After years of skiing in Canada, France and Switzerland, it was the most magical thing to discover "The Lodge" restaurant/cafe at the top of Pamporovo mountain in Bulgaria. We walked in to a roaring fireplace, by which we hung up our mittens, jackets and hats so that they were warm and dry when we finally decided to leave the haven of The Lodge for some more great skiing.
Moreover, the food was outstanding. There are (limited numbers of) whole spit roast chickens cooked at lunchtime daily for hungry skiiers. I genuinely don't think I've had better chicken, and it set us back all of about £5 which is extraordinary value for a captive audience. Washed down well with some spiced wine.
Skiing in Pamporovo itself is fantastic. The tracks are well rated, and clearly signed. There is an abundance of beginner slopes, and these were more popular at least at the time we visited. By the end of six hard days skiing we were still finding new (parts of) red/blue runs we hadn't yet run, as well as only getting the confidence to tackle the (aptly named) 'Wall' on our penultimate day. For the braver skiers this is a steep and challenging black mogul field that affords absolutely breathtaking views.
Get there as soon as you can!
Pamporovo, Smolyan, Smolyan 4700, Bulgaria,
It's a sausage and mash restaurant, believe it or not, right in the heart of Oxford's Castle Quarter, and it's just 'right' - a celebration of all that's great about great British food. It's not a chain, but a single place, run by a single guy and his enthusiastic team. He's bound to be there, telling you which creation of sausages goes best with which creation of mash. Local beers, local staff and a good feel. Best place I can recommend
I love the faded splendour of the Central Cafe in Budapest. Sat on worn red leather seats in the wood-panelled interior it is easy to imagine eavesdropping on the earnest conversations of bearded revolutionaries, artists, poets and lovers.
Art deco lights hang from from starburst ceiling roses, and the doors open up onto the street to entice passers-by into the cool, high-ceilinged rooms with their beautiful painted mouldings and dark wood floors.
The waiters act slightly aloof, as though they carry the weight of history around with their trays of magnificent cakes and hearty Hungarian breakfasts. We feasted on scrambled eggs, Mangalica sausage, soft cheese on brown seeded bread and freshly squeezed orange juice.
Arriving two hours late on the overnight sleeper from Istanbul, after five separate stops for checks by Turkish then Bulgarian border police in the middle of the night, it was bliss to find this cafe. With its worn squashy leather sofas surrounded by a sculpture garden, and a warm unhurried atmosphere, it provided the best hot chocolate I have ever had - pure, smooth, rich, dark nectar which lifted the spirts on a cold, grey October day. The art gallery was not very memorable, the hot chocolate was.
I discovered this place yesterday, even though I have lived in Leeds for four years. Hidden away next to a fish and chip shop (I think that's new too?) just off Wellington Street, this place serves up a brilliant sandwich.
Although I had never been there before, I was clearly late to the party on this one as it was very busy and there was a queue for sandwiches. I had a roast beef sandwich on the biggest slices of bread I've ever seen, and my friend had a jacket potato slathered with tuna mayonnaise!
We were lucky to get a table as most people were ordering lunch to take away. The food was delicious, and we had to go back for some carrot cake to finish it off in style. I would really recommend Appetite cafe.
An erect willy is a part of the chef's special in Sighişoara's smartest dinery. Made from pork meatloaf, it salutes Vlad the Impaler, the Translyvanian hero whose birthplace is just around the corner. The town is the best preserved medieval citadel in Europe, old MittelEurope alive and well in Transylvania. The impressive Tolkienesque clock-tower houses a good museum. Climb to the top to gaze down on the pan-tiled roofs, cobbled streets and ancient covered walkways that link nine defensive guild towers. And the willy was delicious, thank you for asking.
The place to stay in Sighisoara is the Casa cu Cerb - the name translates as the Stag House and the hotel is easy to find: on the front of the building there's a painted rearing stag, complete with real antlers that project into the small main square.
A face behind reception may look familiar; this is where Princes Charles has stayed on trips to the area. HRH is apparently related to Vlad the Impaler but you wouldn't guess, a friendly autographed 'Charles' portrait welcomes you to Translyvania. Ask for a room overlooking the square: you can watch the Transylvanian world go by, see and hear the clock-tower, listen to the echoing chacks of jackdaws, and almost don't need to leave your room. The top floor rooms are the best value.
