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Around Piešt’any: Reštaurácia Furman

Imagine it: the biting wind of a mid-winter afternoon, the dismalness of night-time already looming although there has barely been any daylight to speak of. Still, you’ve made the best of it and hiked into the hills, only to find the weather has got too much for you. It’s gnawed its way into the marrow of your bones. The only thought that keeps flashing around your brain is not how beautiful the landscape is (although, in its own bleak way, it does have a beauty) but how to get warm, and that quickly. As extensions of that thought are the dual fantasies of hot food and hot drink, ideally in somewhere atmospheric although you’d settle for less, you’d settle for anything with four walls and a roof – and at the same time you’re entertaining this fantasy you know that you’re in the countryside and any kind of shelter is a long shot. This was the context in which we rounded the brow of a bare hill and saw, in the dip below, Reštaurácia Furman for the first time.

Furman is part of that delightful breed of places to eat in Slovakia that rears the meat that winds up on the plate in a wood out back. For fresh jeleň (venison) or bažant (pheasant) there are few better places in the country to come than here, as we soon discovered.

Dog or Deer?

The welcome is an unusual one. Strangely, the first thing you see is an immense yellow dog galloping around in a paddock of its own, as if it were a dangerous creature, but that should not deter you: the dog is deceptively friendly, and not on the menu. The deer in the field behind, however, are. Whilst first-timers to this type of restaurant might find it cruel that these sweet- and sombre-seeming animals should act, on the one hand, as a diversion outside the restaurant (to pet them, to pose for pictures with them, etc) and yet should be served up as the speciality of the day inside, I personally find it refreshing: the animals have an entire wood of their own to roam in, and you can be sure the meat here is fresh, and the animals well-cared for during their lives. A beast-to-meat relationship, vividly there for all to see, is an honest one – one no meat-eater should shy away from.

Vitame Vas… Welcome! ©englishmaninslovakia.com

Vitame Vas… Welcome! ©wwwenglishmaninslovakia.co.uk

The Menu

Once we’d peeled off our layers, got our blood circulating again and settled down at a table in an interior somehow combining traditional Slovak with just a touch of the Wild West, the obvious choice (from the dishes of the day, which I always go for) was either the deer goulash or the pheasant in red wine sauce and it was the latter that I went for. It came deliciously and richly seasoned with herbs, and accompanied with potato croquettes that rank up there with the very best I’ve had in Slovakia – again impeccably seasoned with rosemary and thyme and ladled with cranberries on top. Washing it down was the mulled wine my chilled body craved (served sour, in the typical Slovak way, with honey and sugar provided). My dining companion ordered grilled oštiepok, and they were very accommodating in making it gluten-free. Several other styles of venison (as ragout with dates, or a leg cut with a sauce concocted from forest mushrooms) were also available. Prices were invariably between 5 and 9 Euros for main courses.

Unabashed Tradition

What you are getting with Reštaurácia Furman is a gloriously typical Slovak eatery (the sheepskins are draped over the chunky wooden seats, the stag’s heads gaze haughtily down from their fixtures on the walls, the ceiling is studded with old cart wheels) proud of its tradition – but not once compromising on either quality of food or ambience. This is how a typical rural restaurant would have been (give or take) 60 or 70 years ago. Now their rustic wood hunter-friendly decor and self-reared meat reared is something that should be highly prized, because it is actually increasingly rare. Sorry, vegetarians, or members of anti-hunting sects: this is how a quintessential Slovak restaurant should be. If you don’t like it, there are plenty of other more modern joints in bigger towns and cities. But if you came to Slovakia expecting an eatery exuding raw, rural Slovak-ness (as you would be entitled to do) then voila: this is it.

The pheasant…. ©englishmaninslovakia.com

The pheasant…. ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

 

Room With A View

It is the sort of spot that, on any walking holiday, you would dream of chancing upon. After all, it has an enviable location – a few kilometres’ walk above Piešt’any and right on the cusp of the woodsy hills that form an arm of the Small Carpathians, Povazsky Inovec, through which you can stroll through stunning upland countryside to Tematín Castle. Part of the panorama from the restaurant and the bar next door is across the summer terrace down over rolling farmland to the rather dramatic grey-white spread of Nádrž Slňavaone of the country’s biggest reservoirs. And just down the track too are the ruins of Villa Bacchus, where Beethoven once stayed whilst composing his Moonlight Sonata. But from the look of the clientele, it’s also a place well-heeled Piešt’any folks and those from further a-field would willingly venture up into them hills to sample.

