Vines Resort spa recognised globally

A leading resort in Western Australia has won two prestigious international awards for the quality of its spa treatment.

Novotel Swan Valley Vines Resort was among the big winners at the World Luxury Spa Awards, held in the Swiss Alps.

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Keishi Spa at the Vines Resort was named the best luxury boutique spa and the best luxury golf resort spa in Australia and Oceania.

The awards celebrate achievement in service excellence and aim to reward those who have gone beyond the normal call of duty.

World Luxury Spa Awards are considered the pinnacle of accomplishment and are a benchmark for luxury hotels and spas across the globe.

This year, almost 40 countries competed in 16 categories, with entrants ranging from safari lodges to health retreats.

Keishi Spa opened two years ago at the Vines resort, which is located in Western Australia’s Swan Valley, about 35 minutes from the State capital of Perth

The spa is situated in a secluded sanctuary under towering trees, between the resort’s golf grfeens and swimming pool.

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Owner and manager, Everlyn Zaccagnini, applauded the dedication of Keishi Spa staff and welcomed the global recognition.

Similar sentiments were expressed by the General Manager of the Novotel Vines Resort, Mike Stanton, who said the Keishi Spa had added “another dimension to the service offered to guests and the local community.”

Australian travel

Review: Sebel Resort, Hawkesbury Valley, Australia

The Hawkesbury area of eastern Australia is known as an historic time capsule because of its many buildings dating back to colonial times.

Yet, amidst all this sits the Sebel Resort and Spa, a modern and luxurious accommodation and function centre at Windsor, on the north-western outskirts of Sydney.

We selected the resort as a base for a two-day visit to the Windsor heritage area, the third-oldest colonial settlement in Australia.

Wow factor

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Sebel Resort and Spa certainly makes a big first impression: 105 rooms, two restaurants, a full-service spa, two tennis courts, two golf courses and an indoor swimming pool.

And all this is set in eight hectares of manicured and landscaped gardens.

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Entering the main doors, the feeling was one of quality and luxury without being pretentious.

How quick and efficient was the hotel check-in?

Sign-in was smooth and pleasant and we were given a handy map of the resort, its facilities and extensive gardens.

Did we feel welcomed by staff?

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Certainly. From the moment we entered the resort, we were greeted warmly. Throughout our stay, we found the staff to be polite and helpful.

Were we offered help with our luggage?

No – but we didn’t ask for assistance either. The vast size of the resort means that it can be a considerable walk from the car park.

Did the hotel offer free wifi – and how did it work?

Sebel Resort and Spa has free wifi for guests. On arrival, we were given the password – and signal strength was reasonably good.

This was a huge plus, as we were not forced to seek out wifi at coffee shops, restaurants etc.

The room experience

Our double room was ready when we arrived and was modern, spotlessly clean, comfortable and large. (In fact, the resort’s website says the rooms are an average of 29 square metres)

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There was a comfy, king-sized bed with individual readings lights;  a LCD TV set with cable channels; a roomy ensuite, mini-bar, breakfast bench, writing desk and plenty of wardrobe space.

The cable TV worked perfectly and there were no problems with the en-suite.

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Extra heavy drapes kept out any street light, although the resort is located in a country area close to the foot of Australia’s Blue Mountains.

Free bottled water, hair dryers, and irons/ironing boards were also provided, as well as complimentary cookies, tea and coffee making facilities

The room contained individually-controlled air-conditioning and heating and a telephone. On arrival, the air-conditioning was operating to create an ideal temperature.

Power points

To our delight, there were four power outlets close to the bed for charging our phones, iPad and camera.

This was particularly convenient and appreciated, as we use our phones as morning alarms.

There was also a power point in the ensuite, which we used for an electric razor.

Towels and bathroom accessories

Our Sebel Resort and Spa ensuite was also stocked with quality Appelles luxury bath products.

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There were ample soft and fluffy towels changed daily if you needed them.

Food and drink

Because we had long days touring the heritage attractions of the area, we didn’t dine at either of the on-site restaurants or use the around-the-clock room service.

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It was a similar story with the resort’s bar, which features a full-sized snooker table.

However, we enjoyed a full cooked breakfast, which couldn’t be faulted.

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Where is it?

Located in the historic town of Windsor, the resort is a 45 minutes’ drive from central Sydney and 50 minutes from Sydney Airport.

Would we recommend it?

