Australia

Blue Mountains Heritage Hotel Hop

I am a woman of many genres, but if I were to choose my favourite books, a fair few of them would be contemporary Australian women’s titles that straddle the past and the present. Written by authors like Kate Morton, Kimberley Freeman, Belinda Alexandra and Fiona McIntosh, these are the books that get me thinking and dreaming. I find them rich in detail, place and personas, and they trigger interest in certain eras that indulge my curiosity and sense of wanderlust.

This is what I love about reading, and also writing, even if it means no one else understands. I certainly raised a few eyebrows among family and close friends when I trudged up and down La Trobe Terrace in Brisbane’s Paddington through the rain in a rain coat because it was the setting of one of Kate Morton’s novels.

So when my husband whisked me away to the Blue Mountains for a weekend getaway to celebrate my birthday and first Mother’s day, I was thrilled. It went beyond a great present/surprise because I had recently read Kimberley Freeman’s Evergreen Falls, a novel set in a luxury hotel in the mountains in the 1920s, and I knew I would relish taking the story further in my imagination by fantasising about the characters and their adventures.

Little did I know how close I would come. I first saw the Carrington Hotel from the car. My husband had told me we had a long drive ahead of us after our lunch at the Leura Garage (their Bucatini Meatball pasta was a delight, FYI) so naturally I was thrown off course, so when I saw the grand building on the hill I knew it was something special and took mental note to find out what it was. But then he pulled into its driveway and I was mesmerised. It was built in 1880 and the age of the place – its past ghosts, its historic splendour – was obvious from the moment I stepped inside.

The age of the place – its past ghosts, its historic splendour – was obvious from the moment I stepped inside.

Stained glass windows, a beautiful dome, and wings dedicated to the various activities of the day – a library, drinking lounge, billiards room, baths… Everywhere I looked, I could imagine Freeman’s characters lolling about inside, hotel staff at their beck and call in a world that was still engulfed in a disparity of the classes. Even the stairs, which creaked with every step, seemed to the carry the stories of the people who walked them before me for over a hundred years.

Even the stairs, which creaked with every step, seemed to the carry the stories of the people who walked them before me for over a hundred years.

I couldn’t imagine the weekend getting better until I arrived at the Hydro Majestic Pavilion. I thought we were stopping in for a coffee break and didn’t have the heart to tell my husband that this was the hotel that Freeman’s book was loosely based on, because then the real place we were staying wouldn’t feel as fun.

But it was the place that he had booked, and when stepping into its grand art-deco wings, I was almost inside the story. It was filling me with so much joy and inspiration I could burst. The old dome built in Chicago, the majestic view of the mountains and the fact that it had been a military hospital for the Americans in World War II. It had so much history, and I was going to be a part of it.

It had so much history, and I was going to be a part of it.

This is the thing about wonderful books. They give you places to go, characters to love, things to dream about. They pull you into the story, so that you too, leave a fraction of yourself in an another world, immortalised, in words that will live forever and a history that will always be uncovered by someone else who dared to go beyond the page.

Carrington Hotel 1

 

Carrington Hotel Dome

 

Champagne Charlies

 

The Blue Mountains

 

The Carrington Hotel

 

Three Sisters Katoomba

 

Evergreen Falls

 

Hydro Majestic

 

Hydro Majestic Hargravia

 

Hydro Majestic Hotel Belgravia

 

Hydro Majestic Lobby

 

Hydro Majestic Lounge

 

Hydro Majestic Pavilion

 

Leura Mall

 

Leura Passage

 

Sarah Ayoub Escapes 1

 

Wintergarden Afternoon Tea

 

 

 

 

Brisbane and Beyond

I packed for heat and humidity, and for about 18 hours, Brisbane delivered. It was muggy, warm and sticky all at once, and I was thankful for the brief respites from the weather when I tucked into the shops at Queen Street Mall. But despite my desire to explore, I found myself a little stumped of things to do in the city beyond said shopping district. Turns out, those with a sense of wanderlust need to branch out of the city centre to satisfy their yearning for more, and in that respect, Brisbane was a little different to many other capital cities, which could distract me with enough things without me having to leave town.

