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Friday 31 May 2013

The perfect excuse to splash out at Huka Lodge

Huka Lodge is one of those rare retreats that never goes out of style; always staying ahead of the trends.

My wife and I honeymooned at this New Zealand icon 25 years ago, soon after it opened in its current guise, and the few days we spent there remain among our fondest memories.

Huka owner Alex van Heeren was one of the first to realise the potential of luxury lodges - a field in which New Zealand still leads the way - and winter is the most affordable time of the year for a little pampering on the banks of the Waikato River overlooking the Huka Falls.

Huka Lodge was also a pioneer of chefs/winemakers' weekends, and has launched a winter program of special events at no extra cost to guests - with low-season rates apply until September 30. 

The guests include talents such as The Bentley's Brent Savage, Gibbston Valley’s Christopher Keys and Riverstone Kitchen's Bevan Smith.

First up is the annual  Big Red Dinner, focusing on fine Spanish wines, including sherries, to be presented by Sergi Rostall from legendary merchants González Byass, complementing a five-course dinner showcasing contemporary Spanish-influenced cuisine by guest chef Brent Savage on June 15. 

The Gibbston Valley Winemakers' dinner is on July 6 with winemaker Christopher Keys presenting Central Otago wines to accompany a five-course dinner by executive chef  Michel Louws. 

Huka Lodge winter rates are from NZ$795.00 + GST per person, per night (double/twin occupancy). All rates are inclusive of accommodation, pre-dinner drinks and canapés, dinner, country breakfast, use of all Lodge facilities,and return Taupo Airport transfers will be provided if required.

You'll be in good company. Previous guests at what was originally a fishing shack built in the 1920s include Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, Diana Ross and Rod Stewart (although probably not all at the same time). 

For a full list of events see  and book through for special gift offers/

How to complain. What hotels would rather you did not know.

Anyone who has yen for travel has done it: Made a last-minute decision to stay somewhere for a night or two and then booked sight unseen on one of many on line booking services that offer what appear to be miraculous discounts. 

Just last night I paid $79 through for a night at Hobart's older-style but perfectly clean and acceptable Macquarie Manor Hotel.. It was a bargain and I was delighted. 

What to do, however, when the “luxury” hotel you have booked on line turns out to be a fleapit. I had such an experience a couple of years ago, but won't name the hotel as, in fairness, it may have changed.

This experience was in London at a busy time of the year and things went wrong from the moment the ancient lift jerked its way into action, depositing me on the fourth floor, where the carpet looked as if AC/DC and Cold Chisel had been partying on it for weeks. 

Although I had requested a double room when booking, I had been allocated a hostel-style room with four single beds, covered with 1960s-style quilts. And with no air conditioning, or fan, the room was insufferably stuffy. The choice was to open the window and let in the street noise, or eventually expire from lack of oxygen.

While the bedroom was minimalist at best, the bathroom was worse; because the shower had virtually zero pressure.

As the booking agency website claimed the rack rate for this establishment was 500 – and described the place as “luxurious”, the 128.85 I paid should have made it a bargain.

It wasn’t. It was grotty with free wifi just about the only saving grace - and the "direct walkway” between Paddington Station was non-existent.

But by leaving it late to book in a city that was hosting several conventions I’d put myself at the mercy of the market (lesson learnt) - and a handwritten “hotel full” sign in the window told me it would be pointless asking to switch rooms. Otherwise I might have tried my foolproof tactic of unpacking in the lobby and setting myself up in a comfortable spot  so that others checking in have to step around me and my luggage. 

The last thing any hotel wants in its public areas is a fuss, so the response to this tactic should a timely check-in not be available or a room be unacceptable is usually an upgrade or other swift resolution (although I did recently have to wait until 10pm for a check-in at a hopelessly disorganised luxury hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg). 

In the case of the London stay, I wasn’t going to let blatant dishonesty go. In addition to Tweeting about my experience, and doing a TripAdvisor report, I emailed the booking company with my comments.

