London tours and royal weddings

So Saturday was a big day in the UK, what with Prince Harry getting married to his American actress bride Meghan Markle. It was also a sunny day, hooray, as we embarked on our morning walking tour of Westminster in London. Destination, a pub in Whitehall to watch THE wedding. What a perfect London day lay in store.

We signed up for a Strawberry Tours free walking tour which was given a bit of extra royal and wedding flavour to celebrate the day. Starting off in blue-skied Leicester Square we met our guide Alex. He entertained us with stories of London’s Westminster and regaled us with Royal tales through history. Like how King James I invented the Union flag by combining the three flags of England, Scotland and Ireland – as I’m helping to demonstrate here.

Strawberry tours: Union Flag

Learning all about the Union Flag

Strawberry tours: regent street

The reds and blues of beautiful Regent Street

The grandeur of Buckingham Palace

We meandered down the Mall towards majestic Buckingham Palace. On the golden-topped statue in front Queen Victoria sits proudly like she’s guarding her domain. Which she is really as she was the first Monarch to really live in the Palace. When she and Prince Albert got married they renovated the building and turned it into a place for entertaining friends and even the general public. More about Victoria later and her contribution to today’s wedding traditions.

Strawberry tours: Buckingham Palace

Welcome to the grandeur of Buckingham Palace

Strawberry tours: Union flags

Draped Union Flags with Hyde Park behind

From Buckingham Palace we strolled through beautiful St James Park with its magnificent trees and sparkling lake.

Strawberry tours: St James Park

Looking back over the lake in St James Park to Buckingham Palace

Strawberry tours: pelicans

Pelicans in the park – who’d have thought?

And then it was on, past Westminster and Trafalgar Square to Whitehall. We settled in the pub to celebrate their wedding day with them while sipping on Prosecco. Any excuse to celebrate…and any excuse to share some fascinating facts…here goes.

My fascinating royal wedding facts

Queen Victoria is credited for starting the tradition of the bride wearing a white dress. She did so in a time when colors were much more usual.

Queen Victoria was also the first bride to place figures of the bride and groom on top of the cake. Her cake is said to have had a diameter of nine meters – now that’s a giant cake!

In 1840 Queen Victoria’s bouquet included a sprig of myrtle, picked from her garden, symbolising love and fertility. Since then every royal bride has had a sprig included in her bouquet – still picked from her garden at Osborn House on the Isle of Wight.

Meghan’s bouquet included forget-me-nots (Diana’s favorite flowers), sweet peas, lily of the valley, astute,  jasmine and astantia as well as those sprigs of myrtle and some blooms picked from the gardens of Kensington Place by Harry himself. Aah, how lovely.

The wedding bouquet at royal weddings doesn’t get thrown to the single ladies attending as I’ve experienced at not-royal weddings. It is laid on the Grave of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey. This follows a royal tradition that dates back nearly a century, starting with the Queen’s mother in 1923.

Meghan had 10 bridesmaids and pageboys. Four-year-old Ivy Mulroney didn’t have a bouquet like the others as she had the honour of holding Meghan’s bouquet. Meghan didn’t have a Maid of Honor. It’s British royal tradition to have children as bridesmaids and pageboys, not adults. Kate did break with this when her sister Pippa walked down the aisle with her.

Meghan walked herself halfway down the aisle before being met by Prince Charles. If her mother had taken on the role, because her father couldn’t, she wouldn’t have been the first woman to fulfill the role. Queen Victoria walked two of her daughters down the aisle after the death of Prince Albert.

Harry and Meghan broke with the traditional wedding fruit cake, opting instead for a lemon and elderflower sponge cake with buttercream frosting made by Claire Ptak of London’s Violet Bakery. Yummy!

And finally, here’s a picture of the happy couple…may they always be this happy. Gotta love a fairytale story.

Strawberry tours: Harry and Meghan

Congratulations to the happy couple

Strawberry Tours offers a range of interesting London tours. All tours operate on a pay-what-you-feel basis which means that you will definitely get the best out of your guide! There’s a Jack the Ripper tour that I have my eye on next – I am somewhat obsessed with that tale, so watch this space.

