Thursday, 23 March 2017

Cathay Pacific launches secret fares sale

Cathay Pacific has quietly launched an economy class sale with savings to over 80 destinations for tickets purchased from March 23 to April 24. 

Although the release was only sent to a handful of travel media, it seems there are some great deals on offer for travel from May 1 to November 30 with fares starting from just $675 return from Australia to Asia and $1,331 return to Europe. 

Cathay Pacific’s long-haul economy class has also been recently redesigned for the airline’s brand-new A350-900 aircraft. Available now on flights from Melbourne, and soon from Brisbane and Perth, the A350 offers travellers a new seat with four-way moving cushioned headrest, power outlets and a dedicated table holder.

The A350 also features Cathay Pacific’s first in-flight wifi. For a small fee, passengers can browse the internet, send and receive emails and connect on social media, while access to the Cathay Pacific website, a number of partner websites and live TV news channels are available free of charge.

Meal times see western and Chinese food on offer giving travellers a taste of Hong Kong before they land. Snacks like hot noodle soups are always available.

Among the deals on offer are: Sydney-Hong Kong $745, Perth-Shanghai $675, Melbourne-London Gatwick $1446 and Perth-Amsterdam $1331.

For details see

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

A step back in time to colonial days in Tasmania

There is a touch of colonial history and a lot of impressive hospitality when you stay at Sorell Barracks, a delightful bed and breakfast just 25 minutes outside of Hobart and 10 minutes from Hobart Airport. 

I took a punt on Sorell Barracks site unseen on for a one-night stay last week and was more than happy with my $116 investment. 

We were given a small self-contained garden cottage that might once have been a chapel and it was packed with antiques, all the modern facilities you might need for a short stay and a small, but impeccably clean, bathroom. 

There were also loft rooms (beware the steep stairs) with balconies and desks, along with a lovely garden with dining settings and barbecues. The top-range of accommodation is four two-room spa suites. 

The owners offer $15 shuttles between the airport and Sorell for those who'd rather stay in a characterful B&B than an airport hotel. 

The oldest building in the township of Sorell, the Barracks is a colonial Georgian terrace built in 1827. The building retains all the charm of the era and while the TV was small in our room, it does the trick for a night or two. 

There were excellent continental breakfast facilities (fruit, cereals, bread, fresh milk and juice etc), a minibar and a comfortable queen bed in the garden cottage, quality towels, free wifi and windows that open to let in fresh air. 

Set in a quiet street but within walking distance to Sorell's hotels, cafes and restaurants, quaint and comfortable Sorell Barracks gets a thumbs up from us. 

Sorell Barracks, 31 Walker Street, Sorell, Tasmania 7127. (03) 6265 1572. 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

New direction for Misha's Vineyard

Misha and Andy Wilkinson are the go-ahead couple behind the successful Misha's Vineyard wines from Central Otago in New Zealand. 

Until recently the couple preferred to put their energy into export sales rather than opening a cellar door - but the times they are a changing. 

Misha’s Vineyard has now opened a Tasting Room in Cromwell - the heart of the Central Otago wine region - in an ideal location overlooking Lake Dunstan.

The Wilkinsons have a spectacular 57-hectare estate on the edge of Lake Dunstan at Bendigo, just 10 minutes from Cromwell, but felt a more centrally located tasting room would be easier for guests to access. 

With 20 export markets established and 10 vintages completed, Misha and Andy they decided it was the right time to open a tasting room to showcase their wines. 

“We receive calls every day from people visiting from overseas who are familiar with our brand and want to visit,” said Andy. “We are also seeing increased tourism, with Central Otago growing its reputation as a world-class wine and food destination. Cromwell was also recently named the fastest-growing small town in the country, so it’s really exciting to be part of that growth.”

Recent figures from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment showed that the Central Otago region had an 11.6% increase in visitor spending across all markets for the year to January 2017. 

According to Tourism New Zealand, 20% of tourists arriving in the country take part in a ‘wine experience’, up from 13% in 2014. 

