I sent this blog post out into the world last week but have since had a lovely update on discovering art once you’re out of the big smoke. I received in the mail (how nice to actually have something delivered by the postman) a little booklet/brochure of Renaissance Tours Summer and Autumn 2021 cultural tours.
Lately I have heard people lament that they can’t travel overseas and that they can only take their holidays in Australia. Well, a big bloody ‘boohoo’ to them. This vast, beautiful, strange and curious country has so much to indulge in. And away from the action-packed adventures to be had there’s a wealth of cultural experiences that are up for grabs that are introduced via special itineraries with Renaissance Tours.
Two took my eye that almost matched up with my piece below.
Regional Galleries of New South Wales – Orange, Bathurst and the Blue Mountains from 18-23 April, 2021. Highlights include meeting local artists in their studios, having a private guided tour of the significant Orange Regional Gallery and there’s a visit to an award-winning cellar door for a wine tasting – well, art does make one thirsty.
And there’s another one, Art Galleries of Regional Victoria – Bendigo, Ballarat and the NGV Ian Potter Centre for 18-23 April 2021.
And others are calling me too – William Morris in Adelaide, 11-17 April 2021; New Art Spaces of Tasmania, 26 April to 5 May, 2021 and there are garden tours, ancient landscapes and sacred sites to view, a music festival, Opera in the Yarra Valley, Northern Rivers Food Trail and many more cultural delights to uncover and discover in Australia.
Regional art galleries throughout Australia offer a vital contribution to the community’s cultural life. Emerging artists are promoted and travelling exhibitions will see works by artists that are of the highest quality and internationally recognised. If you are lucky enough to catch the gallery’s curator, there’s the opportunity for a yarn about local artists, local history and perhaps a bit of council gossip. Whomever is working at the gallery shop (wonderful for gifts) is a wealth of local info too. Take your credit card with you as this is where you might snap up the next Dobell, Blackwell, Margaret Preston or Grace Cossington Smith.
Here are a few worth putting on the wish list:
Bega Valley Regional Art Gallery, Bega on the far south coast of NSW;
Meroogal House, Meroogal, Nowra, South Coast NSW, a gothic-style house where four generations of women lived until the 1980s when it became a museum of domestic life;
Tweed Regional Gallery and Margaret Olley Art Centre, Murwillumbah, northern NSW;
Bathurst Regional Gallery, Bathurst, central west NSW;
Bendigo (pictured) and Ballarat in Victoria are the heavyweights of regional galleries. Travelling exhibitions, Lyndsay family works, the Eureka Flag – both stunning and worth a slow walk round the rooms;
The Aboriginal Art House, Hahndorf, SA. The gallery has a wide range of Indigenous art and artefacts along with explanations of the various symbols in the artworks.
Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm on the Dampier Peninsula far north Western Australia, has a stunning pearls on exhibit and pearl shell carvings ‘Riji” by Indigenous Bardi men.
Bunbury Regional Art Gallery, WA is housed in a peachy-pink heritage building.
Stanthorpe Regional Gallery, in the Granite Belt, Qld is a new building with exciting exhibitions – and indeed, prospects.
It’s not regional, only a few kms from Hobart but MONA in Tassie is one of the most provocative and exciting galleries in Australia. Go for the experience and go with an open mind.
The most exciting thing to happen in the regional art world is the advent of Wall art and Silo Art. Towns such as Benalla in north east Victoria has an annual Wall art festival which see the town all buzzy and beautiful welcoming the cream of young artists painting walls. And their biggest fans are the Baby Boomers who travel the towns and are familiar with the artists’ work, talk to them and are encouraging. The Silo Art Trail in Victoria shows stunning work done on the high, decommissioned silos. Often the paintings are of local farmers representing the legacy of those on the land.
Australia’s capital city is a little different to those of other countries; it is confined to a territory and is surrounded by the bush, with a mountain range in the backdrop.
It really began as a rather vast paddock with a view of the Brindabella mountain range to the west, the high country snow fields to the south and the Pacific Ocean way over to the east. And that precious piece of Australian territory became the seat of parliament – the Australian Capital Territory, the ACT.
The place was decreed in 1913 and as early as 1908, tenders were put out internationally to design this new city. And Walter Burley Griffin won the toss and the rest is history.
I talked to a local sheep farmer a few years back (beautiful grazing land here) and he said he imagined that Canberra was designed on a template in the sky and plonked down on a bare paddock. Having not thought about this comment for ages, I recalled it recently when I saw a picture taken of the newly built Hotel Kurrajong Canberra from the early 1920s. It sits alone with an odd gum tree observing in bewilderment at the long, two-storey habitat floating in a sea of dirt and space.
And as the elegant building still sits in the same place now with a sophisticated city built up around it and the rooms filled with memories and perhaps the odd ghost – the gum tree has lived its life and has been replaced by thousands more in this ultimately green city.
The hotel was designed by Commonwealth Chief Architect, John Smith Murdoch, also renowned for designing Old Parliament House and built during the Australian Capital Territory’s alcohol prohibition years. There was a strong Temperance Movement in Australia (hard to fathom!) but never full-on prohibition – except for the ACT from 1910-1928 – when new liquor licenses were banned. The writing was on the wall for the pollies!
Hotel Kurrajong accommodated officials transferred from Melbourne to set up Australia’s new capital, Canberra. The hotel hosted officials and press for the opening of Parliament House in 1927 and continued as a home to Members of Parliament, their families and public servants for years to come.
It was basically one of three ‘hostels’ built in the fledgling capital. It catered to single people or couples (married, natch) with no kids. For almost half a century it provided residential accommodation for Members of Parliament. Basically an upmarket boarding house in a country town.
Today’s hotel is more than a shadow of its former self. There’s a calm elegance to the hotel that starts to creep up on you as soon as you arrive.
