Saturday, 24 September 2016

Accommodation that is charmingly and rustically English

Walking up the two levels of stairs to the upper rooms of the gorgeous old Swan Hotel it is easy to feel disoriented; as if you have enjoyed one or two glasses of red wine too many. 

The reason is because the stairs are of different sizes, heights and angles - due to the fact they date back to the 1550s. 

Yes, you read that right, the oldest parts of this charming old coaching in the rural county of Norfolk  date back almost to the era of King Henry XIII. 

There are 15 rooms in all; some as modern as the 1800s. There are bars, a restaurant, lounge, and quirky charm galore. 

Harleston is a delightful market town around 30 minutes from Norwich and the perfect base from which to explore the beautiful and totally unspoiled Waveney Valley. 

Rooms start from £60 a night and go up to £95 for a four-poster bed and £135 for the honeymoon suite. 

If you like a little slice of England as she used to be you've come to the right place. 

Both the town and the hotel are old school, charming and well worth exploring. And, if you are reading this, the free wifi works well. 

The Swan, The Thoroughfare, Harleston, Norfolk. 01379 852221 

A Paris hotel for those in a towering hurry

The Mercure Paris Centre Eiffel Tower is one of those hotels that actually lives up to its name. 

It is literally two blocks from the Eiffel Tower, on the same street as the Australian Embassy - expensive real estate. 

Being in the perfect location for anyone who wants to get up close and personal with Gustave Eiffel's masterpiece might explain the elevated prices guests pay here. 

A walk up at the hotel last night paid well over €200 for a basic box of a room with a frankly tiny shower and bathroom.  

Those lucky enough to get upgraded to a "privilege" room were rewarded with the use of a bathrobe (which was far too small for me) and complimentary water and soft drinks. Certainly don't expect anyone to help with your bags, or hail you a cab. 

The rooms offered free wifi, iPhone chargers and other basics but were unremarkable other than for their bright decor. 

Now Paris is an expensive city. Understood. And the young staff at the Mercure were keen and multilingual. 

But the prices here (€4.50 for a small bottle of soft drink) mark the hotel as one aimed firmly at the lazy tourism market. 

If you have one night in town and absolutely want to be at the Eiffel Tower then it is perfect. Otherwise....

Mercure Paris Eiffel Tower, 20 rue Jean Rey, Paris 75015. 0825 80 17 17.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

A two star Michelin lunch experience

Lunch at La Table de Franck Putelat at Le Parc in Carcassonne, France. 

A slick, suave experience with impressive food and slightly snotty service. I was the guest of a winery, so will focus here on the good experience. 

Chef Putelat has held two Michelin stars since 2012 and although he was not in evidence the kitchen still delivered. 

Almost full on a Wednesday out of peak season. A positive sign. Many guests were no doubt drawn by the excellent-value €40 lunch deal including a glas of wine - but we went the Full Monty. 

A couple of inventive amuse bouche offerings; followed by olive oil with foccacia; then a boullaibausse with duck foie gras, mussels, clams and saffron followed by a wonderfully moist and fresh piece of John Dory served with chewy sea snails, potatoes and parsnips. 

Coffee came with a delightful, and colourful, selection of bite-sized sweet things. 

The set menu offers formidable value even allowing for some slightly shoddy service and an impossibly complicated system to access the wifi. 

La Parc, Table de Franck Putelat, 80 Chemin des Anglais, Carcassonne. 

# The writer was a guest of Domaine Paul Mas. 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Seppelt looks forward after 150 years at Great Western

After a short period when it looked as if Seppelt's historic Great Western facility would be closed for good, things are once again looking bright, although the winemaking has been switched to South Australia.

A deal with a local business group means the cellars and 3km of atmospheric underground cellars will remain open to the public – and wine tastings will continue as normal.

It is, in fact, a time of celebration with one of the oldest cellar doors in Australia marking its 150-year anniversary and the 50th release of its iconic old-vines St Peters Shiraz.

Owners Treasury Wine Estates are now including Seppelt as part of their “Regional Gems” initiative announced in January to showcase smaller regional wineries.
Seppelt is one of the oldest wineries in Victoria, with a history dating back to 1865 – but there is nothing old- fashioned about the brand.

Winemaker Adam Carnaby recently showed off an outstanding table wine made from 100% pinot meunier, and announced that future plans involve a gruner veltliner made from the company's cool Drumborg vineyards.
Tours of the property’s underground wine drives — which were hand-carved by miners in the 1800s — will continue, and accommodation and function facilities will remain open.

The heart and soul of the wines is in the vineyards, much more so than where the wines are made,” Carnaby said. “When it comes to the wines, we are custodians of great vineyards.
We’ve got great resources — Drumborg down in south-western Victoria, which is a great cool-climate vineyard, 150 years of winemaking here in the Grampians and also vineyards in central Victoria, so the brand has never been in a better place than in recent times,” he said.
It’s feeling really positive.” 

Founded in 1851, Seppelt sources fruit from Great Western, Henty/Drumborg, and Heathcote. It was one of the first Australian wineries to produce commercial sparkling wines and helped pioneer sparkling shiraz.

Some of Australia's greatest winemakers have worked at the facility, including founder Joseph Best, Hans Irvine, Benno and Karl Seppelt, Colin Preece and Ian McKenzie.   

# The writer was a guest of Seppelt Great Western

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Micro brewing booms in North-East Victoria

Three new micro-breweries crafting on-site and serving up a range of handmade ales have joined the four founding members of Victoria's High Country Brewery Trail, which now extends the length and breadth of the region.
The newcomers are Social Bandit Brewing Company in MansfieldBlizzard Brewing Company in Dinner Plain and the Rutherglen Brewery (below). 