Brisbane City Cat Ferry

 

Archies Books Brisbane

 

Brisbane Alley

 

Pig and Whistle

But this wasn’t a bad thing. I know this because I loved the little discoveries I made as I meandered beyond its city limits, to suburbs like Newstead (where I savoured ‘Queensland’s best brownies’ at Dello Mano cafe – and yes, they were good) and Paddington (where I wandered around admiring the weatherboard cottages off – and on – La Trobe Terrace). I got my husband coffee from the well-lauded Bellissimo Coffee in Fortitude Valley and trekked to the best food markets I’ve been to in Hamilton.

Brisbane 5

 

Eat Street Markets 1

In Paddington, I walked up and down the streets with vigour, entranced by the sprawling antiques store right atop La Trobe Terrace, something which brought me back to the novel that inspired my visit to begin with (Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden). I shopped at Paddington’s cool and quirky boutiques, where I unearthed things like Pineapple Salad Servers at Green Tangerine and the cutest baby boots and moccasins at Cocoon Petite Living. And when the days drew to a close, I headed back into town, where I nourished myself with dumplings at New Shanghai (which you can see the Chinese women making in the window!) and traditional British fare at the Pig & Whistle (think pork pies, scotch eggs and steak and Guinness pies, washed down with beers or cool cocktails like their delicious passionfruit mojito).

Antique Centre Brisbane

 

Brisbane
Eat Street Markets

 

Eat Street Markets Hamilton

 

Paddington Brisbane

The saying goes that if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. I escaped the Brisbane heat and in the process, found some of the hottest venues the city had to offer.

 

 

  1. Eat Street Markets: Definitely one of the biggest highlights of my trip, the Eat Street Markets are a wharf-side adventure for Brisbane locals (much like Sydney’s Night Noodle markets, but way hipper). Here, creatively-jazzed up shipping containers are little market stalls and compact kitchens serving up dinner, drinks and desserts from all over the world and in all manners of style (I mean that – this is the place where you get ladies wearing garters dancing to pop music serving you confections in pretty art forms). Think potatoes on a stick, handmade chocolates and marshmallows by New Farm Confectionery, the most gourmet toffee apples you have ever seen, plus all sorts of cruffins and cronuts and gourmet iced-teas. It is a foodie heaven that will have you bursting at the seams. The live music just adds to the atmosphere, but if you really want to make a night of it, catch the Brisbane City Cat Ferry back from Hamilton Wharf to the CBD and enjoy the lights of the city by night.
  2. South Bank: I went for the man-made beach by the river and stayed for all sorts of adventure. South Bank is the home of the afore-mentioned Streets Beach, great for city dwellers who can’t be bothered trekking out to the seaside, or who just don’t want to look for parking. Nearby, weekend markets sell crafts, clothes and knick knacks and there’s a delightful walk from the city to the river via a lovely archway of pink flowers and greenery. If you fancy a tipple with a side of fancy pub fare, stop in at The Charming Squire. Their pork sliders are perfectly smokey, but it’s their $59 serving of Bay Bugs, Prawns and Calamari that wowed me with its taste and size (at a fair price I must add).
  3. Down Memory Lane, Paddington: My sense of wanderlust was rewarded when I stopped in at this cute little store on Paddington’s La Trobe Terrace. Filled to capacity with all sorts of pretty homewares and vintage memorabilia, service at the store comes with a little dose of history. The well-versed owner will chat to you about the former resident who came in and pointed out the room she slept in as a baby decades prior, hunting weapons from the world wars and his very expansive collection of vintage cameras, all in working order (he’ll even tell you what to look for when sussing out such wares). This is the perfect place to do a little research if your creative project is set at the start of the 20th century – the store owner also showed me an exact replica of the rations pack British soldiers were sent off to war with. I’ve made a mental note to return here the next time I am in town.
  4. Folio Books: A store filled with floor to ceiling books, need I say more? What I loved about Folio was its emphasis on travel, lifestyle and non-fiction titles over mainstream fiction books. You know, the sorts of books that you wouldn’t necessarily find at a Dymocks or Angus Robertson just by walking in off the street. Which basically translates to, I found more books on Paris that I don’t need, that I wouldn’t know existed if shops like Folio were not around. Yay Folio! If you prefer your books a little aged, you can’t go beyond Archives books, which has over a million books lining its floor to ceiling shelves.
  5. Designer Archives: Fancy a designer accessory without the hefty price tag? Perhaps you’re on the hunt for a discontinued piece for your collection, or are ready to part with an item you purchased before you really refined your look. In any case, this consignment store is for you. Run by the beautiful and designer-savvy Shannan, Designer Archives stocks shoes, bags and accessories from all the top labels, including Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, YSL and more, in excellent pre-loved condition. The best part is that Shannan is the perfect person to talk to – her knowledge of the brands, their ranges and what you ought to be looking for in your search for a particular piece comes in handy, especially if you’re going to be parting with a lot of cash. In any case, the stack of Louis Vuitton luggage parked in her Hot Air Balloon window display is just gorgeous.  

