Located between Dunsborough and Yallingup in Western Australia's pristine Margaret River region, Empire Retreat and Spa is within easy reach of the area's famed vineyards, beaches and casual eateries.
Planes fly into Perth Airport (www.perthairport.net.au) from all of Australia's capital cities and it is increasingly becoming a hub for international flights from Asia, South Africa and the UAE. If you don't fancy the three-hour drive south to Margaret River, charter a flight through Axiom Aviation (www.axiomaviation.com.au).
TransWA (www.transwa.wa.gov.au) runs daily trains to Bunbury from Perth, which connects with the Westrail bus service that takes passengers south through Margaret River.
For the three-hour drive south from Perth to Margaret River, take the Old Coast Road (1) or the South Western Highway (20) through Bunbury, Busselton and Dunsborough. The turnoff for Empire Retreat and Spa is about 4.5 kilometres past the second Dunsborough roundabout as you head towards Yallingup. For cooling off en route, Eagle Bay offers kaleidoscopic snorkelling, Yallingup Beach has a sheltered lagoon and Meelup, near Dunsborough, is a top swimming spot.
Worth getting out of bed for
Start the morning with a big breakfast – you'll need it to steel yourself for a day of tasting your way around one of Australia's most popular wine regions. Premium cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay should be at the top of your sipping list, as well as the easy-drinking blends of semillon and sauvignon blanc, and cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Start your flight at the hotel's own Empire Estate, then sample the excellent examples at Moss Wood, Cullen Wines and Leeuwin Estate. Whether it's wine or wildlife that piques your interest, the Margaret River Discovery Co. offers a range of tours to suit, including a luxury 4WD expedition, sunset canoe trips and an insider's guide to the best vineyards. On the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, the Margaret River Farmers' Market sets up shop in the Old Hospital (corner of Tunbridge and Farrelly Streets, Margaret River), selling organic fruit and veg, fresh-caught seafood, handmade sausages and artisan cheeses. Make the most of the coast and learn to hang 10 like a local at one of the many prime surf spots around Eagle Bay. If the Aussie sun gets too strong for you, retreat underground to the cooler confines of the subterranean Mammoth, Ngilgi or Lake caves.
With its sculpture-filled gardens and airy upstairs dining room, Vasse Felix makes the perfect lunch spot. After tasting the estate's world-class cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay in the cellar door, head up to the restaurant for chef Adam Carr's fresh, modern dishes with an Asian accent, such as tuna tartare or drunken chicken, which work a treat with a glass of crisp Vasse Felix classic dry white. The lakeside Little Fish serves delicious seafood dishes and light plates ideal for a laidback lunch or easy dinner. Take a bench outside overlooking the water and share their winelands platter laden with cold meats, olives, fresh breads and other antipasti, before tucking into your own snapper, scallamari (a scallops and calamari combo) or a marinated rack of lamb.
For scrambled eggs by the sea, skip over to Bunkers Beach Café, a charming beachfront spot that offers alfresco dining in summer and fireside feasts during winter. The menu features breakfast favourites such as bubble and squeak or crepes with poached apple, and lunches of shepherd's pie, pizza or fish and chips. Another spot for a beachside brunch is Lamont's deli and café at Smiths Beach hotel; they cook up breakfast favourites like pancakes with maple syrup, smoked salmon on brioche or a full English breakfast wrap, or go for something a little more like lunch with salt water barramundi grilled in Dijon butter with pancetta or a Greek salad with slow cooked lamb.
If you find yourself craving a cleansing ale after all of that vino, try Bavarian beerhouse Duckstein Brewery or The Colonial Brewing Co.. For the best of both, head to Eagle Bay Brewing Co., a family-run farm with an organic microbrewery and vineyard. Pair you tipple of choice with one of their sharing boards – we particularly like the sound of the beer plate with cheddar, bacon, sesame-crumbed pork belly and and pale ale dip – or tuck into a crispy duck leg or maple cured ocean trout all of your own.