Saturday, 21 July 2018

Nothing sells airline seats like panda cuteness

Never underestimate the power of cuteness to sell a product.

Just as an adorable Labrador puppy helped sell shiploads of toilet paper, and playful chimpanzees help shift millions of cups of cheap tea, now Sichuan Airlines is hoping a lovable baby panda will help sell airline seats.

The Chengdu-based carrier has adopted a baby panda from the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding as part of its mission to "foster strategic partnerships".

The black-and-white baby female, named 3U and nicknamed YouYou, was born on July 15, 2017, and has become the official ambassador of Sichuan Airline's "Panda Route" international flight development program.

The program, launched in 2016, aims to enrich the company's domestic and international route network, enhance passengers' transfer service experience and introduce more destinations in south-western China to the world.

"We're excited to take this opportunity to introduce more people to Sichuan and pandas in a fun way," said Shi Zuyi, general manager of Sichuan Airlines. "Adopting pandas is one of our public welfare activities which supports the protection of endangered animals. It is also a part of Sichuan Airlines' commitment to protect Sichuan culture and to promote it to our international passengers and partners."

Zhang Zhihe, Director of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, said the airline's support will allow both parties to share panda love with the world.

"We expect to welcome more than six million visitors to the base this year, with more than 80% of them coming from outside Sichuan province," he said.

In addition to adopting You You, Sichuan Airlines will carry out panda-themed flights in the future, with more panda elements to be integrated into aircraft cabins and flight meal service, providing passengers from around the world with improved service quality and a comprehensive cultural experience.

An airbus A350 painted with eight pandas, one of which has been inspired by You You, will be assigned to the Chengdu-Beijing route in August 2018 and will become a part of Sichuan Airlines' expansion strategy.

Friday, 20 July 2018

An Australian first: take the train to a wine tasting and lunch

As of tomorrow morning visitors to Daylesford can hop on the train to Passing Clouds winery, enjoy tasting, or maybe a meal, and then join the train for a return journey.

As part of a collaboration between Passing Clouds Winery and Spa Country Railway, co-funded by Regional Development Victoria’s Wine Growth Fund, Pasing Clouds now has its own platform just six kilometres down the line from Daylesford.

The Passing Clouds platform at Musk was officially opened on Thursday and the first public train from Daylesford to Passing Clouds will operate on Sunday July 22.

The historic Railmotor will depart from Daylesford Market every Sunday at 9.45am, 11.00am, 12.15pm, 13.45pm 15.00pm, the journey taking approximately 17 minutes to arrive at Passing Clouds platform at Musk then on to Bullarto.

The last train to depart the Passing Clouds platform returning to Daylesford each Sunday will be at 3.18pm.

An exclusive Passing Clouds train+wine+dine package will be on offer every Sunday of the year. For $290 per couple you can leave the car behind, and in an Australian first, travel by train to Passing Clouds and enjoy lunch at the Dining Room inclusive of a glass of sparkling wine on arrival, and4 four-course share plate lunch with matching Passing Clouds wines.

The initiative has been led by Passing Clouds co-owners Cameron and Marion Leith, two go-getters in the Victorian hospitality industry.

“In just two short years since we opened the Dining Room at Passing Clouds, visitation to the estate has increased exponentially and the demand for the small space we had available for cellar door visitors was being pushed to its limits," says Cameron Leith.

"Our new cellar door allows visitors to take in the whole Passing Clouds experience in a fabulous new, modern, inclusive, open space. We couldn’t be happier to know visitors will now get the full experience when they visit us.”

For more general information regarding the Spa Country Railway timetable and fares please see All seating is non-reserved and bookings are not required.

Tickets are available from the ticket office at Daylesford railway station prior to departure. For lunch bookings call (03) 5348 5550.

Up-market accommodation to open on the Bellarine Peninsula

The Bellarine Peninsula will welcome new luxury accommodation when Lon at Port Lonsdale opens on October 5.

The property was previously known as Lonsdale Views. It sits perched on a hill on the edge of Point Lonsdale with 360 degree views of The Heads (the entry to Port Phillip Bay), the lighthouse, Ocean Grove and the Bellarine.

Lonsdale Views was closed in Feb 2017 and has since undergone a complete transformation.

Set on 200 acres of rural and conservation land, Lon features seven luxurious suites and a mineral spa.

The suites are spread throughout the sandstone retreat, each individually designed. Key features Include: mineral water-fed indoor heated pool, private beach access, guest lounge with open fire and ocean views, locally sourced craft furniture, private art gallery and kitchen garden.

Guests are invited to wander the farm tracks with a picnic hamper or savour local delicacies. Local wines, ciders, beers and spirits are available from the honesty bar.

Room rates will range from $360 to $850 per night and a two-night minimum applies. All room rates include access to the mineral pool plus an artisan breakfast hamper supplied by Annie’s Kitchen.

For details see:

New luxury hotel opens in Champagne with eye-watering prices

Champagne has a new luxury hotel but you'll need a Champagne budget to go with your Champagne tastes if you hope to stay at the Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa

The new hostelry is the Champagne region's first contemporary luxury hotel with entry-level rooms starting at an eye-watering $865 for a king-sized bed and private terrace.

