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Fashion CEO Invites Us to Nurture, Nourish and Thrive in New Zealand’s North Island



Annah Stretton: Social Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, Author and Public Speaker
According to The Wall Street Journal, a Harvard Medical School study found that some 96% of senior leaders feel somewhat burned out, with a third describing their condition as ‘extreme’. This comes as little surprise to one of NZ's most successful fashion businesswoman Annah Stretton , who states: “I see senior leaders everywhere who are completely disconnected from the most precious thing in the world, their health and wellbeing. That is until a catalyst occurs, which is often too late.” Her desire to address this serious issue has led her to her newest venture, Te Atawhai Wholeness Retreat .

Founder of the largely successful Stretton Fashion Group, philanthropist, publisher, author and public speaker, Annah Stretton is no stranger to burning the candle on both ends. Driven to taking charge of her wellness after battling with her own health for 35 years, she had an epiphany after attending her first wellness retreat. Blown away by the transformation in her own health and mindset, she was eager to share her ‘new normal’ with worn out and weary professionals the world over. In August 2016, and in partnership with former mental health nurse Rebecca Skilton and trainer and gym owner Sherryll Gordon, Te Atawhai was born.

Te Atawhai (pronounced aa-Taa-F-AY) is a modern sanctuary located in the rural town of Te Aroha, nestled at the foothills of the magnificent Mount Te Aroha, 2.5 hours south of Auckland. Meaning ‘to care for’ in Maori, it was created with the sole purpose of reconnecting mind, body and spirit into one magnificent whole. With proven wellness practices that have been designed to seamlessly replace unhealthy mind, mouth and movement habits, guests are exposed to an organic whole foods diet that can seamlessly fit into their daily ritual.

“Once our guests have experienced the difference that a whole foods diet can make to their health and wellbeing, they rarely look back,” Stretton says.

More than just being introduced to a new way of eating and preparing food, guests are gently separated from the distraction of their daily lives by the “no alcohol, no coffee, no sugar, no technology” policy at the retreat. Becoming immersed in a series of simple but powerful lifestyle practices that hold movement and mindfulness at the core, Te Atawhai’s programme includes mountain treks, cycling, massage, thermal soaks and equine assisted learning. Add to the equation the ‘quiet town’ charm of Edwardian Te Aroha, the pristine beauty of the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park, and the majesty of Mount Te Aroha and the inevitable result of the 4-Day wholeness journey is the re-establishment of a deep sense of peace and calm in the world.

Seeing her fair share of adrenal fatigue and biochemistry imbalances in her practice on a daily basis, Sydney Chiropractor and authority on holistic healing Dr Kate Willesee was a recent guest at Te Atawhai. She had this to say: “Being a health professional, I have been to many retreats. Te Atawhai has been the best for me.... I came away feeling refreshed and refueled... I rate it a ten out of ten.”

Annah Stretton leaves us with a last thought to ponder over: “The preservation of one’s health is easier and less costly than the cure of disease. So it makes perfect sense to build the best version of yourself each and every day. After all, your body is the one person you will have the longest relationship with.”

* Ask us about Te Atawhai’s Sydney Launch on 23 March, 2017 and the opportunity to meet Annah Stretton. Invitation and details to follow.

Fast Facts:

In order to give its guests the highest quality experience, numbers at Te Atawhai Wholeness Retreat are strictly limited, catering to groups of between 9-12 guests only.

* Te Atawhai 4 - Day Wholeness Retreat: NZD $2,900 (Per Person + GST 15%) * Te Atawhai 1 - Day Package: 5 – 9 People NZD $280 (Per Person + GST 15%) 10 – 13 People NZD $260 (Per Person + GST 15%)

Location: Te Atawhai’s ‘Domain House’ is located in the rural town of Te Aroha, in the Waikato region of New Zealand’s North Island.

Website: http://teatawhai.co.nz
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TeAtawahi/ Instagram: @te_atawhai

Contact Details: victoria@TeAtawhai.com  
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Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 11th March, 2017 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
Categories: Opinions, New Zealand
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Nurture, Nourish and Thrive in New Zealand’s North Island



Te Atawhai Domain House, in the town of Te Aroha (Waikato region of New Zealand's North Island)
There are only a handful of travel experiences that I consider pivotal, moments in time and places of crucial importance that have irreversibly impacted my life. One such experience is the four-day wholeness retreat that I embarked on at Te Atawhai. The significance of this adventure snuck up on me as gently as the quaint town of Te Aroha (in the region of Waikato, in New Zealand’s North Island) where the retreat took place. The effects were not fully realised until it was over..... 

Backtrack to an email I received in August 2016 from CEO of Stretton Fashion Group, Annah Stretton , who I knew well from my ‘ragtrade’ days. Telling me about a “new venture” that she had set up with two others, a wholeness retreat centre called Te Atawhai, she wondered if I was interested in checking it out.... 