They join the four established north-east Victorian craft brewers: the Bright BreweryBlack Dog Brewery in TaminickBridge Road Brewers in Beechworth and Sweetwater Brewing Company in Mount Beauty. 

To  celebrate the new-look trail, all seven brewers will converge on Blizzard Brewing on September 21 to brew a commemorative Belgian Ale under their established High Country Brewery Trail label, Rule #47. 

For the first time, the event will be the focus of a Facebook Live session at 12.30pm when Australian Brews News hosts a live Q&A from Blizzard with two of the High Country brewers, Ben Kraus from @Bridge Road Brewers and James Booth from @Black Dog Brewery.
The Rule #47 brew will be sold in cans (pictured) rather than bottles, as well as on tap at each of the microbreweries around the region.
The High Country Brewery Trail now meanders from Mansfield at the foot of Mt Buller through the picturesque Goulburn Valley to the foot of the Warby Ranges, along the King and Ovens valleys, climbing the Alpine peaks to Dinner Plain, descending to the Kiewa Valley and across the Murray River plains to Rutherglen. It offers a perfect way to explore the entire High Country region.

Rule #47: Life is short, don’t waste it on bad beer.

For details see 

Vietnam resort ready to challenge Thailand

Thailand and Bali. Many Australian travellers s have visited both destinations several times and are looking for somewhere new for their next Asian adventure. 

The operators of The Anam, a new Vietnamese beach resort outside Nha Trang, are betting that Vietnam is the next big thing. 

The Anam is an independently-operated luxurious all-villa five-star resort that aims to set a new benchmark in hospitality at the resort destination.

Looking to combining "colonial-era charm and service with 21st-century design and convenience", The Anam has just undergone a soft opening ahead of a grand opening at the end of the year.

Set on a private beach and staffed with butlers, valets and concierge staff, The Anam aims to hark back to a bygone era of service and style. 

Will it work? I'll hopefully report back later in the year. 

“Vietnam is known for its genuine, warm-hearted people and a dedicated attitude to life. At The Anam we embrace this natural advantage by offering highly discerning levels of service while ensuring guests enjoy uniquely curated destination and resort experiences,” said GM Duncan MacLean. 

“We are extremely proud that despite having only recently opened, The Anam is one of only six hotels and resorts worldwide to be recognised and included in the World Luxury category by Worldhotels,” he added.

Accommodation includes suites and villas, including beachside accommodation with private pools. The on-site Sri Mara Spa, named after the first Cham King, offers a range of private treatment rooms with all the therapists trained in the art of Balinese massage.

A wide range of recreational activities – from water sports to tennis and yoga – plus a fully equipped fitness centre allows guests to create their own agenda each day - and the private beach is patrolled by internationally certified lifeguards trained by Surf Life Saving Australia.

A Beach Club sits right next to the pool and there’s also Satay Bar and the resort’s signature Indochine CafĂ©. 

The Anam is located on Northern Cam Ranh Peninsula, just 15 minutes from Cam Ranh International Airport, and 30 minutes from Nha Trang city centre.

To celebrate its four-month soft opening phase until December 21, The Anam is offering a special 40% soft opening discount. 

For more details see:

Friday, 16 September 2016

Friday Feasts: Tasmania's new gourmet drawcard

It's a lunch in the country, combined with a farm tour to get up close and personal with the resident pigs, cows, chickens, and vegetables. 

But Tasmania's newest gourmet drawcard is no ordinary lunch, and this is no ordinary farm tour. 

We are at the 70-acre Fat Pig Farm, home of TV's Gourmet Farmer, and the food is cooked in an open kitchen by Matthew Evans himself and some of his trusty helpers, including cookbook author and stylish stylist Michelle Crawford. 

The new restaurant on the Evans farm in the Huon Valley is rustic but delightfully stylish and bookings for the rest of the year are filling fast because meals are served just one day a week - on Fridays. 

This is locavore lunches taken to the extreme. Look, lunch and learn.

All the meat and vegetables are grown, cooked and eaten on the property, and the first wine is from a vineyard that you can see through the window. 

"We are literally driven by the garden, by what is growing each Friday," says Evans, who runs the farm with his partner Sadie Chrestman. 

The lunches - today's was just the third, are held in an informal long-table setting and draw both locals and interstate guests. Evans talks about his ethos and ideas and proudly shows off a rapidly expanding potager to his guests between main course and dessert. Questions are welcome.

The food is simple but delicious. A bacon and bean soup on arrival, followed by ham, pastrami, rhubarb pickle and a radish, paired with wood-oven-baked focaccia and house-churned butter.

Next up; nettle and feta spinach pie in home-made filo served with a salad of Japanese turnips, winter cress, and greens. Good enough to convert the most avid carnivore.

The main course is moist Wessex saddleback roast pork with a mountain of crackling, served with wine-braised leeks, roasted potatoes, carrots, parsnips, pumpkins, and fennel. Help yourself to as much as you can eat, with maybe some extra crackling. 

After our farm tour, where we met young pigs and ultra-healthy looking vegetable plots, we feast on old-school golden syrup dumplings with warm custard served alongside a blackcurrant and gin hot toddy in a camp-style mug. 

Today's drinks include Elsewhere Vineyard 2013 Riesling, Bruny Island Lighthouse Ale and Home Hill Landslide Pinot Noir, but Willie Smith's Cider and wines from the likes of Sailor Seeks Horse also make an appearance depending on the menu. All are made within a half hour of the farm. 

To book for a Friday Feast, farm picnic or cooking class, go to or ring 0415 168 285. Friday Feasts are a fixed price of $130, fully inclusive of the farm tour, long, lazy lunch and matched drinks. 

# The writer was a guest of Fat Pig Farm