victoria

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/

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

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/