Streets Beach Brisbane

 

Down Memory Lane

Sydney Staycation Musings

As much as I love my treks and escapes, there’s something so wonderful about being a tourist in your home city. Which is why I was delighted when my husband surprised me with a weekend escape in Sydney for Valentine’s Day earlier this year. For two days, we traipsed around familiar streets and ate at loved, local haunts, but there was still something magic and new about the adventure. This time, we were parents, and it was amusing to reflect on how much our tastes had evolved with our age. In our old life, lunch was always at a particular Italian cafe in Sydney Central Plaza, and we drank at clubs until the wee hours. We awkwardly visited luxury stores like we didn’t belong. Staying at the Four Seasons Hotel was the coolest thing, and we thought Toko was the be-all and end-all of Japanese dining.

 

Sky Phoenix Yum ChaBut the city has changed and so have we. In 2015, there are newer players and we’re more well-versed in the game of life. This time around, our luxury hotel of choice is Sydney’s QT hotel, which thanks to its quirky, edgy style but still refined taste (and perfect mesh of old and new), really reflects our personalities. We enjoy Yum Cha at Sky Phoenix in Sydney’s Westfield, and we know that the best breakfast croissants are at La Renaissance in The Rocks. We think nothing of paying $200 per person plus drinks for a chef’s choice dinner at Sokyo in The Star, and popping into Prada or Christian Louboutin is not intimidating. Instead of hitting the clubs, we prefer long afternoons at The Australian or The Glenmore, where we can converse with our friends over everything from pop culture to politics.

QT Sydney

We’ve grown in confidence and friendship with our city. Our secrets are its own, hidden in the crevices of old memories and bygone adventures. And we’re not the only ones: when we told Nanna that we were heading to the QT for a romantic weekend away, she smiled herself in nostalgia: I used to visit that building with Grandpa, she said.

And I smiled in return, wondering if someday, I’ll be sharing these little snippets of my youth with my own grand kids.

 

Radelaide!

When I returned from Tasmania in March last year, I announced to my husband that I would like to go to Adelaide in early May. I had no particular reason – I’d never seen the city of churches and I thought it would make a lovely before-baby trip. Husband gave an approving nod and discussed some potential dates with me, but we never moved beyond that conversation. Soon enough, work got in the way for him, and as we moved forward with our house building plans and pram-buying excursions (they are not fun), conversations about holidays fell by the wayside.

But life and its strikes of serendipity had other plans, and a couple of weeks into April, I was approached by the editor of Project Sweet Stuff who asked if I could be their Tasting Australia correspondent in where-else-but Adelaide! So it was with much enthusiasm that I packed my checkered carry-on, kissed my husband goodbye, and headed off to celebrate four days of food and culinary festivities that showcased South Australia’s finest fare.