The garden in front of the entrance when I arrived at the beginning of summer was awash with a crowd of English Tea Roses – pink, fluffy fragrant blooms displayed in the garden.
The lobby, reflecting the Art Deco ambience is cool and collected – a fire flickers in the original fireplace (modern gas) alight even in summer to add to the old school ambience of the lobby with quirky chairs surrounding the fireplace. Chairs are of different designs, to give colour and variety to the welcoming space. Look down – Oscar winning designer Catherine Martin designed the 4m x 5m rug in the lobby.
Rooms (there are 147 of them, with 26 in the heritage wing) are large and have the calming edge with blues, charcoals, a dash of silver, dove grey and a pop of colour in the framed wall prints. The room 205 (the numbering has now changed with the renovation) is remembered as the room in which Ben Chifley (Australian politician who served as Prime Minister from 1945-1949) lived. He suffered a fatal massive heart attack in 1951. There have been various ghost sightings claimed over the years – apparently a grey-suited man manifests pointing towards Old Parliament House.
Big is beautiful as the bed spreads to eternity with the finest linen and some pretty damn fine pillows. Breakfast is in Chifley’s Bar and Grill, plus dinner served here as well – it’s mostly about the great steaks. The outdoor garden beckons on a fine day but best to stay indoors in the middle of winter and summer here.
Jay Hore, Hotel General Manager – Hotel Kurrajong Canberra, knows his way around the city and advises:
Why visit Canberra? “Not only is Canberra the national capital city and the administrative centre of the Australian government, it is the home of the Australian story! Canberra is a place that is a diverse, innovative and modern city that houses the stories of Australia. Whether it’s the world class national attractions or the bustling events calendar, Canberra has plenty to offer visitors of all ages. Couple this with a thriving food and wine scene and plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors (we’re called the bush capital for a reason), you’ll see that Canberra is a city full of surprises!
Don”t miss the Botticelli exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, opening 5 March 2021.
Maybe Canberra should be proud of the nickname ‘Bush Capital’, as the hospitality here has a warmth and the service offers friendly authenticity as a country town – that has been gently plonked down in the middle of a big paddock.
As I said last post ‘How to indulge in Tasmania’, Tassie is hot to trot as borders open up and folk are on the move. Following is more info to fit into the travel plan. This is provided content that I am happy to share as we are all in this together – domestic travel that is! Funny thing, I lived in Geeveston way back in the day when us youngsters would go apple picking and at the end of the season, every nationality gathered at the pub in Huonville and there was an unforgettable party. I was dancing on the bar, blokes were going in for the serious biff and chaos reigned . . . ah, my sweet days of youth. Perhaps a future blog on my Tassie adventure while picking apples and . . . But the area is so very nice now, and has much to offer the traveller . . . just keep yourself nice.
There are plenty of reasons to hang out in the region; some are new and some are as old as the mighty forests that flank its townships. The Huon Valley has been social distancing long before it was on trend, sitting on the edge of World Heritage Wilderness and often popping whole paddocks between neighbours. By its very nature, the valley is drawing visitors and a swag of new locals. Find out why with our top five picks:
Wilderness and wildlife – you’ve seen the pics; this patch is naturally epic. South West Wilderness Heritage Area is on the doorstep. Summit Hartz peak in a day, wander down to South Cape Bay or perch 30-metres above the forest floor at Tahune Airwalk. Venture underground at Hastings Caves and take a dip in the thermal springs. Don’t be surprised if wallaby eyes are watching on, the Huon Valley teems with wildlife. From migrating whales to Wedge-tailed eagles and wandering wombats, there is no shortage of impromptu appearances of the wild variety.
For the love of water vistas – they’re everywhere! Sip morning coffee served with mirror reflections on the Huon River. Dip a kayak paddle in lesser-known waterways deep in the Far South. Watch Huon pine boats bob down Cygnet or Franklin way, likely built near their mooring. Snap your Insta-worthy sunrises across winter misted waters or pour a Valley wine at sunset by the Southern Ocean. Water views come standard in these parts, punctuated by the hues of seasonal changes.
Delish produce – arrive hungry. That is all. This is ocean to plate, farmer to mouth kind of amazing. Pull on gumboots and meet rare pig breeds with Gourmet Farmer Matthew Evans or find out why Massaki Koyama’s Geeveston sushi is hailed by some as Australia’s finest. Meet craft cider makers, where apples don’t fall far from the ciderhouse at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed, Frank’s Ciderhouse & Cafe or Pagan Cider. Meet the innovative food and drink producers who choose the Huon Valley as home from Hansen Orchards apple growers to Tas Saff, now selling saffron nationwide through Coles and Woolworths, to the roadside stalls with produce and local blooms.
Creative inspo – there’s a bounty of prominent artists and makers in the valley; some national treasures who love the anonymity, others recent locals like potter Bronwyn Clarke, who found a natural clay seam running beneath her Deep Bay studio. Wander the artist studios and galleries, bring your sketch pad or sign up for a workshop. Lots is happening in the creative space including acclaimed producer and writer Posie Graham-Evans embarking on a McLeod’s Daughters TV series spin-off. Settle in to this inspiring hub and let the creativity flow. Did we mention Posie has accommodation known as the Writer’s House?
End of the road – that’s right, you can’t drive further south in Australia. Cockle Creek is literally the end of the road. Park your car at Australia’s southernmost parking lot and pull on your boots. The 4-5hour return walk to South Cape Bay is a cracker. When you get there, next stop is Antarctica. Breathe deeply – it’s some of the freshest air on the planet.
