To the Manor drawn

by Jane Canaway

Published in The Senior Traveller,

April 2014

As soon as the boys discovered the apple loft they knew it had to be their room: they were already embarked on a game of pirates before the adults had finished carrying a week’s worth of groceries into the enormous, flag-stoned kitchen (with even larger scullery).

That left young Aurelie with the stunning bay-windowed room – and a four-poster bed – all to herself. For a six-year-old with an overactive imagination, it was a week of bliss as we played at being Lord of The Manor.

The home in Bude, Cornwall, sleeps 13. www.bigholidayhouse.com

For many Australians, a visit to Europe involves catching up with family. If you have a large, spread-out mob and limited time, then renting a large house to share is a good option.

Britain has a generous supply of such homes for rent, many in splendid locations where you will never be short of things to do, places to go and things to see.

If you want something truly secluded, there are whole islands you can rent, including a fort built during the Napoeonic wars to defend Portsmouth. That costs more than $50,000 a week, but it does offer a unique base for sailors visiting for Cowes Week.

Alternatively, for the cost of a fairly average 2-3 bedroom beach house in Australia, 12 of you can enjoy a week in a mediaeval tower near Kilkenny, Ireland.

There are plenty of options elsewhere, too: Swedish Lapland, Madeira, Poland, Hungary, Czech republic, Turkey, Morocco, Cyprus, Phuket, South Africa, British Virgin Islands, USA, Vanuatu – as well as yurt holidays, ski chalets, eco-friendly homes and tree houses.

Spitbank Fort, off Portsmouth, offers fine views of Cowes week. www.thebeautifulhouse company.com

Where to start

Location and size will narrow your search quite quickly, and budget will kick in soon afterwards. After that it’s just fine-tuning and availability.

Holiday Lettings (http://www.holidaylettings.co.uk/rentals/richmond/62565) is part of the TripAdvisor network so feedback is available from previous guests. Within the UK, some areas naturally attract premium rates; even the cheapest rate for one of the Cotswold homes listed was more than the peak-season rate for a similar property close to three stunning National Parks in the Yorkshire Dales.

The Beautiful House Co. specializes in luxury rentals and includes on its books the stunning Aldourie Castle beside Loch Ness. With its award-winning renovation, it offers top-end elegance with all the trimmings: 15 individually styled bedrooms (nine with en suites) and use of the 500-acre estate from about $45,000 a week. Four more cottages, catering, activities and full house staff are optional extras.

Aldourie Castle at night

For more affordable grandeur, Plas Glansevin, a Georgian Grade 2 listed building on 10 acres in Wales can accommodate up to 62 guests. It includes wood-fired sauna, outdoor plunge pool, and has wheelchair access. Weekly rates range from $5800 to $8650.

One of the largest properties on the books at Big Holiday House is Park Hall, a Grade 2 listed Queen Anne home on a 132 acres that can sleep 45 in the main house plus 90 in annexes and cottages. For those planning a large wedding, it has a dining capacity of 160.

By the time you’ve searched through a few websites, you’ll be thinking a mediaeval tower is fairly commonplace.

 

From luxury to activity

Apart from the size, style and price variation of the many homes on offer – everything from grand Scottish Castles, through converted barns to modern luxury homes – you can also create a short-list of accommodation by searching for features or activities.

Think Hay on Wye for literary types, the Isle of Skye for sea kayaking, Yorkshire and other moors for walking, biking and white-water rafting, Aintree for the Grand National, Newquay for surfing, Lyme Regis for fossil hunting and South Wales for cliff jumping.

Some of the grander homes offer huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ among their country pursuits. BYO green wellies.

For less energetic types, extras include spa treatments, full catering, a dedicated chef, chauffeur or a maid. At least one eco-farm provides its own organic produce and vegetarian catering.

The YHA also owns a series of large houses, most fitted with commercial-sized kitchen and many offering access to outdoor activities.

Consall castle offers disabled facilities

Holiday Castle Rentals includes the 13th century, moated Consall Castle in its list of properties with disabled facilities, while on a number of ‘quirky’ lists is the Elizabethan Stonnwall Manor in Somerset, which boasts a themed underground bomb shelter (presumably added post-1604).

However, there are some limits, too.

?             Only some accept pets

?             Many are booked out nine months ahead

?             School holidays can mean double rates

?             Some refuse bookings for stag and hen parties

?             Not all websites provide details of disabled facilities

?             Shops are sometimes half an hour or more away

?             Nearly ALL will ask for a good housekeeping deposit to cover any breakages or damage; the bigger the home and list of antiques, the bigger the deposit.