In between assignments, I made the most of my free time, and happily discovered that Adelaide – although so much quieter than my Sydney home – was definitely not just about old, towering churches. Sure, there were old buildings and turrets and sand stone, but it was also bursting with odd gems everywhere I went: wonderful cafes, great little boutiques, a bustling China Town, and vintage stores and chocolate shops galore.

I loved checking out the markets in the morning, shopping/exploring during the day (with pit-stops for grilled cheese jaffles from the kombi in the middle of Rundle St Mall) and enjoying lovely dinners in the evening. Sure, it was quieter than most other city escapes, but the definite highlight was the realisation that Adelaide boasted a thriving foodie scene that had extended into the city from its famed regional districts. It’s rad for a reason: a place on the map for anyone looking for a getaway that ticks all the boxes. And the best part? It’s just a stone’s throw away from the amazing Barossa Valley and the wonderful Lime Cave Dining Experience at McLaren Vale.

 
  1. Andre’s Cucina: My highlight for a dinner venue thanks to its shared plates, busy atmosphere and extensive bar, Andre’s Cucina and Polenta Bar (94 Frome St) was established by former Masterchef contestant Andre Ursini. The bustling restaurant serves up so many variations of classic polenta in addition to a selection of delicious Italian fare, and if you have trouble deciding, you can opt for their Menu Fisso and let the kitchen feed you. Andre’s also stocks a selection of Italian goods, so you can shop from your restaurant table. Don’t leave without trying the Olives All’ascolana: herbed green olives stuffed with ricotta, then crumbed & lightly fried with salsa piccante & parmigiano. I thought I had died and gone to foodie heaven.
  2. Rundle St East Shopping Strip: Bypass the main block of Rundle St with its usual chain stores and head straight for the East side, where you’ll find cool boutiques stocking a variety of labels. I loved Tu Yu (230 Rundle St) and Naked (238 Rundle St), but my absolute highlight was Bauhaus (257 Rundle St) which boasted such an amazing collection of fashion accessories, jewellery and homewares that I couldn’t bring myself to leave.
  3. Adelaide Central Market: This was so much more than a food/grocery hub – inside this expansive venue were the usual providores, but it also boasted juice bars and health food stalls, flower markets, decades-old specialty candy and pastry shops (like Blackebey’s Old Sweet Shop and The Carousel), a huge gourmet cheese stall, and Lucia’s – a Spaghetti and Pizza Bar with adjacent Italian food store. You can also shop products from Barossa Fine Foods there.
  4. Antique Market (32 Grote St): This deceptively small shopfront houses what could possibly be Adelaide’s biggest collection of antique and vintage goods. Sprawled across two levels and a back garage, you can find home wares, knick knacks and old books, furniture and appliances, as well as a huge selection of clothing, shoes and accessories from eras across the 20th century.
  5. Arcades and Laneways: Don’t be afraid to let your wanderlust take charge and lead you into unchartered territory: While they’re not as numerous as Melbourne’s counterparts, Adelaide’s laneways and arcades will surprise you. You’ll stumble across vintage stores, quirky boutiques and gift shops (like Rosa House and Presence in the Adelaide Arcade) and lovely cafes and pubs on your journey. Definitely make time in your itinerary for a stop at Hey Jupiter (11 Ebenezer Place), a cute cafe plating up delicious breakfasts, lunches, juices and French pastries. Feeling extravagant? Treat yourself to their Champagne Breakfast for Two ($105), which offers eggs, pastries and breads, cultured butter, ham, jams, salmon and a 375 ml bottle of champagne, plus coffee or tea. Fuel for exploring definitely.

Got any other travel tips for Adelaide? Share them below!

