With its fertile hills rolling down to the Tyrrhenian Sea and an economy underpinned by agriculture, animal husbandry and fishery, there are few better places to eat than the central Italian region of Lazio. Intensely flavoured local cheeses, freshly baked bread, a bounty of fresh produce such as artichokes, eggplants and tender green beans, as well as delicacies from the sea such as squid, clams and anchovies, mean you will never go hungry, whether you're holed up in capital city Rome, or a remote hillside holiday farm.
While exploring the ancient Via Appia Antica (Appian Way), Rome's fabled cobblestone highway, we took time out to lunch at the renowned L'Archeologia, which aims to meld the Lazio region's antique gastronomical culture with contemporary food trends. This sprawling oasis of a restaurant, which provides both indoor and a la carte seating (the latter in a leafy courtyard) occupies the site of a former horse-and-rider post office which transported goods from the Mediterranean to Rome in the 17th century. If that weren't enough to boost its historical cred, there's even an on-site mausoleum (tomb) dating back to the 2nd century, and a hypogeum (underground) grave that now functions as a wine cellar.
Delicious buffalo mozzarella drenched in olive oil. Author image.
But as for the food ... it would be no exaggeration to say that L'Archeologia provided me with one of the most memorable meals of a one-month tour of Europe. We began with antipasto in the form of a selection of prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella and bread, though other hor d'oeuvres options include smashed tomatoes with grilled octopus and green beans, or raw fish and shellfish from the fishing nets of Civitavecchia, flavored with Sabina oil and lemons from Amalfi.
Smoked gnocchi with squid and clams. Author image.
Primo (first courses) include tagliatelle tossed with anchovies, wild fennel and zucchini flowers, and smoked gnocchi served with fresh squid and clams, both pictured here. Secondi (main courses) include beef cooked to order, seared duck breast, or fish dishes such as hook-fished sea bass, all complemented by a range of vegetable side dishes. Longer tasting menus featuring both meat and fish are also available.
Masoleum dating back to the 2nd Century AD. Author image.
The wine list features the best of what Italy has to offer - and after a busy morning sightseeing, there are few things more relaxing than sipping a glass of local red under dappled sunlight at L'Archeologia. Desserts are simple - featuring nuts, chestnuts, peaches, prickly pears (which grow profusely in the neighbouring hills) and an ever-changing 'dessert of the day'. However, you barely need a dose of the sweet stuff given that coffee is served with a selection of sugared biscuits - just delicious dunked in latte.
This sublime environment is so restorative we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon further exploring the surrounding area (instead of crashing back at our Airbnb, as had been our original plan). Among the other sights along Via Appia Antica are several catacombs (underground burial places) and the Chiesa del Domine Quo Vadis.