Spotlight on South Australia

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Barossa Valley, South Australia

Barossa Valley, South Australia

Shine director, Scott Hicks, returns to the South Australian sun for his latest film The Boys Are Back which hits UK screens on January 22. Clive Owen leads the film as a recently widowed sports writer and father to two boys, Artie (Nicholas McAnulty) who lives with him in Australia and Harry (George Mackay), his child from a previous marriage who is ensconced at an English boarding school. All three male leads give assured performances but the real star is South Australia – The Boys are Back showcases the stunning Fleurieu Peninsula, and the contrast between its dramatic coastline and orderly vineyards.

Fancy following in the footsteps of Owen et al and taking a trip down under but unsure where to start? Fortunately for you, dear reader, we’ve got the low-down from Mr & Mrs Smith – one of our favourite travel teams – on two top spots to stay in South Australia. Your definitive guide starts here…

The Louise
Seppeltsfield Road at Stonewell Road
Marananga
Barossa Valley
South Australia 5355

Style Contemporary courtyard chambers
Setting
Hillside vineyard retreat

The Louise is the brightest star in the Barossa Valley accommodation firmament, an exquisite, contemporary boutique hotel featuring 15 architecturally inspired suites on a vine-lined hillside. Concern for guest satisfaction and food-and-wine passion have informed every decision at this South Australian retreat: privacy is paramount, room facilities are state of the art, and the on-site restaurant is truly outstanding. Indulge your inner gourmand.

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Need to know
Rooms
15 suites
Rates
AU$395–AU$1,082, including breakfast.
Check-out
11am, but flexible subject to availability (charges may apply). Check-in, 2pm.
Facilities
Guest computer, sauna, hot spa, bicycles, gardens. In rooms: free WiFi, flatscreen TVs, DVD player, BOSE Wave CD player, iPod dock, espresso machine, minibar, Vive amenities, rubber ducks in spas, private courtyard and terrace.
Poolside
The outdoor swimming pool is soon to be relocated to better ensnare the surrounding views – watch this space.
Eco-friendly
In such a dry state on such a dry continent, it makes sense that run-off and hotel greywater are recycled for garden irrigation. Food is locally sourced too, supporting community producers.
Hotel closed
The Louise and its restaurant Appellation close for four weeks each July for upgrades and renovations.
Also
Accommodation and dining packages incorporating meals at Appellation and guided wine tasting are also available.
Our favourite rooms
We like No 29, a Stonewell Suite, the best of the ten suites revolving around the entrance piazza – access is via a secure, private outdoor courtyard. The living and sleeping areas are an exercise in seductive mod tones (from raspberry to aubergine), leading onto a superb bathroom complete with underfloor heating, walk-in shower, spa tub, recessed candle nooks and an outdoor shower for sub-star shampooing. The terrace is perfect for an evening glass of red overlooking the vines. Suite 33, a Seppeltsfield Suite, is a two-bedroom affair in a separate wing with even more enticing vineyard views.
Packing tips
Bring a high tolerance level for intellectual wine-speak as you taste the best Barossa reds (expect to hear ‘toasty’, ‘berry’, ‘liquorice’ and ‘tobacco’ used at least thrice daily).
Also
Wine tasting is a Barossa must: ask at reception about local cellar doors or exclusive tastings by appointment. For in-room indulgence, tuck into the house-baked cookies and decanter of port awaiting you on arrival; then order a massage in your suite to chill out after.

Food & drink
Hotel restaurant
You’ll only have nice names to call The Louise’s award-winning restaurant, Appellation, which serves dinner nightly (there’s just 48 seats, so bookings are essential). Executive chef Mark McNamara’s menus are underpinned by the ‘locavore’ philosophy, with 90 per cent of the seasonal produce sourced within a 30-kilometre radius (smoked duck, anyone?). Choose between à la carte dishes and a tasting menu, with courses smartly paired with Barossa wines.
Dress code Snappy, sassy, self-confident; a clean handkerchief to mop up wine and food stains.
Top table There’s one window seat in each of the restaurant’s two zones with views across the vines.
Last orders The restaurant is open daily from 5pm for drinks and from 7pm for dinner. Last dinner orders are around 8.30pm.
Room service Continental breakfast is served in your suite every morning between 7.30am and 10am (10.30am at weekends). A snack menu is available between 11am and 7pm, including pies, salads, terrines and cheese platters.
Hotel bar Adjacent to the restaurant, an elegant modern lounge bar serves pre-dinner drinks, including a heady selection of local wines, spirits, cocktails and top-quality local beers. Repair to the terrace to watch dusky sunset colours shift over the vine rows.
Children The Louise can provide baby cots for infants under two for AU$20 a night, but isn’t suitable for children aged two to 14. Babysitting can be arranged with a local nanny with at least 48 hours’ notice.
Weddings This hotel is suitable for weddings.

