Sunday, 25 May 2014

Come wine and dine with us: Australia's invitation to the world

Is Australia a great food and wine destination? 

When Tourism Australia conducted a survey it found a huge perception gap. Only 26% of would-be visitors to Australia associated the land down under with "good food and wine". 
Sydney's Quay restaurant offers dramatic views

But a massive 60% of those who had visited had a positive opinion of Australia as a culinary destination - second only to France. 

So in response to the growing demand globally for food and wine as part of the travel experience, Tourism Australia has evolved its "There’s nothing like Australia" campaign include a focus on wining and dining that is known as "Restaurant Australia".

Tourism Australia heavyweights are currently touring the nation launching the campaign in all states and territories after research conducted across 15 of Australia’s key tourism markets showed that "great food, wine, and local cuisine" is a now a major factor influencing holiday decision making. 

The new campaign highlights striking venues and world-class restaurants, wineries and culinary experiences. 

The new $10 million campaign is based on the idea of Australia being the world's greatest restaurant 'Restaurant Australia' and includes TV, cinema, online and print campaigns, a dedicated online hub (www.australia.com/restaurantaustralia), consumer promotions in key international markets and attendance by 80 international media and key food and wine influencers at the 'Invite the World to Dinner' gala event at Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania on November 14.

Tourism Australia managing director John O'Sullivan said the roll-out of the campaign would occur in stages, leading up to the Tasmanian finale. 
Dining out in style in Tasmania


"Restaurant Australia is all about bringing together the incredible stories of our people, place and produce to demonstrate to the world that every day, unique and exceptional food and wine experiences are being served-up in remarkable locations, and then sharing these stories through the creation of rich and compelling content," he said.
O'Sullivan said the best way to get the world to notice was by Australia's tourism, food and wine businesses working together to tell the country's stories, something that had never been done before.
"When we originally launched 'There's nothing like Australia', we did it by asking Australians to talk about their 'nothing like' experiences. This time our rally cry is to industry, with Tourism Australia providing the platforms to help show the world Restaurant Australia.
"The word-of-mouth advocacy this familiarisation will generate internationally is aimed squarely at closing the gap on perceptions of Australia's food and wine offering internationally and motivating people to travel here to indulge in our local cuisine. 
"We want to win over their hearts, minds and their stomachs so that the dream of visiting Australia becomes reality." 
Tourism Australia chief marketing officer Nick Baker said the new campaign had been developed based on recent research which showed Australia was well placed to capitalise on growing demand among international travellers for local culinary experiences as part of their travel.
"For people who've never visited Australia awareness of our food and wine offering is low," he said. "However, once they visit, people realise the variety and quality of our food and wine experiences is world-class and Australia moves to the top of the rankings as a one of the world's best culinary destinations.
To view the new TVC or find out more about the campaign: www.australia.com/restaurantaustralia or www.tourism.australia.com.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Carry on Regardless: Thai Airways keeps flying high

Things have got a little hairy in Bangkok over the past few days; martial law has been declared with a curfew in place from 10pm to 5am. 

But Thai Airways, who have been flying for 54 years and have seen a disturbance or two come and go, have announced that all Thai flights are continuing to operate as usual despite the unrest.
Thai have always been one of my favourite airlines, known for their always gracious service and tasty meals, even in economy class. 

Like on most international carriers, the seats are a little closer together than they used to be but if you are lucky enough to find a couple of empty seats and stretch out then it is almost as good as flying business.

And with many holidaymakers having postponed their trips, flights are unlikely to be full right now.

Thai Airways advises customers arrive at airports three hours prior to the scheduled departure time - and should you wish to change your dates. for tickets issued on or before May 22 then you will be allowed to change your dates to and from Thailand by June 30 without fees and surcharges.

Passengers travelling to/from and within Bangkok are advised the the National Peace and Order Maintenance Council has issued a curfew order until further notice, although Suvarnabhumi Bangkok International Airport remains open and operating normally.

