Beauty pageants belong in the 1950s. So the idea of launching a new contest in 1982 must have raised a few eyebrows – even though it would be France’s villes, not its filles, that would be judged.
Or, more accurately, it would be its villages that would come in for scrutiny.
Thirty-two years ago today, Charles Ceyrac, the mayor of Collonges-la-Rouge in Corrèze, in the Limousin, persuaded 66 of his counterparts to start an association called Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, or the Most Beautiful Villages of France.
To qualify, any village putting itself forward for the swimsuit round of judging must have fewer than 2,000 inhabitants. It must also have a couple of protected sites or monuments and its application must have the support of the local council.
Now, 156 villages – from 69 départements in 21 regions – are ranked as France’s most beautiful. As well as to celebrate their visual appeal, the aim of the association is, its leaders say, is to avoid turning the anointed villages into soulless museums or theme parks.
Collonges-la-Rouge (pictured) remains one of the Plus Beaux Villages today, but it would take a braver man than I to attempt to announce an overall winner, especially in reverse order…