Sonya Goncalves shook off her preconceptions of Canberra to take part in its Top Secret weekend. And she wasn’t disappointed.

Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, Andrew Barr, probably sums up Canberra better than anyone I’ve ever met.

“It’s the place that the world turns to when they think of Australia – the meeting place of our nation. It is a vibrant, confident and bold city where you will find easy access to some of the world’s best-known innovation and research centres. Worldclass cultural institutions and attractions, new and exciting precincts, award-winning accommodation options.”

What’s more, the Canberra of today offers a unique and vibrant food and wine scene.

Top Secret 2016 hosted by the Canberra Convention Bureau runs on a pretty tight schedule which we were to discover over a three-day period. It was one of the best orchestrated famils I have been on in a long time, and everyone deserves a mention including our driver Robbie from Murrays Coaches.

“(THE PROGRAM) HAS MADE ME CHANGE MY IMPRESSION ABOUT CANBERRA AND WHAT IT HAS TO OFFER AS A CONFERENCE DESTINATION.” – ANGELA CURAC, BAKERS DELIGHT HOLDINGS

 

Day 1

We started the Top Secret 2016 famil lunching at the refurbished QT Hotel sampling their Feasting Menu. This 205-room property has its own dedicated event level which houses the largest hotel ballroom in Canberra and boast its own WiFi system. Combining art, food, wine and fashion and a working barber shop that leads into a bar, once here delegates really don’t need to leave.

Canberra is nailing it when it comes to boutique style accommodation which is still in its infancy here in Australia. There’s a sense of excitement one gets when you walk into the ecochic Hotel Hotel situated in the NewActon precinct. It’s not huge, only 68 rooms, filled with an array of eclectic reused, restored and curated Australian furniture with original artworks, objects and furnishings made by true artisans. Hotel Hotel has several event spaces but the standout is the Mosaic Room. Walk outside and look up to see how unique this place really is.

MOAD at Old Parliament House is a great venue for conferences, cocktail parties, special events, small meetings and gala dinners that can seat up to 500 guests. This much-loved building has hosted its fair share of high-profile political events over the years. Restaurant Associates are the onsite caterers and I’m sure they can whip up a special Menzies Martini Cocktail in the heritage-listed Members Bar for your delegates!

Another stop was the Australian War Memorial – the heart and soul of the nation. Include this place as a ‘must do’ on your event social program by giving your delegates a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be a part of the Last Post Ceremony held daily at 4.55pm. Then move onto the Anzac Hall for cocktails or dinner. No theming required here.

That night we had the privilege of dining in The Gordon Darling Hall at the National Portrait Gallery on long tables as far as your eye could see. Anthony Stubbs, executive chef at the Trippas White Group had us dining on Gogigui beef rump, asian greens, young kimchi, koshihikarai rice followed by a dessert buffet that was worthy of trying everything once… or twice.

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Day 2

Set over 250 hectares the National Arboretum Canberra boasts a living collection of 94 rare and symbolic forests from Australia and around the world. And since opening in 2013 the Arboretum has had more than 1.6 million visitors and has quickly established itself as a “must see” destination and the premium venue in Canberra for corporate functions. This is a truly unique venue which has one of the most passionate executive chefs on the planet – Janet Jeffs from Ginger Catering. There is a lot to love about her food philosophy.

Our next stop was at Parliament House which is not only home to Australia’s Parliament but offers a range of conference facilities for 20 to 1000 people. If you want to seriously impress your delegates book a private tour.

With 296-rooms the Crowne Plaza Canberra is only a two minute walk to the National Convention Centre and just minutes from the Canberra CBD. The hotel offers easy access to Canberra’s best dining and entertainment precincts as well as iconic attractions.

The National Convention Centre is Canberra’s leading meetings and events venue. Located in the heart of Canberra’s CBD, it is equipped to handle events of all sizes – from small groups to conferences for up to 2400 delegates. This award-winning centre wowed the Top Secret 2016 delegate’s by showcasing what was one of the best and most complex meals we’ve ever eaten. Chef Nikhill Jain served, The deer’s footprints. Prepared with complex techniques, delicious produce and full flavour, it was a unique culinary experience. If this is what the National Convention Centre is serving up to conference and event delegates then we want more! I have the recipe and dare anyone to recreate it!

Having opened its door in December 2015 the Vibe Hotel Canberra Airport is less than 10 minutes’ drive from Canberra’s CBD and 50 metres from the airport terminal. The hotel’s seven storey atrium draws comparisons to the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Every inch of this hotel is a head turner and makes staying at an airport hotel a sophisticated experience.

But wait, there’s more – 191 soundproof rooms, six spacious meeting spaces and the option to relax and have a meal in the very stylish Helix Bar knowing that you will make your flight on time as the airport is only metres away. This hotel has set a high benchmark for luxury hotels in and around airports.

You cannot walk through Pialligo Estate without taking deep breaths. If you love food, and in particular bacon, just walk past the smokehouse which has won more than 52 national awards. The gardens are exquisite and fruit and vegetable produce are picked fresh each day. Pialligo Estate is a truly unique place to host a corporate meeting or special event or to simply take your group out there for lunch.

