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The decor is a little outdated but not overhelmingly so – more like a comforting 90s dream and a flashback to queensland family holidays.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

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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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

 

The Atlantic, Byron Bay – September 2013

Babymoon

The last hurrah. Child free hotel. Sleep ins. Small suitcase. Reading magazines. The scene was set for our time in Byron – enjoying a bit of peace and quiet before the arrival of a small person who was likely to turn our life upside down.

IMG_6673Booking the Atlantic while the owners were on their annual European pilgrimage gave us almost exclusive use of their beautiful home – a massive kitchen and living space, spacious backyard with lap a pool. I.e. my dream house.

The other guests kept a low profile so we essentially had the space to ourselves, to daydream and plan our move to Byron Bay to run our successful [enter business idea here]. The house is beautiful, the stuff that home magazines are based on (and it actually has been featured in magazines here and blogs here). A more energetic and less pregnant person may have utalised the kitchen space to make a feast but we used it to warm up pizza from down the road and it was equally as glorious.

IMG_6688The rooms are simple and chic – think white linen, big windows and a walk through wardrobe to the light filled shower/bathroom. It is comfortable, simple and perfect for a weekend in Byron, to relax, unwind and realise that you will most probably never have this level of quiet for quite a few years (small person). The staff are friendly and eager to help with advice on local eateries and things to do. But you won’t find that hard as the Atlantic is smack bang in the middle of town, with everything you need on your doorstep.IMG_6657

Sydneysiders can always judge a holiday location by the quality of coffee – i.e. if you serve good coffee we will be pleasantly surprised. That’s why a great perk of the Atlantic was that the best coffee in town was only a short stroll down the street at the Bayleaf cafe. It made for great lazy breakfasts for this very pregnant lady. Lots of locals with their dogs which made me particularly happy. We also tried the burgers at Topshop – the burgers were ok, nothing too special in my book but the hipster watching was pretty amusing. Also almost on our street, except up a giant hill so walk if you want to work off that burger. Always worth a mention is Fishmongers – as a bondi girl i know i frequent our local one WAY too often, but i still love the Byron one as it was the one i tried first. Only place in the world that i will give up my CHIPS in my fish and chips to trade for salad. WHICH NEVER HAPPENS.

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Atlantic Byron Bay

Holiday daydreaming – road trip vs Bali

As a holiday daydreamer, I find it unsetting that I cannot get over excited about holiday travel in my own country.

Don’t get me wrong, while I LOVE Australia, and am happy to be living back at home, the choice of boutique accommodation is well….uninspiring. I would like to book a little road trip, driving from Sydney to somewhere north but there are only a handful of properties which are enticing me to part with my hard earned cash. Yes, now I understand why so many Australians are fans of Bali – for the price of a hotel room in a 3 star hotel in a random coastal town I could have my own private villa and lap pool. And breakfast. Most likely brought to me in my pool villa. Le sigh….

The current properties that are on my short-list look great – but just not sure it is enough to sidetrack me from a cheap Bali getaway.

Byron at Byron Resort & Spa – for a bit of relaxing pool action
http://www.thebyronatbyron.com.au

Atlantis – for the impeccable furnishings and Danish feel
atlanticbyronbay.com.au

The Westin Sydney – April 2013

When the opportunity to stay at the Westin comes up, you take it.

With family visiting from Melbourne, the question of where to stay comes up and as always my first recommendation is to stay at the Westin. I understand that the price point is more suited to business than leisure travelling, however securing a cheap deal on a long weekend feels like winning some kind of travel lotto. And with that, rooms are booked and the relaxing hideaway in the middle of the city begins. I can’t help but come along for the ride.

While most of my hotel experiences are focused on finding unique boutique hotels, small quirky places that make you feel special and appreciated as an individual, i must admit that sometimes i just love to fall into the hands of a giant chain that can take care of all your needs despite operating on a grand scale. The Westin always makes me feel this way. Yes, they are huge. Yes, they are almost always busy. But damn it, they know how to do hotels right.

The location cannot be beat – smack bang in the middle of the CBD, in a beautiful partially restored Post Office, it has to be one of my favourite buildings in the city. Offering a selection of restaurants and cafes on the lower level, this space is more than just a hotel and you could literally cover a lunch, a night out, and a hotel stay in one space. For the supremely lazy (like myself) I would be very happy to do so.

The rooms are instantly familiar despite the city location you are in. Normally something I would be turned off by, but the Westin manages to turn this into a comfy old friend trait, where you feel at ease immediately and know exactly what you are getting. The beds are indeed ‘heavenly’ as advertised, the size of the room is always impressive (of course certain cities will dictate smaller or larger rooms) and the bathroom spacious and decadent.

And as a beauty junkie, I often find that the quality of the toiletries on offer will always sway me (yes I am that vain) and the Westin gets a big tick from me. The smell of the body wash takes me back to my last Westin stay in Kuala Lumpur, with fond memories of starting our honeymoon adventure. I love that a simple scent can take me back on that path, despite actually being in my home city.

[For those playing at home, the best toiletries will always be at the Prince Hotel in Melbourne who used to offer an Aesop travel pack. I have a feeling this is no longer the case, but I wish they would bring it back!*]

A stay at the Westin is always a treat, and my home city break has only fuelled my desire to find a more interstate or international locations to try.

The Westin Sydney
1 Martin Pl
Sydney NSW 2000

* upon further research, the Prince now offers products from Swedish skincare brand Ren so all is not lost!