Little Bit of History Repeating

And a furman? It’ss an antiquated profession that would translate most closely in English to “Coachman”. But there is no real equivalent. A furman would have been a man who lived on a smallholding in the countryside, with a carriage that he would hire out for different purposes (taking goods to market, or ferrying paying passengers around from A to B.) In Slovakia it is the ultimate epitome of a return to rural roots. And therefore a return to traditional, fresh Slovak food.

A Quick Guide to the Other Content We Have on the Piešt’any Area:

Places to Go: Piešt’any’s Best Thermal Pools

Places to Go: A Great Castle near Piešt’any

Places to Go: in the Footsteps of Beethoven Above Piešt’any

Places to Eat & Drink: Piešt’any’s Best Cakes

RELATED POST: Furmanská Krčma, near Modra

One thing. Whilst I wasn’t really expecting (just hoping, somehow) for the Deliverance soundtrack that might have been most appropriate on the stereo, the tame R&B playing for most of our visit did slightly undermine the atmosphere. Music is important. If the guys in charge of Reštaurácia Furman realised that, this place would be truly exceptional.

MAP LINK: Top of the screen is Piešt’any, with spa island in the middle of the river there; mid-right to the right of the reservoir is the restaurant. Getting to the restaurant by road, it’s just a couple of km from the other side of the River Váh from the town centre.

OPENING: 10am-10pm daily

BEST TIME TO VISIT: A winter lunchtime after a walk.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: 2km northwest you can relax with treatments in the best of Piešt’any’s spas whilst a 20km drive or walk (through the hills) north brings you to Tematín Castle.

©englishmaninslovakia.com

©englishmaninslovakia.com

Everyone loves fantastically cooked Italian cuisine, image by www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Trencin: La Piazetta

La Piazetta, for a long time, epitomised the classic travel writer’s dilemma: whether to shout about its existence, or whether to keep it hidden from the outside world, as an atmospheric local restaurant, to return to when one found oneself in Trenčin, Western Slovakia’s most picturesque medieval town (well, one does, occasionally).

I needn’t have worried. La Piazetta became known about all by itself – at least amongst Slovaks (which in a town only really seasonally visited by tourists is crucial). That it did so pretty much without any advertising whatsoever (the place is terrible at advertising itself, actually, in stark contrast to the wonderful cooking) is testimony to its quality.

I’ve seen La Piazetta grow in stature over the years since I chanced upon it on a rainy lunchtime on my first visit to Trenčin a few years back. Back then, it was up the same alley as the then-famous Lanius (a decent pivovar, or brewery pub, but hardly in the same league food- or wine-wise) and you’d often end up going in the latter by mistake and missing the entrance to the underground La Piazetta of old entirely. Certainly, in the first instance, there were teething problems. Trenčin has become much more cosmopolitan of late but it’s not an international city like Bratislava: locals, apparently, needed some time to grasp the fact that unlike the typical Slovak menu which breaks down oh-so-precisely the exact weight of your meal, Giovanni at the helm of La Piazetta is more about sprinkling a liberal dose of classic Italian generousity in with his cooking. But no longer: who couldn’t be convinced by a place that would hold its own in Bratislava or Vienna?

Yes, Giovanni is Italian, but he’s mastered Slovak impeccably and speaks good English too. And he’s transformed La Piazetta from its original role in town as a high-end wine bar to an informal but upmarket Italianate restaurant with that same ever-changing, ever-great wine list (really, you just have to ask him to explain – the other waiting staff know too but really, it’s Giovanni that breathes life into the whole thing). I say Italianate because the most mouth-watering dish I tried here had a little nod towards the Slovak: a deliciously prepared lamb with divine grilled courgette and aubergine. It was probably the tenderest meat I ever put my fork to: one prod and it separated into melt-in-your-mouth chunks. That said, for 7 to 10 Euros there is always a meat and a fish secondi and invariably a must-try tiramasu for dessert…

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Times change, and places to eat have aspirations to maximise the customers they can attract, so it’s fair enough that La Piazetta did relocate: it’s now a stone’s throw outside the Old Town’s main pedestrian drag on a quiet side street. What the new location lacks in cosiness it compensates for with urbane modernity: a large, light interior, pine-topped tables, oodles of room, a tank you can select your fish from, the whole exposed brick thing going on around the bar. It’s still not the easiest place to find – either in physical address or online.

