Hotel Crashing: Barossa Pavilions

It might have been breakfast with the kangaroos that made Barossa Pavilions my favorite place of all the places we stayed in Australia. But more likely, it was the light-up rubber ducky.

Duck at Barossa Pavilions, Australia

We approached Barossa Pavilions in the dark, after a long day of travelling and celebrity spotting. Since it was dark, we couldn’t really get a sense of how amazing the place (and the view) was. But we did get a sense of how great our pavilion was from the moment we walked in.

Barossa Pavilions, Australia

Barossa Pavilions consist of six separate freestanding little houses, well-spaced apart to guarantee absolute privacy and amazing and unobstructed panoramic views of the Barossa Ranges. They are located on 75 acres of stunning hillside near the town of Lyndoch, which is about an hour-and-a-half northeast of Adelaide.

River Two house at Barossa Pavilions, Australia

It’s so private we never saw another person during the three nights we were there. Each pavilion is controlled by a keypad and an access code, so there’s no front desk or check in. The owners text you the access code on the day you arrive and you just drive up and park in front of your pavilion.

The location could not have been better. It never took us longer than 30 minutes to drive to any of the wineries we visited or back at the end of the day.

The pavilions themselves were adorable. They were very modern and minimalist, with a simple open floor plan and wall-to-wall windows running the entire length of the unit. They’re all the same (with some slight decorating differences) and are designed for couples (no kids allowed).

Living room/ kitchen of River House 2 at Barossa Pavilions

The owners really did think of everything. The well-decorated living room had a selection of DVDs, magazines and even an iPad. The sectional couch was very comfortable and cozy.

Each villa is totally equipped with a modern and well-stocked kitchen with just about everything you could possibly need, including breakfast provisions featuring local foods.

Food basket at Barossa Pavilions

It had cereal, handmade muesli, locally baked wood oven bread, selection of spreads, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, bananas and pancake mix. In the fridge were champagne and orange juice, butter, free range eggs, double smoked bacon, cream and milk, yogurt. Seriously, it was more food than we could finish.

Provisions at Barossa Pavilions

There was also fresh coffee beans for the slightly complicated and oh-so-fancy espresso coffee machine, a selection of fine leaf teas, homemade cookies, chocolate fudge and a very nice small bottle of local port.

welcoming gift at Barossa Pavilions

The amazing deck ran the length of the pavilion and had a porch swing and a barbecue grill, which we made use of each night, rather than eating out. By this point, we were pretty sick of eating out every meal, and we really liked feeling like locals and going to the butcher, the baker or checking out all the mysterious items at the grocery store.

Deck overlooking Barossa Plains in Australia

We’d pick up something each day on our way back to the pavilion, I’d sit on the porch swing, and XFE would get his grill master on. His lamb chops are better than anything at any restaurant anyway. Plus, it gave us the opportunity to enjoy one of the wines from the wineries we had gone to that day.

The front bathroom had a washer/dryer unit as well as a shower and L’Occitaine toiletries, while the back bathroom had a Jacuzzi tub, bubble bath, candles and matches, and even a rubber ducky.

Tub at River House 2, Barossa Pavilions

The property was so peaceful, you really felt like no one else was around. We’d walk around in the evenings and look at the bazillions of stars.

Bedroom at River House 2, Barossa Pavilions

And then there were the wild kangaroos.

kangaroos at Barossa Pavilions

We saw them two of the three mornings we were there. You’d see a group of them – usually 3-4 — (fun fact: a group of kangaroos is known as a mob) calmly munching away at the dry grass, rooting around with their forepaws. We would try not to startle them and go about our morning, but checking every few minutes to see if they really were there.

kangaroos at Barossa Pavilions

They’d eventually get full and look for a bit of shade where they’d collapse on their side before the heat got too much. They’d loll around, scratching their stomachs with their short arms. It was so indescribably awesome.

Between the amazing accommodations and the great kangaroo show, we really did have to pull ourselves away each day. By far one of the best places we’ve ever stayed.

slice of heaven at Barossa Pavilions

Someone here in the Virginia wine country should really take note and replicate this type of accommodation. There’s way too much of what XFE and I call “Colonial Chintz Chic” in the accommodation choices up here.

And there’s not nearly enough wild kangaroos.

Can we just talk about how adorable these matches are? As a redhead, I thought they were the cutest things ever. I did not take them, however. Only the ducky. (Did I mention he lights up?)



Pink Mink and Rubber Duckies: Wine Tasting in the Barossa

After escaping death’s watery clutches, mastering the art of koala whispering, and rubbing elbows with popstars, there really was only one thing left to do: Drink a bunch of wine.

Wine of Australia's Barossa Valley

We headed to the Barossa Valley, a wine region in southern Australia. It’s kinda like Napa but without the crowds or the tasting fees.

Barossa is an hour drive from Adelaide and was settled in the mid-1800s by Europeans, mostly Germans and the British. Almost immediately, it seems, they began producing wine. Some of the vines at one winery (Langmeil, which also happened to be our favorite) are 169 years old, which is pretty crazy when you consider that after 20 years, vines start to produce smaller and smaller yields (something I learned during a tasting at our second favorite winery Turkey Flat – where our extremely attractive hostess claimed that they had the oldest vines. This would become a common theme throughout our visit).