Keen to find out more about any of our five reasons to hang out in the Huon Valley? Pick your fave and we’ll handpick more detail to send your way. If it’s the southern wilds that take your fancy, let us shoot you the latest short walks. Want to connect with our creative community? We’ll fill you in on the current visitor offerings or an emerging landscape artist. If it’s food and drink experiences, we’ll provide your fill from cooking classes to our Pinot labels.
The tiny island of ‘Tassie’ has an abundance of attractions and experiences to be indulged in. After a long period of being unable to travel, here is where you will breathe easy, enjoy glorious nature and get a taste of the best of what the island has to offer.
Separated from the mainland by 240km of the unpredictable waters of Bass Strait, the island of Tasmania has a brutal history with its beginnings as a far flung penal colony for hardened villains. And as the island developed, logging, fishing and agriculture began to sustain the island state to become the southern area of Australia and the ‘mother country’s’ fruit basket.
Today, a visit is rich for experiences, from culinary to cool climate wineries, artistic culture to outdoor, natural excursions. Following are six highlights of Tasmania that have been pulled from a hat that is bursting with many more:
Start with arguably Australia’s most beautiful state’s capital city, Hobart. Well after colonial times and up to the 1960s Hobart was a sleepy town that had not progressed and its architecture and back story was ignored by the rest of the country. Now it proudly shows off what was or could have been demolished and forgotten. Places such as Battery Point, built in 1818 to house workers and merchants of the great port. This area is considered to be Australia’s complete colonial village, hardly changed since 1840. Hilly streets, quaint cottages and views to the sea and the imposing backdrop of Mount Wellington looming over Hobart. All that has changed here is the traffic and exorbitant real estate prices.
Constitution and Victoria Docks are the heart of Sullivans Cove where pleasure craft and small fishing boats tie up. Fancy some fish and chips? Perfect food for a wander round this precinct, which is all abuzz when the Wooden Boat Festival is held (every two years) and goes crazy as Constitution Dock is the finish line for the annual, prestigious Sydney to Hobart Race held when the yachts depart Sydney to sail south on Boxing Day.
The city offers stunning botanical gardens, waterside walks – and a trip up Mount Wellington is a treat – but damn cold in winter when snow often decorates the summit and the wind cuts through you.
As Tasmania is a gourmet’s passion there are many beautiful and innovative restaurants in the city and within a 30-minute drive out. For locally sourced food for taste heaven check out: Dier Makr; Fico; Franklin and The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery.
Salamanca Markets held along the dockside’s Georgian buildings is where you’ll find, fine artisan produce and arts and craft. There are small galleries here in the old warehouses that compliment big sister up the road, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
OH, MONA . . .
Embedded into the riverside cliffs along the Derwent and Moorilla Vineyard is an institution that has put Tasmania on the world map . . . MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art. This is one of the most exciting attractions ion Australia. Don’t come here looking for an immersion into the gentle art of paintings, come her to be excited, appalled, surprised and moved to tears and laughter. Drive there from the city, 15 minutes, or catch the ferry and enter up the stairs from the river bank. A visit to MONA is about your own experience – be provoked, be entertained.
This rugged island just a short sail from Hobart (best time to go from October to April) is a joy to behold on the journey there. Dolphins at play, gangs of sleepy seals playing possum on the rocks and sea birds swirling above. North and South Bruny are connected by a narrow strip of land called The Neck, which is easier to say than ‘isthmus’.
Take a day trip here or enjoy a few lazy days or spectacular bushwalks that come with ‘glamping’ holidays. Camped out in the bush here and being fed on local seafood and fresh Bruny oysters is irresistible.
South Bruny National Park is where the mighty dolerite cliffs around the southern capes stand; Cloudy Bay’s arc of dunes are the result of relentless ocean swells; Great Taylor’s Bay is a calm and sheltered spot where Bennett wallabies, Tasmanian pademelons and echidnas roam – like they own the place!
Don’t miss the path at Cape Bruny that leads you to the convict built lighthouse – the views from here are spectacular.
Over on the wild west coast you can do the locomotion on an historical train journey. All aboard for the West Coast Wilderness Railway, a restored 1896 rack-and-pinion railway that travels over 34km of river and forest track from Queenstown to Macquarie Harbour or from Strahan to Queenstown. There’s a full day or half day train trip and as you travel through pristine wilderness areas, you’ll cross deep gorges and wonder at the minds that planned this challenging and almost impossible and impassable terrain. All aboard now!
Freycinet National Park has the amazing combination of dramatic mountains, elegant beaches, silky smooth lakes – along along a narrow peninsular. The peaks of The Hazards light up with a tangerine glow at sunset in the summer and are covered in swirling mist during the cold months. Wonderful walks here and a view, before you descend to Wineglass Bay with its perfect beach of glowing white sand is spectacular.
Canoe along the inshore waters and paddling around Coles Bay offers up a splendid view of The Hazards.
Freycinet Lodge is pretty fancy for a stay and great views of Coles Bay. From waterview rooms and restaurants, after a relax, there are organised walks and outdoor activities – if you can tear yourself away from the deck!
Full on posh is the divine Saffire Lodge, a luxurious experience for fine dining, fine spa treatments and a damn fine view of The Hazards when you look out your windows. There’s a trip to Coles Bay to shuck your own oysters while standing in the bay (in waterproof waders) and sipping a glass of bubbly. Nothing could be finer . . .
TASTE OF THE NORTH
Maybe it’s the landscape, or simply the Pinot Noir, but there’s something magical and charming about Josef Chromy Wines. Set 10 minutes outside of Launceston on Tasmania’s northern coast, the winery is housed inside an estate established in 1880, and views stretch out towards the rolling hills and slopes that are covered in vines.