Yes. Undoubtedly.

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Australian Senior-friendly hotels

Review: Golf View Units, Wellington Caves, Australia

Our last road trip to the Central West of New South Wales, Australia, had a dual purpose.

Firstly, we wanted to take a close look at the east-west road link, the Golden Highway, which is rapidly growing as an important travel route following the opening of the Newcastle Expressway.

But there was also an element of nostalgia, as we took two of our grandchildren back to a section of Australia where we had spent much of our youth.

For accommodation, we detoured about 59 kilometres off the Golden Highway route to newly-updated Golf View Cabins at Wellington Caves.

This was done deliberately to allow us to review the refurbished facilities and also see whether they were feasible for travellers to use as a base while visiting both the Wellington Caves and the Taronga Western Plains Zoo at nearby Dubbo, – two of the biggest attractions in the region.

Obviously, we also wanted to put the units under the microscope to see how the facility ranked in the senior-friendly scale.

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Golf View Units, Wellington Caves

 

Golf View Units, Wellington Caves

Wellington Caves are located in the Central West of New South Wales, about 353 kilometres or four hours and 40 minutes from Sydney on the Mitchell Highway – or 504 kilometres (five hours and 41 minutes) from Sydney via the Golden Highway. They are on the southern outskirts of the town of Wellington.

The attraction offers four levels of accommodation for visitors – sites for caravans and tents; four cabins for four-to-five people each; seven standard units capable of accommodating five; and seven Golf View units for five people.

Although primarily a camping area, the facility markets its units and cabins as self-contained accommodation for families and visitors, as well as overnight stops.

The Golf View units are so named because they offer impressive views across the adjoining Wellington Golf Course toward the nearby Bell River and surrounding hills.

Before arrival, did the holiday park communicate well?

The stay was organised by phone weeks in advance and we followed-up with an email a few days before arrival, to formally introduce ourselves and inform the park operators that we intended to review the accommodation. We didn’t hear from the park.

What was the first impression?

Wellington Caves are in a typical Australian bushland setting.

The Golf View units are in a prime position within a large and level reserve – with easy parking, sealed internal roads and impressive views.

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Although fairly bland-looking from the outside, the first impression is that the units appear solid, well protected from the elements and secure.

At the rear of each unit, there are screened wooden decks, from where we later relaxed and watched kangaroos feeding quietly on the golf course fairways.

How was the check-in?

Arriving in the early afternoon and were warmly greeted. It was just a matter of signing quickly and handing over our credit card.

We were given clear directions to our apartment, its adjacent parking space, and the park’s various facilities – as well as the timing and prices of caves tours.

Were we told about wifi and was there a charge?

At the time of booking, we were told that the park did not offer complimentary wifi – or any wifi at all.  This was disappointing.

Was the overall facility senior-friendly?

The approach to the accommodation is flat and you are able to drive right to the front door of the units.  There are no steps to enter the units.  This continues inside, although the unit we were given had two bunk beds (separate to the main Queen-sized bed) with a ladder to reach the top.  This was not particularly senior-friendly, however the bottom bunk is a double-sized bed which may overcome any accessibility problems.  There is usually scope to switch units if the ladder is an real hassle. The rear exit to the verandah is also flat with no stairs.

Outside recreation areas and the laundry are also on level ground, with easy access.

Although the bed ladder could be a drawback, we gave the units high marks on the senior-friendly score,

The rooms

The Golf View units are modern, in excellent condition, with quality and practical furnishings and decor. Security includes key locks on external doors, as well as security screening.

Our unit contained two bedroom areas separated by a divider/doublesided wardrobe.

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One bedroom area had a comfortable Queen-sized bed, while the other had a bunk with a double bed on the lower section and a single bed above.

Both the Queen-sized bed and the double bed were perfect for seniors.

Pillows, blankets and linen were supplied.

Kitchen

The unit had a well appointed kitchen, containing a fridge, microwave oven, tea and coffee making facilities, crockery and cutlery.

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The dining area had a table and chairs, a large-screen, wall-mounted television set and split-system air conditioning and heating. The unit did not have cable TV channels, another disappointment.

Bedrooms

Firstly, the beds were comfortable.

There weren’t any steps between the bedrooms and the living areas, although use of the top bunk required a ladder which was perhaps not ideal for some seniors.

Each sleeping area had adequate wardrobe space and the main one contained bed-side tables.