With Atawhai (pronounced aa-Taa-F-AY) meaning ‘caring’ in Maori, their website didn’t so much scream as whisper ‘peace’, ‘tranquility’ and a ‘communion with nature’; exactly what I needed after a stressful year and fast and furious holiday season! Cost wise, it was a no-brainer: flights to New Zealand were costing less than to Perth, the rate of exchange was in our favour, and the retreat cost for four days (all inclusive) was surprisingly reasonable. Harnessing three other great women to accompany me - Maryanne (my daughter in law), Pia (cousin from Oregon) and Kate (friend and practitioner at Willesee Health Care) - we booked our flights and set off to New Zealand in late January in desperate search of our equilibrium.

Filled with excitement and anticipation when we landed into Auckland around lunchtime, we grabbed a car from Thrifty and pointed our noses south towards Rotorua, our intended destination for two nights prior to the retreat. Driving amidst picture perfect scenery, we stopped after a couple of hours for a break and nosh at Matamata (of ‘Lord of the Rings’ fame) before continuing on for another 67.3 kilometres to the odoriferous city of Rotorua. Acquiring a five-bedroom house via Airbnb for the duration of our stay, we relaxed and played tourist: visiting the live Maori village of Te Puia, enjoying a memorable meal at Atticus Finch on ‘Eat Streat’, meandering around neighboring Taupo one afternoon, and began the process of unwinding. 



Te Atawhai's Guest House, on the outskirts of Te Aroha town.
Feeling rested on the third day, we left Rotorua and proceeded to Hamilton. An easy hour’s drive away, we dropped the car off at Thrifty and were collected by Te Atawhai’s brimming-with-vitality co-founder Rebecca Skilton. Her welcome could not have been warmer. Piling ourselves and our luggage inside her spacious and pristine van, we were transported to Te Atawhai’s gracious, light-filled Guest House located in the midst of idyllic rural landscape and just outside the town of Te Aroha. Like kids at a candy shop, we explored the home’s layout and charming bespoke rooms. I bagged the ‘Pool House’, an endearing studio-dwelling that was separate from the main house and right next to the pristine salt water pool.



From left to right, Franck Stucki, Rebecca Skilton, Kate Willesee, Victoria Ugarte (me), Maryanne Ugarte, Pia Ghezzi and Sherryll Gordon
Before too long, Rebecca was bundling us once again into her van and drove us to Te Atawhai’s headquarters for our ‘Meet-and-Greet-the-Crew’ and dinner. TA HQ turned out to be a charming heritage listed cottage located just on the edge of the main town of Te Aroha and nestled at the foothills of Mount Te Aroha. Called Domain House, this former teahouse which dated back to the start of the last century was to be the hub of our daily activities, including all meals. 

Welcoming us at the top of Domain House’s front steps was pocket-rocket trainer and Te Atawhai co-founder Sherryll Gordon. Inviting us to make ourselves comfortable in the spacious, unpretentious and cheerful lounge area, Sherryll graciously and eloquently explained to us the basis of Te Atawhai’s wellness philosophy: A modern day sanctuary created to reconnect the mind, body and spirit into one magnificent whole, Te Atawhai’s wholeness journey more than simply exposes their guests to a different way of living. They educate them on everything that they need to know in order to embrace permanent changes in the management of their mind, body and lives. Thankfully, we had been forewarned on the no-perfume/ no make-up/ no alcohol/ no caffeine/ no sugar ethos and had begun our detox a few days prior, which saved us from unpleasant symptoms during our stay: tiredness, headaches and nausea.



One of Chef Erika's organic-whole-foods-only creations.
A crucial part of the four-day retreat is the education on food. Previously associating the whole-organic-foods-only movement with tree hugging hippies, Chef Erika Motoie shattered all my ill-conceived prejudices. Not only where our meals at Te Atawhai exquisitely presented, they were delicious and brimming with goodness. Indeed, Erika explained to us the importance of giving thanks before every meal and taking our time when eating, preferably at the table. That way, we fully savour the smells, tastes, textures, nutrients and energy of our food.



Navigating the terrain of Mount Te Aroha.
Movement is another integral part of the retreat and there was plenty of it. Starting with stretches with Sherryll every morning, the main activity of each day involved a trek in the region’s glorious mountains. There is no better way to be present or discover the weaknesses and strengths of one’s own body and character than to climb a mountain. Best approached with humility, caution, respect, and cooperation, the teamwork and camaraderie within our small group seemed to grow in proportion to the challenge. Every one of the treks presented us with a different kind of beauty and set of trials: the scenic trek to Wairere Falls, the steep climb to Buck Rock in the spectacular Waiorongomai Valley, and conquering the ‘Mountain of Love’ itself, the magnificent Mount Te Aroha. Reaching the summit, we felt on top of the world.  

An enviably fit and sprightly hiking guide by the name of Frank Stucki accompanied us on all our treks and had the backs of anyone who lagged behind (me, most of the time!). After a particularly intense hike of 17 kilometres (which I’d completed 30 minutes behind the rest of the group), Frank not only stayed with me every step of the way but he delivered me safely to the Mineral Spa and patiently waited with me until the rest of the group arrived. Once they appeared, he headed straight to the gym to engage in further leg work. I have never felt so humbled in all my life. Frank is 78 years old.



