A dream continues deep in the woods

Love is a great foundation for grand plans.

An astonishing example of this can be found deep in the tropics of far north-eastern Australia.

There, sunlight filters down on a dream: a fairytale forest castle created more than 80 years ago by a Spaniard for his beloved. 

And, as we wandered through this unexpected delight, we quickly understood the romantic dream behind such an extroadinary creation.


Jose Pedro Enrique Paronella was a romantic man – a dreamer in a harsh, no-nonsense land.

He arrived at Innisfail, Queensland, in 1913 and began work in the sugar industry while planning a special life with the fiancee he had left back in Catalonia.

It was while buying and selling cane farms that Jose discovered his dreamland – a beautiful tropical forest alongside the spectacular, cascading Mena Creek waterfall.


Jose had never forgotten the grand castles of his boyhood land and the gem of an idea was taking root when he returned to his fiancee after 11 years. Finding that she had married another, he proposed to her younger sister, Margarita, and returned to Australia to buy his piece of forest paradise.

Their incredible dream was to build a castle. And they did – on 13 tropical acres a fantasyland gradually rose amid the tall trees, tangled vines, creepers and ferns.

Neither Jose nor Margarita were afraid of hard work. Their fingerprints in the concrete foundations remain as testament to their astonishing labour of love. 

No task, no matter how difficult, seemed to faze Jose.  Described as an ”engineer, architect, builder and everything else in one”, he threw himself into every challenge.

“People smile and say ‘Paronella, he is mad. To work so hard and to spend so much money this way! Why does he not sit down and rest’.  That is not my way”

Excerpt from ‘Spaniard’s Dream Realised’ – Brisbane Sunday Mail

The first section of the dream was a grand 47-step concrete staircase to shift building materials between the upper and lower levels of the site. 


Gradually, the castle and its stunning surrounds took shape, including a grand ballroom and movie theatre designed to provide entertainment for the public.  

There were also tennis courts, tunnels, bridges, fountains, a museum; pavilion with turret-topped balconies, refreshment rooms and changing cubicles for swimmers.

All this was wrapped in an amazing area of gardens and more than 7,000 trees, including an avenue of Kauri pines that now tower like Cathedral spires.


The backdrop of Mena Creek Falls  was used for North Queensland’s first hydro electric plant, providing power to the entire site – and a tunnel was burrowed through a hill to give access to minature waterfalls.

Despite setbacks, the dream of Paronella Park  continued – even after Jose’s death in 1948. 

In 1967,  Margarita passed away, leaving their son and daughter-in-law as custodians of the remarkable dream.


Flood, fire and the area’s tropical cyclones also wreaked havoc on the castle and the vision was almost lost when new owners stepped in during the 1990’s and started a number of restoration projects, while carefully staying true to the park’s history.

Today, the site is officially listed as an important part of Australian heritage.

However, we defy first-time visitors not to catch their breath when they see the truly extroardinary sight of a Spanish castle partly hidden in a tropical forest in one of the most beautiful parts of our planet.

In this helter skelter world, the dream and the romance live on – and there’s something particularly reassuring about that.


Paronella Park can be found at Mena Creek, Queensland, Australia, 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Cairns.

As explained on its website, visitors can take a 45-minute guided walk through the highlights of the park; try a self-guided botanical walk; or see the delights of the site by night, when the waterfalls are lit.

There is also a Paronella caravan and camping park; a suspension bridge above the Mena Falls; a museum in Jose’s cottage; an arts and crafts shop and a tea house that features scones and home-made tropical jam.

The park is also a stunning backdrop for weddings and other special occasions.

Far-North Queensland Romance travel

Romantic destinations

There’s no doubt about it: travel can be romantic.

So, at this time of year when love is in the air, here’s some of our favourite romantic destinations:

1.Venice, Italy – if romance has an ideal backdrop, this is it. Venice seems to emit a romantic energy. No wonder it is known as the City of Honeymoons.


2. Crete, Greece – what a wonderful island. Rugged scenery, friendly people, wonderful food and an amazing culture.


3. Lattari Mountain villages, Campania, Italy – within sight of the Amalfi coastline, yet a land lost in time. These villages spell out romance with a capital ‘R’.

