Cape Lodge, boutique hotel and vineyard, represents about as rich and full an experience as can be had in WA’s expansive Margaret River wine region. By Rhonda Talbot (Hotels and resorts reviewed by Australian Traveller are visited anonymously by our writers, who pay their own way)
Cape Lodge, boutique hotel and vineyard, represents about as rich and full an experience as can be had in WA’s expansive Margaret River wine region. But even the finest wines can be something of an acquired taste.
Not long ago, your average Australian country-house retreat was just making do, offering up the same old formula of roast-lamb dinners and overstuffed comfortable lounges to a fading clientele. Well, all that has changed. A new breed of establishment is ushering in a renaissance in luxury boutique hotel appeal.
Cape Lodge opened in 1993 as a six-room upmarket bed and breakfast in the southwest corner of WA, and from the beginning staked a claim as world-class accommodation. Sitting on ten hectares of forest parkland in the midst of a working winery, the Lodge has recently undergone a $3 million development, increasing to 22 luxury rooms and suites including the two-bedroom cottage. Having read the website and press articles, we thought we were in for something special.
Motoring up the winding driveway past neat and tidy rows of grape-clad vines, the exclusive retreat presented itself as idyllic, nestled between bush and forest environs, manicured lawns and beautiful lakeside gardens. The original homestead houses the lobby and, upon checking in and with map in hand, it was a shock to discover that we were expected to locate our Forest Spa room and carry our own luggage. We ended up leaving most of it in the car. No so idyllic.
After the three-hour drive from Perth, top of the list was to investigate a sampling of the 60-odd local wineries before the end of day. The reception staff member was pleasant and informative, helping us with the directions to a selection of nearby vineyards. So, after a scrumptious complimentary afternoon tea in the cosy guest lounge, we ventured forth, unfortunately leaving the door to our suite unlocked due to the peculiar deadlock system on the door that had not been explained.
The region certainly lives up to its reputation. Vasse Felix, Cape Grace, Leeuwin Estate, Lenton Brae, Mad Fish – there are enough wine tasting opportunities to satisfy the most serious palette. The Margaret River Cheese factory, Marron farming and even chocolate and fudge making are local industries to be explored. A mere 30-minute drive from Cape Lodge is the town of Margaret River. Quaint but touristy, there are plenty of shops to sustain a bout of retail therapy, as well as coffee houses and restaurants. We were rather taken by the Margaret River Hempco store with its unique hemp products and collection of clothing.
Enjoying a respite before dinner, it was a pleasure to amble through the English-style gardens. Scattered with sheltered spaces for quiet contemplation are sun lounges strategically placed to take advantage of private lakeside vistas. More enthusiastic guests took to the tennis court to work off an afternoon of indulgence and breathe in plenty of fresh country air. One or two were even jogging and country-lane walking.
The Cape Lodge Restaurant has a superior reputation, so it was with considerable anticipation that we approached our experience. The dining room overlooks one of the artificial lakes, sadly not apparent at night as the large windows looked out into inky darkness. Even though the chairs are covered in plush purple suede, the white walls, absent decoration and gaping windows translated into virtually no ambience. The kitchen is open, though not obtrusive, but preparation noise was audible – something the staff should be mindful of.
The menu is small but impressive – and intentionally so, since it’s changed frequently to take advantage of the region’s fresh produce. The dining experience in the restaurant was less than we had expected. While the staff were friendly and cheerful, service was slow and the advertised impressive cellar of some 14,000 bottles of hard-to-obtain vintages was poorly represented by the absence of any real sommelier advice.
The food was beautifully presented but the disparity in the our meal sizes was so notable that as one of us was nibbling her way through a Steamed Marron, the other – who was ploughing valiantly through a delicious but huge seafood chowder – felt obliged to donate prawns to her cause, feeling that she must still be hungry. The dessert was delightful. Breakfast, included in the tariff, consists of a small buffet and an à la carte hot meal, but the soft poached eggs seemed too difficult to achieve, the smoked trout changed to whiting at the last minute and the request for crispy bacon was completely ignored.
The rooms are superbly furnished. The Forest Suite, with its separate sitting room that houses a clever coffee table that converts into a dining table, is tastefully decorated, with vast windows overlooking the natural surroundings. There’s a sound system and DVD player, with CDs and DVDs available at no cost from the main reception. We carefully chose our DVDs and prepared for a post-diner wine and movie evening, but unfortunately the soundproofing was not as perfect as it could have been and our suite suffered from the heavy-footed visitors savouring jazz selections from above. Definitely request the upper floor suite.
The bathroom is a triumph, the shower spectacular and the enormous spa almost embarrassing to fill with precious water. Perhaps it would be more justified if used for two! The bathroom area is enormous and has the advantage of a separate toilet.
IfCapeLodgeis vying to attract a new generation eager to experience service that’s impeccable without being obsequious, or a life devoted to ambling aimlessly around manicured grounds drinking wine over a postprandial game of croquet, then the management will need to take a fresh look at expectations of the Australian traveller. We were drawn to the hotel by the media reports and the reputation for excellence butCapeLodgehas some cultural problems and maybe should be trying to exceed expectations rather than reading their own press.
DETAILS: Cape Lodge
Style: Posh country homestead
Location: Margaret River region, 280 kms south of Perth, WA
Size: 22 rooms and suites, divided into four categories
Service: Haphazard, sweet young staff
Cuisine: Gourmet, seasonal menu
Room service: From the restaurant menu, surcharge
Outlook: Lake and forest view rooms and suites
Disabled facilities: Special suite available in main lodge
Inclusions: Tennis court, spa rooms available
Exclusions: Pool, gym
Best thing: Beautiful garden and country environs
Worst thing: Disappointing restaurant, guest relations
Fee: $325 – $550 per night, two-bedroom cottage $650 per night (min two-night stay), packages available
Caves Road, Yallingup, WA, 6282
Phone: (08) 9755 6311
Fax: (08) 9755 6322