The Mansion Hotel

One of the places on our list to visit while in Werribee was the historic 19th century mansion and gardens. When we discovered the estate included a hotel, we decided to indulge and stay the night. The Mansion Hotel evolved from the former St. Joseph’s Seminary adjacent to the mansion itself. Created in 1926, the college lay derelict for nearly thirty years from 1972 when students were moved to a new campus. Rescued and restored, the boutique hotel opened its doors in June 2000.

1.The Mansion Hotel

Period features have been retained, with a contemporary twist for the lounge areas of the reception foyer.

2.lounge3.lounge

The library was once part of the chapel, the original stained glass windows complement the rich surroundings,

4.library

8.library

the snooker room is equally inviting.

9.snooker room

It was a little early to sample something at the opulent bar

10.bar

and the setting of tables in Joseph’s restaurant was imminent.

11.Joseph's Restaurant

The hotel comprises classic heritage rooms as well as deluxe accommodation in the new spa wing.

12.spa wing

Up the stairs

13.staircase

and across a walkway

14.walkway

we found our very comfortable room.

15.room

The shadows were lengthening as we set off to explore,

16.terrace

the evening sun highlighted the mansion in all her splendour.

17.The Mansion

Magnificent sweeping lawns and formal English gardens make up the ten acre estate.

A rather stunning door

21.back door

leads to the rear and a  different perspective of the palatial buildings.

22.rear view23.bluestone outbuilding

We returned to the hotel

to prepare for dinner in Joseph’s Restaurant, named in honour of the seminary. The menu changes with the seasons to take advantage of the produce grown in the heritage vegetable gardens of the estate as well as the wild and native foods available. Sprouted rye sourdough was accompanied by smoked organic butter and pepper-leaf oil from the Mansion’s ancient peppertrees.

26.sourdough

Our first course choices were Black Cobia with bug dumplings, shiso, shitake, kombu & lemongrass broth and Seven Hills goat ‘brik’ with preserved lemon, wheat, pickled chayote & goats curd.

Second course followed; Yarra Valley pheasant with bread & butter pudding, wild nettles, lardo, pine mushrooms & onion soup and local barramundi with Jersey royal potatoes, warrigal greens, quail egg, black olive & scampi anglaise.

The Musquee De Provence pumpkin pie was divine

31.pumpkin pie

and, even though the servings weren’t huge, we barely had room for the warm mulled wine.

32.warm mulled wine

Fortunately, the perfect end to a fabulous day was only a staircase away.

Festivale

The first weekend in February brings a very special event to Launceston in the form of Festivale. Our first experience was in 2009 soon after relocating to Tasmania and, even though we had good intentions, we hadn’t attended since. This year we couldn’t resist the drawcard on the music menu. Festivale was launched in 1988 as a big street party in the CBD as part of Australia’s bicentenary celebrations. After seven years in the CBD, the annual event moved to City Park, showcasing Tasmanian gourmet food, wine, beer, cider and spirits along with entertainment by local and interstate artists. Unfortunately, the weather gods did not cooperate this time. We arrived for the 10am opening armed with raincoats and umbrellas and, resisting the temptation at the myriad stalls, sought a hot chocolate starter.

The sounds of jazz filled the park as the Ross Challender Big Band defied the elements,

8.Ross Challender Big Band

their melodies accompanied our survey of produce on offer.

Ample seating, hoping to deflect the rain, awaited in anticipation of the crowds to come.

12.seating

I was more than a little disconcerted when the local constabulary accused me of having them under surveillance but with some smooth talking, I convinced the kindly Commissioner that I was merely there to enjoy the festivities.

15.Commissioner

With wine in hand, we secured seats as the big band concluded their last number.

16.Ross Challender Big Band

The Dave Adams Band changed the tempo and rocked for the next hour before Russell Morris took to the stage. Yes, Russell Morris, Australian rock legend, stirred the gathering with his stalwarts from the early years (I remember The Real Thing from 1969, how can it be that long ago?) as well as his more recent melodies. Natures canopy that had sheltered us from the rain earlier was now shielding us from the sun

17.tree canopy

as the crowd eagerly awaited the main attraction.

18.The Whitlams

The Whitlams have been one of our favourites since their inception nearly thirty years ago yet we had never seen a live performance. They didn’t disappoint and hopefully we will have the opportunity to see them again soon (if you think there are a lot of photos of Tim Freedman, you are absolutely right).

23.The Whitlams

We left our empty friends

28.the last three

and strolled the short distance to our hotel to indulge in a nanna nap before dinner.

29.The Cornwall Hotel

Pienza

We took our time driving from Le Grazie to our next destination, Podere Montepozzo, in northern Lazio and stopped to explore Pienza. Established as the medieval village of Corsignano, Pope Pius II renamed and redesigned the place of his birth in the late 15th century. He enlisted the help of architect, Bernardo Rossellino, to create the ideal Renaissance town and it has remained unchanged since that time. We parked the car and made our way to the centre of town,

1.Pienza2.back of Pienza cathedral3.Pienza

the colours of spring brightened the pavements.