Travel: 24 hours in Brighton

Today we’re heading to Brighton at the seaside, less than an hour by train south of central London. I love train travel and this journey is almost too short, through picturesque quintessentially English countryside to the coast.

I visit whenever I have the chance, which really isn’t often enough. This time it was because my niece Maxine was visiting from Cape Town. Maxine sees a different side of Brighton to me through her dedication to her favourite YouTubers Zoella (Zoe Sugg) and her boyfriend Alfie Deyes who live locally. While I am clearly not their target market I did watch several vlogs with Maxine and can see their appeal.

They have certainly increased Brighton’s popularity among the international youth! And they do recommend places to go in Brighton which makes a good starting point as there are a bewildering amount of establishments to try. There are more restaurants per head in Brighton and Hove than in any other place in the UK with a ratio of one restaurant for every 250 people. There’s also one drinking establishment for every 320 people with over 1,400 licensed premises. See what I mean.

So here’s what we did in our (just over) 24 hours on a bright Autumn day (and night) in Brighton.

Wandered along Brighton Pier

I love the striking whiteness of the Pier which is 524 metres long, though it seems much longer. Some sort of optical illusion?  It was designed by Richard St George Moore and work on it began in November 1881. It finally opened in a grand ceremony on 28 May 1899. The Pier is now a Grade II Listed building that has more than three million visitors a year. It looks particularly sparkly at night – with 60,000 twinkling light bulbs.

The arcade buzzes with people playing games, there are thrill rides at the end and there’s a range of quirky shops. And it’s fast-food heaven – from fish and chips, sausages, hot dogs, burgers, milkshakes, crepes and of course ice cream – there’s plenty to tuck into. The chips are particularly good and it seemed appropriate to wander the pier snacking on piping hot chips wrapped in paper and doused in vinegar. Trust me, you need to do it.

Brighton: Pier

Exploring the pier on a sunny autumn day

The vibrant colours of the carousel looked stunning alongside the blues of sea and sky.

Brighton: Carousel

One of the many ways to keep entertained on the Pier

Enjoyed a beach-side beverage

Brighton Beach is a pebbly one so not so great for walking along. No problem, there’s a long promenade alongside the beach to get a good helping of bracing sea air and some endorphin-inducing exercise.

The arches along the beachfront have been developed into shops selling everything from the work of local artists, clothes, jewellery, and various souvenirs. And of course, food and drinks, from luxury seafood to ice cream. We were there on a beautifully sunny autumn day so ordered coffee from one of the cafes to take away and sipped it sitting on the beach with views across the sea to the pier.

Brighton: the beach

Spend time beach-side enjoying the view

Promenaded the length of the beach

I’m a big fan of a seaside promenade and there’s plenty to see along the four miles between Brighton Marina and Hove Lagoon. Of course there’s the pier and towards the other end of the beach you’ll find the delightfully colourful beach huts that the area is famous for. The huts are much sought after – well, having a place to shelter even in the middle of the English summer makes sense. There are a couple for sale if you have a spare £18,000!

Brighton: beach huts

Its worth walking down towards Hove for a view of the beach huts

You’ll see the Victorian influence in the architecture everywhere in Brighton. I particularly love the seaside bandstand which first opened in 1884. It hosts a variety of bands every Sunday through the summer and is also available for hire as a wedding or party venue. Even when it’s empty I swear you can almost hear the music playing!

Brighton: Bandstand

The beautifully intricate bandstand

Ate lunch at Red Roaster 

Situated at the bottom of St James Street in Kemptown, Red Roaster is a bright, plant-filled contemporary space with a tasty selection of breakfast/brunch dishes, sandwiches and salads – and they serve great coffee.