Fiona working her magic on Pia's tired muscles.
Hours of mountain climbing go hand in hand with achy muscles and swollen joints. Thank goodness for the deep tissue massage that we received at the magic hands of therapist Fiona in the rooms at Healthfit Te Aroha, a gym that Sherryll manages . A soak in the silky waters off the hot soda geyser at Te Aroha’s Mineral Spas afterwards completed our ritual and brought more healing to our tired bodies, despite our exhilarated spirits.  



Maryanne getting up close and personal with our special four-legged friends at the RDA
Last but not least was the equine assisted learning with coach Devon at Te Aroha Riding for the Disabled . Under Devon’s watchful eye, our interaction with two very special horses enabled us to learn how our energy and behaviour impacts others. With a proven track record for l owering blood pressure and heart rate, alleviating stress, and reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression , Devon - who has a severely disabled brother and was born with mild cerebral palsy herself - regularly sees significant breakthroughs as a result of equine therapy with the disabled children that she has worked with. 

From a place of ignorant enthusiasm at the start of our Te Atawhai wholeness journey, I’ve since become a raving advocate. So have my other retreat buddies. Flying in the face of ‘Botox and Bling’ pamper retreats, where boutique ‘packages’ and buffets are the order of the day. Nothing wrong with that, if that is what you’re after. Te Atawhai’s approach is far more organic, bespoke and inclusive. Not only did I witness a gradual unfolding in all of my three retreat companions, I noticed profound changes in my own health, psyche and outlook on life too (And just in case you were wondering, YES, I DID LOSE WEIGHT!). With Te Atawhai challenging any ‘quick fix’ approach to fitness and nutrition, the changes that I made on our wholeness journey have since become part of my day-to-day routine. It’s all about choice, isn’t it? I’m so thankful that I made this one.

Want to learn more about Te Atawhai? Drop me a line by Clicking Here.

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The gang and the van!

Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 10th February, 2017 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
Categories: New Zealand
Tags: Annah Stretton, Rotorua, Te Atawhai, Te Araho, New Zealand

Rise and Shine in the Year of the Rooster



After being head butted by the opinionated Goat in 2015 and made fun of by the cunning Monkey in ‘16, I’d like to think that the animals of the Chinese zodiac have finished ironing out my kinks in time for the 2017 Lunar New Year. 

The Lunar New Year festival is centuries old and was traditionally a time for the Chinese to honour their deities and ancestors. Developed around the cycles of the Moon and based on a repeating cycle of 12 years, each Lunar year is represented by an animal and its reputed attributes. Beginning on Saturday 28 January, this year belongs to the Rooster.

What is the Year of the Rooster about and how can we best harness the attributes of our inner Chanticleer? The answer lies in tapping into the animal’s distinguishable traits.

Our first clue is in the Rooster’s most obvious feature, its vibrant plumage. Multi-coloured and brilliant, its natural flamboyance challenges us to strut our stuff and look our best in 2017 as we stride forward with confidence. This strikingly handsome bird is also renown for protecting its territory fiercely and keeping his flock safe from predators, hence loyalty and focus on the family are paramount this year. On the flip side, the Rooster warns us against arrogance and pride (Hear that, Mr Trump?). 

Roosters crow a lot, all day, and at all hours of the day. There is no mistaking their presence or intention. This is as clear a symbolic indication as any that honesty, hard work, diligence and punctuality will be rewarded during this Lunar year. Flapping its wings and crowing in times of danger, the Rooster serves as a timely reminder that courage, vigilance and forthrightness must be exercised in matters of love, money and business. As for our dreams, hearing a Rooster's crow might indicate that a wake-up call is needed in a specific aspect of our lives. 

Long story short, the Year of the Rooster compels us to look sharp and put our best foot forward as we step out into the world. Being honest and crystal clear about our intentions concerning love and money are front and centre in the Year of the Rooster. In business, it is best to stick to practical and well-proven paths to success rather than risking it all with short cuts and dodgy ventures. 

The Year of the Rooster will be a powerful one for us all, especially as it coincides with this year being a ‘1’ year in a 9-year numerology cycle. A ‘1’ year is all about new beginnings, striving forward and shining bright. Everything that the Rooster wants us to be and more!

If you happen to be in Sydney from January 27 - February 5, why don't you gather your friends and family, soak up the atmosphere and celebrate the Year of the Rooster at the "Lunar Markets" at Pyrmont Bay Park.

Gōngxǐ fācái! Wishing you and your family Happiness and Prosperity this Lunar New Year.

Victoria x

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Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 6th January, 2017 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
Categories: Opinions
Tags: Lunar New Year 2017, Year of the Rooster, Chinese New Year 2017

Start of a New Year: Time to Listen to our Bodies



Te Aroha
I began my 2016 holiday season full of beans, in the company of a delightfully exuberant 7 year old for 3 straight days. Come Christmas Eve a day later, I harnessed every ounce of energy that I had left for the Herculean preparations needed for a dinner-for-20 at our home. Clean up time afterwards saw me pushing past my exhaustion barrier so that our home could be spick and span again.... by 2 am. With my adrenal going on overdrive (I have only one left), sleep eluded me until 4. I got cracking again on Christmas morning despite barely being able to lift my head off the pillow .... after all, I had a dish to complete before the late afternoon, when my son's lovely in-laws would be coming over.  While eternally grateful for our beautiful family and thankful for all that we have, it came as no surprise when my body cried out, “Enough, you fool! Look what you’re doing to me!” 