Departing passengers who are due to travel to the airport during curfew hours will be required to show their travel documents at check-points, hence a request to allow extra travel time.

The shuttle bus service between Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports is also operating as usual but for information and updates on travel to Thailand, visitors should take a look at the Department of Foreign Affairs advisory at www.smartraveller.gov.au.

Thai Airways International flies 40 times a week from Australia to Bangkok with connections domestic Thailand, Asia, India and Europe, South Africa and Los Angeles.

Thai's World Sale fares in economy and Royal Silk Business class start from $876 return from Australia; or from $3456 return. www.thaiairways.com.au.

Thai Airways International is a founding member of the Star Alliance, the world’s largest airline alliance. For member rewards and entitlements, visit www.staralliance.com.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Tasmania Heats Up For Winter


Tasmania can be a little, how shall we put this tactfully, chilly during winter and mainlanders used to joke that Tasmanians went into hibernation for several months.

No more. The coldest nights will signal some of the hottest events in the island state as MONA presents its second solstice festival of music and art, Dark MOFO. 

The 2014 program will feature a 10-day journey towards winter's longest night, with the festival program featuring art, music, film, food and drink, while Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's large-scale public artwork Articulated Intersect will cut through the night sky with powerful beams of light.

Avant-garde musical pioneers Sunn O))), chanteuse Chrysta Bell and New York artist Vito Acconci will head the invitees while late-night revellers will hit nightclub Dark Faux Mo and foodies will head for the City of Hobart Winter Feast (June 19-21). The festivities run from June 12-22. See www.darkmofo.net.au for details. 

The Huon Valley, south of Hobart, will hold its own encore to Dark MOFO with its own Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival.


A new initiative, led by the crew at organic cidery Willie Smiths, will be based around "the ancient tradition of wassailing, popular in the West Country of England,'' event organiser Sam Reid said. "The purpose of wassailing is to awake the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit in the Autumn.

"We want to awake the Huon Valley during the middle of winter to clearly show that the Huon Valley is open for business year-round.''

The festivities will be held on July 19 and will feature local produce, storytelling​​​​​, folk music​, bonfires, Morris dancing and a wassailing celebration.

Other highlights around the state during winter will include the Festival of Voices (July 4-13), which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2014, The Taste of the Tamar in Hobart (July 19-20) Launceston's seventh annual Pinot Noir Showcase (July 26), the Devonport Jazz Festival (July 24-27) and Latrobe's Chocolate Winterfest (August 10).

For a full and up-to-date listing of Tasmanian events, and information on travelling to Tasmania, visit the Tasmanian Tourism website www.discovertasmania.com.au.


Friday, 16 May 2014

The best little boutique hotel in Johannesburg

There is no shortage of great accommodation in Johannesburg but choosing the right location is key is you do not wish to spend to much time in traffic. 

If you are looking for a boutique hotel that's well situated, quirky, with spacious suites and attentive service then Ten Bompas just might be your perfect home away from home. 



The all-suite hotel and restaurant is part of the distinguished Design Hotels portfolio and flies a little under radar. It is situated in a garden setting in the upmarket neighbourhood of Dunkeld - close to the business and entertainment hubs of Rosebank, Hyde Park and Sandton but a little oasis of calm. 

The suites are super chic; combining contemporary style with space and light. Suites have lounges, fireplaces, steam baths, high-speed wi-fi, multi-channel satellite television, iPod deck and music system, Nespresso machines, and complimentary laundry, minibar and newspapers. 

Each was styled by a different designer and leads on to a private terrace or garden.

The public areas have an Art Deco vibe and security is low key, but very effective while the hotel's Winehouse restaurant is eclectic and inspired by a painting of Amy Winehouse by Joanna Flatau a Polish-born artist living in Paris. 

The owners of Ten Bompas met the artist in the Languedoc and purchased her work. 

The menu ranges from starters like pear, Roquefort and walnut tart to duck ravioli, and roasted aubergines, while mains may include fresh steamed mussels, or roasted baby chicken with potato rosti. There is a good selection of vegetarian dishes, using fresh produce sourced from the hotel’s gardens.

