Puffing Billy Railway lights up the night in an Aussie first!!

Victoria’s iconic steam railway presents a must-see travelling light show spectacular this winter.

Get rugged up in your warmest winter woollies these school holidays and experience the magic of Puffing Billy Railway at night with the Train of Lights; a mesmerising train travelling light show and the first of its kind in Australia! 

From Friday 24th June – Sunday 10th July 2022, the Train of Lights will take passengers on a return journey that departs from Lakeside Station to Gembrook, immersing guests in bright colours, hypnotic patterns, and native wild animal projections that leap from open-side carriages and onto the passing dark Wright Forest, historic timber trestle bridges, and open rolling hills of the Gembrook countryside. 

Partnering up with acclaimed lighting specialists, Resolution X (White Night, VAMFF), this special evening experience is the perfect way to view the Dandenong Ranges from a different dimension as the passing forest and open farmlands transform into a Technicolor feast for the eyes.

With the journey beginning at Lakeside, passengers will have the chance to explore the new Lakeside Visitor Centre and all its state-of-the-art amenities, including the Puffing Billy Railway Lakeside Hall museum, licensed Railway Café, and unique gift shop.

Ticketholders wanting to make a day of it can visit the Emerald Lake Park precinct early to enjoy the photographic art exhibition, Animal Tales, inside the visitor centre, before stopping in at the Railway Café for some dinner ahead of their Train of Lights trip.

Once arriving at Gembrook Station, passengers will enjoy a 55-minute stopover, where they can warm up by the open fire with a hot chocolate and other winter warmers and capture a quintessential selfie of the lit-up train and station.

Pairing Puffing Billy Railway’s iconic whistle with a rainbow of dazzling lights that play on the surrounding scenery, the Train of Lights is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all to enjoy. 

Train of Lights tickets go on sale Wednesday 25th May with limited numbers. You must book online at https://puffingbilly.com.au/events/train-of-lights/

  • Adult (16yrs+) – $75.00
  • Child (4-15yrs) – $38.00
  • Toddlers (1-3yrs) – $25.00   

For those parents looking to keep the kids busy throughout the day during the mid-year break, Puffing Billy Railway’s general excursion trains depart daily from Belgrave to Menzies Creek and Belgrave to Lakeside. With two daily services on offer, passengers can choose to visit the Menzies Creek Museum or stop and enjoy the Lakeside Visitor Centre, Emerald Lake Park, and the many outdoor activities in the surrounding precinct, including hiring a bike and taking to the Eastern Dandenong Ranges Trail, or jumping in the paddleboats on Lake Treganowan for a peddle around the lake. 

Here’s a little more about Puffing Billy Railway:

Puffing Billy Railway is Australia’s favourite steam train and one of the finest preserved steam railways in the world. The railway, which commenced operation in Australia on December 18, 1900, is a genuine relic of more leisurely days.

The historic steam train ran regularly in the Victorian mountain district and was built to serve at the turn of the century to transport goods and passengers throughout the district. The railway travels 24kms through the forests and fern gullies of the picturesque Dandenong Ranges to Emerald Lake Park and Gembrook – the original terminus of the line – and is one of only two survivors of five experimental narrow-gauge lines used to develop rural areas in Victoria during the early 1900s.

Make sure you check out Puffing Billy on Social Media here:
Facebook – @PuffingBillyRailway
Instagram – @puffingbillyrailway

www.puffingbilly.com.au

Around Australia at 80ks – Your Summer ‘Must Read’

Summer is almost upon us, and despite international borders reopening (*ahem sort of/don’t hold your breath) I think many of us are still planning to adventure closer to home this year. If, like me, you’re hanging out for an adventure within Australia, this is the book for boundless inspiration. It’s an Aladdin’s cave of experiences, insider travel tips and dog friendly fun, and is full to bursting with possibly the greatest photography of our beautiful country I have ever seen. If you’ve ever wondered what it may be like to hit the open road and really explore what Australia has to offer, here is your inspiration. As you turn each and every page, you could almost be there inside Meredith & Sean’s bright yellow combi, patting Bandit the pup; the warm, salty wind blowing in your hair! Yes, it’s that good!

This great Aussie road trip took Mez, Sean and Bandit across four states, one territory and over
22,400 kilometres. They drove over dirt roads, down four-wheel drive tracks, onto ferries and
boats, to the edges of cliffs, across beaches and up mountains. They ventured through dust
storms and croc-infested waters, over red dirt, into some of the most ancient lands on Earth,
and along some of the most isolated roads in the world. All in their trusty vintage 1975 kombi,
Meredith’s camera at the ready and with a true sense of wanderlust to fuel their journey.

As a photographer, Mez knew this once-in-a-lifetime adventure would offer her the
opportunity to capture Australia in her own unique way, particularly after the dramatic
changes to our landscape since the devastating bushfires, and boy did she do this.. with a cherry on top!