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The beds were served by overhead lights which could be switched on and off without leaving the bed (always a great idea) There was a bedside alarm clock.

Importantly, there were adequate power points alongside the beds for charging of phones, which in our case, also serve as wake-up alarms.

Bathroom

The bathroom was modern, clean and adequate, with shower, basin, toilet and hair-dryer.

Taps/water mixers were simple to use and did not require any force – again, ideal for seniors and children.

There was a complimentary toiletries container, with two solitary bars of soap, but adequate amounts of soft, fluffy towels.

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Laundry

Although we didn’t need to use it, our unit also contained an an iron and ironing board.

The park has a separate laundry block, with coin-operated washing machines and dryers.

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Tea and coffee

The kitchen contained adequate tea and coffee making facilities.

Outdoor facilities

Adjacent to the Golf View Cabins is an all-weather outdoor picnic and barbecue area.

The park itself also boasts an amenities block; on-site kiosk; camp kitchen; recreation room; and play equipment for children – all of which we didn’t require.

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It is within walking distance of the Wellington Golf Club and the park says it is pet friendly, although not in cabins or units.

It may be a ‘first’ for many children, but the park also features a public telephone – a rare sight indeed in this day and age.

There is also a swimming pool with shade sail, although this was clearly out of operation during our visit,

Would we recommend The Golf View Units?

In summary, the units are comfortable, spotlessly clean; accessible for seniors; located on the Mitchell Highway route to Sydney and close to the Golden Highway link from Newcastle and the Hunter vineyards.

The units are ideal for families and it is certainly feasible to use them as a base for visiting both the Wellington Caves and the Taronga Western Plains Zoo – as well as other nearby attractions such as the Osawano Japanese Gardens and Burrendong Dam.

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It would, therefore, seem sensible to market this accommodation to travellers from both Sydney and Newcastle – especially with the growing popularity of the Golden Highway link.

The Wellington units are a relatively short detour off the Golden Highway, which increasingly is being used by visitors travelling from Australia’s east coast to the Taronga Western plains Zoo at Dubbo.

By detouring to Wellington, visitors can stay at the units and see the fascinating caves as well as the zoo.

Suggested improvements

From our experience, the Golf View units and other accommodation at Wellington Caves would benefit if the park offered visitors a reduced fee on tours of the caves.

Complimentary wifi is also a must in today’s tourist market, especially if the park is attempting to compete for visitors to the Taronga Western plains Zoo. It’s a similar story with cable TV channels.

There is also a need for microwave cooking bowls etc in the unit kitchens and improved toiletries.

Would we return

Certainly – especially if wifi is provided.  This is a problem that the operators should tackle.

Australian Senior-friendly hotels

Jenolan Cabins, Australia

It’s funny how mistakes often have a way of working out in the end.

Like our last road trip to see the Jenolan Caves, a world-famous natural attraction in eastern Australia.

Put simply, we accidentally booked the wrong accommodation for our party of 10. It was somewhat embarrassing but, in doing so, we stumbled onto a gem that made our visit all the more memorable.

Jenolan Caves are a series of striking limestone formations on the western fringe of Australia’s Blue Mountains, about three hours or 175 kilometres (109 miles) west of Sydney. The caves are part of a UNESCO World Heritage area and attract more than 250,000 visitors a year.

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Photo courtesy Jenolan Cabins

We didn’t set out to stay at Jenolan Cabins, but it was a fortunate mistake that led us to this accommodation perched high on Porcupine Hill overlooking the Caves complex.

Jenolan Cabins are certainly not your typical tourist accommodation, but proved  perfect for the location.

In place of free wifi and complimentary breakfast, we found ourselves up close and personal with the Australian bush in a series of environmentally-sensitive cabins.

At an altitude of 1,350 metres above sea level, Jenolan Cabins sit above the snow line, mingling with kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and flocks of native birds.

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The cabins are snug and warm – and command a spectacular 360 degree view over the World Heritage Blue Mountains National Park; Kanangra Boyd National Park; and the Jenolan Caves Reserve.

Each cabin has been purpose built to fit within the alpine hilltop environment – earth-sheltered for climate control and clad in timber to allow them to blend into the hillside.

The cabins accommodate six people, with each containing a queen-sized bed and four bunks. One has been done out to provide disabled access.

There is a kitchenette and a dining room, where we were able to prepare the food we brought and then serve it.

