Great Escapes

Whether you want to sample some luxury in the bush, a great European getaway or pre-Christmas pampering downtown, travel editor Winsor Dobbin has some enticing suggestions.

Country Style

It’s no surprise that Emirates Wolgan Valley is rated the No.1 place to stay in Australia by users of TripAdvisor. OK, it is not cheap – its pricing is up there with other Australian luxury lodges like Qualia and Saffire. But everything about Wolgan is world class.

Opened four years ago, this is a luxury conservation-based resort that is a three-hour drive from Sydney in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. The resort is nestled between two national parks and is set within its own 4,000 acre carbon-neutral conservation and wildlife reserve. The only experience of its kind in Australia, the resort combines luxury and seclusion with a quintessentially Australian bush experience.

A member of Leading Hotels of the World and a founding member of the Luxury Lodges of Australia, Emirates Wolgan Valley recently hosted a Qantas EpiQure event at which I was lucky enough to be invited. I’d been wary about staying here before (thinking it was a long drive) but was blown away by both the dramatic setting and the quality service.

Emirates Wolgan Valley is an all-inclusive resort meaning you can stay, dine, help yourself to the mini bar and partake in several on-site adventures without paying extra.

Major attractions include guided walks, horse-riding tours, heritage tours, wildlife experiences, stargazing and Aboriginal culture tours.

Constructed from wood and stone materials and designed in Federation-style, Wolgan Valley’s 36 Heritage Suites are ideal for single guests, or couples looking for luxurious surroundings on a romantic break. Each has stunning views of the valley beyond and a private pool features its own deck surrounded by a garden of native plants and shrubs, and a spacious veranda.

Inside, a central, double-sided fireplace of local sandstone separates the bedroom from the living area. Great attention to detail has been paid to ensure the fixtures and fittings are reminiscent of the Federation period. Suites feature the latest in entertainment and internet technologies, like iPod docks and iPads with resort info, while thoughtful extras, such as binoculars, let you get up close and personal with the local wildlife without having to leave the deep-cushioned comfort of the sofa. A luxurious en suite bathroom features twin vanities and separate shower and bath.

As you’d expect of a five-star resort there is also a fully equipped gym, sauna and steam room, all-weather tennis courts and an outstanding swimming pool – necessary as it gets pretty warm here during the summer months. There is also an on-site spa and Australian artworks decorate public areas.

The Wolgan Valley food philosophy is based on seasonal, regional, and organic produce from local boutique farms, private growers and vintners. The culinary skills of the Wolgan Valley chefs showcase Australia’s exceptional fare with such specialties as Ormiston free-range pork, Mandagery Creek Venison and Oberon line trout, as well as a selection of local cheeses and wines.

Emirates Wolgan Valley, 2600 Wolgan Road, Wolgan Valley, Lithgow, NSW 2790. (02) 9290 9733.



Italian beauty

A city centre palace that was left to rot for 30 years before being reborn as a luxury hotel with a fairytale theme might not sound terribly promising. At the Chateau Monfort, at the epicentre of one of Europe’s most fashionable cities, it works like a charm.

travel-chateau-monfortThe new luxury Relais & Chateaux property, which opened last year, is a charming 77-room boutique hotel in Milan with a whimsical ambiance that also has its own extravagant gourmet restaurant, Rubacuori.

Within walking distance of the cathedral and La Scala opera house, as well as some of the best shopping on the continent, Hotel Chateau Monfort, in the elegant Monforte quarter, oozes Italian style.

The hotel’s on-site restaurant Rubacuori is quirky with ultra-professional staff and features whimsical takes on traditional Italian dishes (think maybe foie gras escalope with turmeric, mango, rice chips and sea urchins; or maybe red mullet with poached eggs, red onion compote and tea foam).

The hotel has also instituted a Wines of the World program that features wines from Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

These are also available in the relaxed lounge bar, populated by a collection of funky artist types, young lovers and serious suits.

