Firstly I have to say that I am not a coffee snob. In fact I mainly drink instant coffee at home and at work. For me coffee is social habit, a drink enjoyed with company. And I’m boring – a flat white because I don’t want any of that fancy foam or chocolate sprinkles – just give me the coffee.
Secondly, I’m an explorer at heart, I enjoy finding new places, and looking for new roads.
And while generally I’m not a fan of large group rides, I really enjoy going out with a small group of friends for breakfast or lunch rides. A chance to escape, sit around a table, laugh and enjoy a coffee and a meal together. These rides are generally within a 150km radius of Canberra – and with our time in Canberra I’ve explored many of these little towns and their cafes.
Yes you can go to a swanky cafe in the city with all the trendy furniture and sit with all the hustle and bustle going on around you, the constant buzz of the city in your ears and know that your coffee will be perfect, at the right temp, with the right amount of foam, blah blah blah. Or you can get out of town, go for a ride, and step through the door of a new place and if you’re lucky discover a gem. Or on the flip side there can be some shockers as well but they make for interesting stories. And yes I’ve got interesting stories.
Last Friday one of my staff suggested that I should write a book on all the cafes in the surrounding area as I’ve been to most of the little towns surrounding Canberra. And after posting up a newly discovered cafe on Facebook another person suggested the same thing. While I’m not entertaining the book idea it made me reflect on my favourite cafes around the area and the ones where I’ve had “interesting experiences”.
So I sat down and plotted all the cafes and pubs I’ve visited while out riding in our local area, ie within a few hundred kilometres of Canberra.
It turns out that I’ve been to quite a few, and certainly more than I expected so rather than list every one I will just draw out some of the highlights and interesting ones.
Araluen – A lot of little towns have an intriguing history and Araluen is one of them. A gold rush town with a current population of less than 200 people but in its hey day during the gold rush boasted 26 pubs, 5 Police stations, and 8 schools. Hard to believe looking around at this sleepy valley village. The last remaining pub is the Araluen Valley Hotel and serves a nice counter lunch. It’s also a great ride down to Araluen and if you don’t mind dirt you can continue to the coast down the dirt range.
Boorowa – Most of my interesting experiences in regards to cafes have happened here. These include a takeaway shop with a big fancy coffee machine that was essentially only used as a kettle to make instant coffee (just wrong!), or getting foamed milk in a cup of tea. The two places I’d recommend are the Superb Bakery if you want cakes and pastries with your coffee or the Shamrock Cafe across the road in the pub for nice sit down meal.
Bowning – The Roll on in Cafe is the most common cafe in Bowning – it’s a period themed cafe just off the highway. However if you go further into the settlement there is another lovely little cafe tucked away called the Mayfield Mews – this is my preference in Bowning, with it’s heritage listed building, cozy environment, and heaps of character. The coffee and meals were also very good. The home made Moroccan lamb pie was delicious!
Braidwood– It seems like everyone stops at the Braidwood Bakery on their way to the coast but there is another nice little cafe in the main street set in a bookshop call the The Serrated Tussock Cafe which is much more intimate. Or if you want something a bit more trendy/alternate try the Albion Cafe.
Bywong – If you just want to escape the city for an afternoon in the country – only 20km out of Canberra marked with an unassuming sign is The Scented Rose Garden and Tea house and is only open between September and March. Set in a rose garden this is a beautiful country setting complimented by a homemade cooking menu.
Cowra – If you want to get away from ‘fast food’ in Cowra there are a couple of options. The Rose Garden Cafe is next to the tourist information centre within sight of McDonalds overlooking a rose garden. They cheekily say that they are not fast food but good food, and with a nice range of menu options they are right.
The other really nice cafe in Cowra worth mentioning is the little cafe in the Cowra Japanese Gardens. If you haven’t visited these gardens you really need to as they are stunning, with a traditional Japanese gardens set in an eucalyptus backdrop. See a previous post for some photos of the gardens.
Crookwell – must be between cafes at the moment as there seems to only be a takeaway shop and a pub. They used to have a couple of nice cafes, including an antiques / coffee shop run by an really old couple which looked like time had stopped, complete with doilies on the table. It was such a lovely friendly place full of character and stories. I miss the character of these little cafes.
Goulburn – is a quick burn up the highway and only 80km north of Canberra. We have used Goulburn as a good destination for Friday night dinner rides as the amount of traffic on the freeway generally keeps most of the wildlife away. It is also a good destination for other rides as there are a number of routing options you can use to get there of varying distance. Goulburn has a number of nice takeaways, cafes, and pubs. The Tattersalls Hotel puts on a really nice meal, as does the Paragon Cafe – the cakes alone are worth a visit to the Paragon as they are sensational. Recently I was put onto a couple of the takeaways on the north end of town with really good works burgers for $8. And I can attest that they are very good.
Gunning – has a pub and a couple of nice cafes and tends to be my go-to place as the distance is right and the cafes are both nice in their own way for a morning or afternoon ride. My favourite cafe is the Merino Cafe and we make our way out to the Merino cafe semi-regularly as the breakfast menu never disappoints and I just love the surroundings. Gunning is a lovely little town. Like many of these types of cafes you can sit inside, or out the front and watch the world go by, or in the quiet back garden area.
Jugiong – most people travelling between Sydney and Melbourne stop at the busy service centre at Gundagai, but just 40km north is the nice little town of Jugiong set just off the Hume highway. A few years ago there was next to nothing here, however people are starting to discover this little town and the Long Track Pantry as it seems to be busier every time I go there. We have stopped here a number of times and really love the place. They also sell a range of locally produced products – you have to try their caramelized balsamic vinegar!
Reidsdale – a little farm in the middle of nowhere called Sully’s that make and sell their own apple cider in addition to an array of other local produce. You can sample their cider or sit and enjoy a coffee in the quiet surroundings as this place is very much off the beaten track.
Sutton – There really isn’t much in Sutton so it was a surprise to see a bakery pop up but it always seems well patronised. The Baker at Sutton is only about 10km from the outskirts of Canberra so it’s hardly a ride but it has a nice assortment of pastries and does a good coffee. It’s so close it’s hardly like leaving town but sitting out the front, the city seems so far away. Always a nice place to go if you just want quiet surroundings and a nice cuppa and a pie.
Taralga – Has a nice old pub which serves typical pub meals and is a popular stop for bike riders. However, there is a nice little cafe called the Tangled Vine Cafe at the other end of the main street which has a lovely feel and nice meals.
Tarthra – one of the key requirements when looking for a ride destination down the coast is that it must have an ocean view – it just seems obvious. But I have found it hard to find along the south coast.
The Wharf Local cafe in Tarthra does have a great view and is a nice place to sit and stare out at the ocean.
Tumbarumba – home to the Four Bears Cafe a fun cafe filled with teddy bears of all shapes and sizes with a really cool menu of fun sounding burgers that taste delicious. It’s certainly worth a stop.
Wombat – The Wombat Hotel is just off the Olympic Highway 20km south of Young and offers a nice atmosphere and good pub meals. It was some of the best lamb cutlets I’ve had in a while with a nice generous helping of fresh salad.
My favourite places have one thing in common? Character. I want a place that makes me smile when I think about it – not just a place that serves coffee.
The ones I don’t generally revisit are the boring, you could be anywhere ones – often they are renovated with that familiar boring new feel with nothing distinguishing. No character.
Well that’s just a few of the many places that I have visited in our surrounding area. If you have a cafe or pub that I haven’t marked that is worth checking out, please let me know. I’m always happy to go for a ride and check it out.