Walking in the Asturias 

Inntravel call our walk the Picos de Europa, but I feel it is more accurate to call it The Asturias walk, as we turn our backs on that impressive mountain range,  and the Picos National Park, as we walk out of Arenas de Cabrales and into our 6 day walk. The walk will take us from the mountains to the sea, through a verdant green landscape with many ups and downs as we traverse different mountain ranges.


The name Asturias comes from the region’s Celtic origins, and helps explain the predilection for cider, and the Celtic music that is on repeat in one of the restaurants we visit. Apparently, the local Celts, or Astures, were subdued but never completely conquered by the Romans. Or, indeed the following Moors. The mountains and the rugged life involved was not for the faint hearted of any kind. And that is probably still the case.

However, it has become a very popular area with Spanish holiday makers. The combination of rugged mountains, deep green pastures and beautiful beaches, plus a plethora of stone houses and cabins dotted through the countryside, has resulted in booming local tourism and the buying up of property to restore as holiday houses, or chalets as they tend to be known. We get the impression that there is more money in this region than we have seen elsewhere – villages and hamlets may be quiet and empty but they are not neglected, with many beautiful traditional homes to be seen.


We spend our days accompanied by the constant harmony of bells – the deeper clang of the cow bells with the goat, sheep and horse bells adding a higher note. We are never far from their clanging, tinkling and jangling. Combined with the mountain backdrop, I keep expecting Heidi and Grandfather to appear round the next bend. But, to my disappointment we see virtually no else on the tracks we follow, however we do come across a lovely Maremma dog guarding a herd of goats one day. He is torn between his desire to say Hello and protecting his flock. The flock won out, and he shepherded them away from the path, so no photo I’m afraid.


Birdsong is also constant, as there are many forests. I hear my first cuckoo, much to my delight. And birds of prey are often gliding above us, enjoying the updrafts from the valleys.

The tracks we follow are often little more than animal tracks. Compass and close examination of maps is occasionally required. Thank goodness for the detailed walk notes provided by Inntravel, and the bush walking ability of The Husband (except for his spectacular map misreading on one day – more of that later). Some sections we are forced to do battle with gorse bushes and blackberries, and have the scratches to prove it.

The food is probably the only let down of the walk. The Asturians seem to believe in quantity, of very basic meals. The portions are invariably huge, but several times we just push it around our plate and leave most behind. And oh for vegetables.

Day 1: Arenas de Cabrales to Pandiello, 18 kms, total ascent 1108 m, total descent 700m.

Our first day, through birch, oak and sycamore forests, affords us many views back to the Central and Western Massif mountains that make up the Picos. We even manage to get another look at the iconic Naranjo de Bulnes, or Urriello, as the clouds part for us.



The morning starts with a consistent climb up the hills that we could see in the foreground from our room at Hotel Torrecerredo. In fact, at one point we can spy the hotel from our hilltop.


We then drop down into the little village of Carreña, where we stop for a coffee, and a slice of cake kindly provided by the owner. He has gone to a lot of trouble decorating his bar, and his pride in the establishment is evident. I had visions of the coffee and cake scenario being repeated on subsequent days, but this proves to be the only village we pass through with either a bar/restaurant, or one that is open. Much to my disappointment. Lucky it was such a nice one then.


After coffee it is back to walking up again, as we climb towards the top of yet another mountain range. In fact, over the course of the walk I come to dread downs, as I know they will be followed by more ups and I feel I have just wasted all that effort to get the top. But, the reward for the hard slogs uphill are the vistas of the mountains all around us, and later, the sea beyond.


Our destination for our first night is the tiny hamlet of Pandeillo, perched on the side of a hill and the Casa de Aldea la Portiella del Llosu (the name is almost longer than the village). Our host, José, has meticulously restored an old stone house, and has also been partly responsible for designing the walk.

After showering and changing, we tell José that we are going out to have a walk around the village. He says that he will see us back in 5 minutes, and he is not far off. There is little sign of life, although many of the houses have been lovingly restored. We suspect many of them may be weekenders or holiday homes, as having a chalet (or holiday house) in the Asturias seems very popular.

So, we return to our cosy little hotel and settle in with a bottle of red wine. José cooks an enormous meal that evening, and uncommonly serves it to us at 8pm. Thank goodness, as we are more than ready for bed after the day’s walk.


Day 2: Pandeillo to Bobia de Arriba, 18 kms, total ascent 803m, total descent 800m

Although this reads like a less strenuous day than yesterday, it was actually much harder going as the climbs were much steeper. I felt at the top that we were in the eagles’ lair itself, with views across to the Bay of Biscay, and mountains everywhere you looked. We were bombarded with colours of green and blue. Beautiful. Breathtaking – in both senses of the word.



The day started innocently enough with a walk to the next village of Canales. As we walked through the village a car came to a grinding halt. It was Jim, mine host from Hotel Torrecerredo! A quick chat, and off we go in our different directions. Ours takes us up a dirt road, past a disused mine, before we start to rise steadily.


Our notes warn us that the mid section of the walk, where we tackle the Sierra Gustaselvin, requires good visibility as the tracks are indistinct and the drops down into valleys are vertiginous in parts. Our day is clear blue in all directions, so onwards and upwards we press.

Up at the top we share the view with the Asturias ponies grazing on the pastures, and the birds of prey. We think they are buzzards, but are not sure.

But, all this up makes for a long, slow walk down to our base for the night, Bobia de Arriba and Hotel Rural El Rexacu, and we arrive grubby and weary; falling  upon a glass of wine before tackling the stairs to our room.


Bobia is a tiny hamlet, made up of two parallel rows of houses, all facing yet another mountain range. Despite its small size, the hotel is relatively substantial – with 15 rooms, a bar and restaurant. That night, it is obvious that the bar is something of a meeting spot for visitors and locals alike. We join in, chatting to a lovely lady who has excellent English thank heavens, as our Spanish continues to be virtually non existent.

Our room has a little sitting area, with views across the village to the distant mountain range. Lovely.


Day 3: Covadonga Lakes to Bobia de Arriba.

This was the day Himself got it wrong. We were supposed to walk about 14kms, with an ascent of 410m and descent of 1080m. But, we managed to walk 20kms, with an ascent of 910 metres!!!

It all started innocently enough with a 40 minute taxi ride to the Covadonga Lakes. The drive up is windy and steep, and today there was a bike/run/walking race on up the mountainside. I was very very grateful to be doing the climb in the back of a taxi, and not on my feet. Crazy people. The ascent from Covadonga to Los Lagos is a key stage in the Vuelta a España. At 12.6 kms, it has an average gradient of 7.3%. In one section this increases to 15% over 800 metres. This hill climb has broken hearts, little did I know that I was going to join them!


As the car climbed we caught glimpses of the amazing views we would see once at the top. And then the gorgeous Our Lady of Covadonga Monastery came into view. More wows. The basilica was built to house a statue of Mary that is believed to have helped the Christians defeat the Moors in an 8th century battle. The current Monastery dates back to the 16th century, and is a place of pilgrimage.


When we finally reach the lakes themselves I am already punch drunk from the beauty we have seen, but there is more to come. Los Lagos de Covadonga consists of two glacial lakes, Enol and Ercina, and are actually in the Picos de Europa National Park. Lake Enol is 1,070 metres above sea level and Ercina tops it at 1,108 metres above sea level. Behind the lakes are snow covered mountains. In the distance is the Bay of Biscay. Stunning.


We are dropped off beside Enol, and then walk over the lip to Ercina, where we stop into the restaurant for a coffee. It is over coffee that we hatch the plan to abandon the walk notes and take a shortcut up beside Ercina, with the intention of joining back into the intended walk just behind the hill in front of us.