When it comes to travel, Meredith is full of encouragement and enthusiasm.
‘It took guts to head out across this great big country in an old yellow kombi. I hope every
page gives you a little more of the confidence and comfort you need to set out on your own
adventure. If we can do it in a 1975 kombi you can do it too!’


One of my favourite things about this book is the oodles of great tips this awesome team share so you and I can explore to the fullest when we dust off our suitcases. From dog-friendly highlights (yay) and the best camping spots, to locating the tastiest cheap eats and the finest coffee, this is just as much a travel guide as it is an insanely beautiful coffee table book to share with the fam. After our trip to Kangaroo Island earlier in the year (best holiday ever) the children were thrilled to turn the pages and see the little yellow combi getting on the ferry & hitting up all the sites we’d loved too.

Around Australia At 80ks provides all the inspiration you need to get out on the road!

If you’re looking to elevate your next road trip or you know someone who’d love to live this adventure, you’ve got to get this book. I’ve had a copy for a couple of weeks and have picked it up over and over again, diving into a new landscape every time. Whether you’re ready to hit the road, or you’re happy to live vicariously through Mez’s adventure, this is the road trip that keeps on giving. Enjoy xx


About the author


Meredith (aka Mez) is an Australian photographer, writer and educator, based on the South Coast
of New South Wales, Australia. Specialising in landscape, travel and documentary photography,
her passion is in telling stories and capturing images that evoke a response – visually, emotionally,
intellectually or otherwise. Outside of photography, Meredith is an avid car collector and restorer.
She can often be seen at her local beach with Etta, her beloved yellow kombi, Bandit, her dog,
and Sean, her husband. They travel around Australia getting off the beaten track to discover this
amazing vast and wild country. Around Australia At 80ks is her first book.

You can follow Meredith & see more of her work on Facebook, Instagram and on her website.

Around Australia at 80ks
Two humans, one dog and a bright yellow kombi
on the road trip of a lifetime
WRITTEN AND PHOTOGRAPHED BY MEREDITH SCHOFIELD

Out now. Buy here

Affirm Press
RRP: $35.00

Take your family on a city skyline glamping experience!


Oh wow Melbourne! How many million years has it been since we were allowed to roam the city streets, pick up glorious cups of much needed coffee from the laneways, and visit all the fabulous corners of this city we call home? It feels like forever doesn’t it? However long it’s really been, it’s been far too long and I know lots of us are crying out for some city time. Well, it looks like we may not have to wait much longer, and I have a feeling I’ve found just what you and the kids need to give you all those Melbourne city vibes!

Unique & unforgettable experiences

Just to remind you why our city is so magnificent, Melbourne Marriott Hotel have come up with a glorious city glamping experience for you to enjoy with your family. Imagine their little faces when they see this pre Christmas treat. Awwwww!

When you book this long awaited escape, your 5-star room, which comes with a private courtyard, will feature a glamping teepee for the kids plus all the necessities such as sleeping bags, pillows and outdoor chairs.

The kids get to enjoy a fun night under the stars whilst mama & papa get to snooze in the comfort of a dreamy Marriott bed! We have totally earned this after the year we’ve had! I can picture myself there now. Hotel beds are just the best aren’t they? An added bonus with this package is you get a late check-out up to 1pm, so there’s plenty of time for a lazy brekkie, a little walk and even more fun time in the teepee for the kids whilst you kick back with the paper!

What’s included?

Private courtyard with Tepee tent

Large double bed

Range of custom cushions and blankets

Sleeping bags for 2 children

Fire pit with fairy lights

Individual courtyard mood lighting

Relaxation camp chairs for parents

Picnic table and chairs

Selection of games and board games

Family Picnic Hampers are also available to order to have in the courtyard or take to the park.

Reservations

For reservations or enquiries: Email: mhrs.melmc.ays@marriotthotels.com

Tel: (+61) 3 9662 3900

To book your family’s once in a lifetime adventure under the city stars click here!


About the Melbourne Marriot Hotel

Discover 5-star amenities and an enviable city center location at the wonderful Melbourne Marriott Hotel. Situated downtown, this contemporary hotel is just a short walk away from theatres, shopping, parks, attractions and restaurants. Unwind in stylish, spacious accommodation, featuring plush bedding and complimentary Wi-Fi – many rooms with stunning Melbourne city views. For relaxation, the Marriot offers a fantastic fitness center with an indoor pool and high-tech gym. Grab cocktails in the Elements Lounge and Bar or indulge in modern Australian cuisine at the hotel’s on-site restaurant. The Melbourne Marriot has an ideal downtown location, exploring top attractions with your family couldn’t be easier.

If people slept outside under the stars each night, I bet they’d live a lot differently – Unknown

I’d love to know if you book this adventure, so keep me posted xx Liv

A cuppa with Molly from The Kirks Crazy Life

I spent a little piece of my week chatting to the gorgeous Molly from The Kirks Crazy Life. I met Molly a while back, and immediately I knew she was a lovely person. She’s one of those people who gives off a good vibe and you know instantly that you’re going to get along!  If you want to follow someone on Instagram who is ‘doing life’ with a passion Molly’s ya gal!