And then I crashed.....  

So I find myself typing this message to you as I lounge on the couch, barely able to lift my head to appreciate Sydney’s glorious summer weather, let alone head to the beach for a revatilising swim. Instead, I’m doing battle with a runny nose, scratchy throat and chesty cough with a nothing more than a box of “Large n’ Thick” Kleenex tissues and a bottle of Nurofen by my side.

As I first did in 2014 when faced with a confronting health issue , I dismissed my woe-is-me attitude and shifted my perspective. Looking at my debilitated state with fresh eyes, I recognized a destructive pattern in myself which adversely affects my wellbeing on a regular basis, the tendency to do more, be more, never saying NO, continually pushing myself to the point of fatigue. The more my body tells me to stop, the harder my mind whips me into a frenzy of activity. Indeed, my body never fails to let me know whether I am making the right choices or not, yet I continue to ignore it. It keeps chugging along regardless, this incredible work of creation. That is, until it’s got nothing left to give...... 

Thankfully, I listened to my body when I received an email from NZ fashion designer, business powerhouse, and philanthropist Annah Stretton in mid-November, inviting me to check out her latest venture, a wellness retreat set in the scenic foothills of Mount Te Aroha, in the rural region of Waikato (New Zealand). Housed in a beautiful Edwardian structure, this sanctuary from the world is called Te Atawhai, meaning ‘to show kindness or care’ in Maori. Having known Annah since 2003, when I became the sole agent of her fashion label in Australia, I knew that this venture would be infused with the same passion, authenticity and commitment to excellence as her other enterprises. 


Domain, Te Atawhai
The more that I read about Te Atawhai -  the majestic surroundings, thermal and mineral hot springs, wholefood menu, mountain hiking, equine assisted learning, daily mindfulness practice, massage, general body health consultations, one-on-one nutritionist consultations and the boutique accommodations - the more my body responded with a resounding YES!  Feeling excited and expansive, I invited 3 other like-minded women to share the experience with me: chiropractor, nutrition specialist and dear friend, Kate Willesee, my dear cousin Pia from Portland (Oregon) who would be visiting me in Sydney, and my daughter-in-law, Maryanne. They too said: YES to self-care, YES to tranquility and peace, YES to coming home to ourselves. 

We now have our eyes set to early February, when together we will embark on Te Atawhai’s 4-Day Wholeness Programme. We hope to learn how to properly nurture and nourish our bodies through a combination of movement, mindfulness, diet and rest. We will learn how to listen to our bodies again and, most importantly, to trust it and follow its gentle rhythms. Keep your eyes on this space as I update you on our NZ adventures next month!

As 2016 comes to a close, I reflect on the new story that I’d like to write for myself for the coming year. I’m reminded of the eternal words of the late American entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker , Jim Rohn:  “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”

Here is wishing you and your family a wonderful year ahead. Happy New Year!

Safe travels and be well, 
Victoria x

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Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 29th December, 2016 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
Categories: Opinions, New Zealand
Tags: New Zealand, Te Atawhai, Te Aroha, Annah Stretton, Kate Willesee

2016: Tragic or Memorable, You Decide


Musical genius David Bowie may well have known something that the rest of us didn’t when he left this Earth in January 2016 because from that point on, everything in the world went seemingly pear shaped......  

There were terrorist attacks in Europe, mass bloodbaths in the Middle East and Africa. Refugee numbers surpassed post-World War II numbers. One could have been forgiven for feeling like the world was teetering on the edge of madness! 
In America, police killed civilians, civilians killed police, civilians open fired on each other, and Americans were faced with an appalling choice to make between two supremely flawed candidates in their November Presidential Election. At home, Australians were forced to face the shameful truth of our appalling detention regime and substandard treatment of our Indigenous population. 

Indeed, so much of 2016 felt like humanity was being pushed - no, bulldozed - into confronting its collective inner darkness, its shadow. Feeling helpless in the face of extreme global discord, I found solace in my own cultural diversity and comfort in my family. 

Right about this time every year, I like to look backwards over the past 12 months, do a review, and see how far I've come. As well as acknowledging the challenges, I celebrate the highlights, which almost always coincide with our travels. Here's how the good times panned out: 

The first few days of February were spent with my son, Justin and his lovely wife, Maryanne in the little coastal town of Manyana, in New South Wales’ scenic south coast. Staying at a charming holiday cottage, we spent our days walking along deserted Bendalong Beach and duck diving into its pristine waters. Back at the cottage, my son would put his Chef’s skills to good use and cook us up a storm. The unpretentiousness of sharing a lovingly prepared meal in the most tranquil of surroundings reminded me that it's the simple pleasures that bring us the most joy. 