Prices are ludicrously low in South Africa with starters around $6-7 and mains between $9.50 and $17 for grilled fillet of beef. 
Desserts are appealing with choices like a plum tarte tatin, chocolate fondant or baked mango cheesecake. 

In addition to the walk-in cellar, there is a good selection of ports, sherries, grappa and cognacs, as well as some South African dessert wines. 

Canapes are served in the suites each evening and meals can also be served in the hotel suites for those seeking privacy.

Space is a new on-site event and meeting facility catering for events and conferences. 

Ten Bompas Hotel, 10 Bompas Road, Dunkeld West. +27 11 325 2442. www.tenbompas.com Book through Mr and Mrs Smith to score a free bottle of wine on arrival. 
www.mrandmrssmith.com/luxury-hotels/ten-bompas

Thursday, 15 May 2014

A 1-litre bottle of French wine for $12. Is it worth taking a chance on?

When a public relations operative, albeit one that I know and like, told me that she was sending me four 1-litre bottles of wine to sample, I was less than enthusiastic. 

In the wine world you get what you pay for, and while there are several good budget Australian labels offering value for under $15 (Yalumba's Y Series, De Bortoli, Zilzie, Westend, Jacob's Creek, Yarran and others are doing good work in this segment), I had no real sense of excitement about some generic French wines in bigger-format bottles. 

But in the wine business it never pays to have preconceptions, and I have to admit that I quite enjoyed the wines under the Grand Sud label: a merlot, a shiraz, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, all from the 2012 vintage.

The merlot was the biggest surprise; a nice fleshy and very drinkable red, supple and uncomplicated with dark cherry flavours, it was streets ahead of many Australian wines made from the same variety. 

With reds from the Pays d'Oc region in the south of France (Pyrénées-Orientales, Aude, Hérault and Gard) and whites from Gascony, both home to some very good value wines, the brand was created in 1999 and takes a page out of Australia's book by being marketed as being "full of sunshine".  

Owned by a company called Le Grand Chais de France, Grand Sud is sold in 85 countries (and under screw cap in Australia, a bonus for picnic-style wines) and is the second-largest French wine brand. 

Imported into Australia by Ian Leckie, Grand Sud wines are available at Chambers Cellars and Porters Liquor outlets, and are distributed nationally by Single Vineyard Sellers.

The best way to sample these wines is to enjoy them for what they are; pour them into a carafe, as they would be served in a southern French bistro, match them with rustic dishes and enjoy with some good friends. 

They won't set your world on fire, but all of them offer decent drinking at a more than fair price.


  

       

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Where to find the cheapest club sandwich on the planet

I have a love-hate relationships with surveys that tell us what the most expensive and cheapest cities in the world are. They are simultaneously fascinating and ridiculous.  

Some of these surveys actually seem to involve a lot of serious research (which doesn't matter as everyone knows Sydney is now the most expensive place on the planet). Others, like travel website Hotels.com, work out the costliest city on the globe by comparing the cost of club sandwiches in five-star and three-star hotels.
Club sandwich with crisps. Pic: Wikipedia

Because everyone orders club sandwiches wherever they go, right?

Using this ultra-scientific method (which also doesn't specify whether the sarnies come with crisps, chips or cornichons, or simply nude), Hotels.com breathlessly informs us that "Geneva is the most expensive city for a club sandwich for the second year running, while Australia ranks 15th most expensive".

The real news here is that Hotels.com thinks Australia is a city - but let's not be picky. 

The Hotels.com PR machine says that "using the classic hotel staple of a chicken, bacon, egg, lettuce and mayonnaise sandwich as a barometer of affordability, the Hotels.com Club Sandwich Index (CSI) offers holidaymakers an indication of the costs associated with their destination of choice.

"The CSI average price is calculated from the real prices paid by guests for a club sandwich in 30 hotels in either the capital or an important tourist city in the 28 countries surveyed, across five-, four- and three- star categories.  In total, 840 hotels globally were canvassed."

