CANORA, Sask. — The man on the phone sounded nervous.
So much so that Linda Osachoff wasn’t exactly sure what to think of this guest booking a room at La Campagna, the bed and breakfast she and her husband, Alfredo Converso, operate from their farm home east of Canora.
But he and his girlfriend arrived, supper was served, and the hosts left them alone to eat.
“How was everything?” they asked, returning to clear dishes.
“It was perfect,” the guest replied, sounding much more relaxed. “She said yes.”
Not all the guests come to this B & B with romantic pursuits in mind, but it’s easy to see why they might.
From the great room, where the proposal took place, the land gently slopes to the Whitesand River. A large and graceful willow tree dominates the huge yard, which is soon to include a two-acre garlic field.
It already contains vegetables, flowers, grapes and herbs, which Converso uses in his many recipes.
The work involved is immense but worthwhile. They have seen the stress melt away from their guests since they opened two years ago.
This is Osachoff’s home. She was raised just down the road and has lived on this particular land east of Canora since 1984. Currently, she is acting chief executive officer of Crossroads Credit Union in Canora.
Converso, as his name and penchant for cooking suggest, was raised in Italy’s Puglia region and came to Canada in the mid-1960s.
By a happy coincidence, La Campagna means company in the language of Osachoff’s Russian heritage and countryside in his.
The name reflects what they strive for: to make their guests feel part of their family and their country home.
They are apparently doing a good job: La Campagna was selected one of the top 10 bed and breakfasts in the province this year by guests who filled out comment cards.
However, they didn’t start out to open a bed and breakfast.
“We wanted space for the kids,” said Osachoff.
Three sons, a daughter and a granddaughter live from Vancouver to Montreal. So between July 2007 and April 2008 they added on to the small farm home and renovated to add the great room and two suites. One suite is a walkout from the lower level, next to what Converso uses as a summer kitchen.
The other is on the main floor but separate from the communal space.
However, they then needed to de-cide what to do with all the space when the kids weren’t visiting?
The B & B opened in May 2011.
“We’ve had great support from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and repeat people from Kansas City,” said Osachoff.
Peak season for guests is May to the end of August, which is also when Converso is tending the garden and canning tomatoes, drying herbs and preparing for winter eating.
An aficionado of the slow food movement, he isn’t a classically trained chef but says he must have learned something about cooking from his mother.
“I grew up in a two-room house,” he said. “You were either in the kitchen or the bedroom, so I was in the kitchen. I must have absorbed something.”
Converso has earned rave reviews for his homemade pasta and Italian menus. The couple caters occasionally, usually on-site, for up to 40 people. They accommodate special dietary and menu requests. One of the more unusual was a request for lobster ravioli.
He said the need for good quality garlic, and the possibility of selling it, has led to the new venture. The garlic will be considered natural. Although he will be growing it organically, it won’t be certified.
Guests are welcome to roam the property, pick berries or pull a weed or two. Osachoff and Converso are hoping to arrange canoeing on the river and horseback riding in the summer and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter.
“Our experience is that people mainly come here to chill,” he said.
One guest came to recover from a health issue. A business traveller stays every few weeks. Couples are often seeking to reconnect, and some simply want peace and quiet.
“Honestly, we can say we have not had one bad experience,” said Osachoff.
Most who arrive as guests leave as friends.