Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The most convenient address in Johannesburg - and it is also affordable




Location, location, location. There are few cities where the location of your hotel is more important than Johannesburg, with its massive urban sprawl and clogged main roads. It is a city where you do not want to get lost.

If you are visiting on business you will want to be staying in either Sandton or Randburg, the two business hubs in the northern suburbs that are close to most offices, embassies and up-market shopping malls.

Johannesburg is not a walking city, so you either need a car; or a hotel that is centrally situated, preferably within strolling distance of both shops and eateries.

The plush Michelangelo is probably the best situated hotel, but the only time I stayed there the service was appalling. The Saxon is set in beautiful grounds and has two superb restaurants but is in the 'burbs and a car is a must.

The Radisson, directly across the road from the Sandton Gautrain station (with fast access to downtown and OR Tambo Airport) is a good option, but it is hard to beat the location the Maslow Hotel, just a couple of blocks Nelson Mandela Square and Sandton's best shopping area, and with a shuttle that runs every 15 minutes (most of the time).

It is on the doorstep of the top investment banks, financial institutions, as well as the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and is essentially a business hotel during the week and a leisure hotel at the weekend.

It's a little oasis of calm in a frenetic city with beautiful gardens, water features, swimming pool and tranquil terraces - and a hugely popular spot for an after-work beer.

Among the offerings I particularly appreciated were access to a special business lounge with drinks and snacks for early or late arrivals waiting for a room, and the fact the hotel has free and unlimited wi-fi connectivity throughout.

While the Maslow, formerly known as the Southern Sun Grayston, and impressive refurbed, hosts conventions and meetings, it is also a great place to wind down. There is an up-market spa on site, although it pays to book well in advance as I found to my cost. Africology offer a range of massage treatments, facials, skin adoration wraps, scrubs and other therapeutic treatments.

Each room has a a power shower, coffee maker as well as complimentary tea. There are 40-inch LCD TVs and room service is available 24/7. There are 281 fully air-conditioned guestrooms, ranging from luxury rooms and family apartments, to junior and executive suites - and each has  a  work space with easily accessible electrical outlets.

I enjoyed the leisurely Lacuna Bistro, which offers food a cut above your average hotel diner - and it is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  

Think dishes like prawns with jalapeño ponzu sauce or lemon garlic butter with crispy chorizo (R40 - around $4!) or maybe lamb knuckle curry with basmati rice, poppadums and condiments (R125 - about $12.50). 

Dishes range from traditional South African flavours like Karoo lamb cutlets, spicy peri peri chicken or a chowder of mussels, calamari, kingklip and smoked haddock to more traditional burgers and sandwiches. 

Every dish on the menu is matched to a wine available by the glass, from names including Kanonkop, Haute Cabriere, Jordan and DeWetshof.  

The Lacuna Bar, meanwhile, serves tapas-style dishes.  

Nearby attractions include the Theatre on the Square on the Nelson Mandela Square, which is also home to several excellent eateries, including the Butcher Shop steakhouse and a very good Thai; Liliesleaf Farm,  the secret headquarters of Umkhonto we Sizwe (military wing of the ANC) in the 1960s and those many shopping opportunities. 

All this said, I had a bathroom that flooded, encountered very slow service at check-in and found the shuttle unreliable. Nonetheless, the Maslow has a lot to recommend it. And a hotel of similar quality would cost up to three times as much in a major Australian city.

The Maslow Hotel, 146 Rivonia Road, Sandton, 2146, South Africa. +27 10 226 4600. www.suninternational.com/maslow

The Maslow is part of Sun International's Sunlux Collection, which links world-class hotels in Africa's Golden Triangle, including Cape Town and Victoria Falls, on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border. For full details and bookings visit www.suninternational.com.

South African Airways (SAA) has linked with code share partner Virgin Australia to offer return fares from major Australian airports to Johannesburg starting from $1413 return, including taxes, for advance purchases. Return business class fares including taxes start from $4633. For more information and reservations call 1300 435 972 or see www.flysaa.com.au

      

Monday, 29 December 2014

It's a family affair as grape growers become star wine producers

The Kalleske family does not like to rush things.

The Kalleskes have been farming and growing grapes outside the village of Greenock in South Australia's Barossa Valley since 1853.
Tony and Troy Kalleske 

They have long been known as one of the region's leading grape-growing families – selling quality fruit to many of the region's leading producers.

But it was only just over a decade ago that seventh generation family member, Troy Kalleske, together with his brother, Tony, built the Kalleske winery and made the family's first wines, released in 2004.