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Hey Molly, can you tell our readers a little about yourself?

My husband and I have been married for almost 10 years now, and I am a mummy to my 9 year old daughter Audrey, my 5 year old son Marquez and my son Christopher who was stillborn 7 years ago. I moved to Melbourne 11 years ago from New South Wales and I now live in the outer Western suburbs of Melbourne. I love it!

Our family loves to travel, explore different places and DSC_0754create memories together. My favourite thing in the world is to spend quality time with my family and that’s how I make the most out of life. Of course, I also love shopping too!!!

So what inspired you to create The Kirks Crazy Life?

I originally started posting on Instagram when my youngest was born as a way to share photos with friends and shop small business. Fairly early on the children started repping for small businesses and helping to bring awareness of their products. After a while it evolved again to photos featuring the whole family, our adventures and all the products that I love and use. The inspiration really came from my love of fashion, travel and photography which I am really passionate about.

How are you coping with not being able to go far right now? I know you’re a big travel fan.

Staying home has definitely taken some getting used to. We are so used to getting away, so to not be able to do that has definitely been tricky for us. We, like lots of others, had the disappointment of having to cancel all our trips DSC_0812this year due to Covid, including a long awaited trip to Greece and Italy in May.  I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a little cry when I had to cancel everything. But having to stay at home is the best option for us right now and we’re definitely looking forward to getting away as soon as we’re able.

In the meantime I have started paying more attention to my indoor plant collection and keeping myself busy to avoid going stir crazy. Current restrictions have made creating the content I love to create difficult, but we all need to do the right thing and get through this together.

When you look back on 2020 what do you think you’ll say it taught you?

I have really embraced a quieter life for the time being. It’s nice to stop and be bored sometimes, it gives you time to think. Spending simple days at home or in the backyard reminds me of parts of my own childhood and the things I did with my family growing up. Most importantly I have learnt that it’s ok to have quiet weekends at home and we don’t always need to be on the go to make memories as a family.

I do love the fast life and fear it will probably come back with a vengeance once I have more freedom to travel safely – Molly

Since homeschooling, I have found a passion for teaching.

I have always wanted to train to be a teacher but have been too scared that perhaps it wasn’t for me. Don’t get me wrong, some days remote learning with my daughter is testing but I am so happy to have been given the opportunity. Now I’m able to be more involved in Audrey’s learning it has taught us a lot about each other. I enjoy seeing how Audrey is progressing plus I get to learn more about how her mind works. It has definitely brought us closer together and I am very proud of how she is coming along with school. As for Marquez, he is loving having Audrey home more and adores spending time with her on her breaks.DSC_0255

Lockdown has also seen us enjoying new projects around the house, and involving the kids in what we do. I’m looking forward to renovating my laundry and repainting the kids’ cubby house which are next on the list. 2020 has also taught me that I probably didn’t need to visit my shopping centre daily!!!

Is there anything you have loved about being in lockdown that you’ll continue to enjoy when we finally get our freedom back?

One of the things I have really loved is being able to spend more time with the kids and just relax without any other pressures or time restrictions. I will definitely be making sure that once everything goes back to normal we will save some weekends where we do nothing at all and just hang out as a family. I’ve also really enjoyed paying more attention to myself and my skin care regime. Self care really helps me switch off and relax so I’ll be making an effort to stick at it.


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Follow Molly and her family enjoying their ‘crazy life’ full of awesome adventures!

instagram

Tow small, travel big! Go by Go Pod

Camping and I have a strange relationship! I love being outdoors, I don’t love the dust and dirt. I love the wildlife, I don’t love the creepy crawlies. I love the freedom that the children have, I love the camp cooking, I love the kids excitement at bed time when we’re all snuggling down. I do not love (or even like) tents! Nope! If all I have is a tent, you can go without me.

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Part of me envies the hoards of families who camp, and have all the stuff! Their camps look like they could sustain life for years and years, in a perfectly happy state, with not one meal missed or one iota of sleep even slightly disturbed. We do not camp like that! We don’t have nearly enough equipment, we barely have any camping knowledge, and to be honest I have always felt that ‘holiday sleeping’ requires, at the very least, a decent bed and a fluffy duvet! (Aka a hotel!)

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Hold on though….. You may find this hard to believe, but even I have been persuaded to fall in love with camping after testing out the gorgeous Go Pod Teardrop Caravans last weekend!

We picked up our beautiful GoPod at about 11am, on the hottest Victoria day since records began. Honestly, the thought of arriving at a campsite and having to erect a camp in this heat would have been hell. Not with our GoPod. With lots of great tips and advice from Kayleen, we hooked the teardrop caravan up to the car, and drove off toward the ocean, knowing there would be very little do do, in order to get comfy on arrival!

We have never towed anything before, not even a trailer, and as Mr W was a little ‘tired‘ after his work Christmas party the night before, I was in charge!  The glory of the GoPod is that it is very lightweight and super easy to tow. Thank goodness!! We made it safely to Anglesea with me at the helm, even negotiating Bunnings and Hungry Jacks on the way! *You may applaud now!