In Geneva, which also has pretty expensive Big Macs and does a good line in snootiness, the prices for the sandwich ranged from $46.22 in one five-star hotel to $16.41 in a three-star establishment - an average price of $34.83.

Either they make some pretty special club sandwiches on the shores of Lac Leman, or you'd be crazy to even consider buying one.  

Paris was second most expensive with an average price of $31.38, followed by Helsinki, which knocked Oslo out of the top three at $26.03.

New Delhi in India remains the cheapest destination for a club sandwich (which must see it zoom to the top of millions of people's most favoured next destination lists), with an average price of just $9.38. 

This survey claims Sydney experienced the greatest decrease in its club sandwich price, falling from $20.06 in 2013 to $18.10 in 2014. And that I do find hard to believe. 


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Fancy sitting next to that good-looking blonde/blond on your next flight?

Want to avoid sitting next to some huge dude who spills over into your seat space? Prefer to sit next to a really good-looking blonde/blond?

Well funsters, South Africans Airways has just made all your dreams come true.

SAA has launched a new online check-in feature called Social Check-In that allows customers to use their Facebook details to help choose who they want to sit next to on their next flight.

Now there’s no excuse to be bored," says saucy Tim Clyde-Smith, SAA’s country manager for Australasia (which isn't a country, but let's not get deflected by semantics). "Customers can spice it up by selecting anyone who also uses the feature and has shared their own details."

Only available to those checking in online, all frisky flyers need to do is follow these steps: Check in online on flysaa.com or on mobi site m.flysaa.com and input flight details. Share their Facebook details while checking in. Then select the profile details they want to share with other passengers and add travel details.

Next, a seat map will show other customer profile details, the seats they have chosen and available seats allowing customers to select spots next to people with the same interests or going to the same events.

Social Check-In is available for both flights within South Africa and all international flights, including our daily service from Perth," says Clyde-Smith. "Customers need to check in from 24 hours before their flight and not less than 90 minutes for domestic flights in South Africa or 2 hours for an international flight. After that, customers won’t be able to view other passengers’ profiles or change their seat.

With thousands of Aussies travelling to Africa for business or pleasure, we’re sure that our new Social Check-In feature will appeal to them."

It is up to individual flyers how much, if any, information they share about themselves.

I think I might be indicating that I snore, fart and need to get up every 30 minutes in the hope that no one will sit next to me and I get an empty row in which to stretch out and sleep.

You might feel differently.

For more information on SAA flights visit www.flysaa.com.au or call 1300 435 972. South African Airways (SAA) operates to 40 destinations worldwide. SAA has daily flights from Perth to Johannesburg with onward connections to the biggest network in Africa and is a Star Alliance member.

Look out: The Russians are coming

It was an evening just like any other at the ritzy Asian beachfront resort. Diners were enjoying quiet meals and a glass or two of wine when he walked in. 

He was middle-aged, wearing a brilliant white tracksuit and adorned with gold chains. And he was talking loudly. Very loudly. Into two mobile phones at once. 

And he kept bellowing so that a couple of tables asked to be moved away from him - and the waiters apologised profusely, saying: "Sorry. He did the same thing last night."

Yet no one among the other diners was brave enough to chastise the man, and the staff were too scared to confront him for his uncouth behaviour.

Our man is part of a new breed of tourist; the bane of the existence of hotel managers and staff across Europe and increasingly in Asia. Coming soon to a resort near you the RBT: Russian Bogan Tourist. 

Hotel owners are extremely keen to have cashed up nouveau riche Russians as guests. They spend up big on the best rooms and suites; Champagne and cigars.

But their lack of social awareness, and their often downright rudeness to staff they often treat with contempt, also makes them problematic for hotel managers and cruise directors. 

Off the record, many in the hospitality industry in Asia will tell you that they restrict Russian bookings to a small percentage of their overall guests - too many and other paying customers lose their appetite.

