Thursday, 31 March 2016

There is more to McLaren Vale than wine. G+T anyone?

McLaren Vale may be intrinsically linked with powerful red wines - but it also home to an artisan distillery that has taken off like a rocket. 

Marking its first birthday, McLaren Vale’s only distilling company, McLaren Vale Distilling, has celebrated with the release of three new gins, two liqueurs and a vodka!

From a start point of just one gin that is a pretty impressive leap forward over just 12 months for the owners of Maximus Wines. 


“Following the launch of our Settler’s Rare Dry Gin in early 2015 and the fabulous feedback, not to mention the fact the first batch sold out in four weeks, there was no question that we needed to introduce a range rather than a single product,” said McLaren Vale Distilling owner Rowland Short. 

The gin is made from grapes grown on the family property, then distilled on the property and finally bottled on the property - all by hand.”

Being a South Australian gin, some of the botanicals used are native to South Australia.  Muntrie berries from the Coorong were chosen along with lemon myrtle from the Adelaide Hills.

Trading on the history of the South Australia being a colony of free settlers, Settlers is made from grape spirit  and triple distilled to express the aromatic qualities of the botanicals and styles

The success of Settler’s Gin has brought to fruition Short's dream of producing small batch, artisan and sustainable spirits.


“Our newest gin releases include Old Tom Gin, Sloe Gin and Oak Aged Gin," he said. "With the suite of gins growing and the introduction of Settlers Vodka & Goji Berries, Settlers Maraschino Cherry Liquor and Settlers Coffee Liqueur the next obvious step was to open a gin bar at the distillery.”

“We now offer 'gins for all seasons' and we are proud to boast we are the only Australian distiller of a Maraschino Cherry Liqueur.”

Settlers "pop up" Gin Bar is at Maximus Wines cellar door. A glass of gin with a mixer is $5 and gin flights (all four gins paired with morsels of food) are $20.

The cellar door bar at 197 Foggo Road, McLaren Vale, also offers a cocktail of the month for $14 and is open 11am-4pm Saturdays, Sunday and public holidays.


Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Fancy a couple of days in Tasmania exploring the wines?

Fancy a couple of days in Tasmania sampling the best wines from the island state? 

That is what is on offer from Wine Tasmania - but there is, of course, a catch. 


To snag one of the 10 spots on the trip in June you need to be involved in the wine industry. 

Over two days in late June, 10 selected wine trade representatives will taste their way around the island, meeting wine producers and sampling their wines, as well as a food, cider or whisky producer or two, whilst soaking up the breathtaking scenery and lifestyle of the island.

Wine Tasmania CEO Sheralee Davies said that visiting Tasmania was the best way to experience Tasmania and its wine  - and to gain an appreciation of its diversity.

“We’ll be showing (and tasting) as much of Tasmania as we can squeeze into two days!

“This is an outstanding opportunity for wine trade representatives to experience for themselves the spectacular island we are privileged to call home.

“With around 40% of Tasmania’s wine being sold on-island to enthusiastic visitors and supportive locals, visiting is the best way to taste the breadth and diversity of wines available.

“This is the third year we have presented this trade visitation program, with application numbers growing from 115 in 2014 to 155 last year, and even more interest expected this year. The feedback from the trade visitors we have hosted to date has been particularly positive, with more Tasmanian wines appearing on restaurant wine lists and wine retail shelves as a direct result.”

The visitation program is open to people currently employed in the wine trade, including but not limited to sommeliers, restaurateurs, food and beverage, retail and wholesale representatives. Applicants must be in a position of authority for wine purchasing decisions and available to travel to Tasmania on Sunday 26 June and Monday 27 June. 

Interested trade representatives are invited to submit their interest by Friday 13 May via a simple application form: http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/2670422/2016-Wine-Trade-Visitation-Program

A selection committee will review expressions of interest and confirmed participants will be announced by Monday 23 May.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The search is on to discover a "Chief Wombat Cuddler"

A search is on to find a "Chief Wombat Cuddler" - but you'll need to be quick and you must be Australian to qualify. 

Tourism Tasmania has announced it is seeking applicants to win a three-night trip to Flinders Island to spend quality time smothering an orphaned baby wombat with attention.


Derek, an eight-month-old wombat joey from Flinders Island, went viral when a video of him darting along one of the island’s white beaches was posted on social media. 

Derek was discovered in his dead mother’s pouch after the mother was hit by a car in December. 

