The Hotel Windsor

Our wonderful trip to Victoria was coming to an end and one of the things we had planned for our last day was Afternoon Tea at The Hotel Windsor. Established in 1883, this magnificent building was then known as The Grand Hotel and soon became recognised as the most stylish and luxurious accommodation in Melbourne.

The property changed hands in 1886 and soon after, under the influence of the temperance movement’s teetotal ideals at the time, became The Grand Coffee Palace. Apparently, serving coffee isn’t quite as profitable as serving alcohol and ten years later, the liquor license was reinstated and The Grand Hotel was reborn. The name was changed to The Windsor following a luncheon attended by The Prince of Wales in 1923. Expansions, renovations and changes of ownership have ensued over the years and, under threat of demolition in 1976, the Victorian Government bought the hotel. As we stepped into the foyer, we were instantly transported to a time of elegance and etiquette.

The arched entrance to The Grand Ballroom features etched glass panes and cut ruby glass

and the cantilevered Grand Staircase, built of Stawell stone, rises 75 feet above the lobby.

Even the Ladies Powder Room has an air of grandeur.

The sumptuous One Eleven lounge is the setting for The Windsor’s Afternoon Tea, a Melbourne institution served since 1883.

The custom of afternoon tea is said to have originated around the time gas lighting was introduced in the 1800s in Britain. This meant people could stay up later and eat their evening meal later, leaving a longer gap without food. One of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting is credited with the innovation when, in 1840, she began inviting friends to join her for afternoon beverages and delicious snacks. By 1880, the trend had spread to the homes of the upper classes and tea shops appeared across the country. After years of believing this to be called ‘High Tea’, I have discovered this is not the case. ‘High Tea’ was a substantial meal eaten at a high table by the working classes at the end of the day, around 5pm. What we were about to experience is known as ‘Low Tea’ in reference to the low drawing room tables the tea and delicacies were served from in upper class homes. By that definition, ours was probably ‘Middle Tea’. Greeted with a flute of sparkling wine, it wasn’t long before a three-tiered cake stand laden with mouthwatering morsels arrived.

The menu changes seasonally, our winter warm savoury appetisers were roasted Jerusalem artichoke tart with ricotta, thyme & fine herbs and parmesan crusted gougere with a delicious Gruyere filling.

There were three varieties of melt-in-your-mouth ribbon sandwiches; free range egg with saffron aioli & mustard,smoked chicken Waldorf salad with Victorian walnuts and cucumber with peperonata & Yarra Valley fetta.

The patisserie presentation was exquisite, we couldn’t decide which to devour first; the pistachio macaron with roasted pistachio & Sicilian pistachio ganache, the vanilla and yuzu religieuse with vanilla bean mousse, yuzu sauce, cremeux & almond sponge or the longchamp with milk chocolate mousse & crispy hazelnut praline.

On arrival, we were asked to choose from a selection of eleven teas which were now served in individual silver teapots with an accompanying pot of hot water for those of us who enjoy our brew on the weak side. Freshly baked traditional and raisin scones with housemade jam and double cream completed the indulgence.

The two hour session seems ample when booking but we could happily have lingered all afternoon.

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.

Monterosso

A short boat trip along the coast from Vernazza brought us to the next village of the Cinque Terre, Monterosso.

1.Monterosso

Dating back to Roman times, the oldest and most populated of the Cinque Terre villages is divided into two parts. The old, medieval village

2.Monterosso Vecchio

and the new, modern area known as Fegina

3.Fegina

are separated by San Cristoforo hill.

4.San Cristoforo hill

A strong defence system was built on the hill in the 16th century with only three of the thirteen towers still standing. One of those is the Aurora Tower, with pride of place on the promontory it is now a private residence.

5.Torre Aurora

Ancient lookout turrets and fortress walls adorn the hillside.

Dominating the headland, the Convent of the Capuchin Friars has had a turbulent history since construction in 1619. Closed for the Napoleonic laws in 1816 and again for the Savoy laws in 1867, it has been used as a hospital and warehouse and eventually returned to the friars in 2006.

8.Convento Frati Cappuccini

Across the bay on the other side of the old town, the Hotel Porto Roca clings to the rocky foundations of Punta Corone.

9.Hotel Porto Roca

In 1960, Giacinto Jacazzi, a fashion creator from Milan, fell in love with the village and bought the land. Rather than a family home, he decided to build a hotel so more people could enjoy it. Workers had to construct roads to the isolated site and fearless excavator drivers manoeuvred their machines on the edge of sheer cliffs.

10.Hotel Porto Roca

Three years later, the dream came true. I will definitely be staying here if we are lucky enough to return one day.

11.Hotel Porto Roca

The boat tied up in the harbour of Monterosso Vecchio,

12.Monterosso vecchio

we climbed some stairs and walked along the path to the new part of town. Fegina Beach is the biggest sand covered beach in the Cinque Terre and is a popular destination for tourists.

15.Fegina Beach14.Fegina Beach13.Fegina Beach

We enjoyed a seafood lunch overlooking the bay and then, armed with gelati, wandered along Via Fegina where majestic hotels and apartments afforded uninterrupted views of the coastline.

16.Via Fegina

Returning to the boat, we farewelled Monterosso for a sedate cruise back to Riomaggiore in time for aperitivo.

