Mantra on Salt Beach – July 2016

We began our journey to the Gold Coast (GC) for the splendour in the grass festival in traditional parents on the loose style- crazy excited about bags filled with our own things rather than sultanas and books without pictures. It’s the little things. Oh plus booze. 

The easy flight was to be backed up by a quick drive to the resort. Despite several warnings about a bridge closure (“sure! Thanks for the tip! I will TOTALLY remember that”) we did not in fact remember that at all and then had to drive ALL the way around back through several towns to make it back into the village. 

So the short 20 min drive from the airport was anything but, however it gave us a better feel for the neighbouring suburbs and a promise to return for a house rental up in the hills of Cabarita. Or the ultimate in Instagram porn Halcyon House.

Leaning towards a a gated village feel, Mantra at Salt Beach is nuzzled in next to the Peppers resort, with a sweet selection of restaurants, cafes and shops in the middle to enable a swimsuit purchase with your flat white ( i may have indulged).

We were visiting for the Splendour festival but were mentally filing away the perks for small families so we could return . Everything about the village screams comfortable family holiday – good facilities, reasonably priced hotel rooms and cheap airfares. Tick, tick, tick. 


We booked a one bedroom apartment which was more than enough room for a couple. The sitting area was spacious and had a large wrap around balcony facing the manicured gardens and looking out to the ocean.

The decor is a little outdated but not overhelmingly so – more like a comforting 90s dream and a flashback to queensland family holidays. No complaints on the amenities apart from a weird positioning of light switches (which puzzles me – surely near the door is always the answer?).



The rest of the hotel feels like it has had a fairly recent refresh, with the pool and dining options clean and inviting, and a large lobby with colourful artworks and comfy couches. Beautiful lush gardens surround the pool and lead you out to Salt beach, a glorious stretch of white sands and crystal blue water. We spied an indoor playground and RSL style diner which i know would 100% have a terrible cover band that I would enjoy immensely. 


With the festival beckoning we did not maximise these facilities but will definitely return with the small person in tow. 

Mantra on Salt Beach

http://www.mantraonsaltbeach.com.au

Radisson Blu Fiji – April 2016


I have given in to the family holiday. Still on my own terms to some degree, but this can only be described as an A grade child friendly holiday. Le sigh.

From afar, during the heyday of single life and then coupledom, I would not-so-silently judge those folk on family holidays, pitying their beige accommodation choices and promising never to commit such crimes.And yet here I am, knee deep in family vay-cay. And I’m loving it. 

To be clear, the holiday nerd in me has not dissipated since becoming a parent. I am still able to source the newest and shiniest hotel, or one with at least a hint of style and character that is not allergic to children. I push the boundaries of what is acceptable and hope that in time my two year old will simply blend in with the designer furniture and no one will notice she is a small human who is drinking a babycino and not a macchiato. 

But for now, we have gone FULL FAMILY HOLIDAY mode, arriving with the extended clan of Giants, to celebrate our foray into this unknown territory. Turns out you can still enjoy yourself even if you are not a fan of children (except your own).

The Raddison Blu is MADE for family holidays, and we barely saw a non young family group the entirety of our stay. The staff are incredibly friendly and engaging with children – the kids club comes highly recommended and it is easy to see why. The children are treated like royalty – and not in a pampered, spoiled way. The childminders are plentiful and sing nursery rhymes to the toddlers swinging on ocean front swings; the pool crew arrange pool volleyball competitions and rowdy rugby matches.


We were travelling as a crew so did not rely on the babysitting. We used the best babysitter – the pool. There were pools everywhere! A main family pool, adults only pool for those seeking some peace and quiet, toddler and kids pools. But best of all, the endless loop of fun from a waterslide that allows adults is by far the best activity. Nothing is funnier than watching our crew attempt to navigate the waterslide while presenting our child in “lion king style” upon dismount. Hours of entertainment. 


Several water sports options are available for guests at no charge. I had my heart set on a paddle board session but the morning I chose had a particularly unappealing beachfront so I was not lured in. In fact, there were not a lot of people in the ocean at all it made me feel quite uncomfortable. Sticking to the fake beach inside instead.