DSC00415

 

DSC00362

 

_MG_1818

 

_MG_1814

 

DSC00401

 

_MG_1976

 

_MG_1871
_MG_1832

 

_MG_1879

 

_MG_1841

 

DSC00355

 

_MG_1808

 

 

Tasmania Tour Diary

 

blog4

 

Blog1

DAY ONE – HOBART:

We land in Hobart on a Monday morning, after a relatively short flight from Sydney, and I am both excited and relaxed. It’s been 24 hours since I filed the first draft of my second novel, which I speedily wrote in about two months of stress and panic (it was months overdue), and this trip is my reward for finishing it. I’m about 20 weeks pregnant, and this is probably the closest thing I’ll get to a babymoon. I don’t mind though, after four big overseas trips in five years, I’m ready to take on more of my homeland, and Tassie has been on my hit list for ages.

Our drive to Hobart city is quick – there’s no one on the road or in the city as it’s a public holiday. Thankfully, our premier stop in Hobart, the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), is open, so after a quick walk around the small city, we deposit our luggage at Somerset on the Pier’s Serviced Apartments and catch a cool cameo ferry to the Museum. It’s cool, strange and intriguing all at once, but definitely a lot to take in (read: huge). That evening, after drinks at the Squire’s Bounty, we head to the uber-trendy Cargo Pizza Bar, which is buzzing for a Monday night. So much variety on the menu – but the pizzas, while delicious, are outshined by the three dessert pizzas on offer. I tuck into a Pavlova Pizza for my friend MsCritique, who is my Pavlova Poster Girl. It doesn’t disappoint and I fall asleep contented.

 

Hobart

DAY TWO – RICHMOND TO SWANSEA:

After breakfast and a sweet-treat shop at Hobart’s most famed bakery, Daci & Daci, we head over to Richmond, a historical town made all the more important because it’s home to Australia’s oldest (existing) gaol, bridge, and Catholic Church. After photo stops and a quick tour of the gaol, we’re back in the car. I’ve just had an idea for a novel, so I get dizzy punching the basics into my phone from my seat in the back of the car, lest I forget it.

We drive further along and make it in time for a delicious, super-fresh seafood lunch at Freycinet Marine Park, before continuing on to today’s main tourist stop: Wineglass Bay. After paying our entrance fee to the Freycinet National Park, we make the two hour walk (that’s more like a hike) to check out the beautiful view. It doesn’t disappoint, so we squash in another visit (thankfully by car) to Honeymoon Bay – where we take a quick dip – before checking into our accommodation at Swansea. Tonight, dinner is alongside the very lovely locals at the budget-friendly Swansea RSL, and surprisingly,it serves up a decent, filling meal.

Mona Museum Hobart

 

blog9

 

Freycinet Marine Park

DAY THREE – SWANSEA TO LAUNCESTON:

Breakfast is a stop at Kate’s Berry Farm this morning, where the simple menu boasts waffles, pancakes, scones and pikelets served with berries any way you eat them: in fresh, compote or jam form. It’s not the season for a berry-picking tour, but I do stock up on a few home-made jams and chocolates to take home, including a cointreau and strawberry jam and choc-coated caramel popcorn. Afterwards, the road leads us to the Iron House Brewery, where the boys sample a selection of beers and ales, pre-lunch at the coastal town of St Helens. The rest of the afternoon is unplanned, but thankfully presents a stunning surprise when we decide to head to the beautiful blue waters and gorgeous landscapes of the Bay of Fires beaches, where I delight in wading through the pretty lagoons. Then it’s off to Launceston where we stay at the Hotel Grand Chancellor, and have an easy dinner at a nearby pub.

