Rise of the regions: new hotels in rural Australia

Rural retreat hunters are spoilt with a swag of stylish new properties away from the bright lights.

We take a look at Kimo Estate in rural NSW and Mt Mulligan Lodge in far north Queensland, where back roads are back, and slow travel establishes as one of today’s key travel trends in a world that never hits the off button.

With plenty of sparse spaces across the country, Australia’s regions have responded to the demand for dalliance – click here to read on for the Rise of the Regions, first published in Essentials Magazine.

The mighty Murray spins a winning yarn

I’m so pleased to say that my yarn about boating through the backwaters of the Murray River, in South Australia’s Riverland, has won 2018 Best Australian Story under 1000 words at Saturday’s Australian Society of Travel Writers’ pomp-and-glitter awards in Bangkok. It was an equal first, I’m sharing the award with Andrew Bain, whose work is damned fantastic.

My story was published in Fairfax’s Traveller section, and while I was there, my host Rick Edmonds, from The Frames asked me why the tourism boards don’t promote the mighty Murray as an Australian icon, as they do Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef.

I don’t have the answer, but at a time when rural Australia needs our support, I hope that can change, and the Murray receives its due recognition. Thank you to Tourism Australia for sponsoring this award, and for supporting the ASTW. In the words of another Aussie icon, the immortal Jeff Fenech, I love youse all.

Murray River at sunset. Photo: Belle Jackson

You can read the story here: http://www.traveller.com.au/murray-river-cruise-along-the-h…

Escape to the country – Rutherglen’s tower for two

Photo: Belle Jackson

A century-old French style winery in the Australian countryside – you’ll have to go half-way between Canberra and Melbourne to find Mt Ophir Estate, but it’s worth the drive.

The working winery has been dormant for years in its location on the edge of Victorian wine town Rutherglen, but recently reopened its couples-only getaway, a hopelessly romantic three-storey tower for two.

If the stylish artwork, the superb furniture sourced from antique stores around the world, the spectacular Rhone-inspired wines and the views of the surrounding countryside don’t woo you, then I have two words for you: smoked butter.

Photo: Belle Jackson

The next generation of the renowned winemaking family, the Browns (of Brown Brothers), are behind this renovation. They also own the nearby All Saints Winery and its excellent restaurant and the Indigo Food Co, which produces my New Best Friend, smoked butter.

With a half-dozen fresh oysters, a loaf of sourdough and a pat of this buttery beauty, you may even prefer to be in this tower as a single. After all, deep in our dark hearts, who likes to share?

Click here to read my review of Mt Ophir, published on Fairfax Media’s Traveller website. 

Belinda Jackson was a guest of Mt Ophir Estate.

Lindenderry Red Hill review, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Picnicking by the lake amidst bushland.
Photo: Belinda Jackson

An hour from Melbourne down the M1, Red Hill is prime real estate on the
Mornington Peninsula, and Lindenderry, owned by Australian family
company Lancemore, has held its 12-hectare spot on the ridge for the
past 20 years. It’s in the news for its recent deft, “multi-million
dollar” renovation.

I’m a sometimes-resident on the Mornington Peninsula, so I’m very pleased to see this old-timer get such a swish makeover. Every room looks out over structured courtyards with fresh lime trees, Australian bushland or the vines that the estate turns into its exceptional wine.

Inside, there are crisp sheets, moody walls, a touch of whimsy in the Ukrainian-babushka cushion. The Lindenderry has banished its placid plaid for a grown-up country style in Red Hill.

Even if you’re not staying, you can drop in for a glass of wine and – hot tip – order the picnic hamper and wander through the vines for an afternoon well spent.

Click here to read my review of the revamped Lindenderry in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

Mystic river: cruise along the hidden waterways of the Murray

“Why isn’t the Murray promoted as an icon, like Uluru or the Great Barrier Reef?”

If you’re not Australian, you probably don’t know the mighty Murray River (the ‘mighty’ is an unofficial sobriquet). It is Australia’s longest river, at 2,530km (about seven times longer than the Thames, but who’s counting?) It runs through four states, and is even a state border for 1880km and is estimated at about 60 million years old. 

