Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Locations of reviewed cafes

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Monte Grappa cycling adventure day 4. (85 miles east of Feltre)

Monte Grappa cycling adventure day 4
After 2 days of climbing I thought it was time for something more gentle and decided to have another crack at the ride I was meant to do on Tuesday before the broken bikes fiasco. On paper it looked a fairly straight forward 75 miles with a couple of lumps but nothing that looked too testing. In my continued search for the best mountain summit cafes I hoped I would find something at the two highest points on the ride.

Having been cycling guestless yesterday I persuaded George (son) and his girlfriend Meg to accompany me to the first summit. Meg had not been expected to cycle out here but I hired her a bike which was delivered to the hotel and only cost €20 for the day. Despite this it turned out to be a very nice one. I estimated the first summit was 20 miles away giving them a 40 mile round trip.
Well it would have been if I hadn't followed the wrong cycle route signs leaving town (they all look the same to me) and found ourselves going in completely the wrong direction adding about 3 or 4 miles to the route.

After we were back on track and had completed just over 20 miles everyone was getting peckish and we still were a long way from my first target summit. I felt it would be best to cut our loses, find somewhere to eat and then I would press on alone as they returned to the hotel. We couldn't find anything but bars that did no food or speak English. Using the gift of international sign some locals suggested there was food available down the big step hill (grande collina ripida).

So we cycled down only to find that there wasn't anywhere there either. This was clearly some sort of local joke and I imagined they were now wetting themselves laughing having sent another group of English cyclists down the grande collina ripida. However I would have the last laugh as I would be going the long way round (about 60 more miles) to avoid cycling back up it. Sadly this option was not available to my cycling guests who had to cycle and walk their bikes up on their return as they continued the search for food.
It was a good job they had not continued with me as it was another 10 miles before I reached the top of the first bump. Up to now all my summit cafes were at over 1000m at the top of mountains but this time I was barely at 500m and on a side street in the village of Tisoi. However I was pleased to see there was still a bar there for me to try.
I knew I was in trouble on the language front when my request for water met with a blank expression. I desperately tried to remember what international sign language for glass of water was. So I made an oscillating motion with one arm, like a wave, and mimed drinking. It seemed to work and I got some water but I knew there would be no point in asking for, or acting out, a hot chocolate. Fortunately food was on display so I pointed to a crossiant and tiny ham roll. 
Just as I sat down outside to eat it the lady pointed to her watch, and locked the door as it was siesta time for her, although not for me as I had another cafe to find. With no great view and just water to drink the cafe scored poorly and won't feature in my book 'the worlds best mountain summit cafes' if I ever write it.

The next part of the ride was a rather dull bit going through the large town of Belluno.
Before I found my self at the bottom of the only proper big up I faced all day. 
It was only 500m of climbing but still took 45 mins to the top of Passo San Baldo where once again I found a summit cafe. 
Although there was no awesome view it was still a very pleasant spot and the waitress spoke excellent English so I went straight for a hot chocolate. Unfortunately on the food front there as no strudel left but they did have tiramisu so I opted for that instead.
The whole package was excellent and I rated AAA as 7.75, tiramisu as 8 and the hot chocolat was an 8.5 so overall score of 8.08 taking it to the 'summit' of my mountain top cafe list.

Straight after leaving I had to wait at some traffic lights at the entrance to a small tunnel. I couldn't understand why we were needed to be there for so long as it took nearly 5 minutes before they changed. It turned it was because the lights weren't  just for 1 tunnel but a network of 9 that zigzagged down the top of the mountain. I couldn't stop to take a photo with out holding up the traffic so here is one I found online.
It was a fabulous experience weaving in and out of tunnels but we did meet a poor cyclist coming up the other way who had to quickly move to the side as the downward traffic zoomed past. It was certainly going to take several light changes from him to cycle up so I suggest you only try doing this climb one way.

