ACCOR HOTELS, BRISBANE

Brisbane is quickly emerging as a hub that is on the rise. Hip chefs, international acts and modern art are all making their way to the sunny city and along with them comes a diverse range of travellers. So we checked out what the AccorHotels group has on offer for the capital of the Sunshine State.

PULLMAN, KING GEORGE SQUARE

Nestled in a corporate hub, the Pullman is an understated oasis in the thick of the action. A quick stroll and you're at the main street mall. Take a few steps the other way and you're at the bridge heading to the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art.

Service at the Pullman is top notch and runs like a well oiled machine. Staff are impeccably mannered and generously helpful, which seems to go down well with the younger generation corporate travellers and asian visitors.

Rooms are clean and modern without being fussy and the Spa Suites have separate lounge and dining areas with a luxe, oversized bathroom if you're looking to do an extended stay.

Dining has been revamped by Sydney Chef Justin North (Becasse, Hotel Centennial) to include a signature "Tapastry" menu in addition to the regular offerings. Locally sourced produce is highlighted in small dishes designed for sharing, such as high country pork croquettes and melt in your mouth spiced lamb ribs. Paired with matching wines, it's gives travellers a taste of the region without having to leave the hotel.

The Pullman hotel has really revamped business traveller accommodation. With 210 designer appointed rooms, a sophisticated restaurant and a prime location, it's extending itself beyond the corporate guest.

Recommended for: Discerning business travellers, extended stay tourists.
Room pick: Spa Suite.
Rates from: $180 p/n.


THE NEW INCHCOLM HOTEL AND SUITES, BRISBANE

Part of AccorHotels M Gallery collection, The New Inchcolm occupies a historic building in the heart of Brisbane. Formerly a grand private home, The New Inchcolm has retained much of it's heritage with its design. High ceilings and vintage elevators are finished with modern elegant touches, offering boutique luxury for the discerning guest.

Rooms, in particular the loft suites, are spacious and plush. Sinking in to the king beds, with ceiling to floor windows, it's tough to think about leaving the room. Padded armoires are filled with nespresso machines and gourmet snacks, which don't go astray when lounging downstairs in the loft.

Award winning restaurant Thomson's Reserve is located at the entrance within The New Inchcolm and it is fully booked, even on a Tuesday night. Two and Three course menu options are available and each dish is stunning. Duck breast is tea smoked to perfection and a side of truffled potato mousseline is lighter than whipped cream. A milk chocolate cremeaux with salted caramel and malt finishes the night on a sweet high.

If you're looking for something unique in Brisbane city, The New Inchcolm has it covered. From a gorgeous historic building, to light filled rooms and stand out dining it's an intimate escape for the fussy traveller.

Recommended for: Couples, designers, foodies. Those looking to get away from large scale hotels.
Room pick: Loft suite.
Rates from: $210 p/n.


NOVOTEL, BRISBANE

Most travellers would have stayed at a Novotel at some point during their journeys and are probably familiar with it's offerings. Reliably clean and comfortable, it's great to see a hotel like Novotel shaking things up for it's loyal guest base.

Checking in to Novotel Brisbane, located on the edge of the city's CBD, the lobby is a busy hub for it's guests. An open lounge serving drinks and snacks flows on to a slick work station with new Apple desktop computers. Connected is a play area for kids which is kitted out with endless hours of entertainment.

Rooms are fresh and functional, accented with contemporary touches. Minimal without being sterile, the beds are comfy and the layout works well throughout the lounging area, workstation and outdoor space if you're in a Premier Balcony Room.

What's really interesting is Novotel's commitment to health and fitness. There's a state of the art gym and pool centre or if you're feeling lazy you can get your inner yogi flowing with on demand videos available on your TV. Pro surfer Sally Fitzgibbons has also been brought on to create a unique menu of health conscious meals. Grilled chicken with guacamole and baby corn was unbelievably fresh and delicious - almost too good to feel healthy.

Novotel Brisbane has really upped their game. Their unique healthy balance approach and facilities to cater to a variety of guests needs means it's continues to be a solid choice for both business and family travellers alike.

Recommended for: Families, low fuss business travellers.
Room pick: Premier Balcony Room
Rates from: $159 p/n.

 

I travelled and stayed courtesy of AccorHotels.
http://accorhotels.com.au

SOUTHERN OCEAN LODGE, KANGAROO ISLAND

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Stepping on to the tarmac at Adelaide Airport, boarding a twin propeller REX Airlines plane to Kingscote, I was starting to get a sense of how special and remote Kangaroo Island would be. The blink and you'll miss it flight, glided over the strait to an island of classic Australian terrain drenched in red sunlight.

After a scenic one hour drive in the Southern Ocean Lodge's transportation, I arrived to a breathtaking piece of architecture hidden on the south-west tip of Kangaroo Island.

Bags are whisked away and I'm seated in the Great Room chatting to the concierge about my itinerary for the next few days. Kangaroos, rock formations, fur seals, koalas: it's plain to see I could spend weeks on Kangaroo Island.

Southern Ocean Lodge's lounge and dining room flow effortlessly with a connecting open bar and wine cellar. The views from my morning plunge to my chair at dinner are absolutely commanding and all point south to the ocean.

The morning sun bathes me in light and breakfast is a magical time to be in the Great Room. A delicate spread of poached fruit, nuts, jams and the best-ever gluten free banana bread are laid out for starters. Also available is a menu of varying dishes such as truffled mushrooms and eggs or french toast that are cooked fresh to order.