The initial response was not encouraging: "It’s really disappointing to hear that the service you received from The Dodgy Hotel did not meet your expectations. I’ll make sure that your feedback is passed on to the hotel’s management to raise their awareness. The product manager responsible for this region has also been made aware of this matter and your comments will be recorded for our future reference. If we were to find a recurring issue, the hotel's listing on our website would certainly be reviewed.”

There was also the usual verbiage about how much they appreciated customer feedback etc, etc.

My email reply was to the point: “Not good enough. As I stated in my complaint, several of the statements on your website are misleading and deceptive and I demand some recompense.”

I was then assured: “I have passed your email onto our Customer Relations department so they can look into this matter further.”

A further Tweet finally resulted in serious action a week later, with an email saying: “The property has confirmed if you had advised upon your arrival that you were not satisfied with the room allocated, they would have been happy to provide you with other room options. [Clearly not true as the hotel was full]. Hotel management have confirmed they are in the process of updating the carpets in every room and expect to have new carpets in every room shortly. [It was the disgusting carpet in the corridor I was more concerned about].”

The email said the old building made water pressure an issue, but confirmed the hotel did not have direct access to Paddington station via a footbridge, as advertised. I was then offered a 50% refund “due to the inconvenience caused”.

So I got 62 back – probably paying what the room was worth. And the booking website removed references to “luxurious” and the non-existent footbridge from its website listing.  

If you are unhappy in any way with a hotel the best tactic is to complain long, loud and at first politely (and goodness knows there is much to complain about in what is laughably called the "hospitality industry; hello Queensland hotel with a viper on the check-in desk). 

Consumer advocacy group Choice advises making sure you have as much evidence as possible (photographs, conflicts between what was advertised and what was provided). You should be firm and polite with your complaint and try to get it resolved at the time, as making a complaint to Consumer Affairs can be “long and drawn out”.

Asking directly for a refund, discount or a free night, gives a hotel a way out of the impasse. If you get an inadequate response you should then threaten to escalate the complaint to the hotel owner, or chain. But make sure your case is solid if you are making stuff up then you put yourself at risk of legal action. 

Or you can get angry and use my occupation tactic. And if you have paid for your accommodation in advance you have a very strong case. The hotel has nowhere to go legally. The matter is a civil dispute between you and them. 

Using social media to get your point home also puts pressure on - most hotels hate criticism in a public arena.

And PS: Remind me to let you know about your rights in restaurants. Most restaurateurs would rather I did not.    

Wednesday 29 May 2013

A fascinating factory tour and a bizarre hotel

If there is one phrase likely to cause a seasoned traveller to grimace it is "factory tour". Many such tours are designed as nothing more than hard-sell visits to wholesale outlets from which it is almost impossible to escape unless you have opened your wallet and paid your penance for being so stupid. 

The exact opposite, and possibly the most fascinating factory tour I have undertaken, is a visit to the Riedel  glass-blowing operation in Austria. It is no exaggeration to say that the Riedel family has helped transform the way some of us drink wine. Many top restaurants use only glasses produced by Riedel and/or sister company Spiegelau

Now based in the picture-postcard village of Kufstein, Riedel was established in Bohemia in 1756 and has been owned and operated by the same family for more than 250 years. 

It is now run by 10th-generation crystal glassware producer Georg Riedel and his son Maximilian, who head a business that generates around $300 million a year – an expansion explosion based on the discovery by forebear Claus Riedel that wine glasses can be designed in different shapes to enhance the experience of drinking different wine styles.

A trip to watch the many Riedel glasses and decanters being hand-blown is de rigueur for wine lovers visiting the Tyrol.  

The Riedel glass-blowing centre welcomes visitors with free multi-lingual tours held daily and it is absolutely fascinating to watch the artisans blow glassware items that are all unique, but so close to each other that it is impossible for the naked eye to pick up the differences. 