In short, it’s a pretty impressive natural formation, and it’s damned pretty, as well.

So you can see why I didn’t have an answer to the question above, asked by Rick Edmonds, a proud Riverlands man and owner of the luxury The Frames property, which perches over the river near Renmark, in South Australia.

Perhaps we should adopt a French word, instead of “back creeks”, to describe this labyrinth of creeks, lagoons and inlets that cobweb the strong, flowing River Murray, here at the corner of three states.

Click here to read my story about pootling along the Murray, spotting emus, kangaroos and kingfishers, with Rick, his wife Cathy and Captain Willow (pictured above).

The story was published in the Traveller section of the Sun-Herald (Sydney) and Sunday Age (Melbourne). 

Belinda Jackson was a guest of The Frames.

Get out of town: Discover a Mornington Peninsula drive

polperro
Polperro Winery, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia Photo: Belinda Jackson

It’s an hour from Melbourne, and when you’re among the leafy vines of one if its fine wineries, with an overflowing picnic basket, the Mornington Peninsula is a whole different state of mind.

I had my first holiday here on the peninsula (aged 5 months), and still return to Safety Beach for my weekend getaway.

So it was an easy task to share my suggestions of great shopping strips, natural hot springs, and how to find that winery with picnic basket.

Click here to read my recommendations on where to shop, eat, stay and play on the Mornington Peninsula for Mercedes Benz owners.

Get out of town: Discover a Mornington Peninsula drive

Polperro Winery, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia
Photo: Belinda Jackson

It’s an hour from Melbourne, and when you’re among the leafy vines of one if its fine wineries, with an overflowing picnic basket, the Mornington Peninsula is a whole different state of mind.

I had my first holiday here on the peninsula (aged 5 months), and still return to Safety Beach for my weekend getaway.

So it was an easy task to share my suggestions of great shopping strips, natural hot springs, and how to find that winery with picnic basket.

Click here to read my recommendations on where to shop, eat, stay and play on the Mornington Peninsula for Mercedes Benz owners. 

Mussels and brisket: eating Melbourne this week

It’s been a good week for eating in Melbourne, and I checked out the new Marion wine bar, by chef-restaurateur Andrew McConnell in happening Gertrude St, Fitzroy. How’s that for a minimalist menu? My pick is the mussels, who are enjoying a renaissance in the food world, and nduja, a spicy Italian sausage that’s crumbled onto the dish.

On the opposite side of the city (and the other side of life), it was all about smoke-pit masters at the new San Antone Texan BBQ restaurant in Crown Melbourne. Vegetarians, please look away, the beef brisket wins the day.

This week’s Takeoff column in Sydney’s Sun-Herald also heads offshore to Singapore to check out the new Hotel Vagabond, by designer Jacques Garcia, who won my heart for his spectacular, three-year renovation of Marrakech’s grand dame, La Mamounia.

The Takeoff news column is published every Sunday in the Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section.

Victoria’s food treasures: Close to home, far from tradition

Fine fare at Shannon Bennett’s Vue De
Monde

Having a quintessentially Victorian
food experience means eating locally, eating ethically, eating mighty
well, discovers Belinda Jackson. 

 

Melbourne loves a good spread with a
great back story, from the farmers who created your feast to the
heart-warming social-enterprise stories served on the side. And you can
easily call yourself a locavore, eating within 150 kilometres of where
you stand, no beard or triangle tattoo required. In fact, it’s a
cakewalk – at times, literally.

   

Let’s start at the epicentre of the
city, downtown Melbourne, with our signature brew, cofee. Prop up the
bar with a heart-starter at much-lauded local roasters who comb the
globe to make friends with farmers, espouse ethical production and
support sustainable harvesting of the glory bean. Tis mission will see you sipping on
siphon, cogitating with cold drip or elucidating with espresso at Dukes
Cofee Roasters (247 Flinders La, dukescoffee.com.au), the iconic St
Ali ( 12-18 Yarra Pl, South Melbourne,
stali.com.au), Padre Cofee ( South Melbourne and Queen Victoria markets,
padrecoffee.com.au), or the spanking-new Sir Charles (121 Johnston St, Fitzroy), to name but a few.