But the place now most certainly given Trenčin what it needed: an intelligently set-out top-end restaurant that challenges the restaurant at Hotel Elizabeth for the best in town. Not that Giovanni would ever say that – he wouldn’t need to. Some restaurants are more about cooking the cuisine than talking the talk. Cooking and, of course, memorable Italian wines. And I would go out of my way to return to eat at La Piazetta.

All this makes me realise that this is only the first Italian restaurant I have written about in-depth for the site. But it’s got me thinking, and my belly rumbling: there are so many more great ones…

A Quick Guide to the Other Content We Have on Trenčin:

Places to Go: A tucked-away forest park behind the castle in Trenčin

Places to Go: Slovakia’s best music festival in Trenčin

Places to Go: Hiking up in the hills above Trenčin all the way to Bratislava (the Cesta Hrdinov SNP, Stage Two)

Places to Go: A stunning castle near Trenčin

Places to Stay: Trenčin’s recently refurbished historic hotel

Arts & Culture: Celebrating 20 Years of the Pohoda Music Festival

Top Ten Medieval Towns in Slovakia

 

MAP LINK

LOCATION: Horný Šianec 228/7

OPENING: 7am until late (Monday to Saturday)

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Late evening once it’s really buzzing, say 8 to 9pm, easing into it with help from the Italian wine list, then dinner then more drinks.

BEST DISH: It’s the lamb – although it’s not always on, as the menu changes in accordance with what’s available.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: 6km north and then east from La Piazetta is one of Trenčin’s great unknown gems, the monastery of Klaštor Vel’ka Skalka

 

Around Modra: Goulash Karma at Furmanská Krčma

There are fancy Italian restaurants. There are up-and-coming microbreweries. But when all is said and done, there is one Slovak eating experience that stands out from all the rest, and that’s a trip to one of the rustic krčmy – pubs, basically.

What are they exactly and why do they stand out? Well, pub should be translated in the loosest possible sense (there are precious few specialty beers here). A krčma in its urban form is a traditional drinking den, pure and simple. But out in the sticks, the krčma is invariably transformed – at least in destinations popular with outdoors-lovers – into a cosy wooden wilderness retreat with roaring fires and just the kind of food you want to wolf down at the end of an arduous hike (the beer is still overly frothy and more often than not Zlaty Bažant but no one seems to mind).  It metamorphoses, in short, into what should be the pin-up for Slovak cuisine: a quality stodge stop with a fire, a sweet aroma of woodsmoke and a damned fine view.

There are a few of these celebrated krčma stodge stops across Slovakia – with a charming rustic wood exterior, smouldering log fires inside and an out-of-the-way, often forested location as common features. The out-of-the-way-ness usually prevents foreign tourists from ever finding out about them, which – due to their afore-mentioned place at the summit of the hierarchy of Slovak eating experiences – is a shame. Depending on where you find yourself, there are a ton of such places I could recommend. But for now I want to focus on one of the very best, and that is Furmanská Krčma above the small town of Modra (famous for its connection with the number one national hero Ľudovít Štúr, but that’s another story and another post).

Serendipity…

The best thing about Furmanská Krčma is that you never expect it to be there in the first place. After all, it’s on a something-to-nothing road over the middle of the Malé Karpaty, or the Small Carpathians hills – it’s not in a national park where you would expect such friendly wayside hostelries.

Forge up into the woods about 5km above Modra on what is now quite a good and busy road until you reach the summit of this particular Malé Karpaty ridge and, just where the trees seem thickest, Furmanská Krčma appears, in a cleared area of forest that actually contains a beguiling complex of buildings – all of the steeply-pitched roof log cabin variety.

A Historical Footnote…

This is the small community of Piesok. It has an intriguing history. It was one of those parts of Western Slovakia which, back in the age of the Hungarian empire, was blessed with an inundation of German settlers who came at the request of the Hungarian ruling elite to ignite the farming industry, much like Limbach outside of Bratislava, although it appears this particular community of Germans came much later (19th century). Under Communism Piesok also had an important role. It was one of the youth learning/holiday camps of which there are several across Slovakia and one can’t help but feel a tug of sadness as one strolls through the pine trees to the idyllic Handsel-and-Gretel-esque chaty (cottages) that once thrived with life (kids learned about nature here and there used to be several penzións) and are now often neglected.

