Ballarat’s Underbar moves, Pencilmark Wine Room opens

Ballarat’s culinary pride and joy, the hatted restaurant that is Underbar (oon-de-bar), is set to move to a brand new wonder locale of its own.

Owned by Ballarat locals Chef Derek Boath and partner Lucy Taylor, the award-winning restaurant is moving to a purpose-built dining space located within the up-and-coming luxe accommodation offering Hotel Vera.

The Swedish adjective for divine, gorgeous, lovely, marvellous, and wonderful, Underbar will officially open its doors in spring and will continue to offer a totally unique dining experience to guests on Friday and Saturday evenings, with a tailored wine pairing to accompany its ever-evolving tasting menu.

According to Derek, the past five years has seen increasing numbers of visitors seek out the Underbar experience from out of town, particularly weekend visitors from Melbourne and regional Victoria.

‘With this trend in mind, we saw a perfect synergy in working with Martin Shew and David Cook-Doulton of Hotel Vera to offer a holistic culinary and luxury accommodation experience,’ he says.

The sleek new purpose-built restaurant space will be inspired by the colour palette of Ballarat and surrounds and will boast a beautiful private dining room seating up to 14 guests.

Situated on the site of a mid-1880s gold rush era premium medical building – Hotel Vera will provide guests with a personalised lifestyle experience to delight all senses, making for a getaway characterised by history, charm, warmth and poise. It too is set to open its doors in spring this year.

Coinciding with Underbar’s move, Derek and resident wine expert Anthony Schuurs will open up Pencilmark Wine Room in its wake – a relaxed and fun space to enjoy good tunes and fine nibbles, while drinking interesting and delicious wines.

Located in Underbar’s current premises, the Wine Room’s food offering will be curated by Derek and follow the Underbar ethos of sourcing high quality ingredients while keeping intervention low, with the team working with both local and not-so-local purveyors to keep the food simple and complement the wine room’s ever evolving wine list.


WHAT: Underbar and Pencilmark Wine Room
WHERE: Hotel Vera and 3 Doveton St N, Ballarat Central
WHEN: Spring 2022

Bendigo expands its accommodation offering with Ernest Hotel

 Images by Leon Schoots

Bendigo’s accommodation scene is set to elevate to a whole new level with the opening of the suave new Bendigo Ernest Hotel.

Previously known as the Fountain View Suites, the space has been transformed from a Victorian aesthetic to a boutique accommodation offering that combines historic grandeur with modern features.

The project is led by David Cook-Doulton and Martin Shew – the visionaries behind Ballarat’s soon-to-be luxury offering Hotel Vera.

Situated in the heart of the CBD, and a stone’s throw from the city’s coveted eateries and the renowned Bendigo Art Gallery, the accommodation space has been dubbed a ‘requisite destination for the discerning traveler’.

‘As soon as we saw the building up for sale, we knew it had the potential to become a grand hotel which stayed true to its incredible history while also showcasing the marvels of today.’ David says.

Housed in the oldest bank in Bendigo, the hotel retains some of the original features of the 1860s building, including its underground cellar and bank vault – which have been repurposed into an expanded hotel lounge.

Each of the 10 individualised suites will be adorned with alluring Australian art and swept with contemporary aesthetics, luxurious bedding, and designer furnishings.

According to Martin, the hotel is founded on the ethos that holiday-makers should be afforded ultimate comfort.

‘Our team has created a special accommodation offering that is luxurious, accessible and, most importantly, stylish,’ he says.

Our hope is to provide a tactile and memorable experience that lingers long after our guests’ departure.

The hotel’s central location makes it easy for guests to take a leisurely stroll down the city’s main street for a warming coffee and scrumptious brunch; dine at one of Bendigo’s award-winning eateries or; pack a picnic and bask in the summer sun at the adjoining Rosalind Park. There is also car parking available on-site, adding further convenience to one’s stay.

‘We have tried to create a space that can act as the perfect home base during one’s Bendigo getaway,’ Martin says.

‘As is the case with all our projects, we want our guests to be immersed in a calming space where they can relax and rejuvenate.’


