Travel: Victorian Highlights

I‘m going out on a limb with this post, taking a risk, throwing caution to the wind, heading into troubled waters . . .that’s a bit dramatic. Posting this piece on Victoria today, 1 June 2021, while the state of Victoria is in a state of lockdown feels a little ambitious? Yes? No? Victorians have suffered the lockdowns due to COCID-19 worse than any other state in Australia and businesses, and industires, such as the travel industry have been fraught with closures, and empty beds and coffers. BUT it WILL bounce back, it was but now, (today) it’s not bouncing at all, barely a foot shuffle. AND when it does open up again let me invite all Aussies and our Kiwi neighbours to visit and enjoy the beautiful state that comes good on all its promises of natural beauty, great food and wine, classy attractions and sincere hospitality.

A small state but packed like an overflowing picnic basket, Victoria has a taste sensation that covers city to country, ocean to mountains and fine food and regional fare to match the perfect wines. Need to know more? Go there.

Melbourne

Gateway to Victoria, the state’s capital city Melbourne is a river city and a class act. A walkable city or the best way to discover the ‘neighbourhoods’ is to hop a tram and head out of the CBD, But before you enter boho Brunswick, precious Prahan, edgy Fitzroy or to be in the sharp breezes of St Kilda beach, get your bearings in and around the city.

Nobody can persuade Melburnians that their coffee and their restaurants aren’t the best in Australia (and maybe the world when you really push the argument). And they do have damn fine food and java too. Also the proliferation of small bars over the past decade has made the social scene uber cool. Tiny, bespoke bars tucked away in alleyways that have survived city development are almost invisible during daylight hours when you do the laneways tours of wall art that is pretty spectacular.

One of many colourful and irreverent laneways of Melbourne.
The best!

Don’t miss a trip to the Victoria Markets for all that’s edible and wearable; cruise the Yarra River for a new perspective; go see the brilliant National Gallery and the instagrammable features of Federation Square. Take this city slowly and seek out sporting venues, memorable parks and gardens and some quirky, individual shopping adventures.

To market, to market . . .

Yarra yabba do!

Just an hour outside Melbourne is the splendid Yarra Valley boasting elegant vineyards and boutique wineries. This cool climate region produces high quality winning wines and they are there for the day trippers tasting. Chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon are star players and big name labels such as De Bortoli and Domaine Chandon promise fine tipples.

There are tea rooms, restaurants and hotels along the way for a longer stay and close by is Healesville Sanctuary which has a breeding progam for the uniquely designed platypus.

In the region of the Dandenongs here there are beautiful, classic gardens to stroll around, one of the finest being Alfred Nicholas Gardens, Sherbrooke

Great Ocean Road

Near Port Campbell and famous for the string of rock stars, the Twelve Apostles, bold rock formations, sitting in the Southern Ocean beyond mighty cliffs are a sight to behold. The drive along the Great Ocean Road yields rugged landmarks, beautiful beaches and holiday towns (Torquay, Apollo Bay and Lorne). Inland are caves to explore, waterfalls and rainforest. But it’s all about the drive, which is exhilarating where some of the road hugs the cliffs and winds around headlands. Zoom, Zoom.

P.S. There are only eight of the 12 Apostles left standing. The rocky stacks have been washed by wild seas and time and tide has taken its toll.

Apostles, from the Great Ocean Road.

The ‘B’ cities

Doubling up here with the two big Victorian ‘B’ cities – both inland cities that have been built on the back of gold! Ballarat and Bendigo are separated by 120km. Ballarat is closer to Melbourne and you can catch a train there (1 1/2-hour journey) or drive the 115km.

Both cities have bold charm as they have beautiful architecture from neo-classical, to gothic and Federation styles. All this built with shiny money.

Ballarat’s Regent Thetre.

Ballarat’s wealth from the goldfields began when gold was discovered in 1851, an event that took over sleepy sheep grazing paddocks. Within days of the first nugget being extracted the ‘rush’ was on, and thousands of hopeful miners descended on the, what was to become known as the ‘Ballarat Diggings’.

Ballarat and Bendigo have embraced the coffee culture and cafes flourish as well as classy restaurants and bars. And both cities boast splendid regional art galleries that have snaffled up extraordinary exhibitions that the big smoke have missed out on. Culture in the country? Sure is.

In Ballarat’s Fine Art Gallery, see the original Eureka Stockade flag and a wide selection of Australian artists’ work. Also visit Her Majesty’s Theatre which was once graced with the presence of Dame Nellie Melba.