Our problem is that there are two paths, initially travelling in similar trajectories. We miss seeing the second path and head off, at a brisk pace, away from where we thought we were. And despite me saying, on several occasions, We are doing a lot more climbing than I expected, we keep making like mountain goats ever upwards. As we almost reach the top, Himself calls a halt and we finally agree that we have gone wrong somewhere. Problem is, we are not exactly sure where we are, but we do know we have to go down. So down we go, then regroup in a valley basin.

We finally place our trust in the Maps.Me app and let it guide us down the mountain over non existent tracks. After half an hour we finally get back to the spot we should have been 3 hours earlier. From there it is a slow and very tired trudge down, down, down. I refuse to talk to himself until finally back at the Hotel and have been revived with a very big gin tonic.


It’s all I can do not to fall asleep in the soup that night. But, it has given us a tale to tell for years to come.

Day 4: Bobia de Arriba to El Allende, 13.5 km, total ascent 580m, total descent 710m.

Thank goodness today was a shorter, easier day as the legs were  feeling a little tired.  We were driven to the hamlet of Cuerres to start walking, which made the section more than manageable.

At one stage we were walking through a eucalypt forest, with a thick carpet of leaves and bark. The smell of gum trees transported us back home, albeit home with the clang of cow bells.

We stopped for our picnic lunch in the small town of Riocalente. Here we sit amongst the cluster of hórreos and a charming sculpture of a market woman, with an attendant, and very hopeful, puppy.

Hórreos are everywhere in the region, and are essentially a wooden food storage shed on a raised platform, supported by 4 pillars, each with a rodent barrier to keep the precious food supplies safe. We have seen them in all states of repair, from derelict to beautifully restored. They are quite beautiful.


Our home for the night is Casa Rural Montaña Mágica, or Magic Mountain. The source of the name is twofold. One is the view of the Picos we get from our bedroom window. This will be our last view of this magnificent mountain range, so we sit on our lounge chairs and drink in the view. The other influence on the name is the novel Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (not one I’m familiar with).


The setting is just lovely, but the evening meal is a low point in this culinary journey through the Asturias. I watched as other tables pushed their food around the plate also – a plate of admittedly soft but completely tasteless octopus (boiled perhaps?) with slabs of boiled potato, and an Asturian version of a parma, with soggy chips.

Day 5: El Allende to La Pereda, 19 kms, total ascent 690m, total descent 870m

This was a day of choices as 3 different routes were on offer: a lift to the coast then walk along the coast to Llanes; an easy walk along the valley; or the high route option, up into the hills to reach a pass overlooking the sea. The last route was only recommended in good visibility as once more it was on indistinct paths. As it was to be our last day in the mountains, and the weather was fine, we opted for the high route.

We caught a lift with the luggage down to the village of Vibano, which saved us a 2km descent. We hop out and then stand looking at the map and walk notes, trying to work out where exactly we are. A lady hanging out her washing on her balcony spies us and comes down, in her housecoat and slippers, to ask whether we need help with directions – in Spanish. Somehow, between us, we manage to communicate, with many hand gestures. The one thing I clearly understand, when she works out where we are headed, is Mal camino (bad path). This does not inspire confidence, but it turns out that, although indistinct in parts and we do have to battle gorse and blackberries in a few spots, the path isn’t too mal and we find our way through.

It is a slow but steady climb for several hours, up the hills towards a lovely hidden valley. We pass only one other person along the way – an elderly farmer coming down the hill, using a crutch to help him. His grizzled look tells us he is used to this trek, so we had better man up and stop puffing.


We use the cabañas, in various states of repair, to help guide us. A cabaña is a stone hut, used as housing by the shepherds and mountain farmers. Some we have seen through this journey have been lovingly restored, probably to be used as weekenders. Others have seen better days. But they make good way markers in the walk notes.


After about 2 and a half hours of steady ascent, on tracks made by horses and cows, we finally emerged at the very end of the valley and stood at the edge of the cliff face, looking down to the coast spread out before us. Unfortunately, a sea mist blurred the view but it was still a great feeling of achievement.


The zig zag path down the face of the cliff wasn’t quite so much fun, nor was the hour walk through the slightly spooky forest at the base, riddled as it was by paths made by pesky dirt bikes.

But, we finally made it through the forest and back into civilisation. Tiredness was starting to set in, but spirits revived as the path took us through some charming villages complete with the grand homes of the Indianos. In the late 1800s, early 1900s much of the population emigrated to South America to make their fortune. Having made their money, many then returned to the Asturias and built grand mansions. These returnees were known as the Indianos, and they have left behind a legacy of magnificent houses that are slowly being restored to their former grandeur by a new generation of wealthy migrants to the region.

Our home for the next two nights, Posada del Babel, sits in the charming village of La Pereda, just outside the seaside town of Llanes. It comes as something of a surprise as whilst the main house is a simplified recreation of more traditional architecture, the owner’s home that sits in front, and the separate guest accommodation behind, are a vision of modernity – and well before their time as they were built in 1997.


The Posada is a delight – simply but beautifully decorated , dotted with some fabulous works of art. There is currently a photographic exhibition on the walls, by a famous Spanish photographer and his daughter. Our hosts are Blanca and Lucas, but sadly Lucas is currently in hospital awaiting surgery. Whilst it is a worrying time for Blanca, she does not let this interfere with being a charming hostess and we are graciously welcomed, muddy boots and all.

Lucas is the chef so evening meals are not currently available. No matter, as Blanca has booked us into their favourite restaurant in Llanes, La Cuiera, for dinner both nights – and acts as our chauffeur there and back. It is in fact the best food we have had since leaving San Sebastián, although I am sorry not to have been able to sample Lucas’s cooking.

“We” has become 4, as another couple had been on the same walk from Bobia. An American couple, originally from Seattle but now retired in Hawaii. Once we established they were card carrying Democrats, we got on fine.

Day 6: La Pereda to Llanes and return, 10km, flat.

Our last day was a day of rest – sleep in, late breakfast and stroll into Llanes for a look and lunch, stroll back. Very pleasant.

The walk in is both easy, and pleasant. Llanes is a fishing town that is making the most of being a tourist attraction for locals and foreigners alike. It is also on the Camino Norde route, so there is the constant tramping through of Camino pilgrims.

We have a good look around the medieval centre, and go down to the port to admire both the fishing boats returning with their catch, and the Cubos de la Memoria – the painted concrete cubes that are part of the breakwater. They were painted by artist Agustin Ibarrola, a now elderly Basque painter and sculptor. We had come across him on our visit to Spain in 2015, as he is the artist that created the Painted Forest of Oma.

Lunch is taken by the river – sharing an anchovy & endive salad and a delicious plate of lightly fried prawns, with crispy, crunchy shells. Washed down with a glass, or two, of vino. An excellent way to finish what has been an interesting, occasionally challenging, walk through yet another region of this diverse and fascinating country.


And wonder of wonders, apart from the one day of rain when we walked the Cares Gorge, we have managed to do this walk with no rain. That is a miracle for us, particularly given this region is a deep, deep green for a reason. So, I send a big Thank You to the walking Gods. Perhaps the curse has been lifted!

My British Film Festival 2017

Ten films. 6 of them based on real people and real life events. 2 of them featuring Jamie Bell (who has certainly grown up from Billy Elliot) and 2 with Kelly McDonald. 2 are pure nostalgia for me, tapping as they do into my childhood love of books – in this case, A.A. Milne and Arthur Ransome. 2 are starring vehicles for two of my acting heroes – Annette Benning and Patricia Clarkson. 2 of them star the sons of beloved UK actors. 2 of them were the late John Hurt’s final performances. And 2 feature Australian actors. What’s not to love about the British Film Festival? And, I love the fact that funds from the National Lottery are what keeps the British Film industry powering on – something good comes out of people hoping to win the elusive pot of lottery gold.