On the Bright Side…

This is not to imply, of course, that Piesok is a lifeless place. People come here now with different motivations. The visitors are almost all Slovaks – so “outsiders” that make it here will feel a certain sense of having discovered the undiscovered. As well as Furmanská Krčma, there’s the top-end hotel of Zochava chata on the other side of the road that in fact are owners of the krčma (Zochava – named after Samuel Zoch, first commissioner of Bratislava after the establishment of Czechoslovakia). It’s a very nice hotel – tucked away from the road somewhat and recently refurbished, and I’d love to write more about it. I keep meaning to stay there, so I will then – as for now I have neither the time nor the money. Not having the money is why most folks seem to favour Furmanská Krčma over the hotel as a place to eat, but there’s also something very genuine and down-to-earth about partaking of a beer and hot traditional grub in the atmospheric rusticity of this krčma. Ultimately, if I am going to be eating typical Slovak food, I don’t want to be doing it in a modern hotel. I want to be doing it in place with a toasty old ceramic oven, a smouldering fire, oak beams and old farming implements on the walls. Why? Because it complements the cuisine.

It’s true that there’s been a bit of a refurbishment at old Furmanská Krčma which – depending on your viewpoint – either improved or slightly marred the ambience.  If you check the website (in Slovak only) you’ll see the camera panning around a distinctly more rustic space – with just rough wooden tables. It’s been refurbished (and differently) for a few years now, and makes no secret of catering to an “upmarket” crowd. If it was left to me I’d have taken Furmanská Krčma, as was: but the advantage is that the menu is now a lot more versatile: Slovak food with panache, if you will.

Inside Furmanska Krcma ©englishmaninslovakia.com

The Food

One of the most critical elements of typical Slovak food, of course, is the soup. Take away the soup from most lunch time meal deals and there would probably be a national revolt. Furmanská Krčma obligingly rustles up a couple of classic soups, any of which will set you back 3-4 Euros. Our first recommendation? Their delicious kapustnica (that is the best I’ve tasted in Slovakia apart from that rustled up in the kitchen of my friends’ mother). Secondly? Their feisty herb-infused local game gulaš (goulash) served with nigh-on a loaf of bread (if you thought goulash was solely Hungarian think again – this country made up a significant part of the Hungarian empire and Slovaks know how to make a classic goulash – their ancestors were probably the ones serving it to Hungarian nobility half the time).

The main courses are themed around furmanský platters, or coachmen’s platters. I think this has about the same significance as a ploughman’s salad in the UK. Original coachmen’s platters, back in the day when Piesok would have been an important staging post and horse-changing point on the route through the mountains, would have been far different. The significance now is more”large-sized and with meat” than anything else. Thus furmanský halušky are dumplings that come with a hearty klobasa (sausage) and the proper coachmen’s plate consists of numerous grilled meats and potatoes (16 Euros). The šulance here is also divine. This is hunger-busting food but it is also cooked with aplomb – it’s one of the top five in Slovakia for traditional tasty Slovak food that’s served in the rustic environs it should be served in.

The food is getting to that point where you think “that had better be good if I’m paying this price” because the menu bracket (14-20 Euros) is expensive for rural Slovakia (the deer with cranberries is certainly overpriced, for example). But I’m going to stick my neck out there and say it’s worth forking out for. Because you’re getting a microcosm of Slovak weekend life here. Inside it’s the traditional restaurant. But outside are the hiking/cycling trails to work up your appetite on and everyone, from meandering families to hardcore mountain bikers, is out there doing it, relishing what Slovakia excels in providing above all: a hefty portion of the Great Outdoors.

Because you are bang in the middle of the best of the Malé Karpaty here. Heading west, you can be within the vicinity of Bratislava in just over a half day’s walk (via Stage Three of the Štefanikova Magistrala, which also leads invitingly north-east from here to Bradlo en route (thereafter under the guise of the Cesta Hrdinov SNP, to Trenčin): the access point for the trail in either direction is a short walk up from Piesok at Čermák. You can also hike down to Modra from here, via the intriguing L’udovit Štúr trail, in about 2.5 hours.  Heading east? Aha, that’s going to be the subject of a post very soon: a walk involving old castles and one of the very best views in this whole hill range, by climbing what you see below…

A Quick Guide to the Other Content We Have on Modra:

Places to Go: L’udovit Štúr’s Modra

Places to Go/Shops: Modra’s fascinating ceramics

Places to Go: Hiking up in the hills above Modra all the way to Bratislava (the Štefánikova magistrála, stage three)

Places to Stay: Modra’s ceramic-themed hotel

© englishmaninslovakia.com

© englishmaninslovakia.com

 

MAP LINK: (notice the bottom of the map has the edge of Modra on; it has to be zoomed to this level to show the details of the buildings; Furmanská Krčma is directly opposite Zochava Chata hotel at the bottom end of the large parking area).

