Wednesday, 22 March 2017

A step back in time to colonial days in Tasmania

There is a touch of colonial history and a lot of impressive hospitality when you stay at Sorell Barracks, a delightful bed and breakfast just 25 minutes outside of Hobart and 10 minutes from Hobart Airport. 

I took a punt on Sorell Barracks site unseen on for a one-night stay last week and was more than happy with my $116 investment. 

We were given a small self-contained garden cottage that might once have been a chapel and it was packed with antiques, all the modern facilities you might need for a short stay and a small, but impeccably clean, bathroom. 

There were also loft rooms (beware the steep stairs) with balconies and desks, along with a lovely garden with dining settings and barbecues. The top-range of accommodation is four two-room spa suites. 

The owners offer $15 shuttles between the airport and Sorell for those who'd rather stay in a characterful B&B than an airport hotel. 

The oldest building in the township of Sorell, the Barracks is a colonial Georgian terrace built in 1827. The building retains all the charm of the era and while the TV was small in our room, it does the trick for a night or two. 

There were excellent continental breakfast facilities (fruit, cereals, bread, fresh milk and juice etc), a minibar and a comfortable queen bed in the garden cottage, quality towels, free wifi and windows that open to let in fresh air. 

Set in a quiet street but within walking distance to Sorell's hotels, cafes and restaurants, quaint and comfortable Sorell Barracks gets a thumbs up from us. 

Sorell Barracks, 31 Walker Street, Sorell, Tasmania 7127. (03) 6265 1572. 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

New direction for Misha's Vineyard

Misha and Andy Wilkinson are the go-ahead couple behind the successful Misha's Vineyard wines from Central Otago in New Zealand. 

Until recently the couple preferred to put their energy into export sales rather than opening a cellar door - but the times they are a changing. 

Misha’s Vineyard has now opened a Tasting Room in Cromwell - the heart of the Central Otago wine region - in an ideal location overlooking Lake Dunstan.

The Wilkinsons have a spectacular 57-hectare estate on the edge of Lake Dunstan at Bendigo, just 10 minutes from Cromwell, but felt a more centrally located tasting room would be easier for guests to access. 

With 20 export markets established and 10 vintages completed, Misha and Andy they decided it was the right time to open a tasting room to showcase their wines. 

“We receive calls every day from people visiting from overseas who are familiar with our brand and want to visit,” said Andy. “We are also seeing increased tourism, with Central Otago growing its reputation as a world-class wine and food destination. Cromwell was also recently named the fastest-growing small town in the country, so it’s really exciting to be part of that growth.”

Recent figures from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment showed that the Central Otago region had an 11.6% increase in visitor spending across all markets for the year to January 2017. 

According to Tourism New Zealand, 20% of tourists arriving in the country take part in a ‘wine experience’, up from 13% in 2014. 

With the wine tourist in mind, the design concept for Misha’s Vineyard Tasting Room was to create a simple yet elegant space that would enable guests to have a relaxed personal tasting experience. A French country inspired theme was chosen and the Wilkinsons also wanted to bring the atmosphere of the vineyard into the tasting room so three walls have large-scale photographic murals showcasing the work of renowned local photographer Tim Hawkins.

The facility includes a private tasting room for members of the newly launched Misha’s Vineyard Vine Club.

Misha’s Vineyard Tasting Room is open every day from 10am-4pm, and also offers platters and small plates for those wanting to relax and enjoy a glass of wine and the views.

“The opening of this new tasting room, signifies a new phase of growth for us,” said Misha Wilkinson. “From the outset, the strategy for Misha’s Vineyard has been to build a premium brand working primarily with top restaurants, five-star hotels and premium wine retailers around the world as well as in New Zealand. 

"We’ve won many fans along the way so now we have a place we can host them and thank them for their support, as well as the opportunity of winning some new fans.”

Misha’s Vineyard Tasting Room, 180 State Highway 8B, Cromwell 9310. 

Sunday, 19 March 2017

How to cruise the Caribbean for half price: but you'll need to be quick

Cruising can offer extremely good vacation value; and even more so if you can snap up one of the occasional special deals that are on offer.