I’ll take you through the films in the order I saw them, starting with The Journey which was totally entertaining, and occasionally laugh out loud funny. This is the story of the meeting between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness to reach the historic peace deal between the warring factions in Ireland. Martin McGuinness, and Tony Blair, provide the laughs. Timothy Spall, playing the Rev. Ian Paisley was not quite as convincing, transfixed as I was by his false teeth (and, he was much too small to play the physically dominating Paisley). This is one of the two films featuring John Hurt, playing a wily but hopeful Head of the Secret Service. Highly recommended.

Nostalgia No 1 was next, with Goodbye Christopher Robin. I don’t know about you, but I can still recite many of the poems from When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. However, I was aware that being immortalised by his father had made the real Christopher Robin very unhappy – and it is this territory that the film explores. Brendon Gleeson’s son, the very beautiful Domhnall Gleeson, plays A.A. Milne, whilst our very own, and also very beautiful, Margot Robbie plays the mother, with Kelly McDonald as the loving and supportive nanny. A sweet film for all Pooh lovers.

Film Stars don’t die in Liverpool came next and was a highlight for me due to the very wonderful Annette Benning – and Jamie Bell was pretty darn good also as her much younger lover – as the Academy award winning actress Gloria Grahame. A terrific film about a feisty film star at the end of her life.

The ageing star theme, this time of the writing kind, was continued with That Good Night , which is John Hurt’s final film. This was originally a stage play, and the film does feel somewhat stagey, and almost awkward, especially initially. Devotees of The Bridge will recognise Saga (Sofia Helin), who plays the famous writer’s younger, second wife, but she doesn’t seem comfortable in the role. Enjoyable enough.

I was almost sick to death of Breathe before I saw it, thanks to the continual showing of the trailer before each film, however, it was an engaging and involving, feel good true story of polio sufferer Robin Cavendish and his wife Diana. The sort of sweeping drama and love story that the Brits do so well. Not a dry eye in the house at the end. Excellent performance by Andrew Garfield.

Nostalgia No 2 was Swallows and Amazons (the other Kelly McDonald vehicle, and also featuring Timothy Spall’s son Rafe Spall as the baddie but goodie). I suspect you might need to be a Swallows and Amazons fan to fully enjoy this one as it is very of it’s time, and book. All very jolly hockey sticks and Famous Five. Marvellous.

On Chesil Beach was terrific; the look of the film was gorgeous, the acting was excellent, especially Saorise Ronan, and the pacing worked. I will have to go back and read the book again as I suspect some filmic licence was taken with the story as I have no recollection of a quite crucial piece of very subtly conveyed information. Highly recommended.

My British Film Festival finished with a gallop – 3 films on one day, starting with what I thought was an overblown Mary Shelley. The very lovely Elle Fanning plays the title role, a headstrong, intelligent and free spirited young girl of 16 or 17 who ties her fate to the beguiling young poet, Percy Shelley. The end result being the now famous novel written by Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

A decided change of pace and mood was 6 Days, a re-enactment of the Iranian embassy siege in London in 1980. This was the second vehicle for Jamie Bell, playing an SAS operative, but the hero of the hour was Max Vernon, the police superintendent who is thrust into the negotiating position. The insights into the political machinations involved was fascinating. Our Abby Cornish plays BBC reporter Kate Adie, whose live coverage of the final hour of the siege is television history. Gripping, even when you know the outcome.

The quaint, curious The Bookshop finished off my British Film Festival. This film is based on a Penelope Lively novel of the same name, and is a quiet, leisurely film, covering grief, kindness, loneliness, courage and small town politics and meanness. An all star cast of Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson. I saw that one reviewer had referred to it as a rumination. Exactly. Wish I’d thought of that first. Gentle and eventually beguiling.

Oh, as a final word. Cunard was one of the major sponsors of the Festival, for which I am truly grateful, but please, shoot me if I ever start muttering about going on a cruise, especially one that seems to require lots of diamonds and ball gowns.

Getting a Swagger On

Okay, I’m going to jump right in and throw two things at you that will make you go what, where? Swagger Music Festival, and, Wandiligong. There, I’m right aren’t I.

Let me enlighten you. The Swagger Music Festival is a small, community focused festival featuring independent musicians from the local area, and Australia wide. Many are young up & coming performers, others are a bit more established on the music scene. But all are united in their pleasure to be performing in front of the laid back Swagger audience, made up largely of people, both young and old, who work and/or live in the Alpine Valley and its surrounding mountains.

Wandiligong is a little hamlet 6 kms outside of Bright, and home to Swagger and the Festival organiser. It is also part of my family history, as 86 years ago my Mum spent some 6 months living with her cousin there, and attending Year 7 in nearby Bright. She loved it, and always spoke fondly of that time, and her cousin Agnes. Both Agnes and Mum are gone now, but I was keen to go and see Wandi – as it is affectionately known – for myself and what better excuse than to accompany a girlfriend to a music festival.

I did draw the line at camping at the Festival site however, which is how we found ourselves staying in a little old Airbnb cottage called Lord of the Hill, nestled in a lovely old garden.


I had told our host we were coming for Swagger, and he had thoughtfully made me a flower garland to wear in my hair. Yes, Swagger is a little bit hippy chiccy, and No, I didn’t wear it. But, it was a kind gesture, as were the jars of garden flowers dotted around the cottage (even though he had forgotten to put water in some of the jars).


We unpacked our belongings, then took ourselves off to the Wandi Pub for a cleansing ale, and wine, before hitting the Festival. The pub has legendary status in the area, and was voted Best Regional Pub this year by Time Out. It was the original site of Swagger, until the festival grew too big for a beer garden alone, but you can still hear live music there on a Sunday afternoon.

Suitably refreshed we head up the valley to the Festival site, which is set in fields just past the apple orchards, surrounded by hills. The cows have been moved out for the occasion, but a strict no glass policy is adopted to ensure the safety of cows and people alike. Coloured flags and sun shades dot the hill, as do picnic rugs and fold out chairs. We join the early birds and stake out our territory. This will be our spot for the next three days, as we groove along to some very good music.

The music starts at 6 on a Friday night and keeps going until about 1am. We don’t make it until stumps, forced Home largely by the cold – the beautiful clear skies make for wonderful star gazing but bitingly cold air. I end up wearing every piece of clothing I brought with me but am stilled chilled to the bone, so it is a great relief when I climb into my beautiful old double bed and snuggle down into the doona.

Saturday morning dawns bright and sunny, and we wake to birdsong filling the air. On to our bikes and into Bright we go, seeking a coffee and whatever other delights we can find. What we discover is the Bright Saturday market, and we happily wander the stalls, chatting to stall holders and fellow shoppers alike. You can tell a lot about a town by its market, and this one is telling us that Bright is a friendly, welcoming community – a feeling confirmed by a Queensland couple we get chatting to who now call Bright home. After a bit of retail therapy amongst the local shops we hop on the bikes and pedal back to Wandi, admiring the gorgeous flowering dogwoods along the way.


We have missed the first couple of acts by the time we reach Swagger, but there are still plenty more to come and we stay until around midnight, again in the cold night air and under a sky blazing with stars. Sunday morning is a slow start for many of the festival goers, who may have over imbibed the night before, but the first act is up and playing by 10am. Again, we are blessed with sunshine in which to finish up our festival groove.


It has been a fun weekend. Good music, a beautiful setting, relaxed and friendly vibe. What’s not to like? We definitely got our Swagger on, and look forward to returning to Wandi another time.



