3 Luxury Retreats

For a romantic weekend

What does the word ‘luxury’ conjure up for you?

Is it sumptuous living, or maybe elegance and refinement? Is it enjoying comforts and pleasures that are indulgent and which you wouldn’t necessarily have at home on a day-to-day basis?

For me ‘luxury’ means all of the above with a little bit of romance thrown in for good measure.

So today I’m going to whisk you away to three of the finest luxury escapes in Your Margaret River Region.

All you have to do is remember to buy the roses ?

Forest Rise Eco Lodge

We turn off Yelverton Road and wind our way down a country lane through winter green meadows filled with bouncing kangaroos and lazy cows. To one side there’s a beautiful lake with a pavilion, and ahead a gravel road that leads deep into the forest.

Laughing Kookaburra is our destination, a cottage set amongst young, pristine jarrah forest. As we get out of the car I look up. The forest canopy is filled with the sound of raucous birdsong. I spot some green ‘twenty-eighters’.

“Ahh those parrots,” laughs Janice the Retreat administrator, “They are so naughty, they’ve been busy digging up the lawn in front of the Homestead.”

Now the Homestead Janice mentions is a luxurious rammed earth and solid timber residence with its own swimming pool, heated spa and glorious views. You seriously need to check it out for a group visit or wedding; it would be a great base if there are several of you visiting the region together.

Inside Laughing Kookaburra

Although outside the air above is heavy with rain, we’re not really worried because what awaits us inside the cottage is pure heaven.

Soft music, compiled by John Ashford, the (departing) retreat manager, greets us as we walk into the cottage. It’s a new-age musical interpretation of Forest Rise called “Sounds of Forest Rise,” which together with the soft lighting, a bottle of bubbles a hamper of sweet treats and the most welcome roaring log fire, really sets the scene for romance.

The cottage itself is storybook perfect. It features rammed earth walls and rustic furniture. It’s beautifully appointed and situated all on its own – fit for any Hansel or Gretel chancing upon it.

I suppose it’s the feeling of absolute seclusion that hits you first. You can’t see your neighbours housed in their equally atmospherically named cottages: Sacred Kingfisher, Red Wattle Bird, Scarlet Robin, Golden Whistler – there are 10 of them altogether, but you wouldn’t know they’re there.

Revive yourself

Forest Rise is an eco-retreat for adults where you can revive, restore, rest and relax and I don’t want to sound corny, but that’s how it is, really.

Yes, all you overachievers. Just stop. Get to know each other again, enjoy a candle-lit spa with a glass of Champas (there are even Champagne glasses on the side of the spa bath). Enjoy the piped music in the bathroom where you’ll find huge (and I mean huge) windows which look out and up into the treetops.

Let yourself dream a little, why not?

Slow down

Slop around in front of the wood fire wearing the white fluffy dressing gowns which you’ll find in your cupboard, and watch a DVD or pick up that novel you’ve been meaning to read.

If you must, venture out into the surrounding region to buy the finest local products the region has to offer – perhaps woodfired bread, cheese and preserves, then prepare them in your well equipped kitchen with its forest view.

Next morning do nothing save for sit on the verandah and listen to the birds, or if you want, boost your system with a brisk outside shower, then watch a video, go for a walk or enjoy a bike ride.

Honestly your souls will thank you for it. Ours did.

Get active

We really enjoyed riding the two (well maintained) mountain bikes provided for us, and cycled the perimeter of the 240 acre property on what we came to call our “Kangaroo Safari” because we saw so many kangaroos. Afterwards we put up our feet up and began scoffing our hamper of sweet treats (think Bettaney’s nougat, Bahen & Co chocolate and The Larder’s rocky road – Yum!)

At sunset we sipped Champagne on the sheltered verandah listening to the birds. Much later on with the rain pouring down we hugged hot cups of tea as we looked out into the dark forest, watching the dark shadows of kangaroos.

It would be true to say that we felt totally at one with nature.

Bliss, pure bliss.

For a romantic getaway far from the madding crowd, Forest Rise Eco Retreat is a very natural contender.

Windmills Break

Driving out of Dunsborough towards Yallingup I notice we’ve been on the road form Perth for almost three hours and as we turn into the beautifully concealed entrance of Windmills the clock hits 6 o’clock. Three hours exactly, door to door. Not bad.

We park, get out, stretch and take in our wooded surroundings, sighing with delight to be at such a gorgeous place. The outlines of tall trees are beginning to soften with the dusk which is setting in and jackets are required. We walk through grand doors into a gorgeous reception area.

The lounge, dining and bar areas flow into each other and everywhere you look you’re either confronted by beautiful forest views or the amazing landscape photography of Christian Fletcher

“Love his work,” I say.

“We have Christian Fletcher artwork on display throughout the retreat,” David Larsen, owner of Windmills tells me. “Each room has a different piece of art, many depicting scenes of the region.”

They are gorgeous, go see for yourself and if you’re tempted to buy you could visit Christian’s gallery in Dunsborough, just 4kms away.