Lunch, which I liked to take outside on the secluded clifftop patio, changed daily. A meat and pickle board freshened the palate, followed by a halloumi salad and a basil sorbet with fruit. The portions were just the right size and used produce from around the island.

Dinner takes on a grander vibe, without any stuffiness. Crispy skinned fillets of fish with a broccoli salad was cleansing and well seasoned. A main of duck done several ways melted in the mouth and a dessert of coconut and pineapple mousse, jelly and sorbet was tropically fresh.

On hand for all guests to use is an open bar and wine cellar. A strong collection of South Australian wines are on offer and guests are wholeheartedly encouraged to enjoy them. I found myself at the bar where I could get creative with locally made gin, syrups and freshly squeezed lime.

It doesn't really matter which room you pick at Southern Ocean Lodge; they're all fabulous. Each of the twenty-one suites overlook the sweeping coastline and fuse the island's wilderness with unassuming luxury. 

The naturally furnished rooms are filled with designer touches, from limestone floors to deep bath tubs. An open mini bar, heated floors, sunken lounge and outdoor daybed had me stretching out in deep relaxation.

As part of the Baillie Lodges collection, Southern Ocean Lodge has an inherent belief and practice in sustainability. Commercial scale solar systems are in place and 99% of the 102 hectares purchased by Baillie Lodges on Kangaroo Island has been preserved in its native state for future generations and the wildlife.

My first expedition at Southern Ocean Lodge, a guided clifftop walk, took my group along a tiny, slightly terrifying but utterly jaw-dropping track along the southern cliff of Kangaroo Island. After a short 1.5km stroll, stopping at points to investigate native herbs and Iguanas, we arrived at a huge drop overlooking giant, smooth rock formations.

At 5:30pm I hopped aboard the bus to the popular Kangas and Kanapes experience. Guided slowly and quietly by expert staff, I found myself almost face to face with the native Kangaroo Island Kangaroos. It was a treat to be so close to the creatures in their natural habitat while sipping wine as the sun went down.

On my last day I join the "Wonders of Kangaroo Island" tour. It's Southern Ocean Lodge's signature experience and it is a spectacular introduction to life on the island.

First up our guide takes us by 4WD to the fur seal colony at Admirals Arch. The ferocious marine mammals fight and play with each other while occasionally diving in to crashing waves. They're incredibly fast and it's a marvel to see their strength as they try to dominate one another.

Our next stop is at the Remarkable Rocks, where there is much debate over their history and age. Predicted to be millions of years old, the curved and sharp rock formations tower over me and catch the light as it moves over the deep crevices.

We finish at a reserve with an abundance of koalas. Gum trees are filled with the sleepy marsupials and I get within inches of a mother embracing her baby. It's an intimate moment and I can't help but let out an "aww".

Back at the lodge watching the sunset, wine glass in hand, I sigh in awe of the marvelous landscape. My sojourn at Southern Ocean Lodge has given me a taste of the wilderness and as one of the few true luxury lodges in Australia, it feels like a once in a lifetime experience.

 

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Untouched luxury.
ROOM PICK: Any but the top of the line Osprey Pavilion has uninterrupted panoramic views.
WIFI: Yes, but very patchy. Leave your laptop at home!
RATES: Nightly rates start at $1100 per person, twin share.
IN ROOM: King bed, writing desk, open mini bar, walk in robe, deep bath tub with bath salts, Australian made body products, rain shower, double sinks, turn down service.
MINI BAR: Welcome lamingtons, cheese, nougat, cookies, chocolates, wine, soft drinks, juices.
GETTING THERE: REX Airlines flies from Adelaide Airport to Kingscote three times daily. Southern Ocean Lodge takes care of the rest. Alternatively there is a 45 minute ferry from the mainland to the island for self drive excursions. http://www.rex.com.au/

I stayed as a guest of Southern Ocean Lodge.
http://southernoceanlodge.com.au/
 

THE PLAYFORD, ADELAIDE

It's been some time since I've been to Adelaide and I had heard it was no longer the sleepy town of days gone by but a rapidly changing cosmopolitan hub for food and sport.

So, what's happening in the hotel scene? I was looking for something different from the same old regulars and stumbled upon AccorHotel's boutique outlet, M Gallery. Their Adelaide property, The Playford, sits right in the hub of Adelaide's tourism centre and is a short stroll to the casino, river and restaurants.

Checking in to a grand entrance, the decor is warm and classic, with sweeping staircases and chandeliers dotted around the lobby.

My room, on the first floor, has direct access to a private courtyard. Sitting in the sun with the water fountain trickling in the background and sampling local wine from the Barossa Valley, it was the perfect place to spend an afternoon.

The rooms are classic, with plush furniture and heavy curtains. It's comfortable and the tiled floors provide some cold respite from Adelaide's heat. The bathroom, which has a shower over bath, is decked out in granite and stocked with Appelles amenities.

The downstairs restaurant is the heartbeat of the hotel. Adjoining the lounge, it serves up one of the better buffet breakfasts going around. Artisinal yoghurt, interesting varieties of fruit and coconut water is on hand for the fussiest of health freaks. Those with traditional taste buds will be pleased to find bacon, mushrooms and eggs that are fresh and full of flavour.

Dinner is a top notch affair, with The Playford restaurant being renowned for its elegant modern cuisine. Kingfish sashimi is delicately balanced with a citrus dressing and fennel. Less successful is the gnocchi gorgonzola with shards of brittle that cuts the mouth and is overpoweringly sweet.