The hotel is not quite what it seems, dig a little deeper to discover that in 2001 it was restored to an extremely high standard (a traditional wooden staircase is particularly superb) by the Messerschmitt Foundation www.schloss-anras.com/messerschmitt_eng.html. Established by Willy Messerschmitt it is dedicated to preserving the best of German architecture. The link between Germany and Transylvania, if you're wondering, is that the region was formerly peopled by the Saxons, their churches and villages remain today. (You should also know for politeness at least, that until the first world war Translyvania was very much Hungarian and for many, still is.)
Two must-see-dos (as well as the pork willy) in Sighişoara are a) a walk up the covered walkway (protection against winter snow) to the defensive church and graveyard at the top of the hill. An old horse-drawn hearse parked round the back adds atmosphere, as if it were needed. Then b) is a little pizzaria, San Gennaro, near the main square. Baked in front of your eyes, the pizzas are thin and fresh and delicious and costed us two euros each. There's a garden at the back to enjoy them with a beer if the weather's good.
To aid in creating a sustainable new Translyvanian rural economy Prince Charles bought a couple of farmhouses and converted them into self-catering accommodation. These are managed for HRH by Count Kalnoky www.transylvaniancastle.com/kalnoky/kalnoky.htmlwho who also welcomes guests to his own estate in Miklósvár - a typically Translyvanian agrarian village. We stayed there in a 'gingerbread' cottage with maize cobs hanging under the eaves. Meals including breakfast are usually served al fresco under a wonderful grapevine-covered loggia, or in the evening in a very atmospheric ancient dining room (think dark night, Dracula, flickering candles, intriguing fellow guests, Dracula ...)
The last stronghold of the European Wolf is Translyvania; there are an estimated 3000 still roaming the forests, more than the rest of Europe combined. There are also brown bears and lynx. Count Kalnoky organises guided nature trips into the woods and forests. We first met sheep, with their shepherd, and our guide issued a sheepdog cautionary - speak softly and carry a big stick (you may look like a shepherd). The dogs are large and can need watching, their role is, after all, fighting wolves and bears.
We found ammonites in a forest stream, saw really beautiful insects, and picked and ate delicous wild raspberries with our picnic which included the ubiquitous strong plum spirit. This was enjoyed in a meadow alive with grasshoppers and birdsong. The raspberries you also see being sold at the roadside by gypsy women and girls along with baskets of some luminously yellow fungi. In the middle of nowhere on a wooded hill we came across an American archaelogy professor plus students excavating a Hunnish 4th century settlement. But the very best came last, as we crossed a stream on the way back, there glistening in the mud were the very recently formed spoor of a large brown bear.
Casa Cu Cerb
Str. Scolii, 1, Sighisoara, Mures, 545400
+40 265 774625
Google map: bit.ly/WOXqd8
The Hotel Sighisoara is a good hotel next to the square with a separate outdoor restaurant with good quality food where the aforementioned chef's special is good value, five or six meats served on large wooden board. A meal to remember. www.sighisoarahotels.ro/
Pizzeria San Gennaro - just opposite the Casa Cu Cerb. Baked to order delicious thin pizza, garden in the rear. Was 2 euro for an eat-in pizza.
Restaurant Chevalet has the most idyllic location on the shores of Lake Siutghiol. Light streams in through the French doors, or in warmer weather, you can eat on the terrace. Prices are incredibly low and the cooking is almost a floor show in itself-the cheery chef prepares food at the table, most of which comprise freshly-caught fish (including enormous prawns who clearly considered themselves to be part-lobster) and flamboyantly concocting indulgent desserts made from local berries or crepes with wild almonds, honey and buttery caramel. When the sun sets, the lake sparkles...as did my husband's eyes when the bill came! Very reasonable, washed down with a dark, spicy local wine and finished with sweet, strong coffee. Perfect.
A rare nod to Romania's literary heratage that it seems shy to acknowledge, this restaurant is woefully under-used, and the owners struggle to market it. Spooky inside and out, with themed, good quality and inexpensive meals, along with friendly staff, Dracula restaurant is well worth a visit during any stay in Bucharest.