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Each cabin also has a bathroom, with hairdryer and a lounge area with picture windows, a cathedral ceiling, as well as HD television and a DVD player.

Although we didn’t use it, there is also a laundry for the complex. We did, however, make good use of a barbecue.

Although there are many leisure facilities in the vicinity, we spent most of our time at Jenolan Caves, taking guided tours of some of the 11 well-lit caves that are open to the public.

The cave network is massive, following a subterranean section of the Jenolan River, with more than 40 kilometres (25 miles) of multi-level passages and in excess of  300 entrances.

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Photo courtesy Jenolan Caves

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Parts of the 3,083-hectare (7,620-acre) reserve of caves are still being explored.

Tours of Jenolan caves vary in difficulty. For example, the Imperial Cave has the fewest stairs, while the River Cave is the most strenuous.

During the tours, we were told that the cave chambers contain numerous marine fossils and the calcite formations, sometimes pure white, are noted for their beauty.

Overall, the trip was enjoyable and Jenolan cabins proved a great base for exploring the area. We have no hesitation in recommending them for anyone who feels they are mobile enough to tackle the whole caves experience.

See detailed information and contact details

Jenolan cabins are located at Porcupine Hill, 42 Edith Road, Jenolan Caves.

The site can be reached by road from Sydney  via the M4 motorway, Great Western Highway and Jenolan Caves Road.

See directions.

Alternatively, trains travel from Sydney’s Central Station to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, from where  travellers can get coaches to the caves.

See a train timetable

Main photo courtesy Jenolan Caves

Australian

The Vintage, Hunter vineyards, Australia

The Hunter vineyards, of eastern Australia, is one of our favourite destinations.

Close to the cities of Sydney and Newcastle, the Hunter features world-class wineries, boutique cheese and chilli outlets, stunning gardens, concert venues, restaurants and outstanding accommodation.

On a past visit, we spent two days at The Vintage, an Accor Grand Mercure hotel apartment complex near Rothbury.

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Before arrival, did the hotel communicate well?

The stay was organised online months in advance and The Vintage efficiently followed up by email to check that everything was running to plan, to explain the location of reception and to point out access for less mobile guests. This was a great individual touch.

What was the first impression?

Wow! The Vintage boasts stylish, modern apartments built around a lush green golf course and swimming pool.

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It blends neatly with the surrounding countryside, yet instantly looks luxurious and appealing.

How efficient was the check-in?

We arrived in the early afternoon and were warmly greeted by name, which was appreciated. It was just a matter of signing quickly and handing over our credit card.

We were given clear directions to our apartment, its lock-up, remote-controlled garage and the various facilities.

Were we told about wifi and was there a charge?

We were delighted to see that wifi was complimentary at The Vintage and a password was given to us at reception.

The rooms

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What was the first impression?

Apartments at The Vintage are modern, with quality furnishings and decor.  Ours had only a few stairs and level access from the rear – both of which made it ideal for seniors.

The apartment had two bedrooms and was very well appointed. There was a sleek, fully self-contained designer kitchen with Smeg appliances and microwave.

Both the dining and living rooms – complete with large screen TV, cable channels, mini hifi; DVD player, work desk, dining table and a gas fireplace – were large, modern and comfortable.

We were able to relax on our hotel-style balcony overlooking the courtyard and an outdoor area at the rear led down ta gentle path to the golf course, walking trails and a pond.

Bedrooms

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Firstly, the beds were king-sized and comfy. There weren’t any steps between the bedrooms and the living areas. Each sleeping area was also equipped with a wardrobe, bed-side tables with individual reading lamps, and a combination clock/iPod player which we did not use

Importantly, however, there were adequate power points alongside the bed for charging of phones, which in our case, also serve as wake-up alarms.

The main bedroom also contained an LCD television set.

Bathrooms

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Each bedroom had its own luxury en-suite bathroom, with a big tub, shower, basin and large window overlooking the bedroom. Each bathroom contained a hair dryer

The taps/water mixers were simple to use and did not require any force.

Each bathroom contained a range of Zambezi toiletries, which were certainly adequate.

There were plenty of soft and fluffy towels.

Laundry

Although we didn’t need to use it, our apartment also contained a laundry equipped with washing machine, steam iron, ironing board and clothes dryer.

Tea and coffee

The kitchen contained adequate tea and coffee making facilities.