Smith Members offer: A bottle of sparkling wine on arrival

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Review
We don’t arrive in Adelaide until the sun is already slinking away. By the time we negotiate the main road north (helpfully named ‘the Main Road North’) it’s coal-black out, the air is mint-crisp and the city’s far behind us. We’re heading to the Louise in the Barossa Valley, an hour plus some, according to our impressionist map. We pass a Penfolds sign and can almost smell the Grange. A few more turns through the rolling hills and we see the inviting yellow glow of our home in the valley for the next two nights.

It’s late but we’re welcomed warmly at reception and taken through our booking – a private wine tour has been arranged the next day as has dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Appellation. I’m tasked with filling in the following morning’s breakfast order – a job that in my ragged state seems impossibly difficult. I tell our check-in man I’m having a brain freeze as we just somehow gained 30 minutes flying across a few borders. (South Australia is half an hour behind the east coast of Australia.)

We’re staying in the Seppeltsfield Suite, one of 15 too-lovely lodgings at the Louise, which we enter through a spacious private courtyard to find a fresh and modern living room. Impressed and excited, we conduct the obligatory opening of drawers and doors – and then something unexpected happens. I unpack my clothes. I can’t claim to know other people’s habits, but I am much more a suitcase and ‘floor-drobe’ kind of guy (to the consternation of Mr Smith). But, as I fold the last of my underwear neatly into the drawer, it strikes me: I am already relaxed in this space. I’m not sure what I can pin this on – the rich, restful colours of the room, the country air, the plush, cosy furniture, the sleep deprivation?

Mr Smith runs the cavernous bath and we both soak, fitting comfortably, candles lit, jets pulsing. I’m sure I have a micro-sleep. Towelled off, Mr Smith pours us both a generous glass of the dangerously delicious complimentary port and we snuggle on the sofa, ignoring the lure of the LCD television. We resist a refill and retire to our enormous bed with its peak of cushy pillows.

The next morning we’re awoken by our arriving breakfast (I picked well). I try out the espresso machine and it makes a mean latte. We’re sorely tempted to stay here, meander through the weekend papers, and laze on the terrace deckchairs that overlook the tapestry of vineyards in more shades of green than a paint chart. However, we’re here for the true Barossa experience.

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Almost all we know about the Barossa is wine, wine, wine – this is the spiritual home of Australia’s bold, brassy reds. And having just finished a month of self-imposed abstemiousness (for charity, for liver), we are more than ready to dive in. First up though, we take in the sights and smells (including dizzying wafts of bacon) of the nearby farmers’ market, a showcase of Barossa’s non-boozy bounty: artisan cheese, rustic bread, just plucked veggies. The feel here is genuine and local – it’s not (yet) swamped with moneyed tourists.

Bellies full, we swing into action, ticking off some favourites: Henschke, Grant Burge, Charles Melton and Torbreck. Mr Smith is designated driver, and I’m quietly sozzled. We meet up with Sally Kalleske of Kalleske Wines in the early afternoon and get a private tour – arranged through the Louise – where we learn a great deal about wine-making, and we also meet their pet pig Wilbur. The little oinker, named after the rambunctious runt of Charlotte’s Web, has his hungry snout set on my footwear, so we don’t linger long in his pen. Kalleske is an organic, biodynamic winery. The holistic theory I like, but some of the practicalities of such a venture – like preparing soil with a cow’s horn stuffed with manure – is lost on me. No matter, the wines are truly fabulous and our host delightful.

