Local people have been very enthusiastic about the opening of Le Vieux Presbytère de Felletin, the first and only Chambres d’Hôtes in Felletin, which is in the Creuse department of central France. They have, however, been surprised that we offer vegetarian evening meals.
A typical conversation (translated from French) goes something like this:
“So do you live over here?”
“Yes, we moved out over a year ago and have opened a Chambres et Table d’Hôtes”
“Why do all English people move over here to run bed and breakfasts?”
“I don’t know. We aren’t English by the way – I’m Welsh and my husband is half-Scottish.”
One can now observe a cloud of confusion cross their face, blown by the northerly wind of discombobulation – many French people think Wales is a region of England rather than a country in its own right.
“So you offer evening meals?”
“Yes, vegetarian evening meals. I’m a vegetarian.”
I casually brush away the tumble weed, which has now drifted into the room and is bumping repeatedly against my left leg.
“Hmm, ok…” A face is pulled – generally not an appealing one. “So what sort of thing would I cook if I was entertaining a vegetarian?”
There follows a short dialogue, describing various dishes we serve and the range of ingredients used.
“Mushrooms? You eat mushrooms? I make a dish…” and then an entirely vegetarian recipe is reeled out for a delightful mushroom pie, followed by a sudden look of realisation: “Oh… that’s vegetarian, isn’t it!”
That many of the dishes they already cook are vegetarian (or by the simple omission of jambon, would be) appears to be somewhat of a revelation to many of the French people we have spoken to.
Some approach eating with us as if a friend had taken them to a restaurant providing food from a far flung part of the world run by a culture very different from their own – or even to another world in an alternative universe.
“So how does eating at your place work, then?”
There is a temptation at this point to discuss the obligatory dress code of orange and the pre-dinner prayer to the Lord of Carrots, before ritually dismembering a vegetable lasagne, but this must be resisted.
“Well, we offer three courses, plus cheese, plus coffee…”
“What? Three courses of vegetables?”
There is a terrified look on their face. You can almost see, reflected in their eyes, the image of us serving a plate of broccoli for starters, followed by a main course of boiled cabbage, and for dessert a lightly grilled red pepper.
When setting up the business we knew we would be offering something very different from other chambres d’hôtes in the area. We are the only establishment offering fully vegetarian/vegan food in this department and we have kept the guest rooms large and luxurious, retaining their original features that back to the 18th century. We have also converted part of the house into a one-bedroom self-contained apartment which is available for rent.
We assumed, however, that not many of the French guests staying in our chambres d’hôtes would eat with us. Located in a small market town there are several restaurants nearby so meat-eaters have a choice – but happily we have been proved wrong.
Although when they enquire about eating with us and we tell them the food is vegetarian more often than not they reply:
“Ce n’est pas grave” (that’s nothing to worry about) – hardly a glowing endorsement and not something you’d want them to write in the visitors book; but one has to start somewhere and the important thing is to get them round the table.
Once they have eaten with us reactions have been exceptionally good, with people promising to return and even suggesting we open a restaurant. We also have two regular French guests – a teacher and a mature student. Neither is vegetarian, but very much enjoy our cooking and have taken away recipes to try at home.
Le Vieux Presbytère de Felletin
3 Place des Arbres