Our Top Secret 2016 group stayed at the Realm Hotel. Doma Hotels is the largest hotelier in Canberra’s Parliamentary district located in the Realm Precinct on the footsteps of Parliament House. Doma Hotels within the Realm Precinct consist of the five-star Hotel Realm, 4.5-star Burbury Hotel & Apartments, four-star Little National Hotel and the heritage listed Brassey Hotel offering more than 500 rooms. The precinct also includes chef hatted restaurants, a casual lounge bar, café, health club, hair salon and day spa.

National Gallery of Australia

No words can describe how very spoilt we were. Friday night supper, consisting of shared dishes such as crispy skin barramundi with native pepper beurre noisette and lamb with wattleseed jus and mastard leaves and wines from Canberra’s wine region were served to Top Secret 2016 delegates in grandeur by The Big Group, exclusive caterers at the National Gallery of Australia in the Gandel Hall. Australia’s largest privately-owned catering company treated us to an exceptional dining and event experience. Could things get any better? A picture perfect and mouth-watering dessert buffet in the Members’ Lounge and a couple of coffee martinis topped off a fabulous evening.

The National Gallery of Australia is home to more than 160,000 artworks, including a roll call of some of Australia’s leadings artists. In terms of event spaces, the gallery offers a range of venues and services and is the perfect venue to house your next conference, product launch, cocktail, corporate or private event. The highlight of the evening was an exclusive tour of the Tom Roberts Exhibition.

“THE ENTIRE EXPERIENCE WAS A HIGHLIGHT. I COULD NOT SPEAK MORE HIGHLY OF CANBERRA AS A CITY AND AS A VENUE TO HOST AN EVENT IN. THE PROGRAM HAD A GREAT RANGE OF VENUES THAT COULD CATER TO A RANGE OF EVENTS. THE TWO EVENING DINNERS AT THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY AND THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF AUSTRALIA WERE VERY SPECIAL EXPERIENCES. ANOTHER HIGHLIGHT WAS THE BREAKFAST AT THE NATIONAL ARBORETUM.” – CAROLINE BENNISON, SOIL SCIENCE AUSTRALIA

 

Day 3

Enjoying one of the best locations in Canberra right on the water’s edge of the Acton Peninsula, the National Museum of Australia is a venue with a spectacular difference. With stunning architecture and a magnificent location, it’s an ideal venue for conferences, corporate events, gala balls, lakeside dining and cocktail functions. The museum boasts sweeping decks, expansive windows and imposing indoor and outdoor spaces with mountain, lakeside and city views, providing a versatile and memorable setting for any occasion.

With its high ceilings and curved walls, the museum’s hall provides an impressive cocktail or dinner venue that requires minimal theming. Other event spaces, including the Museum Café and the Peninsula Room which features decks with lake-view frontage that remains unmatched in Canberra.

The museum is proud to have an award-winning caterer to provide guests with a truly memorable experience. Broadbean Catering creates contemporary menus that reflect local produce and the freshness of the season.

The Australian Institute of Sport is situated on a 65-hectare campus just minutes from Canberra’s CBD. It not only inspires excellence in sport, it sets the same expectations on delivering champion events.

“While sport is our raison d’etre, the facilities and venues at the AIS are available for your next meeting, conference, expo, event or function,” says Craig Fairweather, assistant director of marketing.

The AIS campus boasts 11 exceptional event venues and spaces with capacities ranging from 10 to 4000. This includes Canberra’s largest function and entertainment venue, the AIS Arena, which can roll out the red carpet for gala dinners of up to 900 guests or conferences for up to 4200 delegates theatre-style.

The AIS’s exclusive catering partner, Trippas White Group, is committed to creating tailored, seasonal menus using quality Australian produce in a contemporary food style. They were recognised at the recent Savour Australia™ Restaurant & Catering Awards for Excellence 2015 for their food service at the AIS, winning the prestigious Site-Contract Caterer award.

So much has already been written about Jamala Wildlife Lodge. To get a sense of what this place is all about you need to stay here. Experience the thrill of a close encounter with some of the world’s most dangerous and endangered animals such as lions, tigers and bears. Jamala Wildlife lodge offers luxury five-star lodges built within the heart of the zoo. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience only available in Canberra.

Our farewell lunch was hosted by the Hyatt Hotel Canberra – a Park Hyatt Hotel in the Rose Courtyard located in the hotel’s original 1920s heritage-listed section. The hotel has 252 guest rooms including six Park Suites, six Diplomatic Suites and a Presidential Suite which boast a very secret guest list (we did find out the US President Barack Obama stayed there). This award-winning hotel is synonymous with style, and has more than 1300 square metres of event space available in many different configurations and locations throughout the hotel. Any stay at the Hyatt Hotel Canberra must include a decadent afternoon tea in the heritage listed Tea Lounge.

That’s a wrap

Event planners these days are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a destination. After spending three days exploring Canberra, the Top Secret delegates discovered just how easy it is to do business in our nation’s capital. Top that with the opportunities to connect with influential people, world experts, senior executives, federal politicians, business leaders, media figures and leading researchers including Nobel Prize winners has earned Canberra the title as the “Knowledge Capital”. So go on and choose Canberra. You won’t be disappointed.

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