Brighton: Red Roaster

The trendy, brightness of Red Roaster

Brighton: Red Roaster

Red Roaster’s scrumptious chicken burger with curly fries

Brighton: Red Roaster

Drink up: the freshness of elderflower and mint

Tucked into a luxurious breakfast at The Breakfast Club

So here’s another reason for a long morning promenade. So you have the excuse to tuck into one of The Breakfast Club’s substantial brekkies. It’s their first venture outside of London, like all of them doesn’t take bookings and is extremely popular. The no-booking system is one of my pet hates – but as it happens we only had to wait about 10 minutes before being ushered to a table in this cool venue. The menu makes your mouth water, really – it’s taking breakfast to a different level.

I tucked into this delightful bowl of chorizo hash: chorizo, grilled peppers, mushrooms, caramelised onions and crushed potatoes all topped with a soft poached egg and served with a lemon and feta sauce. Yummy, yummy, yummy, it tasted as good as it sounded.

Brighton: Breakfast Club

And how’s this for the ultimate comfort food. Disco fries! Bacon, beer cheese, fried eggs, skin on chips, chimichurri and spring onions. Seems likely this dish was invented as a hangover cure – think I need to go back with a hangover and test it out.
Brighton: The Breakfast Club

Marvelled at the Royal Pavilion

The spectacular structure that is the Royal Pavilion does look somewhat out of place in modern Brighton. It was built as a pleasure palace by the sea for King George IV and is a mix of Regency grandeur and the style of India and China. It’s said the Germans didn’t bomb Brighton in World War II because Hitler wanted the Royal Pavillion as his seaside home. Can’t blame him – it certainly has wow factor.

Brighton: Royal Pavilion

The sight of the beautiful pavilion always amazes me

Visited doughnut heaven

Dum Dum Donutterie is a sight to behold. There’s a variety of doughnuts and cronuts (a cross between a croissant and a doughnut) beyond your imagination. Like the Galaxy cronut that’s made of butter croissant dough filled with blackberry and lemon butter cream and finished with a swirled fondant. The doughnut selection comes in standard and mini sizes and includes the delectable creme brûlée and chocolate creme options. Eating doughnuts will never be the same again.

Brighton: Dum Dum Donutterie

An array of doughnuts and cronuts to delight

Brighton: Dum Dum donutterie

Ready to go with a bag of tasty takeaways

Meandered through The Lanes

This famous area of the city comprises a collection of narrow lanes, creating a maze of alleyways and small, quirky shops. At first it all seems a bit bewildering but you soon pinpoint landmarks and realise they are simpler to negotiate than you thought. Like Choccywoccydoodah where you can marvel over the fabulously creative chocolate creations.

Brighton: Lanes

A must-visit destination for chocolate lovers

Sampled fabulous ice cream

Well, you can’t go to the seaside and not have some ice cream can you? No matter what the season. It’s no exaggeration to say there’s ice cream everywhere you look in Brighton. We picked Boho Gelateri for its hand-made Italian ice cream and over 20 flavours to choose from.

Brighton: Boho Gelateri

Ice cream is compulsory at the seaside

Indulged in a meaty dinner at The Coal Shed

For dinner we decided on elegant steak restaurant The Coal Shed. They describe themselves as “born from the love of cooking on fire”. Perfect. The focus on top-quality ingredients means dishes are kept simple and arrive bursting with flavour.

Brighton: The Coal Shed

The welcoming frontage of The Coal Shed

The space is contemporary, yet cosy and the menu easy to negotiate. The Black Angus steak burger was served with Bourbon relish, lettuce, pickles, tomato, onion and chunky beef dripping chips.

Brighton: The Coal Shed

The tastiest of burgers with beef dripping chips

I headed straight for a classic – sirloin steak with bearnaise sauce – one of my absolute favourite combinations. The tastiest of sirloins cooked to perfection and the creamiest of bearnaise. What more could you want?

Brighton: The Coal Shed

The perfect medium-rare sirloin with sweet baby potatoes

Brighton’s the sort of place I want to keep going back to. I love exploring on foot and it’s a great town to walk around – and a great town to sit around in too! All those bars and restaurants in such a relatively small area – mind boggling!

