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I had long wanted to visit the southwest corner of Australia for its fine wines, eucalyptus forests, renowned surfing beaches and Mediterranean climate. The town of Margaret River lies just three hours’ drive south of Perth, six miles from the sea. The whole area reminded me of another favorite place: the wine country north of San Francisco.
Cape Lodge is 20 minutes north of Margaret River on Caves Road, the tree-shaded main thoroughfare of the wine country. Turning onto the property, we found ourselves amid vine-covered hills planted with Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz grapes. Following the winding road, we came to the main lodge, a handsome gabled structure reminiscent of the Cape Dutch architecture of South Africa, overlooking a serene ornamental lake.
Although the property offers nine attractive Garden Rooms, we had opted for one of the 12 spacious Lake View Suites. This proved one of those felicitous occasions when we loved our room at first glance. Clean lines and a restrained color scheme created an atmosphere of deep tranquility, while a peaked ceiling added an element of drama. Sliding glass doors offered a lake vista. And the marble-clad bath provided a large walk-in shower, an oval tub and underfloor heating.
The hotel’s restaurant recently acquired new décor and a new chef, Michael Elfwing, who has worked with gastronomic luminaries such as Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck, a three-star establishment near London, and Mathias Dahlgren at Stockholm’s Grand Hôtel. Set in a pavilion at the edge of the lake, the dining room affords peaceful water views through a wall of windows. At dinner, it is a civilized oasis of soft lighting, quiet conversation, professional service and excellent food. During our entire stay, there wasn’t a dish we didn’t enjoy. Among the highlights were a shellfish soup filled with scallops and prawns that was given deep flavor by caramelized onions and roasted tomatoes, and lamb served two ways — as a perfectly cooked rack and a meaty croquette — both with eggplant, organic root vegetables and a flavorful tapenade. I normally wouldn’t mention a side dish, but the royal blue potatoes, enlivened with rosemary and lemon salt, were so good that we ordered them with every meal. And if you, like me, are fond of dessert soufflés, you will want to indulge in the irresistible prune-and-Armagnac version here. As you would expect, the wine list contains a comprehensive and fascinating selection from the surrounding region. Elfwing also offers regular cooking classes.
In addition to wine tours, the lodge’s able concierges can make arrangements for golfing, biking and more. I strongly recommend a drive down to the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse to see where the Pacific and Indian oceans meet. And an excursion into the pretty little town of Margaret River is most enjoyable, with good food to be had at the Margaret River Bakery. Overall, this is one of the most captivating wine regions I have ever explored.