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!

This Is Why I Love Paris.

I’ve been meaning to write a post about Paris for some time. It’s always seemed like too great a task, though. How could I possibly describe my love for that great, gorgeous city? When Anna at Slightly Astray prompted me to enter Accor Hotels’ ‘A Tale of Three Cities‘ competition, however, I couldn’t resist. The mission: write on “three things I love about my favourite city”.

Paris, your time has come.  

Bon Appétit  

Paris is a dream for foodies, as you most certainly already know. It’s more than snails and stuffy restaurants though; far greater than macarons and Michelin stars. My best advice? Find at least one great little place and make it your ‘regular’. The very first thing Mat and I did upon arrival in the City of Lights was collapse upon a table for two at 5e Cru, a wonderful little wine bar near our accommodation in the 5th district. It was small and intimate, the atmosphere casual but unmistakably Parisian. We connected immediately with our waiter (a mixture of unbridled enthusiasm and monolingual awkwardness on our part), who guided us through divine wine and the best charcuterie platter I’ve had the fortune of devouring. That is, of course, on par with the charcuterie platters we devoured on two return visits. By our second sojourn to 5e Cru, our waiter was taking painstaking lengths to make sure our red wine was at the perfect temperature, whilst the third saw us favoured with a generous amount of the night’s almost-emptied wine bottles on the house. 

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And then there was beef bourguignon at La Petite Rose des Sables, tasty indeed, but outshone by the incredible hospitality of eccentric Madame Zouzou and her silent sidekick, Big Boss. The most gorgeous éclairs laid out like jewels at L’Éclair de Génie. Schwartz’s, a New York style deli tucked away in the Jewish Quarter where the delicious, juicy burgers go almost insistently hand in hand with a glass of French red. The most incredible steak I’ve ever sunk my teeth into at Cueva del Diablo, a little Argentinean restaurant in the Latin Quarter, and a hot plate of sliced potato gloriously smothered in blue cheese at nearby Bistro Gladines on Boulevard Saint-Germain. Bon appétit indeed. 

Flânerie

“For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world – impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define.”
     – Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays

Admittedly, my knowledge of the 19th century Parisian flâneur comes from a mere tutorial or two nested somewhere in my Creative Arts degree – but I’ve always loved that image of the urban wanderer. Yes, Baudelaire’s flâneur was exclusively male and upper class, but I think we’re at liberty to expand that these days.

Once you’re in Paris, the concept of flânerie is palpable. It is a city made for wandering. On a sweltering summer’s eve, a stroll along the Seine from Notre-Dame to Eiffel Tower reveals half the city emptied along the left bank, picnicking and partaking in an extraordinary amount of glistening rosé. On the following Sunday morning (now grey and drizzly), the Georges Pompidou expressway along the Seine’s right bank closes to motor vehicles; the normally frantic stretch is quiet and poised, cyclists and joggers and fisherman slipping through in a hushed truce with the traffic. 

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Explorations of the cosy, cobbled streets of the Marais district give a rare glimpse into medieval Paris before Napoleon came along with his sweeping squares and boulevards. And oh, the delight in being swallowed up by the Art Nouveau entrances of the Métro, where a whole other Paris shines in fluorescent! Or simply take up residence at a little table on a cafe terrace, café au lait in hand, and watch the world go by (prepare for anything – Mat and I watched in awe one day as an unattended dog took take an absurdly large amount of poops all along Boulevard Saint Germain. He truly looked like he was having the best day of his life).

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Vive la Différence

Paris, I’ve learnt, is most rewarding when you simply make it your own. I hear a lot of people say that they were disappointed by Paris, which naturally makes me sad because I think it’s so wonderful. I think a lot of people must find it overwhelming; the city is so heavy with history and culture, and the mad dash to tick off Eiffel Tower and Louvre and Notre-Dame and Sacré-Cœur and everything else in between is exhausting. It is entirely okay if you don’t see those things. Polishing off a fresh croissant in bed at ten in the morning because you’re quite content gazing out over the sea of grey-blue rooftops can be just as rewarding.