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Restaurant

Although we didn’t use it, The Vintage Cafe and Legends Grill restaurant overlooks the 18th hole of the Greg Norman-designed golf course.

The Vintage Cafe is open every day of the week for breakfast and lunch.

Outdoor facilities

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The Vintage boasts a sparkling, heated outdoor swimming pool suitable for all ages, exercise room and impressive outdoor barbecue, all of which we didn’t use.

Would we recommend The Vintage.

Yes, without hesitation.

Would we return

Certainly. The Vintage provides quality, self contained accommodation right in the heart of the Hunter vineyards and close enough to Sydney and Newcastle to be ideal for a relaxing getaway.

Australian

The romantic call of carousels

You’re never too old for the magic of a carousel.

Perhaps it’s being part of such a long lost craft, or just plain nostalgia for the joys of childhood, but finding wonderful old carousels has become something of a travel ritual for us

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Photo courtesy Popular Mechanics

Carousels are particularly ingrained in European culture and we’ve seen some beauties in France; the United Kingdom; Denmark; Germany; Italy and Catalonia.

They also remain popular attractions in Northern America and Australasia.

Knights go round

Known as ‘roundabouts’ or ‘merry-go-rounds’ in many countries, the carousel was first developed as a cavalry-training device in Europe and the Middle East.

Knights would gallop in a circle while tossing balls from one to another – which doesn’t sound easy.

By the mid-19th century the platform carousel was developed; the animals and chariots were fixed to a circular floor that was rotated by an operator or a team of horses. The steam-powered mechanical roundabout is believed to have appeared about 1861.

These days, carousels come in all shapes and sizes, which is all part of the appeal.

Tivoli’s high flyer

For example, Tivoli amusement park, at Copenhagen, Denmark, boasts one of the world’s tallest swing rides in the ‘Star Flyer’ – or Himmelskibef – an 80 metre (260 feet) high carousel that provides commanding views of the city centre.

 

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Copyright: Memorable Destination

The ‘Star Flyer’ recently celebrated its 10th birthday.

Shadow of the Eiffel Tower

Carousels are numerous in France.

We found many scattered across Paris.

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Photo courtesy Utrip blog

Probably the most striking setting is the Eiffel Tower Carousel, on the Champs de Mars – a green park that runs down to the Eiffel Tower.

A beauty in Florence

In the magnificent city of Florence, Italy, a superbly restored wooden carousel is a highlight of the Piazza della Republica.

This is the antique carousel of the Picci family, which has operated the ride for four generations.

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Photo courtesy Jorge Royan and Wikimedia

On London’s southbank

On our last visit to London, we were delighted to come across a traditional carousel on the Thames Southbank, near the London Eye.

Covent Garden has also been the site of numerous carousels over the years.

Colourful carousels of Barcelona

Like the surrounding city, the carousels at Sould Park amusement area in Barcelona are boldly designed and adorned in bright colours.

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Photo courtesy Mr Richochet and Flickr

In Berlin, Germany, the traditional carousel has been taken a step forward with the high flying ‘Merlin’s Apprentice’ swing ride at Legoland in Potsdamer Platz. We didn’t test ride this one, but it sure looks spectacular – especially for the young.

An Aussie gem

One of the most striking carousels we’ve seen holds pride of place in the Darling Harbour entertainment precinct at Sydney, Australia.

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Copyright: Memorable Destination

Horses for this rare Edwardian carousel were carved in London in about 1885 and the steam engine was made about seven years later at Norwich, England.

Imported to Australia, the carousel was given a galloping motion in about 1910 and became widely known for its appearances at country fairs and agricultural shows throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Central Park’s indoor carousel

One of the highlights of wonderful Central Park, in New York City, is the Michael Friedsam Memorial Carousel, that dates to 1908.

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Copyright: Memorable Destination

This indoor attraction is one of the biggest carousels in the US.

Jet-powered?

While discussing carousels with friends in the US, we were told about a jet-powered attraction that was given a test run several years ago by the  Madagascar Institute, an arts collective based at Brooklyn, New York City.

Apparently, the aim was to fit jet packs on the backs of each user, stand clear – and hope.

Our friends were unsure how well it worked, but the idea certainly took the ancient carousel to new heights.

(Main page photo: Classic Carousel, Tivoli, Copenhagen. Copyright: Memorable Destination)

 

Australian Humorous