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Posts tagged ‘Coffee’

Marrakech Moments: Tea at the Café de France

Every city has an iconic café. It’s not always the fanciest, or the most expensive or the most beautiful, but it will be the place with history, with a notorious clientele, and a spot beloved by locals and tourists alike. In Marrakech, that place is the Café de France. Located at the bustling heart of the Jemaa El Fna, the iconic market square at the centre of Marrakech, it is simply the perfect ambience to take a Moroccan mint tea and watch the world go by.


But as with all such iconic places – we’re talking the level of Florian’s in the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Caffé Greco in Rome – the best tables are hard to get. When we arrived in Marrakech, a very friendly steward in our Riad told us that the most sought after table was the one up on the first floor terrace of the Café in the most south western corner, with a perfect view of the Koutoubia Mosque at sunset. When we arrived at the Café de France, it was so crowded that we would have been lucky to get a table at all, let alone get the table most coveted of all. But suddenly, as if by magic, and at the precise moment when the lingering clouds of the afternoon cleared and sun rays flooded the terrace of the café, the very same corner table became free and we swiftly occupied it, and soaked in its very enticing view.


The recommendation was correct. It really was the best table. From there we could enjoy the sunset, the Koutoubia tower, and the bustling Jemaa El Fna square at this time when it transformed from day time market place to a huge open air eatery and evening performance venue. There is where the stories of ancient sand dunes and shifting deserts are told, where serpents uncoil out of baskets and monkeys are trained to dance. This exotic space is the centre of the city for a reason, and we had the very best view of it, from above.  Determined to enjoy the table, we took endless photos, reflected upon the ever changing view, sat back, read, and enjoyed a perfectly fresh mint tea. An iconic moment fit only for the café of all Marrakech cafés.


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Tuscan Towns #4 – Castagneto Carducci

For a town with a mouthful of a name, Castagneto Carducci, just uphill from the sandy beaches of Donoratico, is paradoxically small. Distinctive for its coloured houses painted, unlike so many of the stone villages of Tuscany, in sunny shades of pink, yellow and other pastel tones, Castagneto contrasts perfectly with its surroundings of green hills and perfectly regulated striped vineyards. This is not the first time the village has featured on   The Daily Norm, since it is the closest little Tuscan town to my in laws’ home. In fact as we proved on this occasion, a brisk 40 minute walk through the vineyards of Donoratico followed by an uphill climb will see you arrive on foot at the church topped-summit of the town in no time. From there, it is views a plenty, not only of the surrounding countryside but of the quaint streets spilling out across the hilltop.


Like so many of the Tuscan Towns I am featuring on this blog, Castagneto is a town which oozes idyllic charm. While the tourist trade has made sure to embellish the town’s best features and offer visitors boutique shops selling local produce, cuddly wild boars and hand-painted ceramics, my favourite places to visit are those which are the preserves of the locals – the small little cafes where locals prop up the bar to drink an espresso and a brioche; the hilly side streets whose pot plants and strung out washing are just as picturesque as the countryside views over which the tourists ogle; and the little passages where a simple parked vespa or a decorative street lamp look like works of Italian art.

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If you can only get to tour one or two of Tuscany’s quaint little towns, Castagneto is a perfect choice. With its various cafes and small up-scale shops, several restaurants making the most of the views and a perfect winding route around town which will take in the small church and iconic town hall, Castagneto has all the ingredients to afford the visitor a satisfying stroll. And if I were to recommend Bolgheri at around 5pm for a cocktail or afternoon coffee, Castagneto is a perfect choice for a morning coffee. Our sun drenched cup accompanied by brioche and croissants stuffed with frutti di bosco and cream was the best breakfast experience of my trip, and should not be missed, especially with views as fine as this.


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Enjoying the Viennese Coffee House

Along with the waltz, the Danube, Klimt and the Wein Schnitzel, Vienna can count its famous coffee houses amongst those icons which have come to characterise the city. Dating as far back as the 17th century, and reaching their popular height in the 19th century, the cafes have long been the focus of Viennese society, as a place to read the paper, take a strudel, dig into a plate of sausages and of course enjoy a coffee. And of the latter, a fair number of Viennese specialities have developed alongside the historical cafes, including the Brauner (coffee with milk), the Melange (blended coffee and hot milk), the Kurz (extra strong), Obers (with cream), Kapuziner (double mokka with a hood of cream) and the Schwarzer (black) to name but a few.