WHAT: Bendigo Ernest Hotel
WHEN: January 2022
WHERE: 10–12 View St, Bendigo


We wish to acknowledge the Dja Dja Wurrung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Visitation surge a beacon of light for Cape Nelson

Word by Della Vreeland
Images Supplied

What used to be simply a stopover hotel has now turned into a destination in and of itself following two years of restrictions and lockdowns.

Portland’s stunning Cape Nelson Lighthouse is seeing a surge in post-COVID visitation as more holiday-makers seek a remote escape by the seaside.

Lighthouse general manager Debra Craib says business has gone ‘gangbusters’ since restrictions eased.

‘We’ve always had a good occupancy rate, but since COVID we’ve seen a change in the length of night stays,” Debra says.

People want to go somewhere which is a bit more remote, so they have discovered us. We have had a lot of people saying they never realised we were here.

The Cape Nelson Lighthouse is one of Portland’s most popular attractions and also offers an accompanying suite of charming cottages all located on the Great South West Walk.

The Lighthouse itself remains operational by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, with its white group light flashing four times every twenty seconds and ensuring the safety of the seas.

The old on-site stables have been renovated into an eclectic cafe so visitors can soak up the serenity while enjoying some coffee, cake or a gourmet meal.

The Lighthouse also offers tours and ‘spectacular’ sunset views, with groups flocking to the area for whale watching, cycling tours, and to venture along the many seaside walks – further enriching the site’s allure.

While Debra says the Lighthouse has seen a decrease in interstate visitation as well as international travellers – which accounted for much of their business – she says holidaymakers from regional Victoria have loved discovering the cottages and the town of Portland.

‘We are only 70 kilometres from the border, so normally we would get a lot of visitors from South Australia, with our biggest clientele coming from overseas. They would do the Great Ocean Road, stay overnight and move onto Robe and Adelaide,’ she says.

‘But we very quickly welcomed Victorians who would travel the whole of the state, come in and stay longer.

‘In November, once Melbourne was set free, it was like a tsunami of visitors from the city.’

Cape Nelson Lighthouse is comprised of five two-bedroom cottages which have been refurbished to maintain their history, and styled with dabs of modern comfort.

Self-contained, the cottages sit brightly along the rugged cliffs of Cape Nelson and are overlooked by the towering Lighthouse.

Boasting a whole range of amenities and luxuries, guests can expect to stay in a quaint house aptly-doused with light and set to perfectly round off one’s beachside stay.

Debra says the property lease was taken over about 10 years ago, at which point the buildings were abandoned and derelict.

She says it was a long and arduous process to restore the cottages to their current state, but well worth the effort.

‘We went from being a backpacker’s hotel to winning the Victorian Tourism bronze medal for deluxe accommodation,’ she proudly exclaims.

Despite the recent surge of business, Debra says the road to post-pandemic recovery remains long.

But with bookings filling up fast next year, the future does not look so bleak.


WHAT: Cape Nelson Lighthouse
WHERE: Cape Nelson Lighthouse Road, Portland West

We wish to acknowledge the Gunditj Mirring people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Ballarat’s new romantic retreat by the dam side

Words By Della Vreeland
Images by Nikole Ramsay

The duo behind the highly-coveted Pyrenees accommodation space Grayling’s Gift has opened up its second unique venture – this time in the form of a van, by a dam.

Aptly called Jean-Claude, the vintage caravan is nestled among the gumtrees and overlooks the serene acreage located on the owners’ secluded property.

Jean-Claude co-owner Annie Brereton says she and her husband Shane decided to take on the project after witnessing the incredible success of Grayling’s Gift, particularly following the onset of the health pandemic.

‘We soon realised experiences that provided people with much more than a bed were going to be needed in our new normal,’ Annie says.

‘COVID has made us all evaluate our lives to various degrees, and for us, it meant committing fully to providing people with inspirational places where they could take a real break from the busyness and mess of everyday life.’

Annie and Shane made the move from Melbourne to Ballarat in order to fully commit to their aforementioned business aim.

