Some of the best things about travel aren’t the things you plan. The meticulous research, the detailed lists, the bag full of travel guides and all the best intentions in the world fall way short of good old-fashioned dumb luck.
You turn left when it should have been right, misread a map, detour around a closed road, miss a turn off… and there you are, slap bang in the middle of something infinitely more wonderful than whatever it was you were supposed to find. There are fascinating people you would never have otherwise met, you see places that deserve to be famous but, thankfully, aren’t… and you get to eat some amazingly good food!
“La Maria” is a treasure we only discovered because the owner of our AirB&B apartment left a list of local restaurant suggestions. Lucky she did because our first exploration of the area around the apartment had left us a little disappointed with the choices, they were OK but not particularly special…
La Maria definitely was special. We found it, hidden a block back from the main road, and read the “specials” written on the window. They sounded promising so in we went, finding about 25 seats and a few large tables. We were keen to read the rest of the menu… but there was no rest-of-the-menu. The “specials” were the entire list: two entrées and two mains, you choose!
Already we were fascinated and things just got better, and more unique, from there. The front-of-house desk turned out to be the kitchen bench, concealing a marble work top, sink and fridge. The rest of the kitchen consisted solely of a beautiful Italian wood fired oven- 300° of beauty and awesomeness.
Any ideas of a conventional restaurant meal quickly vanished and as the evening unfolded we gradually began to make sense of owner/chef Rohan’s concept: we weren’t eating a meal, we were sharing an evening- and as we happened to be the only diners tonight, it was more like dining with a friend than going out for dinner. No fast food here, just simple ingredients, cooked well and not compromised in any way… and that takes time. Time to talk, to savour the organically produced wines, to talk about food with our charming hostess, to watch as she deftly and deliberately prepared fresh ingredients (no pretentious knife work and showing off here, all speed chopping and flashing blades, this was like watching an artist painting or like a silent dance).
Food began to appear as if by some sleight of hand- things we hadn’t even realised Rohan was preparing. Fresh bread from the oven, doused in olive oil, pepper and salt, crusty and soft, rustic and heart-warming. Delicious.
A salad tasting of spring, of broad beans, colour and freshness and then, somehow from the wood oven, delicate gnocchi, white asparagus, broccoletti and Parmesan. Clean, flavour-filled, uncomplicated and perfect.
All the while Rohan and Valerie made us feel special, ate their own dinner, (a delicious looking tarte-flambee type pizza) enjoyed a glass of wine together and shared wonderful food-centred conversation with us. NOT your average restaurant experience at all… And that is why it is so Special!
Not everyone would love La Maria the way we did, I guess… it might be a little TOO different for some, but for Jan and me La Maria was the dining highlight of our entire wonderful journey. Thank you Rohan and Valerie, much love and thanks!
P. S. We went back two night later… it was just as good! It was a perfect way to mark the end of our European adventure.