With the wine tourist in mind, the design concept for Misha’s Vineyard Tasting Room was to create a simple yet elegant space that would enable guests to have a relaxed personal tasting experience. A French country inspired theme was chosen and the Wilkinsons also wanted to bring the atmosphere of the vineyard into the tasting room so three walls have large-scale photographic murals showcasing the work of renowned local photographer Tim Hawkins.

The facility includes a private tasting room for members of the newly launched Misha’s Vineyard Vine Club.

Misha’s Vineyard Tasting Room is open every day from 10am-4pm, and also offers platters and small plates for those wanting to relax and enjoy a glass of wine and the views.

“The opening of this new tasting room, signifies a new phase of growth for us,” said Misha Wilkinson. “From the outset, the strategy for Misha’s Vineyard has been to build a premium brand working primarily with top restaurants, five-star hotels and premium wine retailers around the world as well as in New Zealand. 

"We’ve won many fans along the way so now we have a place we can host them and thank them for their support, as well as the opportunity of winning some new fans.”

Misha’s Vineyard Tasting Room, 180 State Highway 8B, Cromwell 9310. 

Sunday, 19 March 2017

How to cruise the Caribbean for half price: but you'll need to be quick

Cruising can offer extremely good vacation value; and even more so if you can snap up one of the occasional special deals that are on offer.

One of those deals is seven-night Caribbean cruises with MSC Cruises starting from $467 per person twin share.

That's a ridiculously low price even if you do have to make your own way to Miami. It's probably a sign that the Trump effect is already having a major impact on tourists visiting the US.

MSC Cruises, with whom I cruised a few years ago (I was impressed) is offering half-price fares to cruises that visit destinations including the Bahamas, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Mexico, Puerto Rico and St Maarten.

These cruises depart Miami every Saturday and there is the possibility to cruise back to back for 14 nights.

These deals are for cruises from June, 2017, through to February, 2018, and children travel free when sharing a cabin with two adults, paying only port charges.

Seven-night cruises from Miami start from only $467 per person (NZ$682) twin share but this deal is only valid for bookings from March 21-27, Visit MSC Cruises at, call 1300 028 502 or talk to a travel agent. 

Check all details, and your cabin category, are correct before booking. 

Australia's love affair with Champagne continues

Australians love their Champagne. New figures show Australians popped the second-largest number of Champagne corks in history during 2016, the Comité Champagne announced at Prowein in Germany overnight.

Australia holds its position as the seventh-largest Champagne market on earth and fifth-largest per head of population, with 7.4 million bottles landing in 2016, narrowly missing the all-time record of 8.1 million in 2015.

These figures reveal the first drop in Australia’s Champagne consumption since the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2009.

“But Australia’s 2016 champagne sales could hardly be considered as a decline,” says Tyson Stelzer, author of The Champagne Guide and host of the Taste Champagne event series. “An exceptional sales record in 2015 was an anomaly, and 2016 figures perfectly fit Australia’s buoyant growth curve, popping an average of 600,000 more bottles every year since 2009.”

These results confirm the recent trend of Australian drinkers turning away from beer and cheap sparkling wine in favour of more premium cuvées from Champagne.

Champagne sold 306.1 million bottles globally in 2016, marginally less than its post-GFC record of 312.5 million bottles in 2015. The biggest growth markets for champagne in 2016 were Mexico (up 31%), New Zealand (29%), Russia (22%), South Africa (22%), South Korea (16%) and Canada (12%).

Despite this small decline in volume of sales, the average value per bottle of champagne sold globally in 2016 rose by 1.5%.

“The diversification of cuvées is continuing in 2016: 8.6% more bottles of champagne rosé have been shipped than in the previous year, and prestige cuvées show an increase of 4.6%,” said Comité Champagne communications director Thibaut Le Mailloux. “Champagne consumers are turning to ever rarer and more prestigious cuvées.”

“Of Champagne’s top 10 markets, Australia ranks lowest in proportion of rosé consumed, lowest in grower champagne and second-lowest in prestige champagne,” reveals Stelzer. “Our per bottle spend remains one of the lowest in the world.”