During their search for somewhere to live, they made sure to purchase a property that could also house another accommodation offering.

‘We had stumbled across this beautiful, but very unkempt, parcel of Australian bush just 10 minutes from the heart of Ballarat,’ Annie says. ‘The house needs a major renovation and the acreage had been let go, but we had a vision for something special on the little dam.’

And so Jean-Claude was born – a lovingly-restored 1970s caravan perfect for a much-needed romantic getaway.

The van boasts a king-size bed dressed in luxurious French linen and includes a cosy nook for reading.

The van’s outdoor shack houses a toilet and warming shower, plus a covered area for food preparation and washing-up, as well as a small bar fridge, esky and BBQ – allowing guests to truly appreciate their natural surroundings by the glistening water.

In true Annie and Shane style, much of the decor and furnishings have been sourced second-hand and from vintage sellers, adding to the overall allure of the space.

‘Our vision is to create an experience unlike any other,’ Annie says. ‘I like to refer to it as old-fashioned hospitality combined with modern luxury.

‘Gone are the 1000-count cotton sheets and sterile hotel styling. Ours is a more welcoming, but no less luxurious offering, that strives to make each and every guest feel like they are being wrapped in a giant hug from the moment they enter any of our properties.  Spaces to reflect, reconnect and wonder.’

Just recently, Annie and Shane rebranded their business from Grayling’s Gift to the Wonder Inns in order to accurately represent their vision and ever-expanding accommodation offerings.

‘We have plans for further expansion and this will enable us to keep growing,’ Annie says.

‘Next year we embark on the renovation of a little city apartment above a shop in the Main Street of Ballarat.  Our properties are all very different from one another but are all designed to offer the same opportunity for couples to come and reconnect amongst unique, inspiring settings.

‘We are striving to create something so far removed from home in order to give our guests the opportunity to dream their own dreams and hopefully return home inspired to take action.’

WHAT: Jean-Claude
WHERE: Mount Helen, Ballarat

We wish to acknowledge the Wadawurrung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

A Grand Plan to Revitalise a Grand Hotel

Words by Amanda Kennedy
Images Supplied

A large crowd of locals gathered for last drinks in March this year as testament to a much-loved landmark. Portarlington Grand Hotel has retained an imposing presence on the town’s main street since 1888, overlooking the foreshore and Port Phillip Bay. Nine months and many millions of dollars later, it will reopen this summer to much excitement from those same locals as well as visitors alike.

It takes a considered approach with plenty of skill and experience to marry the old and the new in a project of this scale. It turns out Melbourne-based architects, Technē Architecture + Interior Design, were just the people for the job. And if you’re getting a similar vibe to that of The Espy in St Kilda, you’re not wrong – they’ve had a hand in many a hospitality makeover.

What’s on offer at the Portarlington Grand Hotel 2.0?

Probably most importantly, dining options abound in this new incarnation. Choose from the airy Atrium beer garden for seaside vistas with your wood-fired pizza. The Lawn will be on your hit list if bringing the family (Rover included) with picnic tables, yellow and white striped umbrellas and seafood platters. Perhaps it’s a casual meet-up with colleagues in the front bar for a light snack you’re after or maybe plans include a leisurely meal with family and friends in the bistro.

Food will be that clever balance between pub classics we all look for, as well as an emphasis on local seafood, naturally. Portarlington, after all, has been the home to a mussel festival since 2007.

Beverages will draw from the region’s award-winning local wineries, as well as craft beers and signature cocktails. So, even if you’ve taken advantage of Port Phillip Ferries’ 70-minute ferry journey from Melbourne’s docklands, you can get a taste for the region’s extensive brewed, distilled and fermented options. We know you’ll be back…

Accommodation can sometimes be an afterthought at regional hotels. Not here. With 18 boutique rooms blending original design details like ornamental fireplaces and archways with luxury finishes, when bookings open for stays beginning January, they’ll be hot property.

Portarlington is the perfect spot from which to explore the Bellarine Peninsula with all it has to offer, whether you’re after a pristine beach to stroll along, adventure activities in the great outdoors or a scenic drive exploring local producers. What are you waiting for?