The rooms won’t win any awards in the luxury front – they are basic but comfortable. They are large, well i believe they are but we had a fold out couch open the whole time so we felt a bit squishy. Balconies feature in most rooms, and open up into the sprawling gardens and pools. My pet peeve is the fully tiled flooring – i just can’t get comfortable and cosy. Fine in a unit, or a kitchen, but not in such a small space. But they were clean and shiny so not really a complaint, just not very inviting. 


Food options are plentiful and surprisingly good for a resort. The standard buffet breakfast is served at the beachfront blu brasserie which also does an all day menu and a rotating nightly special. We opted for the ala carte cafe style breakfast in the Thai restaurant. Try the corn cakes – outstanding. I also expected to drink liquid mud but they made an amazing coffee – cannot ever remember a time I’ve said that at a resort. The Thai restaurant is also the hottest restaurant in town according to TripAdvisor and does not disappoint – and given we arrived late it was our first meal so we were off to a great start! 

Honourable mention goes to the Mexican next door at the Wynham resort – mamacitaa was packed to the rafters and delivered a steady supply of tex mex and a shitload of fajitas. Seriously, every second dish out of the kitchen was a flaming fajita. But we were in the holiday swing, so margaritas all round. Would definitely recommend for a family holiday but if you are single/couple I would head straight to the islands. 

Final comment – Free wifi everywhere – come on Australia, what are we doing? It’s an embarrassment. 


 

NO MORE STAYZ

That was the title of the email I got from husband. I suggested a few properties for an upcoming trip, and was promptly rebuffed.Due to a last minute booking over the Easter weekend at a property that was quickly dubbed the drug dealers house with a sex dungeon thanks to a windowless basement room with a single sink and a fussball table, he is now scarred for life.

This is why i like to be organised and planned so that we get the pick of the bunch, rather than the dregs that are overpriced, weirdly designed and frankly a little bit odd. While hilarious, it is horrifying what owners of holiday house rentals think is still acceptable in 2016.

My no go list for holiday house rentals

– floral bedspreads (goes for hotels too)

– fantastic furniture couches

– cane furniture circa 1984

– red leather. It’s offensive

– bunk beds advertised as normal beds for adults. No. For children only. Do not tell me the property sleeps 10 when in reality it has two normal beds and the rest are bunk beds. 

– no linen. Listen, I WILL THROW MONEY at the problem so just tell me upfront how much it will be for you to make it all pretty. Or better yet just include it in the price as a given and be done with it. Who has time to bring linen?? I’m going on holiday so I DON’T need to do laundry. 

– no condiments – come on, just throw in a few of the basics you know i will forget and can go to the supermarket tomorrow but right now i need one thimble of oil.  

The Old Clare Hotel – February 2016

This hotel hosted many a drunken evening in my youth, so I was more than excited to see what the renovations and creation of a new hotel would entail. And given i work around the corner, and live only a 15 minute drive away it was the ultimate in guilty luxury to just wander over to the hotel from my office and check in on a Friday night.

The restored hotel entrance is behind the main bar but not immediately visible. I understand that the Old Clare wants to be a little bit different – quirky and not your standard cookie cutter hotel. However if you can’t work out where the entrance or reception is, and your staff are not stuck behind the desk ( but their casual uniform does not actually help you figure out that they are the staff) its a bit of a problem. You still need to tell guests where to go – it is generally helpful. 

I love all the exposed brick and dark corridors as it gives the hotel such a cozy feel but I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING. Once we got checked in and we quickly realised we were in the wrong room ( I won’t take it personally that the room for our wedding anniversary had twin beds. It’s 5 years not 50 years of marriage thank you). A quick phone call and new keys were handed over to an upgraded suite. Huzzah!

However, the issue was that I actually preferred the smaller room as it is not smaller at all – the high ceilings and giant windows made me feel as though I was in Berlin again with those gorgeous old restored hotels. The bathroom is definitely not as luxurious but perfectly functional. 

But the suite was lovely nevertheless. A normal sized bed, walk in bathroom and large bath to soak your troubles away. The bottom level sitting room of the suite was wasted on us, and I craved the higher ceilings as the loft style left me feeling slightly claustrophobic. While it looks beautiful, i just couldn’t get on board and would have preferred the extra space in one room. 