Where to stay

We stayed at the New Steine Hotel which is a five storey Georgian Townhouse in central Brighton, only a few minutes walk from the Brighton Pier and city centre. With its French influence and modern chic interior design, it is ideal for all travellers, families or business users alike, and boasts an award winning Sussex Breakfast using local produce, with full options for Vegan and Vegetarian. There are 20 rooms, from modest singles, to Deluxe Twins and Triples, with views over the New Steine Square and the sea.

Brighton: New Steine

The welcoming entrance to the hotel

Our ensuite twin room was very comfortable with modern British-themed decor (love a Union Jack), lovely crisp linen, tea-making facilities and a safe. All the essentials covered there.

Brighton: New Steine

Your comfortable home away from home

Find out more at newsteinehotel.com

Breakfast delights at La Bottega di Finestra in Prague

La Bottega di Finestra

Today we’re in Prague tucking into an energy-building brekkie before embarking on a walking tour of the city.

La Bottega is a  contemporary bistro and Italian deli with a dining area at the front where they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tasty goodies on shelves and in cases surround you: bread and authentic Italian pastries baked fresh daily, home made pasta and desserts and chocolates.

At the back of the shop you’ll find fresh meat and veg daily, a fabulous array of salami, ham and cheese. And an impressive wine selection.

The breakfast menu offers old favourites and some different dishes, too. Starting with an Italian-style omelette with Fontina cheese, served with crispy bacon.

La Bottega di Finestra: omelette

Cheese omelette and crispy bacon

I went for the delightful-sounding three minute eggs in the glass with clarified butter and chives. Sort of like buttery boiled eggs without the shell – a perfect light breakfast treat.

La Bottega di Finestra: eggs in a glass

Delicate and buttery: eggs in a glass

Scrambled eggs came wrapped in marinated salmon. A classic.

La Bottega di Finestra: scrambled egg

Classic scrambled egg and smoked salmon

Or for a healthier option how about the banana omelette served with fresh fruit and greek yogurt. Novel idea!

La Bottega di Finestra: Banana omelette

An omelette of banana with fruit and yogurt

The coffee is fantastic here. Fresh and professionally made and presented. There’s also a lovely range of fresh juices – I had beetroot – sorry for not taking a picture of it. It was tasty and beautifully pink.

La Bottega di Finestra: cappuccino

Cappuccino that looks and tastes wonderful

Fresh loaves of bread are displayed on the counter to tempt you.

La Bottega di Finestra: bread

Bread is freshly baked daily

There’s a also a range of salads waiting for the lunch-time rush.

La Bottega di Finestra: salads

An array of freshly made salads

And of course traditional Italian sweetness.

La Bottega di Finestra: cakes

Tempting sweet treats in many colours

The interior is bright and contemporary with plenty of space for viewing the displays of wonderful offer and floor-to-ceiling windows giving you a great outdoor perspective, too.

La Bottega di Finestra: interior

The stylish interior lined with goodies

We liked Bottega di Finestra so much that we went back the next day. Its excellent food, friendly welcoming service and mouth-watering deli displays made it too good to resist.

Today’s price point

La Bottega is great value.

Breakfast dishes ranged from around £4-£7. A latte cost just over £2.

La Bottega di Finestra is at Platnerska 11, 11000 Praha 1

Great Italian on the river at CottoCrudo in Prague

Dining alfresco at CottoCrudo

It’s a cold, dank day in London so I’m transporting myself back to a warm August evening in Prague when we dined on the terrace of CottoCrudo. How I love a bit of al fresco dining.

CottoCrudo is in the rather swanky Four Seasons Hotel and the terrace overlooks the Vltava River. The extensive menu offers a range of Italian and Mediterranean-style dishes. Executive Chef Leonardo Di Clemente comes from an Italian farming family and his philosophy is to mix what he describes as “Mamma-style cuisine” with current culinary trends.

CottoCrudo literally means Cooked Raw and this is how the menu divides. The crudo section encompasses a set of mouthwatering raw fish dishes that it’s impossible to resist. All beautifully presented using the freshest of fresh produce. The most perfect start to a summer night’s dining.

What’s on the menu

Oysters were served with mango, cucumber and yuzu soya sauce. Fresh, zesty and gloriously tasting of the sea.

