The constantly travelling AT team discusses the places we went and the things we did that made the biggest impression over the last 12 months.
MY PICKS:   ELISABETH KNOWLES,  EDITOR

BEST AFFORDABLE HOLIDAY DESTINATION

Lane Cove National Park, NSW
This is one of the best bush breaks imaginable and only 10km from Sydney CBD. I rate Lane Cove River Tourist Park, deep in the National Park, for its riverside picnic spots and wild nature. You can come soak
up the serenity for just a few hours on a Saturday
or Sunday, or if you feel like a longer getaway its campsites and cabin accommodation are great value. One-bedroom cabins for two (with own ensuite) start at about $130 per night. Park entry fees are $7 a day per vehicle. The area is magic.
Contact:
(02) 9888 9133;
www.environment.nsw.gov.au
Honourable mention:
Camping at The Station at El Questro, in the Kimberley, WA. www.elquestro.com.au

BEST HIGH-END DESTINATION

Wilson Island, Qld
The ultimate desert island fantasy, Wilson is a tiny coral atoll you could walk around in 15 minutes. Thick with pandanas palms and with a beach made of bleached coral, it’s a stunning little island. And with nothing to do all day but snorkel straight off the beach, swing in a hammock reading a book and eat fantastic food prepared by one of just two staff for a maximum of 12 guests at any time, this is the kind of place I’d love to return to for a mental health break every 12 months or so. But at $900-plus a night, I’ll be lucky if I make it again. Luckily, memories last forever.
Contact:
1300 863 248; www.wilsonisland.com
Honourable mention:
Sleeping in style at The Homestead, El Questro.

BEST BOUTIQUE HOTEL

Valley Field Escape, Laguna, NSW
Not your typical B&B by any stretch of the imagination, I was wooed from the moment I turned into the long, white gravel driveway by this charming contemporary villa. With the ubiquitous egg-shaped bath (this one overlooks an olive grove), lush interiors and a chic marble-benched kitchen, this is a stylish country retreat owned by Italian chef Armando Percuoco of Sydney restaurant Buon Ricordo. You can order straight off the restaurant’s menu before you leave home, and arrive to vacuum-sealed bags full of the most flavoursome Italian pasta, veal and sauces imaginable. Along with your standard fresh farm eggs, there’s Tetsuya’s smoked ocean trout in the fridge for breakfast, as well as homemade biscotti and sour-dough bread. Heaven from $330 a night.
Contact:
(02) 4998 3312; www.buonricordo.com.au
Honourable mention:
Bloomsfield Hotel and its sister property, The Albury, Melbourne. It’s a little bit rock’n’roll and a little bit Fawlty Towers (and I mean that in the nicest possible way!). It’s quirky, charming and full of character.

BEST CITY HOTEL

Grand Hyatt, Melbourne
From the big perched bird sculptures out the front to the striated marble bathrooms with big, deep tubs, I love the Grand Hyatt. It’s got the best business club I’ve had the pleasure of settling into – I know you shouldn’t mix the two, but you can’t help it here. The executive lounge has views over the Melbourne CBD, free wireless internet, comfy leather chairs and complimentary refreshments. You can check in on this floor, too, which makes guests feel special, and the new refurb is classy without being stuffy. Collins Kitchen does insanely good meals and last time I was there, I indulged in a high tea – warning: the desserts are a real danger to people who like their pastry perfect. I couldn’t stop scoffing them.
Contact:
(03) 9657 1234; www.melbourne.grand.hyatt.com
Honourable mention:
Majestic Roof Garden, Adelaide. I love the Japanese-style sliding screens that section the bathroom off from the bedroom. From about $200 a night,
it’s not bad for a business hotel, and the restaurant off the lobby is fantastic. www.majestichotels.com.au

BEST TOURISM EXPERIENCE

Big Bend by Night, Swan Reach, SA
Earlier this year I went on a river cruise aboard the Murray Princess and my favourite bits of the trip were the experiences I had with local tour operator Big Bend By Night. A down-to-earth family business, they do everything from Barossa winery tours and sheep-shearing demos, to nocturnal wildlife tours (spotlighting revealed carpets of trap-door spiders’ eyes, bleary wombats and an albino kangaroo) and bush-tucker breakfasts (think lemon myrtle butter on your toast rather than witchety grubs). They also keep a menagerie of rehabilitated animals. Nice people, great business.
Contact:
(08) 85701 097; www.bigbend.com.au
Honourable mention:
The walks: Anthology’s Bay of Fires in Tassie and the Great Ocean Walk with Both Feet. Fantastic small-group experiences where you feel you’ve achieved something at the end of the day.

BEST BAR

The Winery, Surry Hills, NSW
Velvet lounges set up in sitting-room formation so you can have an intimate gathering of friends. An Elvis-themed private function room. Lifesize posters of Steve McQueen on the toilet doors. Waiters in lederhosen. It might have been tacky, but thanks to low lighting and a Crown St, Surry Hills, location it’s pretty cool, actually. Great menu, too. They do “girls’ picnics” on Saturdays and Sundays from 12-3pm, serving crudités, afternoon-tea sandwiches, quiche, little desserts and fruit for $40 a pop. Great girl bonding time.
Contact:
(02) 9331 0833; www.thewinerybygazebo.com.au
Honourable mention:
If I weren’t allergic to wine, I’d have to put in a vote for Rutherglen wineries, and in particular All Saints, with its grand driveway and stately barrel room. Shame they didn’t serve vodka.

BEST RESTAURANT

Merricks General Wine Store, Mornington Peninsula, Vic
I’m nostalgic about the Mornington Peninsula because the first eight years of my life were spent on a farm near here. I love the fact that the area still has many of the same single-lane and dirt roads from the ’70s. Like most Australian country towns, it’s come a long way in the culinary stakes since my parents were throwing progressive dinners and tailgate parties. Merricks served up a fantastic fig-wrapped-in-proscuitto dish last time I was there. It’s fresh regional produce with a posh twist.
Contact:
(03) 5989 8088; www.mgwinestore.com.au
Honourable mention:
Buon Ricordo, Paddington, NSW. I’d been intimidated by its reputation as one of Sydney’s best restaurants until I stayed at its sister boutique B&B, Valley Field. Chef Armando and wife Gemma are friendly and love food. So I went, and loved it. Best. Pasta. Ever.

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