In Bendigo admire the epitome of gold-boom architecture with the Shamrock Hotel, four flamboyant stories high!

So high, silo

Ballarat is a good base camp to take a six-hour (round trip) drive out along the wheat belt of Victoria with viewing stops along the way to discover the Silo Art Trail, an inspired outdoor gallery.

The concept of having the towering (up to 27m high), cylindrical concrete towers as the canvas for murals started with Guido van Helten’s stupendous ‘Farmer Quartet’ in the tiny town of Brim. Decommissioned wheat silos define the landscape here, and honouring farmers and farming history has turned into a smashing success engaging the
entire community.

First stop heading north on the 200km trail is at Rupanyup, with a double modern silo decorated by Russian artist Julia Volchkova. This artwork is not for the faint-hearted, given the artists craft their works while working alone, hoisted in a cherry picker. Next stop at Sheep Hills is a four-silo effort by Adnate, where children of the local Indigenous clan dwarf all who stand below.

Silo mural of four locals by Guido van Helten in Brim, Victoria.

Onward at Brim is the extraordinary Farmer Quartet, an overwhelming vision with the subtle hues of the landscape humbly depicting four characters from the region – now modest celebrities of the shire.

Further into the Mallee, in Lascelles is the two-silo artwork by Rone. Here, a man and a woman, fourth generation farmers, curve around the silos and are as much a part of the landscape as the Mallee root tree.

The top of the trail is at Patchewollock – a town of dwindling prominence that is the most isolated on the trail. Artist Fintan Magee chose a subject from the only pub in town in Patchewollock: farmer Nick Hulland – a reluctant pin-up.

High Country

North east-ish is Victoria’s High Country where the Alpine National Park is home to ten of the state’s highest peaks. The massive park is a space for all seasons: great ski fields in winter; and in summer, miniature wildflowers cover the grassy plateaus above the tree line and the north-eastern small towns are awash with gold and red hues of the autumn parade.

Another two ‘B’ towns that are local celebrities are Bright ands Beechworth. Beechworth is one of Australia’s best preserved gold-rush towns with more than 30 National Trust-classified buildings, a sight for architecture fiends! Also not to be missed here is the Beechworth Bakery, famous for the much sought after Vanilla Slice trophy. You decide!

Autumn in Bright, Victoria.

Provenance in Beechworth is one of the best regional restaurants in Australia, with chef/owner Michael Ryan a Hatted chef many times over. Also, Bridge Road Brewers Bridge Road is fantastic for its range of locally made ales from locally grown hops, as well as its outstanding pizzas. Ox & Hound Bistro is also a gorgeous little French restaurant.

Bright is close by to the ski fields of Mount Hotham and Falls Creek. The town is charming and in April/May it outs it’s colourful attitude into party mode for the Bright Autumn Festival when the deciduous light up, shiny and bright.

Bright is on the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, a 100km sealed, off-road walking and bike trail between Wangaratta, Beechworth, Rutherglen (wonderful fortified wines here) and Bright.

Short sections of the trail can be accessed from towns along the route. (My recommendation as the food and wine here is pretty special – so why waste too much time walking?)

To explore the food, wine, nature, cycle, accommodation, experience options in the region of Victoria’s High Country visit: victoriashighcountry.com.au or ridehighcountry.com.au 

And there’s more . . . the Mornington Peninsula (golfers go crazy for the much-awarded Dunes Golf Links at Rye); Phillip Island and Gippsland (national parks, heritage villages, a penguin parade and the classic fishing town of Port Albert); Spa country – Daylesford and Hepburn Springs – and the Lakehouse Restaurant; the Grampians National Park, an area of magnificence – a landscape of rock-encrusted ranges perching high above the Western District.

Visit: https://www.visitvictoria.com/

and https://www.visitvictoria.com/Regions

How to see York – in 48 hours

How to see York – in 48 hours

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.

 

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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.

DAY ONE

Check in:

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.

10:00 Step 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.

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The centre of York is surrounded by walls whose foundations date back to medieval times. There is a wall walk around the city. ‘VistBritain/Andrew Pickett’

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.

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The Shambles is an old street in York, England, with overhanging timber-framed buildings, some dating back as far as the fourteenth century. This image must be reproduced with the credit ‘VistBritain/Andrew Pickett’

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”.

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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.

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DAY TWO

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.

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Fat rascals.

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!

http://www.visitbritain.com