New Orleans dragged me in and kept me under her spell for four days. The music was incredible, the food so enjoyable, the hurricane cocktails addictive and of course the people were so interesting and full of magic. I had the pleasure of reliving my Nawlins’ visit recently for Flight Centre’s brand new Travel Ideas magazine, and you can check out the story here, the whole mag here, or grab a printed copy in any store.
This week I did a live spot on the Sky Business channel during a program called Business Class. I was talking about a piece I wrote for OUTthere magazine about Cool Winter Hotspots. I’m obviously no TV professional, but it was fun challenging myself to broadcast a travel story in a different way. Excuse the lo-fi approach of filming the TV!
I’ll be honest, I’m not that into gardens. I think they’re beautiful and take such great skill and vision, but I personally love spending time in the wild and less manicured landscapes. Yet I was proved wrong at Alnwick Garden, set alongside the grounds of Alnwick Castle with it’s carefully plotted landscape – it’s more of an artistic statement than a garden.
Here’s a little bit of context for you. The gardens and castle are in Alnwick, Northumberland, in the north of England getting close to the border with Scotland. The castle has had it’s fair share of “visitors” in it’s position as one of the first points the Scots tried to conquer over the years. The Percy family bought the rights (or the barony in the old) to the castle in 1309 and have kept ownership ever since. A bit of gossip for you, George Percy, heir to the castle was rumoured to be dating Pippa Middleton a while back, which proved unfounded but would have made for a great story if true!!
You might have seen the castle in a little film called Harry Potter. It’s used for exterior and interior shots as Hogwarts and yes, there are kids running round the grounds to this day, dressed as Harry and Hermoine.
The lady of the house, the Duchess of Northumberland, Isobel Percy has developed Alnwick Gardens into the incredible drawcard for the region that it is today. While she has stepped down from her role as head of the gardens, they are just as beautiful today. Originally designed by Jacques and Peter Wirtz, internationally renowned garden designers, the gardens are a must visit in the region.
The Wirtz signature style features an architectural green structure – at Alnwick this means hornbeam-covered pergolas, yew topiary, box and beech hedges. The landscape is eclectic, from the gentle waves of colour and scent in the Rose Garden to the over the top water displays of the Grand Cascade.
The water sculptures have been created by William Pye, one of the world’s leading water sculptors, who brings art and science together in his work. Each one is made from mirror-polished stainless steel.
After wandering the gardens it was time for lunch at the incredible Treehouse Restaurant in the grounds. It’s high up in the treetops, with a roaring log fire in the centre of the room and trees growing through the floor. Most importantly, the locally-inspired food is delicious and mainly sourced from Northumberland. I had the lamb rump, a melt in your mouth hunk of lamb.
I travelled to Alnwick Castle and Gardens with Trafalgar, who offer a number of itineraries taking in this part of England. Check out the Trafalgar website for more guided holiday info.
It’s cold where I am right now so it might seem crazy wanting to be somewhere even colder, but Les Chalet des Fermes de Marie in Megève, France, knows how to do cold. Imagine sitting by this fire all day, reading, sipping, napping, only to be broken by a few little ski runs to get the blood pumping. Now that’s my perfect winter day.
If you’re flying with Rex (and their affiliates) this month keep an eye out for my piece about Cool Winter Hotspots in Australia. You can read the whole thing here. With winter increasingly looking like a thing of the past for large parts of Australia, get in while you still can – skiing, rugging up in your winter coat and enjoying some fine reds by a crackling fire down south.
I recently travelled to Queensland to check out the multi-million dollar facelift that Airlie Beach had recently undergone. I was up there just before the work started so it was great to be able to do a ‘compare and contrast’ exercise to see how far it had come. In the past you’d be forgiven for thinking Airlie Beach was backpackers haven and all others should give it a wide berth. Now, it’s a whole different story. In the couple of years since my last visit I was really pleased to see some fabulous cafes and restaurants as well as great accommodation options.