Set up was done and dusted in about 20 minutes. We unhooked the GoPod, rolled it into the best position, plugged it in and put up the tent! Once the table and chairs were up, and the kids were bouncing on the jumping pillow, we kicked back to enjoy our weekend. That is perfect camping in my mind! No stress, no arguments about who put the groundsheet in the wrong place, just an easy set up and a perfectly snug place to sleep…. with the fly screens tightly shut!!!

The GoPod 90 has double doors ( a godsend for extra air and midnight toilet trips!) and a deliriously comfy queen bed. (Bedding can be hired on booking). There was so much storage I felt like we could have travelled for weeks and weeks even with Monty’s desire to change his clothes every thirty six minutes. Everything has been meticulously thought about from the mattress to the tool box. Even the MukMat, chairs and table were included. Like I said, nothing had been left out!!

We make sure you have the confidence to set off and are always a phone call away for our hirers. With the support of YouTube, a manual and our advice you have everything you need for a great trip’- GoPod

The GoPod kitchen was lovingly filled with everything your little camping heart could desire! Gas burners and fridge, crockery and lights, enough storage to be able to make a Christmas feast if you so wish! The GoPod has plugs for chargers, USB sockets, heaps of storage for clothes, toys, UNO (of course), and all the other camping paraphernalia you need. There really is no easier way to hit the road!!

Everything you need for a simple getaway is right here. – GoPod

As we were four and the GoPod 90 sleeps 2 (or two adults and a small child), we added on a tent for the boys! Everyone was happy! Even the tent had a fab mattress, duvet and fan which doubled as a light. It barely felt like camping, as we were all so comfy!

I know camping is a little like Vegemite, you either love it or you hate it, however, if you are anything like the Wilsons, and are divided down the middle,  you need to look at the GoPods. These cute caravans are wonderful alone, and a marvellous addition to any camp setup. They are especially splendid for those of you who like to have home comforts whilst on the road! (Think cuddly duvet and wine glasses).

There are a few different types of GoPod, some sleeping up to four people, so they are perfect for everyone, plus, they are offering great deals on long term hire too for you adventurers! Another great use for the GoPod is for guests when you don’t have the spare room at home! Imagine giving your guests their own GoPod for the weekend, within reach of your dinner table and witty conversation! Best sleepover ever!!!

For people who want an easy towing experience for a safe and amazing getaway. GoPod Teardrop Campers are the caravans you never knew you needed. – GoPod

If you love the idea of hooking up and escaping, without the hassle, if you love the idea of being in the great outdoors whilst sleeping and cooking in luxury, this is the caravan for you! Tow small and travel big is the GoPod motto, and trust us, these are 100% made for big adventures! Who’s coming with us on our next trip??


BOOKING INFO

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VICTORIA

GoPod 90    GoPod 82   GoPod Plus

NSW

GoPod

Prices start at $80 per night (insurance included)

Click here for all the contact details

 

One who lives, sees much. One who travels, sees more!

Liv xx

Will you find the $400 nugget at Sovereign Hill these school holidays?

We are so lucky to live in such a wonderful part of the world where there seem to be endless ways to entertain the children!! It’s no mean feat trying to keep everyone happy, all summer, but I’m pretty sure, this may be the answer to your prayers!! 

This summer, Sovereign Hill is set to be busier than it’s been since the goldrush of the 1850’s. With brand new activities every day and the chance to win a $400 gold nugget every week, it feels like the gold rush is happening all over again! We cannot wait to get over to Sovereign Hill to experience some of the fun!

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Each day of the week, for six weeks, a different adventure awaits. From ‘Make it Mondays’, to ‘Find it Fridays’, there is something for everyone to enjoy. 

All of your favourite Sovereign Hill activities will also be on, including bowling, the gold pour, costume photos, as well as Sovereign Hill’s new sound and light show, AURA. 

You can read about our last adventure to Sovereign Hill here!!

If you think you and the family would love to experience everything that’s on offer, you absolutely can!!!! Purchase a  *Sovereign Hill Annual Pass, which provides you with unlimited entry to Sovereign Hill and the Gold Museum, 364 days a year, as well as discounted mine tours, coach rides, and other special offers. 

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For full program details visit www.sovereignhill.com.au

PROGRAM OF EVENTS:

MAKE IT MONDAYS – Try your hand at butter churning and cheese making, make your own block candle or help us sew the Eureka Flag. 

TROTTING TUESDAYS – Meet the Sovereign Hill horses, get your photo taken with a Clydesdale and watch our horse team change over the horses that pull the Sovereign Hill vehicles. 

WHATS’ THAT WHISTLE WEDNESDAYS – Learn about steam engines, take a tour of some ruins and hear stories of child miners on the goldfields. 

TRADE THURSDAYS – Watch rare trades in action, have a go at the traditional process of Cyanotype, go behind the scenes of the Sovereign Hill coach builders. 

