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Wild Five: New Australian Hotel Openings

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Is it just me, or are there some fiendishly cute new hotels popping up all over this sunburnt country right now?! Ok, it’s winter, but you get my point. The fiance keeps having to remind me that we have our wedding coming up, or I would have already booked into a few of these beauties. So, whether you are looking to head to the snow, a nondescript Melbourne rooftop, Byron (which is a damn fine idea at this time of year), the foodie hub of Eastside Sydney or down to that Hobart place that’s so hot right now (OK, I don’t mean that at all literally, Hobart be chilly, I meant so ‘cool’ right now, there you go), these are some new boutique lodgings to put on the radar.

Yours, not mine, I have a wedding coming up.

The Bower, Byron Bay

What do you get when you mix Manhattan and Byron Bay? Everything we ever wanted?! This new opening in everyone’s fave part of far northern New South Wales brings a bit of New York to the beach. Taliah Lowry from the property told Vogue Living, “The Bower was a direct result of our New York trip at the beginning of this year. We loved staying in the Bower District and checking out all the gorgeous boutique hotels,”. And judging by the look of The Bower, we’re going to love this boutique hotel, too.

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Can’t wait to check out these gorgeous Manhattan-style suites. Photo: The Bower

MACq 01, Hobart

I don’t need too much motivation for a trip to Hobart. In fact, this Move To Tasmania, Punk Facey page almost has me packing up my life for there. And while I already have a Hobart fave lodging with the Alabama Hotel, the literary geek in me was pretty much had at ‘Storytelling Hotel’. That these rooms tell the stories of the colourful characters of Van Diemen’s Land, and are right on the Derwent River, has me pretty antsy to get down south for another Tassie trip. One of my publishing friends (but of course!) has stayed at MACq 01 already and vouched that it is worth the hype. And I’m assuming so has that flower-beard winky guy on the website.

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Tell me your Tassie stories, MACq 01! Photo: MACq 01

Spicers, Potts Point

Being a travel-loving Sydney-sider, I’ve already visited this Potts Point gem a couple of times and can say with some authority that it is nothing short of a stylish, tranquil urban retreat. It’s set in three re-vamped Victorian terraces on leafy Victoria Street – right opposite The Butler (otherwise known as the girl’s long lunch dream) and down the road from Ms G’s (stoner’s delight dessert anyone? Also, I interviewed chef Dan Hong on my show and he’s really ace and has a big sneaker collection). But no need to take down my notes, the hotel gives out a ‘passport’ that includes all the local spots you need to visit. They know what’s up! Now I’m talking like someone with a big sneaker collection. I don’t have that.

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I actually hosted an ‘Instameet’ for Sydney’s official instagram group, where we visited Spicers Potts Point, and the whole property is very insta-worthy. But this is not my photo, it’s theirs. I was too busy playing tour guide. Photo: Spicers Potts Point

Notel, Melbourne

A bunch of chrome Airstream trailers, decked out with all the mod cons including blush pink interiors (which are so in right now and I’m embarrassingly a sucker for that kind of thing), and even one with a spa, all on a carpark rooftop in Melbourne. This obviously draws parallels with St Jerome’s the Hotel, but we had a damn fine time there, so I’m pretty keen to check out Notel as well. And free mini bar?! Yassss!

Notel Melbourne Best New Hotel Openings Australia Airstream

Speaking of Instagram… Photo: Notel

Astra, Falls Creek, Victoria

Despite missing the snow season this year (although I love snowboarding I’m too clumsy and don’t fancy hobbling down the aisle), I would absolutely choose the Victorian snowfields over the New South Wales ski patch (traitor!!) for this gorgeous new alpine ski lodge in Falls Creek (and I’ve snowboarded there and it’s beautiful). Nearby Bright is high on my bucket-listy-just-want-to-go-everywhere thing as well, so I’m adding this note to self to combine the two. The newly-opened Astra certainly looks like the coolest ski accommodation I’ve seen in Aus, so I’m willing to sacrifice a wrist or two to sprains and check it out in the near future.

Astra Falls Creek Best New Hotels Australia Victoria

So snow cosy! Photo: Astra Lodge

Love cool hotels? You may also like this post about Hotel, Hotel in Canberra or the dreamy SP34 in Copenhagen, just to name a couple.