The Chief Wombat Cuddler is a position only open to Australian residents and entrants must detail “why you’re the best person to fill the role of Chief Wombat Cuddler”.

The winner and a friend will be flown from their nearest Australian capital city to Tasmania as part of the prize.

Tourism Tasmania chief executive John Fitzgerald told the Hobart Mercury the idea for the competition was spontaneous.

“When the Derek wombat video went viral on social media, it provided us with a perfect opportunity to keep people talking and thinking about Tassie,” he said.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Mudgee launches a new wine and food trail

Some Mudgee’s best food food and wine producers are tabling their substantial talents for the inaugural Mudgee Food & Drink Trail to be held on the weekend of April 16-17. 
The new paddock-to plate-journey takes visitors across the breadth of Mudgee, with a range of Central West destinations welcoming guests with a locally produced beverage to match a regionally inspired sample dish. There are 17 possible destinations in all. 
Celebrating the new trail 
“There are some fantastic secret venues dotted throughout Mudgee,” said Ted Cox, president of the Mudgee Wine Grape Growers Association.
“From the alleyway that hides Alby & Esthers across to the Baker Williams Distillery, Mudgee is continuing to build its reputation as one New South Wales' best regional food and drink destinations.
"Our vignerons continue to innovate with the next generation of winemakers taking charge and challenging the status quo. Our farmers and producers inspire each other and offer a visitors relaxed charm.
“The new Mudgee Food & Drink Trail opens up this experience in the region. With 17 venues offering a dish and matching beverage, it is the perfect opportunity to literally get a taste of Mudgee.”

Mudgee: Amber Hooper Photography
The new trail is as unique as the producers. From historic buildings to hidden cellar doors, the producers of the region will present dishes such as rustic pork panino matched with Mudgee Sangiovese and pomegranate cordial, through to Mudgee Porter beers, vegetarian tartlets, dukkah, sourdough and one of the newest products, handcrafted shrubs; fruit vinegars made from local produce.
Venues involved include Alby + Esthers, Artisan on Lewis, Baker Williams Distillery, Blue Wren, Botobolar, Burnbrae, di Lusso Estate, Elton's + Gilbert Family Wines, Huntington Estate, Lowe Wines, Moothi Estate, Mudgee Brewing Co, Short Sheep Micro-Winery, Slowfox Wines, Skimstone Wines, Wellstead Shrubs and Winning Post Motor Inn.
The 2016 Mudgee Food & Drink trail is a glimpse of the region; its picturesque landscape, pretty streets, rustic cellar doors, robust personalities, prized wines and fresh produce corralled within a self-guided tour over one or two days. Visitors can purchase Trail Passes for their tours, each $40 pass comprising five experiences across the venues. There is no limit to the number of passes available. 

Details of venues, along with opening times and menus: 

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Why supermarkets and politicians (and some chefs) are happy to lie to you

What do you expect if you see "free-range chicken" or "free-range eggs" for sale, or listed on a menu.

I'd say that you would be expecting to eat eggs from a chicken that grew up with the opportunity to go outside and had enough space to interact with other chooks. A chicken that was healthy and not pumped up on steroids. 

Unfortunately, some chicken farmers see things differently, as do supermarket chains, fast-food outlets and, unfortunately, Australian politicians.


Nirvana for chickens
I always buy free-range chickens even though I have no illusions about them having roamed free in idyllic paddocks. I have my own free-range eggs. But the waters of what "free-range" actually means are increasingly - and deliberately - being muddied. 

The good people at consumer advocate group CHOICE this week sent out a release that warns the free-range egg standard could be hijacked and deliberately misleading labels allowed when ministers meet this coming Thursday.
 
The consumer group says large producers are lobbying for a standard so broad that eggs could be labelled free-range even if they were laid by chickens that never actually go outside.
 
“You only need to look at egg cartons in any major supermarket and see how these products are marketed to consumers - images of chickens outside. That’s what consumers expect, and that’s what they should get,” says CHOICE head of media Tom Godfrey.
 
“But now big producers have seen the writing on the wall and are trying to remove any requirement that free-range eggs are produced by chickens that actually go outside.
 
“This is an appalling state of affairs and points to an industry that needs to be seriously cleaned up, not protected through a dodgy standard that entrenches plainly misleading practices."


Since 2011, that toothless and largely useless organisation the ACCC has taken just six separate actions against producers for misleading free-range egg claims.
 
