Wherever you are in the world, some of the most memorable moments are when the weather makes you take a detour from the sights and smells of outside to the sights and smells of inside, usually a shop or a cafe. Krakow, late Autumn and a sudden squally shower of sleet and biting wind helped me find a combination of the two, a cosy bookshop and coffee house lost in the side streets of this most beautiful and haunting of cities. I spotted a simple sign for a bookshop on a fairly bland street. Small from outside, it was like stepping into the wardrobe to Narnia. A bookshop I dream of finding, but better.
Lined with books, the walls are a feast for the eyes of any bookworm. Books in English and French and Polish. A small counter of cakes, biscuits, the sound of a coffee grinder and steam drew me through the room. Homemade semolina and orange cake and black coffee with hot milk. I was ushered around the side of the counter into a room that spoke of days gone by. Wooden tables, doorways framed with heavy curtains, small lamps, dark green fin de siècle wallpaper, wooden newspaper holders and enough cosiness to make me want to just sit there for hours, reading and thinking about the city yet to explore. It was quiet, except for a couple of tables of people reading or staring deep in thought at the cold outside. Atmospheric and as dark as the coffee, it was old Eastern Europe, the Orient Express and Cabaret all at once. I expected Oscar Wilde, Sally Bowles or Marcel Proust to appear from behind a curtain. There was suspense in the air; the coffee was on its way.
Strong and smooth, the coffee lived up to the rich aroma from the grinding machine. The china chunky and warm to cup in my hands. The sticky bitter sweetness of the orange cake with the coffee was alchemy. Coffee is always better when there is magic in the air. It’s this type of independent coffee house that makes cities so attractive, like you’ve discovered something of your own.
Massolit also has another small bakery shop a few streets away, minimalist, white and great for delicious bread and pastries, but it is the bookshop café where memories are rich and sweet to savour.
Following our stay in Clarens, we headed for the Midlands in Natal. Living in Dubai, we don’t really have a winter – you can live in shorts and a t-shirt all year round. We were looking forward to some cold weather: frosty mornings, fire places and electric blankets. I am currently reading The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets of Happy Living and realized how much I missed hygge. Hygge loosely translates to cosiness but as Meik Wiking puts it is more of an atmosphere, a feeling, an ambiance.
It’s just under a 3 hour drive to Hartford House (where we stayed) in Mooi River from Clarens. We stopped along the way at The Pig & Plough in Winterton for a quick coffee and my favorite South Africa dessert, Milk Tart. It was the perfect place for a break. With a lovely garden on the side, we ordered 2 cappuccinos. Pleasantly surprised, they used Terbodore coffee like many of the cafes in the Midlands. Terbodore Coffee Roasters are also based here and have a roastery and café in Curry’s Post.
The Midlands Meander is a loop that links several small villages together. I imagined it to be set-up a little like Clarens (everything centrally located) but you need to drive from one place to another. My advice to anyone doing this is plan your itinerary and select the activities you would like to do. We didn’t plan anything (apart from dinner every night) and were left a little ‘stuck’ on what to do. While the brochures in the tourist places list all the things to do, I found it difficult to put together an itinerary. If drinking coffee and eating cake is your thing, here’s my Midlands Meander.
One of the biggest attractions in the area is the Nelson Mandela capture site. The whole place is really well done with a small, informative museum and the sculpture itself is magnificent. On the way to the site, we stopped in Nottingham Road and came across Café Bloom. It was raining at this point, so it ducked inside to warm up. Not quite sure which bean they used, it was so cold that I just needed a coffee. Cappuccinos, a brownie and seat by the fire. The Danish would refer to this as a perfect hygge moment.
We stumbled upon this place on the way back from the Nottingham Road. We saw the sign on the road, it had a cute name (who doesn’t like Blueberry café) and were curious enough to find out more. Set high up on a hill, the car park was full. This was a good sign. As we walked in, we were greeted by a very friendly chap who appeared to know what was going on. You could also smell the coffee roasting – they have their own roastery on site. The food looked fabulous – so good that we wanted to come back for lunch the next day but they were fully booked. We had a quick coffee and since the kitchen was closed the lovely gentleman packed us some complementary cheesecake as padkos (road-food). The cappuccinos were so good, the fire blazing and the views of the mountains so stunning that we can came back the next day for another coffee. We sat the window and looked out at the Drakensberg Mountains. The Winkle next door if you fancy some shopping. We saw some beautiful, unusual pieces for our home – it’s definitely worth popping in.
Since everyone in the area including Hartford House serves Terbodore Coffee, this was one stop that had to be included. The drive over was beautiful as you went off the main roads (because Google told us this was the way). We passed Bosh Hoek Golf Club which looked stunning – we will save that for another time. We put the hire car through its paces up and down the gravel roads. Once we hit the Curry’s Post Road, we breathed a sigh of relief. Terbodore Coffee Roasters is tucked away – it’s like you are going to visit someone living on behind green hills. We parked on the lawn and we greeted by the smell of coffee. If only everyplace smelled like this. The sun was shining and the restaurant had a good buzz. We were also welcomed by 2 great danes (the Terbodore logo) lounging in the warm winter sun. I love how the great dane theme continues through the café – note the doggie biscuits intended for humans. The cappuccinos were warm and rich. The blend served in the café seemed to be richer and smoother than we had previously. We also bought some coffee as gifts and some Terbodore coffee pods for our Nespresso machine.
