Tag Archives: wine
November 22, 2016

A rippa of a day in Margaret River, Australia

A rippa of a day in Margaret River, Australia
Canoeing on Margaret River Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Canoeing on the Margaret River

“It’s a rippa of a day. Hope you’re enjoying yourselves. It’s so beautiful here and hardly anyone ever does this.” Apparently ‘a rippa of a day‘ means ‘absolutely fantastic’, ‘here‘ is Margaret River, after which the nearby town is named, in Western Australia, and ‘this‘ is canoeing along the river. We’d just had a brief rain shower and now the weather was clearing as we paddled slowly along the wide and tranquil stretch of water. The roots of huge trees entangled the shores and their tops towered over us, swaying gently in the breeze. I was in a canoe with our guide for the day, Sean Blocksidge, who runs the Margaret River Discovery Company and food blogger Niamh Shields. Also on our tour were a honeymoon couple from Australia and another couple from America.

Paddling canoe on the Margaret River, Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Paddling our canoes

After our canoe trip, we went to the waterfall on Margaret River, in full spate due to an exceptionally wet winter. We sat down beside it and Sean explained its significance to local Aboriginal people as a tribal camp ground. He’d brought along some bread and three types of honey for us to try. “This is honey-gold. It’s called Karri, from the local Karri tree [eucalyptus diversicolor], which grows round here. It has strong healing properties and is highly valued.” They all tasted good but this one was a real winner.

Karri honey at Margaret River waterfall Western Australia

Karri Honey

We headed off in Sean’s 4X4 to Prevelly for a quick coffee at the White Elephant Cafe and to have a look at one of the area’s premier surfing beaches, Gnarabup. This area had also been hit by big storms so the weather was unseasonably cold and wet. Even so, we could appreciate it and see why, in the summer months, it is one of the most popular places not just for surfing but also to relax and enjoy this lovely coastline.

Gnarabup Beach Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Gnarabup Beach

Having been refreshed, we set off to explore some of area’s countryside and Sean regaled us with tales of his life and local history. including the horrific bush fire of 2011 that destroyed a vast swathe of the area. Luckily no-one was injured, but one of Western Australia’s oldest homes, Wallcliffe House, built in 1865, was gutted. It was an important example of early colonial architecture and home to one of WA’s finest collections of antique furniture. Driving on through the lush countryside, we passed dozens of vineyards. Margaret River is famous the world over for the quality of its wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonney but increasingly for other, lesser known wines and blends. With its consistent growing seasons, mild winter, pleasant summer, good rainfall and fertile soil, it is home to over 150 wineries – and the number is growing.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling Margaret River WA

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling

The previous day, Niamh and I had experienced an excellent Wine and Food Tasting at the Leeuwin Estate, one of the five founding wineries in Margaret River. Not only do they produce superb wines but they have a unique collection of modern art, which they use for the labels on their very distinctive Art Series wines. (Watch out for more in my next article on Food and Drink in Western Australia.)

Fraser Gallop Estate Margaret River Western Australia

Fraser Gallop Estate

Now we were visiting Fraser Gallop Estate, an up and very much coming winery that’s already producing some distinctive award-winning wines. Francine Davies showed us round. “The Fraser Gallop Estate winery is custom designed to process a maximum capacity of 300 tonnes of grapes, particularly designed in layout and size for the fermentation of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blends.” We then had an informal lunch of local food, including octopus, duck and chicken liver pate, smoked trout and venison chorizo. Sean explained each wine and we sipped glass after glass with much relish. A big favourite was the splendid 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, “Just suck it up,” said Sean in typical Aussie fashion – and we did! NB: this estate is not usually open for public visits.

Wine-tasting at Fraser Gallop Estate - Margaret River - Western Australia - collage zoedawes

Wine-tasting at Fraser Gallop Estate

After such a hedonistic lunch, it was time to get some fresh air and we headed back to the coast. The Cape to Cape Track is a 135km route beside the Indian Ocean  from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste, past dramatic seascapes and pristine beaches, along undulating paths. We parked up and set off a steady pace, walking through a vibrant patchwork of plants, shrubs and trees. This part of Australia is known for its wild flowers and in spring they burst with colour and scent. (We were visiting in October, the perfect time to see them.) Beneath us waves crashed against the shore and overhead seabirds wheeled. Sean told us to look out for migrating whales; we saw none, possibly due to the stormy weather. Sea spray brought the zing of ozone and the ocean was dappled with sunlight.