Richmond

DAY FOUR: CRADLE MOUNTAIN TO LAUNCESTON

After stocking up on picnic goods, we make the long drive to Cradle Mountain, where we take a two hour walk around Dove Lake. I’m a little tired by the end of it, but pick up as soon as we approach the Tassie Devil Park in time for a little tour and lesson on these furry creatures. We split up the long drive back to Launceston with a pit-stop for coffee and treats in Sheffield, where we gladly discover The Fudge Parlour. Their display cabinet is bursting with fresh, creamy fudge in delicious flavours including Lemon Meringue, Watermelon, Tassie Jaffa and Rocky Roland alongside traditional choc, caramel and vanilla options. I buy a mixed box of three flavours and start eating them on the drive back. I’ve heard amazing things about Mee Wah, a highly-awarded Chinese restaurant with posts in Hobart and Launceston, so we have dinner there tonight. It doesn’t disappoint – well, apart from the fact that the Bombe Alaska is only available for a minimum of six people and we fall short. I take a night time walk to Cold Rock and drown my sorrows in one of their desserts instead, then fall asleep watching Sex and the City repeats from the hotel bed (after I’ve finished the rest of the fudge).

Tasmanian Devil

DAY FIVE: LAUNCESTON TO HOBART

Launceston’s City Park is beautiful and just the place for a morning walk – apart from the conservatory there’s a free Japanese Macqau monkey enclosure, so we ogle the monkeys before doing a bit of shopping. I buy a coffee table book on Provence from a French provincial homewares store, wondering how I’ll be able to carry it home. We time our drive to make it to Oatlands by lunch time: the quaint little town is home to a super-cute windmill still making flour, and a very busy pancake cafe I read about online. I have pumpkin soup for lunch, followed by a serve of delicious lemon and sugar pancakes, which I walk off as I meander around the town, doing a little antique shopping. On our drive into Hobart, we stop in at the Cadbury Factory, which disappointingly, is nothing like the Willy Wonka kind (Hollywood, you have spoilt me for good), although the price of the Green & Black’s chocolate is kind on my wallet. By the time I get to Hobart, I’m over the clothes I’ve been wearing, so I splurge on a few things at Country Road, then hit the local boutiques. My purchases at Belle & Paige (147 Liverpool St) and Luxe (134 Liverpool St) include a zebra-hair fold-over clutch and a floral smock dress by Cameo, which both become firm wardrobe favourites. This evening’s meal is at a venue recommended by one of the staff at the boutiques and it doesn’t disappoint. The Mill on Morrison plates up delicious tapas options – perfect for a group dinner to wind down our trip.

 

Mill Lane Tasmania

 

DAY SIX: HOBART TO PORT ARTHUR AND BACK TO HOBART

I rise bright and early to brave the crowds of the famed Salamanca Markets, stopping at stalls and carts for my breakfast and ogling everything from rugs and scarves to handmade jewellery and home wares. Then it’s back on the road for a drive to historic Port Arthur, where I spend a significant amount of time touring the grounds and dreading the fact that I’ve booked in for an evening ghost tour. After buying more books in the bookshop, we have dinner at the bistro on the premises, and head outside for our 9pm Ghost Tour. It’s windy and very, very dark – our path is lit by three lanterns and not much else. I say a few Hail Marys in fear and emerge unscathed, although there were plenty of people in the group who believe they felt some other-world presence during various times of the tour. The guide asks if any were in the asylum and two of them nod – apparently, that’s the most haunted of them all.Salamanca Markets

 

blog9

 

Port Arthur Tasmania

DAY SEVEN: HOBART

It’s a quiet morning in Hobart – plenty of venues are closed – so I wander around the city, gearing myself up for the afternoon flight home. The boys head to a brewery for a tour and catch up with us at Jack Greene’s afterwards for burgers and fries. There’s a great blue-cheese cheese burger on the menu that I can’t have (pregnancy rules) but I don’t mind – my simple burger is delicious and I am distracted by the number of sauces I can order to complement my fries. I flip through my Provence book on the flight, wondering what trip awaits me next, and try to avoid tucking into the chocolates and sweets I have bought on the journey.