LRG_DSC01675 2 copy.jpg

4. Schafberg Mountain, Austria – rising up from the waters of the Wolfgangsee, this mountain takes you to a land above the clouds. In season, catch the Schafbergbahn train to the top and behold the Hotel Schafbergspitze on its snowy peak.

Schafberg birdseye.jpg

5. El Maresme costa, Catalonia – Barcelona and the coast to its north are as romantic as anyone could wish


6. The Gower, southern Wales – a misty and mystic wonderland of green lowlands, rocky peaks, beaches, ancient castles and standing stones, the Gower is good for the soul.


 7. Lake Bled, Slovenia – commonly described as one of the most beautiful places on earth, Bled has all the ingredients for a romantic stay.  Simply stunning!!


8. Florence, Italy –  To see the sun sink down, drowned on his pink and purple and golden floods, and overwhelm Florence with tides of color that make all the sharp lines dim and faint and turn the solid city to a city of dreams, is a sight to stir the coldest nature.” – Mark Twain


9. Athens, Greece – the ancient wonders of this captivating city are matched by the warmth of its people, the superb food and the excitement of the bubbling metropolis.


10. Rome, Italy – the Eternal City spells romance and excitement at every turn.


11. Niagara Falls, USA – another honeymoon favourite for a reason. There’s something about Mother Nature at her grandest.


12. London, United Kingdom – the ‘Capital of Capitals’ has an appeal that must be experienced to be fully understood. We defy anyone to step off the plane at Heathrow and not feel immediately that the city is special indeed.


13. Prague, Czech Republic – a cobblestone wonder that is as romantic as you will find anywhere.


14. The Isle of Capri, Italy – every visit to this emerald island will feel like falling in love.


15. Utah’s national parks – The Coyote Buttes – and who didn’t love cowboy movies?


16. Scotland, United Kingdom – a rugged landscape, where the air is crisp and the whiskey is smooth.


17. Paris, France – a perennial favourite with lovers, lose yourself in the boulevards and architecture (but watch the drivers)


18. Copenhagen, Denmark – the dock of the bay at Nyhaven, one of the many charming highlights of this elegant and friendly city.


19. The Dolomites, Italy – this limestone mountain range in north-eastern Italy is a favourite with the ski crowd, but its beautiful, rugged landscape is dotted with romantic cabins where solitude comes free of charge.


20. The North Coast of Cornwall, United Kingdom – scenery to die for.


Barcelona Features Romance

Culture and coffee in romantic Vienna

If you enter the words “elegance” and “romance” into Google, there’s a good chance the answer will be “Vienna”.

Throw in sophistication, culture, history and coffee houses and you’re getting close to the charm of the Austrian capital on the Danube.


A cityscape characterised by magnificent baroque buildings has something for everyone – from outstanding museums and galleries; striking palaces; a famous opera house; and the gothic Stephansdom, or St Stephen’s Cathedral.

Culture oozes from the cobblestones  walked at times by the likes of Beethoven, Strauss, Mozart and Haydn.

Today, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra  is world famous, as is the Vienna Boys Choir.

Stunning Schoenbrunn Palace – with its Gloriette monument, maze; Palm House and zoo –  is recognised instantly, as is the eye-opening Hofburg Imperial Palace.


And tucked between the famous buildings is the quaint Vienna beloved by the locals, with coffee houses, tea rooms and wine taverns standing side-by-side with modern restaurants and shops.

Whatever your taste, Vienna is a feel-good city.  The uniquely Viennese charm is the perfect medicine for whatever ails you.

You lose your breath at the beauty of Italy; you marvel at the grandeur of London; you glow at the romance of Paris; and you sway to the beat of New York City.

In Vienna,  you feel a better person just for visiting.







Romance Vienna

Romantic Bath: celebrating Jane Austen

The grand English city of Bath – with its beautiful Georgian buildings and sweeping thoroughfares – seems the perfect setting to remember one of the great romantic novelists.

Jane Austen Centre is dedicated to celebrating Bath’s most famous resident – staging ongoing exhibitions and playing  centre stage at the Jane Austen Festival, held  over two weeks each September since 2000.

While millions of travellers flock to the springs from which the Somerset city takes its name, it’s certainly worth finding your way to the Gay Street townhouse that offers a step back in time to the days of Pride and Prejudice and Emma.