FIND IT FRIDAYS – Rush to the diggings for the chance to discover a $400 gold nugget, take a photo with the Australia nugget (worth over $85,000) and see a coin press machine in action. 

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SWEET SATURDAYS – Take a walk around lollipop lane, take a photo with a giant jar of Raspberry Drops and join an exclusive hands-on experience in Brown’s Confectionery. 

SOLDIERING SUNDAYS – Dress as a redcoat and join their parade, learn a Trooper drill and watch on as a mass license hunt takes place in the Red Hill Gully Diggings. 


All the info

What: Sovereign Hill’s Summer Gold Rush

When: 26th December, 2019 until 27th January, 2020

Time: 10am – 5pm 

Where: Sovereign Hill, Bradshaw Street, Ballarat, 3350


*Sovereign Hill Annual Pass

PRICES Annual Pass Single Entry
Adult $119.00 $58.20
Child (5–15 years) – only available when purchased with an Adult, Family or Single Family Ticket/Pass $31.50 $26.20
Concession* (To be purchased as Adult Pass) N/A $46.80
Family (2 Adults and up to 4 Children) $255.00 $148.00
Single Adult Family (1 Adult and up to 3 Children) $165.00 $106.00
Conditions: Annual Pass is valid for 12 months from date of purchase. Current Annual Pass card and photo ID must be presented on each visit. This Annual Pass is not transferable. A surcharge may apply for entry to special events. Only the Annual Pass holder whose name is listed on this card is entitled to free entry to Sovereign Hill. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Discounts are not accumulative – only a single discount can be applied to purchases.

Extra charges apply for some activities and major events.

BUY NOW

 

Check this smashing kids dining range!!!

Yes folks, picnic season is back on! (We’re in Melbourne, so picnic season is definitely a thing!) Everyone loves eating outdoors, especially us Mamas, as it means fresh air, fun times, and the birds get to clean up the crumbs! That’s why I’m hitting you up with this intel before you finish your Christmas shopping, or complete your back to school haul, and before the weeks and weeks of school holidays where lunches last aaaaalllll day!!

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The clever crew at Smash Enterprises have come up with yet another fabulous everyday kids range which I can guarantee your babes are going to love! (Tell Santa the good news!!)

If you get yourself to your local Woolworths on the 27th November you’ll be one of the first to get your hands on these beauties for half price in their two week sale (offer ends 10th Dec)!!!

What’s not to love about that!

 

Things we love about the range:

  • Great designs – we all want happy kids, and happy kids who eat!!
  • Easy to clean– This is a must isn’t it?
  • Travellers – with the leak proof containers, screw top cups, flip top drink bottles, and durable plates and bowls, the whole range is great for travelling!!
  • Fun to fill – Makes my mornings a lot easier if the kids enjoy making their own lunch!

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  • BPA free– so important for our growing children!! 
  • Ice brick cooling – It’s warming up out there, and the ice block is a winner! (If they remember to pop it back in the freezer)
  • Durable – I’ve seen how kids treat their lunch boxes so the stronger the better I say!!!

Alongside the Bento Bite lunch boxes, and Hydro Sippers, Smash have launched the super cute bamboo plate & bowl, and some funky cups with ‘swirly straws’. Great for encouraging rehydration!!! Win!

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Kids dining just got a whole lot cooler and you need to get in on it before they sell out!

Prices

Bento Bite Lunch Boxes – $20 RRP

Curly Straw Tumblers – $9 RRP

 Bamboo Plates – $5 RRP

Bamboo Bowls – $5 RRP

 Hydro Sipper- $9 RRP

Don’t forget to head to Woolworths from the 27th Nov for the ‘Smash Kids Dining Range’ two week, half price sale (offer ends 10th Dec)!

 

Make sure you’re following our Facebook & Instagram pages for a ‘Smashing’ giveaway coming soon!!!

 

Assisi – A breathtaking day in Umbria

From where we were staying at La Pievuccia  (Castiglion Fiorentino) it took us about 55 minutes to drive to Assisi. Once we’d left the motorway, we followed fields full of sunflowers, along winding, tree lined lanes, making our way toward what looked in the distance to be something from a film set. A beguiling destination that many a religious pilgrim has travelled to since the 13th century, in honour of St. Francis. The ancient town of Assisi is a sight to behold.

With it’s narrow streets, steep hills and stunning piazzas you could easily imagine you had stepped back in time whilst exploring Assisi. The views from every laneway are breathtaking, the little ornate doors on every building promising even more beauty behind.

You can’t visit Assisi without making your way to the vast Basilica di San Francesco complex, home to an unimaginable collection of medieval frescoes as well as the tomb of St. Francis.

The Basilica di San Francesco. 

The Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi is named after St. Francis who was born here and founded the Franciscan religious order in the town in 1208. UNESCO collectively designated the Franciscan structures of Assisi as a World Heritage Site in 2000, and it’s obvious why. This is absolutely the jewel in Assisi’s crown! The majestic Basilica has to be seen to be believed. The whole complex is magnificent.