WHAT: Portarlington Grand Hotel
WHERE: 76 Newcombe St, Portarlington
WHEN: Opening summer 2021

We wish to acknowledge the Wadawurrung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Iconic Warburton Motel returns to its mid-century glory

Words by Della Vreeland
Images supplied

Warburton’s iconic motel is currently undergoing a series of renovations in order to return it to its former glory. The mid-century motel, first built in 1966, has been owned by Richard and Simone Stanwix since 2017, who have grand plans to bring it back to life.

‘Put simply, we saw the rare opportunity to acquire a 1960s motel which – while run down, open and running modestly – was almost completely original in its design and construct,’ Simone says.

With previous accommodation experience in Gippsland, and with Richard’s grandparents having owned and operated the first motel in Tasmania, accommodation definitely runs through the Stanwix veins. They moved to Warbuton just over four years ago in search of an opportunity to do something new.

‘Richard grew up in and around (motels), experiencing the tapestry of life that a motel presents,’ Simone says. ‘We had been visiting Warburton for years and always loved what it offered.  One time we arrived, parked the car and immediately saw a Chihuahua wearing a sombrero riding a donkey in the main street. We instantly knew Warburton was for us but didn’t think for a second it would be in this context.’

Lamenting childhood memories of family road trips, Richard and Simone decided to gallantly take on the project with the aim to preserve original elements of the motel whilst connecting guests to its history and the natural environment. Rooms boast premium beds, crisp white linen and towels, soft furnishings and eco-friendly toiletries. A broad-roof deep veranda leading to an in-house wine bar will reinforce the motel’s indoor-outdoor attitude.

‘We don’t want to turn it into something it was never intended to be,’ Richard says. ‘It’s all about simple pleasures in an unpretentious environment that’s so damn close to Melbourne. It’s a 1966 motel and that is how we want guests to feel when they stay.’

Richard and Simone also offer a series of adventures for guests to enjoy during their stay, including a fleet of bikes, river tubing, toboggans for the wintertime, a specially created wine and dine tour, as well as curated hikes ideal for exploration.

Warburton’s greatest attribute is that it is an immersive experience in nature and we think in the future it will form part of the antidote to the lockdown blues. We love that the river runs through town like an artery. You know that everything is alive here. You can smell it, hear it and see it. It fuels your soul.

‘We can’t believe Warburton is so close to a huge city and yet a world away. It’s a quintessential village atmosphere where people care about how you’re doing, kids roam and there is plenty to entertain the grown-ups in great eateries, bars and quirky shops,’ Richard says.

Over the last 18 months, the Warburton Motel has been closed more than it’s been open. Richard and Simone are encouraging people to book direct instead of an online service, which sends a large percentage of fees overseas.

‘This allows us to do more at the motel, gives our team more hours and circulates the money in our local economy,’ Richard says. ‘We look forward to playing our role in enabling that.’


WHAT: Warburton Motel
WHERE: 4 Donna Buang Rd, Warburton
FIND OUT MORE: or via Instagram.

We wish to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Luxury hotel with sustainability focus set to open in Ballarat

A brand new luxury hotel is set to open its doors in Ballarat next year, embracing a sustainability path less travelled.

Owned and restored by David Cook-Doulton and Martin Shew – the creative gurus behind the city’s Lascelles accommodation brand – Hotel Vera is set to be an all-embracing experience where guests can relish in refined luxury, abounding sleekness and ultimate slowness.

The hotel has been named after David’s maternal grandmother, who he says exuded unconditional love and grace.

‘There are those rare people who touch our lives in very special ways. They guide us with their love, wisdom and humanity,’ David explains. ‘When I think of love, I see my grandmother’s face, smiling, reaching for an embrace. I want this hotel to embody this unassuming, yet extraordinary woman.’

According to David and Martin, the virtue of grace lies at the heart of the hotel, since this was one of Vera’s most striking attributes. That being said, both David and Martin have ensured their latest venture has been founded on sustainability.