Here, enjoy the total winery immersion event: Sample the Pinot and Chardonnay that the winery is famously known for. As the Tamar Valley’s most notable vineyard, Josef Chromy Wines offers exceptional culinary experiences, from basic tastings at the cellar door to tours pairing wine and chocolate. For a full experience at the winery and restaurant, join a tour that goes ‘behind the label’ for a glimpse of the winemaking process, which is then followed up by an exquisite meal, perfectly paired with the wine. Josef Chromy Wines is located 4 minutes south of the town of Relbia and 10 minutes south of Launceston.
And there’s so many experiences to have here, just sort through Tasmania’s box of tricks which includes: the city of Launceston on the Tamar River; Cradle Mountain; historic Richmond and Port Arthur.
I do love a bit of tradition, especially tradition that has a gentle message. While staying at the elegant Metropole Hanoi hotel (Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi), just strolling through the corridors of the original building (built in 1901 by the French colonists) you can see and feel the essence of Indochine and hope to understand this (first) luxury hotel built in the city.
The hotel has a few famous ghosts that shuffle through the corridors when the lights go off and guests are tucked between their immaculate cotton bed linen. Rich dark brown timbers creak mildly underfoot in the rooms and the walls wear the patina of stories told and sold.
Author of many fine books, Graham Greene including The Quiet American spent time here (Suite 228)working on his books and watching the last days of the decline of French colonisation and CIA intrigue. This book and the film has endured and like the French (here from 1887-1954) has left its mark on Hanoi.
The hotel has also outlived its original owners, the colonisers, the CIA, the Japanese, the Chinese, Americans, Australians and all others who came to snatch a slice of Vietnam.
The Metropole Hanoi is a much-loved hotel and I met a man who had been staying here annually since the early 80s. He recalled then that there was a food shortage, and the staff of the hotel were too shy (call that scared) to talk to guests because of the culture of spies that flitted in and out of the shadows as Vietnam began to consolidate as a communist country after a bloody and bitter conflict that lasted from 1955-1975.
There’s a short tour to be had at the hotel where much of the past is recorded in panels. There’s the famous image of Jane Fonda and her visit here with an anti-war message and also Joan Baez stayed here and was present during a hideously long bombing raid across Hanoi over Christmas in 1972. The United States Airforce unleashed Operation Linebacker II, its most intensive bombing campaign since WWII.
Baez and the hotel staff spent 11 nights of the bombardment in an underground bunker crammed with 40 people.
This small network of cells (below) is under the hotel’s back courtyard and was only unearthed during renovations in 2011. Now there’s a new and sad tradition that invited guest into the bunkers narrow rooms where they listen to a crackly, fuzzy tape recording of the bombing and the screams of a mother calling for her son.
Baez based her famous anti-war song Where Are You Now My Son on this incident and partly recorded it in the shelter. The music is punctuated by the thumps of bombs hitting the ground.
Vietnam has weathered many a squall and indeed centuries of storms – and lives and thrives to move on.
The Metropole Hanoi has withstood much and has kept its sense of style, its good manners, and is a shining example of what true hospitality is.
The Shining Ritual
And talking of shining, one of the charming traditions carried out every day at the hotel is the Shining Ritual.
The Shining Ritual indicates Sofitel’s refinement and unveils the secret of excellence through recurrent cleaning and polishing of the Sofitel Legend nameplate located at the hotel entrance.
Every day, hotel staff perform the Shining ritual using a red velvet towel and green tea to clean the brass plate and the bronze gong. In the past, only Royal families had access to velvet, a material symbolising luxury, elegance, quality and beauty. Red is the colour of luck, happiness and success. Green tea, besides having healthy benefits is also a cleaning agent in Vietnamese households.
The Gong, a musical instrument used by most highland ethnic groups in Vietnam, is believed to link people to the spiritual world and is also representative of Vietnam culture as a whole.
Writer Bev Malzard, stayed two nights in the divine Metropole, enjoyed a feast of a breakfast and an afternoon tea to write home about – which she will do as soon as she has shed the three kilos that curiously attached to her body after a three-hour High Tea. Mon dieu!
He insisted he was the most handsome of the two? You choose. I know I made my choice.
I wrote this post as the smoke pall was settling over Sydney and we were preparing to head outta town to support people in the rural areas. And then the hammer of Covid-19 slammed us, and we went into quarantine. Locked in and not going anywhere. As restrictions are cautiously being lifted we are dipping our toes outside the front door and longing for some wide open spaces. So here’s the previous post – and I’m making plans.
Following are a few towns, not necessarily bushfire affected but the drought and the idea of bushfires has kept visitors away from many places outside the cities and urban areas. Let me request that you head out with a full heart and an empty Esky. Buy local, eat local and shop local while visiting the towns. Let’s share some love.
Head out of Sydney to explore the central west. There are thriving towns, sleepy hollows and a wealth of innovation with a big, warm welcome when you drive into the towns. Stop by and spend a few $$$ as the towns are stretched because of the fierce drought that is affecting everyone out there. (Covid-19 put the nail in the proverbial as the visitors just couldn’t come.)
Farmers markets, gift shops, cafes all can benefit by a few dollars spent here. (Keep your showers short and your support long.)
Five Highlights of the NSW Central West:
Cowra Japanese Gardens.
Stroll around the stunning, elegant Japanese Garden.
This ultimate, tranquil experience is one to enjoy with a slow stroll, a picnic or view from the Japanese Tea House. Ken Nakajima designed the Cowra Japanese Garden based on the first landscape garden built by the Shogun Tokugawa during the Edo period of Japan, the 16th century.
There is the wartime legacy of Cowra with the solemn reminders of the Cowra Breakout, the POW Camp and the War Cemeteries. An uplifting sight in Cowra is the World Peace Bell set in Cowra’s Civic Square where you can listen to an audio presentation and even ring the bell.