We didn’t stay too long in the room as we had some important eatin’ to do. The Clare hotel hosts not one but three amazing restaurants: Kensington st social which is so NYC it hurts and possibly one of my top 5 Sydney dining experiences, Automata which offers a seasonal set degustation that speaks to the indecisive libran in me; and Silvereye which I am yet to try but I hear it is beef beef beef. 

The new little precinct in Chippo is fabulous. Great fancy restaurants next to cheap takeaway options – this never works but here it is seamless. The laneways have been restored and taken from dodgy, dark and dingy to exciting, buzzing and packed with peeps. Late night dining is an issue that is being slowly addressed in my hometown with great options like this.

And nothing quite beats stuffing your face with a degustation menu and then rolling up to your room for a blissful nights sleep. An early morning dip in the rooftop pool overlooking the city and I am refreshed and restored to start my weekend. I heart Sydney.

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Croatian hotels – latest daydreams

Here i go again.

The Sydney weather starts to cool, and i immediately look to the northern hemisphere for some summer inspiration.

And add to my ever expanding list of Croatian hotels that i would love to stay at.

In the last 10 years the travel scene in Croatia has grown from strength to strength. And being a native i often don’t get to sample the delights of new hotels as often as i would like to, but i always try to at least stay one night in a new location.

Being absent for a few years means my list is growing. And fast.

A few of my latest daydreams

Villa Dubrovnik

The price tag is a bit hefty, but the location makes me want to hand over my credit card and deal with it later.

Little Green Bay

French Vogue recently reviewed this hotel and it is simply perfection. Hvar as a party island can sometimes feel too cheesy and touristy – this place ensures privacy and luxury all in one.

Hotel Navis

Our travels have never taken us to this side of Croatia. Yet. But i am determined to visit this beautiful spot referred to as the French Riviera of Croatia as it is visually very different given its Ottoman Empire influence.

Sebel Hotel Kiama – January 2016

I am a fan of Hotel reviews (obviously) and my travel research can border on the obsessive. So it is nice to be pleasantly surprised and dismissive of other travelling folk by going against the grain and staying at a place with average reviews.
Travelling on the first weekend of January, in high summer, was perhaps not the smartest thing to do. Further to that, only deciding to go away on a whim does not help with the available hotel choice.

My research into the Sebel uncovered that it was outdated, a bit drab, not worth the coin. All in all, it didn’t paint a pretty picture. So when we arrived walking straight into the lobby, checked in early with a room upgrade all in a grand total of five minutes I was already impressed. Free parking, easy loading of our million and one things (standard for travelling for one night with a toddler), we made it to our room and were set up in under 15 minutes. Perfection.

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The room overlooked the park and railway line (not exactly scenic) but it enough light to entice us outside which is where you want to be in a seaside town. The room was spacious enough to ft a cot and not be tripping over ourselves, and the bed was large and comfortable. A little stark on the decorations but I much prefer that to an easily outdated room. I understand that there had been some recent renovations so perhaps we were lucky to have a newer room but honestly I don’t know what people were complaining about. It could be said it is on the tad pricey side, but being the only branded hotel in town that is expected. It was clean, easy and staff were friendly – all giant ticks in my view.

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Stock standard – nothing to see here

You cannot beat the location – right on the waterfront and close enough to the main drag but far away enough to feel peaceful. The building itself is a mixture of old and new – beautiful old sandstone preserved in recent renovations was a good move. A new(ish) cafe right next door – Penny whistlers – became our second home. Overall a pleasant stay in a seaside town – warrants another stay.

 

Shout outs to the impressive coffee trail to get us to Kiama:

Bread, espresso &

My new fave future holiday destination – Thirroul. We finally did the drive over the sea cliff bridge which I’ve been meaning to do for a long while, and were pleasantly surprised to drive through some of the southern Sydney suburbs and this gem Thirroul. The name of this little cafe stopped us (as well as the surrounding house porn) and is well worth a visit. Super tiny and cute, fresh pastries and a damn good coffee.