‘Injecting the hotel experience with a commitment to eco-friendly practices has been of paramount importance to us,’ Martin says.

We understand that true luxury needs to be founded on environmental integrity.

The couple’s commitment to sustainability is made evident through the restoration of an historic building, the recycling of demolished materials, the lush on-site gardens, the paddock-to-plate ethos, the installation of solar panels, and also through their partnering with Ballarat social enterprise Fifteen Trees which planted 250 trees in order to help offset the impact of the hotel build. 

‘Fifteen Trees is also set to plant one tree for every guest who books in at the hotel. These trees will all be planted together in the region, allowing guests to return to the space at a later date and remember their stay more vividly,’ Martin says.

‘We are focusing a lot on sense memory through this enterprise, and hope that the Vera experience will live on with our guests long after they’ve departed.’

Boasting seven personalised suites, each a sanctuary in its own right, as well as its very own high-end restaurant and even a car stacker and EV charger, this hotel is a one-of-a-kind luxury offering in the Ballarat accommodation space.

Hotel Vera is set to open its doors in April 2022.


WHAT: Hotel Vera
WHEN: Opening April 2022

We wish to acknowledge the Wadawurrung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Your Guide to the Goulburn River and Ranges

The Goulburn River might not have the PR team of the mighty Murray but as Victoria’s longest river it has long been a part of peoples’ daily lives. It is the region’s lifeline of agriculture, a cultural and historic touchstone as well as a magnet for outdoor activities.

Your road trip offers so many waterways to choose from, including one of Victoria’s largest man-made lakes, enchanting waterfalls and secluded fishing spots. No matter the season, you’ll be greeted with breathtaking scenery, pretty little towns and down to earth hospitality as you wind your way through this special part of central Victoria – all within a short, easy drive out of Melbourne.

Here’s an itinerary to get you started.

Grampians Road Trip with Tim Bone

Like many Victorians, Tim Bone’s (Masterchef 2019) first experience of the Grampians was campfire songs and orienteering at school camp.

There is so much more to explore in this region which is rich in wildlife, indigenous history and fantastic food and wine. So we thought it would be fun to send Tim back out on a Grampians road trip to rediscover the region with fresh eyes.



Hit reset at the Fire and Spice Wellness Retreat

Images Supplied

If lockdown 4.0 hit you hard, the itch for a vacation is turning into a rash, and you’re scrolling through the explore feed on Instagram, you’re probably in need of a little reset. We’ve done some digging for antidotes and discovered the Fire and Spice Wellness Retreat – your ultimate weekend getaway to zen out and hit that reset button.

Hosted by Masterchef alumni Dani Venn, the wellness retreat is inspired by fire and spice and designed to get you totally blissed out on good food, good vibes and good company – all within the luxurious Lon Retreat and Spa in Point Lonsdale on the Bellarine Peninsula.

The three-day retreat will see you learn the art of cooking with spices in a Masterclass run by Dani herself, soak the winter out of your bones in the warm mineral springs, stretch out on the mat in a few yoga classes, and have your fill of local gin or wine by the fire at night.

In keeping with the spirit of ‘me-time’, guests have the opportunity to take part in each activity or take things at their own pace. With two nights accommodation at the exclusive venue surrounded by stunning farmland and ocean, relaxation is guaranteed.

Dani, who is best known for lighting up our screens on Masterchef in 2011, 2012 and 2020, will join guests in activities and share her encyclopaedic knowledge of spices and cooking delicious meals along the way.

“After running wellness retreats in Bali and Sri Lanka, I am thrilled to bring my one-of-a-kind retreat closer to home at one of the most relaxing places on earth. I cannot wait to cook for you, laugh with you and create unforgettable memories you will hold onto for a lifetime,” says Dani.

Tickets are selling fast, so head to the website soon before they’re gone.

WHAT: Fire and Spice Wellness Retreat
WHEN: Friday 25 to Sunday 27 June, 2021
WHERE: Lon Retreat & Spa, 25 Gill Road, Point Lonsdale
MORE INFO:  Dani Venn