The view from this side was rather more spectacular than at the top, probably improved in that I was now zooming down rather struggling up.
The scenery continued to be of the highest order as I know rode for several mountains through vineyards and wineries, so well done Italy.
Just as I thought this had been a near perfect afternoon of riding I turned north for the final 20 miles back and found my self cycling along the edge of a busy trunk road. There was a cycle path, of sorts, which was about 2 foot wide separated from the speeding traffic by a white line. Despite the excellent river views it was no fun cycling with lorries and cars brushing past so I kept going head down as fast as I could.
I was relieved to get back to the hotel in one piece having covered nearly 10 miles more than planned. I was also pleased my cycling guests had got back safely too having followed the correct set of signs for their route.

This was my final ride as part of the Monte Grappa cycling adventure on which I have learnt that the best cafe always comes at the highest point of your ride, which proved the case on all 3 days so must be true.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Monte Grappa cycling Adventure day 3. (83 miles via Passo del Brocon)

Monte Grappa cycling adventure day 3
I always like to go riding with a cycling guest on a cafe cycle ride but for reasons explain in the two previous posts I found myself in Italy without a cycling guest for the day. I have noticed that, despite my excellent hosting, cycling guests tend to whinge a lot, always asking how far it is to the cafe stop or end of ride and then complaining when their speedo says the ride was further than I had promised (admittedly sometimes a lot further). So today I decided I could go crazy and make the ride as long and hard as I like without the danger of any complaints. 

The goal for the week is to find the best mountain summit top cafes to see if any of this type of establishment will become my top rated cafe in Europe. I had therefore planned 4 ascents in today's ride assuming I would find a cafe at the top of each. Yesterday's cafe at the top of Monte Grappa had been a little dissapointing so I was hoping for better today. 

The ride started off on the same route as yesterday until it got to Arsie.
There is nothing us Brits like more than an amusing sounding foreign town name so I was still giggling as I started the first and longest climb of the day leaving Arsie below.
 This would be 1300m up to Cima Campo and my first ride in the Dolomites. It wasn't super steep but a long way and took 1 hour and 45 mins of solid up. The views were awesome and helped to keep my mind off the constant pedalling required.
Eventually I made it and tried to find the requisite summit cafe. All I could see was a large house with a couple of tables outside and a man talking to another cyclist. I thought I would risk it and went over to one of the tables and sat down. 
I now wasn't sure if I was at a summit cafe or I was just sitting in someone's front garden. After a while and with no sign of action I decided it was probably the latter and started to get ready to leave. At this point the man talking to the cyclist came over and asked me what I wanted. I gambled that he meant food and drink, and not why was I sitting in his front garden, and asked for water and a cheese panini. He nodded and  hurried off inside before returning almost instantly with them.
In terms of a rating it wasn't great as there wasn't much of a view and the cheese roll was rather dry and hard to eat after a long climb. I have no idea what the cafe was called or if he was just the owner being nice to a cyclist although he did charge me 4 euros. In my records it scored 6 and I have just called it big house cafe.

It was now down hill for several miles giving me time to recover and enjoy yet more views. 
Sadly this rest bite was too short and I soon found myself on the second big climb up to Passo del Brocon, which turned out to be a ski resort. On the way up this 1 hour 20min climb I have to confess stopping for a quick rest as I pretended to admire the view.
Once at the top I found 2 cafes. One full of bikers, I wasn't going there, and one empty one in the shade called Alberco Passo Brocon. 
Inside they even had a cake selection, so I had some strudel. I then braved asking for hot chocolate and they actually had it. I gave the Strudel 7.5, hot chocolate 8 and thanks to the stunning view the atmosphere and ambiance 8.5 for a total score of 8 putting into my current European cafe top 5.
The way down had the best views yet and if I had stopped to photograph them all I would still be there now. 
This ended when I hit the smallest climb of the day which took just 20 minutes and once at the top there was nothing there so I continued for several more miles, much along the river until I reached the final climb up to Croce d'Aune.
It didn't look much on the map but had a real sting as the second part was the steepest of the day and took another hour making 4.5 hours of climbing in total (which is quite a lot). I was pleased that I was on my own as any potential cycling guest would have mutinied by now.
Here I found my final summit cafe of the day, Albergo Croc d'Aune, again I was excited that they did hot chocolate but the only cake type item was a jam croissant. 
The Hot chocolate was top notch, really thick, and score 8.5 with the croissant coming in at 6 and the AAA 8 for a respectable 7.5 total.
It was now just a short 10 mile downhill stretch back to Feltre, which I could see stretched out below, and I was very happy to get back for a shower and a nice sit down.
Today proved to be an epic, 83 mile, 4 climb, 10 hour ride with two excellent summit cafe stop finds. However I'm not sure my legs can face a third day of climbing so I have a different plan for the final ride tomorrow, which will include the return of some cycling guests. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Monte Grappa cycling adventure day 2. (65 miles over Monte Grappa)