Scandi Food Fave: Oaxen Slip, Stockholm

Oaxen Slip has a giant boat suspended from the ceiling. This painted vessel is hoisted up to dangle from the high ceiling of the bright white dining room, where it sits above wooden tables with retro cinema seating and red leather bar stools. Arriving for the first seating of the day meant we had the pick of the balcony tables, so we plonked in the sun, ordered some plonk and settled in to what was to be a glorious afternoon by the waters of the inner archipelago.

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We discovered this restaurant in the fab CITIx60 Stockholm Guide, which features everything from restaurants to galleries and hotels to markets, all recommended by creative locals. I was sold on the big, crafty boat scenario, but another alluring factor was that Oaxen Slip is a short ferry trip from Stockholm to the small island of Djurgården (which , you can tell your mother, also houses the ABBA Museum – she’ll be pissed you don’t go) and a little leafy island stroll to get there.

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Oaxen Slip is the attached bistro to Oaxen Krog, a fine dining restaurant with two Michelin stars, and all I have to say about that is that this felt mighty fine to me, especially given the focus on local and Nordic ingredients. And in case you can’t yet tell, I completely love the interiors.

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Given where we were, it felt mandatory that I order the herring, which was served on a delicious, warm potato salad and topped with dill. These and the vegetarian dishes of yummy leek and cheese and cauliflower I shared with Phil were served in rustic earthenware crockery or in one case a hot pan direct from the oven. The dessert of a stripped back crumble with a zesty lime granita and creamy summer sorbet is perhaps one of my fave desserts ever!

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One thing to keep in mind when you are dining in Scandinavia is the cost of wine. This lunch was really an engagement present for us, so we were able to splash out, but we found often when eating out in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, that ordering a bottle of wine could often double the cost of your bill, so make sure you do the conversion in your head first. That said, the wine here was totally tasty as hell, so if money is not an issue, go nuts – it’ll add to your Scandi summer arvo in Stockholm super bliss vibes.

Wild Spin of the Web {1}

In this new segment, let’s take a regular little spin of the World Wild Web together: the lusty hotels, exotic food delights, stylish destinations, podcasts worth sticking in your ears, blogs and websites dedicated to the adventurous delights of life, and the odd things that are offline, but still very, very fine. Think of it like a compass, a jumpy, excitable pointer at some of the best in travel and lifestyle on any given week. Come on this little e-journey with me…

STAY: Eden Locke Hotel, Scotland (pictured) – Wowsers! I lived in the glorious, gothic, cobblestoned (and cold) city of Edinburgh about ten years ago and have sadly yet to return, but after seeing this gem on the wonderful site Melting Butter this week, it might be time to couple this hotel stay with a highlands adventure.

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Image credit: Eden Locke, Edinburgh

TASTE: These vegetarian dumplings by the chef Benny Doro are outrageously delicious and super easy to make!  Add them to your list of go-to recipes – if you’re into delicious things, that is.

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Image credit: Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry

LISTEN: One of my fave food blogs is Lee Tran Lam’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry, and I’ve only just delved into her podcast of the Sydney food scene. This newest episode featuring iconic Australian food writer Jill Dupleix takes a loving look at Australia’s best restaurants, a few of which are now on the (too long) list! Listen here.

TRAVEL: One of my absolute fave blogs that I check most days is DESIGNLOVEFEST, “where type and images totally make out”, and the genius behind it Bri Emery recently visited Todos Santos in Mexico, a place I had never heard of, but now desperatey want to go! Read about it (and look at the gorgeous images) here.

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Image credit: designlovefest

OFFLINE, BUT STILL VERY FINE: Now in it’s sixth issue, Ernest Journal, produced in the UK, explains on its website that it “is a periodical of substance created for folk who love to build fires, embark on road trips, camp under a canopy of stars and run full pelt into the sea”, and if you can get your hands on one of these beautifully produced (the matt pages feel so nice to slide your hands over) periodicals, you may never let go. The mag is full of stories of curious histories, workmanship, slow adventure, timeless style, and wild food and the latest issue has features on the likes of England’s Last Vikings and Explorer’s Sketchbooks.

Love Wild Spin of the World? Sign up to our e-newsletter here.