The winery is situated on the family estate, where traditional wine-making techniques ensure the vineyard realises its full potential.

The vineyard is managed by Troy's and Tony’s parents, John and Lorraine, and brother, Kym and is planted with shiraz, grenache, cabernet sauvignon, semillon, chenin blanc, mataro, petit verdot, durif, viognier, tempranillo and zinfandel.

The vines vary in age with the oldest remaining vineyard dating back to 1875 and an overall average vine age of about 50 years. The vineyard is low yielding with all grapes grown organically and biodynamically and the winery is also certified biodynamic/organic.

The Kalleske family say sustainable farming has worked for them for generations and they see themselves as “caretakers of the land” who not only want to maintain the environment but improve it for future generations.

All Kalleske wines are estate grown and vinified with minimalist wine-making techniques.

In 2013, Kalleske was named best organic wine producer of the year at the AWC International Wine Challenge in Vienna, Austria, one of the world's most prestigious wine competitions, as well as being the sustainability award winner at the 2013 South Australian Regional Awards.

Genuine sustainability and careful environmental practices continue to be at the core of Kalleske farming, grape growing and wine making.” says Troy Kalleske.

Certified organic and biodynamic practices in the vineyard and winery ensure the soil, air and waterways are not polluted with synthetic chemicals and fertilisers.

Organic/biodynamic farming is not only good for the environment but it ensures the grapes produced are more wholesome with vitality and integrity that reflect the origins of our Kalleske vineyard.

Farming the vineyard organically and biodynamically is the truly natural way of farming ensuring ultimate sustainability, authenticity and quality. It is all about balance and harmony.”

And the Kalleskes do not just pay lip service to sustainability, with Troy saying the farm should be as self-sufficient as possible.

Solar energy runs the entire winery, while a 250,000-litre rainwater tank captures water from the winery and farm sheds. And in the winery itself everything is kept simple.

We rely on natural yeasts, do not use added tannins or fining agents and the wines are naturally clarified through gravity (racking) without filtration,” says Troy.

Today the Kalleske range includes wines ranging from $120 a bottle to $18 – a total of 8,000 cases a year that are exported around the world. 

Of course the Kalleskes also took their time launching a cellar door – but after a year or two of procrastination one is now open at 6 Murray Street in sleepy Greenock. Wine is available for tasting by the glass and bottle seven days a week from 10am-5pm, along with regional food platters (above right). 

Sunday, 28 December 2014

A delightful high tea in the shadow of Table Mountain

Think of high tea and you probably think of grand but discreet English hotels like The Ritz, Claridge's or Brown's.  
Or maybe the venerable Tiffin Room at Raffles Hotel in Singapore, or the wonderful Eastern & Oriental in Penang, Malaysia, both destinations steps back in time and pace. 
Add the The Table Bay Hotel on the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town to this list of world-class venues; high tea here comes in three different courses, with impeccable service and starts from around R200 ($20), when tea at The Ritz can set you back four times as much. 

The Table Bay Hotel is Cape Town's ultimate address - right on the water with dramatic views of Table Mountain. Opened in May 1997 by none other than iconic former South African president Nelson Mandela, this gracious hostelry is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World group and its afternoon high teas are extremely popular with both locals and visitors. It pays to book.  
Tea is served against the stunning backdrop of the working harbour, Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean - and talented pastry chef Bhupender (Bobby) Kumar has some surprises in store for debutants, while also acknowledging gluten intolerant, dairy intolerant and Halal customers. 

I was happy to eat everything on offer, and was told the high tea menu changes on a regular basis - although some items may not be removed, due to popular demand. 
The R200 starting point gets you three courses and three teas from an extensive tea menu. For an extra R50 ($5) you get a glass of one of South Africa's better sparkling wines, the Graham Beck Brut NV, and for R315 there is a glass of Taittinger Brut NV.
Given South Africa's ludicrously low prices it would be a crime not to go the whole hog. 
The first course is served at your table in the clubby atmosphere of the hotel lounge; maybe a broccoli and leek or smoled snoek and fennel quiche, apple and thyme chicken sausage roll, Cape Malay-style chicken mayo sandwiches, smoked snoek and trout with chive crème fraiche sandwiches, or perhaps rare roast beef in choux pastry with rocket, or a julienne of summer vegetable in a rice paper roll. 
There is a range of loose leaf teas to select from, maybe a Gnawa green tea from China, or perhaps a Margaret’s Hope from Darjeeling, India. 