With so many interesting places to stay, it’s worth making up with long-lost family (or friends) to make the most of our good exchange rate and try some.

By the time you've searched through a few websites, you'll feel like a mediaeval tower is commonplace.

Other websites include:

www.thebigdomain.com

www.scottscastles.com

www.thewowhousecompany.co.uk

www.holiday-chateau.com/

www.holidaylettings.co.uk/

thebeautifulhousecompany.com/

www.uniquehomestays.com/

www.yha.org.uk/escape-to

www.bigholidayhouse.com/

www.statelyescapes.co.uk/

www.large-self-catering-accommodation.co.uk/

www.countrycottagesonline.net/

www.large-self-catering-accommodation.co.uk

www.holiday-chateau.com

www.groupaccommodation.com/

www.big-cottages.com/

www.lovetoescape.com

 

Roamin’ holiday

Published in Royal Auto magazine, February 2013

By Jane Canaway

 

Instant hot water, solar chargers for your phone, wall-mounted TVs (with pop-up aerial), air conditioning and hi-fi systems with external speakers are some of the luxuries you will find in a modern caravan.

That’s without mentioning the smarter storage systems, higher-quality fittings and finishes, better plumbing and more efficient lighting that comes as standard.

No need to pack a separate barbecue, awning or picnic table; chances are these are fitted into the side of the van, to be pulled out when needed. You may even get a pull-out deck.

Forget the arguments over re-hitching the car to the van – innovations now allow you to move your trailer by remote control, or at least see where you’re going with a rear-view camera. LED alert caps from TyreCheckers will signal when your tyre pressure drops 4psi.

Queensland-based DreamPot offers a powerless pot that slow-cooks your dinner while you drive. And whether you consider it domestic bliss or drudgery, built-in washing machines are another option, as are purpose-made vacuum cleaners, although a robotic maid to operate them might be harder to find.

“There is more consumer demand for luxuries,” observes Robert Lucas, CEO of the Caravan Trade & Industries Association of Victoria. “It’s not just the good old days of roughing it. There are new layouts, safety systems, and luxury extras, such as en suites even in smaller caravans; through research and develop manufacturers can now put them in smaller vans without owners needing a 4WD to tow them; smaller cars need to be catered for.

“That’s what people are demanding and the industry moves very quickly to meet customer demand,” he said.

Safety first

But the one new innovation that will create a lasting legacy for the industry, according to Mr Lucas, is the anti-sway technology introduced in 2012 by AL-KO International.

“It will usher in a new era of safety in the caravan industry,” he says simply.

The Electronic Stability Control (ESC) technology controls excessive sideways oscillation that can result from high winds or from swerving around an obstacle on the road. This swaying is scary at least and, at worst, can lead to jack-knifing of the car and van.

The ESC system works by sensing sudden sideways movement and activating the caravan’s electronic brakes.

“Rather than slamming on the brakes, which is most drivers’ natural reaction and often the worst thing they can do, the ESC has sensors in the unit that apply the brakes in a smooth and controlled manner to pull the caravan back into line,” explained Rob Funder, technical and manufacturing manager at AL-KO.

“More than 30 Australian caravan manufacturers (which account for most of the market) are now installing the ESC as standard on premium models and we believe we will soon see it rolled out across the rest of the market,” said Brad Hooper, AL-KO marketing services manager.

Fitting ESC adds about $1000 to the cost of a new caravan and about $1500 to retrofit. Vans need to be fitted with approved brakes and suspension but most Australian manufacturers comply.

To view a video of ESC in action or to make a booking to have AL-KO ESC fitted to your caravan, visit www.alkoesc.com.au

“I’m really pleased it’s being introduced,” said Mr Lucas. “If you’re a bit reluctant to try a caravan because you’ve never towed before, this will give you much more confidence.”

An Australian tradition

With Australia’s wide, open roads, beautiful scenery and excellent roadside facilities, it’s not surprising the caravan and recreational vehicle (RV) industries thrive here. It also taps into Australia’s talent for ingenuity and innovation, with most pre-war caravans being hand-made.

Victoria is particularly blessed with manufacturers and users.

“There are 482,000 registered RVs in Australia, and 132,000 of those are … in Victoria,” Mr Lucas said. “That’s a large slice, so they’re as popular as ever. There was a view that caravanning was going out of popularity but that’s not what we’re seeing.”

This observation was echoed in a recent survey by Australia’s leading manufacturer, Jayco, which found that eight out of 10 Australians believed a caravan holiday was a good option for families.