Monte Grappa cycling adventure day 2
The whole purpose of coming out to Italy on this trip was to ride up Monte Grappa. I had seen a cycling video of someone riding up it and I thought that the cafe at the top looked good so obviously needed to check it out to see how it compared with my current number cafe in Europe ( which is a converted railway station on a cycle path between Italy and Slovenia).
As explained in yesterday's post I would be joined by George (Son) as a late substitute cycling guest. As he is a student the ride did not get underway until quite late at 9:45.
Cycling guest cycling top tip no. 54. If you are cycling in Italy and don't speak the language try shouting ciao at any other cyclists you see to trick them into thinking that you are a local.
Me and George quickly became big users of cycling guest cycling top tip 54 and turned it into a game to see who could get the most 'ciao's'  back. I must confess I was soundly beaten when George got a large family group of ten to ciao him after giving them only 3 back. Top ciao ratio work and an unassailable lead.

The planned route was to cycle south round Monte Grappa and then return up the route used for the 2014 Giro Italia mountain time trail stage before completing the ascent to the top. There were great views all the way down as we cycled by the river with mountains on either side.

After about 25 miles we were coming a bit blasé with the spectacular views and decided we needed a break. As we were close to the start of the climb so we had some pasta at a roadside restaurant.
Refuelled we continued another few miles to the start of the route up. There are apparently 10 different ways up Monte Grappa but this is one of the more popular although rather long at 27km, over 15 miles. 
It starts steeply and continues at a decent gradient of 6-10% for about 6 miles which was quite a tough hours work. Again there were excellent views to enjoy.

I waited for George at this point who I was impressed to see was only a couple of minutes behind me (take note other regular cycling guests). However he had foolishly believed it when I said it would take an hour to climb to the top as never having done this ride before I had given him my standard one hour answer when asked how long it would take. He was therefore more than a bit dissapointed when we saw I sign saying 13 km more to the top which was about what we had done to this point.

The next few kilometres were fairly flat before it kicked up again in order to climb the remaining 700m. After passing no cyclists in the first section we passed several on this stretch mainly as they had got off to push their bikes up the road, so despite their cycling Lycra they were hardly proper cyclists at all. Worse than that we were overtaken by man on an electric bike which annoyed us both.
It was a tough finish but after over two and a half hours of cycling up hill we finally got to the top where we found cafe "case armata del grappa".
There were no menus and little English spoken so as I was rather thirsty, having long since run out of water, with the temperature at 28c, and being red in the face even I couldn't go through the motions of trying to order a hot chocolate, so went straight for a large beer and two bottles of water each. They did have some cake but as we were indeed of energy the doughnut looked the best bet. It was the best doughnut/beer combination ever and in the circumstances I awarded both food and drink 7 out of 10.
Sadly the cafe didn't look as good as it had in the video as it was a bit commercial and very busy, mainly full of people who had driven up, or worst still motor biked up, or worst of all electric biked up, so on my European scoring system and despite the great views only got a 6 for atmosphere and ambiance and 6.67 overall, making it a middling score which was disappointing adter all that effort I had made to come.
Now rehydrated it was time for the descent which had some even steeper bits meaning descending was slower than expected and we arrived back two hours after my eta. 
For some reason George has decided to visit Venice with his girlfriend Meg tomorrow rather than join me on another ride. Even the promise of it being further and having more climbing to do than today couldn't change his mind, how strange. Nevertheless I will go on my own and be going climbing crazy, as I  hope to find a challenger to the best cafe anywhere in Europe. 