Lastly, Hartford House needs no introduction to the food scene in Natal as Chef Constantijn has done a remarkable job in the kitchen. His food is experimental, exciting and he can turn you into a dragon. Every night Chef Constantijn took everyone through the menu including where the ingredients were the sourced from – they use local produce as much as possible. We knew that the piece of meat came from the specific farmer up the road. We did not have the room for a coffee after dinner as we were so full from the 5 course degustation menu. Instead, our first coffee at Hartford House was on our second morning at breakfast – we overslept on the first day and missed breakfast completely. The roast was Terbodore and the cappuccino was hmmmm ok – I preferred Costantijn’s cooking! Following breakfast we went for a bike ride, met the horses (Hartford House still has a working stud farm on site) and explored the grounds. After eating so much for dinner, you needed to find a way to burn off the calories.
It seems like there are many more places one can pop in for coffee and cake like Granny Mouse and Piggly Wiggly. We struggled to get this time and will definitely have a more structured coffee itinerary on the next trip.
Growing up in South Africa, we spent many school holidays exploring the country. Holidays abroad were the exception as there was little need (plus it was expensive) to travel abroad when you had so much on your doorstop. My parents moved to New Zealand when I was 13 and although we went back to South Africa fairly often, it felt like you were going home. As an adult, going to South Africa ‘on holiday’ with my husband was a different experience. Matt is British and has been there 3 times. He absolutely loves it. His enthusiasm and love for the country rubs off on me and I feel like I am seeing things for the first time. On the other hand, there is still a pull and it feels like my soul has come home. In between visiting family and friends, we always try to do something new. For this trip, we planned a short 3 night stop in Clarens after reading The 25 best small towns in South Africa article. (http://www.savisas.com/blog/best-small-towns-south-africa/)
Clarens is known as the ‘Jewel of the Free State’ and is a lively, beautiful and arty small town. The winter days were cold yet crisp and sun warmed you up. The blue sky complemented the golden hues of the mountain surrounds; you felt like you were walking around an oil painting. The roads around the town are gravel which simply adds to the charm of the place. The art scene is what sets Clarens apart. One of the highlights included meeting Richard Rennie – a master water colourist and he opened the first art gallery in Clarens in 1990. But where there is art, there will be coffee. Here are my picks:
This B&B was our home for 3 nights so it makes sense to start here. Patcham Place is well located close to the town centre. Richard and Carol were fabulous hosts and laid out a scrumptious breakfast each morning. The filter coffee was strong and rich without tasting too bitter or watery. Plus, both hot and cold milk options were provided – you did not need to ask. The rooms were clean and comfortable and we loved our stay here.
This is the specialty coffee shop in town as they have their own coffee roastery in the shop. As a result the place smells divine. The café is small but cosy and there are plenty of games to keep you entertained. We sat by the fire and puzzled over our cappuccinos.
Insiders tip: Richard and Carol suggested we stop here for a coffee on our way to the Golden Gate Park. This cute lil café serves Lavazza coffee and has a yummy selection of small bites to choose from. It is one part café and one part gift shop – full of quirky trinkets.
It was a warm, sunny morning so we sat outside on the picnic tables. The place was buzzing families and dogs. There is a kids play around there so mum and dad can enjoy some breakfast while the kiddies play on the slides and see-saw. The cappuccinos are on the larger side (so more milky – ask for an extra shot if you like yours stronger) and will keep you full for most of the morning.
Even mid-afternoon, this place was packed. The staff were very friendly and smiley. We sat outside (again) and ordered 2 cappuccinos, a chicken/mayo sandwich and a bacon toastie. All yummy and devoured within minutes. The bakery next door had lots of freshly baked bread and cakes – great if you are staying in self-catering.
We were too hungry to even think about taking photos so there are no pics from this delightful lil place.
We didn’t have a coffee here as we stopped by for dinner but the hot chocolate was good, the fire place cosy and the atmosphere was warm and inviting. Dinner was great – the chef (from Ghana) comes around and checks that everything is okay with the food.
Clarens was really a delight and we were reminded how wonderful small towns are. Everyone we met was friendly, warm and welcoming – along with the coffees, it is these small touches, gestures and smiles that make a holiday experience more memorable.