From my journal: As you walk into the reception area, your eyes are drawn  beyond the sumptuous lounge and bar towards the garden which is full of Australian native plants but also big palm trees, and the whole effect is quite tropical. There are 13 rooms, and only 26 guests can be accommodated, which means this overnight stay is going to be pretty exclusive.

Inside Windmills

The lounge area is dominated by a beautiful open log fire and a feature fireplace. The bar to one side, restaurant the other and beyond is the garden with its huge swimming pool, tennis courts and a lovely 1km walking trail around the property.

Before we’ve even got our cases to the room I’m thinking a nice glass of wine in front of that log fire will be just the ticket before we head out for dinner. (For your information there are several restaurants nearby. We chose to eat at Lamonts at Smith’s Beach.)

The rooms

Our room is spacious and elegant. There’s a huge spa bath in the bathroom and as it’s cold and chilly I spend a lovely time having a luxurious soak while reading local West Australian writer, Tim Winton’s novel called Breath which is all about surfing in the Margaret River Region (watch out for the movie which is coming soon.)

Outside we have our own private grassy courtyard where there’s a table and chairs and two sun loungers, and beyond this are sweeping lawns, the tennis courts and the beautiful rim flow pool, alongside which is an outside spa heated to 35 degrees. So don’t forget your swimmers.


Imagine a starry starry night relaxing in hot bubbling water with your loved one, gazing at the night time sky during summertime.

Just a little bit romantic?

Come to Windmills Break during wintertime for log fires and the chance to sit and relax. A chance to rug up and go for a windswept walk along the beach without having to lather on the sunscreen. During summertime I’d say come for a retreat experience and enjoy the pool, spa and tennis courts.

Yep, Windmills has you covered for every season.

Late Lunches

Next morning at breakfast we’re joined by David’s wife and their 3 children, who are bouncing around because David is taking time off today to get out and about with them. David and Melissa have taken over Windmills from Geoff (David’s father), and one thing David is particularly excited about re-instating are the “late lunches” which will be starting again on 21st September.

Fast Fact : Late Lunches Executive Chef Iain Robertson has created an Asian influenced menu that focuses on local produce and healthy eating. Open from 1-5pm with a bar until 8pm it means you don’t have to rush to fit lunch into your day. Explore the region in the morning and delay lunch until you’re ready to come back to Windmills in the late afternoon.

Overall, the setting is gorgeous at Windmills, the rooms are classy and geared for relaxation, and the breakfasts are hearty.

But right now, please excuse me as I put down my pen because I’m tucking into a very nice plate of smoked salmon, wilted spinach, poached eggs and potato for breakfast.

It’s okay, you can eat your heart out now 😉

All I can say is – do yourself a favour and visit Windmills Break … Come rain or shine.

Cape Lodge Country House Hotel & Gourmet Retreat

There’s mystery and magic going on at Cape Lodge. As soon as you begin meandering down the forested driveway you’re transported magically into another world; a place far away from the cares of this world at large.

Cape Lodge Country House Hotel and Gourmet Retreat wasn’t always a retreat. It started life as Birdwood Farm a private residence and protea farm built by Tony Bird an Englishman who’d lived in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) for many years.

It’s now listed as one of the Luxury Lodges of Australia and has 22 secluded rooms and a private residence for 8. You can choose from romantic garden and forest suites, elegant rooms in the main lodge, or the luxury Vineyard Residence.

For me it feels much like a private country estate.

The overall atmosphere is hushed and discreet, staff are attentive and friendly, the rooms are stylish and sophisticated and it has all the facilities you would expect of a world class private boutique hotel.

Each suite has its own view of the Lodge’s private lakes, and if you walk around the 1.8km walking track at dusk I promise you that you’ll hear the roar of the Indian Ocean if the wind’s in the right direction.

Fast Facts: Cape Lodge sits on 40 acres of parkland and private vineyards between forest and the sea. Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz are produced exclusively for the guests of Cape Lodge.

Cape Lodge Gourmet Retreat Cooking Classes

I’m lucky to attend one of the Gourmet Cooking Classes designed for culinary enthusiasts. These are variously themed and followed by a long table lunch during which you get to eat all the morning’s creations.

They’re run to a specific calendar that you might like to check out on the website.

The cooking classes take place in the re-vamped dining room which has been decorated in fresh, bright cream and ivory colours.

“Today’s class is all about cabbage!” quips executive chef Michael Elfwing as he began the (sold out) class.

I hastily looked at my booking reference. Cabbage?

“No, don’t worry! Not really! We’re going to play around with truffles today,” Michael laughs as he looks at some of the worried faces in the room.

This set the tone for what was to be an entertaining introduction into all things truffle, prior to sitting down to a long table lunch to try Michael’s truffle creations.

The elusive and expensive truffle

As rare as hen’s teeth and as expensive as sparkly jewels, these knobbly brown fungi come in at about $2,500 a kilo, that’s about $2 to $2.50 a gram. (So we were pretty much eating gold dust.)