Spring flowers on Cape to Cape Track Margaret River - Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Cape to Cape Track Margaret River

After about an hour we had to turn round, but not before Sean had taken a photo of each of us perched on a rock above the cliffs. Windblown and happy, we then returned to the vehicle, making the most of our time out in this glorious scenery. Back in the town of Margaret River, Niamh and I said goodbye to Sean, who suggested we drive to a road near where we were staying, to see kangaroos having their evening meal. Here they are …

Kangaroos at Margaret River

We stayed at Basildene Manor near the town of Margaret River. This beautiful boutique hotel was built by Percy Willmott, a lighthouse keeper at Cape Leeuwin, in 1912. He created a splendid home resembling a relative’s grand country estate in England. It’s welcoming, luxurious and delightfully quirky, with lovely grounds and truly scrumptious home-made cakes.

Basildene Manor Margaret River Western Australia

Basildene Manor

I travelled to Perth, Fremantle, Rottnest Island and Margaret River courtesy of Tourism Western Australia #justanotherdayinWA and would like to thank everyone, including a great bunch of fellow bloggers, who made this such a memorable adventure.

Zoe Dawes aka The Quirky Traveller on the Cape to Cape Track - Margaret River - Western Australia

Happy memories …

More about my trip to Western Australia: Rottnest Island in search of the quirky quokka and Top Places to Eat and Drink in Fremantle.


The Quirky Traveller Top Tips for Margaret River - Western Australia

September 25, 2014

Traditional South Tyrol food and wine with a gastronomic twist

Traditional South Tyrol food and wine with a gastronomic twist

“You may not remember the name, but you will certainly remember the experience.” So said Karl Meir as we stood outside his large wooden farm house, gazing across the green ribbon of Val di Vizze/Pfitschertal in South Tyrol (aka Alta Adige), sheltered by steely grey mountains and ancient trees.

View of Val di Vizze from Pretzhof restuarant, South Tyrol, Italy - by Zoe Dawes

South Tyrol valley from Pretzhof restuarant

He’d just shown off four huge pigs, not in clover but lying flat out in their stall after a very hearty breakfast of freshly-cut grass threaded through with colourful flowers. “We’ve over 60 varieties of wild flowers here. We look after the land and the land looks after us.” Karl is a very passionate man. He doesn’t just believe in ecological farming, he lives, breathes and sermonises about it a very infectious manner.

Karl and Ulli Mair - Pretzhof Restaurant, South Tyrol, Italy

Karl and Ulli Mair

Pretzhof has been in the Mair family for over 300 years and is now almost fully sustainable, with its own hydro-electric power and the majority of the restaurant’s food coming from their land. Karl gave me a quick tour before lunch. In keeping with the listed status of the farm buildings, the underground cheese and meat stores have been designed with the care and consideration. His superb wine cellar reflects not only the fact that South Tyrol is one of the top wine-producing regions of Italy, but also Karl’s extensive and knowledgeable love of the grape.

Lunch at Pretzhof restaurant, South Tyrol, Italy

Lunch at Pretzhof restaurant

Lunch in the tastefully decorated wood-panelled restaurant was a mouth-watering medley of traditional dishes, all local produce, well-cooked by Karl’s wife Ulli and beautifully presented. Not only did we have their own speck (smoked, cured ham) and a wide variety of mountain cheeses, but venison and chamois meats (Karl is also a hunter), melt-in-the-mouth crepes, seasonal mushrooms, richly flavoured shoulder of pork with shards of translucent cabbage and tiny roast potatoes, all served with a glass of ‘Comitissa’ sparkling wine and St Magdaler red wine. I had to decline a dessert but did manage a little cup of coffee to round of a sublime gastronomic experience. And yes, of course, I will always remember the name Pretzhof !

