French shops pride themselves on their service. Shop assistants always greet customers when they arrive, check whether your purchase is a cadeau and wish you a cheery au revoir, bonne journée when you leave.
My favourites are the amazing patisseries, where the displays look like a work of art. At Anne’s, in Dieulefit, the lovely proprietor is so charming that her customers don’t mind how long they wait to be served. Her pizzas and tartes aux framboises are so renowned that the queue often snakes out of the shop and down the pavement.
When we get to the front she always greets us personally, compliments my teenagers on their French and waits patiently while we fumble to find the right number of euros. She packs everything up into exquisite paper parcels, tells us a bit about her time working in a London hotel and says she looks forward to seeing us soon.
My latest discovery is the amazing D.Cochet (above) in the town of Crest. Yesterday we bought a tarte aux poires there. The smiley assistant wrapped it in a dashing purple box and we hurried home. An hour later we sat with friends under the plane tree at the House With No Name, the terrace where generations of local farmers have sat and put the world to rights over a glass of Pastis. My teenage daughter brought out a home-cooked red pepper and courgette flan, rosemary potatoes (a la Jamie Oliver) and salad, then cheese (always served before the dessert in France) and finally the tarte aux poires. And yes, it was every bit as delicious as it looked.
PS: On the down side, the rodent problem at the House With No Name continues. My daughter rushed downstairs two days ago to report that she had actually spotted the noisy loir (a dormouse). Most nights we’ve heard it scratching and scurrying about busily in the roof but this time it had been brave enough to sneak through the roof insulation and into her room. She’d woken up in the middle of the night to see its bushy tail disappearing back into the tiles. Eeek. Monsieur Noel, the amiable pest man from Montelimar, arrived promptly that afternoon in his immaculate white van, and got cracking on the problem. Whether the loir dares to show his face (or tail) again remains to be seen…