Next up, scones, also served at the table by the very capable staff; with a choice of buttermilk or chocolate chip scones, or both, served with fresh clotted cream (lots of it), lemon curd and a selection of artisan jams, matched to perhaps Earl Grey or classic English Breakfast tea, or a local Good Hope blend. 
This is followed by cakes and pastries from the high tea buffet; a mouthwatering selection of sweet delights from around the world, including two Australian favourites; a mixed berry pavlova and Lamingtons. Other choices vary day-to-day but include lemon meringue tarts, rainbow sponge cake (a tribute to the "new" rainbow nation of South Africa, triple chocolate cupcakes, cream cheese-granadilla cake and a quite bewildering array of other delights. 

These can be matched maybe with South African rooibos tea (chef Kumar's choice), or  any one of a wide selection from the menu. 
Afternoon tea here can easily last a couple of hours and is a wonderful break from the fast-paced world outside the Table Bay Hotel. It is highly recommended.
The Table Bay Hotel, Quay 6, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, 8001. +27 21 406 5000, www.suninternational.com/table-bay is one of the SunLux Collection, a group of luxury hotels in southern Africa. For full details and bookings visit www.suninternational.com.

South African Airways (SAA) has linked with code share partner Virgin Australia to offer return fares from major Australian airports to Johannesburg. SAA operates to 40 destinations worldwide with daily direct flights from Perth to Johannesburg with connections from all major Australian cities. 1300 435 972 or see www.flysaa.com.au. 

Friday, 26 December 2014

Oh please shut up, you stupid, stupid people!

If you opt to save money and fly with a low-cost carrier than you are making a travel deal with the devil. 

If you choose to pay $29 to fly from Hobart to Melbourne with Tiger, or $200 to jet from Melbourne to Bali with Air Asia, then you pay your money and take your chances. 

These are budget flights with all the risks that suggests; you will not get a meal unless you are willing to pay for it, your flight may be cancelled or delayed with no come back, and you'll pay for every kilo your luggage is over the allotted weight limit. 

Budget airlines like EasyJet, Ryanair, even Jetstar, offer cheap flights, but you don't choose to fly with them if you absolutely, definitely have to be somewhere on a specific date or time. Unlike the major carriers, if they have an issue they are often unable, or unwilling, to call up a replacement plane at a minute's notice. 

If you've decided to go the cheap route and subsequently miss out on 12 hours of your holiday so be it. And if you book a flight on December 27 for a wedding in Bali on December 28 then you are either a moron, or a gambler willing to roll the dice and risk missing the big day. 

That's particularly the case over Christmas, New Year and Easter when flights are jam-packed and delays - for many different reasons - are common. 

When is why I have little sympathy for holidaymakers who "had travel plans thrown into disarray" after budget airline AirAsia X cancelled direct flights from Melbourne to Bali with only days' notice and routed its passengers through Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, adding seven hours to their journey time. 
  
The Malaysian airline was forced to cancel the flights after it failed to gain approval for the new route, which was due to start on December 26, from Australian and Indonesian aviation authorities. That may be the airline's fault, or maybe the Australian bureaucrats are all away on holiday and no one is answering the phone.    
Passengers received text messages on Christmas Day notifying them that flights from Boxing Day onwards had been cancelled and they would instead be flown to Bali via Kuala Lumpur, The Age reported.
Angry flyers rounded on the airline on social media, complaining they had paid for accommodation and transfers that they would not be able to use (err that's what travel insurance is for). 
One woman blamed the flight change for "wrecking our family Christmas and my daughters wedding (sic)." 
Apparently these geniuses had not thought to allow even a day in case of flight delays, expecting to leap straight off their flight and head for the ceremony. 

That's like having a ticket to the AFL Grand Final and landing in Melbourne two hours before kick-off. It's fraught with danger. 
Even if you travel regularly with full-fare carriers you are used to flights being delayed - often by up to several hours. It is not like catching the 113 bus where if you miss one another will be along 10 minutes later.  
Do your research and allow time for things to go wrong if you opt to fly on the lowest possible fare. If you don't you are a bloody idiot. 

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Bicycling through Burgundy and other extreme indulgences

A few years ago, more years than I care to acknowledge, actuaIly, I was fortunate enough to be invited on a cycling tour of Burgundy by the up-market company Butterfield and Robinson. 

It was a week of extreme indulgence; sampling fine wines in Puligny-Montrachet, Beaune and other Burgundian villages; eating rich French food and then working off all the excesses by cycling a few kilometres each day. 