CHOICE recommends that a national information standard for free-range eggs should reflect consumers’ reasonable expectations that: the majority of chickens actually go outside regularly; birds have room to move comfortably when outdoors; birds have room to move comfortably inside the barn, and farmers undertake animal welfare practices.


It sounds only fair and reasonable. Why not let your politicians, supermarkets and chefs know what you think. 



   

Friday, 25 March 2016

The rudest thing any customer can do to a restaurateur


It is a the worst sin a restaurant customer can commit.

Worse than turning up for a table for four with diners suffering from three different food allergies. Worse than sending barely-eaten plates of food back to the kitchen. Worse than being rude to the waitstaff.

The behaviour that infuriates restaurateurs more than any other; and costs them more more money than any other, is the growing habit of not showing up when you have booked a table.

You wouldn't think it would be that hard to make a quick phone call to say your plans have changed; or that you have a personal emergency and won't be able to make it.

But staggeringly, up to 5% of all restaurant bookings result in what the industry calls no-shows.

That might not be a catastrophe on a quiet Tuesday night, but on a busy Saturday a table of six might spend $800 or more - and losing that income can be a considerable financial blow.




Multiply that by two or three tables several times a week and restaurateurs are hurting in a tough, competitive environment. And it is not just the financial loss; staff can be left standing around with nothing to do if two or three tables of diners fail to turn up. But they still expect to be paid for their time.

Now restaurateurs are hitting back at the growing lack of manners. Some have taken to sharing the names of the no-shows with other restaurants in their area. Others shame the guilty parties on social media.

Now, more and more restaurants are demanding credit card details with every booking. And each no-show will result in payment if you do not have a good enough excuse. Because many eateries have waitlists and can call up replacement diners event at the shortest notice.

And why not pay? If you miss your flight from Sydney to Melbourne you still have to pay for your ticket. You certainly pay for your cinema or theatre ticket even if you are stuck in traffic or your plane is delayed.

Australia’s largest on line restaurant booking network, Dimmi, has sent a warning to diners. “Enough is enough - either show up for your booking, or face being banned.”

Australia has lagged behind the US and the UK in imposing sanctions on no-shows, and there are plenty of stories, perhaps apocryphal, about groups of diners who book at two or three fashionable restaurants and then decide on the night which one they fancy attending.

So. Coming soon to your favourite eatery: a per-head credit card charge if you don't turn up, or the payment of deposits to guarantee you do show up.

It is a serious problem - and the restaurant industry is finally addressing it seriously.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Three wine industry icons honoured

A trio of wine industry icons have been honoured at a special awards presentation in Adelaide. 

John Angove AM (Angaston), Colin Campbell (Rutherglen) and Wolf Blass AM (Adelaide) were all named as Life Members of the Australian Wine Industry.

Colin Campbell of Campbells Wines
All of the men are household name and their efforts in the nation’s vineyards, wineries and boardrooms have helped create a vibrant modern industry and brought Australian wines to the attention of consumers around the world, the Winemakers Federation of Australia said. 

“John, Colin and Wolf have been named Life Members of the Australian Wine Industry, an award proudly administered by the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia and presented at the home of another wine icon, Grange Hermitage, here at TWE’s Magill Estate,” said Federation president Tony D’Aloisio AM.

Maybe someone should tell Mr D'Aloisio that Penfolds Grange has not been called Grange Hermitage for over a decade. 
  
“This coveted life member award recognises outstanding leadership and contribution to the nation’s wine industry over and above an individual’s career achievements,” he added.

“In the case of John, Colin and Wolf – they have given in spades!”

Former Jacob's Creek chief winemaker Philip Laffer AM was the inaugural recipient of the award, and was inducted in 2014.

A message to the Winemakers Federation. If you are going to make an announcement of significance like this, 4.10pm on a Thursday before a four-day weekend is probably not the best time to send out an email if you want to gain any attention. Particularly as the awards dinner was held on Wednesday night. 

When I requested an image of the trio two hours after receiving my email, everyone had gone home and will not be back in the office until Tuesday. A pity. 



Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Do passengers have the right to sit wherever they want on a plane?

Ever arrived at your allocated seat on an aircraft to find someone already sitting in it with their goods spread about? 

It is happening more and more often as those lumbered with middle seats, or trying to sit next to a friend, try their luck at re-allocating you. 