Even though many who answered the survey had not experienced RV holidays as a child, most saw it as an affordable way for their family to spend quality time together and to see the Australian countryside.

Within the options for a camping and caravanning holiday, Rob Lucas includes nine variations: Caravans, pop-tops, camper trailers, fifth-wheelers, motorhomes, slide-ons, campervans, tent-trailers and tents.

Fifth wheelers have an extension on the front that extends over the tow vehicle and sits on a round plate – hence the name fifth wheel – and need to be towed by a truck or utility instead of a car. Slide-ons also fit on utes, literally sliding onto the back tray, while tent-trailers pack down to a small trailer size but open up to form a luxury-sized tent with raised double bed (over the trailer) and lots of floor space. Most have pull-out kitchens and storage in the trailer, too.

RACV Caravan Club

For those who find they don’t use their van as much as they would like, a remedy is offered by the RACV Caravan Club, which has been encouraging RACV members to enjoy their vans since 1937.

About 100 people stayed in 32 caravans on the group’s first outing in 1937 and the strange spectacle attracted more than 1000 spectators to the Sunday public open day. More amazing, perhaps, was that the site at Barwon Heads was provided free of charge.

The club organises monthly rally weekends and keeps groups to a manageable size by splitting the membership into five divisions. All five combine for annual events, including summers at Sorrento, where the club leases a foreshore reserve, with exclusive use for three months.

“We leave our van there for the three months and it only costs $900, or a fortnight costs $120, so it’s pretty good value,” club secretary John Wall says.

It has proved so popular that members must ‘earn’ the best sites by attending rallies through the year.

“It provides a discipline to use your caravan and a context in which to use it,” Mr Wall says.

Some families have continued the membership down to second and third generations.

“Some have been continuous members for 50-60 years ,” Mr Wall says. “Another couple bought a new van at 98 and they were still caravanning at 102.

“We don’t lose many members so people must be pretty happy.”

Vintage caravans

The legendary couple who shared their love of caravanning until the age of 102 – the late Arthur & Pat Pullen – were also keen ‘Vintage Vanners’; a network of folk dedicated to the restoration and preservation of caravans built before 1970.

“My interest is in trying to enthuse others,” says Alan Stevens, who discovered vintage vans through restoring vintage cars.

“A lot of people love the interiors as much as the van, because we fit them out to suit the era: tea towels, games, cups, everything. You rarely see that stuff, let alone get a chance to use it.”

Bendigo-based Mr Stevens rents out two of his vans for holidays – as well as photoshoots and window displays – and will deliver them to sites for non-towers. He has a four-berth 1938 Paramount, a 1947 Don, fitted with wireless radio and leadlight windows, and is working on a 1920s van.

“I tow them with a 1949 Austin Sheerline, which has a 4-litre engine and plenty of torque,” he says.

While designed to be a home-away-from home, the vans were also something of a luxury item, so their style and construction not only reflects the latest housing of the day but the building materials and trends of each era.

Despite their age, many of the older vans are fitted with electric brakes (often plugging into a cigarette lighter), while others had over-ride brakes that were activated by the pressure between the van and the car when the car brakes.

Ease your way in

So you have your new van and want to try it out. Where to start?

RACV members can save at least 20 per cent on accommodation at the club’s resort in Cobram, and many local traders also offer discounts. Plus the staff makes a special effort to settle in beginners.

“A lot of parks are now offering help reversing or setting up vans for new or inexperienced people,” the manager of RACV’s Cobram resort, Gary Hunt, says.

While Mr Hunt has observed caravans become more luxurious and sophisticated, he warns buyers to consider their towing car when choosing a van.

“Sometimes people do not realise their car doesn’t have the right towing capacity. They might even be breaking towing legislation without realising, or get into problems when braking suddenly. Update your vehicle first if you want a bigger van.”

Mr Hunt is familiar with the many different styles and preferences: long-haul travelers happy with basic facilities and more concerned with cost; those with active children who need entertaining, and those who just want peace and quiet.

With volleyball courts, jumping pillows, indoor pool and spa, outdoor pool, recreation room, tennis courts and a BMX track for kids, he knows the resort offers more than some travelers need, but Cobram also has plenty of what every camper wants: space.

“We could easily fit 80 sites or more on the 30 acres we have here, but we stick to about 40, because regular vanners want a clean, presentable park, with amenities that are clean and light, and they want space.”