Jane Austen paid two long visits to Bath towards the end of the 18th century, and from 1801 to 1806, the city was her home. For a time, she lived in Gay Street.


Enjoying the period atmosphere

On arriving at the centre, we were greeted by Martin, the costumed ‘man-on-the-door’ and were taken on a fascinating journey through the author’s links with Bath and the impact that the city had on her writing of books such as Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.


We were given a snapshot of life in the Regency times – the fashion, food, society – everything that would have inspired Austen’s novels.

And to create a more genuine period atmosphere, were invited to don coats, hats and bonnets – while Sue and our delightful English cousin, Jan, posed coyly behind typically 18th Century fans. Our Australian Socceroos scarf added a more modern touch.


Before departing, we signed the visitor’s book with a flourish, using a feather pen and nib dipped in ink.

A majestic location

Jane Austen Centre can be found at Bath, in Somerset, UK. The centre is broadly located between two of Bath’s architectural masterpieces, Queen Square and the Circus.


Bath is located about one-and-a-half hours from London by train.

Road travel between the two cities usually takes just over two hours.




Bath Romance

For an unusual gift, try a Welsh love spoon

We have close ties with Wales.

But it’s a lot more than just family links that keep bringing us back to this wonderful part of the planet.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWe have been fortunate to travel the length and breadth of Wales – and each time we have new experiences, find different attractions and explore ever more memorable destinations.

It’s far more than just the intriguing history, the warmth of the people and the intense pride in their heritage.

As we found on our most recent visit to the remarkable Gower area of southern Wales – with its standing stones and other monolithic structures – there is also deep and important local belief in folklore and Celtic mysticism.


Related articles

Beauty and history merge at Gower


One particular Welsh tradition has spread world-wide -and is a great gift idea for just about any occasion

‘Love Spoons’ are carved from wood, contain special decorations and were traditionally used as a gift of intent.

In much the same way that today’s young men might bring gifts of flowers, chocolates or even jewellery to their beloved, ‘Love Spoons’ were traditionally used by a suitor to show a girl’s father that the would-be husband was capable of providing.

There are similar traditions in Scandinavia and some parts of Eastern Europe, but Welsh ‘Love Spoons’ stretch back as far as the 17th Century and were originally used to eat cawl soup, a Welsh stew made from vegetables and lamb.

The earliest known example is in a museum at Cardiff and is from 1667. Later, the spoons became a symbol of romance and had certain symbols with specific meanings: a heart for love; a lock for a promise of security; a horseshoe for good luck; a cross for faith; and bells for marriage.

Creating these spoons is now seen largely as a folk craft, but they adorn the walls of even the most modern  Welsh home or apartment – and there are entire galleries devoted to showing and selling them

Ours draw us closer to family and also bring back memories of this glorious and often-mysterious  lush green land across the seas.

If these traditional spoons catch your fancy, but you are not likely to head for Wales anytime soon, they can also be obtained online.

How to get there

Wales is only a few hours drive or train trip from most of the UK’s big cities. Many international airlines fly direct to and from Cardiff.

Romance Traditions Wales

An iconic and romantic English sight

You may not yet have visited Shaftesbury – but you probably know it well.

Although only a dot in the scenic English county of Dorset, an image of Shaftesbury has spread around the world over the past few decades.

Known world-wide

And it’s all because of one local street – the iconic Gold Hill, which is so quintessentially ‘Olde England’ that it has adorned movies, TV, magazines, calendars, postcards and countless chocolate boxes.

In the UK, Gold Hill is almost a household name because it was the main setting for a Hovis Bread television commercial, directed by Ridley Scott in the 1970’s and since voted England’s favourite advertisement of all time.

The steep cobbled street with a medieval wall and unbelievably picturesque  views from the top, has been aptly described as “one of the most romantic sights in England”.


Seeing Gold Hill at first hand was, however, only one of the pleasant surprises that awaited us in Shaftesbury.

We also discovered Number 5, an elegant Bed and Breakfast that exceeded our every expectation.

The stunning Dorset countryside, with its intense greenery, narrow roads and thatched-roof cottages, is a delight in itself.

More than half the county is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; a fact that is easily understood as you reach Shaftesbury, perched high over the Blackmore Vale and part of the River Stour basin.