In March, Peter and I made our annual pilgrimage to Hawaii, where we unearthed more gems in Maui’s north shore, whale watched at Molokini, and discovered the spirit of the elusive Doris Duke in her Shangri-La.

In April, I wholeheartedly embraced my spirituality by attending a series of lectures and blessings by the official Gyotu Monks of Tibet on their annual visit to Bondi. Over the week, the Monks’ philosophical insights and teachings of the universal values of love, kindness and compassion was like oxygen to my soul, a lifeline in the midst of today’s schizophrenic world.

In May, we discovered one of Sydney’s little secrets, Cockatoo Island, a UNESCO heritage jewel that has been sitting patiently under our noses, just waiting to be found. Also in May, we were grateful for the weekend of wining and dining in Orange in central NSW together with a small group of very special friends.  

As Australian Ambassador for the Real Madrid Foundation, I helped to organise a "Paella Trivia Night" at the end of May, a fundraiser which enabled 20 Aussie kids from Wellington High School to fly to Madrid at the end of September, where they would be the guests of international soccer organization, Real Madrid. The evening was a resounding success, thanks to the 70 generous souls who attended the event. 

Exhausted and depleted after the fundraiser, thank goodness for our 14 days in Bali in June, where I sought refuge in the gentle Balinese culture: at Legian, Tanah Lot and Jatiluwih, Jimbaran Beach,and Ubud.

July and August offered a short respite from travel as we focused on family and friends closer to home. No great hardship, I can assure you. Our crazy, beautiful blended family creates many opportunities for chaos of the warm and loving variety.

The end September/ October saw a dream turn into reality when I accompanied 20 Wellington High kids and their teachers to Madrid. As guests of Real Madrid, they attended the much-coveted Real Madrid match against Éibar, watched a first team training session, met some of the players, went a tour of the magnificent Santiago Bernabéu, trained at Real Madrid City, played several games with students from other Madrid schools, and engaged in various cultural and leisure activities. All in the course of one week. 

Despite the intense schedule with the school group in Madrid, I was still able to re- connect with my beloved matrilineal family members over, you guessed it, good food. Indeed, childhood memories are so firmly anchored by the senses - smell and taste in particular - resulting in a powerful pull for a specific place in time.

While October belonged to beautiful Berrima (NSW), where we attended the fairytale wedding of our dear friends’ son, November was for Mollymook (NSW), where we gazed in wonder at the Supermoon, the closest a Full Moon has been to the Earth since 1948 . 

So here we are in December, having clocked up another year and feeling tired and somewhat dazed. Who knows what 2017 will bring? Best not to project too far forward. What we can all do, however, is continue to raise our own awareness of the plight of the less privileged around the world and do whatever we can within our own families and communities. The ripple effect will take its own course.

On that note, I wish you all a happy a peaceful Christmas/ Hanukkah/ holiday season!

Safe travels, always,
Victoria x

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Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 15th December, 2016 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
Categories: Opinions
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Moon Gazing at Mollymook: the New Bannisters Pavilion



Bannisters Pavilion, Mollymook Beach
My husband, Peter, is a natural cynic. Whenever a “special offer” comes our way, he does the maths and more often than not gives me reasons why it’s less than a genuine one.  Occasionally, however, we come across a genuine deal and book it without delay. Case in point our 2-night stay at the new Bannisters Pavilion on Mollymook, promoted by Luxury Escapes. 

With normal hotel rates ranging from $250 - 600 per night, the Luxury Escapes Bannisters Pavilion package included a 2-night stay for $199 per night. Also included in the deal was buffet breakfast on both mornings, a complementary bottle of bubbles in the room on arrival, and assorted drinks/ meal/ spa discounts in tow. Having previously enjoyed our stay at Bannisters by the Sea, its sister hotel, we booked for a Sunday and Monday night at Bannisters Pavilion.

The scenic drive along New South Wales’ south coast is one that we have done countless times before but enjoy each time like it’s our first. Called the Grand Pacific Drive, the 140 kilometre coastal route starts from the Royal National Park in Audley (Sutherland Shire) and goes through rainforests, over the iconic Sea Cliff Bridge, and through the coastal cities and townships of Wollongong, Shellharbour, and the rolling hills of Kiama. As we drive from the coastline to hinterland, we make the obligatory pit stop at Berry. With her enchanting gardens and small town loveliness drawing us in like a beacon, a short coffee break and snack sustains us until we get to Milton. 

 


Pilgrims Vegetarian Cafe, Milton
Within the City of Shoalhaven, the pocket-sized town of Milton is only an hour’s drive from Berry and signals that we’re just a stone’s throw away from the seaside town of Mollymook. Having blossomed into a holiday destination in its own right, the Saturday night lantern-lit walking tours give visitors an accurate notion of what the historic town would have looked like in the 1800s. As for us, there is nothing we’d rather do than meander through heritage buildings filled with bookshops, boutiques, galleries, and a thriving cafe scene. Home to our favourite vegetarian cafe, Pilgrims, their Bliss Burger - mixed grain pattie, fried onion, avocado, cheese, tabouli, sprouts, special sauce & peanut sauce on a toasted wholemeal roll - never fails to put a smile on my face and leaves me hankering for another visit. 
 