“I’m like a kid in a candy shop,” says Michael, handing around a huge plate of these unglamorous and earthily aromatic fungi which are found deep under very special trees (often hazelnut) and which are hunted by dogs and sometimes pigs. “Truffles are exotic, special, and still very exciting to me,” he says.

We were allowed to sniff and touch some of these strange little lumps. I was wary not to drop this earthy-smelling, pricey object. It smelt like a farmyard to me, and never having tried Truffles I didn’t know what to expect.

“They actually smell more than they taste,” Michael explained.

I have to tell you I was pleasantly surprised when I ate some later on – although I still can’t get over their price. Michael’s elaborate dishes made me aware of how versatile truffles can be, and gave me a privileged understanding of their uses.

Concept of the classes

The concept of the Cape Lodge gourmet cooking classes came about so that guests could have a great sit down lunch, enjoy some fabulous wine, meet new people, enjoy the view and learn a bit about cooking at the same time.

“A bit like a home cooking class, but with benefits,” said Michael.
Michael is amusing. He’s chatty, informed and personable. He hails from Sweden and he cooks the most amazing food – a variety of which we enjoyed at the Long Table Lunch afterwards.

Overnight at Cape Lodge

For me Cape Lodge is all about the way the staff treat you along with all the little extras that are provided.

For instance, take the gastronomic dinners.

Fast Facts: The Cape Lodge Restaurant has been voted in the ‘Top Ten in the World for Food’ in Conde Nast Traveller’s Gold List and is described as “one of Australia’s finest new generation dining establishments.” The menu changes daily.

We ordered a two course menu but it came with so many unexpected extras. There was the glass of French Champagne to begin with, the chef’s hors d’ouevres, the winter garden salad courtesy of the kitchen, the palate cleanser courtesy of an under chef, and the orgasmic chocolate truffles to finish with.

The breakfast buffet

You’ll find a breakfast buffet that’s healthy and classy all at once – you can tell that only the best products are used. There’s freshly stewed rhubarb, and Bircher muesli (my favourite), a whole lot of nuts and grains to sprinkle over your yoghurt, home-made breads and preserves, and then a gourmet choice of cooked breakfast to choose from afterwards.

I can’t adequately describe in words the serenity at Cape Lodge. Looking out over the expansive lake at breakfast time I watched the dappled reflections and shadows of the surrounding green forest compete for space with puffy clouds from the blue sky in an ever changing picture. Walking back to our room via the gardens and past the sparkling pool I felt so at home, as if I’d like to stay here forever, and then I began to plot how I could persuade Drew Bernhardt, the charming and friendly general manager to oblige me 😉

Rooms and Suites

In our Lakeview Room I sniffed out the complementary chocolate truffles right away. I can tell you that the contemporary décor and the luxurious bathroom are classy and spacious. Amenities are gorgeous coming from local Vasse Virgin – expect natural hair and beauty products, while from the mini bar among other things you could choose Bettaney’ Nougat and Chivas Regal whisky. Only the best.

The Drawing Room

In the Main Lodge there’s a Drawing Room, with plumped up, overstuffed king size sofas. Here you’ll find newspapers and complimentary tea, coffee and homemade muffins. You might like to borrow some of the complimentary DVDs, Games or Books if it’s rainy.

Serenity personified

In the beautiful poem, the Lake Isle of Innisfree, William Butler Yeats wrote,

‘And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dripping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;’

I don’t want to go all poetic on you, but honestly it really is a bit like that at Cape Lodge.

Yep, go for the peace dripping slow, the serenity and of course romance in spades.

Escape. Indulge. Unwind.

Immerse yourself in luxury at a Margaret River retreat.

Author Johanna Castro

A gypsy heart and a geologist husband brought travel writer Johanna Castro from Cape Town to Bunbury in 2008. Exploring the South West region soon became a passion which led on to writing for The West Australian, Fodor’s Travel Guide and various tourism agencies. In 2010 she began blogging and created ZigaZag (focusing on South West Australia) and Lifestyle Fifty. Jo’s contributed to over 40 publications and lived in 11 different countries but her gypsy heart is now content as she continues to discover and write about the fabulous produce, fine wines and beautiful scenery of WA. www.zigazag.com | lifestylefifty.com | Facebook (ZigaZag) | Facebook (Lifestyle Fifty)


  • Rae Hilhorst says:

    Hi Jo, I love Margaret River in the winter. You have inspired me and given me food for thought. Now which one will I choose, I love a fire place, leather couches and good wine x

  • Jo says:

    Which to choose indeed Rae 🙂 Maybe you’ll have to find reasons to stay at all three 🙂

  • Joyce says:

    Hi Jo, we have been to all three, any other suggestions?

  • Jo says:

    Hello Joyce, just wondering if you’ve been to Arc of Iris? It’s at the top of the town.

    • Jo says:

      Argh, sorry Joyce, the comment cut me off. I was about to say, Arc of Iris for dining. Other lovely places I’ve stayed are : Loaring Place, Rosewood Guesthouse, Merribrook Retreat and St Allard Eco Resort.

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