As a frequent flyer I am usually allocated an aisle seat near the front of the plane, but a couple of times recently I've found people in my spot, who then ask me to move to the middle seat or window.

I'm sorry, but no. Unless it is a matter of urgency (and I really can't think how it could be). It is pretty easy nowadays to book a specific seat before you fly - if you don't manage to do so then why do you think it is OK to pinch my seat? 

A recent post on the Australian Frequent Flyer website told how one member’s recent experience on a Singapore Airlines flight left them annoyed and frustrated. 

Upon boarding, the member found that a couple had presumptuously settled into his pre-selected seat. This couple then insisted – with the support of the cabin crew – that our member swap to an inferior seat. After initially refusing, the member said he was humiliated by the air crew. 

He should not have been. He should have stuck to his guns. The air crew were wrong. They could have asked him to move, but they should not have forced him to do so unless there were safety issues. 

The decision to either move, or not to move, often depends on how the other party requests the seat swap, the AFF site reports. 

Many members say they would be unlikely to swap if the passenger had boarded early and was already sitting in their seat. Most are also unlikely to accept an inferior seat. This is especially the case if the seat was carefully selected – sometimes even for a fee – months ago. The consensus is that anyone wanting a particular seat should organise this before boarding the plane.

Some AFF members did say they would consider moving if the passenger seeking their seat asked politely. They also suggest that offering a better seat to the other party would assist with any negotiations.

If you are a frequent flyer you have a strong case to sit where you were allocated - or, of course, the airline could always move you forward to make room for the loved-up couple who just cannot be separated for a few hours. 

For more travel debates visit: www.australianfrequentflyer.com.au/ 

Gourmet village puts on its artistic face

The village of Cygnet in southern Tasmania is best known for its gourmet cafes and fine local produce.

But Cygnet is also home to a large artistic community that will be putting its own wares on display for three days later this month. 




Local artists, craftsmen and women will throw open their doors from Sunday, March 27, to Tuesday, March 29, displaying an array of works ranging from weaving and dyeing to jewellery. Printmaking, woodwork and steel, ceramics, sculpture and photography will also be on display, along with artisan chocolates, pottery and home-made guitars. 

The three-day Handmade in Cygnet event sees artists and artisans offering visitors and locals the chance to visit their studios and to chat about their work practices and creative lives.

Cygnet and surrounds house a thriving and growing creative community with an increasing reputation for vibrant arts and crafts, food, wine and local growers. 

The Handmade in Cygnet website features an interactive map and online brochure - and artists are open from 10am-4pm on all three days. 

For full details visit: www.handmadeincygnet.com

Monday, 21 March 2016

Dining in style in downtown Bordeaux

Many visitors to Bordeaux spend most of their time exploring the vineyard regions; world-famous names like St Emilion, Pomerol and Pauillac. 

But the city of Bordeaux is also worthy of a couple of days of any gourmet's time - with an impressive collection of new eateries along with some old favourites. 



Always a city of culture, Bordeaux has undergone a renaissance over the past decade with Mayor Alain Juppe overseeing urban renewal on a grand scale and extending the city's tram network.

And while wines is king, gourmet cuisine is hot on its heels.

Star chef Joel Robuchon is overseeing the menu at La Grande Maison, Gordon Ramsay is at the Le Grand Hotel de Bordeaux at Le Pressoir d’Argent and local superstar Philippe Etchebest at le Cafe de l’Opera a Bordeaux.

La Grande Maison picked up two Michelin stars in the 2016 guide, while Ramsay collected one.

La Tupina (below), in a quiet city side street, serves rustic and full-flavoured dishes from the south-west of France in a cosy ambiance. It is my favourite. 


Le Chapon Fin, Le Gabriel and Brasserie l’Orleans are traditionally popular, along with L'Embarcadère for mouth-wateringly fresh fish, Garopapilles for modern cuisine and Dan for fusion food.

For a chance to sample some of the region’s wines without leaving the city, visit The Bar à Vin, which is located on the ground floor of the Maison du Vin de Bordeaux, the headquarters of the Bordeaux Wine Council, set in an 18th-century building in the centre of town.

The Musee du Vin, which highlights the history of wine in the region, is also well worth a look, while wine bars in Bordeaux like L'Univerre, La Ligne Rouge, Aux Quatre Coins du Vin or Wine More Time all offer tastings of both local labels, and (a recent innovation) imports from around the world.


