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Love is in the air

Gourmet Traveller's 2013 Travel Awards, held in partnership with Nespresso, was spent in true Australian style: fine food, great company and a dose of good-humoured rivalry.

There was a lot of love in the room, and just a little friendly interstate rivalry, when Gourmet Traveller hosted its seventh annual Travel Awards at Crown Melbourne.

Tasmania punched well above its weight on the night, taking home four awards to equal the haul of its much larger neighbour, Victoria. The Apple Isle walked away with the awards for Best Weekend Away (Hobart) and Best City Boutique Accommodation (Islington Hotel), as well as two gongs for the fantastic folly that is David Walsh's MONA: the reader-voted Best Cultural Attraction and the Expert Panel's nod for Standout Australian Travel Experience.

So no one minded particularly when Mark Wilsdon, business manager at MONA, told the crowd that Melbourne had been given a serve. "After all, Hobart is officially now the best weekend," joked Wilsdon. "Bad luck Melbourne. Good luck next time."

Jokes aside, what the evening really represented, according to Luxury Lodges of Australia director James Baillie - also the co-owner of Southern Ocean Lodge, winner of both Best Resort or Lodge category and the inaugural Most Outstanding Service award - was the coming of age of the domestic travel industry.

Baillie said the days of looking elsewhere for unique travel experiences that combined memorable service and accommodation with an unmistakable sense of place were over.

"Never before have we had the critical mass of upscale product and the ability to compete with destinations that have made other parts of the world aspirational for the high-end traveller," Baillie told guests. For those of you that still think New Zealand or Southern Africa are the leaders, open your eyes. It is our turn now."

Case in point: interiors firm Blainey North's elegant new fit-out of Crown's Conservatory, combined with Crown Chinese executive chef Tsang Chiu King's menu, which together struck just the right balance between global glamour and proud local achievement. Inside, it was all Deco detailing and pan-seared black truffle chicken with enoki mushrooms; outside it was pure Melbourne, with Crown's famous exploding fireballs erupting in harmony with the announcements against a backdrop of city lights and Yarra River Reflections.

Of course, it wouldn't be the Travel Awards without the ongoing support of Nespresso and host Catriona Rowntree's sense of humour ("You're the only person who can make me be quiet, mainly because I could just listen to your French accent all day," she quipped to Nespresso general manager Renaud Tinel). It also wouldn't be the Travel Awards without our readers, who this year went online to lodge a record 32,000 votes across 22 categories (and be in the running to win a trip for two to Singapore, courtesy of boutique hotel experts Mr & Mrs Smith and British Airways. Congratulations again, Gillian Walker of Wagga Wagga).

All in all, a night of love, laughter... and a bit of good-natured ribbing. Well, it wouldn't be Australia otherwise, now would it?


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