CottoCrudo: oysters

Luscious oysters with a zesty sauce

My tuna spaghetti was marinated with orange emulsion. Thin, spaghetti-shaped pieces of fish that melted in my mouth, made all the more tender by the fabulous citrussy marinade.

CottoCrudo: tuna

A glass full of delightful tuna spaghetti

Raw salmon was served with miso vinaigrette, frisbee salad and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

CottoCrudo: salmon

Delicate Asian-flavoured salmon

The richest of seared tuna carpaccio was served with Genova-style salad and smoked quail’s egg.

CottoCrudo: tuna carpaccio

A colourful collection of tasty morsels

For my second course I chose from the antipasti section. Described as Onsen poached egg with soft potato cream, porcini mushrooms and black truffle, it was hard to picture but I loved the sound of all the ingredients. And boy was I right. What a wonderful dish of softness and flavours.

In case you’re wondering an Onsen is a hot geothermal spring in Japan which is the perfect temperature for making slow-cooked, soft eggs left in the water for several hours. The principle has been transported to the kitchen where eggs are cooked at a low, controlled temperature for 45 to 90 minutes. Love a bit of science in my dinner!

Both this and the tuna spaghetti I had are CottoCrudo Signature dishes which I wasn’t even aware of when I ordered – well, they certainly were spectacular.

Truffly potato cream, egg and mushroom – a phenomenal dish

Saffron risotto was served with roasted seabags, buffalo mozzarella and green pea puree. The sweetness of the fish was perfect with the creaminess of the cheese and risotto. A classic Italian dish given a little bit extra.

CottoCrudo: risotto

Roasted seabass nestles on the saffron risotto

There seem to be a lot of truffles around in the Prague summer – good news for us all. This beautifully meaty dish of milk-fed veal tenderloin was served with foie gras, black truffle and mushroom puree.

CottoCrudo: Veal

Delicate veal with the earthy flavours of truffle and mushroom

CottoCrudo: petit fours

A tray of delicate petit fours to finish with

And here’s the wonderful red-rooftop view across the river.

CottoCrudo: terrace

Looking across the river to Prague Castle

CottoCrudo is certainly a glamorous place to dine. The food is excellent, the service impeccable and the attention to detail impressive. And the intimate little terrace does have great views.

Today’s price point

Being in the Four Seasons you’d expect prices to be on the steep side at CottoCrudo, but the food was actually pretty good value. Starters began at 220CZK (Czech Koruna) – about £7.50 and mains from 620CZK – around £21.

The extensive wine list was however rather on the expensive side with local wine going for around £40 a bottle and everything else for significantly more. We went Czech and weren’t disappointed.

CottoCrudo is in the Four Seasons Hotel at Veleslavinova 2a/1098, Praha I, Czech Republic.

Read more about what to do in the beautiful city of Prague by clicking here

Travel: What to do in Prague

What to do in Prague

Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic. The city is over 1,000 years old and has had an eventful history – in recent times alone it’s been occupied by Nazis and ruled by oppressive communism. It’s now a democracy and tourists flock there from all over the world.

In 1993 Czechoslovakia split into two and the Czech Republic was founded alongside Slovakia. Its capital is a beautiful city famous for its red-roofed vistas, magnificent architecture, cobbled streets and rich culture. Oh and there’s a surprisingly varied amount of great food to enjoy, too.

The city is an extremely popular tourist destination and the streets were packed on the three sunny August days I spent there. So you’re gonna just have to go with the crowds. Just make sure you reserve your restaurants and any other activities well in advance.

Here’s what you have to do on your visit.

Make a wish on the Charles Bridge

The imposing Charles Bridge was built by King Charles IV and finished around 1402. It spans the Vltava River, leading from the Old Town towards Prague Castle. There are 30 statues along the bridge, mainly Baroque style, including the statue of St John of Nepomuk. Touching the priest on the plaque of this statue is said to bring good luck and ensure your return to Prague. Worth a try. You’ll find it by looking for the shiny gold spots created by so many people rubbing it!