Today's route

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Monte Grappa cycling adventure day 1. (30 miles east of Feltre)

Monte Grappa cycling adventure day 1
If you are about to read this post expecting some European cafe based cycling action then I suggest you hit the back button now as there isn't any. However if you enjoy an exciting story of bicycle mechanicals and Italian cycle repair shops or you are a fan of cycling guest cycling top tips then this is the post for you.

This trip all started to go wrong last week when, after months of planning, Big George phoned me up to say he ha developed a back injury and wouldn't be able to come on the 4 rides I had planned in the Monte Grappa region of Italy. I could have quit then and used my holiday insurance to refund the current outlay. But I remembered the motivational poster I saw at the Magna Rosa cycle cafe near Bury St Edmunds that said pain is temporary but quitting last forever and I'm no quitter. Fortunately my son George agreed to come and do some of the rides instead, as long as he could bring his girlfriend Meg. So yesterday the three of us plus two bike boxes arrived in Italy ready for action.

When I awoke this morning first task was to rebuild the bikes as quickly as possible so me and George could get going and not abandon Meg for too long. I have rebuilt my bike on 4 previous occasions with no issues but this over confident, some may say almost arrogant approach proved to me my undoing. I had even put my 'nothing is impossible with the right attitude and a hammer' tee shirt on to get me in the zone.
 Things started well as I had my bike with its snazzy electric gears back together in no time at all. I had slightly more problems with Georges traditional geared bike and was worried I had put his derailleur on wonky and knackered the thread but hoped it would be OK. I then posed proudly for my photo so every one could see how clever I was.
As we mounted our bikes to set off I clicked the button to change gear but nothing happened. Strange I thought, I must have forgotten to connect something but despite endless fiddling and much swearing no matter how many times I clicked the button the back derailleur was completely dead. I referenced the Internet and tried all their suggestions but no luck. Fortunately, as my tee shirt says, I have the right attitude and equally fortunately hotel reception didn't have a hammer as if they had I probably would no longer have a bicycle. They did suggest I try the local bike shop and gave directions. With no other alternative we loaded the bike in the car and drove to the bike shop in the next village.

The bike shop man spoke good English and was very helpful but seemed to know less about electric gears than me as he also tried repeatedly pressing the button hoping the gears would magically spring into action but they didn't. He did say he knew of another bike shop mechanic who was an expert in these gears so sent me there. The chance of doing today's planned ride was looking increasingly unlikely but without a working bike so were the remaining 3 rides as well so I decided to give it a go.

We followed some winding roads up a hill to a tiny village where to our surprise was a bike shop. Inside was a big man with a bald head and large side burns. He looked like you might imagine the local village blacksmith would have looked like in olden times but as there were no longer horses to be shoed he had moved on to bikes, and he wasn't very happy about it.

The blacksmith spoke no English, nor me Italian, and grabbed the bike in one big hand and took it round back to his forge. I was not optimistic as when previously I have had problems the LBS plugs the gears into a laptop and runs diagnostics. The blacksmith just pressed the button a lot and grunted, before trying a lot of mechanical fixes to no affect. He eventually shrugged and gave me back my bike before returning to his furness.

Back at the hotel the holiday was in tatters, but despite still having no hammer, I was determined not to give up when I remembered cycling guest cycling top tip no. 52. 

Cycling guest cycling top tip no. 52. When putting your handle bars back on your bike make sure you don't trap a gear wire or you may irreparable damage it.

So I checked and that is exactly what had happened. At least I knew what was wrong so asked at the hotel reception if they knew a shop that might sell a cable or at least mend one. They came up with a possible option but as it was nearly lunchtime they would now be shut until 3:30 as they all like to have an afternoon nap.

To pass the time I thought I would take Georges bike for a spin to at least get some riding done today. I hadn't gone far when I noticed it wasn't changing gear properly either and the gears kept slipping. Despite much fiddling I couldn't fix the problem and knew it was pretty much out of action too.

I had no choice but to bundle both bikes into the car and head for my third Italian cycle shop of the day. When I arrived I held out little hope as it mainly sold electric bikes, the lady at reception had misunderstood my electric gears issue and thought I meant full blown electric bike. However now I was here I thought I might as well try as they did have normal bikes in the window as well.