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Towards the end of a glorious afternoon, we head back to our suite and prepare for dinner at the Louise’s award winning restaurant Appellation, arguably the foodie crown of the Barossa. We start with an apéritif and end – some three hours later, after traversing the local, seasonal, sensational tasting menu – with a bread and butter pudding so awesome I still haven’t shut up about it. Other highlights included punchy prosciutto-wrapped pigeon and lamb as tender as mother-love. Still buzzing, we follow the lit path back to our suite and climb into bed, completely satisfied.

Next morning, Mr Smith opens up the shutters to our (we dream) private vineyard and we loll about in bed, reading the paper and inventing unique wine blends. Our flight time ensures we can’t lie about forever, so we shower (did I mention it came with a choice of two drenching rain shower heads in a capacious room of its own, with a third shower in a linked outside space?) and hit the road. We’re sad to see the Barossa and the Louise fading from our view during take-off but delighted about our shipment of vino arriving in seven days. As we fl y across the border, we lose that half an hour again, but at this point I’m not sure that I really care.

Southern Ocean Lodge
Hanson Bay
Kangaroo Island
South Australia
Australia
5223

Style Luxe lodge on the clifftops
Setting
Supreme Southern Ocean solitude

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Treading lightly on scrub-covered dunes above the sea, luxe Kangaroo Island boutique hotel Southern Ocean Lodge is an exquisite designer haven. Solitude, serenity and privacy are what guests are paying for – staying here you get the feeling there’s no-one else within miles (and there probably isn’t). Calming, contemporary interiors embrace the outdoors, with all-inclusive food, drinks and activities adding to a restful stay. Outside Australia’s Galapagos awaits, from kangaroos and seals to wild beaches and spectacular coastal rocks.

Need to know

Rooms 21 suites.
Rates
From AU$1,800–AUD$3,600, including all meals, drinks, activities, airport transfers and tax at 10 per cent. There’s a two-night minimum stay, and spa treatments, the cellermaster’s list and private charters or transfers cost extra.
Check-out
10.30am, but flexible subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Facilities
Lounge with library, board games and big DVD screen, spa. In rooms: free WiFi, rain shower, sound system/MP3 input, minibar, Li’ Tya toiletries, minibar and outdoor terrace with daybed. Most rooms have flatscreen TVs, DVD players and EcoSmart fires.
Poolside
No full-size pool, but there’s an infinity-edge plunge pool outside on the terrace by the restaurant, plus hot tubs in the Remarkable Suites and Osprey Pavilion. A short walk away, Hanson Bay has consistent surf, perfect for a rough-and-tumble swim.
Eco-friendly
Southern Ocean Lodge is an eco-attuned operator. It’s rainwater reliant, with breezeway ventilation, and an advanced greywater/compost recycling system. A solar power system is also planned and the lodge runs its own local environmental projects.
Also
Multi-night accommodation packages are also available, incorporating day-spa treatments, room upgrades, Bollinger Champagne on arrival and private island charter tours.
Our favourite rooms
There are five grades of rooms here: Flinders Suites at entry-level prices, moving up to bigger Ocean Retreat suites, bigger-still Remarkable Suites, two-bedroom Ocean Family Suites and the jewel-like Osprey Suite at the top of the pecking order. Not that room snobbery ever enters into it – all rooms are strung out single file cantilevered along the clifftop breezeway, and are democratically assorted (the Osprey backs onto a Flinders). The architectural palette is consistent throughout – cream-hued limestone, recycled spotted-gum industrial timbers, huge beds, sunken lounges, contemporary art and rain showers – but the Flinders Suites don’t have baths or hot tubs, and the bigger suites have flashy entertainment systems. The super-private Osprey Suite is the pick of the bunch, with jaw-dropping views from its curvy king-size bedroom, separate sunken lounge, freestanding oval granite bath (there are also dual rainshowers) and terrace spa, plus state-of-the-art audio-visual gadgets. No 2 is the pick of the Flinders Suites, right next door to the Osprey. Cool contemporary architecture rules: with not a doily, floral bedspread or piece of retro-colonial furniture in sight.
Packing tips
Leave your ego at home. Sure, you’re paying for the privilege of being here (and it is a privilege), but management takes a first-name-basis approach, and the vibe is casual and unfussed. Don’t expect to hear any obsequious ‘sirs’ or ‘ma’ms’.
Also
Backed by an impressive limestone wall and with imported Roman floor tiles, the multi-faceted lobby area has something for everyone. The bar and restaurant occupy a large part of it, but there’s also a walk-in wine cellar in-the-round, a shop selling local produce, arts and crafts, a sunken lounge area with a too-cool French fireplace suspended from the ceiling, racks of quirky books and hip magazines, and an outdoor extension with a plunge pool.