The Daily Telegraph reported a couple of years ago on how  the upmarket Austrian ski resort of Kitzbühel imposed a 10 per cent “quota” on Russians who they were felt "lowered the tone and put off other guests". 

Speaking on condition of anonymity, several hotel managers told me how Russians are now the most problematic of guests, having taken over from British lager louts. 

Many of them have not a word of any language other than Russian - are aggressive, often dress inappropriately, and are happy to flout rules when it comes to smoking in public areas; using swimming pools after closing time, making lots of noise and sometimes being downright rude to staff. 

Many may not have travelled outside Russia before, or are simply used to making up their own rules and doing as they please. 

I've seen Russian groups blocking corridors on cruise ships and refusing to put out cigarettes, and been told of Russians putting towels down on swimming pool sun-loungers, reserving them for friends and family who do not turn up for hours (something German tourists used to be notorious for).

I was also told about Russians in an Asian forest resort, who left out fruit to attract local monkeys, and then amused themselves by throwing stones at the animals when they got close - leading to angry confrontations with other tourists.

So far the Russian tourism invasion has been largely limited to Phuket and other parts of Thailand, Bali, Langkawi and Vietnam - although cruise lines are also monitoring their influence on the happiness of other guests.

In the United States and Australia, I suspect, the locals will be far more forceful in expressing their dissatisfaction with anti-social behaviour - but restaurants and hotels want big spenders. It is a situation worth watching. 

Have your experiences matched mine, or do you think I am being unfair? 
         

  

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Why a cheap flight doesn't have to mean a nasty flight

Most regular travellers have had horror flights on low-cost air carriers. 

We've been charged extortionate amounts for excess baggage, found out the airport we are flying to is 80-kilometres from the city centre and the terminal appears to be an old aircraft hangar, suffered interminable delays with minimal excuses, or been jammed into seats apparently designed with grossly deformed dwarfs in mind.

When flying you get what you pay for. Which means that budget airlines won't be offering you world-class cuisine, unlimited fine wine or economy seats with tons of space and free new-release movies any time in my lifetime.

The low-cost model is: If you want it, you pay extra for it. Whether "it" is extra luggage, extra leg room, a pillow, a blanket, a meal, a drink or on-board entertainment. 

All the extras can add up; but if you plan well (and spend a few extra dollars) there is no reason why your cheap flight needs to be an ordeal. 

Take flying with Air Asia X, with whom I travelled from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur and on to Langkawi and back just last week. 

Air Asia has been voted the best low-cost carrier in the world every year since 2009 - so it has the model pretty right. I can't guarantee the same satisfaction on perennial airline bad boy Ryanair, for instance.

But here is what you can do to make your low-cost experience a whole lot more pleasant - at a price, of course.

AirAsia X’s Quiet Zone, for instance, has taken off in a big way with travellers searching for a more peaceful way to fly.

For the past 15 months the long-haul, low-fare affiliate of the AirAsia Group has featured this offering on all long-haul flights to destinations including China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Australia and Nepal.

The Quiet Zone is reserved exclusively for guests aged above 12 (no screaming babies or over-excited seat kickers) and comprises the first seven economy class rows (row 7-14), immediately after the Premium cabin on Airbus A330-300 planes.

This section allegedly features "ambient soft lighting" for a more relaxing cabin atmosphere (although I could not discern any difference), as well as an early meal service, a real bonus on late-night flights.

Book in advance and select the "pick-a-seat" option in the Quiet Zone. A standard seat in this cabin costs an extra $20 per guest while a ‘Hot Seat’, which offers more leg room, costs $50 per guest - a small price to pay for peace and quiet and extra room to move. You can even exit window seats to get to the toilets without disturbing your neighbours' sleep.

Another useful AirAsia innovation is the empty seat option, which lets travellers stretch out by securing empty seats next to theirs for a nominal fee.

There is a wide choice of pre-booked meals, including vegetarian, child and Asian options and you can buy a comfort kit with blanket, eye shades and inflatable pillow. Buy once and then re-use. 
  