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Multiple draw cards lure visitors to Cygnet

There are several reasons to visit the pretty Tasmanian hamlet of Cygnet this weekend (March 18-19).  

First, there are the final two days of the Huon Arts Group Exhibition at the Town Hall, showcasing some of the finest artworks from the Huon Valley.

On Sunday, the fortnightly Cygnet Market, which draws stallholders and visitors from across southern Tasmania, will be held and Cygnet's many cafes will all be open serving local specialities. 

On both Saturday and Sunday, no fewer than 29 local leather workers, guitar makers, potters, woodworkers and other creatives will open their studios and workshops for the annual HandMade In Cygnet arts trail in and around the town. 

Visitors can check the website and plan their own trail using the interactive map

The arts trail is open 10am-4pm on both days.

The best spot to kick back and luxuriate in South Africa

An absolute beachfront boutique hotel in one of South Africa’s smartest resort towns; efficient, friendly and plentiful staff, elegant furnishings and superb food. 

The Beverly Hills Hotel, part of the Tsogo Sun group, is one the grandest hostelries in Umhlanga Rocks, KzaZulu-Natal, and was the luxury property that launched the career of global hotel magnate Sol Kerzner.

The Beverly Hills has just 89 rooms and suites, each with a private balcony and an uninterrupted view of the ocean. It is a stylish setting and one of those hotels where the staff quickly recognise guests by name. 

The award-winning hotel has become synonymous with elegance, gracious hospitality and intuitive service and boasts one of the finest hotel wine cellars in South Africa. 

When you arrive your car is swiftly and efficiently whisked away; you are checked in individually at a private desk and given a room tour. 

Facilities include complimentary wifi, a fitness centre, heated pool, a business centre, two restaurants (the buffet breakfasts and long weekend lunches are legendary here) with the option of also dining on a deck overlooking the water.

The busy port city of Durban is just a 15-minute drive, and a world, away.

This is the perfect spot to kick and relax for a few days after the excitement of exploring game reserves and excesses of the Cape cellar doors. 

To put it simply, the Beverly Hills is opulent - and given the strength of the dollar to the rand, ridiculously affordable right now. 

There is a porter service, valet service, and 24-hour room service - you get the picture. 

Signature restaurant The Sugar Club is relaxed but with very high culinary standards - and super-slick staff.

Cocktails, wines and light snacks can also be enjoyed while taking in the ocean views. You can feel your heart rate dropping. Highly recommended. 

I stayed one night as a guest of the hotel and would happily have paid with my own money to stay longer had it not been for a plane booking. 

Beverly Hills Hotel, 54 Lighthouse Rd, Umhlanga, 4320, South Africa.  +27 31 561 2211

# The writer was a guest of TogoSun Hotels 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

New wine centre to be a showpiece for the Barossa

The Barossa, Australia's leading wine-producing region, has unveiled plans for a world-class cellar and function centre to store and showcase more than 2000 dozen bottles of the region’s wines.

The Barossa Cellar project aims to showcase many of the region’s best wines at their optimal drinking age to wine industry representatives, buyers and journalists.

While the need for such a facility has been discussed by regional winemakers for several years, the project has taken significant steps forward in recent weeks and could open as soon as March, 2018.

The $4.5 million project is being driven by the Barons of the Barossa, a strangely-dressed group of influential wine industry personalities from the region, and has recently secured a major tenant and council building approval to develop the 2.8 hectare site between the townships of Tanunda and Angaston.

The Barons bought the land last year and will contribute $1 million to the project. A fund-raising campaign to raise the remaining $3.5 million will be launched next month.

The Barossa, about 70km north of the South Australian capital Adelaide, is home to many of Australia’s most famous wine brands including Yalumba, Penfolds, Wolf Blass and Jacob’s Creek.

Barossa Cellar Committee Chairman and Barossa Baron James Wark said the lease agreement signed last month with the Barossa Grape and Wine Association (BGWA) would bring the building to life and ensure the wine in the cellar would be used to maximum effect.

