August 2018

South Australia is often spoken about the capital state of wine with the regions of Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and the Coonawarra being at the top of the tree, but not too far away, in local Australian terms, is the neighboring state of Victoria and it’s capital city of Melbourne.

The wine regions in Victoria are on an average about an hour or two drive from the city, so are ideal for day trips or even a weekend away. The quality of dining has always been excellent, but finding a luxury or upmarket hotel has often been more of a challenge, but recent developments has changed the map with the uber cool and trendy Jackalope hotel on the Mornington Peninsula and the new Sofitel at Mitchelton vineyard in the lush Goulburn Valley. Wow Airline Reviews’ John Nielsen ventured out to explore the regions and what’s on offer.

Located just under an hour’s drive south of Melbourne the beautiful coastal region of Mornington Peninsula has for years been the home and playground for Melbourne residents seeking to get away on weekends to enjoy the beaches, dining, walk and the numerous of sensational golf courses. The hotel scene has always been “ok”, but nothing special with most people opting to rent houses, but that has all now changed with the opening of the stunning Jackalope Hotel in the wonderful vineyard of Willow Creek. A perfect marriage has taken place putting award winning wines with recent Gourmet Traveller Hotel of the Year, Jackalope. Created by the young Chinese developer Louis Li, the first of hotel is part of a long term plan to create a series of Jackalope Hotel in key international cities of New York, Shanghai and now already in the building phase in Melbourne trendy dining street, Flinders Lane.

The drive is easy and relaxing as I simply follow the freeway towards the Mornington through the many smaller towns and as the scenery changes with more open space and vineyards I start to sense the wine region and its natural beauty.

The area of Merricks is the local township and worth a walk around to meet and greet the locals, but its the entry into the vineyard of Willow Creek that get’s my attention as I see the spectacular hotel in the landscape. The black and dark grey building has been beautifully combined with old and more traditional winery and house. The name Jackalope is a jackrabbit animal with antelope horns derived from the Canadian folklore as a mythical animal! The huge statue of Jackalope welcomes you as you stop and are greeted by the friendly hotel team.

The lobby is in the old homestead and as you walk to your room you are taken aback by the sheer style of the glass caged wine cellar in front of the Doot Doot Dining room. Our room is facing the rolling vineyards and the beautiful 25-meter black pool and heated spa. The design is excellent and follows the black and cox-grey theme. The lovely balcony is perfect to sit on and just take in the views or if the sun is not out then just relax on the very comfortable bed that was designed to ensure you can take in the views. We are lucky with the sun and warm afternoon so I venture down for a few laps in the pool and join fellow guests in the warm spa who are enjoying a glass of the cool climate local sparkling wine.

Evening descends over the region and the bar comes to life with guests enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail before dinner in either the family friendly restaurant the Rare Hare or the more fancy Doot Doot, where we are celebrating our friends birthday. The dining room features a truly magnificent glass ceiling with no less than 10,000 bubels that flow through the room sending out soft mood lighting setting the scene for what turns out to be a very good evening. Designed by Carr Design Group, the amazing lights creates a wonderful space and sense of warmth The menu has been smartly designed offering guests a no-need to think, but just sit back and enjoy the evening. Our five-course menu flows through local produce and is excellently prepared and served with matching wines from the estate of Willow Creek. The Pinot Noir is wonderfully rich and elegant and is the ideal match after the sparkling wine from a neighborhood vineyard to kick off the celebrations. Our friendly waiter explains each dish and even though it’s a set menu we still have the choice of two or three dishes at each course offering up a perfect menu!

As the evening draws to a close we retreat to our rooms and I spend a few moments enjoying the sounds of silence on the balcony, gazing up at the stars and taking in the fresh air.

After good hearty breakfast in Doot Doot we make our way back along the roads of Mornington, reflecting on a lovely weekend away from the “real world”, that was only a short drive and start pondering about our next escape!

There is clearly an international feel to the service and style about Jackalope, it’s a real luxury boutique hotel, and not only the excellent design, but also the total atmosphere where small details are the key to the end product. Led by Hotelier, Tracy Atherton, who spent 10-years with Park Hyatt’s in London, Sydney & Melbourne followed by 10-years in Bali at the Amankilla luxury resort. Tracy says “I realized that my passion was for luxury boutique hotels, where I can help create a vision for owners. Tracy credits the Aman Group founder, Hotelier Adrian Zeka for the lessons in luxury and loves the vision that owner Loius Li is dreaming of. As Tracy says; Louis loves city life and the opportunity to create new art! The new Melbourne hotel is a real art hotel – with two restaurants, 32-rooms, a chic rooftop bar and a Rain Room, which is set to open in 2020!

Melbourne’s international airport is served by most international airlines including Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Etihad & Japan Airlines to name a few so there is no excuse to not visit and explore the beauty of Australian wine regions and Melbourne.

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