I know how to make a good first impression; a kind smile usually helps, a bit of consideration. Steering your car onto someone’s lawn while they wave frantically at you to stop doesn’t normally qualify, but with Phillipe and Veronique, I seemed to get away with it. Over the subsequent days, I came to realise that it would take a lot more than tyre tracks on the grass to ruffle the feathers of our genial hosts, as we enjoyed the very best of their understated hospitality.
The Alcaldes bought the rundown farm a few kilometers outside Rosières 4 or 5 years ago, when they were living in Montpelier. For the first year, Phillipe lived in a caravan on-site and carried out the restoration work, with Veronique joining in at weekends. The result is a chambre d’hôte rich in individuality, contemporary comfort blended seamlessly with original features.
Our suite, along with two of the other four guest rooms, opened on to a small, shady courtyard. Simply decorated with tiled floors, the sizable lounge/second bedroom was separated by a resoundingly agricultural door from the main bedroom and en-suite shower room. The lounge, dominated by a stone fireplace, had ample storage for our baby paraphernalia, and I rushed to photograph its rustic simplicity before primary-coloured plastic destroyed the ambience.
Many chamber d’hôtes, particularly those in more isolated locations, also provide table d’hôte. At L’Oustalou, this is something of an experience, where the line between paying customer and house guest becomes blurred. This blurring is ably assisted by the aperitifs served by Phillipe on the wisteria-clad terrace, followed by the generous flow of wine that accompanied the four-course dinner.
Dinner was an education; specifically, it was a 3-hour crash course in conversational French. I didn’t pass. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand anything – passionate discourse about wine and food needed only the odd prompt from the Blonde – but by the time I’d formulated and conjugated a contribution, the conversation had moved on. The Blonde generously acted as a boredom filter; lengthy exchanges about chestnut varieties (a hot Ardèchois topic) was condensed down to, "You don’t want to know," leaving me with ample time to focus on the delicious home-cooked food.
Despite Phillipe’s remarkable flair for burning toast, breakfast was an equally wonderful culinary experience. Served on the terrace, every conceivable requirement was provided for, several of which, unsurprisingly, featuring the beloved chestnut. The Tomato used breakfast to seal the host’s affection, and he has to take some of the responsibility for the toast incident, what with his incessant chuckling.
On the third evening, with a hearty lunch behind us and an early night ahead, we took to the courtyard with a carafe and baguette and begin the reminiscing before we’d even left. The warmth of our hosts, the subtle flavour of the chestnut ice cream, and the restrained charm of our room all became warm fuzzy memories shaped for posterity.