Rooftop Bar & Grill and Foyer of Bannisters Pavilion
At last, we arrive at Bannisters Pavilion. A sleeker, more stylish “beach chic” version of its “By the Sea” sister, it’s a mere 80 metres from the fine sands and surf of Mollymook Beach. Airy and light filled, the hotel design features a wall of glass framing a landscape of eucalyptus forest on one side and private balconies on the other. All 32 well-appointed suites include high ceilings, adjustable lighting, on-trend designer touches , and sleek and modern designer bathrooms with loads of room to move. All the wining and dining takes place on the top level by the pool, at the stunning cantilevered Rooftop Bar and Grill. A courtesy vehicle is available for guests to and from the sister hotels, ideal for those who wish to dine at Rick Stein’s or enjoy a treatment at the Day Spa.



Our Sunday evening began exquisitely with drinks at the Rooftop Bar & Grill as we watched a glorious rainbow frame the horizon. However, our much anticipated dinner at Rick Stein afterwards (at Bannisters by the Sea) proved disappointing. With two out of the ten seafood mains a curry (I love my curries but prefer to taste my seafood), two lobster dishes (too rich), and the Whole Snapper sold out, I didn’t have much of a choice left. I reluctantly settled on an underwhelming plate of Fillets of Mirror Dory with a Warm Mediterranean Salad while Peter fared much better with a fuller flavoured Bannisters Fish Pie. While the separate starters of scallops and zucchini flowers were enjoyable and the service was efficient and gracious the entire evening, one expects a culinary symphony from start to finish at those prices.


Supermoon 2016, on Mollymook Beach (NSW)


Our second night’s stay at Bannisters Pavilion was rather special as it coincided with the rise of the Supermoon, which occurs when a Full Moon coincides with the Moon's closest approach to Earth - also called perigee. As t his would be the closest a Full Moon has been to Earth since 1948, we braved the gusty winds and cooler temperatures to watch the spectacle of nature on Mollymook Beach. Positioning ourselves just beyond the surf club by 6:45 pm, we gazed on in wonder as the 2016 Supermoon ascended in all its glory at 7:10. 

Having just witnessed a natural wonder in such picturesque surroundings, we floated back to Bannisters Pavilion on a high. Heading straight for the Rooftop Bar & Grill, we shared a starter of fried calamari with chili and lime over our favourite tipple. Dinner consisted of a Lebanese Grilled Chicken for Peter and a mussel dish with rice for me. While the dining experience at the Rooftop Bar & Grill was a more casual affair than at Rick Stein, we found it more satisfying (and far easier on the pocket, I might add). 

Check out the following morning was at 10 am, which we managed easily and seamlessly after breakfast. Settling our account and saying our goodbyes to Ali at the front desk, we were presented with a 10% discount card (with a 12 month validity) for our next stay. Feeling refreshed and energised after our 2-night break, we decided to add Bannisters Pavilion to our favourite “Nearcation” destination list. We will definitely be back.

Bannisters Pavilion
87 Tallwood Ave, 
Mollymook Beach NSW 2539
Phone: (02) 4455 3044

Bannisters by the Sea
191 Mitchell Parade, 
Mollymook Beach NSW 2539
Phone: (02) 4455 3044

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Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 20th November, 2016 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
Categories: Australia
Tags: NSW, Mollymook, Bannisters, Milton

Seeking Comfort in Diversity



Philippine Christmas Festival
Like millions across the free world, I woke up on the morning after the elections feeling unsettled and deeply conflicted. With cultural and idealogical walls being erected overnight in record rates, the celebration of diversity - the understanding that each individual is unique and individual differences are recognised - seems to have taken a giant leap backwards. For someone who identifies with every bit of their Asian/ European heritage and Australian nationality, I find this deeply troubling. So I looked for my solace in the only way I know, in the embrace of my own cultural diversity. 

Acting on a whim last Saturday morning, I took myself to Sydney's Darling Harbour, where the Philippine Christmas Festival was in full swing. There, I relished the food of my childhood - lechon, halo halo, adobo, pansit - watched colourfully dressed men and women dance the “Tinikling", and became embarrassingly teary eyed as I listened to an often sung Christmas Carol, "Ang Pasko ay Lumapit."   

Scanning my travel photos and re-reading old blogs back home, my recent visit to Madrid, in particular Mercado de San Miguel with much-loved cousins, brought a warmth of happy memories flooding back and cleared the cobwebs of cynicism away. For the time being anyway.

As for shorter breaks closer to home, they never fail to bring me comfort and recharge my batteries. Case in point, our 2-day stay in charming Berrima (NSW), which you can read about here.

Indeed during times of stress and confusion, we all have our own ways of finding our centre in the eye of the storm. These have been mine. Why don’t you share with me some of yours? You can drop me a line by clicking here.

May we all find our peace in the midst of chaos!

