Europe: An Ice-Cream Expedition

From stroopwafels to schmalznudeln, cream cake to corn flakes – I love discovering the different kinds of sweet treats that exist all over the world. But no matter where I go, one pattern remains the same: I eat a heck of a lot of ice-cream. In flicking through my photos from last year’s Europe trip this was outstandingly obvious. I actually think a good percentage of our entire foreign language learning came simply from trying to decipher ice-cream flavour listings (fraise, fragola, erdbeer?).

It seems only right to share my findings of the frozen world, should you wish to blaze your own ice-cream trail across the great continent of Europe.

Berthillon | Paris, France

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There is no point arguing: you simply must have Berthillon ice-cream whilst in Paris. It’s stocked in many restaurants across the city, but you’ll find the original store on lovely Île Saint-Louis – a perfect pitstop if you’re visiting Notre Dame. Mat and I were lucky enough to stay in a gorgeous Airbnb just a stone’s throw from Île Saint-Louis, so we were perhaps destined for a love affair with Paris’ most famous ice-creamery. Founded in 1954, Berthillon built its reputation on stunning fruit sorbets and beautiful, creamy glacés (I don’t think Mat’s ever been quite the same since his first lick of the roasted pineapple and basil sorbet). Believe me when I say it is a perfect sort of heaven to slowly stroll along the Seine on a warm Parisian evening with a Berthillon ice-cream in hand. 

29-31 Rue Saint Louis en l’Ile, Paris | Open: 10am – 8pm Wednesday – Sunday 

Der verrückte Eismacher | Munich, Germany

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Mat and I trekked across Munich to Der verrückte Eismacher based on a quick TripAdvisor search for something sweet. The reviews raved: for extraordinary ice-cream, this is where we needed to go. They weren’t wrong. Translating from German as ‘The Crazy Ice Maker’, Der verrückte Eismacher really is kind of bonkers. It’s styled after Alice in Wonderland and the man behind the store fits very well into the ‘Mad Hatter of Ice-Cream’ role – creating a rotation of fantastical flavours like habanero, asparagus, paprika, and beer (this is Munich after all). Lucky there’s also just plain fantastic flavours like applesauce pancakes, strawberry Champagne, and Bavarian cream. Mat was proffered a relatively pleasant sample of the beer ice-cream, whilst I was instead handed the meatloaf flavour – an interesting experience I’m happy to never, ever repeat. For my purchase I took the safe route with a scoop of the strawberry, basil and balsamic vinegar, and a scoop of the chocolate sorbet. 

Amalienstrasse 77, Munich| Open: 11am – 9.30pm Monday – Saturday, 12.30pm – 9.30pm Sunday

Perchè No! | Florence, Italy

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Perchè No!‘ means ‘Why Not!’ in Italian – and when it comes to gelato, that is a beautiful sentiment indeed. Mat and I were introduced to this gem by Natale (pictured above), who was our local guide for Urban Adventures‘ Florence Foodies Walk one sweltering Tuscany afternoon. We were so happy to skirt the sweaty crowds and explore a few foodie hideaways with Natale, who was particularly passionate about bringing our little group to Perchè No! in the heart of town. Churned fresh every day and made using only the finest natural, seasonal ingredients, this gelato is sensational. The pistachio is a Perchè No! pride, but the watermelon sorbet and berry mousse were also huge hits for us. Florence is a city filled to the brim with gelaterias of vastly varying quality, so it’s definitely worth tracking down a place like Perchè No! for the seriously genuine stuff. 

Via dei Tavolini 19/R, Florence | Open: 11am – 11pm Wednesday – Monday, 12pm – 8pm Tuesday

Gelateria Dondoli | San Gimignano, Italy

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Tucked away in a medieval walled village on a Tuscan hilltop, Gelateria Dondoli has become rather renowned as the winner of back-to-back Gelato World Championships in the late 2000s. I visited on my first trip to Europe in 2010, and that delicious memory made quite sure that Mat and I returned to savour once more last year. The line stretching long into San Gimignano’s main square is enough to suggest: this is a gelato spot you want to know more about. I love the wonderful, inventive flavours like raspberry and rosemary, blackberry and lavender, pink grapefruit and sparkling wine, and saffron cream. A perfect antidote to a day’s trekking in the beastly Tuscan heat (as you see above, my face turns rather red at the slightest physical exertion in hot weather – Gelato Dondoli was a very welcome relief!).