Both the views and the bridge itself are amazing making it rather popular. It’s hard to move after about 10am with buskers, street vendors and tourists fighting for space. Get up early if you want a more peaceful experience.

Prague: Charles Bridge

The view from on high atop the bridge’s tower

Prague: Charles Bridge

The bridge looks even better lit up at night

Amble around Lesser Town

Just across the Charles Bridge, Mala Strana, also known as Lesser Town, is a hillside area of the city that dates back to the mid 13th century. It lies at the foothills of Prague Castle with views across the Vtlana towards the Old Town. The streets are lined with charming bars, restaurants and shops and canals with the feel of a mini Venice.

Prague: Lesser Town

The beautiful canals of Lesser Town

It’s also home to the surprising Lennon Wall. John Lennon was highly admired by young Czechs and after his death they painted the wall with Beatles lyrics and other Lennon-inspired graffiti. It’s a beautifully colourful symbol of peace, love and freedom. There’s even a John Lennon pub nearby where you can take a break and sample the local beer.

Prague: Lennon Wall

You have to pose in front of Lennon Wall

Cruise down the river

A river trip gives you a different perspective of a city. We went in style on the Four Season’s electric boat, complete with a fabulous guide and Prosecco all round. A great opportunity to learn  more about the city’s history and cruise along the Venice-like canals of Lesser Town.

Prague: River cruise

Love seeing a city from the water

Explore Prague Castle

Dominating the beautiful red Prague skyline, Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world at 70,000 square metres. It dates back to the 9th century and is set on a hill overlooking the city. Which means you’ll have a good workout getting there (and a scenic one) and the views from the Castle are almost as impressive as the Castle itself.

Prague: Castle

The castle in the distance taken from the river

Prague: Castle

The Changing of the Guard at Prague Castle

Get a time check at the Astronomical Clock

Old Town Square is set between Wenceslas Square and the Charles Bridge. This stylish square displays architectural styles spanning several centuries. It’s dominated by a beautiful Gothic Church and the Old Town Hall which houses Prague Orloj, the incredibly beautiful and intricate astronomical clock. It was installed in 1410, making it the third oldest in the world and the oldest still in operation.

Amazing that it still works. There’s a fantastic moving display every hour on the hour when you’ll see the whole mechanism in action with statues appearing through doors. It’s definitely a highlight of the city – so be prepared for huge crowds again.

Prague: astronomical clock

The most intricate and incredible clock I’ve ever seen

Drink beer and eat sausages

The Czechs are the biggest consumers of beer in the world. They manage to down around 143 litres a head every year. It’s not surprising – the beer is delicious and there are many different ones to try. I stayed in the Hotel u Medividku on the edge of the Old Town which is also one of the oldest mini breweries in Europe (more about the hotel later). A welcome tankard of delicious beer  at check in meant a good start to our stay.

Prague: beer

The tasty local beer from my brewery hotel

There are sausage stalls along Wenceslas Square with a wide range of tempting offers – though I suspect tourists are their main customers. They did smell delicious though. And most restaurants have a sausage dish on their menus. I sampled plenty of flavoursome, quality sausages which were usually served simply with mustard or horseradish.

Prague: Sausages

Be baffled by the sausage choice in Wenceslas Square

We shared a tasty selection at Mincovna in Old Town Square.

Prague: Sausages

Get musical

In the 17th and 18th century Prague was known as the conservatory of Europe. Czech composers Smetana and Dvorak were born here and Mozart lived here after he left Vienna. There are concerts advertised everywhere and we went classical, enjoying a fabulous hour listening to this string quintet in the grandeur of what used to be the Gestapo headquarters during World War II. I’m glad I was there in happier times.

There’s also great Jazz to be discovered and I have to say that the buskers on Charles Bridge were pretty impressive, too.

Prague: Music

Thank you Prague for the music

Visit St Vitus Cathedral

This towering cathedral is the largest church in the country and a magnificent example of Gothic architecture. It’s right next to the Castle and was constructed in stages with the initial church being erected in 930. It’s vast inside with magnificent stained windows and just as an impressive exterior.

