Maire Pierre Rousseau, who is also president of the local Communauté des Commune Champagne Boischaut, said it was a deliberate policy to put the village of Saint-Valentin 'on the map'.
“I’ve been the maire since 1983 and my mission has been to develop not just the village, but the department and the whole region.”
The village has been twinned with Saint-Valentin in Austria and Sakuto-Cho in Japan since 1986
“We were lucky to make good contacts in Austria and Japan very early on.
“Celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day is very important in Japan. It’s bigger than Christmas, it’s easily the biggest festival of the year for them. Women give chocolate to men, instead of the other way around and they buy really top quality.”
Then, in 1985, the Post Office issued a Saint-Valentin stamp designed by the artist Raymond Peynet, and he became a friend of the village, donating one of his pictures every February. “So that’s how the Japanese discovered that there was a village in France called Saint-Valentin, and things grew from there.
“I got to know a professional wedding organiser, Masami Kimura, and he opened a restaurant here called ‘Au 14 Févier’ which has a Michelin star. He has three other restaurants now, one in SaintAmour, in Jura, and the other two in Lyon.
“They use beef from Limousin, lobster from Brittany, foie gras from Périgord: the menu is French with a few Japanese touches. He trains all his chefs here in Saint-Valentin.
It’s the only Michelin star restaurant in the whole department.”
The ‘Jardin des Amoureux’ was built in 1989 as a place for couples to plant trees. “People can write down their wishes on a piece of paper and hang them on a special tree – and people get in touch and say it worked.
“There is also another tree where people can hang metal leaves engraved with their names.
There is plenty of space in the garden for people to plant more trees, and lots of photogenic spots – a wooden bridge and a mini-bandstand, for example.
Because couples in France have to get married at the mairie where either the bride or the groom live, they cannot opt to get married in Saint-Valentin, but the maire is happy to confirm marriages by re-performing them in the village.
“Married couples from anywhere in the world can come here, can invite all their family and friends, and I can perform the ceremony all over again for them.”
He also issues couples with romantic certificates. “If they come and tell me they’re in love, I take their word for it, and issue them with a diploma,” he said.
'You can’t argue with love!'
As well as the restaurant, there is a bakery/patisserie which is open every day. The church is open every day, so people can visit the statue of Saint Valentine. There is also a souvenir boutique stocked with local produce and gift ideas. “In the past we used to get lots of visitors for February 14 but none the rest of the year. Now we have visitors all year round.”
The success of the village has had knock-on effects for the whole area, as well as creating jobs. “Indre is not well-known in France, but I think that could change. We need to work on that.” Normally there is a whole list of events in February to celebrate St Valentine’s Day, with special church services, blessings, dancing, big meals, a fair... and the post office works overtime selling stamps and sending cards and postcards from Saint-Valentin date marked February 14.
“But this year we have nothing special planned,” said the Maire. “In fact we have no events planned for the whole of 2021. We just don’t know what will happen.
“I like the emotional side of our tourism, it’s not just business, not just money. But we’ll have to wait and see.”