Splaiul Independenței, București, Romania
+40 21 312 1353
Google map: bit.ly/112Hs5D
This is a true gem of heritage and culture amid the splendour of the Carpathian mountains.
Rustic dishes prepared to traditional recipes by the Family who own and operate Cabana Postavarul.
You don't need a Royal Compass, like Prince Charles who owns property in the region, to find it and you will always remember it's beauty and integrity.
If you do need a Royal Compass then you will find the best Ski and board instruction money can buy with Silviu and Alex and their team.
Starbucks, Costa, Paul: visitors to Prague can’t help noticing that the coffee giants have descended on the city. Thankfully though there are still plenty of cool indie cafes to discover including new kid on the block Prazirna.
The clue to Pražírna’s unique selling point is in its name, the Czech word for coffee roasting house. Yep, you guessed it – all their beans are roasted on the premises. As you would therefore expect, every possible kava variation is on the menu – Americano and cappuccino; flat white and filter, all at reasonable prices. Despite its stripped-down interior – the walls are unadorned brick apart from the odd arty black and white photo – this aspiring hip haunt somehow manages to be cosy rather than austere. There’s squishy seating on offer in its two spacious basement rooms as well as the usual hardbacked seats if you need to take advantage of the Wi-Fi and get on with some freelancing. The service is friendly and attentive but this remains a place you feel able to linger without ordering every five minutes.
The coffee itself is of course excellent quality, proffered on a small metal tray and served with a decent-sized tumbler of tap water. Don’t expect Starbucks style mega portions though: here at Pražirna, less is more. There are classic Czech winter warmers on offer too like medovina (a boozy hot tipple made from honey) and svařák (mulled wine) if you’re not a slave to caffeine.
All in all, Pražirna is a very welcome new addition to Prague’s indie café scene. I always leave there feeling full of beans.
Lublaňská 676/50, Prague 2
+420 720 385 622
Nearest metro/tram: I.P. Pavlova
Google map: bit.ly/W5Fcp1
* Lisette is our Been there local for Prague. You can read her profile here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/prague-local-lisette.jsp and follow her tips here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/LisettePrague
Psst. You. Yes you standing there in Dam Square, map in hand, wondering where to eat and not eager to sit down at the dozens of lousy tourist trap spots nearby. Over here. Down this non-descript street not much wider than an alley. Right off Dam Square, about 150 metres. It's Cafe van Kerkwijk.
It's surprising to find such a great, affordable, off-the-beaten path place so close to such a beaten path. My wife and I discovered it quite by accident; I've been in the city for years now and didn't even notice this street until last month.
There are no menus here - your server will come over and list the day's options. And then you'll be treated to a great homemade meal in a cozy environment - I'd call it comfort food but that might imply it is too basic. All the choices are interesting and they vary, from meat dishes to vegetarian options, sandwiches to full meals to great desserts and coffee. The at-home feel is enhanced by the two sisters who own it, one in the kitchen and the other on the floor.
It is busy - often packed with locals, which is a good sign in any city - and you can't make reservations. But wait a few minutes at the small bar and you will be rewarded, day or night.
Nes 41, 1012 KC Amsterdam, Netherlands
+31 20 620 3316
Google map: bit.ly/XZWcfU
* Jeff is our Been there local for Amsterdam. You can read his profile here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/amsterdam-local-jeff-funnekotter.jsp and follow his tips here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/jefffunnekotter
Our legs ached and our heads were full of the fascinating sights and sounds of Poznan. We had seen the mechanical goats fighting with their horns in the old square and had visited the Museum of Music and had marvelled at one of Chopin's pianos but now we needed food and our eyes were drawn to the name of one of Poznan's most entertaining restaurants - 'The Dark Restaurant!'
We were led in complete darkness to our table not knowing what would be put in front of us. The tingle of anticipation remained with us as the eery outlines of the waitresses appeared and disappeared into the shadows. The fun of finding the food on our plates and then trying to guess what each of us was eating produced an evening of great mirth and hilarity. We tried to exchange drinks and sample one another's food but this proved challenging in total darkness.This was an unforgettable evening and a once in a life-time experience!