OPENING: Thursday-Sunday, late morning-10pm

BEST TIME TO VISIT: A winter’s mid- to late-afternoon, after the first fall of snow, when the small ski slope is working and you’ve finished your walk through the woods and are in need of sustenance.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: Tired after a hike and not refreshed by a hearty Slovak bite? Descend out of the hills and head 63km northeast to sample Piešťany’s best patisserie then sooth yourself in the spas there…

Trnava: A Touch of 1920’s Paris at Thalmeiner

There are a few things that can really make a regional town proudly independent from its big city rivals. A thriving arts scene (a theatre, perhaps), a particular point of interest… or just maybe an exceptional restaurant or cafe. Such things can create a buzz, generate an aurora of sophistication, stick a middle finger up at the big city and say “thanks, but we can do very nicely without you.”

Trnava, on paper, on your map as you unfurl it in the car on the drive east out of Bratislava, is a regional town: it’s close enough to Bratislava to commute for locals, it is not far enough away from Bratislava to waylay tourists with limited time bound for the wilder adventures of the Slovak mountains beyond. On paper. The tourist board makes much of the town’s exceptional churches, quite rightly, as a way of attracting visitors. But perhaps Trnava’s most obvious attraction is staring everyone in the face, gracing the side of the main square there: one of Slovakia’s most elegant cafes. One which will impress you even when compared to Bratislava’s, or indeed Vienna’s selection of coffeehouses.

I walked through the door of Thalmeiner and I was transported: the stylish Art Deco-style prints on the walls, the abstract tiled tabletops, the burnished brass old coffee roaster, the suave waiters. This is the type of joint far-bigger cities than Trnava (Bratislava and London included) would love to covet and no wonder – I can think of very few places in Bratislava or in London to compare with here. Thalmeiner transplanted to either place would be overcrowded, with weary, curt staff and probably queues out the door. And when I go in someplace for coffee, I don’t want curt staff or queues. I want to lose myself in the atmosphere, people-watch, order a damned good macchiato, and sketch out a scene in my novel, write that article or that shopping list without hassle but with a smidgeon of the old-fashioned glamour so regrettably absent from the world these days. Which makes Thalmeiner and me pretty well suited.

The Decor…  

One would be content to sit quite some time without even ordering, and just checking out the decor. Thalmeiner’s specific and finely-honed style is an intelligent Art Deco-ising with its original artwork: even the town’s water tower is made into an iconic print here, with a larger-than-life chess piece advancing across an imaginary board in front of it. Or take the cafe’s flagship image: a thundering old steam engine with a cup of coffee emblazoned across the foreground and a sign proclaiming “EXPRESS” (a clever play on old express trains and espresso). The gleaming old coffee grinding machine might waylay you on the way in, too, as will choosing your nigh-on obligatory cake from the counter.

The Vibe…

I took a pew out back in the covered leafy courtyard, because there were no seats free in the main part. I took a look around me. What I liked was that clearly all types of Trnava folks (not just the law students or the middle-class artsy types) were descending on Thalmeiner for their caffeine fix. Not that there weren’t a fair few intense-looking younguns tap-tapping away on their laptops, there were. But there was none of the cliquishness that exists in some cafes and bars intent on creating a certain ambience: there were grizzled locals, too, even a group of very macho-looking men you wouldn’t expect to see in any type of place other than the nearest krčma (pub)! The service overall? Ultra-professional and friendly, rather than over-the-top and condescending.

The Coffee – Presentation Honed to a Fine Art

And when that coffee comes – ah! Presentation, as with everything else at Thalmeiner, is integral down to the finest insignia on the saucer.

Drinks come on chunky silver cups with more of the Art Deco imagery on the sides. The condiments are all Thalmeiner-brand. A glass of water and a small chocolate cake come with the coffee.

