where to go if you want the official seal on your relationship.
Happy Valentine’s Day!