It was one of my more memorable assignments and a quick Google search confirms that Butterfield and Robinson still host very similar bike tours, although the itinerary, understandably, has changed somewhat over the years. 
Hotel Dieu, Beaune, Burgundy


My mind was jogged back those days of wine and roses by a recent press release from Five Star PR about a range of cycling holidays in France available through their client Tour de Vines. 

The people at Tour de Vines suggest no fewer than five French regions that are ideal for combining two-wheeled exercise with regional gourmet delights. These are their words, not mine, but having visited all five regions I can heartily recommend them. 

1) Alsace
 

 
Traverse a region filled with a rich cultural and historical significance whilst cycling one of the oldest wine routes in France, the Alsace Wine Route. Taste world-renowned wines surrounded by the incredible natural beauty of the French countryside, from picturesque lakes to thick, green forests. Nestled in eastern France on the German border, explore the cobbled lanes of charming Germanic-style villages on bicycle and uncover the region's extraordinary medieval history in the beautiful town of Colmar or take in scenic views of traditional vineyards across the Rhine river. The Alsace Wine Route is a popular gathering place and when travelling by bicycle you can stop and enjoy the various wine and harvest festivals, folklore entertainment, processions and wine-tastings or simply embrace the lively and friendly atmosphere whilst passing through.
 
2) Bordeaux

 
With an expert Tour de Vines guide you can visit 'The Pearl of Aquitaine' and all it has to offer. Escape the gridlock of the city in favour of cycling the quiet country lanes and dedicated cycle paths that allow you to enjoy Bordeaux at your chosen pace. With a dedicated cycle lane from the Gare-St-Jean up the river Garonne’s magnificently restored quayside, you will feel content (if not a little smug) exploring this area on a bicycle. An ideal location for wine lovers, sample some of the best wine anywhere in the world straight from the cellar door. Enjoy a stay in one of the regions grand chateaux now transformed into accommodation venues. Wander the historic quarter of Bordeaux, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or alternatively, venture out and bask in the gentle hills and stunning vineyards of the Aquitaine region. With sunshine, beautiful scenery, fine food, world renowned wine and a culture of joie de vivre, Bordeaux is the perfect destination for a cycling escape.
Beautiful downtown Bordeaux  


3) Loire Valley
 

 
Famous for it's sweeping landscapes, luxurious chateaux and exquisite wine, the Loire Valley represents the quintessential French experience. It is also home to the Loire à Vél, an immense 800-kilometre cycle tourism route, like no other in France which is certain to make you want to discover Europe by bike and to make the most of a green, eco-responsible, cultural form of tourism. Castle-hop your way through the lush Loire Valley on board two wheels at a relaxed pace where the toughest decision you’ll have to make all day is which wine to have with your cheese plate before dinner. Designated a World Heritage Site, the Valley is sometimes known as the 'Cradle of the French' due to the array of vineyards, fruit orchards and fields that line the banks of the Loire River. The Loire Valley and the surrounding Touraine region, encompassing historic localities like Angers, Chinon and Orleans, is without doubt an unmissable cycling destination located only a couple of hours away from Paris.
 
Wine for sale in the Loire Valley 

4) Burgundy 
 

 
One of the most popular destinations in France for cycling and wine loving tourists. The Burgundy region is filled with culture and grandeur, stemming from the beauty and history of Dijon that once challenged the French court for wealth and splendou
r and is still famous for its mustard. Travel to traditional medieval towns like Tournus and Beaune or traverse a picturesque countryside of spectacular vineyards, forests, chateaux and hillside villages, complete with world-class food and wine. With dedicated paths specifically for cyclists, travelling by bicycle is the ultimate way to see this area on a picturesque route that goes through a variety of landscapes, past châteaux, vineyards and along waterways.
 
5) Dordogne
 
 
Uncover the hidden gems of the Dordogne region in south-west France, an area steeped in French and European history. With lush green valleys, flowing rivers, and steep sandstone cliffs to travel past, Dordogne is a cyclist’s dream.Visit the ancient but well-preserved, World Heritage listed underground cave paintings at Lascaux, considered among the best of Upper Paleolithic art. Take a trip to Perigueux to see the remains of Roman settlement, including a large amphitheatre, a temple to a Gallic goddess and a luxurious Roman villa. Canoe along the Dordogne river where medieval chateaux line the banks, just some of the 1,500 castles in the area.

