Australian mid-winter escapes

Author: Rob Ingram

Winter is here and with it comes the perfect excuse to get away. Whether it be a Miss Marple-style escape to a cosy old country house or a chance to refresh the soul in a Benedictine monastery, we've got the perfect winter weekend escape for you. Stoke up the fire and uncork the pinot.


There are winter escapes that positively embrace winter. Not silly, dangerous, uncomfortable activities like snowboarding and skiing, but rather the bliss and beatitude of a massage table at Cradle Mountain Lodge's Waldheim Alpine Spa, looking out over the snow-clad Cradle Valley and its ghostly King Billy pines while the body is introduced to wholeness, purity and radiance through the medium of hot volcanic stones and aromatic oils. An excellent retreat on the fringe of World Heritage wilderness, Cradle Mountain Lodge offers the option of cabins - some with spa facilities - spa suites with verandas, and King Billy suites with bathroom spa and private hot tub on the deck. The Highland Restaurant hosts an annual Tastings at the Top event (23 to 25 June) which showcases the finest of Tasmania's wine and produce. About 75 minutes' drive from Devonport or two-and-a-half hours from Launceston. Cradle Mountain Lodge, via Sheffield, Tas, 1300 134 044, Cabins from $128 per person, twin share.


On the Sixth Day, God created Bellingen. And on the Seventh Day, he rested… And the Bellingen locals have been taking it easy ever since. Just 10 minutes away, over the evocatively-named Never Never River, is the blissful community of Promised Land - the Aussie equivalent of Shangri-La. Promised Land Cottages feature stylish open-plan living areas attached to decks with dramatic views to the Dorrigo escarpment. While Promised Land's real appeal is its sense of sanctuary from the outside world, its surrounds are far from purgatory. The spectacular rainforest of the Dorrigo National park is a 30-minute drive west, and the same distance to the east are a spoiled-for-choice selection of beaches. Allow time for a visit to No 2 Oak Street, also in Bellingen, one of the country's best regional restaurants. Promised Land Cottages, Promised Land Rd, Bellingen, NSW, (02) 6655 9578, from $190.


There's something evocative about the view out over the winery, the orchard and the vines sloping down to the valley floor and the lake. It's reinforced by the smells of fresh wood-fired bread, garlic, balsamic and roasted tomatoes being prepared in the restaurant kitchen. The hills of Siena, right? Not quite. In fact it's Borrodell on the Mt, 10 minutes from Orange and just over three hours' drive from Sydney. Orange is fast becoming the coolest name in cool-climate wines, and Borrodell's accommodation is set in the landscaped beauty of a typical Tuscan agraria embracing vineyard, orchard and trufferie. Chardonnay and Truffles are self-contained three-bedroom luxury villas; the Carriages are two old timber red rattler railway carriages fashioned into a stylish sleeping car and dining car. Sample wines at the cellar door and dine unforgettably at the trattoria (Sister's Rock Restaurant). Borrodell on the Mt, Lake Canobolas Rd, Orange, NSW, (02) 6365 3425, from $65 per person and villas from $90 per person.


Don't you just love those Miss Marple locations? The 20s English manors with oaks and elms and porticos and libraries, and sensible cars like Lagondas decorating the driveway. There's always a fatality at these places, of course, and at Campaspe Country House in Victoria's Macedon Ranges, it's the drop-dead beauty of the harmony between house, garden and bushland created by landscape design genius Edna Walling. Campaspe House has provided gracious living quarters for a succession of well-heeled owners and now offers commoners a taste of the same. Art Deco elegance, an in-house massage menu, billiards, fishing, or walks through those 32 acres of designer parkland. Now for the good news: head chef Brad Lobb showcases great local produce and cool-climate wines in daily menus that crunch with integrity and vibrance. Ask about the Indulgence Package and their unique Vespa Food Trails. Campaspe Country House, Goldies La, Woodend, Vic, (03) 5427 2273,, bed and breakfast package from $225 per person.


Sometimes hibernating can be fun. No need to lower the body temperature though; just curl up around the fire with good food, good wine and a good book. At Hannah's Cottage near Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills the agenda more or less sets itself. Sleep in till late, brew a pot of coffee, raid the kitchen for its generous supply of cooked and continental breakfast provisions, read the paper sprawled in front of the wood fire, stroll over to the Shaw & Smith and Nepenthe cellar doors to select a few bottles of the local libation, then head into Hahndorf for a blitz on its irresistible bakeries, butchers, delicatessens and pâtisseries. Quaint and modest from the outside, Hannah's Cottage proves to be a little den of indulgence with a twin spa bath, queen-sized bed with luxury linen, flat-screen TV and wood-fire heating. Hannah's Cottage, Jones Rd, Balhannah, SA, (08) 8388 4148, from $230.




Let's not make this trendy because at the forefront of St Benedict's teachings is the need for humility. But one of the great feel-good experiences is a weekend at the Benedictine Monastery Guesthouse at New Norcia, 130km north of Perth. Spiritual guidance is yours only if requested, otherwise you're welcome to enjoy basic accommodation, simple fresh meals, and the palpable serenity of a monastic community. The monks own and operate all the buildings and businesses - including the famous bakery - in a totally unique town. The guided tour reveals the fascinating history of the place, plus the monks' own chapel inside the monastery and a museum and art gallery containing treasures by Italian and Spanish masters. The tariff of $75 per person is a donation towards the monastery's work. Monastery Guesthouse, Benedictine Community, New Norcia, WA, (08) 9654 8002,

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