Piazza Della Cisterna 4, San Gimignano | Open: 9am – 11.30pm Monday – Sunday (March – November)

Grom | Venice, Italy 

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Grom was first recommended to us by Cristina and Matteo, our lovely Airbnb hosts in Paris. Mat and I had firm intentions to visit the Paris store just off Boulevard Saint-Germain on our final night in The City of Lights, but it seems we got all too carried away at our local wine and charcuterie bar instead; we arrived at Grom late that night just in time to see the doors close. Luckily for us, the Paris store turned out to be one of many dotted across Europe and beyond. Our time would come in Venice, where we slurped happily at the Campo San Barnaba store every day. Grom’s philosophy is all about organic, natural ingredients, and for me the stand-outs were the cream flavours like Crema di Grom (pastry cream, Columbian chocolate chips and Grom’s crispy cornflour cookies) and Straciatella (Fiordilatte and big chunks of Columbian chocolate).

Campo San Barnaba, 30123 Venice | Open: 11am – 12am Saturday, 11am – 11pm Sunday – Friday (May – September) // 11am – 10.30pm Friday – Saturday, 11am – 10pm Sunday – Thursday (October – April)

Bled Island Potičnica | Bled, Slovenia

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This was by no means an earth-shattering ice-cream experience in itself – but there’s something about rowing (okay, getting your boyfriend to row you) to a tiny island in the middle of a turquoise, glacial lake in Slovenia that’ll make anything taste pretty damn great. From an ice-cream cart outside the Bled Island Potičnica, a little cafe wedged atop Bled Island, I opted for a cup of kremšnita, or Bled Cream Cake (a beloved local dessert) ice-cream. We sat beneath Bled Island’s famous church and looked out onto a vista of lake and forest and even a medieval cliff-top castle. An A+ ice-cream moment.

Bled Island, Bled 

Café Feichtner | Grünau im Almtal, Austria

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Another in the realm of contextual ice-cream greatness comes Café Feichtner in Grünau im Almtal, a cosy little town in the Austrian alps. Above all, Grünau is simply one of the most magical places I’ve ever visited. I’ve found my way there a couple of times now at the hospitality of Gerhard and company at The Treehouse, and if you ever have the opportunity to do so yourself I could not recommend it more. It is a haven for the weary traveller. On our trip last year Mat and I discovered Café Feichtner in town – a solace for my sweet tooth in the shape of decadent ice-cream sundaes. A handy thing for a haven to have indeed.

Im Dorf 17, Grunau im Almtal 4645 | Open: 7am – 8pm (April – October) // 8am – 7pm (November – March)

 Now, the all-important question: where to next time? I would love to hear about your own ice-cream discoveries!

Bled Cream Cake

It probably goes without saying that food was pretty much the driving force behind most of our Europe adventures. When I think back on the trip, a kind of illustrated map of Europe pops into my head – Amsterdam is marked, of course, by a stroopwafel, and Munich by a schmalznudel. Paris is drawn up as a beautiful charcuterie platter, and Venice an assortment of local cicchetti. And up in the alps of Slovenia, the tiny town of Bled has got to be the not-so-humble (more on that later) Bled Cream Cake. 

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Bled is one of the most beautiful, picturesque places I have ever travelled. I know it sounds tired and clichéd, but it really does look like a postcard that’s been enchanted to life. Slovenia as a whole was just magical, but Bled in particular has a legitimate fairytale thing going on. The alpine town sits on Lake Bled, a glacial lake that’s surrounded by forest and overlooked by a cliff-top castle. In the middle of the lake is Bled Island, which is just big enough for a couple of small buildings and a church. We hired a little rowboat (I kicked back whilst Mat happily did all of the rowing) to make our way over and explore. There are 99 steps that lead up to the church; apparently it’s very good luck for a groom to carry his (totally silent) bride up the steps on their wedding day, and then ring the church bell. Visitors can also pay €6 to ring the bell for a little good luck themselves. We instead chose to sit down for ice-cream.

It was in fact this ice-cream on Bled Island that would be our first foray into the world of Bled Cream Cake. Prior to our little rowboat sojourn, we’d noticed the dessert just about everywhere in Bled. Appearing somewhat similar to a traditional Aussie vanilla slice, the Bled Cream Cake – or kremšnita, as it is known locally – is a layer of cream and a layer of vanilla custard sandwiched between puff pastry, and dusted with icing sugar. We’d seen individual packages of  it flying out the door at the local bakery, and giant, wobbling slabs being slid into place on display at our favourite cafe. It seemed outrageously popular with visitors and locals alike. The cake has even achieved the European Union’s Protection of Designation of Origin certification, meaning only that made in Bled using recognised techniques can be labelled ‘Bled Cream Cake’. And so, upon choosing my ice-cream flavour atop Bled Island, I could hardly go past Bled Cream Cake. 

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It would be the next afternoon that Mat and I set out to conquer the real deal. Whilst we’d intended to simply pick up a couple of slices at our adopted café, the dessert gods had other plans. A chance meeting with Jani – the owner of our accommodation, Jazz Hostel & Apartments, and also the happiest and most enthusiastic man I’ve ever met – on our way meant we were instead steered in the direction of Hotel Park, a large hotel on the shore of Lake Bled. Jani urged that it was here where we’d find the best Cream Cake in Bled; his wife is a sweet-tooth and she swears by it. We didn’t need to be told twice. You just don’t ignore insider knowledge like that.