I always look forward with relish to that moment when the fruitiness of a well-made coffee hits the back of your tongue, and Thalmeiner, unlike many places that make far greater claims, does not disappoint. The crema here is soupy-thick but the taste doesn’t go overboard with the bitterness. But it is strong enough to leave the sipper needing to take their time (perhaps that is the intention).

The coffee on offer each week at Thalmeiner changes, too, to keep you on your toes, and at least one brew on the menu will be roasted by Slovak coffee roaster, Komarno-based Green Plantation (thus the coffee is always fresh-roasted).

©englishmaninslovakia.com

The Extra Mile…

Perhaps it’s giving that extra thought into how they source their ingredients which is what I was most impressed by at Thalmeiner. They make an evident effort to utilise local suppliers and local recipes for their cakes and sandwiches (a nice touch) and, in the absence of local produce, they at least try to be a bit ecological about where they get their food from (for example, those with a sweet tooth will, like me, also be tempted by Thalmeiner’s hot chocolate – with chocolate sourced from the Mexican plantations).

At any rate, what is guaranteed at Thalmeiner is a sophisticated respite from the real world, with the whiff of glamour in that decor of theirs redolent of… Well. Surely it’s not just writers who get excited about coffeehouses that hark back to those Montparnasse cafes of 1920s Paris? You know, ornate interior, Bohemian types scraping together their last few centimes to buy the next drink that will eke out their stay, animated conversation, ideas being formed…

MAP LINK: (it’s on Trojičné námestie – number 4)

OPENING HOURS: 8am-10pm Monday to Thursday, 8am-midnight Friday, 10am-midnight Saturday, 10am-10pm Sunday.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Thalmeiner it’s 46km south-east to another of Slovakia’s best cafes, the Antikvariat in Nitra.

Nitra: The Antikvariat

It happened like this. We were wandering around Nitra, on a snowy evening in December,  checking out log baskets on the Christmas market (a present for my father). They had a great deal of choice. The selection process took some time. We were cold and exhausted in the way that only shopping for presents can exhaust you. Our car, for some reason, was parked far away. We struggled off, basket-burdened, down Kupecká, one of the pedestrianised streets that fans out from Nitra’s circular Námestie.

And there was the Antikvariat (aka antiquarian bookstore) – pretty much the only welcoming light on an otherwise dark wintry street. In we went, based on afore-mentioned tiredness primarily but also because wherever I am in whichever city, I’m always happy to give secondhand bookstores a browse. And based also, perhaps, on the fact that the welcoming signs on the glass (come read on our terrace, come speak a little English at our speaking table – speaking table is not quite as fairytale like as it sounds, but the phrase Slovaks give to weekly foreign-language practicing sessions) gave the feel of the place a certain something that whetted our curiousity.

The Antikvariat, or to give it its official name, Pod Vrškom, is far more than any old secondhand bookstore. Temporarily, in fact, as you come through the door you temporarily forget about the books because you find yourself in a rather elegant (and I mean the word in the hipster sense, “hipster” being the term by which most cool, alternative places run in a kinda counter-culture way by young people are known) cafe. Cafe Libresso. Yeah. Ancient standard lamps lean gutterally to provide subtle lighting over the kind of creaking old coffee tables you’d expect at your grandmother’s house. Books and magazines pile against one wall hung with photographs of trees. The ceiling when you look up is a huge abstract mural. The counter when you look down again is full of temptations (three types of cheesecake, several types of homemade biscuit, genuinely alluring baguettes – and anyone who has spent long in Slovakia will know that as a rule baguettes sold in kiosks and cafes are the very opposite of enticing) that made me think of Kerouac gushing about the sweet treats on offer in a diner when he walks into one, cold and hungry, in the dead of night at the beginning of Visions of Cody.

Cosy...

Cosy…

The speciality coffee came thick and rich and strong (they bring it with water to dilute but have it without and it’s Slovakia’s best coffee experience). Or you could have your brew Pod Vrškom style, that is, with banana and whipped cream. The chocolate cheesecake, if it’s on, is pretty much essential – er – eating. And the ambience – the cafe part of Pod Vrškom only opened in 2013 – is just what you want for a respite from a chilly winter’s evening.

The secondhand bookshop out the back is another delight – a veritable Aladdin’s cave of books with one of Western Slovakia’s best record selections (they’re expensive, mind but the selection is good-quality). All told, it’s couple of hours you could while away here.