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Eating Argentinean steaks and New York style burgers in Paris might sound like treason, but they made up some of the best experiences Mat and I had in Paris. We didn’t make the trek out to Versailles (we traded for Disneyland Paris) nor even Montmartre (we had daily dalliances with Notre-Dame instead). Our Paris was eating and wandering and giving ourselves permission to simply do what we love. Your own Paris might be quite different. And it’s definitely there waiting for you. x

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Our Airbnb Experience in Europe

A Parisian studio, a houseboat on a canal in Amsterdam, a house on a Tuscan hilltop and even a remodelled sauna in Munich. Yup – we rarely had a boring bed in Europe, and that was largely in thanks to a most glorious and wonderful little thing called Airbnb.

The view from our Tuscan hilltop Airbnb.

Airbnb had kind of been in my peripheral vision for a while. It was a concept that sounded really cool, but one I couldn’t quite process properly; without any travel planned it seemed irrelevant to me, at least temporarily. After booking flights for this year’s trip to Europe, however, that very quickly changed. Now that I had a tangible trip in the works, it was like falling deep, deep into the rabbit hole.

If you’re not familiar with Airbnb, it’s an online community based around the sharing of otherwise private accommodation space with travellers (for a fee). From spare rooms to entire apartments, villas to backyard yurts – the world of Airbnb is vast, fascinating and an incredibly exciting facet of the travel industry. I spent hours upon hours trawling the website, thrilled at the idea of exploring Europe through the homes of locals. This was the first time I’d planned a trip totally from scratch and the accommodation side in particular was very new to me. I mean – sure, we knew we wanted to visit Switzerland for a few days. But where in Switzerland? In this sense, Airbnb turned out to be an absolute godsend. I plugged in a search for a space within our price range, and somewhere we’d also have access to free parking as we travelled mostly by car. It also needed to be somewhere kind of on the way to Italy. That’s how we ended up staying with Sonja and Christophe in the gorgeous little town of Thun – a destination we’d never have discovered if not for Airbnb, and yet it honestly became one of the most incredible parts of our trip. 

We ended up booking roughly 75% of the trip through Airbnb; 11 different spaces in total. What I loved was not just the opportunity to stay in some really beautiful, unique spaces – but to experience a destination in a way that just felt more genuinely local. Take Amsterdam, where we closed out our trip by treating ourselves to three nights aboard Reinhart’s houseboat (docked in a canal). The houseboat itself was gorgeous, and staying aboard was obviously just a seriously cool thing to do. But it also meant that we got well away from the very touristy centre of Amsterdam, whilst still being extraordinarily close to everything we wanted to explore there. You see, to get to Reinhart’s houseboat we had to take a short ferry from the rear of Centraal Station. This ferry runs 24 hours a day – every five minutes during the day, and every ten minutes at night. And it’s totally free. The ferry pulls up, opens its gate to the dock and locals pile on – including cyclists, and even people driving little microcars! It takes but a minute to get over the river IJ, where another gate on the opposite side opens to the new dock in North Amsterdam, and everyone trundles off – right before those waiting on the North side swarm on. Reinhart’s houseboat was just another few minutes’ walk from there. It was such a fun little local ritual. Mat and I loved getting to experience that ferry passage a few times every day during our stay. And North Amsterdam was so lovely. No hostels in sight. No throngs of nineteen year old boys high on their own egos. It was a peaceful place where we we were rocked ever-so-slightly to sleep at night by soft waves.

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I made a point of trying to choose Airbnbs that had rave reviews not only centred around the space itself, but even more so the host and hospitality. Call me picky, but I wanted to choose Airbnb hosts who thrived on making visitors feel welcome in their little part of the world. These would be the first people we’d meet in each destination, and our lifeline to local living. I wanted to put my trust in people who took that kind of ambassadorship seriously. And that selectivity really, truly paid off. 