 

The Caravan, Camping & Touring Supershow is at Caulfield Racecourse from March 7 to 12, 2013. Details: www.caravanshow.com.au

 

Getaway: Lording it up in Queenstown

Published in The Weekly Review, December 2012

By Jane Canaway

Sunset sights: Steamer Wharf, Queenstown Bay, at dusk. Photo: Chris McLennan

Sunset sights: Steamer Wharf, Queenstown Bay, at dusk. Photo: Chris McLennan

Burning up energy and adrenalin may be what Queenstown is most famous for, but look outside the square and you’ll discover a fresh undercurrent of fine dining, world-class sculpture and fabrics, and some of the world’s best cool-climate wines.

The hills and dales around Queenstown are populated with large, healthy herds of merino and Suffolk sheep, as well as Angus, Charolais and Hereford cattle, while the clear waters of Lake Wakatipu are teeming with brown and rainbow trout and three types of salmon.

All of which combines to inspire a handful of restaurants that are carving out an individual, exciting style of Kiwi dining. Combined with an adolescent wine industry that is winning recognition for its clean-tasting, mineral-tangy wines, and Queenstown has great allure for a new breed of visitors.

The hills beyond Queenstown are rich in greenstone, which drew the first Maori settlers to the area more than 800 years ago. While the stone is no longer used for weaponry – Captain Cook described it as holding a keener edge than metal – it is inspiring local jewellers.

One jeweller well known across the Tasman is Sir Michael Hill. His son, Mark, has inherited his parents’ creative talents and applied them to his chosen field of sculpture. Many of his fine, large-scale pieces are dotted across the The Hills – his family’s 101-hectare estate at nearby Arrowtown, a beautifully preserved 1860s mining town that is worth a visit in its own right.

The Hills is an example of what happens when passion, creativity and large wads of cash collide, starting with a request to golf course architect John Darby to create one hole on land adjoining the Hill family home. The project grew and opened as a full 18-hole course in 2007. It is regarded by many as the best in the area, and hosts the New Zealand PGA tournament. Membership is limited to 100, but visitors can apply to play – at a price ($NZ500, or about $A400).

Australians can lay some claim to the emergence of the amazing Merinosilk – a blend of 70 per cent merino wool, 10 per cent silk and 20 per cent possum fur, of all things. The result is a luxurious, lightweight fabric that is being dyed and used to stunning effect. The cost of the end products can be fairly stunning, too, but you won’t find anything like it anywhere else in the world.

» The 2013 NZ PGA Tournament at The Hills is from February 28 to March 3. www.thehills.co.nz

Jane Canaway travelled courtesy of Air New Zealand and was a guest of Matakauri Lodge and Dart River Jet Safaris.

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Stay here

Matakauri Lodge
Farrycroft Row, 569 Glenorchy Road, Queenstown,
New Zealand +64 3 441 1008
www.matakauri.co.nz

Gentlemen are required to wear a jacket for dinner at the magnificent Matakauri Lodge, an intimate cluster of just 11 luxurious private rooms dotted among landscaped gardens in a private section of the Lake Wakatipu shoreline, about 10 kilometres south-east of Queenstown.
It is worth the effort – equally impressive as the lodge’s setting is the food, which stands head and shoulders above most other dining options in Queenstown.

At dinner, guests are greeted with complimentary cocktails and canapés. There is a choice of splendid spots from which to enjoy the views – by the outdoor fireplace, on the deck, in the lounge with its huge picture windows, or the smaller dining room. Honeymooners can opt to dine in their suites, or even have a private table made up in the residents’ library upstairs.

And every night the chefs – many of them young guns from overseas touring the world as part of their global experience and bringing the freshest trends from all corners of the world – present a brand-new tasting menu as well as a la carte options, combining the best of whatever local farmers and suppliers have in season.

Fish will often feature, whether it is tuna, monkfish or blue nose, as will the most delicate lamb and Angus beef, all presented in a variety of imaginative ways and accompanied by the best vegetables and herbs from the lodge’s own garden.

How about seared South Island monkfish in a tomato, fennel, kalamata olive and thyme velouté; roasted scallops with parsnip, cos, sugar snap pea and vanilla-white wine sauce; or breast of corn-fed chicken with caramelised onion, baby turnip, asparagus and chicken consommé?

Set as the lodge is, so close to Central Otago and its renowned vineyards, guests are invited to choose from a range of top local wines – including lots of pinot gris, pinot noir, syrah, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.

Suffice to say the suites are first class, beautifully redecorated two years ago in a palette of stone, timber, fresh white and earthy tones, and offering lake views from virtually every corner of every room.

 

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Spa-studded luxury: Winter at Matakauri Lodge … and the outdoor Jacuzzi and pool.