The Last Hurrah of the Ski Season

You have been able to tell the skiers amongst us by the smiles on the faces and the funny face tans. This has been a bumper snow season, something that has made many hearts beat faster for several months now. Mine is not amongst them, and I was frankly shocked to hear myself suggest to Himself that we return to the mountains for a last hurrah of skiing. He needed no further persuading, always eager to get out there in the fields of white.

My motivation, apart from my love of all things surrounding and apart from the actual act of skiing – the drive up through the beautiful King Valley; the lovely AAC Dinner Plain Lodge; the food & wine consumed; the beauty of the snow covered landscape – was to see if I could conquer the act of stopping. A crucial skill, and one I had yet to master. My strategy of hurling myself backwards onto my arse is not sustainable, particularly at my age. So if I am to continue joining them on the cross country slopes it is a skill I need to acquire.

The drive up was its usual delight, starting with a coffee and wine purchasing at Fowles Winery.  The King Valley was looking more beautiful than usual thanks to the budding of the multitude of blossom trees, the magnificent magnolias and the camellias and rhododendrons. Don’t just think of Bright for the autumn colour – it also revels in Spring glory.


Bright was our lunch destination this time around, to try out a relative newcomer to the eating scene – Tomahawks  a small shed of a place in Camp Street (just up from the Chinese restaurant on the corner). A funky spot with a small but delectable menu, and staffed with charming young things. We enjoyed our lunch, but should not have indulged in the donut ice cream sandwich with caramel sauce. My guilt stayed with me until the next day, even though I only ate half of this piece of decadence.

There was still snow as far as the eye could see, from Mt Hotham to Dinner Plain. And, as promised by Himself, the snow on the cross country trails was soft and forgiving, so I buckled up for two days of slogging it up and down the trail to Wire Plain. And whilst some small improvements may have been gained, I still found myself backside down in the snow more times than I wanted. It would seem that as soon as any downward momentum is picked up, all rational thought seems to leave my head and panic sets in, making me incapable of sorting out my left from my right  and of achieving any effective inward rolling of the ankle in order to achieve the desired cessation of forward movement. I am left slightly bewildered by the person who ever thought of strapping planks of slippery wood to ones feet and walking up and down hills on them. What was he thinking (as I’m sure it had to be a He).

Thankfully  for my bones and feet (which did not take kindly to the cross country ski boots) our third day dawned wet and windy, and I was allowed a leave pass.  Instead, we climbed into the car and escaped the sleety hail/snow (called sago by those in the know) and travelled down to Omeo and up the Omeo Highway to Anglers Rest and towards Mt Wills. Another lovely, but winding (take note if you are prone to car sickness) valley, following a very full and fast moving river. The wattles were coming into bloom, in all their different hues of yellow.


The valley was once dotted with gold mines and their accompanying townships, most of them well gone by now, although their names remain on the map. Between Glen Valley and Glen Wills we came across the Glen Wills cemetery, the burial spot for some 97 locals between the years 1894 and 1920. 40 of the 97 were infants. A sobering reminder of the hardships of the pioneering life.


After a brief look into the famous Blue Duck Inn at Anglers Rest we returned to Omeo, and enjoyed a tasty home cooked lunch at the Homestead House Cafe, opposite the Golden Age Hotel.

Our entertainment was provided by eavesdropping into the Ladies Golf Club Committee meeting, all 3 of them, as they debated the catering for an upcoming event. One of the three was keen to offer the slices and cakes free of charge. Another took quite some persuading, but grudgingly agreed to give it a try. We also know that sausage rolls, meat pies and dim sims will be available for sale. We were tempted to ask when the event was being held as the post game tucker was sounding quite enticing!

We took a brief detour outside of Omeo, lured by the Winery 16kms sign. It sure didn’t look like grape growing country, so we were intrigued.  Turns out there is a very small acreage at Cassillis, but the wine makers are now semi retired. Their tasting shed is closed and they only sell at local markets. However, the chap who has recently bought the grape vines plans to keep growing the grapes for them, and will have the wine available for tasting and sale on Public Holidays and maybe the occasional weekend. He’ll put out a sandwich board on the Great Alpine Road when he is open for business, so unless there is a board don’t take the turn off the road if wine is what you seek.

Next morning the promised snow showers were a fairly wet affair, but our time had come to leave the mountain. Our drive down to Harrietville was a slow one, thanks to the cloud and wet snow fall –  not much to be seen out of the windscreen.


We rewarded ourselves with a coffee at Sixpence Coffee, a small coffee roasters, cafe and bakery in the backstreets of Bright. Despite the wet and cold day, the little space was packed with people enjoying their lattes and a freshly baked cake or pie.

Then it was onwards to Melbourne. Already my vow to abandon any further attempts at cross country skiing was starting to fade. Like childbirth, you forget the agony and sink into the après ski glow. But hang on, I stopped at one child, so perhaps not the best analogy for me! Will I keep trying to conquer this exasperating sport so I can enjoy all the trappings that go with it? I’ll see how I feel come August next year, and how much of the agony I remember.



My #MIFF2017

People always ask Did you have a good MIFF? And my answer this year is most definitely YES. 40 films seen over 16 days – 23 of which are in the Liked column, a further 11 in the Okay column and only 6 ended up in the Nope pile.

I have finally learnt to pace myself better – no films after 9pm; no more than 3 a day unless absolutely necessary. These rules had me reaching the finish line in reasonable shape, unlike previous years where exhaustion, hunger, and sunlight deprivation took its toll.

And as always MIFF has delighted through the people you encounter, bonded together by a common love of the big screen. There are the regular MIFF tragics, those people I have gotten to know over the successive festivals and only see once a year – we have a year’s worth of news to catch up on. Then there are those you chat to in the queue, or sitting next to you, or even on the train home. Chance encounters, swapping what you’ve seen and liked, and sometimes moving further into more personal territory. It is the people as much as the films that help feed my addiction to the Melbourne International Film Festival.

So, what films have gone into my Liked & Recommended  column?

After much soul searching, first place has gone to Faces Places the latest film (and maybe, sadly, last) from that amazing French film maker Agnes Varda, in collaboration with a young French photographer who goes by the name of JR. The film is quirky, endearing and heart warming. It is my theory that ‘everyone has a story you just have to ask’  brought to life in a masterly fashion. The world needs more people like Agnes in it.

This was followed closely by The Party , Sally Potter’s latest. A laugh out loud skewering of British politics, political correctness and society in general. A stellar cast, with the gorgeous Patricia Clarkson making the most of her marvellous one liners.

Staying with the Brits, I just loved the animated film by the British illustrator Raymond Briggs. Ethel and Ernest traces the life of Raymond’s parents, from courtship to death. There were smiles and tears. I spied the young man next to me wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his jumper, and offered him a tissue. Just lovely.

Then for something completely different I am not a Witch was a visual delight. My first ever Zambian film.

The Songkeepers is a funny and moving documentary about the indigenous people (largely women) keeping the Lutheran hymns learnt on the missions, but translated into their own language, alive. The film follows the choir through rehearsals and then on tour to Germany. The irony that this inspiring group have been brought together, and shown to the world, by an African-American born in South America but raised in Britain and  a young Indian film maker was not lost on me. It takes ‘outsiders’ to recognise the richness and beauty of the culture of our First People.

Staying with Australian films, another doco that won my heart was All for One, about the Orica Green Edge cycling team. Now, the art of cycle racing is a complete mystery to me, but I loved this film. It had it all – tears, laughter, edge of the seat excitement, horror at the crashes, and Aussie pride. It would seem this film captured others as it won the Audience Award for documentaries.