Of the many cafes which have come and gone over the centuries, a renowned few have retained their standing as icons of the city, including the Central, the Ministerium, the Museum, the Frauenhuber, the Raimund, the Eiles, the Schwarzenberg and the Zartl. All are unique, but share common trends: a cosy interior with comfortable booths and little armchairs; smoky ageing mirrors, brass lamps and dark wooden furniture; and of course the all important display case in which the famous Viennese cakes are given the attention they deserve.

The famous Cafe Central, and the impressive cafe in the Kunsthistoriches museum

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And whichever of the iconic cafes you choose to venture into, the formal etiquette tends to remain the same. Each coffee is served on a small silver tray with an accompanying glass of water. The waiters will most likely be tuxedoed, and it is generally anticipated that you will linger in the cosy surroundings with a paper or a book, long after the last dregs of coffee have been enjoyed.

With ferociously cold temperatures keeping us from the streets, my partner and I were often to be found in a coffee house in Vienna, lured by the cosy interiors and the traditional elegance which each exuded. We never quite made it to the famous Cafe Central, since the queues which seemed to perpetually form outside somewhat defeated the object of venturing to escape the cold. But we did make it into the Cafe Museum and, our favourite of all, the Cafe Eiles.

Enjoying the Eiles


With its eclectic mix of clientele, from the students of the local university to the lawyers and civil servants of the government buildings nearby, we immediately felt completely at home in the Eiles (having personal experience of both sides of the client mix). Its little curved sofa-booths, old fashioned brass lamps and a cream and brown interior felt perfectly traditional, and after several visits we soon got to know that it was the very best place to sample the famous Wein schnitzel, and a range of cakes to match.Best of all, with the accompanying mood of permitted languor, it felt like the best place in which to rest after the mass of museums on offer in the city, to people watch, to warm up, and of course enjoy the coffee.


Photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Musing on the Magic of a Marbella Morning

I’ve often thought that the true magic of a town happens not in the bustling middle of a day, but first thing in the morning, when the first rays of sunshine hit deserted squares, when workmen and women head quietly into the streets to prepare for the visiting masses, when cafes start to open up for business, and when the squares and fountains and pavements are scrubbed clean in readiness for another day. In Rome I remember savouring the view from my hotel window in the Piazza Della Rotunda at 6am, watching the elegant fountain being scrubbed clean in front of the Pantheon before the tourist masses descended. In Krakow likewise I would be mesmerised watching the cleaners out on the streets first thing in the morning, while from the Mariacki Basilica the Hejnalista trumpeter would play his mournful tune. 

Marbella, one of the gems of Andalucia, is no exception when it comes to the tourist crowds. And while I often find myself becoming vexed at the sheer number of visitors who clutter up the streets of the city’s old town, which I am lucky enough to call my second home, I cannot blame them for wanting to visit. For Marbella’s old white washed streets and cobbled squares are amongst the most beautiful on Spain’s Costa del Sol.  But for me, they never look better than first thing in the morning, empty and in the first sun rays of the day. 

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So when I headed out to Marbella this Easter, the first thing I did on my first morning when, accustomed to rising early in London, my body clock got me up early, was to stroll out into the deserted streets of the old town to enjoy these rare quiet moments of having the town almost to myself. The shop shutters were still closed, and the postcard stands hadn’t yet made it out onto the streets; the rising sun was casting long shadows over the cobbled squares; and the only people around were those few taking equal advantage of these quiet moments: to head up a ladder to change a light bulb in a street lamp, to mop the patio in front of a cafe, to quickly walk the dog before work. 

So as Marbella gradually opened up for the day, I took a seat in the Plaza de Naranjos at the heart of the old town, sitting in one of the only spots being hit by the slowly rising sun. And with the square’s cafes only just beginning to open up, with chairs being unstacked and umbrellas gradually opening up around me, I gave the first order of the day to an open cafe’s lone waiter: churros and coffee, to be sampled slowly while watching the world around me awaken. 