Aux Quatre Coins du Vin has a range of about 40 wines available by the glass (tasting pour, half glass or full glass) via Oenomatic machines. There is something in everyone's price range and the bar snacks are outstanding.

For the most relaxed gourmet experience visit the Marché des Quais market on Sundays and enjoy fresh local dishes with wines and ciders.

Getting there

Etihad Airways and partner airline Virgin Australia offer daily one-stop flights from Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney to 20 destinations in Europe, via Abu Dhabi, including flights to Bordeaux via Paris. For bookings visit www.etihad.com or call 1300 532 215.

FIVE THINGS TO DO IN AND AROUND BORDEAUX

1. Take a lazy river cruise: Scenic offers 11-day Breathtaking Bordeaux river cruises on the Scenic Diamond starting from $7,295 including return flights to France and airport transfers. See www.scenic.com.au/tour/bordeaux-river-cruise/1909 or call 138 128.


2. The spectacular Dune Du Pilat, on the edge of the Arcachon Basin, 65 kilometres outside of the Bordeaux city centre, is the largest sand dune in Europe.

3. Visit the satellite wine regions of Bourg and Blaye, small towns 20 kilometres apart with several small bars, cafes and tasting facilities away from the crowds.

4. On the river bank next to the Place de la Bourse, the Mirroir d’Eau is the largest reflecting pool in the world. Reflecting both the sun and the historic buildings, it is a popular venue for a morning or afternoon stroll.

5. In the heart of Bordeaux, St Andrew's Cathedral dates back to the 12th century. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a stop on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella.

# The author was assisted by Scenic and Etihad Airways.

# Some elements of this story appeared in a comprehensive feature on Bordeaux at www.Traveller.com.au.



Thursday, 17 March 2016

Adelaide joins the great wine capitals of the world

The National Wine Centre in Adelaide 
It is a wonder it hasn't happened before, but Adelaide has just been named as the ninth and newest member of the Great Wine Capitals Global Network. 

Adelaide is the undisputed capital of the wine industry in Australia, and home to iconic brands like Penfolds, Hardys, Jacobs Creek and Wolf Blass.

South Australia is Australia’s leading wine state, producing 50% of all bottled wine and almost 80% of premium wine.

The Great Wine Capitals Global Network is an international association of members whose wine regions are recognised as significant economic and cultural assets.

Established in 1999, there is only one member from each of the world’s major wine producing nations and Adelaide’s appointment was supported unanimously.

Adelaide will join Bilbao/ Rioja (Spain), Bordeaux (France), Cape Town/Cape Winelands (South Africa), Mainz/Rheinhessen (Germany), Mendoza (Argentina), Porto (Portugal), San Francisco/Napa Valley (USA) and Valparaìso/Casablanca Valley (Chile) as one of the network’s exclusive members.


Melbourne was once the Australian rep - but its membership somehow lapsed, allowing Adelaide to gain revenge for the Grand Prix it lost. 

It is interesting to note there is currently no New Zealand member (Christchurch, mysteriously, used to be part of the line-up), but Marlborough, which produces around 75% all bottled wine in Kiwiland must be next in line.


The network aims is to “heighten the wine experience for everyone who visits its regions and cities, and to support their members themselves to make the most of their extraordinary culture, heritage and geographical virtue”.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill made the announcement at the San Francisco Food and Wine Reception, a Showcase of South Australia, in the United States this week.


“South Australia excels in producing premium wine and providing exceptional wine tourism. These industries are crucial for our economic growth and creating jobs in our regions,” Weatherill said.

Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago (above) said becoming a Great Wine Capital made perfect sense.

“It’s very exciting and timely to witness Adelaide joining such a well-respected global wine network," he said. "I believe our South Australian wine and food industries and culture will benefit greatly from the opportunities this will create - now and into the future,” Gago said.

There are more than 200 cellar doors within an hour’s drive of the city centre of Adelaide - providing the traffic behaves itself. Which is quite a big "if".

In 2014–15, South Australia’s wine industry generated almost $1.8 billion in revenue, with $1.2 billion of this from wine exports.

Watch out. Robots are coming to a hotel near you

So you like the personal touch when checking in to your hotel? 

Tough luck. You may soon be being processed by a 60cm tall robot that speaks 19 languages. 

Robots are the way of the future in the hospitality industry, like it or not. 

Meet Chihira Kanae, a robot developed by Toshiba and designed to look like a 32-year-old Japanese hostess. This communication android was showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in April 2015 and now works in the Mitsukoshi Department Store in Tokyo, welcoming people and inviting them to ask FAQs. 

