Solo Per Due outside Rome is more than just the “Smallest Restaurant in the World”

VACONE, Italy — One of my favourite parlour games with fellow travellers is this question: What’s the most romantic restaurant you’ve ever been?

For me, this isn’t close. It’s right outside Rome and billed as the “Smallest Restaurant in the World.” I’ve been there twice and I haven’t even eaten there. No need. The atmosphere of Solo Per Due restaurant Vacone is like something out of a game show, where contestants see if they can keep from mauling each other before they finish their salad.

Solo Per Due Restaurant Vacone – What to Expect

Solo Per Due is Italian for “Only For Two.” It gets its name from how many people it serves a night. That’s right, two. That’s it. They have one table. That’s it. The couple hand picks their dishes made from ingredients found in the surrounding countryside. They hand pick the music. They call the tuxedoed waiter with a silver bell. The 19th century villa is lined with artwork and Roman busts. A fireplace is in the corner.

Solo Per Due Restaurant Vacone, Italy
At Solo Per Due, couples hand pick their menu and music and call the tuxedoed waiter with a silver bell.

It’s a place only a poet like Horace could describe which he probably has. He lived on these grounds in the 1st century B.C.

If couples get carried away after dinner and can’t POSSIBLY wait until they get back to Rome, a nearby cottage is awaiting a spontaneous rental. There are other hotels nearby if you want to explore your options. You can also rent fireworks, preferably at the exact moment when you pop the question and not at the exact moment of your cottage tryst.

Location

It’s located in Vacone, a tiny ville 40 kilometres north of Rome and so small I haven’t met a single Roman who’s heard of it. It’s nestled in the rural Sabine Hills amidst a cluster of cypress and palm trees and can easily be reached by rental car.

Solo Per Due Restaurant Vacone, Italy: Sabine Hills
The Sabine Hills north of Rome are where the di Claudios gather most of their ingredients for their food.

On a free-lance assignment for the Los Angeles Times, my photographer and I strolled down its walkway lit with ground-level torches and lined with marble statues. Inside, three yellow candles and yellow flowers adorned a white tablecloth with an ice bucket and wine set. Two overstuffed red couches faced each other in front of a fireplace with a mantle covered with flowers and more candles.

Over the top? You bet. Too much? Maybe. Cupid would walk in and point an arrow at his frontal lobe. Apparently, women on first dates get so intimidated by the obligatory expectations (After all, 25 percent of the guests are Italian men.) that they run out and all the way to Rome.

Solo Per Due Restaurant Vacone, Italy: Fireplace
The 19th century villa is on the grounds of a home once owned by the Latin poet Horace in the 1st century B.C.

The Owners

But over the top is the point to the father-son ownership team, Remo and Giovanni di Claudio. They embrace the romance that is Italy like archaeologists hug the dirt of their digs around Rome. I’ve interviewed the owners twice and Giovanni, the son, gets so emotional talking about the Solo Per Due restaurant Vacone, I keep thinking he’ll start weeping. Short and wiry with carefully coiffed short black hair and a willowy beard, the 46-year-old di Claudio looked up at the ceiling and paused when I asked him what he likes most about his job.

“There isn’t a better emotion than working to give happiness to somebody,” he said. “If you are a doctor, you can treat somebody. It’s a great emotion for you. In this case, this emotion is not felt in the end of your job, but at the beginning.”

Solo Per Due Restaurant Vacone, Italy: Giovanni and Remo
Giovanni and Remo di Claudio started Solo Per Due in 1988

I interviewed one guest named Chris Endean, an English journalist living in Rome, about the experience and he waxed poetic for 10 minutes about the romance of the place. When I asked about the food, he paused. Frankly, he said, he couldn’t remember.

“You realize during the meal that they plan the whole evening around you,” Endean said. “You feel duty bound to keep eating. We had five or six courses. Then you wake up to a beautiful sunrise. Olive trees are in front of you. There’s a clear blue sky. It’s warm. It’s a special time.”

I didn’t eat. I don’t accept freebies from people I write about and the L.A. Times couldn’t afford this place. It is 250 euros a person. But the price does include the flowers, music and one of 10 wines. Transportation from Rome is an additional 250 to 590 euros. You can request three levels of fireworks, which will add 1,900 to 3,200 euros to the tab. They can be set off the moment a marriage proposal is whispered. The cottage nearby is 180 euros per couple.

Solo Per Due Restaurant Vacone, Italy: Mantle
The restaurant is lined with artwork and statues of Roman emperors

Solo Per Due restaurant Vacone reminds them of what it means to be Italian, what it means to be in love. Yes, soon, it also reminds them of what it means to be broke. No matter. I’ve heard tourists say food around Rome is so good it’s almost sexual. At Solo Per Due restaurant it is sexual. It’s sensual. “Romance” starts with R-O-M for a reason. The di Claudios combined the most romantic city in the world with the most romantic restaurant in the world to create a volcano of a romantic evening.

Can any reader out there top this?

Follow John Henderson’s travel website, Dog-Eared Passport


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About John Henderson

Website: http://www.johnhendersontravel.com

John Henderson worked nearly 40 years as a sportswriter, the last 24 with The Denver Post, including eight as a traveling food columnist. Worked since 1984 as a free-lance travel writer. Traveled to 98 countries and retired to Rome in January 2014. Originally from Eugene, Ore., and also worked in Kent, Wash., and Las Vegas. Graduate of the University of Oregon in 1978. Check out my blog, Dog-Eared Passport. Twitter @JohnHendeRome

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