Wark said having the collection all in one place for the first time – rather than in various cellars around the region – would allow for consistent cellaring in “pristine” conditions and improved cataloguing and access to the wine.

“We decided that while we wanted this wine cellar, we also wanted it to be a living place and not just something that was a dormant cellar,” he said.

“What I think we’re going to be able to do is to really promote the Barossa in a fantastic new way."

Australia was the world’s fifth largest wine-producing nation in 2016 behind Italy, France, Spain and the United States. South Australia is consistently responsible for about 50% of Australia’s total annual production and about 75% of the premium wine.

The Barons of Barossa formed in 1975 and built its collection from annual wine donations from local companies to store and use their best wines at functions for people who can benefit the region.

The collection of predominantly red wines has reached more than 2000 dozen and includes wines more than 20 years old from iconic Barossa wineries such as Henschke, Penfolds, Rockford, Yalumba, Greenock Creek, Peter Lehmann and Grant Burge.

Meanwhile, wine enthusiasts and collectors will have access to Barossa’s most exclusive and rare wines at the bi-annual Barossa Wine Chapters Auction next month.

Presented by BGWA and supported by Langton’s Fine Wines, wines will be auctioned online from April 7-21 and the live auction will be held at a special lunch event on Friday 21 April, 2017.

The auction will feature rare vertical collections of back vintages, as well as large format and special releases from 59 of Barossa’s most prestigious and distinguished wineries, with a total of 159 lots available online and an additional 30 lots available at the live auction. Lots are valued from $40 up to $54,000, with wine to appeal to everyone from casual wine drinkers to connoisseurs and investors.


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

European rail networks keep improving

Travelling by fast rail through Europe is always a pleasure. No massive toll road fees, no parking issues, no big city traffic jams.

And the launch of several new high-speed lines over the next year or two are about to make some of the most popular rail routes a whole lot easier. 

Rail Europe reports that four new train services will add to the continent's expanding portfolio of existing high-speed services, with the latest addition being the Gotthard Express in Switzerland, which started operations in December, 2016. 

Spring in France will see the services of the new Paris-Rennes line begin operation, reducing travel time between the two cities to an hour 25 minutes, reducing the trip by 30 minutes. 

Then, from mid-year, the new Paris-Bordeaux high-speed service will save travellers an hour of travelling time from the current three-hour journey. 

Over in Germany, the key cities of Berlin and Munich will be brought closer together with their new high-speed connection service scheduled to start in December. The direct connection will travel at 300kph, shortening the journey to under four hours from the current six.

Then, in 2018, Spain will introduce the world's fifth-largest, third-deepest tunnel, "Variente de Pajares", which
will link Madrid to Asturias via the cities of León, Oviedo and Gijon. Journeys on the current route will be shortened by about two hours.

Rail Europe reports that it has enjoyed an average of 7% increase in rail pass and ticket sales annually.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Moores Hill is Tasmania's first off-grid winery

The team at Moores Hill in the Tamar Valley is celebrating building Tasmania's first off-grid winery. From vintage 2017, Moores Hill is making wine powered by the sun! 
"Our solar powered winery will enable us to make wine on site for the first time, a very exciting prospect," says co-owner Fiona Weller. "Construction is almost complete and equipment is arriving daily to start production."
The construction of the winery marks the 20th anniversary of the vineyard being planted and is a joint project with new business partners Tim and Sheena High of Native Point Wines. 

The solar system uses a 28kW solar array, comprised of 108 solar panels on the roof of the winery. There is
the ability to store power with a total battery capacity of 81kW hours using high-performance gel batteries.
"When we bought Moores Hill in 2008, there was a vineyard and cellar door but nowhere to crush grapes and make wine," says Weller. "The previous owners had the wine made under contract at an off-site winery, a common practice throughout the industry and very common in Tasmania.
But after years of sharing winery space and having wine made under contract, it was time for winemaker Julian Allport to build his own winery. 

A plan to have a simple shed installed fell through when the shed company went out of business. 