We’d heard about Deja Vu Restaurant and their locally famous Sunday Long Lunch, so after a beautiful facial at Airlie Day Spa, we sat down to the 8-course degustation lunch around the gorgeous infinity pool, with a delicious mojito to start.
Over the course of about two hours, our table of four was treated to eight fabulous (and very generous) courses of share plates from the husband and wife, chef and front of house team. On a Sunday afternoon the place is packed so it’s a good idea to make a reservation. Ask for poolside seats to really take advantage of the tucked away location, with a view that gives a completely different perspective over Airlie Beach. You’ll definitely want to dip your toes in the pool so wear shoes you can kick off under the table, even take your swimmers! Some diners have been known to end up in the pool after lunch (and a few chilled sauv b’s no doubt!).
The dish of the day award goes to the Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder. It had beautifully charred bits and perfectly tender, melt in your mouth, textbook lamb shoulder, served on vinegar rice with snow peas. The vinegar rice really lightened the dish up, bringing it back to being a light, summery take on slow cooked lamb.
I didn’t get pics, but we also enjoyed a lovely salad, chicken pizza and mussels in a thai broth. All delicious. You can check out the current long lunch menu here.
But you know what the best part was….the 8-course menu is $44.50pp! This really is a steal and the perfect place for a long, lazy lunch. Next time you’re in Airlie Beach, make this your go to for a Sunday afternoon.
I travelled as a guest of Whitsundays Marketing and Development Limited.
A few years back I lived in Melbourne and a venue called The Botanical was in my neighbourhood. The Bot, as we called it, was a Melbourne institution – known for long lunches, even longer dinners and a good night out in the champagne bar out the back. One of the things that made The Botanical so great was the service, and that was led by Erez Gordon. Erez’s style of service is exemplary, but delivered with such ease it’s like you’re catching up with an old friend…who likes to pour you generous glasses of wine! Chef Paul Cooper hit Erez’s radar when he hired him to work the pans at The Botanical, just as Erez was exiting. Paul spent time in the kitchen at London’s Pied a Terre and is considered a nose to tail specialist.
The guys now live in Sydney with young families and have teamed up to open Bishop Sessa in Surry Hills. I had to try it.
I’ve never really put it out there online, but I’m pregnant at the moment. All the good stuff seems to be off limits to me at the moment, so I called ahead to let them know. It was clear from the beginning that they understood what a pregnant woman needs, as well as her dining companion!
We decided to try the six-course degustation, mine at $69 food only, and my partner’s at $119 with matched wines. Over the six courses, only three were modified for me, but the modifications were spot on. I started with an heirloom tomato salad and my partner had wild Yellowtail Kingfish, green beans, crème fraiche and smoked eel veloute, matched with a glass of Manzanilla (sherry). I had a sip of the sherry and my god it was good. Even with my tomatoes it worked.
The Roasted Ayelsbury duck breast (mine was cooked a little longer so it wasn’t rare) with beetroot, turnip and a delicious mulled wine dressing was succulent and well matched with the very interesting 2012 O’Leary Walker Pinot Noir from Adelaide Hills.
Technique shone through in the final savoury dish, the potato wrapped, red wine braised Wagyu with mushroom and bacon ragout and a rich smoked tomato sauce. This completely sells it short, but it felt like a very grown up, very refined sausage roll. And I mean that as a MASSIVE compliment. Who doesn’t love meat delivered in a crispy shell? It was wintery, satisfying and a beautiful combination with a few sips of 2012 Mandoleto Nero d’Avola from Sicily.
We sat down stairs where I felt we benefitted from Erez’s attentive service and got to watch all the comings and goings and the bar. Tthere’s also a room upstairs which was really lively, and jumping on the Friday night we were there. I highly recommend dinner at Bishop Sessa and can’t wait to head back myself.
527 Crown Street (The old Tabou restaurant)
Surry Hills, NSW
Phone 02 8065 7223