To Airbnb, or not to Airbnb…

Before Ben and I officially start our year’s sabbatical in a couple of days, we have taken a quick side trip to New Zealand, a place we have now been to four times together, and which holds a special place in our hearts.

Seven out of eight nights have been booked in Airbnbs, and here’s why we love them.

1. You get to meet interesting people

Every stay is a chance to meet someone new – sometimes a single, sometimes a couple, and even families. Last night we stayed just out of Dunedin with a father and son and their three pets. Sophie the dog made the stay especially fun; from the moment we arrived she decided we were her new best friends.

A couple of nights before we stayed with a lovely young couple who run a farm. Not only did we get to meet their pet goats and sheep – Scott can’t bear to slaughter them, so they get treated to chocolate chip cookies instead – but we had a lovely, unplanned meal with Scott and his partner. They had offered us free rein of their garden, and after harvesting a feast of fresh veggies, I sauteed them in olive oil. Delicious. Because it was a farm stay, we also had fresh eggs, bacon and homemade bread for brekkie. Divine.

2. You get to stay in places you may not be able to afford otherwise

Queenstown is up there among my favourite spots in the world for scenery, but accommodation can be very expensive. Airbnb makes it affordable. We stayed with (another) lovely couple in the studio apartment above their house. The views were phenomenal and our hosts had thought of pretty much everything we might need.

3. You get off the beaten track

Often, this is because you’re staying just out of town, somewhere you otherwise wouldn’t have seen, but it’s also because staying with locals can give you an insight into the area that the brochures can’t. Locals will be able to tell you the best places to get something to eat – often away from the crowds and with a local flare – the secret trails down to the water, the best places to see the sunset, or where to get a good local wine that’s not available in shops.

Our neighbourhood in Athens 2016

4. The unexpected and very pleasant surprises

Between us, we’ve stayed in Airbnbs in the US and Australia, as well as Athens, Barcelona, Bath, New Zealand, Tuscany (in a castle!), Cape Town and Amsterdam. We’ve had a lot of wonderful, unexpected experiences because we opted for Airbnb rather than a hotel.

When we stayed in Napa Valley in 2014, it turned out that our host was a private chef. He invited us to join a degustation dinner he was cooking for friends the first night we were staying – and his friends were all Napa wine makers. The meal, the wine, and the company were all amazing – and we were invited to attend a vintage release party the next day as special guests.

While travelling with my 5-year-old nephew and his parents in 2016, we arrived at a 700 year old castle in the town of Montespertoli (Tuscany) several hours late. For some reason, we hadn’t anticipated that collecting a pre-paid rental a car would take 3 hours. Our hostess took pity on us, weary, hungry travellers, as we had arrived in town between mealtimes and there was nowhere for us to get something to eat. She disappeared into a kitchen and came back with fresh bread, an array of cheeses, and sliced apple, and then poured us a selection of the castle’s wines to taste. The 5-year-old wasn’t the only one who was grateful (just cheese, bread and apple for him).

View from a Tuscan balcony

These sorts of special experiences don’t happen to us when we stay at hotels. Yes, we have had one or two odd, or not-so-awesome, experiences staying at Airbnbs, but on the whole, we prefer them to more traditional accommodation choices. More often than not, we’re delighted with our stays.







Never too much of a good thing

Sunrise in the country

Poor us – we had to stay here for 4 whole days!

Let me set the scene. It has been 8 years since we met on Santorini and went on our first date. To celebrate this anniversary, we took ourselves to wine country. This isn’t really a surprise to anyone who knows us, as we both love wine, and have certainly made similar jaunts in the past. This time, we headed to the stunning Barossa Valley in South Australia. That’s right, home to some of the finest wine in the world – for 4 days and three nights. As I said, poor us, right?

If you look really closely at this photo, you will see where we stayed int he background. This is the view from the top of the hill that I climbed each morning as the sun was coming up – just one of the glorious details that made the weekend sublime. On arrival back at the homestead each morning, a freshly baked breakfast was waiting. The first morning it was muffins, the next was home-made toasted muesli, and the last, homemade bread with homemade jam. Our host was really into homemade.

