Arlempdes (pronounced Arlandes), is buried deep in the heart of France. Although it is officially one of the 155 “Most Beautiful Villages in France,” it’s not exactly typical of the other towns you’ll find on the list.
It’s worth going to Saint Menoux just for its fine Romanesque church. In fact, there’s not much more to see in this bright little hilltop village near Moulins in the Allier département. But my curiosity was heightened as I drove west on the D945 on a brilliant sunny morning in September. As in so many places around France, there are big brown road signs signaling the attractions you can see in the area around you. These are usually straightforward: “Château de Billy,” for example, or “Forêt de Tronçais”. The sign for Saint Menoux was a puzzle, though. Featuring a line drawing of something that looks like a coffin, it says (with no other explanation) “Saint Menoux et son débredinoire”.
The plateau at Gergovia isn’t necessarily the first thing you’d notice when you come to this area. The great volcanoes of the Massif Central rise in the background and they’re more rugged, more beautiful than this lump of basalt. Clermont-Ferrand lies at the plateau’s base, its brooding black lava cathedral dominating the city’s skyline.
It’s almost 8:00, the end of a long travel day, and the heat of a summer afternoon clings to the sidewalk as I walk to the restaurant. Seen from a distance, it’s not an especially impressive place – on the ground floor of a 60-year-old hotel, a little frumpy but comfortable enough. The Moulins train station is across the street, so people come by in waves as the trains come and go. I’m greeted by the couple I’ll call Monsieur and Madame. They’re clearly the owners of the restaurant, and in the course of the evening they will impress me as offering the highest expression of the qualities we love about French restaurant service: pleasant, a little formal, gliding in and […]