17.Monterosso Vecchio

Queenstown

Queenstown has always been one of those places we passed through on our way to somewhere else. The first time was on holiday in 1998, the barren terrain and torrential deluge didn’t entice us to linger. The largest town on Tasmania’s west coast has changed considerably since then. The early 1900s saw mass logging as the mining town boomed and the expansion of the copper mines left an eerie, lunar landscape bereft of vegetation. The main street is reminiscent of a wild west movie set with Mount Owen towering above re-forested hillsides.

1.Orr Street

We made our way to Spion Kopf Lookout for a different perspective of the town. Tasmania was one of the first British colonies to send volunteers when the second Boer War broke out in 1899. The British suffered a humiliating defeat on a hill in Natal called Spion Kopf, meaning ‘Spy Hill’, and on returning home, the British survivors named stands at their local football grounds ‘the Kop’ to commemorate the fallen. I don’t know if Queenstown had a football ground, but this hill was named for the same reason. There is a poppet head made from materials from the old mine

2.poppet head

as well as a restored cannon, one of two cast at the Queenstown smelters in 1898.

3.cannon

The second cannon was transported to Victoria in 1910 where it was used to fire the royal salute on the coronation of King George V. It was used again in 1918 to celebrate the end of World War I but, unfortunately, it was overloaded with powder and exploded when it was fired.

4.lookout

From our perch, we had a fabulous view of the rather impressive Penghana, built in 1898 for Mr. Robert Sticht, the General Manager of the Mount Lyell Mining & Railway Company. The home certainly reflects the power of a man in his position  and the wealth in the town at the time. Robert Sticht died in 1922 and ten more general managers and their families lived at Penghana until 1995 when the title was transferred to the National Trust. The house is now run as a unique bed & breakfast, I think we need to find an excuse to stay at Penghana.

5.Penghana Bed & Breakfast

The hills surrounding the town still have some regenerating to do and the isolation is evident from this outlook.

6.lookout view7.lookout view8.Mt. Owen

We returned to ground level for lunch at the Empire Hotel, a beautiful, heritage listed building dating back to 1901.

The lobby is dominated by a stunning hand-carved Tasmanian Blackwood staircase. The raw timber was shipped to England, carved and shipped back to Queenstown.

13.Empire Hotel lobby

The tasteful furnishings echoed the era

15.Empire Hotel lobby

and the traditional dining room had a cosy ambience

16.Dining Room

with a beautifully restored ceiling rose.

17.ceiling rose

The menu was extensive but who can go past fish ‘n’ chips on a Friday?

18.fish & chips

Fortified, we were ready to tackle the ’99 bends’, the infamous road between Queenstown and Gormanston that makes us appreciate the innovation of power steering. As the road straightened, we turned off to Iron Blow Lookout, an extended viewing platform over the former open-cut mine.

19.Iron Blow Lookout

Miners flocked to the area when gold was discovered in 1883 but they found the plentiful copper deposits more profitable. The colours were striking on this sunny day.

20.Iron Blow Lookout

The view across the Linda Valley to Lake Burbury was spectacular,

21.Iron Blow Lookout22.Lake Burbury

while the denuded landscape remains as a legacy from the past.

23.Iron Blow Lookout24.Iron Blow Lookout25.Iron Blow Lookout

The nearby settlements of Gormanston and Linda were built for workers of the Iron Blow but both are now ghost towns. The only evidence of former lives in Linda is the haunting remnants of the Royal Hotel. The original structure burnt down in January 1910 and T Kelly rebuilt using concrete to avert any future disasters. The hotel finally closed in the 1950s and the shell still stands despite more recent flames.

26.Royal Hotel, Linda27.Royal Hotel, Linda

We left the west coast behind as we crossed the bridge over Lake Burbury, uplifted by the afternoon sun glistening on the pristine water.

28.Lake Burbury

Hotel Ranieri

Finding affordable accommodation in the centre of Rome isn’t easy. We were fortunate to be able to plan our trip well ahead and booked a wonderful hotel in the historic centre of the city. We had arranged airport transfer through the hotel and enjoyed a very comfortable ride, the driver kindly pointed out some of the sights along the way. Hotel Ranieri is set in a restored 19th century Umbertine palace on Via Venti Settembre.

1.Hotel Ranieri

The entrance is very inviting and almost hidden from the road by the beautiful orange trees lining the footpath.

2.entrance

The hotel has 47 rooms over five floors as well as some privately owned apartments. The staircase is magnificent, whether standing at reception looking up

3.staircase looking up

or on the fifth floor looking down.

4.staircase looking down

The tiny lift was just big enough for two adults with a suitcase each, certainly reminiscent of a bygone era.

5.lift

Our room was very comfortable and we could open a window onto a courtyard (five floors below), no need for the air conditioner. It was also surprisingly quiet, not what we expected on such a busy street.

7.room

Beyond the reception desk and an interesting work of art,

8.art

the lounge bar had a relaxed, intimate ambience, a very pleasant setting to partake of a beverage.

9.lounge bar

Breakfast was included in the room rate, and down the stairs to the basement

was a bright and airy breakfast room.

12.breakfast room

There was something for every taste, a great way to start the day.