Prague: St Vitus

The imperious cathedral towers over the Prague skyline

Discover the Jewish Quarter

Despite its turbulent history, the Jewish Quarter in Prague is the best-preserved Jewish historical complex in Europe. The former Jewish ghetto has myriad tales to tell and you can visit the weathered tombstones of the old Jewish cemetery and the Pinkas synagogue which is now a Holocaust museum. The names of Czech Holocaust victims are written on the synagogue’s inner wall – nearly 80,000 of them. It’s an impactful and horrifying sight.

Prague: Jewish quarter

The Pinkas Synagogue is now a Holocaust memorial

Eat great food

It’s hard to choose where to eat in Prague, there’s just so much choice! We did find some real gems, though I know we only scratched the surface – it’s certainly a city for food lovers. You can read about our amazing lunch at Terasa u Zlate Studne by clicking here. Watch this space for more restaurant recommendations coming soon.

Where to stay

We stayed at the Hotel U Medvidku on the edge of Prague’s Old Town. Our room was really spacious and comfortable with a newly refurbished bathroom with large shower.

It’s a historical, characterful hotel set on a quiet street easy walking distance from all Prague’s sights.

The service was friendly, welcoming and helpful, a good breakfast spread is served in the restaurant and it’s also got something extra special – an onsite mini brewery. One of the older in the country, in fact – the original brewery was founded in 1466. You can do beer tastings or try their beer ice cream. I’d never seen beer brewing before so that was quite fascinating. And of course we had to try some of their delicious brews. That hotel/brewery combination works for me.

Prague: beer

Beer brewing in the barrel

 

 

More sights and flavours of Krakow

Although my stay in Krakow was fairly brief, and seemed even more so with two trips out of   the city to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz-Birkenau, there was still time to get a good flavour of the city. There’s lots to see and plenty of good food in Krakow. You can read about our great night at the Copernicus by clicking here.

On our final night we headed to the city’s main square. Rynek Glowny dates back to the 13th century and covers over 9 acres, making it one of the largest medieval town squares in Europe. It’s surrounded by stylish townhouses and dominated by the Cloth Hall which was originally a hub of trading. You’ll also see the Town Hall Tower and two churches, including the beautiful Gothic towers of St Mary’s Basilica.

Krakow: Rynek Glowny

The towers dominate the skyline of this grand square

All commercial activity took place in this square and it was where regal ceremonies were held as well as public executions. Now it’s the place to head for that all-important souvenir shopping, to taste some local street food and to find a wide selection of bars and restaurants. It’s a stylish square and there’s plenty of entertainment on offer in the evenings with buskers and traditional dancers, as well as lots of traditional wares for sale.

After a pleasant meander, our final destination was the stylish Szara Ges. A modern space offering great views of the square’s grandeur and delicious contemporary Polish food.

As the logo hints at, their speciality is goose, so I couldn’t resist the foie gras. Not just any old foie gras though, ice cream made from foie gras and served with macerated figs and cherries and Tokaj grape jelly. Some wonderfully soft and sweet brioche completed the dish perfectly. I feel I’m going to be searching for foie gras ice cream for a long time now, trouble is I’m really not sure how many places I’m going to be able to find it in.

Krakow: Szara Ges

Inventive and tasty foie gras ice cream to start with

The second starter enjoyed by our group involved beetroot. Well, there would have to be a beetroot option, we are in Poland after all. My brother Frank (who I’ve mentioned before has always had a strong dislike of beetroot…until now) actually ordered it. So much has Poland made him fall in love with the humble beet! It was described as goat’s cheese, baked pepper marmalade and beet leaves in beet ash. Looks beautiful and he was still talking about how wonderful it tasted days later.

Krakow: Szara Ges

The vibrancy of beets and their ash

I ordered another starter as my main course – a handy trick when you’re on a eating holiday. The gravlax was macerated in salt and served with homemade creme fraiche and dill and topped with crisp, peppery radishes. A beautifully dense piece of fish packed with flavour and spiciness.