The upper church – Basilica Superiore, is decorated with 28 frescoes by Giotto and are the stand out artistry in the church in my humble opinion. Each fresco depicts a scene from the life of St. Francis. They are stunning! It’s hard to believe these vibrant frescos were completed centuries ago, and almost incomprehensible for the kids!

The lower church – Basilica Inferiore, is home to more frescoes, this time by Cimabue, Pietro Lorenzetti, and Simone Martini. In the lower sanctuary is the Cripta di San Francesco – the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi.

The upper church definitely has a different ambience to the lower, undeniably more about the celebration of life. The lower rooms are darker and seemingly solemn, more of a reflection of the spirit of St.Francis and his Franciscan order.  Note: There are plenty of worshippers and people who have obviously come here solely to pray, so it’s vital that visitors are respectful of that.

Whatever you plan for your day in Assisi, give yourself plenty of time to explore this incredible church. Take your time, breathe in your surroundings, and I promise you will be blown away!

According to the UN, the town of Assisi has a singular importance for its role in the diffusion of the Franciscan Order and for its “continuity of a city-sanctuary” from its Umbrian-Roman origins to today.

Top tip: Out of respect, you mustn’t take photographs or make too much noise inside the The Basilica di San Francesco. 

Like most of Italy, Assisi has a long history of local artisans. You can see throughout the town that many are still going strong today.  **Save your holiday money and spend it on local crafts. There is plenty for the kids to buy too, so make sure you set their budget before going!

Small delicatessens are bursting with regional specialties like local cured meats, dried pasta. Umbrian chocolates are a MUST. We spent a whole day wandering the lanes of Assisi, making our way in and out of beautiful churches, and of course eating our way through some of Italy’s finest nougat, gelato and cakes. Even with young children, Assisi is an easy and ‘must do’ day trip.

Note: Your shoulders must be covered in The Basilica di San Francesco

The town of Assisi is spotlessly clean, and filled with many cafes and restaurants for when you need refreshment. Make sure you find out what the restaurant cover charge is, as it can be really pricey to sit and eat in some places.  We visited in September, which I imagine was one of the quieter times of year, yet it was still hard to get a seat in the restaurants, without a huge surcharge.

Top tip: No matter what, stay in town for an early supper and watch the sun set, overlooking the valley.

I highly recommend Assisi, not only for the incredible scenery, but also for a huge learning experience for all ages. This is a place steeped in incredible history, which you can feel with every step you take.


 

Other highlights in Assisi

Rocca Maggiore – a 12th-century fortress perched high in the hills, and the Roman Temple of Minerva and Roman Forum. The Rocca Maggiore is a majestic castle which dominated, for more than 800 years the citadel of Assisi and the valley of Tescio, constituting the most viable fortification for their defence.

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Rocca Maggiore – Visit Assisi

Duomo di San Rufino – The San Rufino Cathedral or simply Assisi Cathedral is a favourite spot among pilgrims due to its connection to St. Francis’ life.

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Duomo di San Rufino

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva –Not to be confused with the church of the same name in Rome, this church is built inside a converted 1st century BC temple dedicated to the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva.

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Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

Santa Maria degli Angeli- St. Mary of the Angels is a 16th-century, domed church located about 2.5 miles down the hill from Assisi.  We drove down and parked very easily. This Basilica is most famous for being home to the Porziuncola, a tiny stone building believed to be the home of St. Francis and his followers. Today the Porziuncola is a small church on the inside of Santa Maria degli Angeli with qeues of devout Catholics waiting to get inside and say their prayers. This incredibly ornate building is thought to be the house where St. Francis founded the Franciscan order and also where he died. This church is not only a must see for the devout and for pilgrims but also anyone with an interest in history and history of the Catholic church.

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Fun fact: the Porzuincola isn’t the only building within a building owned by the Catholic Church. The Holy House of Loreto is a structure that was brought to Italy, with some difficulty, all the way from Jerusalem because it was thought to be the house of the Virgin Mary. Like the Porziuncola, it’s a major pilgrimage site.

Spot : The gold-plated statue of the Madonna degli Angeli (“Madonna of the Angels”), will watch over you as you enter the square.

 

Whatever time of year you decide to visit Assisi, make sure you do your research online beforehand. There are many religious festivals, which increase visitor numbers hugely.

Have a beautiful time!

Liv xx


 

Getting to Assisi

Flights – We flew Royal Brunei from Melbourne to London (approx. $4,500 for us all), then British Airways, London Heathrow to Bologna (approx. £500 for us all). Flights to Italy were hard to come by as we left it fairly close to lift off before we booked. We checked our luggage in when we left Melbourne, and it went all the way through to Bologna which was awesome, and saved us the hassle of checking in again!

Drive – We hired a car with Budget/Avis and collected it at Bologna airport. We drove from our Farm Stay in Castiglion Fiorentino which was a little under an hour away from Assisi.