We are lucky to be able to see Harry Dean Stanton in what surely must be his last film, Lucky. We get to spend time with 90 year old Lucky as he goes about his daily routine and confronts, or avoids,  his mortality. David Lynch tries to steal the film as Lucky’s best friend, but this film belongs to Harry Dean.

Corruption was the theme linking several of my favourite films – The Nile Hilton Incident, Glory, A Man of Integrity. The Nile Hilton Incident takes us into the corruption of the Cairo police force, where everything has a price. I got a little confused at the end about who was shafting who, who was aiding and abetting who, but that didn’t matter. Feels almost like a documentary.

Glory takes us into Bulgarian corruption as we sympathise with Tsanko, a solitary railway worker who ends up in a nightmare not of his making, all because of his honesty, and the love of his watch.

A Man of Integrity is another film about a good man battling the system of bribes and officialdom, only to see the system become his undoing. This Iranian film was the Un Certain Regard winner at Cannes. The director, Mohammad Rasoulof, shot the film in secret as his films do not curry favour with the Iranian authorities.

We get a small glimpse of the horror that is Syria in the engrossing film Insyriated, set almost entirely in a bombed apartment in Damascus.

For a complete change of pace I fell in love with Maudie, the bio pic about Maudie Lewis, an artist I had never heard of before, but turns out she is a famous folk artist from Novia Scotia. Sally Hawkins completely inhabits the role. I notice this film is about to come out on General Release, so do go and see it.

I didn’t go in with particularly high hopes for Where You’re Meant to Be, but I thoroughly enjoyed this Scottish doco about Aidan Moffat’s attempts to update traditional Celtic songs. Aidan Moffat was the lead singer of a group I have luckily never heard of, Arab Strap, and is a very funny chappy.

It was good to see Geena Davis, Tim Robbins and the wonderful American theatre actress, Lois Smith, in the intriguing Marjorie Prime – a meditation on grief.

The Lovers was a chance to see another rarely seen American actress, this time Debra Winger. An amusing tale about the boredom of long term marriage and infidelity.

The Russians gave us a very different take on the end of a marriage in Loveless. Given the fact that this was from Russia it should not come as any surprise that the laughs were non existent. Rather, we see the viciousness that can occur when the love is gone, with the child being the innocent victim. Excellent movie making, and it won the Jury Prize at Cannes this year.

Two films from India also took my fancy. Newton takes an amusing swipe at the democratic process in India, whilst Hotel Salvation takes us to Varanasi and death beside the sacred Ganges River.

I wanted to slap Daphne but it is a terrific performance from a lass called Emily Beecham.

Mountain is the follow up documentary by the director of Sherpa. It is definitely not in the same class as Sherpa, but the images of the mountains are awe inspiring and the specially composed soundtrack by Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra provides an excellent framework. The narration, although beautifully spoken by Willem Dafoe, gets a bit schmaltzy. One that definitely needs to be seen on the big screen.

Dina is a fly on the wall documentary looking into the life of Dina and Scott, both on the Autism Spectrum, as they prepare for their upcoming nuptials. Heartwarming.

In the Fade was a predictable piece of story telling, but Diane Kruger eats up the screen in her Cannes winning Best Actress performance.

The latest film from Michael Haneke ends my Liked & Recommended list. Called Happy End you know of course, being Haneke, that the tongue is firmly in the cheek. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, as evidenced by the walk outs, but I found I became completely engaged with the machinations of this extended, dysfunctional family, and the maybe evil 13 year old girl. And I loved the way we see events but can’t hear what is going on, only for it to be revealed later at a pertinent point.

Moving on to my Okay films:

Call me by your Name sits between Liked and Okay, and obviously a lot more people were less conflicted in their reaction to this sultry, coming of age, awakening homosexuality film than I was, as this won the Audience Award.  If it had been 20 minutes shorter it would definitely have been in my Liked List. And oh, to be parents like them.

Song to Song had me both highly frustrated and mesmerised at the same time. But, there were lots of walk outs so I’m guessing highly frustrated won out for many people. Terence Malick is an acquired taste, one I haven’t fully embraced. A bit of a waste of a great cast – Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara and Michael Fassbender – although Patti Smith’s cameo almost stole the show. Also, not enough music for me, given it was based around three major Austin music festivals.

Beatriz at Dinner stars the lovely Selma Hayek, plus a terrific performance by John Lithgow. But, I felt this film just bludgeoned me over the head with its environmental  message. And, if I had drunk as much as her I would have been comatose, or at the very least, slurring my words, not avenging the environment.

I’m being a bit mean about Ali’s Wedding as it is definitely going to be a crowd pleaser. A true story starring the real Ali. If you liked Red Dog you will enjoy Ali’s Wedding, and it got the Age Critic’s Award for the Aussie films on offer.

April’s Daughter won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes but I found it a bit disappointing, but she was definitely one crazy Mumma.

A Fantastic Woman was directed by the chap who gave us that terrific film, Gloria, but this one was not as good. Stars transgender actress Daniela Vega, who I felt  breathed heavily far too frequently in place of acting for my liking. But, turns out she has a fabulous voice.

If you like elephants then you will get some enjoyment out of Pop Aye, a little tale about a disillusioned, middle aged architect who rescues an elephant.

Yourself and Yours is a curious but amusing tale from South Korea, with a sly jab at male expectations of women.

Lover for a Day was very very French. Need I say more?

The Giant was a quirky little film from Sweden that tackles the issue of society’s attitude to people with disabilities. Some nice ideas in this film, but he doesn’t quite pull it off.

The Work was my first film of the Festival. A worthy documentary looking at group therapy in Folsom Prison with hardened criminals and men from the outside world. I found it a bit heavy handed, and a bit of a wasted opportunity.

And my NOPES were:

Claire’s Camera. Yet another outing for the fabulous Isabelle Huppert, who is Claire, but this was largely a bore  with a very slight storyline.

God’s Own Country was billed as a British Brokeback Mountain. Not even close. Brutish Yorkshire lad, living a brutish life, engaging in brutish sex. Goodness knows why the doe eyed Romanian fell in love with him.

The Challenge started off with the most rousing music whilst we watched falcons fluttering around, but this doco about rich male Saudi excess was one big bore. The real challenge was to stay awake.

Until the Birds Return. Three different, unconnected stories set in Algeria. The birds never did return. Plus, there was a random piece of Algerian Bollywood thrown into the middle of it. Go figure.

Let the Sunshine In. Now Juliette Binoche is gorgeous to watch but this latest from Claire Denis just didn’t work for me. Juliette plays a very needy and high maintenance divorcee looking for love. She needed a good spanking, and not of the sexual kind.

Ellipsis is the directorial debut from David Wenham, shot in 10 days with no script. And it shows.

The last hurrah – the three Bs

The clock is ticking as the road trip must eventually come to an end. We have two nights left. Where to go? Pete spots Putty Road linking Singleton and Windsor, bisecting the Wollemi National Park and Yengo National Park. How about we drive down that he says. So, off we go.

The start is less than promising as we battle the traffic beyond Maitland. Rather than veer off to the motorway bypass I had been lured by the romantic sounding townships of  Lochnivar and Greta. Mistake. Then we are confronted by the Rio Tinto open cut mines at Mt Thorley, which stretch either side of Putty Rd as far as the eye can see. Happily, it is not too long before we are engulfed by beautiful eucalyptus and native pine forests. Putty Road is very popular with motorbike riders as it winds its way through the forests, but it is obvious that several did not make it through the bends as attested to by the roadside floral memorials.


We make it to Windsor unscathed, then have to battle the traffic to link up to the Hume Freeway. We have decided to spend the night at Berrima, a decision based on restaurant choice. Our first B.

