Earlier this month I spent a girls weekend in Harrogate in North Yorkshire. I'd heard Harrogate was a lovely Victorian town and being not that far from where I live - about one and a half hours on the train (if your train connection from York isn't cancelled like ours was) - I probably should have visited before now. Unlike Canada, which is the size of the universe compared to the UK, here you can get on a train and visit all kinds of charming towns and villages up and down the country, from coast to coast. However, it would definitely help if train tickets weren't extortionate - flying is cheaper! I would be off for something with the family in tow nearly every weekend otherwise. Lottery tickets.
(Thanks go out to my lovely friend Caroline who arranged the weekend and then got too sick to go!)
Every time Harrogate was mentioned to me the name "Betty's" was tagged in there as a place I would love. My friends know me well. And so we went, twice. When I first came up to it I was surprised that it looked French and would seem right at home on St-Germain in Paris. Betty's was first established in 1919 by Frederick Belmont, a Swiss who was orphaned at an early age and so immersed himself in the world of bakers and confectionery through apprenticeships all across Europe. This one in Harrogate is the original, still family owned, and you can feel their commitment to keeping the spirit going in the manner it was intended. We queued outside in a line that eventually snaked around the corner (Betty's is massively popular and they don't take reservations) but a smiling host would greet each guest and take their names, and because the place is so big - cafe and shop with a large tea room on two sub-levels - it didn't take all that long to get inside. And it was worth the wait. I had the butternut squash tortellini after struggling to choose between several equally appealing options - you can see the menu here - and my two friends had the afternoon tea, one for the first time so she was in the right place. I didn't have a dessert but I raided the shop for the last of the macarons to bring home for my daughter, along with some Valentine's treats including a box of pink and white fondant fancies. There was also a chocolate heart lolly with chocolate ganache and raspberry inside, and if they do that in a more permanently offered incarnation, I would hignly recommend seeking it out. I had a tiny taste and it was so good I made noises.
There was a green space in the town centre and all of the trees were lit up. I'm assuming they do this throughout the winter.
Who knew Harrogate had a French district? Not me. We certainly had our choice of French restaurants (well, we would have had we made reservations earlier.) We were lucky to get a late table at Mirabelle which was just fantastic, our waiter was great fun and the food was gorgeous. I went for the Oxtail soup with dumplings for my starter as I'd never had it before. It was served in a Le Creuset mini cocotte so I was happy before I even took my first spoonful. (It was delicious with a bit of a gamey flavour, you'd never mistake it for beef.) Mirabelle's chef and co-owner Lionel Strub has a cookbook out for his recipes that fuse French and British cuisine, and I'd meant to pick it up on the way out but that one and a half glasses of wine really hit me and I forgot (unfortunately it is true that that's all it takes to do me in). If this dining experience is anything to go by, Montpellier certainly warrants future investigation.
This unusual staircase was an eye-catching feature of the lobby of the Hotel du Vin where we stayed (I highly recommend it, and the mini bar is actually reasonably priced, I did not think such a thing existed):
This mostly Orla Kiely decor shop window had every passerby pausing for an eyeful:
The L'Occitane window was a nice reminder on a cold weekend that spring is on its way, which is when I'll be returning. It'll make the queuing for Betty's a bit more comfortable.
Photos © The Swelle Life