When Bear asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday this year, I didn’t even have to think about it before saying, “I want to make good memories.”
As fun as it is to open pressies, to me it’s more fun to collect experiences with people I love.
Bear, being more practical than my good self, needed something a bit more concrete than “make good memories” – so we fleshed out a few ideas that encapsulate what I treasure most in a good experience: cozy, interesting, delicious, and, most of all, companionable.
I really love Stanthorpe and the Granite Belt area. There’s something about the pine trees and cooler air and boulder strewn bush that make me feel as close to the forests of Canada as I can get here in Australia.
My heart gave a lurch of happiness, a swelling of homey recognition as we pulled in front of our cabin and saw it tucked away among the trees, looking so beautifully welcoming and private.
We crunched our way along gravel paths that wended through stands of twisted gums and weathered pines, swerving around granite boulders that gave the place a feeling of solidity and security, then climbed the creaking wooden stairs past a stack of firewood that made me smile. The notion of a crackling fire was enticing indeed, but with summer just around the corner, it would have to remain a pleasant notion. Something wonderful to be revisited in winter.
The best part was the veranda perched high above the forest floor. Nestled among tree branches, it made me feel like we were in a treehouse. I grabbed some colourful cushions from inside and draped my tablecloth over the little round table and suddenly it really, truly felt like home.
Yes, I bring my own tablecloth with me. It’s a tradition I started many years ago when I was traveling for work. Staying in hotels can be really fun, but after awhile I wanted those little familiar touches that made it feel less sterile and more personal. I found that a tablecloth really did the trick. It was light and small and so easily transformed a blah room to something I wanted to linger in. Even though I travel much less now, it’s a habit I keep up and never regret.
After we got settled in I went for a walk in the bush, luxuriating in having the place to ourselves since it was a weeknight. It was still and peaceful, cloudy and cool thanks to a storm building overhead, and I ambled at my leisure, sitting on boulders to breathe in fresh air, taking pictures of craggy bark and delicate ferns.
Much to my delight stormy weather rolled in and soon it was downright chilly, perfect weather for woollen blankets and a pashmina around my shoulders as I wrote in my journal, read Harry Potter again, and leafed through the gorgeous holiday issues of Victoria magazine. It felt so good to write and read and think and get inspired without the pull of chores or deadlines.
Then it was time for dinner, and what a dinner it was!! The Granite Belt Brewery feels like an alpine lodge to me, especially decked out for Christmas with garlands and lights and a life-sized carved Santa Claus to greet guests.
We started with champagne and a jolly chat with our regular waiter who always makes us feel welcome. It was too dark for photos that would do justice to the food, so I’ll just have to tell you about it.
Bear was in a steak mood, always a good choice there, while I went for the thing I’d been dreaming about since our first trip to the brewery, the Brewers Platter. It is a 4-course mini degustation matched with their craft beers. I started with Pork Belly with Stanthorpe Apple Vincotta paired with Apple Ale, followed by oh-so-tender New England Venison on Butternut Pumpkin Mash with Blueberries and Juniper Berry Jus paired with Irish Red Ale, then a heavenly Stanthorpe Roasted Beetroot and Goats Cheese Salad paired with Hatter Wheat Beer. I shared my dessert with Bear and we both swooned at the Triple Chocolate Praline Tart with Mascarpone and Raspberry Compote paired with the Pozieres Porter. Such a fun and delicious meal that really made my taste buds sit up and take notice.
It was a beautiful evening of good visits and amazing food, and the cherry on top was walking home to our cabin in the rain. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday.
The next morning I woke first, and wrapped up in flannels and a blanket before toddling out to the veranda to enjoy a few hours of utter relaxation. When Bear roused a while later we had a light breakfast outside with French press coffee, toasted homemade bread and jam, and local apples. There’s something special about breakfast in the woods, especially when it’s crisp and cool and it feels like the world is a hundred miles away.
All too soon we packed up and headed for home, happy in the glow of truly great memories, excited to do it all again in the winter when we can set that fire roaring.