It turns out that the Bled Cream Cake at Hotel Park is hardly a local secret. The hotel restaurant is famously recognised as the birthplace of the Bled Cream Cake, conjured to perfection by pâtissier Ištvan Kovačevič in 1953. It’s claimed that over 10 million Bled Cream Cakes have been baked at Hotel Park since. It’s just kind of a big deal, it seems. We sat down on a lovely, large terrace, ordered our cream cakes and watched a huge storm roll in over the lake. It was very cool. Up until the moment when the storm reached us, naturally. Then it was mostly wet and windy.

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And the Bled Cream Cake? It was delicious, of course. I love vanilla slice, and most any custard dessert – so this is an easy win for me. The pastry was beautifully crisp and golden, and the centre light and creamy. It’s not something I’ll be pining for, but that’s simply because Australia does a damn fine vanilla slice anyway. But if I ever find myself back in Bled (and I sincerely hope I do!), I will most certainly be making another trip back to Hotel Park. Bled Cream Cake heartily earns its spot as the face of Bled on my hypothetical gastronomical map of Europe, because it’s just kind of adorable how the whole town has embraced and totally owned this little cake. And who wouldn’t want a piece of that?

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N2 Extreme Gelato: Liquid Nitrogen Love

Here’s the thing. I love N2 Extreme Gelato. I lined up to have my first cup of gelato frozen before my very eyes when it opened in August last year (the middle of winter; I was rather keen) – and I’ve been a doting customer ever since. After visiting to sample the Valentine’s Day menu this weekend, I thought: what better time than to publically confess my feelings?

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I’ll admit it was the novelty that attracted me at first. Fresh off Heston Blumenthal’s week guesting on Australia’s Masterchef, I was mesmerised by the apparent magic of liquid nitrogen and its conjury in the kitchen. The promise of watching my ice-cream frozen to-order was new and exciting. Not to mention, the Brunswick Street location is an all-too tempting hop, skip and a jump from my house.

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What made me fall in love was more than just novelty, though. The nitrogen vapours that billow from the bowls of N2’s KitchenAid stand mixers are stunning to behold, yes. Even all these months later I still like to stand and watch as those clouds creep along the workbench, swallowing beakers of ingredients soon to join their freshly-churned counterparts. But there are brains behind the beauty, and a cheeky character that hints at N2’s genuine spirit for experimentation and fun with the science of gelato.

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The gelato itself seduces with a magnificently smooth, creamy texture. The rapid liquid nitrogen freezing process – taking just a couple of minutes – means that larger ice crystals don’t have time to develop, and so an incredible silky consistency is achieved. The method also means N2’s gelato can be served at a slightly warmer temperature (a balmy -6°C), which gives an outrageously perfect mouthfeel.

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N2 sure knows how to keep the spark alive, too. The menu changes weekly; an Instagram update of the gelateria’s blackboard-wall illustrations every Friday has often seen me make an instant beeline for Brunswick Street. Whilst devouring new spoils in the simple seating area out back – wooden pallets, astro turf and graffiti opens out to the alleyway beyond – it’s fun to reminisce over another blackboard-wall that lists flavours of N2 past. Notches on my belt include Crème Brûlée (complete with torched top), French Earl Grey Infused Dulce de Leche, Deconstructed Kaya Toast and Lavender and Almond Fed White Chocolate Fudge.

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From the Valentine’s Day inspired menu: ‘My Cherry’s Ripe’ – sour cream chocolate gelato with glacé cherries and coconut, cocoa dusting, dried cherry powder and a warm chocolate syringe | ‘Tira-Miss-You’ – mild coffee custard gelato with a tea and marsala soaked sponge centre topped with a  swirl of mascarpone cream and chocolate flakes.

From the truly experimental (Beer Gelato, or Spam and Mustard?) and the playful, tongue-in-cheek (2 Girls 1 Cup, Your Black Cherry Bush) – N2 is fun, adventurous and downright delicious. It’s an infatuation I’ve surrendered to and I’m ready to shout it from the rooftops. If you’re tempted yourself, just know I’m not the only one vying for N2’s affections! During busy evening periods and warm days, expect to wait 10-15 minutes as the N2 crew fresh-freeze every single customer’s order. It’s worth the wait, and the atmosphere is vibrant and fun. You can get lucky too – this past Sunday afternoon saw a stroll in off the street and straight to the counter. You’ll pay $6 for each gelato, or $8 for the one or two premium creations on offer each week (always a good place to start).

And so ends my ode to N2 Extreme Gelato: may you find love at first lick as well!

N2 Extreme Gelato | 329 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, VIC 3065
Open | Mon – Sun : 1.00pm – 11.00pm
Cash only.

N2 Extreme Gelato on Urbanspoon

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