And if you can’t make it to Austria, you can shop online at

If the Riedel operation, which also features a shop selling rare decanters and other memorabilia, is on your agenda, you must also visit the Bio-Hotel Stanglwirt - perhaps the most kitsch hotel in the world with staff are dressed as if they are off to audition for a remake of The Sound Of Music

Then there is the decor; every ski chalet cliché is covered from the many wooden beams and piles of firewood to the roaring log fire – in the height of summer.  

And there is the view from the lounge; which directly overlooks a dressage ring, where magnificent white Lipizzaner horses are being put through their paces to a soundtrack of saccharine Euro pop.

At night the house entertainer Hansi is dressed in lederhosen and plays a traditional wooden zither. There’s also DJ Otto playing “great dance music”.  The hotel’s website even goes so far as to say that staying here is “just like being in a fairytale”.

Throw in the “Oasis of Silence”: a mock cave with recliner chairs with views of an aquarium containing not one, but two black tip reef sharks, the nude spa and some leather-clad male staff and you might well think you were on the set of a porn movie.

Not so. In winter, the Bio-Hotel Stanglwirt is a giant ski resort; in summer it is a health spa nestled in the middle of a beautiful natural wilderness region with dramatic views of the Wilder Kaiser mountain range that can cause you to catch your breath. And it's a hotel much favoured by Austria’s rich and famous.      

The Stanglwirt is a family-run business that first opened in 1609 and has not closed for a single day in the past 250 years.

It operates on organic principles with rooms and suites created from natural materials, including wood, lots of wood, while carpets are made from pure wool, and the towels and bed linen are 100 % cotton or linen.

Meats and cheeses served in the restaurants come from the on-site farm, while water used is from the property’s own natural spring.  

The hotel also hosts a twice-yearly folk music festival and is just a short drive from Kufstein. The bizarrely-dressed hotel staff prove to be both helpful and multilingual; while the breakfast buffet is awe-inspiring in both its size and scope.  

There are eight outdoor tennis courts, and six indoors, a golf course and a fitness garden with high-tech gym equipment and in winter you can enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh-ride through the snow, or a dip in one of the heated thermal pools. Golf, tennis and riding lessons are all on offer.

Those in need of some therapy can enjoy a manicure, pedicure, massage, facial or Ayurvedic treatment, or sample one of the many thalasso therapy options, including the rock sauna, organic pine sauna, salt water grotto, natural stone sauna, the Wilder Kaiser sauna, the whirlpool area or the mountain crystal stream grotto. Of course there is also the Asia Bath section of the spa, with its Thai jungle decorations, the mere sight of which is likely to provoke a bout of tittering or guffawing.

But then there is option to ride one of the beautiful Lipizzaners, or take a hiking tour to the hotel’s mountainside cheese hut. Staying here is like taking a break in a parallel universe; but I found it strangely easy to become comfortable with this particular brand of luxury kitsch.

Bio-Hotel Stanglwirt, Kaiserweg 1, A-6353  Going/Tirol, Austria. +43 5358 2000. 

Monday 27 May 2013

Head to the Tasmanian wilderness for a great gourmet experience

There can be few more spectacular wilderness settings than Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge in Tasmania.

And there is is no better time to visit than mid-winter, when Cradle Mountain Lodge hosts its annual Tastings at the Top food and wine festival - this year from June 22-24. 

Now in its 19th year and rated as one of Australia’s top gourmet experiences, the event gives guests the opportunity to celebrate the very best in Tasmanian produce with a banquet of activities ranging from degustation dinners to cooking demonstrations and fresh produce markets to wine and cheese tastings.

The event will be hosted by wine expert Peter Bourne, who has an intimate knowledge and enthusiasm for Tasmanian produce and there is a special three-night-package for the festival includes all scheduled Tastings at the Top events including three night’s accommodation in a Pencil Pine Cabin, full lodge breakfast each morning, two lunches, dinner each night including a five-course dinner on the Saturday and a gala dinner with entertainment on the last night, matched wines as part of the Tastings wine program. 

All guests - and many return year after year - get the opportunity to sample a wide variety of local produce while mingling with the providores – with prices from $1695 per person twin share.

Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge is at the entrance to the spectacular World Heritage-listed Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and is just over an hour’s drive from Devonport or two hours from Launceston. 

To book call Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge on (03) 6492 2103. 

A slice of Las Vegas in the wilds of Africa

Imagine if they plonked the Las Vegas strip in the middle of the African bush and populated it with colourful, comically rich folk from around the globe who demanded the best in food, wine and service. 

That's almost exactly what happened with the massive Sun City resort complete with four hotels, casino, showroom, two world-class golf courses and its own royal palace: the Palace of the Lost City.

Around two hours from Johannesburg, near the town of Rustenberg and right on the fringe of the Pilanesberg National Park, the fantastical Palace of the Lost City is almost laughably over the top - but in the nicest possible way.

A couple of bizarre facts:  

# The painting on the ceiling of the royal entrance chamber was created in the same way as Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel in Rome and took nearly 5,000 hours to complete.

# The six elephants tusks, arching in pairs over the Tusk Lounge and Bar, are 5.6 metres high, weigh two tons, and were made in four pieces out of Indonesian Square wood, which is heavier than ivory. 

So far; so grandiose and all part of a plan developed by the hotel magnate Sol Kerzner (who was once married to a former Miss World) as part of his Sun International Group. Sun City was built in 1979 in what was then known as Bophuthatswana, a grim, dusty, "independent" state of no real consequence economically or politically. 

Unrecognised by any other country than apartheid South Africa, it controversially hosted gambling, topless reviews and world title fights and became extremely popular with affluent South African guests. With the demise of apartheid and Bophuthatswana's inclusion in the "new" South Africa in 2004 it has become a major international draw card. 

Guests who have stayed in the eye-popping Lost Palace, the most recent of the four hotels,  include Kylie Minogue, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Steven Spielberg, Richard Branson, Neil Armstrong, Robert de Niro and Nelson Mandela. 

Everything is ridiculously opulent, from the external towers to the lavish lobby. There are 338 rooms, each with an African theme, and guests can choose from activities including balloon safaris, game drives, golfing on the two Gary Player-designed courses (one of which has a lake populated by live crocodiles), or swimming at an artificial beach with its own wave machine. 

The Pilanesberg National Park accommodates virtually every mammal of southern Africa and is also home to healthy populations of lion, leopard, black and white rhino, elephant and buffalo - Africa's Big FiveA wide variety of rare and common species are to be found, including the nocturnal brown hyena, the fleet-footed cheetah, the majestic sable, as well as giraffe, zebra, hippo and crocodile. 

As you’d expect from a facility that bills itself as Africa’s leading resort, Sun City has a range of restaurant options from fine dining to a replica township shebeen (or pub). Staff training here is regarded as being among the best in Africa and service is slick without being suffocating.

A note for food lovers: the buffet breakfasts at the Palace are staggering and quite probably the best I have ever enjoyed. Make breakfast your main meal of the day.
The Palace of the Lost City: +27 14 557 3000.

Sunday 26 May 2013

Way out west, where the wine is fine

For anyone heading to Margaret River for a few days of wine tasting and pampering there used to be only one choice: the venerable Cape Lodge. 

Then, a few years back, a new gunslinger arrived in town. Adults-only Windmills Break is just across the road from Cape Lodge but with a more relaxed vibe; more Duffy than Delta. 

You could take the standard approach: a three-hour plus drive from Perth stopping in at a couple of wineries along the way, or the time-saving approach; flying in direct from Perth Airport by helicopter.

At Windmills Break, with just 13 rooms in the heart of the vineyards, it doesn’t really matter how you arrive: the welcome here is warm, the facilities top-notch, the ambience relaxed.

The 80-minute chopper flight, around $700 per person, offers fabulous views of the region’s spectacular beaches and wineries before you land on the resort’s tennis courts and flights are also available from Windmills Break to some of the area’s best cellar door restaurants.