One of those deals is seven-night Caribbean cruises with MSC Cruises starting from $467 per person twin share.

That's a ridiculously low price even if you do have to make your own way to Miami. It's probably a sign that the Trump effect is already having a major impact on tourists visiting the US.

MSC Cruises, with whom I cruised a few years ago (I was impressed) is offering half-price fares to cruises that visit destinations including the Bahamas, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Mexico, Puerto Rico and St Maarten.

These cruises depart Miami every Saturday and there is the possibility to cruise back to back for 14 nights.

These deals are for cruises from June, 2017, through to February, 2018, and children travel free when sharing a cabin with two adults, paying only port charges.

Seven-night cruises from Miami start from only $467 per person (NZ$682) twin share but this deal is only valid for bookings from March 21-27, Visit MSC Cruises at, call 1300 028 502 or talk to a travel agent. 

Check all details, and your cabin category, are correct before booking. 

Australia's love affair with Champagne continues

Australians love their Champagne. New figures show Australians popped the second-largest number of Champagne corks in history during 2016, the Comité Champagne announced at Prowein in Germany overnight.

Australia holds its position as the seventh-largest Champagne market on earth and fifth-largest per head of population, with 7.4 million bottles landing in 2016, narrowly missing the all-time record of 8.1 million in 2015.

These figures reveal the first drop in Australia’s Champagne consumption since the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2009.

“But Australia’s 2016 champagne sales could hardly be considered as a decline,” says Tyson Stelzer, author of The Champagne Guide and host of the Taste Champagne event series. “An exceptional sales record in 2015 was an anomaly, and 2016 figures perfectly fit Australia’s buoyant growth curve, popping an average of 600,000 more bottles every year since 2009.”

These results confirm the recent trend of Australian drinkers turning away from beer and cheap sparkling wine in favour of more premium cuvées from Champagne.

Champagne sold 306.1 million bottles globally in 2016, marginally less than its post-GFC record of 312.5 million bottles in 2015. The biggest growth markets for champagne in 2016 were Mexico (up 31%), New Zealand (29%), Russia (22%), South Africa (22%), South Korea (16%) and Canada (12%).

Despite this small decline in volume of sales, the average value per bottle of champagne sold globally in 2016 rose by 1.5%.

“The diversification of cuvées is continuing in 2016: 8.6% more bottles of champagne rosé have been shipped than in the previous year, and prestige cuvées show an increase of 4.6%,” said Comité Champagne communications director Thibaut Le Mailloux. “Champagne consumers are turning to ever rarer and more prestigious cuvées.”

“Of Champagne’s top 10 markets, Australia ranks lowest in proportion of rosé consumed, lowest in grower champagne and second-lowest in prestige champagne,” reveals Stelzer. “Our per bottle spend remains one of the lowest in the world.”

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Multiple draw cards lure visitors to Cygnet

There are several reasons to visit the pretty Tasmanian hamlet of Cygnet this weekend (March 18-19).  

First, there are the final two days of the Huon Arts Group Exhibition at the Town Hall, showcasing some of the finest artworks from the Huon Valley.

On Sunday, the fortnightly Cygnet Market, which draws stallholders and visitors from across southern Tasmania, will be held and Cygnet's many cafes will all be open serving local specialities. 

On both Saturday and Sunday, no fewer than 29 local leather workers, guitar makers, potters, woodworkers and other creatives will open their studios and workshops for the annual HandMade In Cygnet arts trail in and around the town. 

Visitors can check the website and plan their own trail using the interactive map

The arts trail is open 10am-4pm on both days.

The best spot to kick back and luxuriate in South Africa

An absolute beachfront boutique hotel in one of South Africa’s smartest resort towns; efficient, friendly and plentiful staff, elegant furnishings and superb food. 

The Beverly Hills Hotel, part of the Tsogo Sun group, is one the grandest hostelries in Umhlanga Rocks, KzaZulu-Natal, and was the luxury property that launched the career of global hotel magnate Sol Kerzner.

The Beverly Hills has just 89 rooms and suites, each with a private balcony and an uninterrupted view of the ocean. It is a stylish setting and one of those hotels where the staff quickly recognise guests by name. 