Chasing the Twelve Apostles, Victoria

Freewheeling through the evergreen patchwork of Victorian countryside, a Samoan chief (with a kiwi accent) steering the ride, this day trip down to the Great Ocean Road’s Apostles (once there were Twelve), was worth the long day journey to this gloriously  eroded stretch of coast.

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Heading Southwest out of Melbourne, we took an early pit stop in Geelong, a bay city of just over 170,000 people around an hour from Melbourne city. One of my (and probably yours too) skills is to be able to seek out places to eat/stay/shop/visit in a place at short notice. Which brings us to breakfast at Freckleduck (I didn’t say I’m skilled at seeking out well-named places!). And holy shitballs will you take a look at that ricotta, seed and maple covered, mascarpone (how do you hide a small horse?)-topped hotcake pile of deliciousness!? The coffee was great too. This was a very good omen for the day ahead.

For this trip, I was reuniting with my ‘ol buddy Phil (not my fiance Phil, this Phil) who moved to Melbourne around six months back, and since that New Zealand mountainous road trip adventure he has been made chief of his village in Samoa! So, we will hence refer to him as The Chief. He still lives in Melbourne though. He reports his village is fine without him for now.

We took the inland route along the A1, which at picturesque-farmland-best made me twitch and want to stop and take photos at every asphalt turn. I didn’t though, as the trip down was already just shy of three hours and we were anxious to get to the coast while the sky was brilliant blue (of which I am so very grateful, the weather had been rubbish for weeks!).

Once out of the car, we sauntered down a path that had an eclectic mix of coastal vegetation and tourists, and a light sea mist that rose over the cliffs…

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The Twelve Apostles are a series of limestone peaks out to sea, located in the Port Campbell National Park,  which is along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. I’d never been this far down the Great Ocean Road, having travelled as far as Lorne for Falls Festival back at the year 2000 to boogie through the three-day New Years Eve event (Violent Femmes played in the New Year if you are wondering, and I still haven’t forgiven them for not playing the Kiss Off count-down backwards to midnight).

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Laying eyes on these defiant cuts of earth, standing still among the swirling whitewash that slowly shaves at their sides, is a beautiful experience. The lunchtime winter sun blew out the sea mist even more, making for lovely hazy photographs. I’m sure the morning sunlight would be a very special time to shoot them, and this is when I plan to make my next approach.

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DETOUR: London Arch

A further 35 minute drive from the Twelve Apostles, through the town of Port Campbell (in which we spied a pretty tempting outdoor pub area across from the ocean), you come across London Arch, formerly called London Bridge. This limestone formation used to be more bridge-like until 1990, when the section which joined it to land crumbled into the ocean, leaving two visitors stranded and in need of rescue. These days you peruse this little wonder from the safety of a couple of viewing platforms, well  and truly on land. But I guess once upon a time those Apostles were safe on land, and look at these poor buggers now.

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We wound our way back to Melbourne an alternate route, hugging the Great Ocean Road for a time before veering into the Otway Forest Park. This was a spectacular drive through the forest, which periodically opened out to vast stretches of canopy shining under the golden hour of light. Don’t tell any Melbournites (especially The Chief – I want him to move back to Sydney), but I was falling a little in love with Victoria.

Speaking of Victoria, I also on this trip visited one of my new fave places in Australia, Daylesford, where we (my fiance Phil this time) soaked in natural hot springs, stayed in the magnificent local pub, visited a lavender farm and more, read about it here.

Cornwall Summer (Part 2): St Ives, Newquay and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen

ST IVES

We arrived in St Ives on an overcast afternoon, checked in to a Victorian terrace with an ocean view, and wandered down through the cobblestone lanes to the sea. The harbour was pale in colour, with small, bobbing boats and seagulls circling above. I took a liking to the place immediately.

This is where Virginia Woolf’s 1927 novel To the Lighthouse took inspiration from, when she would peer out at Godrevy Island from her holiday lodgings at Talland House. There is something about St Ives that draws your eyes out towards the sea. I’d love to know more about it’s history. Walking down by the wharf you’ll find The Sloop Inn, a whitewash historical fisherman’s pub dating back to “circa 1312”, with low, wooden ceilings in the bottom floor bar and popular seating outside.