Krakow: Szara Ges

Sweet and spicy gravlax

The beef fillet was served with goose potato tagliatelle – more of that goose theme – with the crispy shreds of potatoes fried in that most delicious of all fat, and a green peppercorn sauce.

Krakow: Szara Ges

Beef fillet nestles under crispy potato

The cod fillet mignon was grilled and served with zucchini puree and crayfish. A delicate fish dish to savour.

Krakow: Szara Ges

Grilled cod with a delightful sauce

And of course, there would have to be a duck dish. The duck in Poland comes highly recommended by me! Served beautifully rare it came with cauliflower and liquified foie gras. Fabulous.

Krakow: Szara Ges

The tenderest of duck dishes with liquid foie gras

After dinner while we were pondering dessert we sampled a couple of vodkas on recommendation of our lovely waiter.

Krakow: Szara Ges

When in Poland…drink vodka

This dessert was called Copernicus. Nicolaus Copernicus was a Polish scholar who formulated a model of the universe that placed the sun at the centre of the universe rather than the sun – a somewhat radical theory at the time. His father was from Krakow. And this dish portrays the sun at the centre with the other planets orbiting around it.

Zsara Ges: dessert

The beautifully yellow and chocolate dessert

Eating at Szara Ges was a lovely experience. The service was welcoming and expert without being too overwhelming and it was perfect to be in the heart of all the night time activity.

Szarages is at Rynek Glowny 17, in Krakow’s main square.

Dining Squares

Rynek Glowny is lined with bars and restaurants on all sides serving a mix of Polish, Italian and eclectic dishes. I enjoyed this delicious duck breast with cherry sauce, apple and roast potatoes.

Krakow: Rynek Glowny

Duck is a Polish speciality

You’ll find plenty of Polish delicacies in the bustling market in the centre of the square.

Krakow: Rynek Glowny

Exotic-looking sheeps cheese

We loved these deliciously smoky cheese bites cooked on the grill with bacon. It’s called Oscypek and is made in the mountains where it’s cured in hot smoke for up to 14 days. It’s seriously smoky with a tasty, unique flavour.

Krakow: Rynek Glowny

Polish Oscypek – smoked mountain cheese

And then there’s the square in the Kazimierz, the Old Jewish Quarter, again offering a range of places to enjoy food and beverages. We tasted the delicious local dumplings (pierogi) served with a creamy sauce.

Krakow: Kazimierz

More dumpling delight – and a creamy sauce

If you want to do a tour of the city in what I would describe as a golf buggy, there are plenty available for hire in both squares. They all come with a recorded, informative commentary. It’s a fun way to see the three main historic areas – the Old Town, Kazimierz (the Old Jewish Quarter) and the Krakow Ghetto where Schindler’s factory is.

And another thing

You can’t go to Krakow and not visit the Wieliczka Salt Mines. Just half an hour’s drive away they are an absolute wonder. You climb down hundreds of stairs and meander through a world of salt – it needs to be seen to be believed. There’s a large ballroom area where the chandeliers are made of salt crystals, beautifully lit underground lakes, salt statues and an explanation of how everything worked in the days when salt was an expensive commodity and it was prestigious (and well paid) to work here. One of the best strangely unusual things I’ve ever done, if that makes any sense at all.

Krakow: Wuekuczja Salt Mine

Stunning salt chandeliers

Where to stay

We stayed at the Metropolitan Boutique Hotel which is a five minute walk from Kazimierz and less than 15 to Rynek Glowny. It’s a modern hotel with beautifully comfortable rooms, a cosy dining room where you have your delicious breakfast spread and a lovely little courtyard.

The dining room turns into their Fab Fusion restaurant at night where you can enjoy an interesting selection of dishes with a mix of Italian, Asian and Polish flavours.

We organised all our excursions through the hotel. The service was fantastic, helpful, efficient and friendly. Everyone really made an effort to make us feel immediately at home. Which we did!

Oh and there’s a Biedronka opposite (it means ladybird in Polish, they have the cutest logo) – and it’s a supermarket. Always handy.

The Metropolitan is at ul Berka Jaseluricza 19, Krakow