Paradise is closed today. Well, it’s never really officially open.
Croatian official paperwork appears to be an insurmountable object, holding fast against sporadic attempts to legitimise, repelling all boarders. Defeated time after time, assailants retreat and skirt its edges, surreptitiously continuing their journey on the road to enterprise and gathering strength for the next assault.
It’s in between such bureaucratic forays to try to attain their licence that we find ourselves at the gates of Konoba Lambik Restaurant behind the beach in Milna on Hvar island. Undeterred, our guide and manager of the Hotel Podstine in Hvar, Sime, leads the way along the path through Eden, every step accompanied by the scent of orange blossom, lavender, wild thyme and oregano. As we walk, the sun filters through the profusion of olive trees and eucalyptus, lighting the faces of roses, lilies and geraniums and creating fleeting spotlights on the path to point the way.
Standing in the doorway of their stone cottage from which they run the rustic restaurant, Mate and Mihaela greet us like old friends, leading us into their home where the aroma of lunch enters our nostrils and sends our brains reeling in culinary expectation. While Mate begins to lay out our courses, Mihaela takes us out through the back door into the garden where the air resonates with the afternoon heat and the sound of the crickets in the branches of the silver leafed olive trees. Beneath their bows stands the wooden hull of a small fishing boat which has exchanged its watery medium for a grassy meadow. To our right, straight-backed cane rods support tender shoots of tomatoes and beans flanked by rows of lettuce, potatoes, rocket and assorted greens.
Between neatly stacked branches ready to fire the barbecue, a wooden table is cluttered with vessels of differing shapes and sizes – jam jars, demijohns, plastic jugs – each holding mysterious seeds, petals and fruits in various stages of fermentation.
“This is my laboratory,” says Mihaela, resisting the urge to add a comedy evil laugh. “It’s where I experiment with different ingredients to make grappa. This is my latest.” She holds up a jar and removes the lid for us to inhale. Rose petals. Thousands of them crushed and trapped inside the jar. When the lid is removed, a tiny essence escapes bringing a sea of rose bushes in its wake.
In the flower-filled garden at the front of the house we take our places on wooden benches beside a wooden table as Mata and Mihaela’s son, Marcos, brings plate after plate of aromatic, succulent, orgasmic, organic goodness and places them before us. Freshly baked bread with green olives and sea-grass; olives left on the tree long after harvest until their skins have turned taupe and their flavour grown rich, then baked and salted; the thinnest tuna and swordfish prosciutto interwoven with sheep’s cheese, lain on a bed of rocket and sprinkled with capers; a creamy salad of wild asparagus, rocket and hard boiled eggs, and finally a steaming hot bowl of fresh artichokes with broad beans in a savoury stew.
For a couple of hours we sit in the warm dappled sunshine of that garden in Paradise, “ooh”-ing and “aah”-ing over each successive dish; draining our glasses of Mate’s fruity red country wine time and again, letting Mihaela’s rose grappa slip down our throats in a trickle of perfume and chatting endlessly with Mate and Sime about Croatia, Hvar and the world at large.
Sated and mellow, I never want to leave here. I want to stay and help Mate and Mihaela work the land, pick the olives and press the grapes. I want nothing more than to rise each day to the beauty of the garden, the tranquillity of the village and the flavours of the land.
But Paradise is not open today, so we bid our farewells and amble away towards the beach and the homeward walk.
Konoba Lambik (Milna, Hvar, 00385 21 745 204) is open every day by prior reservation – 12noon-2pm, 5pm to 1am; walking groups & children welcome.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+