Now that is the magic of a Marbella morning.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Barcelona | Photography Focus: Café Reial

When a winter’s city trip is graced by a little sunshine, it feels almost as though you are tricking the seasons. To feel the sun on your skin after months of deep freeze and half-hearted daylight is like the first bite of deliciously indulgent food after a period of health food austerity. So when the sun graced our recent trip to Barcelona, there was frankly no keeping us out of it, something to which my now rather ruddy face is testament. While the charm of Barcelona’s old gothic quarter streets is undoubtedly the fact that they are so narrow and built-up, this also means that the sun rarely reaches down to street level. Consequently, in order to enjoy a moment’s sun-basking without the inconvenience of shadow, nor the interruptions caused by wind, we had to get out of the squeeze of the gothic streets, and head for one of Barcelona’s hip and happening café-lined squares. And where better than to the King of them all? The Plaça Reial.

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The Plaça Reial is, like so many of the similarly enclosed quadrants which make up the Plaza Majores of so many Spanish cities, the beating heart of Barcelona. Just off the equally bustling Las Ramblas, and providing welcome public space after the narrow maze of the gothic streets behind it, the square is a place where all of Barcelona gather, to have coffee and drinks with friends, to hear the music provided by buskers, to seek out the many bargains which are to be found in the square’s Sunday market, or merely to amble around with a dog or a date, or just enjoy the sunshine like we did over a coffee on each of our three mornings in the city. In fact taking our coffee in the square became something of a daily ritual without which the day would have started prematurely. It also enabled us to take up a prime position for a spot of people watching, something which this series of photos surely demonstrates we did well.

Whether it be those sunbathing in their windows, or the little dogs sunbathing on the pavement below – the Plaça Reial truly was a place where all of Barcelona came to enjoy the first sunshine of Spring – and we were only too happy to join them.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Paris v London: What ever happened to British Café Culture?

I was reading the post of one of my favourite Paris-based bloggers, Becoming Madame, the other day which described a truly resonant and idyllic scene which she witnessed when sitting inside a Parisian café. Like many of the readers who commented on the post, I was struck by how easily one can be drawn into the romanticised ideal of the Parisian café. It was the same when I was there two weeks ago: There’s something about Parisian cafes which exudes effortless elegance. Some of them are tatty, have tired looking waiters who have been doing the same job for years, browning mirrors and horrible toilets. But there’s something about them, with their hand-written blackboards, mirrored walls, wicker chairs and round tables squeezed outside, and cosy booths inside set amongst an array of old posters and photographs, that just IS romantic and offers us  the very epitome of café culture. This quintessential idyllic view of the French café was very much indulged in my favourite film of all time, Amélie, and yet, despite the cinematic interpretation, the quirky little cafe  captured in than film is wholly representative of reality.

My queuing experience in Starbucks yesterday

So all of this got me thinking (while stood in a massive queue in Starbucks yesterday), while the streets of Paris are literally dotted all over with cafés and brasseries on every corner, each inviting us to indulge with its cherry red awnings and cosy pavement heaters, why is it that in London, the best we can manage is a starbucks or a Cafe Nero every 100 metres? What happened to the Lyons Teahouses which were at the centre of polite society? Or the little privately run café to which everyone would flock for a gossip? In Paris you sit down and are greeted (not always immediately, warranted) by the friendly(ish) face of a smart French waiter. You order your coffee, you sit back, and you indulge in the sweet pleasure that is people watching. In London you queue for a coffee for what seems like an age. You can attempt to sit down, but most of the cafes are turned over to the takeaway trade, so seating is both limited and purposefully uncomfortable so that the turnaround is quick and no one stays too long. Because of the people rushing in and out, the doors are always open. Your experience is cold and drafty and usually, because of lack of accommodation you have to leave with coffee in a paper cup, the small hole in the lid badly designed for sipping so that generally you get half of the scalding liquid down your face before you’ve managed to sit down and enjoy it. And yet the thing is, these cafés are always full, and you get the feeling that in London there really is a growing coffee culture. So why can’t we have the relaxed café culture of Paris?

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