Miz Watanabe

Guests are also welcome to use the gym, spa or infinity pool (naturally with Those Views across the lake to the ski fields of the Remarkables mountain ranges), or to take advantage of some of the spa treatments available.

With the exception of wines and spirits, guests can help themselves to the complimentary goodies in their mini-bars, such as beer, soft drinks, yummy local chocolate and snacks, including freshly made cookies from the lodge kitchen.

If you can tear yourself away from the lodge, you can sign up for a range of activities, such as a day out painting with a local artist, a round of golf, a ride on the lodge’s mountain bikes or a wine-tasting tour.

The lodge offers a level of luxury and personal service rarely found anywhere in the world and, with such spectacular scenery as its backdrop, it is simply one of the most special experiences available.

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Michael Thomas

Don’t miss

It is unlikely there are any Tolkien fans who are not aware The Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed in New Zealand. And anyone who has seen the film versions is likely to feel an instant thrill of recognition when they see the mountains and lakes around Queenstown. Isengard, Lothlorien, Dimrill Dale and Argonath are all here, and can be visited in a number of ways.

A jet-boat trip with Dart River Jet Safaris will take you into the heart of Isengard – a lovely valley that has also doubled as the Swiss Alps (in a Milka chocolate advert), the Rocky Mountains (for Coors light beer), the Himalayas (in Vertical Limit), Narnia in the film adaptations of the C.S. Lewis’ books and locations for many other films.

Tours cost $NZ219 (about $A170) and include a guided visit to the ancient Nothofagus forest at Mount Aspiring National Park and a 4WD safari on which you see the site of Gandalf’s ride to Isengard, where Boromir is struck down, and where Aragon fights the orcs. Or you can opt to jet boat up and kayak downstream past the site of the three pillars at Argonath for $NZ299 (about $A230) – although the pillars were digitally added afterwards, of course.

Southern Lakes take visitors to as many as 20 LOTR locations, including Amon Hen. It even has a collection of weapons and costumes available
for photos. Full-day tours cost NZ$299 by road; an air/road version costs $NZ1650 (about $A1300).

Heliworks includes several LOTR landing sites with a flight to Milford Sound in a 3½-hour extravaganza that costs $NZ1800 (about $A1400).

Nomad Safaris offers two different half-day tours of various sites, both costing $NZ169 (about $A130). Dart Stables leads a number of LOTR horse treks of varying lengths and difficulty from $NZ135 (children $NZ125) up to $NZ315.

Or you can buy a book, hire a car and do it all yourself.

Whatever transport you choose, make time to see the millennium-old trees in the Mount Aspiring National Park – some of these trees were alive when humans first set set foot in the area.

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Eat at

Fergburger
42 Shotover Street,
Queenstown

www.fergburger.com

Of the 152 restaurants listed by TripAdvisor in Queenstown, this burger bar is ranked No.?1. (The Fergbaker bakery next door is ranked No.?2 – try the lamb shank pie.)

Initially, this may have been influenced by the young, active, hungry demographics of many visitors with huge appetites and low budgets, but it’s continued because the burgers are consistently good.

The place is easy to find – it’s the one with the long queue outside around meal times because demand is high and everything is made to order – but you can order ahead.

Prices range from $NZ10 to $NZ18.50 for a 200-gram ribeye steak but the most challenging meal is a Big Al ($NZ17.50), comprising a half-pound of meat, bacon, cheese, two eggs, beetroot, lettuce, tomato, red onion, relish and Ferg’s world-famous aioli. Open 21 hours a day.

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Botswana Butchery
Archers Cottage,
17 Marine Parade,
Queenstown

http://goodgroup.co.nz/botswana-butchery

Set in a cute stone cottage with lovely lake views, this stylish restaurant is one of a handful setting new standards for fine dining in Queenstown. Only four years old, it has been a finalist in the Cuisine Restaurant of the Year awards for the past three years. It is part of the Good Group that includes stylish Queenstown wine bars Barmuda and Bardeaux.

Despite its name, meat is not the main focus, nor is Botswana, although you can order steaks (of local beef, salmon or tuna) by weight with a choice of sauces. The more interesting dishes explore seasonal, local produce, and include South Island sole, West Coast whitebait, pulled-lamb soft tacos, local wild rabbit and salmon gravlax. Banquette menus offer a good range of options.

The drinks list is extensive (it includes 16 beers and three sections of cocktails) and has a strong local focus.

The lunch menu offers a lot of tasty $NZ15 options, and only the charcuterie platter for two breaks the $NZ30 barrier.