While I’m a long way from being considered cosmopolitan, traveling in Europe over the last few years has changed my perspective on the world and my appreciation of other cultures. Even the Tour de France feels different to me now. Not that I had watched it in recent years after all those scandals. But my trips to France this year (more on that in future posts!) and England in 2013 have compelled me to tune in a few times, both for the race and for the atmosphere and scenery. The second stage was of particular interest since it started in York, England, the final city that we visited last year and home to the famous Bettys Café Tea Rooms.
Located in northern England, about 200 miles from London and a couple of hours away by train, York was founded by the Romans in the first century and over the next thousand years served as an important city for Anglo-Saxons, early Christians, Vikings, and Normans. Its significance continued to grow during the medieval period.
York has several museums focusing on different aspects of its history, and many buildings and structures remain from various eras, including:
- The medieval City Walls and gates (known as bars). The well-preserved walls circle the city center and can be walked, with a few gaps along the way.
- The Multangular Tower (left), part of which is an original Roman structure, and Clifford’s Tower, a remnant of the medieval York Castle.
- Medieval houses and streets, including Goodramgate (left) and The Shambles.
- And the most famous site, York Minster.
As one of Europe’s largest Gothic cathedrals, York Minster takes a couple of hours to explore, with stained glass windows, religious artifacts, monuments, an undercroft, a tower, and more. (The Great East Window remains under restoration until 2016.)
And just a short walk from York Minster is Bettys Café Tea Rooms.
Swiss immigrant Frederick Belmont opened the original Bettys Café Tea Rooms in Harrogate in 1919, with the York café, now the flagship, opening in 1937 in St. Helen’s Square. Apparently the identity of “Betty” remains a mystery. (To read more, visit Bettys’ website.)
There are three ways to enjoy Bettys in York: the flagship location, which was our choice; the more upscale Art Deco Belmont Room, which has a separate entrance; and a smaller café on nearby Stonegate. We learned of Betty’s through our travel guidebooks, which said that there would be a line. And there was.
On the day of our visit, the line moved quickly. Many people chose to sit in the windowless lower level, known during World War II as Bettys Bar (for a story about the Bar, click here). We waited for an opening on the main floor and were seated within 15 minutes.
Bettys Café Tea Rooms offers a varied menu (click here for links to the menus). Dorene ordered her usual Afternoon Tea.
- Tea – Bettys Tea Room Blend, a non-flavored black tea described as a “traditional rich blend of top-class African and Assam teas.” Tea was served with extra hot water, always a plus.
- Sandwiches – There were four on brown and white bread: salmon, ham, chicken, and egg & mayo. All were very good.
- Scones – A medium-sized sultana scone served with strawberry jam, Yorkshire clotted cream, and separate serving spoons for each! As I mentioned in a previous post, using the same utensil bothers me because, as a jam-first person, I feel bad about sullying the cream. Dorene does cream first, so it matters less. Anyway, the scone had some substance and flavor, and it was not too sweet. “Sultana” was a new word for me. It refers to the fruit: raisins from white or pale green seedless grapes.
- Pastries – This doesn’t happen often, but the scone was not Dorene’s favorite part. The fruit tart, mini-cake, and especially the lemon macaroon (a bit hidden in the above picture) were winners, an unexpected result.
- Decor – Decorated in the Art Nouveau style, the windows are the highlight. A tree motif runs along the sides and top, reflected inside by mirrors. A high shelf of teapots identifies this as a tea room.
- Service – Polite and efficient staff. However, the wait for the food was long. Fortunately, the desserts alone made the wait worthwhile.
- Atmosphere – With a crowd packed into the large, bustling room, there was little atmosphere to complement the food and decor.
- Overall rating
While waiting in line to be seated, I had time to study the cake menu. That’s when I decided to order a light lunch of soup and bread so that I could indulge in a Chocolate and Raspberry St. Honoré. It looks small in this picture, but each bite of chocolate, raspberry, cream, and pastry produced a series of delights. Sadly, it is not listed as an option on the 2014 Summer Menu.
During the wait for food, I did enjoy the chance to look around and appreciate the effect of the windows and mirrors. While Bettys Café Tea Rooms may not have the sense of character that we encountered in other tea rooms, its history, decor, and food created a wonderful experience.
Along with York, Harrogate (home of the original Bettys) also hosted the Tour de France, providing the finish line for stage one (Le Grand Départ). Of course the English found a way to celebrate the rare appearance of the Tour de France in their country with…tea. Bettys is part of a larger firm called Bettys & Taylors Group, and one of their brands, Yorkshire Tea, served as Official Tea Partner of Le Grand Départ and created a commemorative tea, or rather Thé, for the event.
Apparently, the fans loved it. I saw posts on Twitter from people looking for the tea, and according to the Yorkshire Evening Post, it has even sold on eBay. I think the U.S. should take note!