The Fren Family reveal their Christmas plans

Presents, pork knuckles and pavlovas, oh my!
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Mark, Cathy, Jono and Victoria may be considered “bogan royalty” to their millions of fans, but their Christmas has a decidedly international flavour, thanks to their European heritage and former lives running a renowned German restaurant.

“Our signature dish was pork knuckle, and it’s better than anything you’ll find in Munich!” Mark proudly tells Woman’s Day.

“We started our business selling German shortbreads, slices of Bavarian apple cake and baked German cheesecake and German sausages on a roll at the local farmer’s market. Then we opened our own restaurant called Oma’s Kitchen.”

Named after Cathy’s late grandmother, who was always called Oma, the restaurant became an institution in Newcastle long before they found fame on Travel Guides, and ironically, it was their fame that forced them to close it down three years ago.

“When we had the restaurant it was very humbling, that we would get emails every day from people who watched the show,” says Mark.

“We would have people coming from all around Australia to visit us. We’re still getting messages from people saying Travel Guides brings families together, because some families get so much enjoyment out of the show.”

Mark, 62, says the popularity of the Nine show brought thousands of people into the restaurant, and they even started special “Travel Guides With Friends” nights where they would put on a buffet and watch an episode live with the fans.

But eventually, juggling their newfound fame and travel schedule on top of running a busy restaurant started to take its toll, and they decided to close Oma’s Kitchen down and work part-time to earn extra income in between trips.

They now travel six months of the year, and have just notched up their 61st free holiday and are about to head off on a new adventure, before returning to Newcastle to spend Christmas together at home.

“Cathy and I have both always loved Christmas, and growing up with the kids, Christmas was always important to us to celebrate being together and appreciate what we have. The beautiful Christmas tree we’ve still got is 36 years old now,” says Mark.

Victoria, 30, insists they’ve cut down on presents and reckons they mostly buy gifts online because of their hectic travel schedules. “It used to be toys, now it’s more like home appliances,” explains Victoria, who married her sweetheart Nathan earlier this year.

The one thing she won’t consider giving Mark and Cathy, 60, for Christmas is a grandchild, and they have also lucked out with Jonathan, 32, who is equally adamant that he and his bride of two years, Danielle, have no immediate plans to become parents.

That said, it’s hard to find a family more enthused about the festive season.

“My wife put up our Christmas tree in the middle of November!” reveals Jono, who says he’s happy to spend Christmas anywhere as long as the family spend it together.

“For me Christmas isn’t necessarily about the gift giving, it’s more about us enjoying food together as a celebration,” says Cathy.

Ever since she and Mark dusted off their ancient Christmas tree in November, Cathy is once again planning to get up at 4am on Christmas morning to start preparing a huge Christmas feast, which will include a turkey, roast pork and a honey-glazed ham – which Victoria hopes to win at a raffle.

“Victoria would always raid the presents under the tree trying to determine what they were – and she still does!” laughs Mark, who says Cathy will also cook roast vegetables, a traditional German red cabbage dish and homemade stuffing.

The dessert table will be groaning with homemade almond and hazelnut shortbread, ginger biscuits, pavlova and trifle. “We did try having a traditional German Christmas Eve dinner one year, but then everyone was ringing up on Christmas Day saying, ‘We’re bored!'” recalls Mark.

The quirky family of four, who delight millions each week with their antics and no-filter personalities, are dreaming of a quiet Christmas at home this year, but they also have some bucket list destinations.

Victoria says the whole family would love to return to Germany to experience a white Christmas and shop at the Christmas markets, while Mark says he’d love to return to Finland, where they travelled to last year to visit Santa Claus.

“We went to the home of Santa Claus and it didn’t matter how old you were, it was a really good place to visit,” insists Victoria, who would love to spend one Christmas cruising the high seas. Mark says the family loved badly re-enacting The Sound Of Music on a European river cruise.

“We were running around dancing and we called ourselves the von Fren family,” he giggles. “We don’t really care where we are for Christmas, as long as we’re all together. No one gets to experience the experiences we’ve had on Travel Guides. We would never have gone to India or Sri Lanka or the Greek islands as a family.”

Cathy and Mark both returned to primary school teaching this year, while Jono is working front of house in a Newcastle RSL club and Victoria is working in the aged care and disability sector and studying for a degree. But they are already gearing up for more travel next year.

“When we do retire, I think we’ll have seen enough of the world to stay at home,” says Mark.

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