Another secret dining destination tucked away in the Poitevin countryside is Les Ruches, in the little village of Sommieres. Run by Nina and Mark Down, a charming couple from Fulham in London - where Mark once worked for blue chip caterers Admiral Crichton and was on the team that catered for Prince Charles 50th birthday party - Les Ruches offers cookery holidays first and foremost, attracting clients from around the world, as well as stylishly decorated chambres de hotes .
But with a little notice (48 hours usually), Mark and Nina will rustle up a four-course dinner for you and your friends, either in their sunny courtyard - where hens roam free - or if the weather isn't up to it, in their private dining room (pictured). Much of the fresh produce is from their potager or vegetable garden.
I had dinner at Les Ruches (it means 'the beehives') with ten friends recently, several of whom were visiting from London. The weather was dodgy so we ate indoors, in the rustic-chic dining room of their beautifully restored 18th-century farmhouse - the closest thing rural France has to a private member's club. Everyone was totally charmed by the food, the setting and the ambiance and several people commented afterwards that the evening would count in their top ten most memorable meals.
It is also fantastic value - four courses, wine and coffee included for €20. And if your group is small, Mark and Nina dine with you, which makes the experience even more charming.
Les Ruches, Sommieres du Clain, Vienne, France, 86160. Tel (00 33) 05 49 97 07 72. www.lesruches-cookery.com