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

Riomaggiore

Although every town in the Cinque Terre has its own charm, for me Riomaggiore was the most magical. Approaching from the water, the village nestled in a valley between two steep hills

1.Riomaggiore

and the colourful buildings beckoned.

2.Riomaggiore

Alighting from the boat, we climbed a series of stone steps, rewarded with a spectacular view along the coastline we has just travelled.

3.Riomaggiore

The small harbour of this 13th century village is beautiful. Despite tourist numbers, there was a feeling of tranquility as the fishing boats lazed upon the water

4.Riomaggiore5.Riomaggiore6.Riomaggiore

or patiently awaited their next outing.

7.Riomaggiore8.Riomaggiore9.Riomaggiore

We wandered up the main thoroughfare, Via Colombo, lined with colourful dwellings, fascinating shops, restaurants and bars.

10.Via Colombo

13.Via Colombo14.Via Colombo

Retracing our steps, we digressed for beer and bruschetta at Il Maggiore

19.Via Colombo20.Via Colombo21.Il Maggiore

while others attended to the mundane chores of life.

A storm was threatening by the time we returned to the harbour,

25.storm brewing

wondering if we would arrive in Porto Venere before the heavens opened.

26.return boat

Back in Le Grazie, a gentle rain accompanied our walk to La Marinara for a pizza dinner and reflection on our wonderful day in Cinque Terre.

Mount Gnomon Farm

We had been wanting to visit Mount Gnomon Farm for years but the timing was always wrong. Finally, last Sunday we drove the short ten minutes from Penguin along winding roads, through beautiful countryside, to experience the recently re-opened restaurant. The rustic simplicity of the exterior

1.restaurant

continues once inside.

2.interior

From quirky door handles and unique light fittings

to walls adorned with animal hides and ‘family’ photos, the ambience is warm and inviting.

A colourful palette of wildflowers is framed by the dining room window.

8.view from dining room

The front verandah overlooks fields of grazing sheep,

9.view from front door

a charcoal spit and bespoke fire pits await the next big event.

10.spit

Resident pooches Cyril and Winston eagerly welcomed us, happy to accept attention without demanding it.

Agricultural scientist, Guy Robertson purchased this magnificent parcel of land ten years ago, principally to raise free range pigs and promote the end product of premium free range pork. Nestled against the forest reserve of the Dial Range, they certainly have no problem with neighbours.

19.Dial Range20.Wild garden & Dial Range

The estate has become much more than a pig farm but I’ll get to that after lunch. Unfortunately for Guy, but fortuitously for us, last minute cancellations meant the three of us were the only guests. Perusing the menu, it was difficult to make a choice, we wanted to try everything. With a little encouragement from Guy and his team, that’s exactly what we did. French chef, Madjid, specialises in charcuterie and so, at the top of the menu, we started with the impressive French Charcuterie shared plate. Ham hock terrine, wallaby terrine, pepperberry cured pork fillet, saucisson sec, saucisson a l’ail, smoked ham, apple puree, garden pickles and sourdough bread.

21.French Charcuterie shared plate

Mount Gnomon smoked chorizo with pumpkin puree & sage, Mount Gnomon smoked bratwurst with house sauerkraut & German mustard and a salad of borlotti beans, celery, fennel & orange followed.

24.salad

The roasted suckling pig leg with sausage stuffing, carrots, garlic crumb & jus convinced us of the superior quality and flavour of Mount Gnomon free range pork.

25.suckling pig

Next came free range chicken served with spinach, roasted pumpkin, burnt butter, lemon & toasted pine nuts.

26.free range chicken

Crispy Kennebec potato with smoked paprika mayo and local green vegetables with a herb dressing, Coal River Farm fetta, preserved lemon & mint completed the feast. (I missed a photo of the greens, trust me, they were incredible).

27.potatoes

I should point out, these dishes were shared between us, we hadn’t really succumbed to an attack of gluttony. The menu changes every week depending on the fresh farm produce available, what a great excuse to return and sample more. Local beers and ciders are also on offer, along with superb Ghost Rock wines. We were confident we could manage the one dessert on the menu with a pause for digestion and so, embarked on a Guy guided tour of the farm. A new lamb had joined the flock of Shropshire sheep that morning, I’m sure he grew more cute each time I looked at him (actually, not sure if he is a he).

The other lambs had a head start and for some, the grass was definitely greener the other side of the fence.

Across the paddock to the west, the traditional Dairy Shorthorn cattle enjoy far reaching views as well as luscious green pasture.

34.views to the west

To the north, the young apple trees of the cider orchard align with the pristine waters of Bass Strait.

37.view to the north

A wild edible garden

38.wild garden

occupies the space between the restaurant kitchen and the most spectacular raised vegetable garden I have ever seen.

39.vegetable patch

My hopes of cuddling a piglet were dashed when we learned the hundreds of Wessex Saddleback pigs that usually reside here had been relocated to enable regeneration of the pastures.

40.pig pastures

I’m sure they will be eager to return to their home beneath Mount Gnomon.

41.pig pastures

For the few that remain, the rich, red soil was irresistible for a spot of wallowing.

I imagine this would be a soothing respite

47.pig in mud48.pig in mud

from suckling twelve large offspring.

49.piggies

Back at the restaurant, I entered the inner sanctum to witness the cured meats awaiting their turn on the charcuterie board.

50.charcuterie

The exercise and fresh air had primed us for the delicious peanut butter chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis & crunchy topping.

51.mousse

If you can’t make it to Mount Gnomon Farm, you can find their products on menus around Australia as well as at farmers markets and festivals across Tasmania. If you can make it to the farm, next Sunday would be the perfect opportunity with a big day planned for the launch of Mount Gnomon Farms very own cider.

52.event