# Tour de Vines has seven different cycling tours in France with 32 different dates from June-September to choose from. All Tour de Vines cycling tours in France last seven days and include two guides and support vehicle. They are priced from 3,200. Book before January 31 and Tour de Vines will also include a free guided bike tour of Paris. 

 
For more information see: www.tourdevines.com.au.



Monday, 22 December 2014

Is there anything that can ward off the horrors of a hangover?

We've all been there. I've been there far too often for my own good.

A couple of beers turns into drinking bottom-shelf spirits at some below-ground club at 3am; or a glass or two of wine turns into a bottle of two of wine because everyone is having such a good time.
End result: thumping headache, mouth that tastes like the bottom of a budgies' cage, inability to focus. 

I've tried all manner of preventatives and cures; the best of which so far have been drinking copious amounts of water before going to bed; and a couple of bacon sandwiches when you are able to pull yourself out from under the duvet to face the light.  

Back in the bad old days I used to find a greasy kebab on the way home helped soak up much of the excess alcohol. 

These days I am a paragon of moderation compared to in my youth, but I still sometimes find it hard to stir myself in the morning when there is much work to be done. And coffee doesn't seem to make too much difference. 

Would you like to try a new product that relieves the symptoms of hangovers, asked a PR person? 

Can't do any harm, I thought. 


The spiel is a compelling one: "Forget the coke and fries on the way home. Bypass the Berocca and the bacon and eggs in the morning. Don’t even think about the Bloody Mary or hair of the dog. HeadsUp is a new Australian product scientifically formulated to relieve the symptoms of hangover. Before you call BS on this one, give it a try. It’s a game changer!
"When your body breaks down alcohol it produces toxins like acetaldehyde, which can be blamed for hangover symptoms like headache, nausea and grogginess. Other 'hangover products' on the market mask the symptoms of hangover, whereas HeadsUp helps the body eliminate these hangover toxins."

I had a few wines the other night, along with a toxic-looking but very tasty pizza, so tried HeadsUp before going to bed; taking four lurid-coloured orange tablets with a large glass of water. 

I woke up around an hour earlier than I normally would, feeling quite fresh, although my mouth was still bone dry. And my urine was, quite frighteningly, a bright yellow colour. 

I was, however, straight into work rather than procrastinating. 

The manufacturers of HeadsUp say it is made from a special blend of plant extracts, vitamins and minerals and is best taken after drinking, before your head hits the pillow. Easier said than done if you are staggering around like an unco fool.

And it's not cheap. A single pack is $9.95 with six packs for $49.75 or, for the inveterate party goer,12 packs for $99.50. But if works consistently.... 

You'll find details at www.headsuprelief.com.au/. I'm not endorsing the product, and certainly not promoting binge drinking, but the info is there for what it is worth. It may be particularly useful at this time of the year.

# The writer received free product from HeadsUp 
  

Saturday, 20 December 2014

An authentic Australian wine experience in the lovely Adelaide Hills


Keen to immerse yourself in the world of Australian wine for a day or two?

Head for the Adelaide Hills and Longview, a stunning family-owned vineyard located just outside the historic township of Macclesfield.

Set on gently (and some not so gently) undulating slopes reminiscent of classic Old World estates, Longview has established itself as one the most-awarded vineyards in the region since its first vintage in 2001.

The range runs from the value-for-money Red Bucket wines to reserve shiraz wines with striking graffiti-style labels that are called The Piece.

Longview, originally planted by the late Two Dogs lemonade pioneer Duncan MacGillivray, is owned and run by brothers Peter and Mark Saturno, members of an Adelaide family with long-time hospitality industry roots.

The brothers were keen for a change from their big city lifestyles in New York City and moved back to South Australia to take on the challenge of producing the style of premium, cool-climate wines they themselves love to drink. 


Aiming to be the best in the region they employed Yalumba wine guru Brian Walsh as a consultant and talented Ben Glaetzer as their consultant winemaker.

Longview Vineyard, on the road to Langhorne Creek, is a little warmer than other Adelaide Hills' sites but its wines are still decidedly cool - and the sensibly priced Longview wines have quickly found favour in the market place.


You could easily spend a weekend here doing tastings with the helpful and knowledgeable cellar door staff, enjoying Sunday tapas and staying in luxurious new accommodation overlooking the vineyards. 

There is no doubt that Longview is one of the most impressive wine tourism destinations in South Australia.