  1. Freycinet Marine Park: Tuck into delicious fresh seafood fished that very day. This marine park offers tours where – knee-deep in water – patrons can farm their own oysters and eat them straight from the shell. If that’s not your thing, you’ll delight in the lunch offerings nonetheless – scallops, oysters (fresh and cooked), mussels, fish, prawns, lobster and more are cooked a variety of ways in this little tuck shop that has everything you want for a delicious seafood meal, minus the hefty price tag.
  2. Daci & Daci: A recent addition to Hobart’s city scape, but one that is loved by locals and tourists alike, Daci & Daci is a French-inspired bakery selling a number of cakes, pastries, sweet treats and more. It’ll be hard to choose, but you can count on the fact that whatever you get will likely be delightful. Don’t leave without buying a bag of meringues in exotic flavours like rose and pistachio (delicious) or some of their passionfruit rocky road. YUM.
  3. The Mill on Morrison: The perfect spot for a dinner date or a catch-up with friends, this award-winning Hobart restaurant plates up delicious tapas dishes, mains and desserts to tantalise. There’s also a large bar to keep the cocktails going. My friends and I loved everything we ate.
  4. Bay of Fires: I am not a beach-y sort of girl, but the stretch of beaches along the Bay of Fires was nothing short of stunning. The crystal waters and lovely lagoons are worth even the shortest of visits. Just watch out for the blue bottles on the sand!
  5. Salamanca Markets: From wool throws and wooden bowls, to passionfruit butter and Tasmanian honey, to vintage posters and Danish doughnuts…the famed Hobart markets have it all. Head early to avoid the crowds and watch the street market – brimming with so many stalls – come alive.

 

Blog6

 

Blog3

BAROSSA VALLEY BLISS

As a fanciful writer with a passion for food and experience, a love of stories and an innate sense of wanderlust, I’m prone to dropping everything in my life for weekend escapes and dreamy destinations.

So when I was given the opportunity to check out South Australia’s Barossa Valley with a seasoned explorer of the region, I jumped at the chance. Oh wow, I thought, South Australia’s version of the Hunter Valley. The wine! The location! The joy! 

HOW NAIVE. If you’ve been to the Barossa, you will understand. The Hunter Valley is great. I know this. I’m a Sydney-sider, I’ve been there numerous times: celebrating birthdays, friendships, my love for cheese…you name it.

But the Barossa Valley, well, that’s in a league of its own. It literally trumps the Hunter. The wine! The location! The joy! But also: The people! Sense of community! The food! All authentic and non-commercial. It’s a place that is just doing its thing, minding its own business, and being fabulous at it. If Barossa were a girl, we’d all be jealous of how effortlessly amazing she is.

If Barossa were a girl, we’d all be jealous of how effortlessly amazing she is.

The above sentiments were borne out of a two day, packed-itinerary visit to the Barossa Valley in May. I joined Sneh Roy from Cook Republic, Peter G from Souvlaki for the Soul, and Fouad Kassab from The Food Blog on drives around the region, visits to wineries, tastings and free-time antiquing. And I fell in love, HARD. That kind of love that seeps into your bones and makes your toes quiver in their boots.

You see, the Barossa Valley is a destination for the body and the spirit. It boasts an old-world feel and a community vibe that rivals even the strongest of familial bonds, and everyone is welcomed with open arms. Vendors, sales people and hotel staff are quick to point the best places to go: their favourite wineries, the best stands at the Farmer’s market, great places to eat (like the award-winning Fermentasian on Tanunda’s Murray St).

Barossa Fields

 

Barossa Valley Church

 

Barossa Valley IceCream

 

Casa Carboni Cooking Class

 

Hentley Farm Wines Degustation

 

Hentley Farm Wines Squid

 

Hentley Farm Wines

 

Laughing Jack Wines

 

Menu

 

The Louise Barossa Valley

I’m forever thankful at having had the chance to visit because this was the place that really ignited my realisation that I’ll never find the words sitting in front of a computer. That writing comes on by conversations and experiences and inspirations that stir the mind and warm the heart (and in this case, feed the tum).