After I resigned from my job in financial services and before starting a new marketing role in tourism, I needed a break. It was time to give myself some head space and close one door before opening another. Marketing takes a lot out of you (energy, creativity, planning – always trying to think outside the box) so it is important that you always find a way to put that creativity back in – whether it is going to the theatre, a gallery, a walk, painting – try to do something that inspires, energies and uplifts you. An easy option for this is always travelling. Prague was the perfect place for a reset and recharge. The city is simply exquisite and the architecture rivals Paris. As Prague was not bombed during the wars, the buildings remain intact in all their glory. We stayed at The Mark which was just a short walk into town. Libor from the concierge team really made our stay delightful and many of the cafes below were recommended by him – nothing beats insider knowledge!
Our first stop on the way to Prague Castle. It was past lunch time by the time we got here simply because there were so many things to stop and look at along the way in the Lesser Town. Plus, Matt wanted to take photos of everything which slowed us down even more! The whole area is full of cute little streets and alleys. The higher you go, the better the view of the city. Even the lamp posts look like they are out of a fairy tale. The smell of the trdelnik – traditional Czech pastry drew us in to this delightful little café which had a cute little garden at the back. It was the perfect stop to refuel after 10,000 steps! The coffee was Illy and the cappuccinos thoroughly enjoyable.
Vinohrady is pretty much a residential area and falls under Prague 2. After much research on Pinterest, I imagined it to be full of boutiques and cafes. Unfortunately, everything is quite spread out and if you are on foot there is quite a lot of walking to do. Not quite as pretty as Prague 1, this part of town is more local. Our first stop was IF café which came recommended by Libor. He said that he and his wife go there regularly. The cappuccino was hot and creamy – perfect start to Vinohrady.
I was very excited about the next stop as I had read so much about it. La Boheme is a speciality coffee shop and a very trendy place to be seen. The café is beautiful. There were lots of arty people walking around and working on macs in the corner while drinking espressos. For our second coffee in less than an hour, we ordered cappuccinos again. They arrived in delightful cups but the roast looked very dark – I was worried at this point. It was strong, bitter and not quite to my taste. So I added 2 sugars, downed the coffee and left on a coffee high.
The best find in Vinohrady was these Czech Smarties!
Frank Kafta and Albert Einstein come here for coffee (and cake too, I imagine) so this was enough of a reason for me to include this on my tour. The Parisian style café is beautiful and you have to walk up a flight of stairs to get there. We sat outside in the garden and couldn’t drink anymore coffee. But Café Louvre is famous for their thick French style hot chocolate which comes in small (espresso cup) portions – perfect! It was wolfed down in minutes – we ordered a single because Matt didn’t want one, but I ended up sharing this little cup.
My favourite! We were out the door at 6am so we could get to Charles Bridge when it is empty – the perfect time for photos. The sun was just coming up, it was a little misty and the city looked even more romantic. Before we ran out the door, we asked Libor if anywhere would be open for coffee at that time of the morning. He recommended Bakehouse around the corner from Charles Bridge. Bakehouse smelled like fresh bread and was full of locals starting their day. The cappuccinos were large, creamy and hot. Perfect for a cold morning.
Our last coffee stop in Prague. This was around the corner from the hotel and grand it was. Straight out of the art deco era, it felt like we were stepping back in time. No cake, just 2 cappuccinos, lots of photos and we were out!
Prague is full of incredible little coffee shops – some you read about, some you stumble upon and some the locals tell you about. It is a great coffee break and an amazing city.
My earliest coffee memory is making an instant coffee for my mum as a child in South Africa. The brand was Frisco and mum liked it with three quarters boiling water and a splash of milk. No sugar. I couldn’t drink anything that hot (and still can’t) nor something so bitter. My dad also drank coffee (half water, half milk, 3 teaspoons of sugar). This was much more to my taste – the right temperature and sugar highs.
A cousin then introduced me to milky coffee. This was how Wimpy (the hamburger restaurant of my childhood) made it. It was simply hot milk, a teaspoon of instant coffee and some sugar. Very creamy and oh so good.
My parents moved from South Africa to New Zealand when I was 13 and in the land of the flat white, I discovered espresso coffee. Here, we regularly went out for a coffee to cafes. I don’t seem to remember cafes and going for a coffee from the years in South Africa. The cafe culture had not yet developed. I asked mum what she drank when she went out for a coffee. I still remember her answer – a cappuccino.
At high school, I met the person who changed my coffee outlook, taste, preference and life. Her name is Sandra and she still is a major influence in my world. There will be many posts in the future which will include Sandy and our dramas!
Anyway, what you need to know is that she drank a trim mocha latte. Coffee lesson 1: The difference between a mocha and mocha latte is that a mocha has 1 shot of coffee and a mocha latte has 2. Many a barista asked her this question. Sandra disliked instant coffee, coffee that was too milky and pink marshmallows (which where always served on the side in New Zealand). She preferred her mocha latte more on the coffee side, I preferred mine more on the chocolate side. On a trip to Australia in 2008, a barista in Surfers Paradise, actually asked us how we liked our mochas and then tailor made each one.
I still like the occasional mocha with full fat milk – I have moved away from mocha lattes after I left New Zealand as baristas in the UK and Dubai didn’t have an idea what it was and were not interested in finding out.
My coffee story continues in the next post where coffee and blogging come together.