Two or three times a year, I drive back and forth between London and Valencia – a family responsibility that is no less pleasurable for being tiring. Whenever possible on these three-day journeys I try to spend at least one night at a remote inn I chanced upon some time ago in rural France. Perched on a hilltop in the mountainous Auvergne region, the inn offers spectacular views of the landscape, plus hosts who are unusual not just for the warmth of their welcome but also for their 100 per cent organic cuisine and their dedication to environmental conservation. Minimising waste and non-renewable sources of energy, and maximising the use of local produce are their operational guidelines.
Vegetables come fresh from the garden, meat and cheese from nearby farms, wild mushrooms from adjacent meadows. Breakfast includes home-made yoghurt, and bread baked at dawn by the hostess using wheat from the valley below. The inn is small – a work in progress emerging slowly from what was, a few years ago, a ramshackle assembly of ruined farm buildings. Guests are never more numerous than can fit comfortably round the rustic dining table in the main house, and since the inn lies at the end of a steep, narrow road and requires persistence to find, these often turn out to have an exploratory turn of mind and to be interesting conversationalists – as indeed are the hosts. I have dined there in the company of university professors, journalists, musicians, architects, archeologists and even a couple of aid workers on leave from French West Africa.