Or meet Mario from the Marriott Ghent Hotel in Belgium. He welcomes guests, provides information about hotel services/local tourist attractions and call taxis, if required. He is, of course, multilingual. 

He also entertains children while parents are enjoying a coffee. Unfortunately, he is an ugly looking thing - and the bad news is that he also dances. 


Some Royal Caribbean cruise ships, meanwhile, boast robot barmen. Good luck with a bit of banter!

Australian travellers are divided on how much a robot could add to their travel experience, a study by travel deals company Travelzoo has revealed. 

The results revealed that two-thirds of Australians are open to the idea of a robot working in roles such as a receptionist in a hotel, but almost half admitted they find robots quite frightening.

The Travelzoo Future of Travel project included a poll of over 6,000 people in Asia, Europe, North America, South America and Australia to understand if consumers are ready for robots and artificial intelligence to play a major role in travel and hospitality.

Industry reports suggest the total spend on robots will exceed $US 40 billion by 2020, with Asian countries like Japan, South Korea and China leading the market in both spend and development.

As a global average, the Travelzoo research reveals nearly 80% of consumers expect robots to play a big part in their lives before 2020, with three-quarters believing they will make their lives significantly better. 

In Australia opinions were mixed. Notably, 93% of respondents had concerns that robots could be weak in softer skills such as showing emotions and the same number are worried about robots taking away jobs from humans. 

Australians are also concerned that robots will be unable to understand informal language such as slang, irony and the Australian sense of humour.

Those in the Australian pro-robot camp highlight the unlimited energy levels of robots and eight in 10 respondents believe robots can handle data faster than their human counterparts. The majority of perceived benefits are around data handling, memory and skills like communicating multiple languages.

Australians also prefer their robots to look like machines rather than humans. 

Cemlyn Jones, the general manager at Travelzoo Australia, said: “Right now is a very exciting moment in the history of the travel industry – groundbreaking technology is revolutionising what is possible from the perspective of customer service, entertainment and personalisation. 

"Robots and artificial intelligence are making their debut on the tourism stage, and our research into global acceptance of robots working in the travel industry is largely positive.

“It is fascinating to see some cultural stereotypes emerge from the research into global acceptance of robots. The UK and Australian participants worry the most about humour and irony being lost on robots, and the French and Spanish are completely unaccepting about replacing their waiters with robots – even if a human waiter is much less efficient than a robot!”

# The survey for Travelzoo’s Future of Travel project was conducted in December 2015 via an online questionnaire by third-party research agency Norstat. The questionnaire was completed by 6,211 travellers in Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. A separate study of 788 Travelzoo members in Australia was conducted online using QuestionPro software in February 2016.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

What is the world's best airport? And what makes it such a regular winner?

While Australians argue about whether Sydney needs a second airport, and if so where it should be located, Singapore Changi Airport has been named the world's best airport by air travellers for the fourth year in a row. 

At a time when passengers dread the bustle of London's Heathrow or Paris's Charles de Gaulle, Changi continues to entertain and enchant passengers. This is the seventh time it has picked up this award. 


Changi Airport was also named the best airport in Asia, as well as the best for leisure amenities, including bars, lounges, cinemas, music deck, swimming pool, napping and rest areas and the in-terminal Transit Hotel.

Singapore's pride and joy - and it is seriously good -  edged out Incheon International Airport in South Korea for the top spot, ahead of Munich, Tokyo International (Haneda), and Hong Kong. 

Six of the top 10 were in Asia and both Dubai and Abu Dhabi missed out. 

"To be voted by customers as the world's Best Airport four years in succession is a most remarkable  achievement for Changi Airport Singapore and is clear testament to the airport's popularity amongst air  travellers," said Edward Plaisted, CEO of award organisers Skytrax. 

"Changi Airport continues to innovate in both product and service options for its customers, and focus on making the customer experience at the airport as enjoyable and relaxing as possible. 

"To be named by global travellers as the world's favourite airport for the sixth time in 10 years is a great reward not only to Changi Airport management but for staff across every section of the airport who contribute in every little way to Changi Airport operations."



"This is a clear affirmation that we continue to hit the right notes in our pursuit of service excellence," said Lee Seow Hiang, CEO of the Changi Airport Group.