You may, of course. prefer to be a little more cautious with your travel arrangements and more profligate with your spending on wine in a region where they have been blessed with seven cracking vintages in a row. 

Windmills Break is named after a local surf beach near Yallingup - at the northern end of Margaret River. But, and I take issue with this, the resort is not on the beach.

Rather, it is perfectly positioned for discovering the superb wineries located on and around Caves Road – and it is just across the road from iconic Cape Lodge and its world-renowned restaurant. Or choose from Voyager Estate, Cullen, Vasse Felix, Xanadu and Leeuwin Estate. 

There’s everything you need to wind down after a hard day of wine tasting; pool and spa, small gym, tennis courts and free internet access, including use of a laptop.

The rooms (10 in the main building and three separate suites) feature king-size beds (which are disturbingly comfortable), large LCD televisions with satellite channels, iPod docks, mini bars, spa baths, free access to an extensive DVD collection and private courtyards.  Some have kitchenettes. 

The five-star resort has a lovely bush setting and is situated in 10 acres of gardens. The area surrounding the infinity pool is a great spot to catch a few rays late in the day, while the deck is the perfect spot for a sundowner or two. And for those who need pampering, there is an in-house massage service.

Public areas and rooms are decorated with spectacular landscape photos taken by leading local snapper Christian Fletcher.

Windmills Break, Caves Road, Yallingup, Margaret River. (08) 9755 2341.

Saturday 25 May 2013

Funky Paris rooms around 100 bucks a night? It can be done.

Paris digs that are both stylish and affordable are extremely rare. If you want the privilege of staying at the George V, the Bristol, Le Meurice or the Plaza Athénée you going to pay for the privilege of being surrounded by the chicest of the chic with their personal assistants, suites and fancy bars. 

The 20th arrondissement is not on the radar of most visitors to Paris - particularly Australians. It's gritty, ethnically diverse and unashamedly working class. It's very much on the other side of the tracks from the  Avenue Montaigne and Champs-Elysees. 

One of the few reasons most tourists would have for visiting this part of town would be to explore the huge Pere Lachaise cemetery, where Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and composers Chopin and Bizet are among the current residents.

Until three or four year ago, that is, and the opening of a unique boutique hotel named Mama Shelter, which has subsequently spawned funky offspring in Lyon, Marseille and Istanbul. 

Mama Shelter Paris is an ugly duckling turned swan; a former derelict, graffiti-covered, multi-storey car park that overlooks a disused rail line.

With Philippe Starck behind the design and the Trigano family of Club Med fame running the operation, this former eyesore morphed into a hip location - and one of that is also extremely affordable with single rooms starting from just €79 a night and doubles from €109. 

The rooms may be small and service limited but facilities include minibars, televisions with free wifi internet access, microwaves and CD-DVD players. The beds, too, are hugely comfortable with crisp cotton sheets. 

The theme is quirky design chic; part op shop, part modern art gallery. There's nothing remotely stuffy about Mama Shelter: the bar area is covered in faux graffiti, a nod to the real thing on the former rail track that runs beside the hotel. 

The restaurant is overseen by one of France's leading culinary figures, chef Alain Senderens, who had three Michelin stars at his Lucas Carton restaurant before returning them, saying he wanted to create food that was fun. And that means there's a pizza menu as well as "home-style" cuisine.

The neighbourhood remains rough around the edges, although we never felt remotely threatened – and it is a 10- to 15-minute walk to the nearest Metro stations (Gambetta, Alexandre Dumas and Porte de Bagnolet are all equidistant). Handily, however, there's a stop at the door for a bus that makes its way to the Rue de Rivoli and the Louvre if the quirky local grunge bars in the 19th and 20th are not to your liking. 

If you are confident in Paris and have a smattering of the language then you'll enjoy this. I'm sure. 

Mama Shelter, 109 rue de Bagnolet, Paris, 75020. Phone +33 1 4348 4848.

Friday 24 May 2013

Why Hobart is so hot this winter

Hobart is currently one of the hottest spots on the planet, so what better time to visit than over the next few weeks, when Tasmania's capital is actually at its coolest. 

