The monks of Mortemart in Haute-Vienne, France, must have perched and prayed for hours on end upon these oaken misericords 600 years ago. The ancient wood carvings beneath the hinged seats – devils, dragons, goblins and birds – remain exquisite, with a rich patina of age ill-served by my amateur snap. They really look and feel as if they should have red velvet cords protecting them from human contact, let alone from small children such as ours, here doing their best to respond to a request to look as if they are deep in monkish prayer.
Mortemart, designated among the 160 plus beaux villages de France, has that special tranquility evoked by the combination of exquisite stone buildings and terminal decline. People come for the architecture; for posh dinner in the Relais, or a simpler, more affable meal at the café in the square, where hard-pressed M. et Mme. Teixier offer a cheerfully simple lunch for €12.50. Afterwards, it’s always fun to run the gauntlet of the swans in the lake behind the chateau opposite, to see if they’ll attack you or not. But it is the medieval choirstalls which are, for my money, the secret delicacy here.