And the BUT? For me, the Antikvariat is a wintertime place – perhaps because of this first, favourable impression. A summer visit recently did not feel quite the same. Perhaps because, on this occasion, I mis-remembered what type of coffee I’d gone for before. Perhaps because they didn’t have on any of the promising homemade cider. Perhaps because it was a different and less-friendly waitress serving. Perhaps because the bookshop/record shop was closed (it closes daily at 6pm, although the cafe goes on until 9pm). The summertime street front seating area has been done very well – a delightfully disordered mix of leather sofas, garden benches and beat old wooden chairs for the seats, some books to peruse).

But you know how it is. Ever been back to that lovely restaurant you lounged on the terrace of in summer in, I don’t know, Greece? Then gone back on a cold rainy day, necessarily wanted to sit inside and found the ambience somewhat lacking. Some places have an outside ambience but no indoor ambience. And Cafe Libresso is the opposite. It’s indoors where you want to be and that’s not so desirable in summer.

I’ll be back. But I’ll leave it until dusk on a November afternoon when I want a pick-me-up. Before 6pm, of course, so I can buy some vinyl and some old dusty volume too.

MAP LINK: 

LOCATION: Kupecká 7 – that’s not the main pedestrianised shopping street leading off from Svätoplukovo Námestie but the next one round in a clockwise direction.

OPENING: 9am-9pm (cafe); 9am-6pm (bookshop/record shop)

BEST TIME TO VISIT: 4pm-5pm on a winter afternoon

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From the Antikvariat it’s 30km east to Arborétum Mlyňany

Piešťany: the Very Best Cakes

Many people know about Piešťany, Slovakia’s most famous spa. But what to do when you’re done with a dunk in the pools? Well, the answer is of course an exploration of the town and when you’re done with that (it won’t take too long to explore the town itself) you want a cake. Right? No? Then don’t read on. Yes? You’re in the right place.

Monsalvy may not be the fanciest place in Piešťany. But, to follow an adage adopted worldwide, save the lavish-looking but often unremarkable (cuisine-wise) bigger restaurants for the tourists and save the quality coffee and delicious cakes for the locals, which make up the majority of the clientele here. Another testimony to the place’s quality is that lots of the other cafes in Western Slovakia hanker after Monsalvy’s sweet treats to the extent Monsalvy has to supply cakes to many of the region’s other outlets.

A huge counter of cakes awaits when you push back the curtains and enter into this refreshing retreat from the nearby blandness of Aurpark shopping center. But there’s a snug cafe area stretching both back behind the counter and also in front (if you want a street view). It focuses on supplying locals and local businesses with high-quality cakes which are particularly enticing if you are a fan of cakes with fruit on (fresh cherries, kiwis and grapes feature prominently).

Presentation is key at Monsalvy, who are best known as chocolatiers. The chocolates, especially the pralines, are highly recommended and are displayed on top of the counter as you walk in, but there is one offering that combines the best of the chocolate and the fruit together in one divine helping of goodness: the chocolate košik, or basket. A crumbly chocolate base (the basket part) is filled with a chocolate cream filling up to about half-way. Then on top of these are arranged slices of different fruits, just as if they were positioned in a mini fruit bowl. Try a couple of them alongside a coffee better than the spa restaurants offer and a complementary handmade sweet.

There is no finer treat for your (sweet) taste buds than wiling away some time at this cafe, particularly when winter hits Piešťany and it’s cold out. In a serendipitous turn of events, Monsalvy also serves as something of a wine bar, with a good selection of Slovak wine fave tokaj, and does lunches and dinners too (these are not vouched for by this review but look pretty tempting).

A Quick Guide to the Other Content We Have on the Piešt’any Area:

Places to Go: Piešt’any’s Best Thermal Pools

Places to Go: Hiking in the Footsteps of Beethoven Around Piešt’any

Places to Go: A Great Castle near Piešt’any

Places to Eat & Drink: A Great Restaurant in the Hills Above Piešt’any

 

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LOCATION: Teplická 10, Piešťany

OPENING: 9am-9:30pm Monday-Thursday, 9am-11:30pm Friday-Saturday, 10am-9:30pm Sunday

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Get the shopping done across the road in Aurpark, then head here for elevensies!

LAST UPDATED: April 2017

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: 800m southeast on spa island, Piešťany’s best thermal pools await