  
 

Coffee at Dukes in Flinders Lane

We’re not all coffee tragics. Tea is,
of course, the new coffee, so get the pinky in the air like you don’t
care and sip Storm in a Teacup ’s beautiful fnds from across the globe,
supporting what they call artisan farmers (48A Smith St, Collingwood, storminateacup.com.au).

Otherwise, pop in to the doily-free zone of the Travelling Samovar Tea House (12 Rathdowne St, Carlton North,
travellingsamovar.com.au).

  
 

For a taste of social goodness, pull
up a pew and go crazy with Myrtleford cultured butter and Melbourne
rooftop honey on toast for breakfast, free-range chicken from Milawa for
lunch or call in for a local Dal Zotto prosecco from the King Valley at
social enterprise restaurant and slow-food champions Feast of Merit (117 Swan St, Richmond, feastofmerit.com). 

Or get of the streets and into the clouds at chef Shannon Bennett’s
Vue De Monde to revel in its lauded eco-design and organic produce (Level 55, 525 Collins St, vuedemonde.com.au ). Bennett’s Burnham Bakery
and Piggery Café are the frst phase of his culinary village Burnham
Beeches, in the Dandenongs (1 Sherbrooke Rd, Sherbrooke,
burnhambakery.com.au & piggerycafe.com.au). 
 

Lovers of a cleansing ale, discover
the world of micro-breweries with the craft beer afcionados at Slow Beer
(468 Bridge Rd, Richmond,
slowbeer.com.au) or for drink for world peace at Shebeen, which sends all its profts back to the developing world (36 Manchester La,
shebeen.com.au). 

 

So you thought it was all Victorian airs and graces south of the border? It’s time to reveal the special thing we’ve

got going on with our cows and
goats. 

Pasta and petanque at Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm

If you’re time-poor or hyperventilate at the city limits, you’re
spoilt for choice of cheese in Melbourne. Go crazy on croque monsieur at
Fitzroy’s Shifty Chèvre , which opened just before Christmas (375
Brunswick St, Fitzroy, shiftychevre. com), order a late-night fight of
cheese with wine at Milk the Cow , in St Kilda and now Carlton (milkthecow.com.au) or wrap a slab-to-go of Melbourne cheese – that’s coffee-seasoned
pressato – at Il Fornaio (2C Acland St, St Kilda ilfornaio. com.au).
The Spring Street Grocer boasts Australia’s first underground cheese
cellar ( 157 Spring St, Melbourne, springstreetgrocer.com.au), while all the cheeses in La Latteria are made using Victorian cow’s milk (104 Elgin Street, Carlton, lalatteria.com.au). And what’s not to love about the city’s go-to cheese room, the
evergreen Richmond Hill Cafe and Larder ( 48-50 Bridge Rd, Richmond, rhcl.com.au)?

  
 

If you’re playing away from the big
city, plug Apostle Whey Cheese into your GPS while cruising the Great
Ocean Road (Cooriemungle, apostlewheycheese.com.au) and the
lactose-intolerant don’t have to look away: Main Ridge Dairy and Red
Hill Cheese, on the Mornington Peninsula, both produce handcrafted
goat’s cheeses (mainridgedairy.com.au, redhillcheese.com.au).

  
 

Peppers Mineral Springs Hotel

Now pack your picnic basket and head
for the hills. Autumn and winter showcase the beauty of the Macedon
Ranges, just 90 minutes from Melbourne. Yes, it’ll be cold: you can do
it. Think chunky knits, hot spiced drinking chocolate and rich, autumnal
colours.

  
 

Go exploring on a country drive
through Daylesford and its villages: soak up a robust ragu over pasta
and play pétanque at the Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm ( Hepburn Springs,
lavandula.com.au), track down secret cideries and Victoria’s beery
beauties at Woodend Wine Store (woodendwinestore.com.au) or pack a hamper full of central Victorian charcuterie delights at too-cute Kyneton’s Piper Street Food Company ( Kyneton,
piperstfoodco.com). Thus sated, steam yourself in the region’s rich mineral waters and
splash out on an exquisite facial at the serene Hepburn Bathhouse &
Spa (hepburnbathhouse.com).