I remember when the highway used to go through the centre of Berrima, but now it is bypassed, so we turn off the Hume and head into this historic hamlet. I have booked us into the Berrima Bakehouse Motel which turns out to be a delightful, renovated Motel a short walk from our dining destination for the night, Eschalot.

There is almost no one to be seen on the street of Berrima, and it is freezing cold. In fact, during the night the inverter heater has to go into defrost mode as it freezes on the external part (so ends up sounding something akin to a lorry going past on the highway!).

But, Eschalot is toasty warm, both in temperature and welcome, and we have a delightful evening in this one hat restaurant.


We breakfast in the General Store Café, a new venture opened by a young Italian couple. We are only the second table there, so I wish them luck as they are very charming, and eager to please.


After a walk round the township admiring the beautiful sandstone buildings, we hop into the car, heading towards our second B, Beechworth, for our last night of the trip. Lunch is taken at the rustic but excellent Long Track Pantry in Jugiong. I used to love the drive down into the valley surrounding Jugiong on our drives from Canberra to Melbourne, and it is still lovely.


Onward to Beechworth, through the beautiful countryside, including wind farms, standing proud on the hill side.


Our arrival into Beechworth got off to a slightly shaky start when I presented myself at the Motel reception. The genial owner could find no record of our booking. No wonder, wrong Motel – we should have been at the other end of  Camp Street. Whoopsies. But, he was very gracious! Our Motel, the Carriageworks, was yet another example of 1970s motel decor – wood panelling galore, but a very effective heater, which was needed as Beechworth was seriously cold.

We had a short walk to 2 hat Provenance. I had booked online and had originally requested 7pm. That time is not available was the automated response – 7.30? So, I booked for 7.30, only to find only one other couple sitting lonely in an empty dining room. Go figure. In the end only 4 couples came to dine that night. The restaurant is in an old bank building, with soaring ceilings, which proves very difficult to heat. I was frozen as we were seated by a window, which didn’t help the enjoyment of the evening. The waiter was pleasant but a bit Lurch like, and each dish was brought to the table by the chef himself, and very seriously introduced, with no other engagement. The food was okay, but the overall experience was stilted, and cold. And our dessert was, to our palate, inedible. We ate only a portion of it and gave our feedback to the waiter, but it was still included on the bill. Not a restaurant I would return to.

The next morning we had to scrape the ice off the windscreen before we could leave. As our neighbour in the next room said: It would freeze the balls off a bull.

We drive on to our third, and final B, Benalla. For the past 3 years, this Victorian township has invited world renowned, and local, street artists to do their best with walls in the township over a three day street art festival. The charming lady at the Tourist Information office arms us with a map of the locations of the art works and off we set, via an excellent brunch at Rustik Café. All and all, a great end to our road trip. Do go and see the Benalla Street Art for yourself.


And now, it is back to wintery Melbourne. I wonder where to next?


The Pacific Highway Shuffle through the Northern Rivers

It was with some sadness that we turned our backs on sunny Kingscliff, but needs must ……. and the Pacific Highway was calling.

But, it is a shuffle along our major highway, for two reasons. One is that the NSW Government has obviously decided it is well past time to make our national highway into more than a two lane track, so we travel slowly through ongoing roadworks from Ballina to Coffs Harbour. There is enough work going on to keep the road building workers of the State fully occupied until retirement I’d say.

The other is that we keep diverting off the main road to check out the various towns and hamlets along the coast. First stop is groovy Brunswick Heads, for a coffee and a walk around the block, where almost every second shop seems to be a café or restaurant.

Back in the car and we shuffle along to Yamba, the twin sister to Iluka across the Clarence River estuary. It is no wonder they call this region The Northern Rivers, as there is water, water everywhere. The rivers are wide and deceptively slow moving. Either side lie flat, fertile flood plains – covered in sugar cane plantations up until about Yamba, then moving into rich pasture land. Houses are on stilts – wise move given their proximity to rivers that obviously like to break their banks. The rivers, estuaries and lakes that criss cross the land must be a fisherperson’s dream – even Pete starts to get visions of life with a ‘tinnie’!


Not a lot is happening in Yamba, but we admire the flotilla of pelicans, hanging around hoping for tidbits from the fishermen, and the lighthouse, before setting off for our final destination for the day, Nambucca Heads.



Here we are staying in a lovely Airbnb granny flat beneath Nancy and Ben’s huge work in progress of a house. The flat is simple and stylish, but oh so cold. They have only had it up and running for a couple of months, so hadn’t realised that it would need more than an oil heater to make the large, high ceiling rooms anywhere near warm. Never mind, I just wear my puffer coat inside and out!

Next morning, after breakfast kindly supplied by our hosts, on Ben’s recommendation we walk down to the Wharf Café for a very good coffee, sitting in the sun and enjoying the view.


This is followed by a walk along the estuary to check out the V-Wall. Visitors and residents alike are encouraged to bring their weatherproof paints, and in some cases, their mosaic tiles, and leave a memory on one of the concrete breakwater blocks. But, no painting over or defacing anybody else’s memento.

Standing guard on the wall is Buddy, the kelpie, border collie & maybe other things cross. Buddy is a fish pointer. His owner tells me that he will happily stand there all day if necessary, looking out for fish. Has he ever fallen in? Yes, indeed but it doesn’t seem to have deterred his enthusiasm for fishing.


We finish with a hike up to the top of the headland, where we find a tiny pioneer cemetery.

A final look at the sweeping views, then down the hill and into the car.


Next stop is South West Rocks which we could spy from Nambucca Heads. It is a lovely little seaside town, a few houses, some apartment blocks, a motel or two and a caravan park with magnificent views. We enjoy a sandwich from the bakery, sitting in the sun watching young lads risk life and limb jumping off the rocks – as you do when you’re young and male.


There seems to be a bit of a POW theme emerging during this trip as we check out the Trial Bay goal, which was used to detain Germans living in Australia and Asia during WWI. The goal has been lovingly restored by volunteers, although I’m sure the prisoners were not so admiring of the beautiful sandstone buildings, or the views. In the distance we see a couple of whales moving up the coast, before climbing into the car once more.

Our last stop, and resting place for the next two nights, is Forster, another seaside town perched between inlet and sea, this time on the Wallis River estuary. The other theme of this road trip is slightly daggy 60s/70s motels, of which there are plenty. You have to love them. This time we are in the Forster Motor Lodge, where the very genial caretaker Gary makes us welcome.


We start the next day with a whale watching trip with Amaroo Cruises, as I have a burning desire to see these amazing creatures up closer. Although we come across one, the wind is strong, the waters are choppy and we end up unable to stay nearby for long. We do however idle by a large pod of the Wallis estuary dolphins, small but highly active creatures.


Into the car to explore a little further down. Again, there is water whichever way you look, all surrounded by forests of paperbarks and native conifers. Lovely. We head to Seal Rocks. Beautiful beaches, a couple of houses, and a gorgeous lighthouse (with cottages you can stay in). Windblown but oh, that view. Must store this away for future reference.


We finish the day with a dash to the oyster seller. Wallis Lake produces something like 60% of the Sydney Rock oyster supply. We indulge in a dozen each, just opened. Delicious.

We have found places we would like to come back to and spend more time. That’s the trouble with a road trip, it just keeps adding to the We will have to come back here list.




Champions in Kingscliff

Kingscliff is a bit like the old Gold Coast – still relatively low rise, with a small set of shops and a thriving bowls club and Surf Life Saving Club. The golden sands of the beach stretch off into the distance, admittedly currently marred by the upgrade and redevelopment that will result in fabulous beach access, and hopefully protect the beach from further ravages by the relentless sea. The vibe is low key and relaxed. And, the sun is shining. What more could you want.