The standout comes at the end with a traditional line of desserts and a chocolate experience plate. Milk, white and dark chocolate is tempered perfectly and various casings are filled with mousse and coulis, bursting with indulgence. I'd visit again just for that dish.

A few minutes walk and I could be at the cricket or the Elton John concert, without the hassle of traffic or finding a taxi. And on a weekend away to South Australia, The Playford seems the right spot to shack up.

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Classically grand.
WIFI: Yes, complimentary.
RATES: Starting from $155 AUD. Breakfast packages available.
CHILDREN: Yes.
IN-ROOM: Shower over bath tub, TV, writing desk, arm chairs, king bed.
 

I stayed as a guest of AccorHotels and The Playford.
 

QT, SYDNEY

It's a Saturday night in the bustling hub of Sydney. Shows are playing, restaurants are fully booked and the harbour is glowing. Strolling through the city, gothic buildings lining the street, I found myself at the iconic State Theatre on Market Street where my hotel is supposed to be.

"QT?" a lady in a red wig asks. "Yes" I reply, assuming she was an actress from a nearby show. She wasn't. She escorted me through a narrow foyer to the elevators where a few floors up is the lobby of QT Sydney.

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Bursting with colour and velvet, I checked in quickly and started to get my QT vibe on. Sexy, quirky and over the top.

My room, an Executive King, overlooked George Street on the 9th floor, with large heritage windows. Polished floorboards, bright rugs and eclectic furniture draw on the past mixing it up with edgy design.

The mini bar was stocked with Patron, salami, nibbles and a beard kit; perfectly curated for the modern hipster. The room seemed to encourage the guest to pour themselves a drink, or two, with martini glasses dotted around the room.

No luxury is overlooked in the bathroom with fitted, velvety, hooded black robes. Slinking around feeling quite the Marilyn Monroe, I discover MALIN and GOETZ amenities in the cabinet. A big New York tick.

Gowings, the hotel restaurant, takes on a more sophisticated style with an ultra-hip ambiance. Serving up modern food, the breakfast shies away from the usual offerings and satisfied my weekend munchies. Watermelon salad with pomegranate and vanilla ricotta was balanced and refreshing, followed by Mexican eggs with avocado and beans. Served promptly, by staff who were a little too cool, it was a good spot to nut out the day's business.

Where the hotel really wins me over is at it's spa and grooming boutique. Stepping in to a luxe laboratory, the changing rooms are fitted out with vintage style lockers and mosaic tiles. I booked myself in for a Turkish Salt Scrub and was guided through historic hallways to my treatment room. Original stained glass ceilings and semi-exposed brick walls housed my therapy bed, which was one of the softest I've had. After a full body loofah, I was massaged with their "satin lotion". I don't know exactly what satin lotion is but I couldn't stop touching my glowing skin for the rest of the afternoon.

Despite it's central CBD location, the room was peacefully quiet. Waking up feeling hazy after my night on the town, the soft dim lighting was a relief on my heavy eyes. A long stretch and I dozed back to sleep. QT, you're not my forever home but you are what I needed right then and quite frankly your sass has me smitten.

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Take the missus out and get lucky. Pack red lippy.
ROOM PICK: Corner suite for the views.
WIFI: Yes, complimentary.
RATES: Starting from $380 AUD. Breakfast packages available.
CHILDREN: Get a babysitter, its adult time.
MINI BAR: Spirits galore, cocktail kit, beard kit, salumi, nibbles. Treat yo'self. Coffee machine provided.
GETTING THERE: Valet parking is available, simply pull up the front, put your hazard's on and QT will sort out the rest.

I stayed as a guest of QT Sydney.
https://www.qtsydney.com.au/

 

ST JEROMES THE HOTEL, MELBOURNE

The variety of slightly dated boutique hotels and never ending strip of same-same corporate serviced apartments that saturate Melbourne leaves little for the guest wanting an experience. So Jerome Borazio took matters in to his own hand and although not a hotelier, I think there was no better person qualified for the task.

With a vision for seeing the city in a different light and conceptualizing rooftop luxury camping, the eponymous bar owner started out on a feat I can only imagine was riddled with permit, planning and building hurdles. For Jerome, I hope this success will be a long one because St Jeromes The Hotel is the kind of establishment everyone should try at least once.

Dragging my roller past Hoyts Cinema up on level three of Melbourne Central, I stumbled upon a mysterious entrance with a young hip front desk. Double doors with no signage open and there plushly laid out is a rooftop garden with turf and rows of tents. Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

There are two types of tents available, the Luxe Plus 3m x 5m and the Flinders Bell 2.5m x 4m. If you're going to stay just once book the Luxe Plus for extra comfort including ottomans and front decking. Queen beds are overstocked with blankets and pillows for the most reptile of sleepers. Robes, slippers and gumboots are on hand for the commute to the portable bathrooms. A short stroll and you've got a full sized shower, toilet and basin stocked with Swisse and Tony and Guy amenities.

Afternoons are passed at the General Store, a hub for coffee and a stocked beer fridge. Cupcakes and macarons are served from 3pm till 5pm and it seemed most guests were out shopping which meant all the more for me. Cocktail hour started at 5pm and Espresso Martinis were flowing. The day had gone and I hadn't ventured off site.

The true value of staying at St Jeromes is being able to watch the sun go down on a Melbourne rooftop away from the crowds. The views are unique and the glow of the tents while sipping a cocktail feels intimately romantic.