And for anyone with even a passing interest in history, this town has a fascinating story to tell.

Once a Saxon fort

Shaftesbury dates back to a hillside fort established in 880 by King Alfred the Great as part of defences against raiding Vikings.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Alfred and his daughter founded Shaftesbury Abbey in 888.

A wall from the abbey ruins now runs alongside Gold Hill and the story of what is described as ‘Saxon England’s foremost Benedictine nunnery’ is now told in a museum located on the site.

Later, King Canute of England, Denmark and Norway, died in the Abbey in  1035 and local word has it that his heart was buried at the site.

The abbey was destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII in 1539, but Shaftesbury went on to become an important market; a stop-over for coaches; and a centre for the production of hand-made buttons – an industry which was eventually decimated by automation.

Number 5’s central position

We arrived at Shaftesbury late in the afternoon and found our Bed & Breakfast as mist started to swirl up from the Vale below.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Number 5  B&B is a beautiful 1820’s  building  which has been lovingly restored by its owners, Trevor and Kate Toms.

The building is centrally located in Shaftesbury’s Bimport, opposite the Trinity Church where we were able to leave our car in a secure parking area.

We were warmly greeted at Number 5, which is stylishly and tastefully furnished.

Our room had a lovely ensuite bathroom, TV, tea and coffee facilities, complimentary WiFi, yummy chocolates and home-made biscuits.

A short stroll

After enjoying a cuppa, we were off to explore the town, take an obligatory photograph of Gold Hill and check out the site of the former Abbey before dark.

From there, it was a short stroll to a local Indian restaurant for a meal before retiring to the comfy bed at Number 5.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESBreakfast the next morning was served in a bright and warm guest dining room and Kate informed us that all the produce came from the local farmers market.

We were quite sorry to leave Number 5 and Shaftesbury; both of which  we recommend without hesitation.

Where it is

Shaftesbury is in northern Dorset, at the intersection of the A30 and A350 roads.  From London, the 110 miles takes about two-and-a-half hours.

Trains run from London’s Waterloo Station to Salisbury in Wiltshire, a trip of about  one-and-a-half hours.  It is then a further one hour by bus to Shaftesbury.

Number 5 B&B is located at 5 Bimport, Shaftesbury.

Bound for the coast

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESAfter leaving Shaftesbury, we headed down ever-narrowing roads toward England’s southern coastline.

Dorset features prominently in Sue’s family tree so we were keen to see the home of her ancestors, the nearby market town of Sturminster Newton, before heading into Cornwall.

But that is a story for another day.


Ian Roberts





Features Romance Shaftesbury

Cool attractions: ‘Agnete and the Merman’, Copenhagen, Denmark

Of all the remarkable sights in Copenhagen, the stylish capital of Denmark,  the sculpture ‘Agnete & the Merman’ is truly eye-opening.

For a start, the bronze sculpture is underwater – in a canal alongside the High Bridge in the city’s centre.

The figures rise up from the floor of the canal, slightly obscured by the movement of the water and almost eerily bathed in light at night.


Created in 1992 by Suste Bonnen, the sculpture tells an age-old tale from Danish folklore.

As the legend goes, peasant girl Agnete was passing by the water as a Merman emerged from the depths and offered his hand.

It was love at first sight and Agnete willingly went to the bottom of the sea, where she gave birth to seven sons.

However, it all started to go wrong eight years later when Agnete heard the sound of church bells ringing on the land and  became homesick.

The Merman agreed that she could go  to church, on the  condition that she returned after the service.

But once on dry land again, Agnete found that she missed her old life and family too much. She refused to return to the waters.

In the Copenhagen sculpture, the Merman and his seven sons are calling for Agnete, reaching their arms up through the water in a mute appeal.

Agnete, however, is nowhere to be seen.

It wasn’t really a happy ending for the Merman, but There’s still a touch of romance to the traditional tale.


Placing the sculpture underwater was a stroke of genius; it is absolutely fitting for the subject matter and the swirling water gives a mystical and hazy look, which is perfectly in keeping with an ancient folktale.

And, if you happen upon ‘Agnete and the Merman’ unexpectedly, the sight of figures at the bottom of a canal certainly catches attention.

It is definitely a cool attraction and yet another reason to spend time in one of Europe’s grand cities.

Denmark Romance