St Ives is also a town populated by, and attractive to, artists. The Tate St Ives (which was closed when we were there, but has since re-opened), is a draw card, as is the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. We enjoyed just meandering through the streets and by the harbour, taking in the bakeries and pubs, sweet shops and boutiques.

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St Ives Cornwall English Coast pub

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TASTE: Blas Burgerworks

All St Ives online review roads lead to Blas Burgerworks, a pokey, charming little place, with an impressive selection of vegetarian and vegan burgers. The haloumi stack burger, with spinach, field mushrooms, roast peppers, salad and caper aoli, servied with crispy chips, was exactly what my Penzance hangover was crying out for. A Cornish cider as well and I was on my way to being cured.

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Cafe Love: 57 Fore St

While taking our initial wander through town, I made a mental note to return to 57 Fore Street, a warm-looking cafe space with a fixie bike out front that beckoned us with a scrawling script promise of “St Ives Harbour View Upstairs”. Mid morning the next day, we climbed the stairs, snuck into a sunny spot by the window, and enjoyed a lazy coffee break in this cosy nautical-themed cafe.

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SHOPPING

Winding cobblestone streets of old, flower-laden shops. Joy. There were many great stores in St Ives, but some I want to mention are the bright, exotic treasures of Sweetlime – the boutique equivalent of vibrant world music. Think tasseled jewellery and colourful, woven cushions and bags. Owner lady has taste! Then there’s Common Wanderer, one of my fave adventure stores anywhere, for the stylish lover of the outdoors. Great collection of books if you love the intrepid life (I’m guessing that’s you), camping accessories, clothing, blankets and throws for your cabin. Yeah, I’m their target market for sure. Number 8  on High Street is also worth a mention, especially for stylish dude threads.

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NEWQUAY

We were eager to venture further up the north coast into the surf territory of Newquay, but first we wound over the hill into Watergate Bay, where the grassy green earth stopped in high wave-like cliffs over the beach.

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TASTE: Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall, Watergate Bay

Everybody loves Jamie, right?! Despite his restaurants popping up all over the world, including my hometown of Sydney, I had never dined at one, so it felt fitting to make my first experience of eating a la Jamie, one of his signature restaurants on the Cornwall Coast. All profits from Fifteen Cornwall go to the charity and the restaurant is home to the award-winning apprenticeship program that you may have seen on his show some years back. From the food to the wine, views, interiors and oh my gawd deserts, this place nails seaside classy casual. We were surprised how easy it was to get a booking last minute and it wasn’t busy.

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STAY: Great Western Hotel, Newquay

As much as I would have loved to rest my head at the Watergate Bay Hotel (which came recommended by a stylish shop owner in Lyme Regis), we were spending two and a half months in the UK, so needed to be modest in our spending at times. So we checked into the comfortable Great Western Hotel, which suited this quick stop perfectly. We enjoyed a beer in the huge, see view beer garden out back, and a hearty pub meal downstairs, while watching the soccor on the big screens. The location, between Great Western Beach and Tolcarne Beach, gives a good vantage of Newquay. You could peer out at hunched cliffs, holidays makers getting surf lessons and some of the colourful beach huts that we had been been seeing up and down the coast from the area out back.

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EAT: The Stable

There are numerous outposts of The Stable around the UK now, but this was my first intro, and as the website states, this “most scenic Stable to date has breathtaking, panoramic views over one of Britain’s most famous beaches”. And it is true, the high position and open windows make this advantageous brekky spot. But here’s a thing: the baked eggs pictured here were so darn delicious and cheesy and fresh, they were surely a direct apparition from the Gods of breakfast. I wish there was a Stable near my house in Australia.

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VISIT: Perched high on the southern end of Fistral Beach is the Headland Hotel & Spa, Cornwall. Do you recognise it? I do, and it gives me chills, even now as an adult. Remember the film version of Roald Dahl’s The Witches? With a brilliantly terrifying Angelica Houston and her eyes that flashed purple? It was released in 1990 when I was young enough to be truly spooked by it, so it was a thrill to visit this site, especially on a grim, spitty day where the dark clouds were brewing just off the coast.