Parkes has a host of festivals throughout the year and the big one is a celebration of Elvis Presley’s birthday in the second week of January. Thousands of visitors flock to Parkes to hear impersonators sing the King’s hits, dress up vintage-style and to dance in their blue suede shoes. If you aren’t driving, there’s the Elvis Express train that transports passengers to Parkes from Sydney and return. (There are many great packages to the festival to be had.)
Stay at Hotel Gracelands (where it all began) for great accommodation and a fab restaurant (with much better food than Elvis ever ate).
On the outskirts of Parkes is THE Dish, yes, that one. On the flat drive out to the CSIRO complex you drive on a road shaded by tall eucalypts. Paddocks spread before you, a few sheep are feeding and the scene is quiet and rather sparse. Then the Dish appears – so incongruous and so wonderfully familiar (for me, all because of the movie). Enjoy a cup of java at the Dish Café and watch and wait while it does a little turn. This sophisticated piece of scientific equipment stands in the middle of a sheep paddock just 20km from Parkes off the Newell Highway. There are many hands-on exhibits and a 3D theatre screening programs on space and astronomy (great stuff for kids and adults too).’
With the drought you could say ‘Orange is the new Brown’.
Orange is a wonderful, classy country town that is not famous for oranges – in fact there are no oranges grown in Orange. There is a fine legacy of agricultural business though and cherries are the orchards of choice and of course classic cool climate wines are produced in the surrounding vineyards. This country town has been gaining a strong foodie following for a few years now and the quality of produce, menu innovation and top shelf restaurants has given Orange a formidable reputation. The town is at an altitude of 862m so it’s a little cooler in summer that the sea level towns and there’s often a snow fall in winter. Mount Canobolas at 1395m is the local mountain, for a drive and a grand view of the city and surrounding countryside. (The information centre here is informative and there’s often an exhibition that’s worth stopping an extra day for.)
It’s about 200km west-northwest of Sydney and is the oldest inland settlement in Australia. The city has the classic wide streets and a plethora of heritage buildings from colonial to Federation to mid century modern. There’s a lot going on here and there’s a youthful feel as it’s a university town.
The food scene is innovative and I can totally recommend the jam and scone scene . . .
The Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG) is a standout among the nation’s regional art galleries. It’s smallish and has some spectacular exhibitions on display regularly.
This is five highlights only, among many, so next time you want to take a driving holiday in New South Wales, head west: stop off at Blackheath on your way before you cross the Blue Mountains, have a coffee and lemonade scones at Altitude; try the Servicemen’s Club at Cowra for a good club dinner; visit the Dubbo Western Plains Zoo and spend the day there, and walk around the old Dubbo Gaol for some jailhouse blues; sink your teeth into the best egg and bacon roll in Cumnock; check out pretty Molong and its blank silos waiting to be painted; the tiny town of Milthorpe between Orange and Blayney where there’s a one hat restaurant called Tonic that is the talk of the town; seek out the Bakery in Forbes for more light-as-a-feather scones; drive out of Condobolin (Condo) to view the ‘Utes in the Paddock’ outdoor exhibition of painted utes in various states – quite something to see, as is much of the Carbonne villages, roadside stalls, spectacular natural wonders, annual country events and generous and warm hospitality oozing authenticity and rustic charm.
I love cities that have many layers of history, where the stones speak of grim deeds, majestic events, innovative creations and the odd ghost. If your itinerary allows – spend some time in the atmospheric and elegant city of York, in Yorkshire, the UK’s second mediaeval city. Eat, drink, sleep and play – all budgets catered to.
Vikings, Romans and chocolate have all left a lasting impression on the historic city of York. Encircled by impressive ancient walls (the City Walls form a walkway on both sides of the River Ouse), it has a long and varied history. York has been named the most haunted city in Europe – a fact enhanced by the city’s many ancient and shadowy snickelways (a local term for narrow lanes, passageways and alleys).
York also boasts the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe, as well as the largest railway museum in the world, plus it has a comprehensive calendar of events and festivals, including the February Jorvik Viking Festival, March’s York Literature Festival, and September’s York Food & Drink Festival.
Not to forget the world-class horseracing meetings held from May to October each year at York Races – a favourite among racegoers since it was founded in 1731.
The York Minster is a magnificent building inside and outside. Construction in timber began in 627 and stands today as testament to overcoming invasion, war, vandalism, religious persecution and every damn thing humans could throw at it.
Modern day saints
My favourite little statues (above) can be found up above at the back of nave, above the entrance to York Minster. They are actually Semaphore Saints, each of them represents a letter. The twelve headless saints holding haloes are signalling in semaphore. Semaphore is a way of sending a message without a mobile phone! Using two flags, or in this case haloes, each letter of the alphabet has its own signal. Artists Terry Hammill carved these stautues for an exhibition in 2004.
During the sixteenth century Protestant reformers accused Catholics of praying to statues. In a bid to stop this they attacked statues, either getting rid of them completely or making them unrecognisable by removing the heads and haloes and the objects that identified them. There are many instances of this kind of damage in the Minster. The Semaphore Saints pay tribute to all thse that have lost their heads.
The Grand Hotel & Spa.
Set in a charming Victorian rectory, the Parisi is a small, friendly and affordable hotel. Or, with 101 rooms, casual restaurant, and a sumptuous colour palate inspired by York’s chocolate heritage, there’s the InterContinental Hotel Group’s boutique Hotel Indigo York.
And housed in the iconic former headquarters of the North Eastern Railway Company, The Grand Hotel & Spa is the city’s only five-star hotel, providing fabulous first-class service and facilities.
10:00Step up to York’s highest point
The largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe, York Minster took 250 years to build, from 1220 till its consecration in 1472. This hallowed landmark impresses with dazzling stained glass, historic artefacts and awe-inspiring architecture. It’s open for sightseeing every day, as well as for regular services, concerts and events (including the famous York Mystery Plays). For magnificent views, climb 275 winding steps, passing medieval pinnacles and gargoyles, to the top of the Minster’s central tower – the highest point in all of York.