We are Airbnbing here, and this is the true Airbnb experience – genuine people who are keen to meet others and share their beautiful locale. Elizabeth and Steve have Orient by the Sea, which is essentially the downstairs of their two storey town house, in spitting distance of the shops and beach. We have a bedroom, a sitting room, a bathroom and a little kitchenette. We share the front door and entry foyer. You can mix, or not mix. We do both. Our hosts are super friendly and keen to chat and share experiences, but are also aware of letting us have our privacy to do our own thing. That to me is what Airbnb should be all about.

Our focus is on the IRB National Lifesaving Championships, so we spend most of our time standing on the beach. To the initiated, IRB events look chaotic – inflatable rescue boats (IRBs) zooming all about; people in wetsuits running up the beach and flinging themselves into IRBs; people being flung into and out of IRBs; people moving up and down the beach. But, rest assured, it is organised chaos.


Movement is constant, as to make things fair, teams move lanes between every event, as there is no controlling the waves and when and where they fall.

Friday the respective state teams compete. There is fierce interstate rivalry, but, at least in Victoria, strong intrastate support. Much to the annoyance of all the other states and their individual teams, the various Victorian teams show strong support for each other, and even have a Victorian chant: We love you because you’re Victorian …… clap, clap, clap, clap.


The camaraderie is in fact one of the reasons I love watching these championships. The Williamstown crew are a tight knit bunch. It is one for all, and all for one. They suffer for each other, and rejoice in each other’s victories. I am grateful for the care they shower on my highly anxious pre race daughter, cushioning her in their support. As parents we are largely superfluous; we’re not part of the inner circle; we are not the ones they turn to first for the encouraging hug. And, that’s how it should be. I am moved to tears when I see the Team Coach, and chief wrangler, in tears after Abby’s gold medal swim. He has known her since she was 16. They are family.

As always there are dramas – we get disqualified in a couple of events; the rope to start the motor breaks in another so we never get off the beach; a patient isn’t hauled in on the first run in another; and most dramatic of all, a crew member goes flying out of the boat and ends up with a damaged knee. But, despite these obstacles, Williamstown Life Saving Club comes third overall, an excellent achievement.

Our girl and her team win the Gold Medal in her particular event, for the 4th year in a row. The event is called The Tube. Let me talk you through it. The driver and swimmer are on the beach, the starter’s gun goes and they race to the boat. The driver starts the engine, and then the swimmer (Abby) leaps in. They race over the waves towards the patient, who is patiently bobbing about waiting to be rescued. The boat gets to the first can and Abby heaves the rescue Tube into the water, followed by herself. She then swims to the patient, throws the tube at him. He clips the Tube around himself and she then proceeds to swim back to the boat, towing him behind (he is allowed to kick). The boat can’t wait for them at the end of the run – rather must drive off, keep an eye on proceedings and then race back in as the swimmer reaches the end can. The swimmer heaves the patient and then herself back into the boat, and the boat races to the shore. The boat roars up to the sand, the driver leaps out and runs to the finish line. The first driver at the finish line wins. There you have it, the Tube Race. And they won. Hurrah!

The Championships run over three days, so there isn’t much time for anything else. But, we do manage some extra curricular activity. Friday evening as the sun is beginning to set we go walking along the breakwater, and are delighted to see two migrating whales putting on a display of dives and leaps in the middle distance. A thrill to see them.


Saturday afternoon we get an early mark as racing is called off due to wind and choppy seas. We take the opportunity to visit the Tweed Regional Gallery in nearby Murwillimbah. What a beautiful Gallery it is, making the most of its location in the valley. The current exhibition is an A-Z from the collection – and it is a delight to work out the curator’s thinking behind each choice. And then there is the Margaret Olley Centre attached to the Gallery. They have been blessed by a grant from the Margaret Olley Trust and now house a recreation of Margaret Olley’s home and studio. Plus, a grant from her Trust enables an artist in residence, and a showing of their work. And, on our visit there is an exhibition of Margaret Olley portraits, by herself and others. Wonderful. I am moved to tears by the stories and portraits- there was just something about her face that endears her to you; I feel a connection. All in all, an enchanting experience.


And of course, nothing is complete without visits to restaurants. We visit two, Fins at the Salt complex in Kingscliff, and Taverna, just a few minutes walk from our accommodation. Fins is jam packed on a Saturday night, and the wait staff are working overtime. They are not helped by an accident in the kitchen involving a knife and stitches, which holds up service. The seafood is delicious, but goodness me, not cheap – with mains around $47, entrees at $26. At those prices I think it is rather rich (excuse the pun) to charge for bread & butter. We decline.

Sunday night at Taverna is Chef’s Table night, which translates to no choice, set meal, $39 a head (dessert and drinks not included). It is a lovely space – white, bright and light. And absolutely packed. Yet the staff manage the tables with grace and efficiency- and the food is delicious. What a bargain. We walk back up the hill very happy campers.

Monday morning the sun is still shining brightly but we must drag ourselves away and begin the journey home. Thank you Kingscliff, we will stay longer next time.

Road Trip to Aussies – Orange to Bellingen

We keep to the back roads on our way further north, with the next leg in our road trip being Orange to dang, dang, dang Tamworth – home of country music. Watching the changes in the landscape keeps us fascinated.




Just before Tamworth we are intrigued by the white fluff along the roadside. Wool that has been desiccated by the mower? We stop and have a feel and are still unsure. Pete hazards a guess at cotton but we look around at the dry paddocks either side and think, surely not. But, Lo & behold shortly after we pass fields of harvested cotton and HUGE bales of cotton wrapped up in yellow plastic. It would seem that the bales moult as they are transported, leaving a white fluffy carpet beside the road. A mystery solved.

In Tamworth we stay at the rather bizarre Retreat@Froogmoore Park – I couldn’t resist a place that had a Dungeon Room, replete with a whip. Although much to Pete’s disappointment we are in the Madea (Japanese) Room. The interior decoration in this place is interesting to say the least. But, the gardens are beautiful.

My main impressions of Tamworth are a wide, palm lined main street; statues of Australian country singers; a stunning Deco pub; and a very loud and crowded bat colony along the river.

We have a lot to do the next day, so decide to skip breakfast at Froogmoore (never did work out why the odd name) at $25 a head and head to Armidale instead. But, we ended up stopping in the lovely village of Uralla, just before Armidale, and chanced upon the terrific The Alternate Root Café, housed in a beautiful 1908 shopfront with a magnificent old tin roof. Excellent coffee and a very tasty breakfast left us very happy road trippers.


We merely passed through the outskirts of Armidale, intent as we were on travelling along the poetic sounding Waterfall Way. The name conjured up visions of a lush green landscape, but we were still moving through grazing pasture land. Where were these waterfalls then? 40 kms later we veer slightly off the highway and into the parking area for the Woollombi Gorge. A short walk later we see in front of us a magnificent Gorge and a series of beautiful waterfalls tumbling down the rockface.


We travel a bit further along Waterfall Way to the minuscule hamlet of Ebor where we discover the beautiful Ebor Falls, Upper and Lower.


As well as the waterfalls there are panoramic views across the valley. Who would have thought that all this beauty lay just beyond the boundaries of a not very interesting road.


From here it is on to Dorrigo and its UNESCO World Heritage listed rainforest – a micro climate again tucked just off the Waterfall Way. Unfortunately , we arrive too late to take advantage of the walks on offer, but we do get a feel for this unique environment.

It starts to drizzle as we hop into the car, and so we follow the rainbow into Bellingen, a delightful village nestled into this beautiful valley. Day disappears with a glorious sunset, a fitting end to a day of natural wonders.


We are staying at the Bellingen Valley Lodge, a motel stuck in the time warp of the 1970s. Good bones but needs some love and care. But, we did have that glorious view of sunset, and the bed is comfortable.


