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Amazing Australia

Written by  Maxine Albert

LUXE
With an increasing number of high-end travelers heading down under, Australia is upping its luxury quotient with new posh hotels plus top cultural and gastronomic offerings. On my recent visit I met many American holidaymakers who were happy return visitors. Lower airline prices along with Australia’s most extraordinary offerings make this the perfect time to go.

MELBOURNE
Australia’s cultural capital is a renowned gastronomic hub teeming with trendy eateries showcasing local and ethnic cuisine. Fiona Sweetman’s Hidden Secrets Walking Tour provides a splendid way to explore the city while sampling its culinary delights. Hosier Lane’s graffiti/street art, Hopetoun Tea Rooms’ scrumptious desserts nestled amid the old world glamour of The Grand Block Arcade, hip Finders Lane sprinkled with edgy boutiques and excellent eateries and bustling Degraves Street, heart of the city’s café culture were some of the many highlights. Melbourne’s flair for food was on full display at newcomer Kisume where I feasted on wagyu beef with black truffles and baby back ribs in a maple soy glaze.
Fashion is in the city’s DNA and a visit to the Christian Dior Exhibition exclusive to Melbourne at the NGV was spectacular. Whirl through the rooms containing 70 years of Haute Couture with stupendous displays of stunning dresses and opulent gowns.
The QT Melbourne, a luxury boutique hotel and part of the Australian design hotel group located within the fashion district debuted last December. The young, beautiful, stylish staff swan about the lively hotel filled with young, beautiful, stylish guests. Voguish rooms done with modern décor and splashes of color feature whimsical flourishes. Locals and visitors alike, dive into tasty dishes such as ceviche, duck and wood fired steaks at popular Pascale Bar & Grill, the main restaurant. After dining head up to the sceney rooftop bar for music, a fetching crowd and city views. www.qthotelsandresorts.com

MORNINGTON PENISULA - Wine Country
Scenic, trendy Mornington Peninsula, an hour drive from Melbourne, offers boutique wineries, culinary delights and plenty of spots to relax and unwind. Jackalope, a luxe hotel set in a vineyard opened in April features handsome rooms with deep soak Japanese tubs, terraces with lush landscape views, a black infinity pool, lively bar and a cozy spa. I was wowed at their restaurant Rare Hare where the talented chef puts an innovative spin on regional cuisine. Don’t miss Peninsula Hot Springs, just a 30-minute drive, a chic day spa where more than 20 outdoor bathing experiences in the naturally heated geothermal springs await. Rejuvenated I enjoyed a magnificent lunch of local dishes paired with fine wine at acclaimed Montalto, while overlooking vines and olive groves. Afterwards, a scenic gondola ride at Arthurs Seat Eagle to the highest point of the peninsula topped off a perfect day. www.jackalopehotels.com

TASMANIA
Tasmania, an island off Australia’s south coast is known for its pristine air, unspoiled, rugged wilderness and pure waters yielding sublime seafood. Hobart, the port capital, has become the epicenter of cool attracting creative types, luxe hotels and world class restaurants since the debut of the edgy Mona Museum. Fashionable Salamanca Place, peppered with old sandstone warehouses restored as galleries, studios, artisanal food shops and hip cafes hosts Australia’s biggest outdoor market on Saturday. Landscape Restaurant, inside the snazzy harbor-front Henry Jones Art Hotel  (www.thehenryjones.com), whose art adorned walls dazzle guests, delivers first-rate cuisine. I dined on oysters, rib eye with black truffles and fine Australian wine surrounded by John Glover’s landscape paintings. A recent addition to Hobart’s culinary scene, Dier Makr offers an exceptional tasting menu of regional dishes.
A 30 minute ferry ride takes you To Bruny Island where a gastronomic tour lets you eat your way around the island while taking in the wild beauty, stunning coastline, beaches, birds even white wallabies. Culinary highlights included Great Shucked for fresh oysters, Bruny Island Cheese Company for artisan cheese and craft beer, Tasmanian honey at the Shed, and freshest seafood chowder with wine and cider tastings at Bruny Island Premium Wines, Bar and Grill. Another worthy culinary excursion: just 40 minutes from Hobart, in Kempton, I lunched on delightful pumpkin soup, sweetest strawberries and Tasmanian whiskey at Redlands Distillery’s clubby Door Café.
MACq01, opened this June by the Federal Group who also run the nearby Henry Jones property is a unique luxe, storytelling hotel perched on the wharf. Each room, whose door contains a plaque with a biography, is inspired by a memorable and quirky Tasmanian historical character. Storytellers, such as superb Ben, give tours of the hotel recounting fascinating adventures of the colorful characters. The theme continues at the Story Bar where infamous front pages from local newspapers are on display. Interiors including the glam lounge are done in native oak. Striking rooms and waterfront suites showcasing Tasmanian art and plush throws feature terraces with spectacular views of River Dervent and Mount Wellington. Naturally, local fare takes a starring role at the hotel’s Old Wharf Restaurant where the freshest ocean trout with sumac, coriander and pistachio transported me to foodie heaven. www.macq01.com.au

QUEENSLAND - Hamilton Island/Qualia
Queensland attracts visitors to its sun drenched beaches, turquoise water, lush foliage, fantastic food and wine, plus the planet’s largest coral reef. Hamilton Island, part of the Whitsunday Archipelago, now in full swing after a cyclone in March, offers a coveted tropical vacation in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef.
Qualia, an exclusive adults-only luxe retreat, a member of Luxury Lodges of Australia, tucked away on Hamilton Island’s secluded northern tip, is the perfect place to kick back in style amid nature’s splendor. Posh pavilions made of local stone and exotic wood contain generous interior spaces with contemporary chic décor and floor to ceiling windows that slide open bringing the outside in. Spacious decks offering breathtaking sea views with plunge pools, loungers and outdoor tubs made it hard to leave my cushy haven.
 But venturing out proved to be equally fabulous. At the spa, a pampering Driftaway Sensory Journey left me blissed-out. An infinity pool runs alongside the entire length of the Long Pavilion which houses the Lobby Lounge and faces the Coral Sea. This provided the ideal backdrop for a Sake and Sashimi Tasting. Sampling superb sake from both Japan and Australia, I became a devotee. One would expect the wine selection to showcase the best of Australia and it does. And the food, in both candlelit Long Pavilion serving up creamy oysters, local greens and melt in your mouth short ribs, and waterside Pebble Beach Restaurant with dishes like barramundi with crab and asparagus, and lamb with cabbage and artichoke, is outstanding. Evenings, resident astronomer Jaimee Powditch beguiles with stargazing and storytelling at the helipad under the starry night sky.
On a private yachting excursion aboard the Palm Beach, Qualia’s newest luxury vessel, I swam, snorkeled amid a colorful underwater kingdom of marine life at Cave Cook then hopped ashore onto famed sugary white Whitehaven beach, aptly dubbed the world’s most beautiful beach. Yachting about the impossibly blue waters in the beautiful Whitsundays sure felt like paradise to me. www.qualia.com.au

How To Go
Virgin Australia provides outstanding service to major Australian cities, connecting in Los Angeles, and also domestically within the country. Business class offers top amenities, including spacious, lie-flat seats which makes a big difference on long flights.
www.virginaustralia.com Visit: www.australia.com

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