"We do not take this recognition for granted; it is the extraordinary effort and commitment of the entire airport community that drives Changi’s success."


The 2016 World Airport Awards are based on 13.25 million customer nominations across 106 nationalities of air travellers, and included 550 airports worldwide. 

Come the second-half of 2017, Singapore Changi Airport will unveil a brand new passenger terminal alongside its current three terminals – Terminal 4 (T4), designed to meet the operational needs of both full-service and low-cost carriers. 

With the opening of  T4, Changi Airport’s handling capacity will be increased to 82 million a year - and even bolder plans are in place for the future.

For details see www.worldairportawards.com

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

What you really need to know if you are spending time in London

London is one of the great cities of the world. Whether you love the arts and museums, history and culture, or whether major sports events, live concerts are your thing, the English capital has lots to offer. 

But it is a very, very big city and perhaps the most important decision for anyone planning to spend some time in London is deciding where to stay. 

While London has an excellent public transport system it can take a lot of time and effort to get across town - and taxis are prohibitively expensive. 


If you plan to spend much of your time attending events in, say, Shepherds Bush, then it makes no sense to take lodgings in Dagenham. 

Particularly as the winters in London are long and cold, and commuting is not something you want to be spending hours on every day. 

As someone who has lived in London a few times, and who visits regularly, I was pleased to see Visit Britain recently release some questions and answers for first-time visitors to London. They offer useful advice whether you plan to study for six months, or simply want to spend a weekend watching Premier League soccer matches. 

Does it really rain all the time? No! Contrary to popular belief, London is actually relatively dry. And indeed, Britain overall has a temperate climate, but is prone to quick changes – thus the need to always be prepared with a brolly (umbrella) should there be a cloud burst. My view: When it does rain it can be cold, sleeting rain. 

How can I do London on a budget? This is more possible than you’d think! Many of the world’s greatest museums and art galleries are in London – and amazingly many have free entry. There are all sorts of ways to see the other sights with special offers and discounts, and what’s great about Britain is you know you’re going to get a good value, memorable experience for your money. You can easily walk between many of the main sights of central London, saving on transport too. Invest in a Visitor Oyster Card if you do plan to hop on and off the Tube and buses. My view: London is a great walking city in summer, less so in winter. 



What are the people like? Londoners may look like they might bite, but that’s just their resting faces. Really, they’re quite an approachable bunch only too keen to help you out if you need directions or a good pub recommendation, and they’re only too happy to spark up conversation about that easiest of topics – the weather. My view: Londoners really are friendly and helpful. But many of the people on the street may be from Eastern Europe or remote countries and not all speak English. 

How easy is it to get around? Really easy! London has the most comprehensive public transport system in the world and they’ve made it as easy as possible for you to travel your way around the city, be it by Tube (Underground), train, bus, tram, taxi, foot or even river boat! My view: Buses often get stuck in gridlocked traffic; if you are in a hurry take the Tube, or the train, if you can. And avoid taxis unless you want an awful price shock. A 50-minute journey from, say, Islington to Wimbledon (less than 20km) can cost close to £60.  But if you have time to spare there is some great sightseeing to be done from the upper levels of double-decker buses.   
Expensive and worth avoiding 
What do I do if I get lost? You can always ask a local for advice – we really are surprisingly friendly when spoken to..! And in most central areas you’re likely to see a friendly British bobby (police officer), staff in Tube stations, bus drivers and taxi drivers are all super knowledgeable about their city. My view: You very rarely see police on the beat any more. But there are good maps at most Tube station and at some bus stops. 

How do I get cheap West End theatre tickets? For excellent on-the-day deals and half-price bargains, head to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square. My view: Try to avoid ticket touts selling tickets for any major event. 

What should I pack to wear? Anything goes in London! The mostly mild but changeable climate means it would be sensible to pack layers, a lightweight rain jacket and umbrella for rain showers. Warm coats and jumpers for winter. And, shock of shocks, you will need sun protection in summer as the sun does make one or two appearances! My view: One or two is optimistic - unless you strike a great summer.

For more information: www.visitbritain.com

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Taking roads (and rail tracks) less travelled in Japan

There is much more to Japan than big cities and cherry blossoms. I jumped  on board the new Hokuriki Shinkansen bullet train to explore some Japanese regions that are off the beaten track but have plenty to fascinate tourists.



Fukui


Step out of Fukui railway station and you are confronted by a group of dinosaurs. Life-size animatronic creatures pay tribute to the many dinosaur remains found in the region and to the local museum, one of only three in the world devoted entirely to the prehistoric creatures.


The Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum in the nearby town of Katsuyama is one of the largest museums in Japan and children delight in the many dioramas and robotic replica dinosaurs.

Fukui is one of the least populated regions of Japan, but is home to several fascinating attractions including the peaceful Ichijōdani Asakura Family Historic Ruins, one of the most important cultural heritage sites in Japan, where you might come across actors dressed as samurai warriors.

The nearby Eihei-ji temple, founded in 1244, is a place of training and reflection for Buddhist monks. Visitors are welcome to stroll among its historic treasures once they have removed their shoes.

The Fukui region is also a centre for traditional Echizen paper-making, and is home to Maruoka Castle, dating back to 1576 and the most ancient in Japan. 

The city of Fukui was virtually destroyed by bombing during World War II but has been rebuilt. The city's official symbol is the Phoenix. Just a few blocks from the station seek out the humble Yoroppaken restaurant, where it is believed the dish pork tonkatsu, a local speciality, was first created. Although you may need to point at the menu to order, visitors are made very welcome.


Kawagoe

Walk in the shoes of a traditional Japanese – literally – in Kawagoe, a small town that is just a 30-minute train ride from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and a world away in atmosphere.

Here in Saitama Prefecture you can take a step back in time to the Edo period in the 17th and 18th centuries, with visits to traditional sword and knife shops and sampling traditional Japanese foods from street market stalls.

Many old storehouses and warehouses dating back to the 18th- and 19th-centuries have been maintained and restored, and visitors can hire kimonos for a day – attracting attention not from locals, who are used to such bizarre spectacles, but from other Japanese visitors.

Visitors can visit the rustic Matsumoto soy sauce factory and take in the pungent aromas, or check out the town's bell-tower, which dates back to the 1600s.

A retro-style bus makes regular loops of all the major tourist attractions although you'll certainly want to stroll down "Kashiya Yokocho" (Penny Candy Alley) with its 20+ traditional-style sweet shops.

Kawagoe is also a good alternative base to staying in expensive Tokyo hotels – many of the locals commute to the capital each day.


Sado Island

A hydrofoil trip (one hour) or ferry ride (2 1/2 hours) away from Niigata, a busy Japanese city on the Japan Sea, Sado Island is home to temples, historic ruins and small villages, like the fascinating fishing hamlet of Shukunegi, where many old buildings remain intact.

This is a remote, quiet area, little visited by overseas tourists although popular with Japanese vacationers looking for a traditional holiday experience.

The island is home to the world-famous Kodo group of Taiko drummers as well as an interesting old gold mine that is now a tourist attraction with animated robots playing the roles of the miners.

Urashima is a lovely resort overlooking the water and its restaurant, in an adjacent building, specialises in superb local seafood.

There are several spa resorts dotted over the island – Japan's sixth-largest – and several ryokan (traditional inns). Many have views of the island's mountain ranges and Lake Kamo.

Back on the mainland, the coastal strip outside Niigata city is known as the Niigata Wine Coast, and is home to five wineries making western-style wines – a surprise in a nation best-known for sake and whisky production. The Cave d'Occi winery offers a fascinating tourism experience.


Hida Takayama

This small mountain town in Gifu Prefecture is a delightful rural escape and slice of the real Japan. It boasts beautiful old homes, two different morning markets, Alpine air, a delightful river; and several affordable restaurants where you can match local sakes with Hida beef.

The best places to stay in this region are the traditional ryokan, or Japanese inns, like Hotakaso Yamano-an, where you sleep on a futon on the floor and can bathe in the open air pools with views of the Japanese Alps. Dinner here is a traditional Kaiseki meal of multiple courses featuring fresh local ingredients, including fish from local streams and sansai (wild mountain vegetables).

There is a magnificent temple downtown. Hida-Kokubunji Temple is the oldest structure in the town and has a three-level pagoda beside a ginko tree that is over 1,200 years old.

Hida Takayama looks at its prettiest in winter, when snowflakes descend and coat the town in white.

# The writer was a guest of Tobu Top Tours and the Hokuriki Shinkansen operators. He was assisted 
by Qantas, which flies twice daily to Tokyo via Sydney (Sydney-Haneda) or Brisbane (Brisbane-Narita).

# This is an edited version of a story that first appeared on Fairfax websites. www.traveller.com.au