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Food & drink
Hotel restaurant
At the top of the Great Room is the lodge restaurant where breakfast, a light lunch and dinner are served. A curved glass wall almost launches diners out into the view, but the mood remains low-key tranquil. Head chef Matt Upson coordinates production of short but perfectly conceived menus throughout the day, with an emphasis on island and South Australian produce and seasonal and organic favourites (expect KI seafood to feature prominently). Artisan meals, such as roasted fillet of suzuki mulloway or local Ligurian honey gateau, are matched with wines (again, SA wins through). Dinner either takes the form of a five-course tasting menu, or four-course à la carte. The chipper kitchen staff will also gladly fillet and cook your catch-of-the-day if you successfully throw a line into the surf down on Hanson Bay. Ocean salmon are the prized catch, but you might also reel in some King George whiting and the passing flathead.
Dress code
Smart-casual organic linen separates in soothing neutrals will blend well with the Lodge’s natural style and setting.
Top table
Any of the six window-side seats will give you the best view, or on a warm night head outside to the terrace.
Last orders
Breakfast anytime from 7.30am to 10am; lunch from 12.30pm to 2.30pm; dinner from 7pm to 9pm, with pre-dinner cocktails and canapés at the bar.
Room service
The emphasis here is on experiencing the best of island and SA food and wine in the restaurant, but limited room service is available on request. If you’re feeling a bit under the weather, staff will happily bring you a pick-me-up bowl of soup.
Hotel bar
Adjacent to the restaurant is the lodge’s open bar – a curvy designer delight stocked with enough wine, beer and spirits to keep you feeling suitably heady. Aside from the premium cellar list (which includes iconic drops like Penfolds’ ‘Grange’, Bollinger champers and Heschke’s ‘Hill of Grace’), alcohol is included in room rates. The bar fronts up to a large American Oak communal table at which guests enjoy nightly pre-dinner canapés, conversation and cocktails (a different one is served at sunset drinks from 6pm each evening; the bar is open all day long).
Children
The Lodge welcomes children aged six and over only. Extra beds can be provided for kids for AU$350 a child when sharing a suite with two adults. Baby cots aren’t available.
Weddings
This hotel is suitable for weddings.
Smith Members offer:
An AU$50 spa treatment voucher per room

Review
The local at the airport car rental asked where we were heading. ‘Southern Ocean Lodge,’ I replied. ‘Lucky bastards,’ he said. Ten minutes later, driving through the rolling hills, our serenity was shattered by some crazy hoon tooting and flashing his headlights. Was it a demented yokel going all Deliverance on us? Nope, it was the car-rental guy, pulling alongside at 80km an hour and shouting out the window that we’d left the Kangaroo Island map on his counter. ‘You’ll need it,’ he yelled, flapping it out the window more dangerously than Paris Hilton’s eyelashes on Spring Break. Given that there’s only two main roads on the island this seemed unnecessary, but it came to reflect the unique, nothing’s-too-much trouble character of the place.

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Now with map, we continued through a spookily sexy forest and were suddenly upon the lodge. Bounding down the walkway came manager Ben, who gave Mrs Smith and I the sort of heartfelt welcome we’d expect at a mate’s place. His mesmerizingly sweet wife Louise helped with the bags. Marcus parked the car. Ree offered cold towels, and the chef waved from the kitchen. We’d been there two minutes and already we knew everyone.