On the lookout for somewhere to lunch,

we found ourselves at the edge of the village

20.Pienza21.Pienza

stunned by the breathtaking vista across the Val d’Orcia to Mount Amiata beyond.

22.Val d'Orcia23.Val d'Orcia24.Val d'Orcia25.Val d'Orcia26.Val d'Orcia

Returning to the main square, we couldn’t resist a peek inside the walls of Relais Chiostro di Pienza, an exquisite hotel on the site of a 13th century Franciscan convent. The beautiful ancient cloister

27.cloister

led to the former garden of the friars and the perfect venue for lunch, La Terrazza del Chiostro.

28.La Terrazza del Chiostro

With storm clouds gathering on the horizon, we risked outdoor dining.

The service was impeccable, from the leather bound menu to the handbag holder (hastily produced when I placed my bag on the floor), the unique cutlery

and that spectacular view.

36.Val d'Orcia37.Val d'Orcia38.Val d'Orcia

The meals were delicious, starting with a colourful palate cleanser and a selection of breads.

The pigeon was a work of art with breast, leg and a wing lollipop coated in hazelnut & mushroom powder and the local pork fillet with wild fennel carbonara sauce and seasonal vegetables was mouthwatering.

We finished our meal just in time before the heavens opened and wandered through the opulent interior of the hotel

before braving the weather the short distance to Pienza Cathedral. Built in 1459 on the ruins of an ancient Romanesque church, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

49.Pienza Cathedral

The gothic interior is quite spectacular

with elaborate altars

53.altar

and intricately designed labyrinthine ceilings.

The baptismal font seemed simple in comparison.

I think someone was contemplating a quick confession before we left.

Returning to the car, we found divine inspiration to remind us of our objective.

65.Aperitivo Van

Picasso’s ceramics

For me, the name Picasso conjures images of, somewhat disturbing, cubist portraits. The tragic figure of Weeping Woman, painted in 1937, is a fitting case in point.

1.Weeping Woman 1937

What I didn’t realise, until a visit to the NGV last year, is that he was also a prolific ceramicist. Spanish born Pablo Picasso was well into his sixties when he met Suzanne Ramie, one of the owners of Madoura Pottery, on a trip to the south of France. Already an accomplished artist, he was eager to experiment with this new medium and learn all he could from Suzanne. He set up his own workshop close by in the town of Vallauris and over the years, produced thousands of pieces as well as creating new ways of decorating and glazing. The Picasso’s Ceramics exhibition displayed fifty nine of his works, unfortunately I only have a few to share with you. Feminine faces and figures featured across the collection,

grand vase aux femmes voilées depicts the backs of four women, their nakedness partially covered with translucent veils.

Another favoured subject was birds, particularly owls with distinct personalities.

6.Owl vase 1951

Picasso’s interest in mythology is reflected with the playful imagery of fauns,

7.Tetes (Heads) 1956

satyrs and goats.

8.Goat's Head in Profile 1952

Bullfighting was another recurring theme with many works detailing bulls, matadors and bull-rings.

9.Corrida on Black Ground 1953

One of the things about ceramics that appealed to Picasso was the ability to create new works quickly and inexpensively. By producing editions of up to 500, as well as originals, he liked the idea that his pieces would be affordable for everyday people, not just the wealthy. That may have been the case at one time but the price tag these days is definitely out of reach for most of us.

10.Face with grid, round dish 1956

Cascade Brewhouse

When Michael was recently invited to play at Cascade Brewhouse in Hobart, it was the perfect excuse for a short break and an overnight stay. Despite living in Tasmania for ten years, we have never visited Cascade Brewery. The gothic façade of Australia’s oldest operating brewery seems to dwarf the majesty of Mount Wellington.

1.Cascade Brewery

Across the road, the brewhouse is more than just the ticket office for brewery tours.

2.Cascade Brewhouse3.Cascade Brewhouse

Snippets of history await in the entrance hall

and in other rooms adjacent to the light, airy restaurant and bar.

7.restaurant8.bar

While Michael set up his paraphernalia,

I ventured out to explore the three acres of immaculate heritage gardens.

12.fountain13.hop cart14.garden path

It’s easy to see why the venue is perfect for weddings and functions.

15.brewhouse garden

22.garden23.water feature

Needless to say, the afternoon entertainment was superb, as was the beer.

24.Michael

We returned the next morning to sample the new brunch menu, I don’t have photos but believe me, the offerings are amazing. I did take the opportunity of an empty bar

27.bar

to share with you the liquid delicacies on tap at Cascade Brewery.

28.bar

A big thank you to Kirk for your hospitality and generosity, looking forward to catching up again.