11:30 Circumnavigate the city walls
Familiarise yourself with York by taking a walk around the City Walls. At 3.4km long, they are the longest and best-preserved medieval city walls in England. Taking approximately two hours to complete the entire circuit, you may prefer to focus on just a few sections – in which case, the Friends of York Walls website suggests various routes and trails.
13:30 Take away a ‘Shambles’ lunch
While exploring the Shambles, York’s oldest street, grab lunch from Shambles Kitchen. Famous for its pulled pork sandwich, other healthy options include street food boxes, soups and smoothies.
14:30 See the return of a steam-era superstar
The Flying Scotsman (a locomotive flagship for modernity in 1924) in York’s National Railway Museum had a complex and lengthy £4.2million overhaul three years ago. This is the largest railway museum in the world, other attractions include the mighty Mallard, which has held the world speed record for steam locomotives since 1938, the massive Chinese Engine, presented to the museum by the Chinese Government, and the only Shinkansen (Japanese Bullet Train) outside of Japan.
16:00 Go back in time for afternoon tea on a train
Travel back in time to an era of luxury railway dining aboard the Countess of York, a beautifully restored rail carriage stationed in the South Gardens of the National Railway Museum. Its Afternoon Tea is a civilised treat with a Yorkshire twist: sandwiches and savouries include Yorkshire blue cheese and red onion marmalade tart, scones are baked to a traditional Yorkshire recipe, and homemade fancies include Parkin crème brulee. Choose a fine leaf tea by Taylor’s of Harrogate.
17:00 Spot the little devil of Stonegate
Lined with shops, Stonegate is one of York’s most fascinating and photogenic streets. Craftsmen including goldsmiths and stained-glass makers had premises here in the Middle Ages, many leaving their mark on the historic buildings. The little red devil outside No. 33 was a traditional symbol of a printer – a printer’s apprentice being known as a “printer’s devil”.
18:30 Start dinner with proper Yorkshire puddings
The cousin of Michelin-starred country eatery The Star Inn, stylish The Star Inn The City specialises in authentic and delicious Yorkshire cooking. Yorkshire Puddings were traditionally served before, not with, a main meal – just as they are here. Other local flavours include Whitby crab, confit of east Yorkshire duck leg and plenty of Yorkshire beef. Served until 19.00, their two-course Market Menu is ideal for lunch or pre-theatre.
19:30 Open the curtains on a new production
A leading British theatre, York Theatre Royal has produced great drama for more than 250 years. Reopening in spring 2016 after a major £4.1million redevelopment project, productions include Shakespeare, opera, ballet and plays by famous UK and international playwrights.
10:00 Invade William the Conqueror’s ruined castle
William the Conqueror built York Castle in 1068 shortly after the Norman Conquest, to cement his status over this former Viking city. The castle endured a tumultuous early history and its keep, known as Clifford’s Tower, is almost all that remains. Standing high on its mound, this medieval ruin has served as a prison and a royal mint in its time. Once a lookout point for castle guards, the open-air wall walk at the top provides wonderful far-reaching views.
11:00 Experience prison life, the First World War & the Swinging Sixties
An increased demand for prison capacity in York in the 18th century required the construction of two new prison buildings below Clifford’s Tower: The Female Prison and Debtors’ Prison. These now form the York Castle Museum, with exhibitions illustrating York’s social and military history. Popular attractions for all the family include a recreated Victorian cobbled street with authentic shops, schoolroom, police cell and Hansom cab. Other galleries give a sense of prison life, portray the horror of the First World War, and recreate the spirit of the 1960s.
13:30 Confront a Fat Rascal at Bettys
The founder of Bettys Café Tea Rooms travelled on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary in 1936, and was so enthralled that he commissioned the same designers and craftsmen to create this elegant café – and it soon became a local landmark. Although there are plenty of tempting treats, Bettys is renowned for the Fat Rascal: an oval teacake with currants and candied peel, it goes well with a cup of Yorkshire tea.
14:30 See a sweet side to the city
While neighbouring towns made their wealth from wool, cotton and steel, York made its profits from chocolate. Some of the world’s best-known names in chocolate were concocted in York. Joseph Rowntree created bestselling brands including Kit Kat, Smarties and Aero, while Joseph Terry gave us the Chocolate Orange and All Gold collection – inextricably linked with York’s social and industrial past, these sweet empires are now part of Nestlé and Mondelēz International respectively. You’ll find evidence of this chocolate heritage throughout York. Goddard’s, the Terry family’s beautiful Arts and Crafts style home, is now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public. A major visitor attraction, York’s Chocolate Story, tells the rich tale of chocolate and confectionery in the city. There are also chocolate-themed walking trails, chocolate-making workshops, even an annual chocolate festival.
16:30 Get a chocolate retail fix
Chocolate connoisseurs should head to Monk Bar Chocolatiers, York’s longest established artisan chocolatiers.
19:00 Dine in a former brothel
Enjoy casual yet decadent dining at The Blue Bicycle, a former 19th-century brothel overlooking the River Foss. Couples may share a romantic meal in one of the original private vaulted booths, while old photographs of exotic girls are reminders of the building’s historic improprieties.
20:00 Unearth York’s spookiest secrets
York has a spooky past. Infamous highwayman Dick Turpin was executed here in 1739, and local folklore is full of similar tales of tragedy and death. Experience the shadowy side of York on one of numerous nightly ghost walks. These include the Original Ghost Walk of York. The eerie apparitions you’ll hear about include the Grey Lady, the Headless Earl, and the Legendary Legionnaires. Rather not walk? Try the Ghost Bus Tour, a professional comedy theatre company who present a mix of thrills, chills and chuckles on board a former funeral bus.