Lazy Longview Sundays attract sellout crowds to sample the wares of chef’s Stephanie Heaven and Louise Naughton, whose Mediterranean-style platters can be enjoyed al fresco on the lawns, on the verandas, or inside in front of open fires. The platters change seasonally and feature local produce when possible.

The older-style homestead, for use as one large residence or two separate apartments, has long been a popular spot for wine lovers to kick back for a day or two and the recently opened Longview Vineyard Suites comprise 12 king rooms that offer relaxed and stylish accommodation overlooking pinot noir vines.


The suites all have private balconies - while a larger spa suite comes complete with a Jacuzzi bath tub for two looking out at the vines through floor-to-ceiling windows.

Each suite has a king bed (very comfortable. I can confirm), flat-screen TV, a self-contained kitchenette, en-suite bathroom, reverse cycle air-conditioning, free wi-fi and the latest appliances. 


Gourmet breakfast provisions and wines are provided to each guest and the cellar door and function centre are just a short away, while the Three Brothers Arms and Macclesfield Hotel are just down the driveway.

With other star local cellar doors like Shaw+Smith, Nepenthe, Ashton Hills, K1 by Geoff Hardy, Pike & Joyce, The Lane, Hahndorf Hill, Deviation Road and Chain of Ponds all within a short drive away, this is a perfect base for a weekend of vinous indulgence.

Longview Vineyard, Pound Road, Macclesfield, Adelaide Hills, South Australia.

(08) 8388 9694. The cellar door is open every day 11am-5pm. www.longviewvineyard.com.au.

# The writer was a guest of Longview Wines





Wednesday, 17 December 2014

How to discover your inner revhead in the African bush

They say it is important to step out of your comfort zone once in a while.

As my comfort zone frequently encompasses glasses of wine and fine dining, I usually step outside by having a beer and a burger. Mission accomplished. 
From this...

But on my recent trip to South Africa, staying at the ultra-luxe five-star Palace of the Lost City, I was urged to really step outside my comfort zone. 

And unlike the times in New Zealand when I said "no" rather fiercely to offers of bungy jumping or abseiling, this time I said "yes" when a gap emerged in my very busy itinerary. 

I not only said "yes" to a strawberry daiquiri that evening, I also said "yes" to riding a powerful quad bike through the African bush the next morning. 

Now the Palace of the Lost City is the sort of place where you are pampered to within an inch of your life; there are two world-class golf courses, upmarket restaurants, foot massages by the swimming pool and wine lists featuring some of South Africa's finest drops. It's the sort of place where I feel very much at home. 

The "adventure" choices offered at the Sun City complex of which the Palace is a part are many and varied; ranging from Segway tours and hot air balloon safaris to archery, paintball, clay target shooting and tours on quad bikes. 

These four-wheelers look quite benign until you get on them and flick the switch. Suddenly they turn into snarling, bucking monsters that need to be tamed. 

As our route took us off-road into the bush; along the nature trails through the Letsatsing Game Park, there were steep inclines and rocky outcrops to be negotiated and muddy streams to be crossed. 
To this.
Riders are given a brief rundown on their machines, handed hair nets and crash helmets and warned not to put their feet on the ground while riding as it is easy for a leg to be twisted and broken. Reassuring. 

Sure enough, I did put my foot on the ground - once. Thankfully I survived with all limbs intact. 

Our group quickly broke into two; a couple of riders found the terrain too rough and insisted at riding at around 5kmh. The rest of us wanted to get up some speed - and almost gave a nasty surprise to one of the local zebra as we roared past.

In all honesty, the animals are totally blasé about the occasional quadbike traffic, to which they have become accustomed.   

We didn't see too many animals on our ride; but it was in the middle of the day when wise creatures, and particularly giraffes, tend to seek out shade and sleep. For those wishing to see wildlife, early mornings and late afternoons are the best times.

Be prepared to be challenged. If you get up above 25 kmh, the quad bikes quickly become quite unstable - but the adrenalin rush is unbeatable. I ended up drenched in sweat - it takes quite an effort to keep hold of the handlebars and a couple of times it felt like I was going off sideways.

After covering 10km of rocky terrain and wild bush I ended with a sore posterior, aching forearms and was also splattered in mud from head to toe - meaning I had to take advantage of the Palace's express laundry service when I returned to the hotel. 

Back in the arms of luxury. 

Adventure activities at Sun City are operated by Mankwe Gametrackers. +27 14 552 5020. www.mankwegametrackers.co.za. A one-hour quad bike experience costs around $70, depending on exchange rates. 