This just reminds me, I happened to be in San Sebastian in Spain when the film festival was on there, and who was to walk straight past me in the street? Angelica Houston. In a crisp white shirt with the top buttons open, cradling a handbag and walking with one of the most elegant strides I have ever seen…

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This is Part II of my Cornwall in the Summer posts, check out #1 here: Cornwall Summer (Part 1): St Mawes, Penzance and the Minack Theatre

 

Cornwall Summer (Part 1): St Mawes, Penzance and the Minack Theatre

I’ve wanted to go to Cornwall for a long time, but as I approached, I realised I knew so little about what to expect. I didn’t know there would be cliffside theatres with sharks basking in aquamarine water below, or that there would be wildflowers in abundance, pirate bays and bars, accents with an endearing drawl at their strongest, modern hotels opposite centuries old buildings where seafarers have been raising tankards of ale for centuries. All this I didn’t really know.

Our introduction was via St Mawes, where to arrive at the coast we found ourselves driving down one of the steepest and surely narrowest streets I’ve ever driven on (in a manual – eeeee!), so by the time we parked I was frantically looking for an alternate exit route, gulping at the thought of terrifying(ly embarrassing) hill starts. When I took a few deep breaths and looked around, I saw an endearing seaside village, where every building was white-washed, only the roofs differed in colour, and only a little. Two hotels draw a sophisticated crowd here: The Idle Rocks and the Hotel Tresanton, but I hear there is a newer re-opening that would be my pick: St Mawes Hotel. But alas, this was not our end destination, so we merely stopped for a seaside lunch and took a wander around this town on the Roseland Peninsula. Further along there is a thirteenth century church and a lighthouse, but I was keen to get back on the (flatter) road and make for our final destination of the day.

We exited town via the chain-led King Harry Ferry from St Mawes to Falmouth, driving further South-West, in fact on our most South-West adventure – to Penzance on the Penwith Peninsula, just shy of Land’s End.

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On the outskirts of Penzance, you should swing by St Micheal’s Mount, a small tidal island with a castle and chapel atop, that has been in the St Aubyn family since around 1650 – and the earliest buildings on the island date to the 12th Century! Less than 15 minutes down the road is Penzance, a port town famed for the comic opera The Pirates of Penzance, which was first performed in 1879. Cornwall is also famed for pasties, ice-cream and cider, not to mention Poldark, so the place was already pretty alright with me…

We wound through some late afternoon traffic, past thrift stores and bakeries, and round onto our destination of Chappel Street in the old town.

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STAY: Artist Residence

Just the name evokes a seductive bohemian enclave you should be staying at, and we certainly didn’t regret our decision to stay in this quirky abode. Sunday Times Travel recently voted it in their Ultimate 100 British Hotels feature. Located in the old quarter, Artist Residence is smack bang across the road from the Admiral Benbow (more on that below), so while the setting is convenient for seeing Penzance, this is the kind of hotel where you needn’t leave the grounds if you felt like having a rest. It has an on-site casual diner, a bright courtyard with ping pong and a barn-style bar (that serves local drinks), and the rooms are stylish and cosy.

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Phil clowning around with some local lads we met in the courtyard of Artist Residence

We stayed two nights in the hotel, but we booked them separately (we decided to indulge in another night and found a good deal on booking.com), so it was switched up with a move to another room, with a totally different aesthetic as well.

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TASTE: Bakehouse Restaurant

Tucked in a leafy courtyard off Chapel Street, basically meters from Admiral Benbow and The Artist’s Residence, Bakehouse ‘and Steakhouse’ is surprisingly wonderful for vegetarians. The starters: for Skymie a falafel dish with harissa, yoghurt and salad and for me, a baked goats cheese with a strawberry sauce (which was outrageously good – but is baked goats cheese ever a bad idea? I’ll never understand people that don’t like goats cheese – that’s a thing!?!). The spiced dahl main, with char grilled cauliflower and eggplant (or aubergine if you’re from these parts) and lime pickle, served with a puppodom won both of our hearts – it was creamy, smoky and warm. I highly recommend a meal here, even if the interiors could use an update, the food is truly smile-inducing.