Next door, Strike Bowling gives tent guests a free game, which was one of the best perks of my stay. A homing call card is provided in the event of being locked out of Melbourne Central in the early hours and Grill'd burgers can be ordered on demand. The fully stocked mini bar is complimentary and books, blank notepads and umbrellas ensure you're well taken of. Jerome and his staff have paid close attention to detail and successfully achieved the glamping trend.

Overnight winds bellowed but the tent stayed strong and there was no need for the electric blanket or heater, despite a low of 3 degrees. A hum of city traffic reminded me of living in my old Upper West Side apartment in New York, dialed down. It was oddly calming.

At a time nominated by the guest, breakfast boxes are delivered with artisinal chocolates, salmon bagels, chia puddings and your choice of coffee. I opted for a hot chocolate and it was thick, dark and smooth. If the choices are too limited for your taste, you're smack bang in the CBD with plenty of options.

Glamping seemed reserved for celebrities at Coachella and luxury safaris but Jerome has created a hotel that is attracting all sorts of crowds. Wifi, amenities well above basic and little touches make this a fun night out. I'd book your stay quickly as the lease is short term, but I have a feeling it's going to be so popular it will extend right through Summer (fingers crossed).

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Swanky rooftop camping.
ROOM PICK: Luxe Plus tent.
WIFI: Yes, complimentary.
BREAKFAST: Included - artisanal selection breakfast box with coffee choice.
RATES: $330-$360 midweek, $360-$390 weekend.
CHILDREN: Yes but not recommended.
IN-ROOM: Queen bed, electric blanket, several throws, robes, slippers, gumboots, umbrellas, reading material.
MINI BAR: included - beers, sodas, water, nut snacks, writing pad, pencil, bowling pass.

I stayed courtesy of St Jeromes The Hotel
http://www.stjeromesthehotel.com.au/

 

 

 

 

THE SCHALLER STUDIO, BENDIGO

There are few hotels that make you feel like you're part of a community. Checked-in, left to your own devices and often forgotten, you rarely make friends. Not so at The Schaller Studio, where the Art Series Group has brought European planning and design to a regional hotel.

Fluidity is evident right from the get-go, where the reception meets the bar. Staff are multi-trained, working from the front desk right through to the cafe wherever the demand is. After a quick check-in my host took my bags, brought my car around and served me a drink. I felt slightly ashamed she was catering to all my demands, but it was refreshing to meet staff so accomplished.

The cafe space serves up a simple selection. Quinoa and Pumpkin salad with a Zucchini frittata was wholesome and a hip selection of juices were on hand. Slices were decadent, I ate two chocolate brownies and almost asked for another checking-out for the road. 

Opposite, on the ground floor, is the communal space, which is the draw card for Schaller. Three lounge areas, with couches and tables, can be used for meetings, coffees, reading and catch-ups. The rooms are modestly-sized and promote guests to venture downstairs and utilise the facilities. The anti-social skeptic in me was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to feel comfortable relaxing the afternoon away.

Mark Schaller, the Melbourne artist of choice by Art Series for Bendigo, has over 200 original pieces throughout the hotel. His quintessentially Australian murals are spectacular and divide the lounge areas, providing a stunning backdrop. Mark drops in from time to time to give talks and workshops for the local community children and guests.

It's fitting an Art Series opened in Bendigo, being such a hub for art. With huge exhibitions bypassing Melbourne and going straight to The Bendigo Art Gallery, Bendigo has hugely gentrified and become a weekend destination. It was clear other guests were interested in Schaller's art work, often pausing and chatting over a piece on the wall.

The hotel is set on the leafy grounds of the Bendigo Hospital. It makes it difficult to find and there is a sense of "am I in the right place" when you arrive, but the hospital is currently being extended and turned in to one of the biggest health facilities outside of Melbourne. As a requirement for this extension a hotel was needed to cater for doctors, patients' family members and visitors. The community feel of The Schaller Studio leads me to think these guests will be well cared for.

Schaller takes on a different vibe in the evening, where the lighting is dimmed and candles glow. Staying on my own for once and open to experimenting with the idea of community I ventured down for dinner. Sitting by myself, far away from anyone else, I was spotted by my server from lunch. He quickly came over and asked if I'd like something. Wine please, and some cheese. The servings were huge and the selection was well chosen.

A few minutes later two others came and sat on the couch next to me. "Would you like me to move?" I apologetically asked. "Of course not" they replied confused. I smiled and buried my head in my phone, but they did not give up there. Turns out these two were local folk who regularly come in for coffee to catch up in the evening. My awkward solo cheese and wine turned in to an hour long conversation about life, love, Bendigo and ended with some email swapping. A Schaller success story? Maybe.

Running up alongside the ramp to the lifts is a long resource area of books, games, pens, paper and paints. Children and adults can both indulge in this open library area. I spotted a mother's club during the day with the children happily entertained and the parents having some much needed respite and coffee.

The rooms are small but luxuriously effective. My queen suite had a separate sitting and work area, which I would recommend booking if staying for several days.

A shallow balcony allows you some fresh air with stools and a bar table overlooking the country streets. Despite being on the hospital, noise was minimal and the roads were quiet.

Linens were quality and pillows were the right amount of soft and firm. Alarm clocks and lamps were well designed with plenty of the latest Vogue Living and Frankie magazines on hand for reading.

Bathrooms were functional with ample shower space, paired with EVO products. The mini-bar was well stocked with artisinal snacks and a mini canvas and paints for the little ones.