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. – St. Francis of Assisi

A few days in San Casciano Val di Pesa

We are the sort of travellers who won’t usually visit the same place twice. Well, why would you? There’s a wide world out there, waiting to be explored! That was until we took the children to Tuscany and fell in love, not only with our surroundings but also the Tuscan people. They are renowned for being laid back life lovers, filling their days with hard work, and their evenings with great food, family, and impeccable wine. So, Tuscany drew us back and boy did we have a wonderful time again.

Tuscany is a wonderful destination for a family holiday, not just because of the splendid vistas and the impeccable wine, but also the huge variety of things to do and see. From outstanding cities and art galleries to pristine beaches and boat trips to incomparable museums and churches, Tuscany really does have it all.

Over the next few posts, I will fill you in on what we did on our latest adventure to Italy.

First stop San Casciano Val di Pesa.

San Casciano Val di Pesa – 15km Southwest of Florence

We stayed in San Casciano Val di Pesa for a few nights at the very start of our trip, as we were heading to a wedding at a nearby castle. Like all of Tuscany’s small towns, it is incredibly beautiful. This is a truly authentic Chianti town, and an easy trip to or from Florence by car, bus or train.

The medieval walled town of San Casciano Val di Pesa is very easy to get around on foot, with plenty of fashion boutiques, restaurants, cafes, churches and museums. Luckily for our Gelato loving kids, there was plenty of that on offer too! The play park could easily win a medal for having the best view of any park in Italy and is perfectly placed in close proximity to great cafes. Always a winner! There were a few market stalls dotted about the park selling local cheese, fruit and veg, and freshly caught seafood. There was another selling what can only be described as Nonna’s underwear which the children made a beeline for! We purchased some cheese but sadly had no space in the case for Nonna’s Knickers.

IMG_6127Top tip: Have a look online at the long list of events held here throughout the year, as it’s a busy little town with plenty to share with tourists! Market day (on a Monday) is definitely worth a peek!

Eating out in San Casciano Val di Pesa is easy! When we asked our B&B owners where we could eat a good lunch, we were told “here, everywhere is great”. They weren’t lying! We ate three meals out and each one was divine. Oh the tomatoes in Italy!!!!

The Wilson’s Top Picks in San Casciano Val di Pesa

STAYB&B Art – This small B&B is traditionally Tuscan. The rooms are quaint tuscan style, spotlessly clean and have just the things you need in a room. (Yay for a decent hairdryer). Breakfast was an array of cured meats, cheeses, fruit, cereals, yoghurts and homemade croissant! Delish! IMG_6239

EATLa Cantinetta del Nonno (Via IV Novembre, 18, 50026 San Casciano in Val di Pesa) Most definitely  the best lasagne you’ll ever eat! Yes, quote me on that!

SEE“Giuliano Ghelli” Museum of Sacred Art, located inside the Church of Santa Maria del Gesù (enter through the library on Via Lucardesi, 6). The museum hosts many religious-themed paintings from the 14th and 15th centuries, and is made up of a sacred art section, an archaeological section and a section dedicated to primitive dwellings. The museum hosts a rare piece from the Master of Cabestany, an anonymous sculptor active in the second half of the 12th century. It’s a sculpted column representing the birth and the Baptism of Christ, with plenty of details. His figures are peculiar: they have long faces, almond-shaped eyes and many are folded in drapery.

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La Cantinetta del Nonno

 

SPOT– Make a beeline for the piazza, and see if the kids can spot the majestic silver stag standing atop the Medieval town wall.  This is a contemporary artwork by Mario Merz that represents the freedom of nature. 

Top Tip: Coffee is always cheaper if you stand at the bar to drink it, plus, it’s a really local thing to do, so you’ll fit in like a gem!!

All in all Casciano in Val di Pesa is wonderful place to stop for a few days. If you are thinking of visiting Tuscany you can easily day trip to Florence and Sienna from Casciano in Val di Pesa, whilst also making the most of this historic town and it’s surroundings. If you’re travelling to Italy soon, have a wonderful time! 

Liv xx 

Getting to Casciano in Val di Pesa

Flights – We flew Royal Brunei from Melbourne to London (approx. $4,500 for us all), then British Airways, London Heathrow to Bologna (approx. £500 for us all). Flights to Italy were hard to come by as we left it fairly close to lift off before we booked. We checked our luggage in when we left Melbourne, and it went all the way through to Bologna which was awesome, and saved us the hassle of checking in again!

Drive – The drive from Bologna to Casciano in Val di Pesa is a little over two hours. We hired a car with Budget/Avis and collected it at Bologna airport. The whole process was painful. It took about 90 mins to collect the car, there were huge queues (make sure you get a ticket to be in line), not many staff, and it was all just a headache after such a long journey. They did the usual ‘upselling’ of all sorts of insurance this and insurance that, trying to baffle everyone stood at the counter, so beware! Make sure you know what you need and what you don’t so that you’re ready and armed with all the facts! Our friends hired with another company and got hit with a HUGE insurance add on which hadn’t been made clear at all! You have been warned!

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Viaggiare amplia la mente

Find joy in the journey!