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Don’t forget to top off the evening with drinks at the kitschy pirate enclave that is The Admiral Benbow, one of the oldest pubs in the area – dating all the way back to the 17th Century. Filled to the brim with nautical knick knacks and genuine artifacts from ship wrecks (apparently from the last 400 years) this is definitely a Cornwall institution.  Settle in to a cosy wooden booth and order ye a tankard!

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The Cornish Barn smokehouse and bar, in the front of the Artist Residence, has finger-licking meals (try the chicken wings – though I recommend you share them, or like me, you’ll be trying to palm off the excess to everyone you meet) and tasty breakfasts (at least our slightly hungover selves thought they were – we enjoyed a bit too much Cornish cider the evening before with some local lads we met in the courtyard).

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Minack Theatre

Guyssss…perhaps you knew about this place and didn’t tell me, but why wouldn’t you?! I would say it is definitely a bucket list destination in itself. Perched high in the cliffs, watching a 60s version of As You Like It (love me some Shakespeare – especially to a soundtrack of Beatles tunes) while huge sharks navigate the turquoise waters below on a sunny Cornwall afternoon (OK, it was a little chilly in the ), I’d say I was pretty content with my on-tour lifestyle.

This was another travel experience that had me questioning whether or not I was in the United Kingdom. Like, I knew it would be beautiful, but sharks and crystal waters – was I in Aus? I’d recently read Simon Armitage’s Walking Away, about his experience as a walking troubadour, hiking by day and reciting poetry in local towns at night, so I was a little excited to see that the Minack was right on the path of England’s South West Coast Path – the same hiked by Armitage. But I hadn’t pictured this postcard beauty while reading. Perhaps I was just lost in the beauty of his prose. Sigh.

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There are some seriously stunning beaches in these parts – especially Porthcurno beach which is visible from the Minack – and we wished we had a bit more time to explore. Britain’s most South-westerly point Land’s End was also on the agenda, but alas, will have to be for next time, “as I was going to St Ives” (lyrics from a truly creepy nursery rhyme).

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Coming soon: Cornwall Part 2: St Ives, Newquay (and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Restaurant!) In the meantime, why not check out my posts on nearby Lyme Regis or the wonderful Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove – both essentials for a South West England road trip!

 

 

 

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Daylesford: A winter break in spa country, Victoria

Daylesford, a mere ninety minutes from the centre of Melbourne, is one of the most charming Australian towns I ever did see. You’d assume that it’s status as the jewel of Victoria’s spa country would mean it is gentrified to within an inch of it’s white-slippered life – and there are the gourmet dining options, ornate interior shops and grand lake house accommodation you would expect from such a title – but there are also cracked historical building facades, simple country bakeries and stores with locally knitted finger-less gloves. It retains the heart of a rural town, with the trimmings of an indulgent weekend stay. And after a stroll around the peaceful lake, or a soak in one of the many natural mineral spring bathhouses, you’ll be daydreaming about relocating to country Victoria – or at least Melbourne, so you are within comfy reach.

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STAY: Daylesford Hotel

Ain’t nothing wrong with a stay at the local pub, I say! In fact, with many pub/hotels renovating their rooms to include crisp white linen and designer touches, they have become a preferred stay for when we’re trying to save a dollar or two on the road. Daylesford Hotel is the perfect example of when this is done really well, and I would happily cosy up any day beside the fireplace and among the tasteful vintage artworks in the front bar of this gracious country hotel, that’s been kicking for more than 100 years.

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At the recommendation of a friendly local photographer, we wound up one of Daylesford’s nearby hills to a ‘secret’ lookout spot with views across the town and beyond. A signpost told us that lads and lasses from Cornwall settled the town, after they had come to mine quartz in the region.

Late on a winter afternoon is a great time to look out over town, as fireplaces start sending warming wafts of smoke into the chilly air.

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SHOP: Manteau Noir

This gorgeous apothecary, clothes and homewares store on Vincent Street in the centre of town oozes romance and Victorian charm. From candlesticks to cards, and cushions to petticoats, you’re sure to find something you love in this little store of treasures.

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SHOP: Bromley & Co.