We stayed at a little farm we found on airbnb. If you haven’t yet heard of airbnb, then he’s a quick and dirty: it’s a website listing homestays all over the world. Some are a room, some are are whole house. Typically, airbnbers host only one guest, or couple, or family of guests at a time. Ben stayed in the heart of Amsterdam once, and together we have stayed in three wine regions now – Napa, Yarra Valley and Barossa.

This stay was quite unique. We stayed in the farm’s original outer buildings – with three rooms side-by-side, each with a door to the outside. It’s the first time I have had to go outside from my sleeping quarters to get to the bathroom since I ran tours in Europe – but far nicer. Though in Europe, I typically didn’t have to chance stepping in geese poop – well, except maybe in Rome and that is a whole ‘nother story.

This is the view along the veranda:

one kitty

This was our bed:

grandma’s feather bed

It wasn’t actually a feather bed, but we did use the mosquito net – country living, after all. Lots of critters.

This was the just one corner of the bathroom, which was the biggest room of all – our host is a woman with her priorities straight. And that tub was glorious.

Epic tub

On the second day, we were joined in the bathroom by a creature of the arachnid variety. Ben, who has yet to encounter one of those hand-sized huntsmen says, “Now I can say I’ve seen one of those giant Australian spiders.” This was my (slightly) patronising reply: “Actually, now you can say that you’ve seen one of a giant Australian spider’s babies.” (It wasn’t very big – maybe three centimeters across).

“And you know what is worse than finding a spider in your bathroom?” I asked my now concerned boyfriend. He shook his head. Like the tough Aussie chick I am, I must have impressed him with this important nugget, “Knowing there’s a spider in your bathroom, but not being able to see where it went. If it goes out of sight, check your towel before you use it.”

Ahhhh, country life. I should say that we spent a great deal of time in the outdoor room, fending off puppy dog eyes, so we didn’t have to share our spoils.




Audrey Hepburn

Yes, that is actually the dog’s name. And while she is called something regal and she looks quite regal in this photo, she’s usually covered in dirt and the saliva of her two male counterparts. In truth, she’s a little slapper.

Here are some other shots from around the farm:

still runs
glam rockers

How cool are these horses’ manes?


Oh, and I nearly forgot. There was wine! Barossa is not just a beautiful location, they have wine there too.


We did our first taste the morning we arrived – late morning – we are not total lushes. And did our last taste the morning we left (again, late morning). Henschke was a highlight, as was Pindarie. I think we reached saturation point, however, when we got to the end of the third day, and were tasting what was probably a very nice Riesling. I looked at Ben and said, “I can’t tell if this is good or not. I think my palette is tired. And my brain is definitely tired.” He felt the same, so we excused ourselves and quit for the day.

We developed a set of subtle cues to tell each other that we didn’t really care for the wine without insulting the person two feet away who was pouring it for us. “Thank you, but I can only try one or two, I’m driving,” I said on numerous occasions. If Ben agreed, he’d follow up with, “We’re over limit on our luggage at the moment, but can we find your wine in Melbourne?”

Of course, if we loved something, we bought it and then we shipped it all back. A cool tip: there are about 15 wineries that will ship a mixed case for $15. That is, if you buy one or two of their bottles, they will ship a case that’s completed from other peoples’ wine. Ask at the cellar door, and if they don’t do it, ask who does. They will likely have a list. Penfolds doesn’t by the way.

Of course, there was also incredible food – not just at the farm-stay, but at little pubs and restaurants that dot the picturesque towns of the valley. We were impressed with the selections, along with the incredible produce.

picture perfect

All in all, the trip was exactly what we’d hoped it would be – relaxing, enjoyable, a feast for the eyes and the stomach, and a long-anticipated visit to somewhere new.

Happy anniversary, Ben. I can’t wait for our next adventure!