The informational mural in your room is a nice change from the folder format. Writing pads, pencil, menus and tourism pamphlets were creatively interactive.

Breakfast, optional, provided the basics to start your day. Cold cuts, cheese, cereals, fruit and breads were fresh and enough to start your day. With so much on offer in Bendigo, there's no need to over-do it.

It's rare you find a hotel that is special. The Schaller Studio isn't about the biggest rooms, gastronomy in the kitchen or opulence. It's about feel. Although not to be out-done by its city sister properties, it still has the Smart Cars and Lekker bikes you'll find at The Olsen. But if you're an overnighter or a staying a little longer, you're instantly part of the community and that's really something worth looking for in a regional hotel.

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Clinically artistic
ROOM PICK: Queen suite
WIFI: Yes, complimentary
BREAKFAST: Optional mini-buffet
RATES: Queen suite at $175 p/n including breakfast.
CHILDREN: Yes
IN-ROOM: 2 x Balcony, EVO, Mini-bar, Queen bed, 2 x TV, 2 Bathrooms, Work station, Coffee machine
LOYALTY PROGRAM: Art Series Priority Guest Rewards
CHECKING: 2pm/11am
SPA: none
PARKING: free carpark
PERKS: Lekker bikes, Smart Cars for guests use

I stayed courtesy of The Schaller Studio.
www.artserieshotels.com.au/schaller/

THE ROYAL MAIL HOTEL, DUNKELD

There are few rural restaurants that warrant an overnight trip. A three hour drive, the added burden of finding accommodation, leaves you wondering is it worth the travel? Looking at the map from Melbourne to Dunkeld for The Royal Mail Hotel, the infamous regional establishment, I am glad to say it was and not just for the food.

Entering the dining room you are bathed in light and surrounded by wine glasses. Having one of the biggest collections of Burgundy wine in the Southern Hemisphere and known for its excellent food and wine pairings, I was nervous about my lack of knowledge. It didn't matter, my server put me at ease instantly, recommending Champagne.

I visited mid-week and there was still a hum in the dining room. The restaurant had several bookings, with enough space between diners to be intimate but not too much to feel cold. An eclectic mix of older sophisticates, young hipsters and intrigued chefs filled the tables. The dining room doesn't exclude anyone. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Sipping on my Champagne I contemplated the menu. A la carte, five or eight course tasting, all with the option to be paired with wines. I was game for the eight.

While there are too many specifics to write here (an image of the menu and wines is attached), the food was a journey through the Royal Mail garden and it's local surroundings. Artichokes were flourishing at the time and featured three times, including dessert.

Gnocchi with sweetbreads (a first for me) were pillows of heaven. The duck could have been served twice and I wouldn't complain. Pear, white chocolate and dulce de leche was gone before I remembered to photograph it.

The wine was incredible. And despite my palette being easily impressed and admittedly unrefined, the wines were perfectly matched with each dish. With my head bobbing by the end, I couldn't quite finish the Iberia Cream, but I can still distinctly remember my 2009 Trimbach Muscat - Alsace, France. Smooth, crisp and yellow.

My sommelier, from Spain, was an example of the high level of knowledge and service by the staff at Royal Mail. It's rare to find great staff, and even rarer for them to move to a regional establishment. My server, from South Australia, lives on site in the staff quarters and it was my first clue in to what Royal Mail was all about.

The Royal Mail is not just a restaurant and boutique hotel. It's a manifestation of Australian Lawyer, Allan Myers, giving back to the town from which he came. Acquiring over 10,000 hectares, never before has a restaurant and hotel drawn tourism and jobs to the Grampians. Completely changing the town, you can now see art galleries, bookstores, produce shops and cafe's popping up, sustained by the injection of tourism from the Royal Mail.

The bar and adjoining bistro served up wholesome fair. Curry night was a hit with the locals and the chips were thick-cut and crunchy (perhaps thrice fried?).
Breakfast served in the dining room drew inspiration from the restaurant menu. Mixed grain oats with whiskey pears and sixty-three degree poached eggs were satisfying enough to help with the feeling of perhaps having a little too much wine the night before, but delicate at the same time.

Walking around the grounds of the property, which is vast, the rooms and apartments are dotted around in their Australian landscape.

Siting on the balcony and watching the sun go down on Mt. Sturgeon, the end point of the Grampians, I forgot I came to Royal Mail for the food.

The newly refurbished Deluxe Rooms are modern without being flashy. Large rainshowers and organic amenities from Appelles bring the rooms up to a luxury level.

Hotel walks are throughout the property, from a short 15 minute boardwalk stroll to more intense climbs up the mountain. The hotel can even pack a picnic lunch for you.

The architecturally designed pool sits rustically in its surroundings and the evening sun made it warm enough for a dip. Facing Mt Sturgeon, you couldn't have asked for a better view.

Wildlife and Conservation tours are Monday to Saturday at 4:30pm on their Mt Sturgeon station. There you can see the once extinct Quoll specie along with squirrel gliders and other native wildlife.

The hotel garden turned my inner farm-girl green with envy. Produce is bountiful and you can stroll the gardens marveling at fennel, artichokes and squash being grown.

Ducks patrol the grounds in charge of pest control, happily reminding me their produce is pesticide free.

I may have come to The Royal Mail Hotel for it's food. But learning it's story, there seemed to more to it than just that. The growing tourism, creating jobs, wildlife conservation and produce garden give the establishment substance. The people who live and work in the area are fiercely protective of it, and rightly so. It's something special, and it's worth the trip to experience it for yourself.