For details on The Palace of the Lost City, part of Sun International's Sunlux Collection, visit www.suninternational.com/sun-city/palace 

# The writer was a guest of Sun International  







       
   


     

Friday, 12 December 2014

Dramatic sculpture a new highlight of the Cape Town night sky

Even at the luxurious Table Bay Hotel, kilometres away on the Cape Town waterfront, you can see the newly unveiled SunStar sculpture twinkling in the night sky from the peak of Signal Hill.

But the SunStar is no ordinary metal artwork - it symbolises the transformation of South Afrca to from apartheid outcast to beacon of hope.

Twenty years into a new democracy and almost a year since the passing of global icon Nelson Mandela, SunStar was launched

The 24-metre-high sun-shaped sculpture was conceptualised and designed by Cape Town artist and founder of the Robben Island Art Company and Trust (RIACT), Christopher Swift, as one of Cape Town's projects for its stint as Design Capital of the World 2014.

The SunStar is a temporary installation - although should it prove popular it may stay in situ for a while.

Constructed in large part from the steel from the original fence that once surrounded Robben Island, Nelson Mandela's long-time jail, the sculpture is designed to show how the ultimate symbol of apartheid has been transformed into an inspiring piece as a metaphor for the future of South Africa.
The structure is in the form of an eight-point star. The wiring from the Robben Island fence fills the internal areas of the sphere and is surrounded by a metal frame depicting the sun’s rays, to form the eight-pointed star.

“The SunStar is emblematic and a visual reminder to South Africans of how far the country has come since our first democratic elections, but also of the journey yet to come," says sponsor Sun International chief marketing and strategy officer Rob Collins.

The site for the SunStar sculpture was chosen for its impressive views over the city and to enable locals and tourists easy access.

Signal Hill has a shared history among all Capetonians and is easily accessible by road just a few minutes outside of the city centre, with uninterrupted views of Robben Island, Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, Devil’s Peak and the city.

Hotel guests are encouraged to stand beneath the sculpture to enjoy spectacular views of both the city and Robben Island.

Swift’s design takes the environment and sustainability into account. The sculpture features a solar-powered light system made up of low-power LED strip-lighting and floodlight support, which light up the sculpture at night, making it visible to visitors flying in and out of South Africa's second city.

# The writer was a guest of Sun International 

An airport hotel that's perfect for those on a tight budget

Airport hotels are, by their very definition, expensive.

Real estate in and around most airports is premium priced, and hotel chains know they have a captive audience; guests needing to depart on dawn flights or arriving in the small hours of the morning.

It is easy to pay $200-$300 a night for an airport hotel when all you really need is a comfortable bed for a few hours pre- or post flight.

That's what makes the unprepossessing Ibis Budget Melbourne Airport a property worth having in your little black book. 

It is within the airport precinct unlike many impostors that can be several kilometres away and end up costing hefty taxi fees to get there and back, but comes without a hefty price tag.

Just a short stroll along well-marked pathways from both the Melbourne domestic and international terminals, rooms here start from around $120 a night.

For that you get a very good double bed (and sometimes an additional bunk bed), a spacious air-conditioned room with a decent shower, wash basin and toilet, desk, a TV, alarm clock and even a window that opens to let in air.

The shower and toilet are compact, to be blunt, but perfectly adequate for one or two nights, while the hotel and room appeared impeccably clean. Soap is provided, but no shampoo, along with two mid-sized towels not designed for hippopotamus-sized guests such as myself.

There are vending machines should you be hungry or thirsty, a cafe that serves breakfasts, and helpful desk staff. Wi-fi, unfortunately, incurs a charge, There are internet facilities in the lobby and an on-site laundry

If you have lots of luggage then a room on the ground floor would certainly be preferable. And if you arrive outside reception hours then an automated check in kiosk can issue your room key. 

A basic but affordable hotel that ticks a lot of boxes. 

Ibis Budget Melbourne Airport, 12 Caldwell Drive, Melbourne Airport 3045. (03) 8336 1811 ibisbudget.com  accorhotels.com. Check-in from 12 noon. Check out by 10am.   

# The writer was a guest of Accor Hotels



Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Prosecco: Italy's new sparkling star

The beautiful wine region of Prosecco is right on the doorstep of one of the world's most romantic cities, Venice. And while Venice is a destination of timeless appeal, wine styles don't get any hotter right now than prosecco.