Fresh flowers on the Pretzhof bar, South Tyrol, Italy - image Zoe Dawes

Fresh flowers on the Pretzhof bar

I was on a long weekend in South Tyrol to discover the gastronomic delights and cultural attractions of this intriguing region of Italy. The previous evening, fellow travel bloggers and I had been driven by our local guide, Deborah, up a narrow winding road to another little farmhouse, high above Bolzano. This was our introduction to the traditional cuisine of South Tyrol, in the charming (and untouristy) surroundings of a Tyrolean Stube (parlour) at Patscheider restaurant. We decided to have a platter of cheeses and meats, including speck, of course, so we could taste a bit of everything. Flavoursome stuffed artichoke hearts made an unusual accompaniment.

Dinner at Patscheider Hof, South Tyrol, Italy

Dinner at Patscheider Hof

A basket of different breads included Schuettelbrot, a crisp rye flatbread flavoured with caraway seeds. We had to try the South Tyrolean dumplings, Spinatknädel, made with spinach, cheese and breadcrumbs. These were delicately flavoured in a light sauce and absolutely nothing like the stodgy dumplings I remember from school dinners.

Zmailer Hof above Merano, South Tyrol, Italy - by Zoe Dawes

Zmailer Hof

The 3rd traditional treat took place in Zmailer Hof (hof = farm), a place you would never stumble upon by accident, but is well worth getting lost for, through Alpine pine woods above pretty Merano. Travelling around South Tyrol you very soon realise what pride everyone takes in their appearance – and I mean the buildings, the streets, the land, as well as personal dress. Virtually everywhere is pristine, beautifully looked-after with rainbow of flowers cascading from window boxes and around doorways.  Our hostess Martha Thaler welcomed us into her kitchen with its curved, smoke-darkened roof. Ruth, from South Tyrol Tourism, translated as Martha spoke German. Although this autonomous region is in northern Italy, it was Austrian territory in the past and many people still speak German rather than Italian.

Apple strudel ingredients - Zmailer Hof, South Tyrol,Italy - by Zoe Dawes

Apple strudel ingredients

Laid out in front of us were all the ingredients to make one of the most well-known desserts in the world – apple strudel. Apples are one of the main crops grown here, along with grapes, and fruit-laden trees were a big feature of this September break. During the next 30 minutes, Martha assembled it all and popped the creation into her wood-burning stove. Ruth and I went outside to enjoy the spectacular views across the valley and the fresh, warm Alpine air. 45 minutes later I was able to taste the most sublime, fluffy, light apple strudel in idyllic setting. And, because I know you’d love to try it too, here is a short video of how to make Martha’s perfect apple strudel.

During our long weekend in South Tyrol, there were other opportunities to try the superb local food and wine, including a memorable wine-tasting at the uber-cool Hotel Miramonti. Christine Mayr, President of the Sommelier Association of South Tyrol, shared her enthusiasm for the excellent Alto Adige wines; this region grows about twenty different grape varieties. I was particularly taken with the Gewürztraminer Nussbaumer from Kellerei Tramin, with a delicate rose-flavour vaguely reminiscent of Turkish Delight, excellent with Asian foods and, of course, the regional dishes served throughout this part of north Italy.

Alto Adige - South Tyrol wines

Alto Adige – South Tyrol wines

On our last evening we drove from Bolzano up the mountains through at least 18 tunnels for dinner at Bad-Schöergau Hotel, in the Sarner Valley. In a replica of a stube we were served an innovative procession of tasty treats prepared by Michelin chef Egon Heiss. He’s a culinary magician, taking many of the Tyrolean food we had been eating over the past few days, giving them an innovative twist. The evening was a feast for all the senses, as the delicious smell of exquisitely cooked and presented food permeated the room. Meat, fish, vegetables and cheese featured in a number of unusual guises, the quirkiest being ‘speck perfume’ to be sprayed over pine risotto.  A dainty platter showcased Egon’s mastery in a variety of delicate desserts all made from local milk, which took him over 3 years to perfect.

Egon Heiss Michelin desserts - Bad Schoergau South Tyrol

Egon Heiss Michelin desserts

Back home I tried making the apple strudel. It didn’t look nearly as nice as Martha’s, but it tasted almost good. However, the view from my kitchen is not a patch on the majestic mountain vistas that added so much this memorable gastronomic weekend.

