The village of Białowieża is the gateway to Europe’s last primeval forest, of the same name – here’s a guide to Białowieża. A UNESCO listed world heritage site and protected national park lie in the huge forest behind this tranquil village, which thrives on tourism. Białowieża sits in Poland, right by the border to Belarus and is a prime spot for nature enthusiasts and animal lovers keen to see wild bison. While based in Białowieża, head to any of these cool venues for your morning mocha, frothy frappe or lazy latte as you relax in a village where the pace of life slows right down.
1.Kartoszka Cafe and Restaurant
Kartoszka is a cosy cafe and restaurant all in one and is located on Generalna Waszkiewicza Street, which is the main street that runs through the village of Białowieża. The venue serves up fresh coffees all day as well as offering some of the most regional cuisine available in the village. Instead of simply serving Polish and Belarusian dishes, it specialises in Podlaskie cuisine. In other words, Podlaskie dishes which typify the food in and around Białystok (the province’s largest city). Whilst sipping a hot coffee, order up a portion of babka ziemniaczana (potato pancakes) with smietana (sour cream) or some kopytka (potato dumplings with fried onions). For pierogi lovers, there are also regional versions of the famous dumplings for sale here.
2.Zajazd Na Parkingu
In front of the car park on the south side of the river sits a quaint wooden cafe and restaurant by the name of Zajazd Na Parkingu (‘Inn in front of the parking’). Owned by a local couple, this venue serves up delicious placki ziemniaczane (potato pancakes) and jajecznica (scrambled eggs) for a breakfast or brunch to accompany your latte, cappuccino or espresso. The cafe is furnished like a wooden shack and has a wonderful balcony with a view. From this wooden terrace you can gaze over at the lake and the bridge to the main entrance of Białowieża National Park. The venue is also open at night serving dinners, beer and spirits.
3.Cafe at Restauracja Parkowa
The Białowieża National Park visitor centre houses a hotel, museum, cafe, bar and restaurant. The visitor information centre is also here and there is a cosy and modern cafe inside the main building. Hot, cold and flavoured coffees are all served to perfection in a relaxed venue which also contains a good selection of herbal teas. The food menu deserved to be put to the test too for instance the hearty Polish bigos (Hunter’s stew) or the barszcz (beetroot soup). International cuisine such as burgers and steaks can also be ordered here, plus an excellent range of gourmet ice creams, supplied by the famous Menorquina brand. The cafe has Wi-Fi, televisions, a fully licensed bar and a balcony overlooking the forest. On my visit to this bar, I also watched Bournemouth beat Cardiff City 2-0 on my laptop.
4.Kayaks and Chill
Located on the road that crosses the river, Kayaks and Chill is a perfect place for an outdoor coffee on a summer’s day in beautiful Białowieża. As well as being a pretty cool cafe, the place doubles up as a kayak rental shop. You can hire a kayak and go for a short trip on the lake before returning to this wooden shack for a coffee, a tea or a beer. The venue has indoor and outdoor seating with a calm and peaceful garden to relax in containing deck chairs and wooden tables. Predictably though, the venue closes down in the cold winter when the lake freezes over and it’s simply too cold to sit and chill in the garden.
5.Galeria and Cafe Syrenka
This quirky wooden venue is a top notch spot in the village for a coffee and dessert. Serving up the best coffee selection in Białowieża, Syrenka (The Mermaid) has coffee beans from places like Kenya, Costa Rica and Ethiopia. The real treat is the warm and cosy atmosphere and the friendly staff. The staff are coffee geeks and art lovers. As you sip your coffee and munch a delicious homemade muffin or szarlotka (apple pie), you cannot help but admire the art on the walls. Only snacks and desserts are served here – it’s more of a coffee hangout than a restaurant or bar (it’s unlicensed). As well as being an artistic venue, you can also buy some souvenirs and exhibits here. There is indoor and outdoor seating and you can sometimes catch the free village Wi-Fi from the patio seats.
With its handy location at the front of the entrance to Białowieża National Park, the Bike Cafe is a small, compact and no frills coffee venue catering for those needing a quick coffee boost. As is suggested by its title, ‘Bike Cafe’ is also the place to hire a bike. So – hire a bike, go and explore the national park and the rest of the village, before returning for a well deserved post-cycle drink. Bike Cafe sells coffee, tea, soft drinks, beer and cake. There is limited seating inside and a small garden outside. Local craft beers are served, as well as a selection of freshly made cakes.
7.Gospoda Pod Żubrem
Gospoda Pod Żubrem translates as ‘inn in front of the bison’, which is an apt title given its location in front of the main tourist entrance to Białowieża National Park. It’s one of the biggest restaurants in the area during the summer months due to the large beer garden out the front. Inside, however seating is limited. The tea here deserves to be tried, especially the Belarusian fruit teas and the Polish honey and ginger tea. Craft beers from Poland, Lithuania and Belarus are also served, both on tap and from the well-stocked fridge. For dessert lovers, try their fruit torty (tarts) or the szarlotka (apple and cinnamon pie).
Those looking for a bigger meal are in luck too, as Gospoda Pod Żubrem has Polish chefs cooking up sumptuous pierogi (mixed dumplings, with various fillings) or kotlet schabowy (pork chop with vegetables).