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Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 12th November, 2016 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
Categories: Opinions
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Class Acts in Berrima (NSW)



The Magpie Cafe
My 9-day stint in Madrid was a resounding success, every day starting and ending on a high. But as the old saying goes, what comes up must come down. I was struck by a nasty gastric bug just four days after I landed back in Sydney. Feeling exhausted, jet lagged and drained, I needed another weekend away from home like a hole in the head.  
Despite my fragile state, however, I didn’t have the heart to cancel our two-night weekender in Berrima (NSW), where we had been invited to attend the wedding of our dear friends’ son. Thankfully, we were traveling to a part of our state known for its heritage villages, lush rolling hills and gentle pace.

Berrima is a historic little village in the Southern Highlands located on the Old Hume Highway. Situated between Canberra and Sydney, it was e stablished in the 1830s during a time of great exploration and expansion. A major town in its heyday, it is much smaller in scale today, although still widely renown as being the best preserved example of a Georgian village on the Australian mainland. 

Leaving Sydney around 11 am, we had turned off the main highway and were slowly driving along Berrima’s main artery by 12:50. We spotted a quaint little eatery called The Magpie Cafe, located next door to The Surveyor General, Australia's oldest continuously licensed pub . Parking our car and stretching out our stiff legs, we made our way to the cafe, which absolutely brimmed with old world charm. We fell instantly in love with the outdoor white linen table setting and wisteria lounging languorously over the colonial-era structure. A look at the menu, offering w holesome nourishing homestyle food, sealed the deal for us. Warmly greeted by the waitress, she found us a table underneath the flowering crabapple tree out the front. 

Despite my risotto and Peter’s chicken pie taking an eternity to arrive - “Could you please follow up on our order as we have a wedding to attend in two hours.” - our meals were delicious and well worth the wait. Wandering inside The Magpie Cafe to check out the restaurant’s ‘Old World’ stylish interior on the waitresses recommendation, my positive experience was somewhat dampened by the owner’s prickliness, taking an exception to my coming inside for a look. Realising that she must be sick of people eyeballing her gorgeous decor without ordering anything, she thawed slightly when I explained that we’d just finished our meal outside and that it was delicious. She drew my attention to all the sweets on display, which were all made on the premises from scratch and looked divine. Without any room left for dessert and conscious of my delicate tummy, I photographed them instead (with her permission, of course).



Studio 12, Berrima
After settling our bill, we rushed off to our ‘home’ for the next two nights, Studio 12. Within easy walking distance from Berrima village, we had to ring Robyn, the proprietor, a couple of times as the street numbering system didn’t make sense and we kept missing the property. Talking us through until we finally arrived - “it has painted white rocks at the entrance, you can’t miss it” - our relief turned to delight as we crunched down the pebbled driveway and cast our eyes over the delightful and well tended garden on the site. Set back from the road, the studio was deceptive in its appearance as a rustic garden shed. As we opened the main entrance to the studio, we let out a mutual cry of delight at the marked contrast of the inside to the outside. Light, airy, spotlessly clean, the “all white” stylish interiors emanated a calm and peaceful vibe.

The accommodation at Studio 12 featured a large room with a queen and single bed (sleeps 3 comfortably) and a generous lounge area with double french doors that opened out onto the lovely garden. The kitchenette was well supplied with pots, pans, utensils, microwave, kettle, toaster, bar fridge, electric wok and grill (not that we’d be doing much cooking on our two-night stay). Linen, towels and basic toiletries were supplied, along with milk, tea, coffee and cereals. The mattress was a decent one so we knew that we’d get a good night’s sleep here. As for the bathroom, it was spacious, clean, and the water pressure was good. An important factor for someone like me who loves their showers. All in all, a very class act. Getting dressed in record time, we hightailed it to Bendooley Estate for the wedding. 



Bendooley Estate, Berrima
Bendooley Estate is a magnificent 200-acre property owned by Paul Berkelouw, a sixth-generation antiquarian book dealer, with his wife, Katja and their family. Together they have created a rural Paradise that boasts glorious, well established cool-climate gardens, vineyards, a private lake, and spectacular rural vistas that the Southern Highlands are known for. Run by a dedicated team, Bendooley Estate offers cottage accommodation, beautiful spaces for weddings and private events, wine tasting and delicate meals at the Cellar Door, and the iconic Berkelouw Book Barn filled with full of new, secondhand, rare and antiquarian titles. When not managing their burgeoning book business, juggling their four gorgeous children or overseeing the running of Bendooley Estate, and its farm and vineyard, Paul and Katja enjoy pursuing a passion for paddock-to-plate food and permaculture. 

As for our friends’ wedding at Bendooley Estate, it was graceful, elegant and memorable, the setting idyllic. Families and friends were ecstatic. Best of all, my tummy held out and yours truly hit the dance floor, along with my better half Peter, with the best of them until the night ended. 

With the whole of the following day to spend at our leisure, we hung around Bowral and indulged ourselves in a way that we wouldn’t at home: by going to the local cinemas and watching two blockbuster films in a day, punctuated by a delicious Thai meal in between. I had done my fair share of touring and sightseeing for the month and I wasn’t up for any more. Despite our pedestrian, some might say wasted, day in the Southern Highlands, it was exactly what I needed to get my equilibrium back and become recharged after a fast and furious overseas trip. Thank you, Berrima, for bringing me gently back down to Earth.  