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CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Burnished and Australian.
ROOM PICK: Deluxe Room
WIFI: Yes, complimentary.
BREAKFAST: Included - artisanal selection with breakfast buffet.
RATES: Deluxe rooms start at $295 p/n. Enquire about stay and dine packages.
CHILDREN: Yes.
IN-ROOM: Balcony, rainshower, Appelles products, mini bar, King bed, TV, work station.
DINING: 8 course menu $160, accompanying wines $120

I stayed and dined courtesy of The Royal Mail Hotel.
http://www.royalmail.com.au/

THE OLSEN, SOUTH YARRA

It's hard to be cool these days. Hashtagging is out. Pressed juice is a must. So where do those who are on top of it all stay? The Olsen of course, and if you didn't know that then you're not on fleek.

Entering the lobby, beautiful people buzz past you on their phones, probably mid-gram, clad in Rag and Bone booties and Saint Laurent wide-brimmed hats.

The Olsen, one of an exclusive group of hotels by the Art Series Hotel Group, is named after one of Australia's most highly regarded artists, John Olsen. The lobby features his original work and prints are throughout the rooms.

The hotel commissioned the entrance piece, The Yellow Sun and The Yarra, 2009. It is a true Australian reflection on the local area.

Spoonbill, the hotel restaurant, is a modern low fuss spot for guests. Using local produce, breakfast, lunch and dinner have solid menus, drawn from John Olsen's influence.

Lekker bicycles and Smart cars are at the guest's disposal for local exploring. It was much to my bemusement seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger using the hipster bike during my visit, but nonetheless totally appropriate for the LA visitor.

Iced tea on arrival and bottled water are dabbled throughout the hotel for guests hydration. Dining is also available on the leafy side street patio, perfect for people watching.

Take the elevator up a level and you're at the pool. Discreetly overlooking Chapel Street and clad with designer chairs and couches, the pool backs on to an open bar and lounge area.

A "jump on the bed" card in your room is just another cheeky interaction from the Art Series Hotel Group. You really get the sense they want you to let your hair down and have a good time.

Room service allows you to indulge yourself. Champagne and chocolate is on hand for that sort of occasion.

The walls in your room are adorned with John Olsen graphics. The Art Series Group have even made their own pajamas with the John Olsen Frog print - they're slinky too. You can read all about John's work in his books provided.

The Spa Studio Suite, gives you enough room to feel rockstar on your stay. The balcony overlooks South Yarra with seating and your own spa.

Ghost chairs and chaise's aside, there's still a workspace and kitchenette for those who want a cup of tea while answering emails.

Shampoo's, body wash and lotions come compliments of cult brand EVO, definitely worth swiping for your luggage home and another sign of the Art Series being in-the-know.

The Art Series Hotel Group has started something in Australia, which everyone else is only just catching up on: understated cool. It's not about ratings or deals, its about making it the place you want to be when in Melbourne.
Regardless of whether you're in town for meetings, having a girls night out or loved up with your S/O, The Olsen has added the right amount of playful banter to give your stay some personality.
 

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Designer.
ROOM PICK: Spa Studio Suite.
WIFI: Yes, at a charge.
BREAKFAST: You can book a bed and breakfast package.
RATES: from $269 p/n.
CHILDREN: Yes.
IN-ROOM: Kitchenette, work station, flat screen, foxtel, mini bar, Spa/balcony(in some rooms).
 

MINERAL SPRINGS HOTEL, HEPBURN SPRINGS

Checking in at the Mineral Springs Hotel, you feel refreshed, even before hitting the spa. The lemon lampshades, high ceilings and windows bathe you in light as you waltz to the reception lounge.

Breakfast (included) is served at The Conservatory, with both cooked to order items and a buffet featuring fresh produce picked from their farm. It's not a rushed affair either. Hanging lamps and cane furniture give you an air of relaxation, despite the stately surroundings.

The multi-award winning spa is the draw card for the hotel. Start with their extensive organic tea selection, and relax in the lounge (there's an open fire in winter). The outdoor deck is the perfect spot to sip on your tea before heading in to the mineral water baths, overlooking the gardens of Villa Parma.

Twilight bathing on Friday and Saturday nights is a must. Soak yourself in steaming therapeutic waters as the sun goes down - one of their signature treatments.

The springs terrace room gives you an intimate space for a couples getaway. Relaxing on a king bed, you're facing your own terrace and a bay-window bathtub. A separate bathroom behind the bedroom, and a space for writing and lounging gives you a retreat for a chocolate and wine weekend.

The in-house restaurant, The Argus Dining Room, recently awarded a Chef's Hat by the Age for 2015, serves modern Australian cuisine referencing local produce from the region. So whether you're looking for a Victorian getaway, fine dining or relaxation therapy, Mineral Springs Hotel really is the best of what Spa Country has to offer.

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Modern grandeur.
ROOM PICK: Springs Terrace Room.
WIFI: Yes, included in the rate.
CHECKING: 2PM check-in | 11AM check-out.
BREAKFAST: Included.
RATES: Terrace Room – From $415 per couple 1 night midweek / $1055 per couple 2 night weekend. Springs Deluxe Spa Room – From $340 per couple 1 night midweek / $950 per couple 2 night weekend
CHILDREN: OK - but not recommended (no additional bedding can be provided besides a cot). Minimum spa age is 16.
IN-ROOM: TV, bathtub (in some rooms), writing space, terrace (in some rooms).
MINI BAR: Yes, limited.