Between May 29 and June 2, Hobart hosts both the Savour Tasmania culinary festival and the Red Wine Weekend. 

While Savour events starring visiting mega chefs such as Belgium’s Kobe Desramaults along with mainland superstars like Shane Delia, Giovanni Pilu, Colin Fassnidge and Darren Purchese and locals like Luke Burgess and Matthew Evans are largely sold out, there are still plenty of tickets to see Tasmania’s top  winemakers - and sample their wares - for the wine weekend at Princes Wharf No. 1 on June 1-2.

Vineyards from throughout the state will showcase range of reds from a variety of vintages (including world-renowned pinots noir) with tickets at $25 including tastings, tasting notes and a Plumm glass to take home.

Would-be aficionados can hone their knowledge with a series of master classes hosted by the likes of vigneron Gerald Ellis, wine writers Nick Stock and yours truly, and other experts including Tim Goddard, Curly Haslam-Coates, Sue Dyson and Roger McShane. 

For full Red Wine Weekend details visit

Other Hobart winter highlights include new exhibitions at the Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery (TMAG), which  has undergone a striking redevelopment, with new features bringing visitors face to face with the mystical Tasmanian Tiger and other Tasmanian stories.

The team at MONA, meanwhile, will host the new Dark MoFo festival of music, art and noise from June 13-23 coinciding with the museum’s latest exhibition, The Red Queen, exploring why organisms ‘constantly adapt and evolve’ – through art, of course.

Festival highlights will include a large-scale fire and light event at Salamanca, a night market at Princes Wharf No. 1, art installations throughout Hobart’s city and waterfront precinct, a music program curated by Brian Ritchie and plenty of Tassie wine and food. Headliners include Martha Wainwright. See

The Red Queen will run through April 2014 and visitors can now get to MONA on board the recently launched catamaran; MONA Roma 1. 

Another winter standout is the Festival of Voices (below) from July 5-14, showcasing a range of world-class concerts, events and activities featuring the likes of Kate Ceberano, Christine Anu, Darren Percival, and the multi-Grammy winning American vocal group Take 6. 

Visitors can attend performances in grand concert halls, churches, historic buildings, as well as small pubs, market halls and street corners; and listen to choirs, ensembles, and solo artists singing gospel, a capella, symphonic choral, music theatre, cabaret and spoken word. 

A couple of weeks later, the Taste of the Tamar wine event will be held at The Long Gallery, Salamanca Arts Centre, 77 Salamanca Place, on July 20-21 from noon-5pm. Entry is $15 at the door, and includes a souvenir engraved tasting glass, tastings and lucky door prize of accommodation for two at Country Club Tasmania, Prospect, and dinner at Stillwater restaurant.

Thursday 23 May 2013

Australian style with a French accent

A busy five-star city centre hotel doesn't have to be rude and impersonal - even though so many of them are.

How many business hotels have you stayed at where you wait 20 minutes to check in and are are regarded as Mr Room 513? "Sign here please and don't forget to spend up big in the mini bar". 

There are, also, however, some large luxury hotels in which you are immediately made comfortable. Places where there is a warm, welcoming vibe and staff seem to actually care whether you need any help with your luggage or assistance with having a boarding pass printed out.

Very much in the second category is the recently refurbished Sofitel Brisbane Central, where there is someone to greet you at the door and the receptionists not only smile, but listen. Simple stuff, but all too rare nowadays.

I’ve stayed several times at this property, dating back to when it was a Sheraton, and it has never looked brighter, more welcoming or so stylishly French.

That is in part due to an $8 million refurbishment of all 433 rooms and also to a stylish Gallic attitude that has permeated through all levels of staff. The rooms are European in style (think chic Parisian posters), although rather bigger than most – and online rates start from around $240 with a range of packages available.