A weekend at JoyBell Cottage

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It seems like an age ago that we left the rush of the city behind us and headed out into the Victorian countryside. A weekend of heavenly fresh air, family time and glorious Aussie bush exploring lay ahead of us, and let me tell you, the Friday night traffic wasn’t going to get me down.

We were heading to JoyBell Cottage, a much adored, family owned hideaway near Elaine, 117km from Melbourne. Elaine is small town located on the Midland Highway between Ballarat and Geelong. At the 2016 census, Elaine and the surrounding area had a population of 228, so we knew it was going to be blissfully serene. Hurrah!

Leaving the cities in Australia is a real eye opener to just how barren parts of this country are. I love that you can drive huge distances down under and see very little sign of life, just the odd kangaroo or lonely farm house. It seems to make every journey an adventure!

The arrival

We arrived at our secluded little retreat in the bush at about 8pm, exhausted, but thrilled at the promise of total peace for the entire weekend! 

6537FBA8-531D-4DDD-BAFD-CAF341914758We were so thankful to Sam, the owner, who had left a box of treats for us, and a beautiful welcome note from her children. This sort of personal touch is what JoyBell is all about! It really is like coming home. This was a beautiful start to what was going to be a really special weekend.

The story behind JoyBell Cottage

Every wonderful house has a story doesn’t it! JoyBell is no different! You can feel the warmth as soon as you walk in, and I’m certain it’s because of the love that has been poured into this house since it was bought by Sam and her husband.

Sam and her husband both grew up in the Aussie bush and wanted to give their children experiences that mirrored their own childhoods as often as they could. It took a year of searching for the right place but they finally found their little piece of paradise and purchased this beautiful cottage. They named it JoyBell after Sam’s mother in law Joy, who sadly passed away in 2017 from leukaemia. Joy was a passionate quilter, nature lover and raised her boys as a single mum. She was amazing, and her incredible quilting talents are in pride of place throughout the cottage!

JoyBell Cottage has 5 acres, so there is plenty of room to wear the children out, or go for a peaceful walk! There is a dam where we caught yabbies (tick off the bucket list)  and plenty of room to ride bikes, explore the Australian bush and make the most of the beautiful outdoors on the doorstep!

Sam and her family have filled their lovely country cottage with Joy’s treasures, quilts and furniture, which have made it not only incredibly comfortable to stay in, but beautiful and welcoming. You can almost smell the freshly baked cookies as you walk into the kitchen.  It is a true testament to the life of Sam’s mother in law, and knowing the story, and visiting the cottage, I think the name is absolutely perfect.

If you are looking to connect with nature and each other, this is the perfect weekend getaway. If you’re looking to get the children away from the tv and their iPads, this is the place for you. If you want to explore the Aussie bush, and have breakfast on the deck whilst listening to nothing but native birds, this is the place for you. If you want to see Australia at its most wonderful, this is the place for you.

JoyBell Cottage

JoyBell cottage is a rustic Australian bush home with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a laundry room, a large family room, a games room and a kitchen diner. The decking is perfect for mealtimes, snoozing, reading, watching kangaroos hop past, and enjoying the outdoors!  It is welcoming, relaxed and ready for anyone to enjoy. Why not treat yourself to a weekend in the bush! It doesn’t get any more relaxed or more Aussie than this!

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‘Joy is the most magnetic force in the universe’ – Unknown

You can learn more about JoyBell and book your stay by contacting Sam via Instagram 


What’s nearby? 

For those of you who love to have something to do, when you’re done relaxing, here are a few ideas for your weekend at JoyBell.

Ballarat

Ballarat is 35-40 mins away and a hive of activity for couples and families. Check out the Visit Ballarat website for what’s on right now!

Our faves:

Buninyong – Local town

Buninyong is about a 20 minute drive from Joybell Cottage. The first thing that you’ll notice is the beautiful Town Hall and the incredible number of coffee shops! Oh and the peace too!

Our faves:

Buninyong Town Hall – If you are there at the weekend, you must pop in and talk to the members of the Historical Society. They will tell you some fascinating tales of Buninyong’s past! One of my favourite facts was that ‘Buninyong’ is the aboriginal for ‘Man laying down with his knees up’ which is exactly what Mount Buninyong looks like!!

Book Cottage – Search out this wonderful little cottage bursting at the seams with $1 books. It is run by the local Lions Club, who make you feel like a long lost friend when you are joyfully flicking through all the books you have ever wanted!

In Buninyong there are more coffee shops than you could ever use in a weekend and a well stocked supermarket. You’ll find a play park, a skate park & a parkour park! Yes kids, it’s true!! Ace street art dons the walls and the botanical gardens are worth taking a stroll through. Buninyong also has a small art gallery and an outdoor pool, although we didn’t check these out.

Mount Buninyong Winery is a whole afternoon of adventure! So many games for the whole family to enjoy, and plenty of space for the kids to get outdoors whilst you sip some local wine and eat the most delicious pizza you ever tasted! Go smoked salmon, its AMAZING!!!

 

Have a beautiful time!

xxxx Liv xxxx