VILLA PARMA, HEPBURN SPRINGS

Unassumingly on the road through Hepburn Springs stands Villa Parma. Nestled in its lush gardens, next door to its Peppers Group owner, The Mineral Springs Hotel, the front door greets you like a portal to middle France.

Four bedrooms, all with their own bathrooms and tubs, the villa sleeps up to eight people and is rented out exclusively – perfect for a couples getaway or girls weekend.

Upon entry, the rustic dining room sits, awaiting your kitchen skills -mediterranean cuisine perhaps? The adjoining modern kitchen allows you to be inspired. Bread salad with local tomatoes, artichokes with fresh pasta and a bottle of wine from the nearby Pyrenees Wine Region will transport you to the European holiday you always dreamed of. Well, perhaps the one I dreamed of - where I get lost in the French countryside, stumble upon a villa for sale, irrationally purchase it (with my imaginary funds), and learn to speak a foreign language. Voila!

Breakfast is served in The Conservatory at the Mineral Springs Hotel next door keeping you in touch with service by the establishment that runs the villa. Direct access to their spa also gives you the best of what Hepburn Springs has to offer.

The landscaped gardens are expansive and you could easily lose yourself. Grape vines adorn the driveway leading to expertly manicured hedging and pathways. Each ending in a private little corner, you will find yourself sitting with a book for the afternoon.

With the Villa Parma as your background, the gardens give you the setting for a girly tea party or an intimate outdoor wedding. A regular use for the villa. So, grab your pals and book it for a weekend, because you’re on the doorstep to incredible wine and the infamous Daylesford spa territory.

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Rustic French.
ROOM PICK: Top floor for the garden views.
WIFI: Yes, included in the rate.
CHECKING: 2PM check-in | 11AM check-out.
BREAKFAST: Provided in the adjoining hotel.
RATES: $2600 for full house 2 night stay (4 bedrooms – up to eight guests) including breakfast.
CHILDREN: OK - stairs in the villa.
IN-ROOM: TV, bathtub, full kitchen.
MINI BAR: None.
 

www.spacountry.com.au

DRIFT HOUSE, PORT FAIRY

Drift House isn’t your road stop B&B.  Perched on the corner of Port Fairy, winds from the sea wrapping you up, this is the place that will make you want to extend your stay just one more night. The suites are intellectually romantic. While most are fitted with a bathtub, it’s the in room stove-tops, maxi bar produce and plush beds that fuel conversation and snuggling for couples.

Suite #1

Suite #1

Suite #1

Suite #1

Each of the four suites take up the whole floor of their respective buildings, and are so individually curated it’s hard to pick a favourite. Residing in One for my stay, I was drawn to the detail of each. The mural in Two (by one of the owners Colleen, an artist), the light and courtyard of Three, the projector TV and colour in Four. Each suite really is a different escape.

Breakfast basket

Breakfast basket

Arriving to a stunning terrace house, a quick peer around the corner and expertly attached is an angular architectural extension that subtly sits within its surroundings. Apple trees adorn an outside sitting area leading to a slick deep-sea blue pool. With luxe towels and day beds, it’s the perfect summer hiding spot.

Suite #2

Suite #2

Suite #2

Suite #2

Suite #2

Suite #2

Nibbling on the welcome butter yo-yo’s (addicts may purchase more from the maxi bar), you wonder how this place came to be. Colleen and John purchased the house some seven years back, and through hard work, planning and an eye for collecting amazing pieces, put together what can only be described as the house you envision for yourself on a dream board. Yes, I should have Moet chilled at all times and yes, my pantry produce should be all local and organic.

Suite #1

Suite #1

While there can be a certain amount of pomp about design, local produce etc, you don’t feel that here. You are left to explore entirely on your own. The recommendations of what to see and where to go would appeal to every sort of visitor and the vibe of this place is that you have your own studio to dream about what life could be..

Suite #3

Suite #3

Suite #3

Suite #3

Suite #3 courtyard

Suite #3 courtyard

You can have a piece of Drift House to take home with you. Their plush beds are available to order. King Koil mattresses delivered straight to your door – a nice take home purchase. I was tempted.

Suite #4

Suite #4

Suite #4

Suite #4

To be honest, you probably wont leave the room. Periodicals, books and movies will have you wrapped up on the couch. And high speed free wifi for those itching to have some touch with reality is available to each suite. The breakfast basket with sourdough, eggs, jams, yoghurt allows you to make the kind of brunch you really want.

Cook for your loved one in the kitchenette – there’s pasta and sauces in the maxi bar. Or venture up the road a few blocks and have wood fired pizza and wine at Coffin Sally. Either way, stay more than one night. And come back, because being in one suite will leave you wanting to try another.

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Design orientated, sophisticated.
ROOM PICK: All, but a soft spot for #One.
WIFI: Yes, complimentary.
CHECKING: 3PM check-in | 11AM check-out.
BREAKFAST: A basket selection.
RATES: From $375 AUD p/n.
CHILDREN: Adults only.
IN-ROOM: Library, kitchenette, bathtub (none in #2), TV, DVD's, robes, Grown Alchemist products, candles, bath salts (home-made), Nespresso coffee machine.
MINI BAR: Champagne, biscuits, jams, pasta, chocolate, crisps, Parmesan. Do purchase as they are not overpriced.

