A perilously narrow road wraps its way tightly round steep mountain curves. Our car breathes with relief at every turn taken, then we brace ourselves for the next one. Higher and deeper inland we go, into the countryside behind Catalunya’s Costa Daurada. It’s a beautiful drive on this hot summer’s day.
But it’s (Spanish) lunchtime (2pm), and curves-causing car sickness hasn’t eradicated appetites.
And as the road opens up, we see a handsome old settlement, standing proud beneath the hills. Perfect, we think. No Spanish (or rather, Catalunyan) town is complete without somewhere to eat.
But this place, named Tivissa, sits quite still in the searing heat; the village wears a slow and ancient quiet.
The empty lanes are pretty in the sunshine, and we find a panoramic view beside the Church of Sant Jaume de Tivissa (an unusual gem with a 19th century facade but a gothic church within).
However, there is neither sight nor sound nor smell of any eatery. I force a relaxed air by remarking on the authentic charm of Tivissa with its small streets stacked with flowerpots, and no tourists (or anyone else) about.
But the kids aren’t buying my waxing lyrical. They are hungry and hot, and their steps slacken as they come to a complaining halt.
Then with a speed that doesn’t tally with the sleepy tempo of Tivissa, two girls louden the lane we are walking down with an urgent shriek of “Passando!” (so is sounds – maybe it’s Catalan “Passant!“). We look up as a small scooter carries the two teenagers crashing over curbstones past us. They judder and holler with glee, then disappear out of sight as suddenly as they arrived. The lane resettles into stillness, except for the ripples of joie de vivre that tail the girls through town (I think my two eldest sons would like to follow).
By now it’s late even for Spanish lunchtime, so we give in and ask Google what to do about food. By its easy magic, we find a pizzeria just two minutes’ walk away, and Google is rewarded with a grateful, but very weary, cheer.
So here we are with the menu. It’s not in Spanish, and Google comes up with no satisfactory Catalan menu decoder. But we can tell there are no pizzas (the kids groan) – the restaurant is packed with locals taking a break from work to enjoy what’s on offer: the 9 euro menú del día.
We guess at the Catalan on the menu, struggle, guess again, work out maybe 30%, and feel deflated. And I sense (without wanting or needing to look at them) my kids’ fed-up faces.
Then a lady from the next table asks us, in a perfect Yorkshire accent, if we’d like some help. She outclasses Google with her effortless Catalan, and we are soon ready to order. The lady sits back at her table for one, and I wonder how a Yorkshire woman came to live in Tivissa and become fluent in Catalan.
The menu comes with water or wine, so my husband asks for red and I request white. It’s taken some time and effort to get this far, so why not enjoy a mid-afternoon glass?
It’s not a glass, it’s a full bottle each, evidently from the local cooperative. Alongside the chilled bottle of red, the waitress deposits a bottle of soda water. My husband is not a spritzer kind of man, but all the men here are drinking watered down fizzy red wine, so why not? It turns out to be just the ticket. Refreshing, cold and just right for a hot summer’s day (and for the designated driver).
The food is hearty and good. The kids’ starter of pasta is enough for a main, and our gazpatxo is fragrant with a garlicky goodness. Meat (veal or lamb) or fish, all served with chips, come next. My beautifully flavoured fish dish with a delicate orange sauce is the clear winner.
We eat until we are beyond full. People come and go, then come back again. It’s an easy kind of place. The lady from Yorkshire sits at her table long after she’s finished her meal, with her coffee cup empty at last. She watches the people around her, in a subtle sort of way, and occasionally smiles to herself. She doesn’t seem to miss a thing. I wonder if she’s a writer.
We bide our time too, it’s cooler inside with the fans, and there are still desserts to sample – simple offerings of flans, ice cream or fruit. This is not haute cuisine, it’s honest home-style cooking. Tasty and nourishing, it suits the locals.
As for pizzas in Tivissa, I think there will be some later – our restaurant has boxes to take away (high up on a shelf) and plenty of TripAdvisor pizza praise.
Yet even the kids agree – our lunch was ace (but how about pizzas tomorrow?).
- Guide books on Spain and Catalunya advise eating a main meal at lunchtime, as far better value can be had with a menú del día like the one we had. It’s worth looking out for blackboard signs displayed outside bars and restaurants.
- Catalan is confusing. To us it sounds like a mix of Spanish, French and Italian, and obviously belongs to the Latin family. More on it here.
- Catalunya has a very strong identity. Many want a split from Spain (many don’t). More on the banned referendum scheduled for next month here.
- Obviously, Tivissa offers more than just food and girls on scooters. It has a long history reaching right back to the Romans and beyond into prehistory. Click here for more.