Turkey Flat, Barossa Valley

The region is made up primarily of three communities – Angaston, Tanunda, and Nuriootpa (which is the Aboriginal word for “getting your swerve on with good wine.” Actually, that’s not a literal translation. It really means “meeting place.”  All three towns are relatively close together (within miles of each other) and there are tons of little communities dotted in between, including Bethany, which was one of the oldest settlements and had a lovely winery built into a rock quarry. It also claims to have the oldest vines in the region. Shocker.

The Barossa is visually stunning – lots of rolling hills and expansive vistas. It wasn’t at all crowded when we were there – generally there were a few other people at any particular tasting room, but nothing crazy.

Almost all of the tastings were fully inclusive, meaning you could try absolutely anything they had. Anything. It was crazy. A wine free-for-all. My wine-for-life-partner XFE and I shared tastings to keep the tipsy at bay, but the generosity of the pours overall made this a challenge.

The tastings were free almost everywhere, or $5, reimbursable with a purchase. And in the couple of cases where there was supposed to be a fee (for example, the wonderful Seppeltsfield Winery – which ALSO claims the oldest grapes!), the shopkeepers even waived that small fee because we were American and couldn’t really buy much to take with us.

Seppeltsfield Winery

(Seppeltsfield was very interesting because they specialize in fortified wine, which are things like sherry, port and tawny. What makes it fortified is the addition of a liquor, in this case brandy. I’ll tell you, I was learning stuff all over that valley.)

Even the big guys like Penfolds and Peter Lehmann didn’t have fees. These were the two largest, most commercial wineries we went to, and we actually bought a very, very nice bottle of wine at Penfolds to have with dinner that night, but we generally like to seek out the smaller, lesser-known wineries. Needless to say, we avoided Jacob’s Creek and Wolf Blass.

Penfolds Shiraz, Australia

But the Barossa specialty is the Shiraz and I swear, we didn’t have a bad Shiraz the whole time we were there, including the sparkling Shiraz, which was wonderful.  They also have a popular blend GMS, which is Grenache, Mataro or Mouvedre, and Shiraz that I liked.

On the white front, they had some very interesting Rieslings, which were for the most part very dry. Not sweet, like the German versions. And, surprisingly (since it’s so popular here in Virginia) we tasted a few Viogniers. We also had some great, great roses, including the above mentioned Turkey Flat, and at a small winery called Rockford.

We went to 14 wineries over the course of two days, which seems like a lot, in retrospect. But we were generally out the door at 10 am and back by 5 pm, so they were pretty spread out. And, like I said, we did share tastings and we didn’t go through the whole list at each winery, instead, picking and choosing a few that we wanted to try.

Plus, we had nice long lunches each day, including lunch in Angaston twice at a place called Wanera Wine Bar. They had this octopus and chorizo dish that was to die for. XFE and I both shared a tapas sized portion the first day we went and then two days later, went back for the larger portions. Just thinking about it right now is making me crave it.

Octopus at Wanera Wine Bar

Mostly we stood around talking to the shopkeepers and winemakers, who were a very gracious and helpful bunch. I really did learn a lot. For example, at Whistler Wines, I learned that kangaroos like apples. That’s because the owner keeps kangaroos and gave us some sliced apples to take out there.

Winery kangaroos

We bought a few wines, including a couple of wonderful Tawnys, one of which, Mr. Pickwick’s Particular Tawny from Saltram Wine Estates, which we had had during my birthday dinner at Ochre. We also bought a small bottle of Tawny from Langmeil.

But our best purchase had to be a lovely sparkling concoction we bought on our way home one night at a winery that was just down the street from where we were staying in Lyndoch.

Kellermeister Wines has quite a distinguished billboard – very understated and regal – that proclaims that its wines have received a whole bunch of stars from renowned Australian wine critic James Halliday. This is apparently quite the big deal, according to the very posh young man who was serving us that day. And, according to the Kellermeister website:

We’ve been quietly handcrafting Kellermeister wines in small batches at our boutique winery in the beautiful Barossa Valley for a long time now. But in true Aussie fashion, we’ve managed to keep just how exceptional the wines are pretty quiet. Well, until recently that is, when Australia’s leading authority on all things wine, James Halliday, spilled the beans in his definitive Australian Wine Companion.

James classified our winery with the highest possible winery rating – five bright red stars. This prestigious designation is only bestowed upon a handful of wineries across Australia in recognition of the consistent production of wines of “exemplary quality and typicity” – just the sort of wines that we’ve been making for over 30 years.

We tried a few of the Kellermeister wines, including, of course, the Shiraz, nodding and murmuring our appreciation, when two intriguingly named Moscatos caught our eye. “Could we try the Black Fire and the Pink Mink?” we asked.

Pink Mink Moscato

It may not be from the oldest vines in the Barossa (although the label hasn’t changed since the 1970s), but that Pink Mink sure did taste good after dinner while we gazed out over the dark hills and impossibly starry skies from our uber large Jacuzzi bathtub, pink rubber ducky included.

Australian duck