Dinner is at the newly opened Popla and it is fabulous, one of the most enjoyable meals we have had in a while – great food and charming staff. Worth a trip to Bellingen just to eat there.

Next morning we explore the hippy haven of Bellingen, starting with an excellent coffee at Amelia Franklin – they roast their own beans, and run barista courses, all out of an ex servo in the Main Street. Coffee is followed by breakfast at Black Bear, a cafe recommended by the lass at Popla last night, whom we bump into both at Amelia Franklin and at Black Bear. It is a small place! Breakfast is followed by a quick peruse of the shops before heading to the Pacific Highway and the last push to Kingscliff.


We stop into Ballina for lunch at the cafe at the Surf Life Saving Club, overlooking the glorious beach. Leaving town, we stock up on local oysters and prawns for our evening feast at our Kingscliff Airbnb. To be washed down with one of our bottles of Orange wine. Sorted. It has been a highly enjoyable road trip. Now on to the next chapter.

A Day in Orange, NSW

We are staying 2 nights in Orange, in the very lovely Blue Room at deRussie Boutique Hotel . When I tried to book this was the only room available and the Manager offered it to me for $100 per night less, so what’s a girl to do. I do love a bargain. And, we felt very special in this lovely suite.


I had heard that Orange had become a booming food and wine centre, hence our decision to stay an extra day to explore some of the wineries in the area. But, a word of advice – don’t visit Orange on Sunday and Monday, as it turns out most of the restaurants are closed. Sad Debra face when she discovers this.

But, all is not lost and dinner on Sunday night is at Union Bank, where we have a very pleasant evening. And better yet, it is just around the corner from our hotel, so a brisk walk in the cold cold night gets us there in no time.

We have a slow start the next day, enjoying our complimentary continental breakfast in our suite, before walking round the other corner to the Byng Street Cafe for our coffee hit (and a drooling over the food on offer). This café would not be out of place on any Melbourne street.


It’s time now for wine tasting, so off we head to De Salis Winery, perched beside Mt Canobolas, at around 1050 metres. They talk about Orange being a cool climate wine region. I would suggest it’s a COLD climate wine region, especially at this altitude! We are greeted at the winery by the two friendly winery dogs, and Mitch Svenson, assistant, and very enthusiastic, wine maker to his Dad, Charlie. Mitch is the reason we are now proud De Salis wine club members, and walk away with numerous bottles under our arm. He sure can talk!


We wave goodbye to Mitch, and the dogs, and head to Ross Hill Winery  , but first we leg it up to a lookout to get views over the Orange landscape.


We are the only visitors at the winery, but are greeted warmly by one of the sons – wine making in Orange is very much a labour of family love. Tasting leads to buying, of course. As we are settling up I spy a sample bottle of Pistol Packing Momma from Liberator Wines. My interest is immediately engaged as my Dad was a Liberator bomber (although I may of course have got my bomber planes mixed up – I’m sure Dad will correct me when he reads this!). Turns out this is a special range they produce in honour of GrandPa Ross, who flew a Liberator called Pistol Packing Momma. We are presented with a complimentary bottle of the wine to give to Dad, with their regards. How nice is that.

Our final wine stop is Philip Shaw Winery, where we settle in front of the wood fire for a cheese platter and wine tasting, delivered by a very charming young lady who runs the room single handed, never missing a beat despite the fact that she has numerous tables, plus wine tastings and sales to deal with. Again we leave with a box of wine. We are certainly not going to be thirsty on this trip! We have been very impressed with the wines we have tried, and are delighted to add a new (to us) wine region to our repertoire.


Enough wine has been drunk, so we drive to historic Millthorpe for coffee and cake at the Old Sugar Mill. Being a Monday nothing is happening in Millthorpe, but I gather it is heaving on weekends.

We’ve had a lovely day ambling around the area. Certainly the wines are terrific, and the people we encounter are passionate about their craft. Dinner that night is booked at Percy’s Kitchen. We arrive at the allotted time, and are greeted and shown to our table. Would we like something to drink? Let me have a look at the wine list I say. Off he goes, never to be seen again. 30 minutes later we still have not been able to give an order for either food or wine, in a half empty restaurant. The menu doesn’t actually excite us, so we rug up and beat a hasty retreat up several blocks to a bustling Chinese Korean restaurant called Mr Lim – recommended by the man from Ross Hill winery. And are we glad we did – we had a terrific meal, and a great end to a fabulous day exploring a little of what Orange has to offer.


Road Trip to Aussies – Melbourne to Orange

It’s July. That means it’s time once more for the IRB National Lifesaving Championships (that’s Inflatable Rescue Boats for the uninitiated), or Aussies as we call them, and being the good parents we are it is off to Kingscliff, NSW we go, to cheer on our daughter and the Williamstown team. But, being us, we have to turn this opportunity into a trip, so off we go on a 5 night road trip through this wide brown/green/mauve land of ours.

Packing  proves to be the first challenge. Partly because the temptation when you are travelling by car is to throw yet another item in, just in case. And partly because we will be encountering temperatures from -1 to 23! In goes the puffer coat AND the bathers, and everything in between.

First stop is Fowles Winery at Avenel – a coffee and a bottle of wine for tonight.  Onwards up the Hume. We deviate off at Chiltern for a quick bite. This little town is showing signs of decline, with many empty shopfronts. The story of many towns that have been bypassed by the highways. You take your tastebuds into dangerous territory when you head out into country Australia.  Sure there are some regional gems, but you also encounter some shockers and unfortunately Chiltern turned out to be the latter rather than the former. Ah well, it was food.

We make a quick stop to say Hello to the Dog on the Tuckerbox at Gundagai. As a teenager living in Canberra we would always stop at The Dog on our many trips to Melbourne. So nice to see families still doing this ritual. As well as the obligatory photo, we stock up on a bag of freshly picked Batlow apples – crisp and juicy.


Time then to turn off the Hume Highway and head inland, with Cootamundra our first night’s stay. We have booked into the Southern Comfort Motor Inn, and it is the classic Aussie motel – large room, clean, decorated in the 70s. Great. Peter, mine host, when asked to recommend somewhere to eat responds with You won’t find anything gourmet in Cootamundra love. He’s right. But, we get a cheap, basic pub meal at the busiest spot in town, the Central Hotel. Even though it’s a Saturday night there isn’t much happening in ‘Coota’  – the enormously wide Main Street is virtually deserted on this cold winter night.



Next morning we decide to turn our back on Coota and head to Young for breakfast. Trip Advisor recommends The Kettle & Grain cafe so in we head. Nice little spot in an old schoolhouse, but my word those poor schoolchildren must have been too frozen to learn anything back in the day.


I love these country towns – wide streets and an eclectic mixture of architecture. Every town has its beautiful lace ironwork pub, its impressive town hall, and some wonderful Deco buildings.


Next stop is Cowra, to visit the remains of the POW camp and the Japanese Garden. The garden is beautiful, so tranquil. Learning more about the POW breakout is fascinating, and it is heartening in these times of so much divisiveness to see a town that has embraced it’s history and has turned it into something positive.



Our last port of call before arriving in Orange is accidental as we knew nothing about  Canowindra but stopped upon a whim after seeing the sign pointing to Historic Village. But, it turns out to be a little gem of a town – lovely buildings, and an interesting array of shops. We visit the Artesan Chocolate shop, and stock up on treats for later and have a good chat to the two charming owners, refugees from Sydney who toiled to restore what was once a solicitor’s office into a homage to handmade chocolates from around the area and beyond.


It is then an easy drive through beautiful countryside to Orange, our ‘home’ for the next 2 nights.