Cristina and Matteo’s spare studio apartment in Paris was an absolute dream in itself; having our own gorgeous little space overlooking the Parisian rooftops for a week was pure magic. Cristina and Matteo as hosts gave the experience a whole new level of awesome. They invited us into their own (amazing) apartment on the floor below, poured us wine and gave us their best food recommendations for the area. And for anyone who’s been to Paris, you’ll appreciate how incredibly valuable that kind of advice is! We pretty much lived on their food tips, and our tastebuds could not have been any happier for it. I’ve mentioned before how Cristina also worked tirelessly to get us a reservation at La Petite Rose des Sables. As our first Airbnb experience, Cristina and Matteo and their little studio in the Latin Quarter absolutely blew us away. 

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And then there was Sonja and Christophe in Thun, Switzerland. We stayed for three nights in the spare bedroom of their apartment, and were welcomed into their home with a truly touching warmth and generosity. Every night we sat up, lost in conversation with the pair, who were well-travelled adventurers themselves. They told us that – rather than doing it for the money (and believe me, their place is some of the most reasonably priced accommodation you’ll find in a very expensive country!) – they open their home up through Airbnb as a way of experiencing new people from all over the world. Sonja and Christophe gave us some fantastic suggestions to check out in the area – hugely appreciated, as poor weather conditions meant that much of the mountain frolicking we’d thought to do was suddenly a no-go. They even treated us to a delicious home-cooked meal on our final night. Their apartment has a huge, sprawling terrace, and during a brief half-hour of visibility on that final night, we finally got a glimpse of the mountains that loom above Thun. It’s absolutely stunning. Our time in Thun felt very special indeed. 

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Later, during our visit to Munich, we stayed with Matthias in an outer municipality called Vaterstetten. After reading fantastic reviews for Matthias’ spare room, I got in contact requesting a booking. Unfortunately I’d been pipped by someone else in the meantime, but Matthias courteously offered us his other space – a remodelled sauna he called the ‘Cosy Cuddle Box’. This does sound a little horror movie-esque, but you know what? I had a curiously good feeling about it. Plus – what a story, right? The Cosy Cuddle Box was really quite amazing – a loft-style bed had been installed inside the sauna, a bar-fridge and storage space tucked underneath and another wedge of private space curtained off just outside the door. It felt like a grown-up cubby house. And Matthias was the picture of a perfect Airbnb host. Every detail was attended to (including fresh chocolates on our pillows every day, which obviously won me over fairly quickly). He stopped to brew and share a pot of coffee with us most every time our paths crossed, and we enjoyed some great conversation together. He tipped us off to the wonder that is the schmalznudel, and we showed him videos of Aussie Rules Football on YouTube. Matthias was very intrigued indeed.

Airbnb just really opened us up to a world beyond the tourist trail. We discovered the trendy Nuremberg suburb of Gostenhof, or ‘GoHo’, after booking Eva’s ridiculously well-reviewed guest room. It actually felt like a totally separate apartment – a beautiful bedroom, bathroom and living space that split off from the entrance to Eva’s main apartment meant that we were swimming in space (especially after coming directly from the Cosy Cuddle Box!). Eva had painted a huge map of GoHo across one of the walls that detailed her favourite eateries and attractions. It was brilliant. From bakeries to beer gardens, cafés to tapas bars – we loved exploring GoHo even more than the famous Nuremberg old town. GoHo felt almost like the Franconian version of Melbourne’s Brunswick, or Fitzroy, and so – combined with Eva’s beautiful hospitality – we honestly felt so at home there. It was wonderful.

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I could go on and on. A brief night with Christine in Dijon, who didn’t speak English but makes one hell of an apricot jam. Snacking on homemade antipasto platters and sipping Chianti on Marjet’s terrace, with rolling Tuscan hills as far as the eye can see. Maya’s gorgeous spare apartment smack bang in the middle of Ljubljana, a pre-stamped postcard waiting on the table (one of the most thoughtful things you could gift a traveller!). Choosing Airbnb was one of the best decisions we made for the trip, and I can’t imagine ever travelling without it in future. Even downtime at ‘home’ still felt like we were experiencing something unique, rather than time wasted in a hotel or hostel room. It gave us the power to experience a destination in a way that felt more ‘us’ – relaxed and local, rather than breaking our backs rushing around trying to tick off the sights. 

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