We stayed at the More Magdalener Hof in Bolzano and I’m most grateful to everyone from the South Tyrol Tourism for a really pleasurable trip.

September 2, 2014

There’s much more to South Tyrol than the mighty Dolomites

There’s much more to South Tyrol than the mighty Dolomites

Quirky Travel Question: where in Europe is South Tyrol?

Now be honest. No quick checking on Google. How many of you answered Austria? That was my immediate thought when I received an invitation to visit South Tyrol (also known as Alto Adige or Südtirol). However, I soon learnt that it’s actually in ITALY, its  northernmost province which, according to the tourist board website, combines, “Alpine staidness with Italian joie-de-vivre, the Dolomites – a UNESCO World Heritage site – and cultural diversity. South Tyrol is a region abounding with contrasts, between Mediterranean landscape and Alpine peaks, deeply rooted tradition and cosmopolitan curiosity.” Sounds great, doesn’t it!

South Tyrol and the Dolomites

South Tyrol and the Dolomites

I’m going to spend a weekend in this intriguing region to see what gastronomic delights it has to offer.  I hear it is choc-a-bloc with top-quality cheeses and award-winning wines.  I’ll be travelling with fellow travel bloggers Heather Cowper ‘Heather on her Travels’ who’s trying some outdoor activities and Abigail King ‘Inside the Travel Lab’, who will be focusing on the architecture and design.

Bolzano region of South Tyrol

Bolzano region of South Tyrol

We’re staying in historic Bolzano, the provincial capital of South Tyrol, at the More Magdalener Hotel, which looks very modern. It even has its own ‘Philosophy’; “more ‘space for your dreams” which sounds fab but not sure our busy itinerary will allow much time for dreaming …

More Magdalener Hotel in Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy

More Magdalener Hotel, Bolzano

My Lonely Planet Guide to Italy says of Bolzano, “Its quality of life – one of the highest in Italy – is reflected in its openness, youthful energy and an all-pervading greeness.” However, the city’s most famous inhabitant is anything but youthful; the ‘Iceman’ exhibited in the Archaeological Museum lived over 5,300 years ago. Bolzano looks a lovely mix of the old and new with a beautiful backdrop of the Dolomite mountains.

Bolzano City - South Tyrol. Italy

Bolzano City

On the Saturday I will be in the Val de Vizze near the Austrian border, learning how Speck cheese is made, visiting the Pretzhof, a traditional farm and having lunch there.

Pretzhof farm restaurant - South Tyrol, Italy

Pretzhof farm restaurant

In the afternoon I’m hoping to be able to wander round Bolzano and discover a bit more of its history and culture.

Quirky Travel Fact

The village of Termeno/Tramin, located on the South Tyrolean Wine Route, has given its name to the Gewürztraminer grape. This area is rich in vineyards and one of my pleasures on this trip will be tasting a few of the wines, including those at the Nals Margreid winery, which I read has some excellent vintages.  Lunch will be at the Hotel Miramonti with Chris Mayr, president of the Sommelier Association of South Tyrol, who will be talking about the Alto Adige wine region.

Wine grapes - Nils Margreid vineyard. South Tyrol

Wine grapes – Nils Margreid vineyard

Finally I’m really looking forward to visiting The Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle.  Those of you who read this blog regularly know how much I love history and culture and this is my chance to learn more about this side of South Tyrol.  With its origins in the Middle Ages and a neo-Gothic look created in the 19th c, Trauttsamndorff Castle has been restored with rooms reflecting its historic heritage. It also houses the region’s Tourism Museum and has world-famous gardens. Hopefully I will have plenty of time to explore its many attractions; I’ll have to be careful not to have TOO much wine during the day.

Trauttsmandorff Castle, South Tyrol, Italy

Trauttsmandorff Castle

So, that’s my deliciously different Italian weekend with South Tyrol Tourism as part of the Travelator Media group. You can follow our quirky travels with the hashtag #insouthtyrol on Twitter and other Social Media platforms and there will, of course be a blog post or two on my return. Ciao …


Bread and wine at Pretzhof, South Tyrol Italy - zoedawes

Here’s what I found on my delicious gastronomic tour of South Tyrol – as you can see, it more than exceeded expectations!