The lodge doors opened to the limestone-wrapped Great Room and its IMAX-sized view. Before us were craggy cliffs dropping to beaches as white as Brad Pitt’s smile (and just as shallow) and lapped by the porn-star-eye-shadow-blue waters of the Southern Ocean. A glass of champagne and a salmon finger sandwich later, we trailed down the long corridor (we later dubbed it Dead Man Walking for its length and the nightly journey to an abundance of food), past rooms named after different local shipwrecks until we reached ours, Vale. ‘Went down twice in one night,’ Ben said reverentially. ‘If only,’ I thought.

Our room, an Ocean Retreat, was like a luxe beach shack, open-plan with endless windows. The timber bed rested on a cosy carpeted floor, which segued into heated limestone then a huge bathroom and Pavarottisized rain shower. Down a few steps was a generous lounge room complete with books, music, home-made lamingtons and an eco-fire. This was a room designed by someone who not only has great style, but also lives like a normal person.

Even at the fanciest-schmanciest hotels, the food can be blah, but that night at dinner Mrs Smith and I thought we’d discovered the world’s greatest unsung chef. Matthew Upson’s food was simple and honest, impeccably cooked with an inspired imagination. And no request was too great. Mrs Smith didn’t feel like steak so they did her a fish. I didn’t feel like a souffle so they did me a Sixties-style Milo and ice-cream – and then asked me if I’d like them to mush it up! Even worse, I let them.

We were also surprised to find just how much of the menu came from the island: honey from the local Ligurian bees, lamb from a farm up the road, greens from the market garden over the hill. When I said I wanted the barramundi I assumed it would be an import, but our waiter explained that the local high school had established a barramundi farm. The under-rated benefits of living somewhere where there’s not much for kids to do…

Up early the next day, I drew a bath in the two-person tub, pouring in a cocktail of all the local salts on offer. In a lavender-honey-vanilla daze, I read the in-room book about our shipwreck, and gazed out the window at two eagles nesting in our midst. I’m not really a wildlife junkie, so when I wound up the platypus bath toy I thought that was probably as close to nature as I’d get. At that moment, in the waves right outside, I saw two pods of frolicking dolphins. I immediately woke Mrs Smith who sprang out of bed and onto the terrace. ‘Where,’ she cried. ‘Near that whale?’ And she wasn’t joking.

Like the lodge itself, Kangaroo Island is all about the environment, so we’d organised a morning tour to see it all, including the Henry Moore-like Remarkable Rocks, a seal colony, a ‘rare breeds’ farm and a truly extraordinary native bush garden. Again, everyone was so unbelievably friendly and happy to see us. It was like The Stepford Wives, but with more dirt. After lunch on the deck it was time to rub the city out of my neck. The spa, on a nearby cliff, delivered a serene massage using local eucalyptus oils that began with an indigenous Dreamtime technique and a welcoming cleansing of smouldering gum leaves in a bowl. I was initially sceptical, but it was performed with such soul I was completely converted.

Over sunset drinks in the lounge, the staff’s real pride in the place shone through. One knew the guy who carved the sculpture; another knew the names of all the wildflowers out the window. Lovable nerds, all of them, but real people and that was the secret for making everyone – the chic industrialists from Milan, the cheerily loud Californians, the super-stylish Poms and a diverse array of Aussies – feel so at ease. Back in the room we slipped into the alpaca slippers and snuggled up with chunky woven rugs. The whole place is just so frigging tactile. Then there are all the tiny details that make it perfect, even in the smallest room: the leather toilet-roll holder, mood lighting and timber shelves complete with glass sculpture and a 1974 copy of Dinkum Aussie Dunnies with the real inscription ‘happy birthday darling Kaye, love Nanna’. This is as special a place as I’ve stayed in Australia, a new benchmark in how a hotel should not only look, but also feel. The staff made it lovable, the rooms made it liveable and the island made it memorable. As we were leaving, I annoyingly triple-checked with Mrs Smith to see if we had everything. ‘No,’ she replied. ‘I’m going back to steal the hair dryer. Best hotel hair ever.’ She was joking …ish.

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For more extra special properties in Australia and New Zealand, get your hands on a copy of Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection: Australia/ New Zealand available in all good bookshops, on Amazon.com and from www.mrandmrssmith.com

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