In Venice, the cool crowd sip on Bellini cocktails made from prosecco and peach juice. In New York and London, spritzes are all the rage, with prosecco mixed with Aperol or Campari. Combined with vodka and lemon sorbet, prosecco is also an ingredient of the cocktail sgroppino, while in Australia, it has enjoyed an immense rise in popularity as an aperitif.

This evening I am enjoying a Bellini in the bar of the ultra chic M Gallery Hotel Papadopoli, a boutique establishment at the intersection of the Grand Canal, the “main road” in Venice, and the smaller Tolentini canal.

I'm taking a short break exploring the marvels of the city after a trip to what has become one of Italy's hottest vineyard destinations; centered on the nearby towns of Treviso, Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, where grape growing dates back to Roman times.

Wine tourism is all the rage here, and across Italy, with over five million travellers each year motivated solely by their love of Italian wines. And prosecco is at the forefront. Last year it out-sold Champagne globally and the whole region has a gourmet focus, producing an array of table wines (unlike Champagne), cheeses including Asiago and Grana Padano and various salumi and prosciutto.

The surge in international demand has meant plantings are increasing rapidly throughout the region – as are tourist numbers.

The appeal of prosecco is easy to understand; whether made fully sparkling (spumante) or lightly sparkling (frizzante), it is refreshing, low in alcohol and relatively affordable. It is all about freshness and immediate drinkability. It has been promoted as “nice, at less than half the price (of Champagne)”.

Wine producers here run the gamut from small farmhouse makers with just a few rows of grapes on steep slopes to those with historic mansions like Villa Sandi, which dates back to 1622 and is one of the grandest wine estates you'll find anywhere. 


The region is alive with cantinas offering tastings and upmarket hotels and eateries catering for the influx of tourists – including Villa Sandi's boutique Locanda Sandi (above). Take detours off the main roads here to hillside villages where the odd wild boar still roams.

The entire appellation is dotted with medieval walled towns and cities and beautiful old churches. The rugged countryside is full of abbeys, churches and castles with a mountainous backdrop.

The delightful city of Treviso (below), known as Little Venice because of its rivers, canals and many churches, barely rates a mention in many guide books but it is a charming base from which to explore for those who do not wish to commute the 40 or so kilometres from Venice.



Some of the old water mills that dotted the city have been converted into trendy homes but the city retains much of its ancient charm. It's a prosperous place; where locals and tourists alike stroll the ancient streets and piazzas, and walk the river banks and canals in the midst of leafy gardens.

The region is best explored by taking the La Strada di Prosecco (Prosecco Road) – a driving route that passes many of the finest wine estates, vineyards, osterias and enoteccas.

It is interesting that while prosecco is known and loved as a style, many drinkers know nothing of its back story.

Prosecco is usually made from the indigenous glera grape (itself sometimes known as prosecco), although other varieties are allowed and while the name prosecco derived from a village near Trieste, DOC Prosecco is produced in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions, largely around the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene.

Unlike Champagne and premium Australian sparkling wines, prosecco is largely produced using the charmat method, in which secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks. This makes the wine cheaper to produce, and has resulted in a global explosion of interest over the past five years with 65% of production exported.

The wines range from sweet to dry but all are best consumed when the wine is as young as possible – and certainly within a couple of years of production.

Some experts say prosecco should be enjoyed from a white wine glass rather than a Champagne flute, as this accentuates both the aromas and flavours.

In 2009, the Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOC appellation from the hilly areas of the region, was lifted to the loftier DOCG recognition, and there is also now an Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG to the southwest. The DOCG consorzio has even applied for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

The other regions have since 2009 been recognised as DOC – and that includes the majority of the prosecco exported to Australia.

Either way, its is no surprise that Italian producers hail prosecco as “the success story of the 21st century”. It's the instant success story that has taken hundreds of years.

That said, the news is not all good. The wet 2014 vintage has been described as “the most difficult in 50 years” with both quantity and quality down considerably. Some of the leading producers have said they will not make flagship wines.

But still the planting continues, and exports continue to grow.

THE FACTS
M Gallery Papadopoli Hotel Venezia is set in an 18th-century mansion with just 97 rooms and suites, some with magnificent views. The hotel is just a short walk from the bus station and one stop, or an easy walk across the the Constitution Bridge, to the Piazzale Roma water bus stop and the main railway station. +39 041 710 400. www.hotel-papadopoli-venice.com.



Emirates flies from Australia to Dubai 84 times per week, with daily onward connections to 35 European destinations, including Venice. Emirates provides 30kg of checked luggage per passenger in economy class and 40kg in business class. 1300 303 777 or www.emirates.com/au