In recent months, Kumamoto's Mt Aso volcano has been quite active, spilling out small clouds of ash on a nearly daily basis. If you want to get a view of the action without getting too close to the crater, grab a seat at Cafe Prunier, a rural coffee house on the southern side of the volcano.
Cafe Prunier sits on some of the best real estate in the Mt Aso region. From the cafe's massive picture windows and wooden deck, diners can enjoy sweeping views of at least three of the old volcano's five peaks (known as the Aso Gotake). In the warmer months, it's worth sitting outside at one of the few tables for better views of the stream and surrounding rice paddies. In the winter, cozy up next to one of the heaters in the wood-beamed dining room.
The cafe menu is heavily focused on drinks, with a wide range of coffee beverages (cappuccino, cafe ole and espresso) and tea options (green tea, milk tea and even chai). There are an equal number of iced drinks as well, including some appealing ice cream floats. Drink prices range from ¥400 to ¥600. As with many cafes, Prunier offers a cake and drink set for ¥750, though choices for sweets are rather slim. I can, however, completely recommend the baked cheesecake.
If you come during the lunch hour, you can try out the cafe's three main dish options. Two are curries and the third is an omurice (omelet and rice) with cheese and demiglace sauce. All of the lunch sets cost around ¥900.
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Cafe Prunier is admittedly not easy to find. Only a small sign in Japanese at one of the intersections on Route 28 indicates that this relaxing retreat is just a short drive up the small country lane. Drivers must then navigate a very narrow driveway that skirts a small lake to reach the (much wider) parking area. For those visiting the Mt Aso area via public transportation, the best suggestion would be to take a train to Minamiaso or Takamori station and then catch a taxi from there for the ten-minute ride to the cafe.
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