Bookings are available directly through their website.
www.drifthouse.com.au

 

 

THE PULLMAN, MELBOURNE

There's nothing like being in the city, but not feeling it at the same time. The Pullman in Albert Park is one of those spots where you can be on time to your meetings but sleep right through the night.

This hotel really is selling to businesses. And while I'm a fly in fly out kind of guest, I couldn't pick a better spot for the low fuss Melbourne visitor (avoid during Grand Prix). Trams on your doorstep will take you straight to the CBD, South Yarra and St Kilda, so you're not short of dining and boutiques. The Lake on one side, Botanic Gardens on the other, gives you two 3.5-5 kilometre running tracks (or walking in my case).

But what really brings me back to this spot for an overnight option is the rain shower. Newly renovated rooms give what would normally be a cookie cutter hotel some personality. The walk-in rain shower gives you that on-holiday feeling when the immense power of the water starts. There's something so spa and retreat about it.

In built charging connectivity for USB.

In built charging connectivity for USB.

Walk in rainshower. Unexpected luxury.

Walk in rainshower. Unexpected luxury.

Deep basins and Bigelow amenities provided.

Deep basins and Bigelow amenities provided.

King beds are split - to be expected.

King beds are split - to be expected.

The funky interior, with mirrored lamps and red accents can be a sign of design a bit lost, but they get a plus from me for Bigelow Apothecary amenities in the room and a useable work station. Stay here if you're on business, but don't overlook it for a no fuss vacation base either.

Rooms start at $135 via Wotif or Last Minute, depending on season.

http://www.pullmanalbertpark.com.au/

 

THE KIMBERLEY

One of the most exclusive places in Australia, not because it screams luxury, but because it gives you something you can’t buy: untouched privacy. This was one of those once in a lifetime experiences. You don’t go to the Kimberley for a relaxing getaway. You don’t go to stay in a luxe resort (although I will point you in the right direction). You go to get Australia under your skin. Everything about the region seeps inside you. The air, the heat, the humidity, the dust, the danger, the silence. If there is one thing that is humbling, it’s being somewhere that seems to be controlled by God. You can be climbing the cliff of your life, in ninety percent humidity, thinking you cannot sweat any more, only to be pummelled with monsoon rain at the top. It felt like someone was trying to put me in my place. But it’s worth it.

There are no tracks, no safety signs. If you lose your way, you’re most likely screwed (the boat companies I recommend have excellent staff so it wont happen). It takes a while for it to sink in that, I am all alone out here, and no one is ever coming to find me (unless you're on a super swish cruise, with a Bear Grylls guide and champagne at the end of the day).

Adansonia Gregorii - or the Boab tree. Endemic to the Kimberley, other species found in Madagascar, Africa and Arabia. These were over 700 years old.

Adansonia Gregorii - or the Boab tree. Endemic to the Kimberley, other species found in Madagascar, Africa and Arabia. These were over 700 years old.

Fresh water swimming under a water fall. Despite being on the coast, swimming is only permitted in the fresh water due to Salt Water Crocodiles.

Fresh water swimming under a water fall. Despite being on the coast, swimming is only permitted in the fresh water due to Salt Water Crocodiles.

So while this is more a travel post, as opposed to my normal hotel reviews, the experience is about booking accommodation that will take you there. There are many ways to explore the Kimberley. You can take a Landcruiser across the Gibb River Road (next on my list), fly in and out of Broome (see my Broome post) to see the King George Falls or cruise the coast. A two-week cruise was a way to stay in hotel style accommodation and explore the coast thoroughly. The Kimberley isn’t smattered with resorts, accommodation is few and far and wide, so this experience was unexpectedly comfortable when looking at the harsh land in front of me.

With many options available to you with cruises, it’s hard to say what’s the best. Two weeks is a long time, and requires a lot of energy. There was hiking every day, getting in and out of dinghy boats, and while everything was provided and done for by the staff on my boat, there is a certain challenge you mentally need to overcome. Stuck on a boat for two weeks, there isn't an option to give up. The experience really does make you stronger.

My trip was on the tail end of the wet season, which is one of the best times of year to go, because the waterfalls are still full. The heat and humidity is almost unbearable, but addictive at the same time. I gave up on my painful hair and make-up routine after three days, and subsequently refused any photos of myself.

Standing at the top of King George Falls, after a vertical climb on unstable rocks, bashing through the wild, my breath was taken away by the view. No one could take that away from me. Peering over the edge my heart was racing. The slightest slip and I'd be falling to my end.  But in that moment, in the blistering heat, ninety percent humidity, I just felt free. I hope to get back to that spot one day.

It's hard not to get wrapped up in the bird watching,  Bradshaw Art, and Salt Water Crocodiles who stalk you for miles on end hoping to snap a limb, but I felt most educated on the region when the sun was going down, having a BBQ on an island with fresh Barramundi we had caught that day. There was something about eating the local produce and just watching the sky, which would change from blue to orange, to purple then red, giving us a grand finale of a full moon reflected on the ocean. It was there I felt the Kimberley had invited me in to it's home.

I stayed courtesy of Kimberley Quest on their 14 day Ultimate Quest, departing from Broome and finishing in Kununurra. Prices during the wet season for a twin cabin start $13,305 per person including food. More information can be found at their website. 

Kimberley Quest
http://www.kimberleyquest.com.au

Also recommended: True North Cruises
http://www.northstarcruises.com.au

Qantas flies twice daily to Broome from Perth
http://www.qantas.com.au