A place of honest, earthy splendour

The Barossa Valley is a place of honest, earthy splendour: a place for wellingtons on wet grass, morning visits to farmer’s markets, long afternoons antiquing, and delicious meals prepared in the kitchens of top-notch wineries. See, I haven’t even mentioned the wine. And it’s because I really don’t have to. So if you’re after honest connections, great food and a beautiful atmosphere, put it on your list. And while you’re there, make sure you check out my five fast faves below.

And if you’re flying in/out of Adelaide, check out these great stops too. Would you add anything to the below list?

  1. Hentley Farm Wines: A beautiful winery is one thing, but a winery with a restaurant that could rival award-winning venues in the world’s most glamorous cities is another. At Hentley Farm Wines, you get the best of both worlds. Locally-made wines paired with delicious dishes prepped on site using the best possible ingredients.  Nestled among vine yards and within refurbished stables, the restaurant looks out to beautiful views and is the ideal site for a long lunch to tantalise the taste buds.  Our five course menu featured smoked bay oysters with passionfruit juice, pumpkin seed and mushroom floss tapioca, a delicious dish of yellowfin tuna with wild rice, an immaculately-presented dish of southern squid and a portion of delicious wild venison cooked to perfection and served with pumpkin and lemon thyme. Rustic plates and decor added to the ambience, but by the time by yoghurt and poppyseed arrived in its artful eggcup, followed chocolate ginger popsicles and fortified marshmallow, I was in foodie heaven and thus a little too distracted to notice.
  2. The Louise: Easily one of the most luxurious resorts I have ever stayed in, The Louise is what dream accommodation is made of. From the welcome fruit and cookies, and the optional turn-down service (including a lit fireplace) to the expansive rooms and beautiful facilities, this takes five star in the country to a new extreme. Each suite opens up to beautiful views of rolling valleys and distant vineyards, there are games tucked away to enjoy with your bottle of red, glasses of sherry in the bedroom and an exciting private outdoor shower to compliment the already lavish ensuites (with huge tubs, Molton Brown skincare, rubber ducks and huge showers). Perfect for a romantic weekend away…or just a way to treat yourself. I can’t wait to go back there, but if it’s a little out of budget, why not head to their restaurant, Appellation? Fine fare indeed!
  3. The Barossa Farmer’s Market: I was warned that the Bacon & Egg rolls at the Barossa Farmers Market were good, but I had no idea how good. The Schultz bacon is local and free-range, and it is marvellous. Then again, so was the entire market. It’s small, but it showcases an abundance of delicious buys including cheese, preservative-free dried fruit, sauces, jams and chutnies, and meat. There’s also pastry stalls, and the delicious Barossa Valley Ice-Cream stand (go for a scoop of the strawberry and balsamic ripple – it’s AMAZING).
  4. Pioneer Antiques (45 Murray St, Tanunda): Prop heaven is run by Mavis, and Mavis knows her goods. While she isn’t the friendliest of store owners (I could only imagine how many people rummage through the store just for the intrigue), her store is bursting with the biggest assortment of old-world kitchenware, appliances, napery, accessories, crockery…I could go on. With products dating back to the 19th century, this is a must visit if you have an affection for collectibles of by-gone eras, or if you love to deck out your home with products that are the real deal, without the hefty price tag often accompanying antiques in the  big cities.
  5. Casa Carboni: Perfect for an intimate cooking class or a lovely lunch, Casa Carboni is the brain-child of Italian chef Matteo Carboni and his wife Fiona, who worked trading in wines and met him in Italy before they relocated here. Their cooking classes are great because they’re small and very hands-on, but tucking into whatever’s on their menu of the day is also a reward after touring and trekking. The venue also stocks some Italian kitchenware and food/beverage products, but the definite highlight is Matteo’s delicious home-made nougat. While you’re there – duck into the The Barossa Valley Cheese Shop next door (67b Murray St Angaston), their Le Petite Prince cheese is delish, and will go perfectly with pastes you could pick up at Maggie Beer’s Farm should you choose to visit during your stay, even if it’s bursting at the seams with visitors.