21:30 Whisky, gin…or a ghostly spirit
Afterwards, steady your nerve with a stiff drink at The Golden Fleece hotel, York’s most haunted pub. Said to have five resident spirits, there have been numerous reports of ghostly apparitions and moving furniture. Or sample a vast range of local and international craft ales at The House of the Trembling Madness, an atmospheric ale shop and inn that also serves pub food, snacks and shareable platters.
Writer’s tip: York is in the county of Yorkshire in the north of England, two hours north of London by train. The nearest international airports are Leeds-Bradford and Manchester Airport. Best to fly into Manchester and catch the train to York– quick as a wink!
Amid the tall and slender, new and shiny and fair and funky, there’s a place where refinement and coolness resides in Sydney . . . Primus Hotel Sydney.
The Presidential suite.
When is a hotel not a hotel? Well, it’s always a hotel if it’s a hotel! But if it’s not a tall, shiny new property, a sprawling resort, a boutique, bespoke building – it just might be a hotel created within an historic building that still has the bones of the past, the ambience of a bygone era and the gravitas of heritage.
One such property is Sydney’s lovely Primus Hotel. This mighty building was built in 1939 as home to the Metropolitan Water Sewage and Drainage Board (M.W.S & D. Board), not the most charming of names for such a splendid edifice but it worked tirelessly to perform its duties and to welcome the public in to pay their water bills.
It was considered such an architectural superstar that Queen Elizabeth II had a visit here as part of the itinerary of the royal visit to Australia in 1954.
Level 7 where the rooftop pool is – was once a firing range!
In 2008, 339 Pitt Street was listed as a heritage item of the Sydney Local Environment Plan and listed on the State Heritage Register of New South Wales.
The building was deserted by the M.W.S & D. Board around 2009 when the staff were relocated to Sydney’s western suburbs.
And the rest is new history! Down the quiet end of town where the building in all its anonymous glory had been languishing, there was much work afoot.
In 2015 after considered restoration, respect for the architectural heritage and commercial savvy, the building opened as Sydney’s newest five-star art deco hotel, Primus Hotel Sydney.
Fabulous art deco style wall paper and a quirky ‘Ladies’ artwork.
The façade employs such materials popular in the 1930s such as natural stone, timbers, bronze, copper and aluminium.
Above the entrance are low relief bronze panels depicting the water industry and its technological progression. (Originally designed by Stanley James Hammond, the panels have been restored to their original mellow beauty.)
Entering the lobby is a gasp-worthy moment. There’s not a space in Sydney that compares. The amazing scagliola columns stand as proud as when they were imagined in 1939. Eight metres high, they were entrusted to Italian master craftsmen, The Melocco Brothers.
Look up, look up and follow the stretch of the columns and see the Plummer Skylights – insulating the lobby from noise, heat and cold.
The hotel is located in Pitt Street Sydney and handy to a glut of fabulous restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs. Public transport (busses and trains, easy to get to) and for a great package book for a couple of nights and go to the Capital Theatre for a show.
(The hotel runs informal heritage tours throughout the hotel on Fridays.)
There are 171 generous sized rooms that are decorated in subtle shades with slashes of colours from the past that have never gone out of fashion. Refinement is the buzz word for the accommodation.
There’s a pool on the roof (Level 7) which is unusual for a Sydney hotel, but most welcome on a hot day. Hang out here and if you aren’t taking a dip, enjoy a snack and cocktail around the pool. Level 7 has been inspired by New York style rooftop bars (but with better Sydney weather).
As well as the elegance and welcome ambience at the hotel, the top billing is the restaurant. The Wilmot is an open area that is modern and inviting. The food takes hotel food to another level, with scrumptious produce, brilliant execution and artful presentation, thanks to Executive Chef Daniel Menzies.
For a staycation or if you’re heading to Sydney, enjoy history, heritage and a buzzy part of Sydney while staying in a hotel in its prime.
The building was completed after Australia had entered WWII. Instead of Level 7 being fitted out as a rooftop garden as originally envisioned, the roof was converted into a small arms testing range (rifle range).
The building was used as a backdrop for Angelina Jolie’s film Unbroken, a WWII feature film made in 2013.
In 1939 this was the tallest building in Sydney.
Scagliola is a technique for producing stucco columns, sculptures and other architectural elements that resemble inlays of marble and semi precious stones.
Daniel Menzies is executive chef at The Wilmot and brings 19 years of experience in both International and Australian kitchens to the table. Daniel has a swag of prestigious culinary awards but a surprise one stands out – Doug Moran Portrait Prize – so take a good look at how your food looks on the plate!
Writer Bev Malzard, visited the hotel recently and enjoyed a tasty lunch and is planning a sortie on the hotel to have afternoon tea which the hotel boasts about. OK, show me the honey!
www.sofitel-legend-metropole-hanoi.comA quick fix blog this week as I am away on a yoga retreat in the Blue Mountains, a couple of hours west of Sydney (I knoooow, what was I thinking) and am short on blogging time this week. A post on the yoga experience might even make its way here if I survive bending, stretching and being ‘mindful’. Maybe yes, maybe no, maybe maybe.
One of my fave shots: there’s always a bride waiting to be photographed.
So, following on from last week’s Vietnam cruise story here are a few images I snapped in Hanoi pre and post the cruise. What an amazing city is it; brim to overflowing with personality, pragmatism and sassiness. The French colonial theme still stands in some quarters with rather lovely buildings, parks and he aroma of freshly baked bread . . .which is the legacy the Vietnamese were happy to retain once the colonialists had departed.
Spot the tourist.