The top tier Josephine suite, meanwhile, will set guests back $1887 a night but you get a sitting room and a balcony overlooking vineyards.

Each of the 49 rooms in the hotel Herm├Ęs bath products.

The property, a member of the elite Relaix & Chateaux group,  is set among vineyards in Champillon, near Epernay, and hotel guests will be given exclusive access to Champagne houses that are normally closed to the public. 

Michelin-starred chef Jean-Denis Rieubland, previously at the Negresco in Nice, is in charge of the food. 
Rieubland will work with local seasonal ingredients and plans to develop a vegetable and herb garden on the hotel’s terrace.

The building features the original 19th-century post house where King Charles X of France stopped over before heading to Reims for his coronation.

In 2014 the property was acquired by the Boston-based Champagne Hospitality group, which owns a collection of boutique luxury hotels including Le Barthelemy Hotel & Spa in St. Barts and it has been completely revamped.

The spa features nine treatment rooms, an indoor and outdoor pool, a wood-lined yoga studio; a eucalyptus-infused sauna, and a mosaic-tiled hammam.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Australia's other red centre hits the road

Coonawarra is not the easiest region to get to for wine lovers; most of us tend not find ourselves passing through downtown Penola on a regular basis.

That's what makes the annual Coonawarra Roadshow one of the highlights of the wine calendar; the chance to try the new releases from Coonawarra, including fine cabernets, meet the winemakers and chill out in a congenial setting.

Hobart has somehow dropped off the list of venues for 2018 (boo, hiss!) but other major capitals are well catered for.

Here are all the dates (note a change of venue in Melbourne): 

MELBOURNE: Wednesday, August 8, 5-8pm, Meat Market, North Melbourne

SYDNEY: Friday, August 10, 5-8pm, Sydney City Town Hall, Lower Level

BRISBANE: Sunday, August, 12. 2-5pm, Lightspace

ADELAIDE: Friday, Augsut 17, 5-8pm, Published ArtHouse

Sunday, Augsut 19, 2-5pm, Perth City Farm

Tickets are $49 per person, and include unlimited tastings, canapes, and the opportunity to meet the winemakers and owners.

For info phone (08) 8737 2392

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Stroll around Lake Macquarie for an al fresco art experience

The foreshores of Lake Macquarie have been transformed by a new addition to the region's burgeoning art scene. Creative LAKE is a public art and sculpture experience on the water.

Creative LAKE has unveiled unveiled several unique artworks this July including a bronze sky pig, a young monk, a dinghy, a granite hibiscus and 3D graffiti murals.

Each of the artworks can be discovered in popular locations along the Warners Bay, Eleebana, Toronto and Belmont foreshores.

Brought to life by Lake Macquarie City Council and the Commonwealth-funded Tourism Demand Driver Infrastructure program, the Creative LAKE trail builds on Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery’s existing Sculpture Park, boosting the number of highly visible outdoor elements on offer to visitors.

Each sculpture is the work of established contemporary artists both from Australia and overseas, with featured artists including Guan Wei, Guy Maestri, Naidee Changmoh and Antone Bruinsma.

Guan Wei has earned an international reputation for large installations that combine imagery from mythology, fantasy, history and the present, drawing upon his experiences of both Chinese and Australian cultures.

Thai ceramic artist Naidee Changmoh is recognised for his cartoon-like monk sculptures which represent positivity, peace and simplicity.

Beach Blossom, inspired by the native hibiscus, was created by NSW-based sculptural artist Antone Bruinsma. A celebration of nature and community, each petal contributes to the beauty of the whole, whilst also respecting individuality.

Guy Maestri is an Archibald Prize-winning contemporary Australian artist who has exhibited internationally. His bronze sculpture Darwin questions our penchant for immortalising the past in sculpture.

On a more playful note, two 3D floor murals were commissioned especially for the foreshores of Belmont and Toronto by a team of artists led by Scott Jansen.

"The Creative LAKE exhibition will help visitors discover public art in surprising places, from sculptures to 3D murals to virtual reality," said Jacqui Hemsley, director of Creative LAKE. “We’re setting the standard for the future of creative experiences and public urban art projects in the Lake Macquarie region."

For more information on what Lake Macquarie has to offer, visit

There was an incident at our destination, so we'd better cancel our holiday

Travel operators in Phuket are reporting thousands of cancellations following a recent tour boat sinking that saw 47 people die. 

The sinking was a one-off, yet thousands of would-be vacationers were scared enough to change their holiday plans.

I doubt anyone would cancel a holiday because of a bus crash. 

Other tourists, meanwhile, are stupid enough to get close enough to active volcanoes so that molten lava hits their boat, or to fly when there is a major risk of flight cancellations leaving them stranded. 

People are strange; no doubt about it. 

Kongsak Kupongsakorn, president of the Southern Hoteliers' Association, told Thai media that 19 member hotels have reported cancellations and an estimated 7,300 Phuket room bookings for July and August have been cancelled by Chinese customers.

Chiaya Rapuepol, president of the Andaman Sea tourism business association, estimates the fallout could hit Phuket by as much as $1 billion in lost business. 

One has to wonder why the tourists don't simply avoid tour boats if they are scared of a repeat sinking. Easy to do. And a lot easier than re-booking an entire holiday.