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Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 17th October, 2016 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
Categories: Australia
Tags: Southern Highlands, Berrima, NSW

Mercado de San Miguel: A Jewel in Madrid’s Culinary Crown (Spain)


There’s a thing called “place attachment” , a special fondness for locales or regions that one identifies with. Add the fact that childhood memories are firmly anchored by the senses - smell and taste in particular - and you have a powerful pull for a specific place in time indeed. Case in point , me with Madrid (Spain), where my brothers, parents and I lived for months at a time at different stages of our lives and I’ve always associated with my matrilineal line. How could I forget my first taste of Jamon Serrano at the age of eight, which I’d eaten straight out of the wax wrapper just outside the butchers, or horchata, that milky white, sweet beverage made out of tiger nuts that was introduced to Spain by the Moors . I thought I’d died and gone to heaven the day I savoured churros con chocolate, a crispy fried-dough pastry traditionally washed down with chocolate so rich a spoons could stand in it. Forging a friendship that transcended time with my cousins Paloma and Elena, we’d pick up where we left off despite the years that passed in between. With our mothers now gone, I felt a yearning to re-connect with my roots on a recent 9-day stint in Madrid. 

Paloma: “What do you feel like doing while you’re in town?”

Me: “Hang out with you and Elena. Talk non-stop. Eat amazing food.”

Paloma: “Have I ever taken you to Mercado de San Miguel?”

What followed was my introduction to the most popular market in Madrid, Mercado de San Miguel , a stone’s throw from one of the city’s main hubs, Plaza Mayor. 

More gourmet tapas hotbed than traditional market, Mercado de San Miguel brims with a mind-boggling, tastebud-bursting array of pintxos, tapas, oysters, paellas, prime beef, hams, seafood, pastries, croquetas, caviar and every conceivable Spanish culinary delight that you can dream up. Even better, your selection from t his gourmet extravaganza can be enjoyed on the premises and washed down with your favorite tipple, whether it be beer, wine, sherry, champagne, a cocktail or freshly squeezed juice. With 33 stalls and a multipurpose  central area capable of hosting food expos and concerts, Mercado de San Miguel is a culinary temple where the product is king and shopping a recurrent pleasure. It’s no surprise that the market receives, on average, 60,000 visits per week. 

HISTORY:
The real estate on which Mercado de San Miguel sits dates back to 1430, which corresponds with the first known urban site for medieval Madrid. Originally surrounded by ramparts, some of which still remain today, the bastions featured a series of doors that gave access to major roads that eventually became the main arteries of the city. Traditionally used by transporters and traders, women from Leon regularly brought in fish by cart and sold them from makeshift stands in the 1800s. By 1835 the area was transformed into a public square. Impromptu stalls made up of carts and crates packed with perishable goods began appearing on the scene, eventually becoming fixed structures. 

The original iron-and-glass “Parisian Style” edifice of Mercado de San Miguel was constructed and completed in 1916 under the direction of Alfonso Dubé and Díez. I t operated until the Civil War 1936, when it was forced to close to all activity. Reopening in 1951, it supplied Madrileños with their fish, meat, tripe, poultry, vegetables, fruit and olives from villages and towns near the city. For a long time after, the market was the purveyor to the finest restaurants in town. 

The 1980s heralded Mercado de San Miguel’s decline, thanks to the rapid urban expansion, isolation from wide access roads with little space for transit, and the speculative growth of the surrounding environment. In 2003 it was salvaged and its stunning transformation began.  Today, the new market of San Miguel is the only steel structure market that has survived in Madrid and was finally declared a Cultural Monument of interest in its category.  


BACK TO THE PRESENT DAY... 
Paloma, Elena and I made a beeline for La Casa de Bacalao (Stalls 16–17) the moment we entered the market. After acquiring half a dozen different tapas of salmon, cod and tuna atop mini toasts for 1 euro apiece , we strategically went in different directions, one of us to grab 3 beers from the cervecería, another to do a quick recce on the seating situation, and the other to sniff out other goodies that might take our fancy. Propping ourselves up on the stools and spreading our culinary delights on the steel table, we ate and drank with gusto, acquiring more delicacies on the whim of our appetites as morning stretched out into afternoon: fried calamari, jamónes , three different cuts of beef, seared and sliced to perfection. Casting my eyes over the tapestry of humanity around us, I drank in the sights, smells, sounds and vibe, another memory anchoring itself in my psyche.

Whenever one feels less than secure, one tends to seek out sensual memories of a distant time and place that has nourished the soul. While my memories may start and end with family and friends, in the midst of it all there is always food.... and a very special place for Mercado de San Miguel!

OPENING HOURS:
Monday to Sunday from, 10:00 am. to 10: 00 pm.
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays the market is open until 02:00 am. 

http://www.mercadodesanmiguel.es/en/

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Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 8th October, 2016 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
Categories: Spain
Tags: Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid, Spain

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