  
 

It’s not just about corporeal
pleasures: enter the wildly wonderful world of renowned artists and
eclectic collectors David and Yuge Bromley (Daylesford,
bromleyandco.com) then wind down in the irreverent penthouse of Daylesford Convent (conventgallery.com.au) or Peppers Mineral Springs Hotel. 

Expect high tea and rare-breed
meats from the hotel’s own farm in the one-hatted The Argus Dining Room (
Hepburn Springs,
mineralspringshotel.com.au).

 If you can, time your visit for the
Daylesford Macedon Produce Harvest Festival, from April 24 – May 3. Now
in its seventh year, it promises to get your hands dirty messing with
local producers, chefs and vignerons, making goat’s cheese, learning the
basics of butchery, baking sourdough or taking a martini masterclass (dmproduce.com). 

 

Organic, biodynamic, fantastic – welcome to the good life.

   

Brought to you in association with Tourism Victoria. 

This feature was published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper’s Traveller section. 

Exploring Bray: England’s most famous home county

Oakley Court hotel Bray Berkshire. Photo: Alamy

The river boat hums down the Thames. Lush green gardens and gabled
houses line the riverbanks as we pootle down towards one of Britain’s
most desirable villages: Bray, in Royal County of Berkshire. 

Tudor mansions and neo-Gothic piles; if the digs aren’t fabulous,
their present and former owners make up for it, from Sir Michael
Parkinson to Elton John’s mum. There are embassies of Far Eastern
kingdoms and off-duty houses for foreign royalty (the queen, of course,
lives in nearby Windsor) and you may spot residents from neighbouring
villages, including Terry Wogan, Natalia Imbruglia or Michael Palin.

Steve
Harris, our captain and owner of the 34-foot  Dutch motor
yacht Fringilla, delights in blowing our mind with deliciously colourful
real estate gossip: “There is no public money in Bray” and “Yes, £8
million for that one” as we cruise the ancient waterway.

Our river
journey starts at the ingloriously named Maidenhead Railway Bridge,
designed by the gloriously named railway engineer Isambard Kingdom
Brunel. Also known as the Sounding Arch, which sounds much better, the
brick bridge was created by Brunel with what was, in 1838, the world’s
widest arches. Its two broad spans inspired Turner to paint it in 1844
and London-bound trains still thunder over the bridge today.

The
natural end to the two-hour cruise down this little elbow of the Thames
is one of Bray’s three-Michelin-starred restaurants, of which there are
only four in Britain. There are two in the village of 5000: Michel
Roux’s Waterside Inn, which has a handy wharf out front, and Heston
Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck.

Bray is determinedly a village. Not a
town, not a civic centre but a bona fide parish, with hamlets and
greens, as mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. There are crests
galore atop the pubs, on private houses, through the picturesque
graveyard of St Michael’s Church, which looks like it’s auditioning for Midsomer Murders.

There’s
the sprawling red-brick Jesus Hospital, sporting a plaque that
describes how the almshouse was founded in 1627 by a loaded London
fishmonger who left it in trust to his guild, the Worshipful Company of
Fishmongers. Bray was also home to Hammer Films, and its neighbour, a
gargoyle-riddled Gothic folly, became Frank-N-Furter’s mansion and
hosted several zombie films. It’s now the very nice Oakley Court Hotel,
its car park exit sign reads a perky “Toodle pip!” We’re in Wind in the Willows territory here.

Then there’s the Heston factor.

Look,
I know you can buy his ham pies and puddings in Coles now, but that
doesn’t detract from going back to the master’s back yard. Heston owns
three eateries in the village: The Crown – think pub grub of fine fish
and designer salty chips; The Hinds Head – another 15th-century pub but
more refined, dishing up hashes of snails; and the
three-Michelin-star The Fat Duck. The world-acclaimed restaurant has
just finished its successful sabbatical in Melbourne’s Crown Towers
hotel, though it won’t reopen from its refit and antipodean sojourn
until later this year.