The Sofitel is the largest luxury hotel in Brisbane and the refurb includes new furniture, light and technology - including air-conditioning that actually obeys commands - iPad and iPod connectivity and blackout blinds. There is also the famous, and dangerously comfortable, Sofitel MyBed in all guest rooms. 

Located just above the city centre and within easy walking distance of late night hot spot Eagle Street Pier, South Bank Parklands and the Convention Centre, the Sofitel also offers direct access to Central Station, with easy transportation to both Brisbane Airport and the Gold Coast.
Hotel facilities include a fitness centre, heated pool and spa, several restaurants (including the upmarket Privé 249) and bars, and the opportunity to upgrade to the 81 rooms and 21 suites suites on the Club Sofitel levels, where skyline views and access to the exclusive Club Sofitel Lounge are included, along with free wifi, complimentary canapés and afternoon drinks, buffet breakfasts, free use of meeting rooms and afternoon tea. 
#Wine lovers will also be pleased to note that the hotel is one of just 25 Sofitels around the world that is part of the innovative "Coups de Coeur" wine program. 
The hotels selected are showcasing high-quality, but affordable, wines from appellations including Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Cotes du Rhone and Jura specially selected by French experts Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauve (below).
These are available by the glass and bottle, matched with either one dish or a complete menu; maybe a Domaine Faiveley Myglands Mercurey 1er Cru 2010 for $17 or $80; or perhaps a Chateau Leoville Barton 2007 for $195.  The Brisbane Sofitel will also host a dedicated French Wine Week from September 23-30 with a range of tastings, dinners and informal gatherings.  

Sofitel Brisbane Central is at 249 Turbot Street, Brisbane. Phone: (07) 3835 3535.    

Wednesday 22 May 2013

The best little wine capital in the world?

The centre of the Burgundy wine trade – midway between Paris and Geneva - the pretty town of Beaune is a place of pilgrimage for gourmets and is dotted with wine bars, cafes, tasting facilities and boutique hotels.

In my humble opinion it is the best little wine capital anywhere; serious about wine and food - and surrounded by some of the greatest vineyards in the world.

The world’s greatest chardonnays and pinots noir come from this region; stretching from Chablis in the north to just above Lyon in the south. The greatest wines from producers like Domaine de la Romanee-Conti are stratospherically priced but there are plenty of more affordable bottles to taste and buy.

Chablis produces dry, minerally chardonnays while the long thin strip encompassing the Cote d’Or and Cote de Nuits produce the world’s best pinots and some superbly complex chardonnays from villages including Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet.

Pinot lovers are spoilt for choice with producers in communes including Pommard, Volnay, Nuits St George and Chambolle-Musigny all offering tastings while further south more affordable reds and whites are produced in the Cote Chalonaise and the Maconnais regions; with St Veran offering particularly good value.

Centrally-situated Beaune is almost certainly the best base for wine tourists.Take a ride on the ubiquitous petit train with tourists from around the world to discover the many winding old streets and then take a tour of the magnificent Hospice de Beaune, where the original hospital building, the Hotel Dieu (below), is one of the finest remaining examples of French 15th-century architecture and is now a fascinating museum.

Wine lovers will also enjoy the Museé du Vin de Bourgogne and browsing for wine posters, books, corkscrews and other accessories at the L’Athenaeum store, while the outdoor Saturday food market here is legendary. Taste wines at Alex Gambal or Camille Giroud and spend a night or two in the Hotel Le Cep, a collection of 14th-18th century buildings that is part of Small Luxury Hotels group and a perfect base for exploring the many vineyard hamlets. It’s at 
27 Rue Maufoux in the old town centre but within strolling distance of the vines. 

The hotel (above) is close to the Basilique Notre Dame and the Hospices de Beaune. There are 64 air-conditioned guest rooms, charmingly decorated in traditional French style. The on-site Loiseau des Vignes restaurant  features dozens of wines by the glass thus providing the perfect solution for anyone wanting to sample great Burgundies without breaking the bank. Other stellar dining choices include L’Ecusson, Ma Cuisine, Le Goret and the cute Le Gourmandin.