Prolific Australian artist David Bromley calls Daylesford home, and he and his wife Yuge have opened a store of artistic delights in town, Bromley & Co. As the Sydney Morning Herald states: “There aren’t many shops worth driving 90 minutes to get to, but this one certainly is”, and I have to agree. With original artworks, sculptures and homewares for sale, as well as works by fellow artists and creatives that they admire, the store is spread over two floors and multiple rooms, some of which can be hired out as event spaces. You can even visit it as a gallery, and you’re sure to leave in awe of how versatile he is an an artist.

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I’m not even sure how I stumbled on the Lake House Daylesford on Instagram, but I’ve been following them for years (probably even hence the trip to this neck of the woods). And while saving for a wedding doesn’t really lend itself to luxe stays, a crisp walk down by Daylesford Lake at sunset will give you a glimpse of why it’s such a sought after spot for an indulgent stay. Speaking of crisps, just don’t open any packets of food, or like Skymie, you’ll have more geese on your arse than chips in the packet. Ha!

Daylesford Lake sunset Katie Mayor

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EAT: Koukla Cafe

When it comes to choosing somewhere to eat, I just need to say the ‘pi…’ word or ‘Ital…’ and Phil has said ‘yes’ before I even realise I’ve offered the suggestion. But with pizza as good as the veggie one at Koukla, next time it will be a statement on not a question: ‘let’s get us some of that damn fine, melty, pesto covered goodness immediately’. Add to that a good wine list (we enjoyed a glass of Charlotte Sound Marlborough Sauv Blanc for $11 a glass), custom David Bromley artworks on the walls and…wait I forgot my train of thought, because PIZZA.

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EAT: Belvedere Social

This is a hip, a hip, hip place, man! Belvedere Social takes their philosophy of fresh and local seriously (love it when you see a chef duck to the courtyard on a cold eve to snip some herbs) and the food is really delicious. We booked ahead and ordered the Vegetarian ‘Feed Me’ option of the chef’s selection of 5 share courses, which included the likes of a red oak and persimmon salad, beetroot tortelloni, braised leeks with gruyere and more. The interiors are on point, the service was friendly (if a little all over the place – they may have been having an off night and it seemed like they could benefit from a really great floor manager to keep things flowing), and the wine was delicious too (I recommend the Mount MacLeod Pinot Noir)!

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EAT: Larder

This is a coffee-lovers cafe – where you’re never far from the cold-drip contraptions on the counter and where the signage is a shrine to the Gods of coffee and Instagram. The ‘veggie beans’ were a total winner (Boston beans with okra, asparagus, baby tomatoes, fried egg, on farmhouse cheddar and toast soldiers), while the ‘green is good’ (asparagus, kale, spinach, avocado, broccoli, silverbeet w/ poached eggs and toasted sesame, basil pesto w/ wholewheat toast) could have done with a little more flavour, but so do many green brekky options and nothing shoving some of Skymie’s beans on top couldn’t fix. The place is huge too – so you’re sure to nab a seat even if it seems busy. The service was super friendly, so you’re sure to leave this place with the smile of someone who won breakfast.

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LAVANDULA: Visit this charming little Swiss Italian farm, just 10 minutes north of Daylesford at Shepherd’s Flat. Despite winter not being peak lavender weather, you’ll still delight in the leftover auburn and yellow leaves from autumn, and the gardens that have kept their form if not their colour. Eat Tuscan minestrone in the outdoor cafe, visit the feather-footed chickens and warbling geese, or settle into a cosy nook by one of the stone farmhouse buildings. And be sure to pick up some lavender goods at the store on your way out.

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SPA TIME: Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa

No trip to the heart of spa country is complete without a visit to one of the area’s bathhouses, and at Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa you experience a slice of history with your salt soak, as visitors have been bathing in Hepburn Springs since 1895! Determined to take some of the Daylesford zen back to Sydney with us, we opted to indulge for two hours in the Sanctuary just before departing town, where we drifted in the salt pool, our gaze drawn to the circular concrete ceiling that winds up towards a skylight.

There were also jet baths where you recline to quite high pressure bubble spouts, and an open air spa heated to 40 degrees right next to a bloody freezing plunge pool. We were told plunging three times for a minute each between resting in the hot spa leads to optimum health. My record was 35 seconds. But reclining in a steamy outdoor spa in the woods is my idea of heaven.

Daylesford is a little slice of heaven to me.

Have you been? Share your tips in the comments below!

Daylesford Hepburn Springs Spa