Bread, espresso & 

190 Lawrence Hargrave drive, Thirroul

Sifters Espresso

The scent of breakfast delights fill the air even before I have made it to the car park cafe. A sweet rustic set up with a great soundtrack, delicious treats and a very laid back atmosphere. It’s what I’d love to see in Sydney except it would be unheard of to get this kind of real estate in the Sydney CBD. Super charming staff in all black, school chairs, milk crates and faux grass stools give this cafe a super cute look. I preferred to grab a takeaway and bask in the sunshine while i waited. It was meant to be a coffee pit stop but after drooling over the kitchen I had to get a small treat to takeaway. Gutted a pork roast was about to begin as I left ….

Sifters Espresso  

82 Market St, Wollongong NSW

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Penny Whistlers

Who needs to suffer through disappointing hotel breakfasts when this is on your doorstep? Located right next door to the Sebel Hotel Kiama So good we went twice in 24 hours ( and contemplated a third but thought we would look strange). Great coffee with a delicious menu, we can attest to the beef brisket burger and breakfast bowls.

But the kicker is the view. Starting out over the park it’s just clear blue ocean for days. A cold glass of rose, a full belly and a quiet toddler made for some pretty fine daydreaming.

Penny Whistlers

5/31 Shoalhaven St,  Kiama NSW

Ritzy Gritz

And an extra shout out to the local Mexican place Ritzy Gritz. A tradition of ours is to visit Mexican restaurants in completely inappropriate places ( started on a Sunday night in Paris where the only thing open was a local Mexican place). This place made no sense – it was a mexican AND a stone grill house. What? But it was a pleasant surprise – they accommodated a tired toddler, outdoor seating, fast service and a tasty meal. And my Margarita came in a carafe. Hello fun.

Ritzy Gritz

40 Collins St‎reet, Kiama, NSW 2533

 

Bvilla + spa, Seminyak – June 2015

The experience starts way before our arrival. Cute little sign offs from the welcome emails to prepare us for our stay ‘b ready’. One might say they are a bit cheesy, but every email reminds me that i am one step closer to villa heaven so i really don’t mind.

The experience gets better when the included transfer van picks up our group and weaves through the back streets of Seminyak – close enough to get to all the essential services, but far enough not to hear all the hustle and bustle of the main drag. The hotel is secluded and private – exactly what you want from your villa. We were led down a frangipani lined footpath, simple concrete walls with villas hidden on each side.  The giant wooden door at the entrance to our villa swing open to display the most beautifully simple villa, with the lap pool taking centre position and begging you to pop in for a dip.  The beautiful frangipani trees sheds its flowers and leaves around and into the pool which must be a bitch for the cleaners, but as a guest it is quite a lovely sight.

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The three bedrooms  are massive with high ceilings, complete with a small dressing room and large open bathroom. The dark marble concrete bath is so long that even the tall man can sit comfortably (a world first). Fresh flowers give it a homely touch, in actual fact the home i would love to live in rather than my own pokey one back home. Elegant leather boxes with all the amenities you need, and large refillable bottles of products which makes perfect sense. I love me a tiny bottle of shampoo, but how much better is it to have a quality product in the quantity that you desire? And much less wasteful and better for the environment. Yes hotels of the world, this is a “do the right thing for the environment” action i can get behind rather than the reuse the towels to save a polar bear. HINT: i will ALWAYS take a fresh towel because i don’t have to do laundry.

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The shared living space is open and airy, the only downfall being the beautifully designed furniture is not that comfortable to laze around on. But when you are so busy swimming, eating and lying on the sun beds, it is not that much of a drama to go to bed at 8pm and watch tv there. Each room has its on TV, and is air conditioned and mosquito free, an added bonus in the Bali climate. After staying in hotel rooms i wasn’t aware of how bad the mosquitos were at night, so out came the industrial strength mosquito repellant and less time in the open communal areas of the villa.

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The service is of course amazing when you have your own personal butler to assist us on every whim. From welcome drinks to breakfast cooked for us in the villa? Check. Too lazy to go out for dinner, but a craving for vietnamese rice paper rolls? check. In room massages…..daily….check. One could get used to this. This one could get very used to this, so much so that it is a great disappointment to leave and get back to our normal non villa, non bali lifestyle. Until i can book my next holiday that is…..

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Stay here if you love
– your own butler.
– An oasis away from the action to just relaaaaaax
– value for money