The man in the shop spoke no English, nor me Italian, but me both knew about cycling guests cycling top tip no 53.

Cycling guest cycling top tip no 53. If you and the local bike shop mechanic don't speak the same language continue to each say what you mean in your own language until one of you gives in and pretends to have understood.

Using this top tip plus international sign language for the gear wire is broken (pretending two of your fingers are scissors whilst they try and cut a finger on your other hand) the problem was understood and resulted in much tutting, head scratching and teeth sucking as the LBS mechanic wandered aimlessly round his shop. Then from nowhere, like a scene from Harry Potter, he suddenly produced the exact right cable, he seemed more surprised than me that he had one and in no time had swapped it over and the bike was back in action.

There was still the second bike in the car to be fixed but despite much use of top tip no 53 and pointing I couldn't convey the message that I had a second bike to fix so I just got it out the car and handed it over. He was much more at home with a traditional bike issue and quickly spotted the wonky derailleur, had the hole rethreaded in no time at all and everything working again. 

I thanked him for saving the cycling holiday and to cap it all he only charged me 20 euro which I'm pretty sure the cable would cost more than on its own.

When I got back it was only 4:30 so I decided to see how much of today's route I could do. The answer was 15 miles before it was time to turn back.
 In this time I did uncover one last cycling guest cycling top tip that will prove useful for the rest of the week. 

Cycling guest cycling top tip no 54. If you chase after Italian cyclists when they overtake you they will chase you back forcing you to got flat out for two miles so as not to loose face, so don't do it.

With everything now in place hopefully tomorrow will be more successful and actually feature a cafe as me and George attempt to ride over Monte Grappa which a took a photo of on the way back.

The route we should have done of which only the 1st 15 miles were covered

Monday, 22 August 2016

Puncture repairs. (Gardeners Kitchen, Burgh Apton)

Gardeners Kitchen,
Bergh Apton,
Opening times Mon- Sat 9:30-4:30, Sun 10:00-4:00
Highly Recommended 
I have cycled to the Gardeners Kitchen at Bergh Apton twice. Once. In October 2015 and again in August 2016. As seems to often happen the one criticism I had on my first visit (no where to safely leave bikes) proved to be totally wrong on the second visit. I have therefore updated the original post below with combined findings from both trips.

October 2015: I'm not having much luck with my cycling guests at the moment. First I was meant to ride to Sheringham with Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please) but he had fallen off his bike the day before and so was too stiff for a ride (bless). I have rearranged for next week when he will have loosened up and fitted stabilisers on to his bike.

Then yesterday I was meant to be going on a long 65 miler with Big George but just before he was due to turn up I got a text saying Mrs Big George had hurt her back and was taking the day off work expecting Big George to look after her. He had explained to her that he was meant to be on an all day ride with me. She did say that if he went she would be fine, but he wasn't going to fall for that as like all experienced husbands he knows that 'fine' doesn't mean 'off you go, and have a lovely time' but that it is actually a test and it isn't fine at all.

So as a compromise Big George asked me if we could go on a short morning ride so he could do the nursing bit for most of the day whilst not letting me down, in a display of good husband solidarity I obviously agreed.

I was aware of a newish cafe at the Green Pastures garden centre Burgh Apton which we could take in on a 30 mile loop down to Loddon. To make sure he wasn't away too long we went at our fastest pace and were well ahead of schedule as we approached our stop.

At this point disaster struck as we both heard a loud pop and hiss to find Big George had a rare front wheel puncture.

As Big George started his repairs I though I would take the opportunity to publish a Big George puncture repair master class (BGPRMC). 

BGPRMC Step 1. Take the wheel off. For some reason Big George spent sometime stroking his tyre before he actually took it off saying he was looking for the cause of the puncture. This is a waste of time at this point in the puncture repair process but seemed to get him in the right frame of mind for the task.

BGPRMC Step 2.  Once wheel is removed take just one side of the tyre off the wheel using tyre leavers and remove the inner tube. For some reason Big George decided to stroke his tyre again before eventually getting on with tyre removal. Fortunately I had brought a short novel with me and settled down to read it.