This wintry November eve we’re checking
into Lavender Cottage, the newest property by Malaysian group YTL
Hotels.Its Malaysian properties, Pangkor Laut and Tanjong Jara Resort,
do a mean line in super-luxury, so look past the doilies-and-fust
misnomer because this little three-bedroom cottage sleeps six in
top-of-the-line style.

Listing its features reads like an interior
design magazine: sounds by Bang & Olufsen, Peter Reed Egyptian
cotton bed linen, Turkish carpets and a Gaggenau wine fridge. The
massive food fridge is stocked with organic goods – cheeses, antipasto
and wine – despite Bray’s embarrassment of restaurant riches being a
three-minute walk away. The cottage even offers to send a chef in to
whip up brekkie. The bartender in the Hinds Head, across the road, sends
a couple of cocktails, which are the perfect end to our arrival
canapes of delicate smoked salmon and sandwiches, petit fours, perfect
strawberries and pots of afternoon tea.

Heston’s own Early Grey
gin is in the cupboard (and, I discover later, in the posh Waitrose
supermarkets) and I have a passionate affair with butter churned with
Anglesey sea salt from the Prince of Wales’ own organic label, Duchy
Foods.

Lavender Cottage is painted a dove grey, with exposed red
brick walls and a glass conservatory built onto the original 1600s
building. A fire crackles in the fireplace, lighting great beams
revealed and renewed after an ignominious 1980s renovation, slate floors
are warmed underfoot, the bedrooms glow with ivory silks, and there is
nothing wanting in the kitchen. In the garden, there’s even a little
greenhouse for spa treatments. If, for some bizarre reason, you find
yourself in England in November, there is no finer cottage to call
home.

Its sister properties are flamboyant party house Bray
House, the former stables of Manor House of Bray, built in the
1780s; and the tiny, beautiful, couples-only Dormer Cottage. Each is 
worth a night’s stay purely to see the envy on day trippers’ faces. We
waltz in for lunch at one pub, have dinner at another, walk through tiny
Tudor gatehouse, the 15th-century Lych Gate, to the mossy village
graveyard and take a day trip to Windsor, to check out the locals.
Later, I discover the M4 motorway roars just minutes away from Bray but
the village pays no heed: it just continues with its mission to achieve
professional cuteness.

After two days of bucolic luxury, it takes
but an hour to be jettisoned back into fever-pitch London. Sure,
there’s a king’s ransom of beauty in the capital but it’s tempered by
rashes of high-street betting shops, dilapidated curry houses and grim
public housing. If the capital has taken its toll on me, Bray is the
ultimate antidote.

Belinda Jackson was a guest of YTL Hotels. 

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION visitbritain.com

GETTING THERE Bray is 10 minutes from Maidenhead, three stops from Ealing Broadway,
on the London Tube’s Central and District lines. Alternatively, hire a
car from Heathrow airport for the 27-kilometre journey to Bray. 

SEE + DO Take a two-hour cruise downriver on the Fringilla, a renovated 34-foot Dutch motor yacht. See boathiremaidenhead.co.uk.  
STAYING THERE Lavender Cottage costs £1000 a night; see muse-hotels.com/braycottages/en/lavender-house.php 

FIVE MORE DAY TRIPS AROUND BRAY
1 EXPLORE WINDSOR Wander around Windsor for the cutest old-world cafes and a classic British High Street.
2 SAFE BET Have a flutter on the horses at either Windsor or Ascot racecourses.
3  ROYAL TOUR Go
all-out royalist with a visit to the 900-year-old Windsor Castle’s
State Apartments and the tomb of Henry VIII and see the Changing of the
Guard.
4  PLAYTIME Legoland Windsor is aimed at kids 2-12 years: its Driving School is the most popular attraction.
5  CLASS ACT Even
princes have to go to school: take a tour of historic Eton College,
which taught  princes William and Harry their three Rs, and was the
backdrop for the WWI epic Chariots of Fire.

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published on the Fairfax Traveller website.