Milan is alive right now; whether you love history, fashion, sport or shopping it is one of the hottest destinations in Europe and this hotel – part of the Planetaria Collection that also includes the excellent Grand Hotel Savoie in Genoa – has its own fitness centre and spa, swimming pool and free wi-fi. Rooms have a sense of retro charm but all modern comforts and the staff are impeccably mannered. Prices start from around €265.

Hotel Chateau Monfort, 1 Corso Concordia, Milano. Phone +39 02 776 761.



City slickers

Sometimes it makes sense to spend a night or two in town, particularly if you have shopping to do, a Christmas function to attend or plan to be out late and don’t want to have to battle for a taxi.

travel-1888-atriumSydney’s latest hotel, the vibrant 1888 in Pyrmont, has been a smash hit from day one by getting the basics right: comfortable rooms, top-notch service and free wi-fi.

Located in an old wool store (and one-time car park), 1888 is just a short stroll from Darling Harbour and the Convention light rail stop. Originally built, you guessed it, in 1888, the building that houses the hotel has undergone a $30-million development over the last two years, emerging as a luxury boutique property that has 90 rooms, including a brightly-coloured attic penthouse apartment overlooking the city.

The smallest of the rooms, known as “the shoeboxes”, start from a bargain $139 a night but tend to be snapped up quickly.

The aesthetic of the hotel is distinctly Australian, blending the natural elements of reclaimed Iron bark, stark exposed brick and concrete walls, stone and bronze with a five-storey atrium. High ceilings and huge period windows reflect the heritage history, as do old photographs in the lobby lounge, although the overall vibe is very much up to date, with bright young staff who smile and do everything to make your stay as much fun as possible.

The free wi-fi (and two complimentary Apple computer stations in the lobby) is a nice idea, as are the iPads with hotel info located in each room. The mini bars contain healthy snacks and organic drinks in a nod to wellness.

There is no full-service restaurant on site, although dozens are within walking distance, but 1888 Eatery & Bar serves up continental breakfasts and rustic, tapas-style shared plates in the evenings.

The hotel is bright, quiet, functional but fun and the more you spend, the greater space and comfort. I liked the split-level loft rooms ($299) while suites start from $499.

1888 Hotel, 139 Murray Street, Pyrmont. (02) 8586 1888.


If you want to be right in the centre of the action, they don’t come any more central than the Swissôtel Sydney with theatres, eateries, pubs and Darling Harbour right on the doorstep.

travel-Swissotel-SydneyIt’s one of those places where the staff pays attention to detail. It was my first visit but the concierge said: “Good morning Mr Dobbin” as I entered and exited. Little things like that make you feel more like a guest and less like a customer.

The hotel opened 10 years ago and has been freshened up with a recent refurbishment of the bar, restaurant and executive lounge.

The Swissôtel has 359 rooms on the doorstep of Westfield Sydney, Pitt Street Mall and the Queen Victoria Building, but somehow manages to retain a boutique feel – not an easy trick to pull off.

The rooms and suites offer city skyline views and are comfortable and well-equipped (there’s even a turndown service) – this is a five-star property after all. Rooms for the less mobile and younger guests are available and personal Nepresso coffee machines are featured in higher room categories.

Guests who feel in need of some extra pampering can upgrade to the Swiss Executive club levels for $60 and enjoy a buffet breakfast that is rather excellent, pre-dinner drinks and canapes, free refreshments all day, wireless internet, free newspapers and weekend afternoon tea.

Swissôtel Sydney’s executive club floors feature two levels of exclusive accommodation on the top levels of 24 and 25 with access to the Swiss Executive Club Lounge on Level 9.

And when you need to wind down, the hotel’s fitness and wellness facilities feature the Amrita Spa, an outdoor heated swimming pool and fitness centre.

Swissotel Sydney, 68 Market Street, Sydney. (02) 9238 8888. 



– Winsor Dobbin

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