Bottom of the Ettelsberg gondola, bright, modern, fast service great basic fayre for families. Italian/German dishes that hungry children won't pull faces at. Very, very reasonable prices and open at 8.30am for early skiers and during the three nights they have floodlit skiing.
Poland’s Hel Peninsula was once mistaken for the Caribbean in my holiday photos – and you can send postcards saying you’re on holiday in Hel – but it gets very crowded in high season, so the Pomeranian/Kashubian coast to the west offers a quieter alternative with the same fantastic beaches. Łeba is a highlight; you can hire bikes cheaply for a forest ride through the Słowiński National Park to an amazing moving sand dune. Ustka is a lively seaside town with a particularly good bakery (Piekarnia-Ciastkarnia Eugeniusz Brzóska, ul. Marynarki Polskiej 40, 76-270 Ustka) and an excellent café specialising in stuffed dumplings which never taste quite as good outside Poland (Stara Pierogarnia, ul. Darłowska 10A, 76-270 Ustka. Tel: 00 48 59 307 03 03 Email: email@example.com). We went there three days in a row. The skansen (open air museum) of Kashubian culture at Wdzydze Kiszewskie is also well worth a day trip (www.muzeum-wdzydze.gda.pl), as is the more famous one at Szymbark, which boasts the world’s longest table and a house which has been built upside down, as well as a range of traditional food options and its own brewery. (www.na-kaszuby.pl/Ciekawe_miejsca/Szymbark.html).
Piekarnia-Ciastkarnia Eugeniusz Brzóska, ul. Marynarki Polskiej 40, 76-270 Ustka
Stara Pierogarnia, ul. Darłowska 10A, 76-270 Ustka. Tel: 00 48 59 307 03 03 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
With aching shins and numb toes we zigzagged down from the summit at Haut Fleury with hope in our hearts; hope that Jean de la Pipe would be open for late lunch, and that it would live up to the images of warmth and restdom that the locals had so vividly conjured up the night before! What a relief therefore when our skis kindly deposited us outside the front door! We decided to bystep the happy vinchaud drinkers on the sun-filled terrace and snuggle up by the ginormous wood-burning fire that dominates the cosy interior. We feasted on beautiful copious slabs of cote de boeuf cooked over the fire that crackled away next to our table, and moved our heads in sync as huge platters of local Savoie meats were delivered to neighbouring diners! Needless to say that two hours later, the next port of call was a hot bath in the chalet rather than another ascent to the icy summit!
+33(0)4 50 34 22 08
Bottom of Les Molliettes ski lift
There are a bunch of places to choose from to eat at Plaine Dranse near Morzine in the Portes du Soleil but none of them are in the same league as Chez Babethe. The interior is packed with fairy lights, ornaments, fur drapes and people turning it into something of a magical alcove. Babette ushers you to your seat - and she seems to know everyone - and you sink into cushions and fur while you wait for an aperatif. It's not cheap - starters are about 16 euros - and you won't be back on the slopes any time soon. But if you're looking for a slopesie restaurant that you'll remember for years to come then Chez Babethe is it. And the thing is - she'll remember you too, which is a nice touch.
Not the greatest views in the Alps but the warmest atmosphere and the most delicious food. Startgels is in a league of its own in the Weisse ski area of Eastern Switzerland. Watch the owner Ueli Grand (known to us as the 'bearded man') grill your lunch over a roaring open fire. A wonderful haven for that final hot chocolate and cake on the last run home, but our friends also enjoy walking there from the top of the Foppa chairlift. Never been in summer but it would be equally lovely.
Postfach 79, CH-7017 Flims-Dorf
+41 81 911 58 48
The Startgels restaurant is open when the Weisse Arena ski lifts and cable cars are in operation.
Slope side hole in the wall snack bar with prices to reflect. BUT has fantastic spicy home made soups. "La patronne" travels to India a lot and brings home stocks of exotic spices. The soups are a welcome break from the usual resort offerings of saucisson and fromage and really hit the spot at lunch. Great for a quick aperitif too. Try Peche mignon (like a kir but with peach liqueur)
Place du Tour, Le Tour, near Chamonix
Google map: bit.ly/10ks8zM
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