BGPRMC Step 3. Check inside tyre for flints and thorns that are still in tyre and then put in a new inner tube. Despite much searching and more tyre stroking Big George never did find the guilty object. I had finished my book by now but luckily had brought an easel and water colours so decided to paint the landscape.

BGPRMC Step 4.  Push tyre back into rim. Getting the last bit of tube in can be quite tricky but as a rule the more expensive the tyre the easier it pops back. These were clearly very cheap tyres. My art work was complete but fortunately I had brought with me a note pad and pen so while Big George struggled with his tyre I started writing my memoirs.

BGPRMC Step 5. Put the wheel back on and pump up the tyre. Unfortunately Big George has an overly complicated pump and it took a few minutes to get it out of crossbar mode to pump mode, but once set up he quickly filled the tyre with air. I spent the time starting to write this years Christmas cards.

Hopefully Big George's puncture repair master class was useful to you but I hadn't realised just how useful it would be for me later in the ride.

With repairs complete it wasn't long before we arrived at the Gardeners Kitchen at the Green Pastures garden centre and farm shop.

On arrival we couldn't find anything to lock our bikes to so locked them together at the front entrance and went inside. However on the August 2016 ride I had warned my cycling guests of the potential security issue but on arrival the nice people at the front entrance said to bring our bikes through and escorted us to the outdoor seating area where we could safely leave them. So thumbs up to the gardeners kitchen and thumbs down for my previous remarks.
Outside entrance to Gardeners Kitchen
With or without bikes you have to go through the garden shop to find the large Gardeners kitchen restaurant. Here we found an exceptional cake selection which covered all the basic cakes and scones plus some unusual things like snickers cheese cake. I awarded a very high effective cake selection (ECS) rating. (The range was equally as good on my second visit).
Just some of the excellent cake selection
I went for a chocolate cake (on both occasions) and cheese scone (as part of my cheese scone serving temperature research, served cold) but the choice was too much for Big George who couldn't cope with the large selection so ordered a fried egg sandwich instead.
Big George's posh fried egg sandwich which clearly isn't cake
The outside seating area looked a bit too cold in October and Windy in August so we opted to sit inside in the large indoor area. It was nice but lacked a bit of tearoom character and charm. My 2016 cycling guest thought this comment was harsh, especially after the excellent customer service with the bikes, and made me up the atmosphere and ambiance mark.
Indoor seating area
My hot chocolate was a good one being nice and strong and not too sweet, Big George found his filter coffee a little too weak for his tastes. (In August 2016 we cycling guest all rated their coffees more highly upping the guest hot drink quality (GHDQ) score). The portion size of the scone and chocolate cake were certainly on the large side which got my approval although size is not always a good indicator of cake taste quality. However on this occasion I thought the chocolate cake was very nice retaining enough moistness and having a good chocolate flavour plus the added benefit of a lump of cadburys flake on top.
Cakes and drinks
Cakes and drinks from August 2016 looking remarkably like the October 2015 ones
As I had 3 cycling guests in 2016, including coffee and walnut cake expert Mick, I was able to have a wider range of cakes tried and they all scored well. Chris (Mrs Crusader) and Ali both went for coffee and Walnut Cake, Mick was obviously a little put out and had Almond slice instead. However he insisted and trying their cakes and passing on his expert opinion, which was that the cake was good, so I then didn't need to know what the others thought rendering their input useless.

Overall the Gardeners Kitchen was a good stop that scored well especially on the cake front. Now I know that I know you can safely leave your bikes their I would certainly highly recommend a visit.

Back in 2915 we set off on the short ride back and despite the earlier puncture drama Big George was confident he would not be in too much trouble for being out for too long instead of on nursing duty. This was until I too got a puncture, my first for ages*. Fortunately I had been paying attention to Big Georges puncture repair master class and got it mended in no time at all enabling him to get back for brow mopping on time. 
Mend puncture after seeing BGPRMC
Hopefully next week I will have more luck with my cycling guests and get a full ride in. (Which I did).

*Records show this was the first time both me and a cycling guest had had a puncture on the same ride since 26th February

Scores based on two visits
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating

Click here to download Loddon - Norwich loop GPX file to load on to your GPS