July 29, 2014

A tasty trio of Europe’s culinary delights

A tasty trio of Europe’s culinary delights

After the weather, food and drink are probably the subjects you will be talking about most after your holiday. As one of the most accessible ways to sample a country’s culture, eating and drinking is not only a pleasure but a requirement of any well-rounded holiday. While a lot of places around the world serve international dishes, it’s the local food staples that are really worth trying.

Italian Frittata at Avanti - photo Zoe Dawes

Italian Frittata at Avanti

And then there's the wine… Wine tasting is a lovely way to spend a day or a weekend. It's a perfect complement to a meal, and a pleasant way to unwind after a day of sightseeing. Wine regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy in France and Napa in California are well-known tasting destinations. You can find out more here as to how you can get to any of the below destinations so that you can indulge in their mouth-watering cuisine.

Here are three of our favourite food and wine destinations:

Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast

Amalfi coast, Italy

Sorrento is a small town in Campania, southern Italy. Overlooking the Bay of Naples with views towards Mount Vesuvius, Sorrento is famous for the production of limoncello, a digestif made from lemon rinds; the resort also has a reputation for fine wine, nuts and olives. Also worth visiting on the Amalfi Coast are Capri, for insalata caprese (mozzarella, tomato and basil salad) and the calorific (but amazing!) torta caprese which is an almond and chocolate cake, Minori for fresh scialatielli and 'ndunderi (similar to Gnocchi) and Naples, the birthplace of pizza.

San Sebastian  SpainSan Sebastian

Situated just 30 miles from the French border, San Sebastian, in the Basque region of Spain, is famous for its exceptional cuisine. It is an amazing place to visit as it caters to all; the party goers, the sightsee-ers and families. The city is home to several Michelin star restaurants with the most renowned being the 3 star ‘Arzak’. Basque cuisine includes meat and fish grilled over hot coals, cod, marmitako and lamb stew, pintxos (Basque tapas), Idiazabal sheep’s cheese, Tolosa bean dishes, txakoli sparkling wine, and Basque cider.


The Eiffel Tower Paris


Paris has some of the most beautiful scenery you will ever see, they have endless boulevards like the Champs-Élysées, breath-taking historical structures like Montmartre and most importantly heavenly food. From cafés, patisseries and bistros to chic wine bars and gourmet Michelin star restaurants, Paris is absolute heaven for lovers of food and wine. Gastronomes around the world continue to look to Paris as a model and inspiration, and the gourmet traditions established in this country of haute cuisine continue to be.

I'm sure your mouth is watering after reading about some of Europe’s culinary delights, so why not try out a trip to any of these beautiful destinations brought you by Railbookers!

December 10, 2013

Travel to Brittany – Ferry vs Plane

Travel to Brittany – Ferry vs Plane

The Loire Valley is one of the most popular destinations in France.  British tourists visit there all year round, travelling around the beautiful countryside, cruising along the river and discovering the magnificent Chateaux of this historic part of the country.

Chenonceau Chateau in Loire Valley - photo by chenonceau.com

Chenonceau Chateau – photo by chenonceau.com

The best way to get around this region  is by car, which gives you the freedom and flexibility to explore not only well-known sites such as Chenonceau and Chambord but also visit the wine areas such as Saumur and Angers, the home of Cointreau.  But what is the best way to get there? Do you fly, perhaps to Nantes and then pick up a hire car when you arrive? Or do you take your own car on a more leisurely route and take the cross channel ferry to France?

The Infographic below, created and recently published by Brittany Ferries, shows a family of four travelling to the Loire Valley and compares flying with taking the cross channel ferry. For a family, Brittany’s ferry to France crossing is an attractive option.  Although taking longer in time, it’s much less stressful and you have the convenience of your own car whilst you are on holiday, packed with bikes etc with no excess luggage charges.  See what you think….

Travel to Brittany - Ferry vs Plane

Image brought to you by Brittany Ferries – Ferry To France VS Plane


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