The award-winning hotel has become synonymous with elegance, gracious hospitality and intuitive service and boasts one of the finest hotel wine cellars in South Africa. 

When you arrive your car is swiftly and efficiently whisked away; you are checked in individually at a private desk and given a room tour. 

Facilities include complimentary wifi, a fitness centre, heated pool, a business centre, two restaurants (the buffet breakfasts and long weekend lunches are legendary here) with the option of also dining on a deck overlooking the water.

The busy port city of Durban is just a 15-minute drive, and a world, away.

This is the perfect spot to kick and relax for a few days after the excitement of exploring game reserves and excesses of the Cape cellar doors. 

To put it simply, the Beverly Hills is opulent - and given the strength of the dollar to the rand, ridiculously affordable right now. 

There is a porter service, valet service, and 24-hour room service - you get the picture. 

Signature restaurant The Sugar Club is relaxed but with very high culinary standards - and super-slick staff.

Cocktails, wines and light snacks can also be enjoyed while taking in the ocean views. You can feel your heart rate dropping. Highly recommended. 

I stayed one night as a guest of the hotel and would happily have paid with my own money to stay longer had it not been for a plane booking. 

Beverly Hills Hotel, 54 Lighthouse Rd, Umhlanga, 4320, South Africa.  +27 31 561 2211

# The writer was a guest of TogoSun Hotels 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

New wine centre to be a showpiece for the Barossa

The Barossa, Australia's leading wine-producing region, has unveiled plans for a world-class cellar and function centre to store and showcase more than 2000 dozen bottles of the region’s wines.

The Barossa Cellar project aims to showcase many of the region’s best wines at their optimal drinking age to wine industry representatives, buyers and journalists.

While the need for such a facility has been discussed by regional winemakers for several years, the project has taken significant steps forward in recent weeks and could open as soon as March, 2018.

The $4.5 million project is being driven by the Barons of the Barossa, a strangely-dressed group of influential wine industry personalities from the region, and has recently secured a major tenant and council building approval to develop the 2.8 hectare site between the townships of Tanunda and Angaston.

The Barons bought the land last year and will contribute $1 million to the project. A fund-raising campaign to raise the remaining $3.5 million will be launched next month.

The Barossa, about 70km north of the South Australian capital Adelaide, is home to many of Australia’s most famous wine brands including Yalumba, Penfolds, Wolf Blass and Jacob’s Creek.

Barossa Cellar Committee Chairman and Barossa Baron James Wark said the lease agreement signed last month with the Barossa Grape and Wine Association (BGWA) would bring the building to life and ensure the wine in the cellar would be used to maximum effect.

Wark said having the collection all in one place for the first time – rather than in various cellars around the region – would allow for consistent cellaring in “pristine” conditions and improved cataloguing and access to the wine.

“We decided that while we wanted this wine cellar, we also wanted it to be a living place and not just something that was a dormant cellar,” he said.

“What I think we’re going to be able to do is to really promote the Barossa in a fantastic new way."

Australia was the world’s fifth largest wine-producing nation in 2016 behind Italy, France, Spain and the United States. South Australia is consistently responsible for about 50% of Australia’s total annual production and about 75% of the premium wine.

The Barons of Barossa formed in 1975 and built its collection from annual wine donations from local companies to store and use their best wines at functions for people who can benefit the region.

The collection of predominantly red wines has reached more than 2000 dozen and includes wines more than 20 years old from iconic Barossa wineries such as Henschke, Penfolds, Rockford, Yalumba, Greenock Creek, Peter Lehmann and Grant Burge.

Meanwhile, wine enthusiasts and collectors will have access to Barossa’s most exclusive and rare wines at the bi-annual Barossa Wine Chapters Auction next month.

Presented by BGWA and supported by Langton’s Fine Wines, wines will be auctioned online from April 7-21 and the live auction will be held at a special lunch event on Friday 21 April, 2017.

The auction will feature rare vertical collections of back vintages, as well as large format and special releases from 59 of Barossa’s most prestigious and distinguished wineries, with a total of 159 lots available online and an additional 30 lots available at the live auction. Lots are valued from $40 up to $54,000, with wine to appeal to everyone from casual wine drinkers to connoisseurs and investors.