AirAsia X also offers premium class flatbed seats with universal power sockets, adjustable headrests, drink holder, reading light and privacy screen. Unfortunately, I was unable to try this service. 

So how were my four flights? 

Boarding is a little chaotic with many guests first-time flyers with no idea of protocol (or maybe just rude, pushy bastards) but once you are on board the seats are comfortable enough for a seven or eight-hour trip, the cabin clean and tidy, pre-booked meals basic but decent (the chicken satay is a good choice) and the service amiable. 

But you pay for everything, even a bottle of water, so come prepared with a pillow, an iPad or book and a little bit of patience and you'll have a decent flight. All four of mine departed and arrived on time (after an initial change of schedule out of Melbourne) and I managed to grab some sleep on both longer legs. 

And, best of all, Air Asia and Air Asia X are no longer based out of the isolated and chaotic LCC terminal in Kuala Lumpur, but out of the spanking new KLIA2  terminal. 

AirAsia X, together with AirAsia, provides Australians with access to over 80 destinations across 23 countries. It flies twice daily to Kuala Lumpur from Sydney, Melbourne and Perth and several times each week from the Gold Coast and Adelaide. There are up to 11 connecting flights to Langkawi each day. For bookings or further information visit www.airasia.com.




   

      

Friday, 2 May 2014

A little piece of France, thousands of kilometres from Paris

The streets are dotted with boulangeries, patisseries, sidewalk cafés and some of them are cobbled and delightfully old fashioned. The locals are speaking French but we are a seven-hour flight from Europe.

Welcome to Quebec City, a little slice of Europe in North America.

Quebec City is one of the prettiest cities in Canada. It looks like a snow-covered winter wonderland in December and January but is transformed in summer, when Old Quebec, a UNESCO world heritage treasure, resembles a chic quarter of Paris.

There are atmospheric hotels, some of the best restaurants in the Americas and just out of town is the fabulous Ile d'Orleans, with historic farms, churches and colourful roadside food stalls.

This is one of the loveliest, and most welcoming, parts of Canada I've visited. 

Considered the cradle of French civilisation in North America, Old Quebec narrow streets are filled with history. That's not so surprising when you consider Quebec City celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2008.

And it's not just pretty to look at; it's also a party city and host to the the largest winter carnival in the world, as well as the Quebec City Summer Festival.

Quebec City, capital city of Canada’s largest province, Quebec, is North America’s only walled city with nearly five kilometres of stone walls dating back to 1690.

The city was built on a steep rocky bluff overlooking the St Lawrence River and is a great place for a stroll. Much like in Paris there is something of interest to be found everywhere from heritage buildings to evocative street art.


And people live and work in the old quarter, making it lively at all times of the year and with plenty of choice of traditional French fare at eateries like Restaurant L ‘Echaude and Lapin Saute.

Both the Upper Town and Lower Town areas are serviced by complimentary tourist shuttle buses, and there is also a funicular railway that operates between the two street levels - and from Place-Royale in the Lower Town you can walk to the historic port area where luxury cruise ships and ocean liners berth on the St Lawrence

For those who want to party on through the night, there are nightclubs and bars aplenty on the Grande Allée.

Just out of town is Parc de la Chute Montmorency, with views from the cable car, panoramic stairway and a bridge over the 83-meter-high Montmorency Falls, which are considerably higher than Niagara Falls.


Also make the time to visit the rustic Île d’Orléans, an almost impossibly picturesque farming region renowned for its beautiful landscape and rich cultural heritage.

And where to stay?

While the city's most famous landmark is the Chateau Frontenac, I can't go past the cute and welcoming Hotel Le Priori in a delightful part of the old quarter, surrounded by museums, boutiques, antique shops and art galleries, intimate cafés, lively bistros and gourmet restaurants. It's just like being in Paris.

Hôtel Le Priori, 15 rue du Sault-au-Matelot, Quebec City. +418 692-3992. www.hotellepriori.com.