Writer, Bev Malzard has visited Hanoi several times and the last visit she stayed at super posh Hanoi Metropole Hotel, a divine establishment breathing history and charm. Here she cosies up to one of the doormen who gave her cheek every day, and she gave back as good as she got.
Outdoor art is the art of the 21st century. Graffiti has graduated!
The Silo Art Trail that snakes through the wheat belt of Victoria is an inspired outdoor gallery. A couple of hours outside Ballarat and you are on your way.
The concept of having the towering (up to 27m), cylindrical concrete towers as the canvas for murals started with Guido van Helten’s stupendous ‘Farmer Quartet’ in the tiny town of Brim. Wheat silos define the landscape here and honouring the farmers and the history of the silos engaged the entire community – and it was lift off.
Shaun Hossach of Juddy Roller Studios proclaims himself as a ‘one-man unionist’ and does the leg work, negotiating and planning for the casual collective of Australian artists. He originally worked with GrainCorp (major sponsor), Taubmans Paints (the paint supplier), Creative Victoria and got the Government Drought Communities involved in the silo project.
GrainCorp’s Luke O’Donnell says that the company is proud to sponsor the Silo Art Trail and more. “GrainCorp supply the decommissioned silos as the canvas, and regard the whole process as a perfect way to hold on to the important legacy that the structures represent and reinvigorate these towns”, he says.
First stop heading north on the 200km trail is at Rupanyup with a double modern silo decorated by Russian artist Julia Volchkova. Seeing the scope of breadth of the art works it’s obvious that this type of work is not for sissies. Cherry pickers have to be ‘driven’. The artists work in all weather, alone, and at a great height at the top of the canvas.
Next stop at Sheep Hills is a four-silo effort by Adnate of children of the local indigenous clan. To be dwarfed by the four lifelike faces is a privilege.
And next at Brim is the extraordinary Farmers Quartet. The vision is almost overwhelming with the subtle hues of the landscape blossoming into four characters of the region humbly portrayed. Real people modelled for this and are the modest celebrities of the shire.
Further into The Mallee, in Lascelles is the two-silo artwork by Rone. Here is a man and a woman, fourth generation farmers curving around the soaring towers and as part of the landscape as the mallee root tree.
Top of the trail is at Patchewollock – a town to dwindling prominence that is the most isolated on the trail. Fintan Magee chose a subject from the only pub in town on his first night in Patchewollock: farmer Nick Hulland who is a reluctant pinup. But he says if it helps the town – he’s happy.
Other work is in preparation for the Silo Art Trail and silos in other states have put their hand up for attention.
We wonder what Norman Mailer (see reference below) would say if he had the good fortune to witness this original and exciting art.
Now, here’s a silo that could do with a good lashing of paint!
Guerilla art is now great art. Walls become artworks and silos the grand canvasses of rural towns. Once was graffiti, is now urban engagement and licence to paint the town red.
It probably began 45,000 years ago in Australia; community minded fellas worked their magic art on to the walls of caves to let passing nomads see what food was available, attractions in the region and objects to be found or maybe just to show off their talent. Rock art galleries started it all.
For thousands of years, human beings have made their mark upon plain surfaces, from stick men to tag-style graffiti.
And when someone criticized the wall vandals of the 80s with the sentence “Punks can’t spell Cappuccino”, that phrase became official graffiti and the wall expression medium had arrived, evolved and gained acceptance by the less-than-art- critical-public.
Pre ‘acceptable’ wall art in New York City, of the 70s gave birth to excessive public graffiti – think subway trains. In one of his essays back in the day, Norman Mailer said New York subway graffiti is “the great art of the 70s”. And it burned brightly until Mayor Ed Koch. elected on a clean-up-the-city every which way platform, scrubbed clean the city. By the mid-80s NYC graffiti had faded quietly and what was left or came later became the acceptable norm.
Across the Atlantic, enigmatic artist Banksy launched his wall art career in his home town, Bristol. Stencils became his medium as his art gained notoriety on a big scale in the late 1990s.
Banksy’s work (below) sneaks up on you. Characteristic of the works are the obvious digs at hypocrisy, violence, greed and authoritarianism but pathos and whimsy are in the creative makeup too.
There have been plaintiff cries of outrage that some of Banksy’s work has been painted over by other artists. No worries. His works and the art of most wall art specialists are not forever, just a fleeting expression from the artists and the topic de jeur.
And at home wall art has changed the urban ‘artscape’ and rural regions. Australia is engaged with a stunning variety of wall/outdoor art that crept in stealthily during the late 90s too. Melbourne had the wall art advantage first up because of the surviving laneways in the inner city. And some of the most creative artists have emerged from the southern capital.
Sydney was a slow starter but every week another piece of excellent art appears on the walls in and around the inner west and on the edge of the CBD. Without a lot of laneways remaining due to concentrated development, the older suburbs snatched the prize.
The big winners for wall art are the small cities and rural towns of Australia with their untouched walls. Professional wall artists including Matt Adnate, Guido van Helten, Kaff-eine, Resio, Rone, Cam Scale and Makatron are working on walls way out of the city and enriching the life of country towns.
The south east Queensland ‘garden city’ of Toowoomba has held the First Coat festival for four consecutive years and through the laneways and backstreets, artists from near and far and embellished blank spaces. Toowoomba has created a home for beautiful works and the weekend festival is now on the party calendar.
Victoria’s Benalla (Rural Street Art Capital) has had monumental success with its Wall to Wall festival since inception in 2015. See blog post from July 3 on the report on the Benalla Wall to Wall festival.
Writer, Bev Malzard hanging about in Melbourne, the Chrissie Amphlett Lane.
Copyright Bev Malzard (Sections of this article have been published previously in the Financial Review Weekend and Travellers Choice Discover magazine.)