"While a kit shed would provide a more than adequate winery, we decided that a custom-designed building would not only deliver a superior aesthetic result but provide an opportunity to showcase our wines in a more engaging way, beyond a cellar door experience," says Weller.

"The winery is the first built structure visitors see when they approach at Moores Hill so it needed to create a positive initial impression and make a statement about our wine business.

"We were excited to find that a solar powered option was only 10% more expensive to install. The long-term cost-efficiency of solar power and satisfaction of using a renewable energy source to power our business made solar the more attractive option."

As vintage approaches, the news is all good. 
"The odd mix of wet weather, cool and warm temperatures has made for an interesting growing season," said Weller. "We are now enjoying a good stretch of warm weather that will see us through to a good quality harvest." 
Moores Hill Estate, 3343 West Tamar Hwy, Sidmouth, TAS 7270. (03) 6394 7649. 

Sunday, 12 March 2017

How wine caused me to miss the biggest story of my career

It was a lovely evening. August 30, 1997, in Paris. We'd dined well and then stopped for a couple of glasses of wine at L'Ecluse, a wine bar a few blocks from our apartment.

We headed home sometime after midnight, a little tipsy maybe. But tipsy enough so that I had lost the most important asset a journalist has; his or her instinct. 

There was a little more traffic than usual on this particular night, and a few sirens could be heard in the distance. 

By the time we reached rue de Chaillot the traffic was gridlocked, horns were being honked with vigour and there were more and more sirens; now much closer. 

My normal instinct, as a reporter (I was a foreign correspondent/sports writer for Agence France Presse at the time), would have been to have checked out the reason for this unusual activity. 

But it was getting late. I'd had those few wines, and who would care about a car accident anyway? 

I was just three blocks walk to the Alma Tunnel, the centre of activity, but I headed for bed. And enjoyed a long sleep in. It wasn't until 11 am on August 31 that I turned on the radio and heard the news. 

The most famous woman in the world was dead; possibly murdered by the British royal family. And I'd missed the chance to be amongst the first media on the scene. 

Diana, Princess of Wales, died as a result of injuries sustained in a car crash in the Alma Tunnel. Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul, the driver of the Mercedes-Benz S280, were pronounced dead at the scene; the bodyguard of Diana and Fayed, Trevor Rees-Jones, was the only survivor.

A white Fiat that collided with the Mercedes before it crashed was never found. And Rees-Jones could not remember the incident.  

It was believed by many that the British royal family had thought Diana was pregnant to boyfriend Dodi Fayed, and fearful of her having an Arab baby, had arranged the accident. Others said that was far fetched and a conspiracy theory. 

The car crashed at 12.23am. The first police arrived at 12.30am. Diana was removed from the car at 1am. She then went into cardiac arrest. Diana was moved to the SAMU ambulance at 1.18 am, left the scene at 1.41 am (an unexplained delay) and arrived at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital at 2.06 am. She died at 4am, by which time I was deeply asleep. 

I headed in to work the following afternoon as usual - and did not say a word about my late-night stroll home from L'Ecluse.   


Fancy flying from Australia to Europe for $399 one way?

Scoot is a major success story when it comes to low-cost airlines, and to celebrate its fifth birthday it is offering some incredibly low fares for a limited time only. 

The Singapore-based airline flies to a total of 59 destinations across Asia Pacific and Europe and is soon to be merged with Tigerair Singapore. Both are subsidiaries of Singapore Airlines, flying Boeing 787 Dreamliners and Airbus A320 aircraft.

"To carry 50 million passengers in such a short period is a testament to Scoot-Tigerair listening to the needs of modern travellers, cutting fares to a minimum, and allowing passengers to add on the things they need, only when they need them,” said Jared Simcox, newly appointed general manager for Scoot Australia. 


To share its birthday celebrations, Scoot is selling some ultra-low fares. For instance, flying Scoot in economy class to Singapore from Perth will cost from a $109 for a base fare that includes taxes. But food, baggage, and incidentals are extra.

All-inclusive ScootBiz fares start from $269 Perth to Singapore, and include, taxes, premium meal and drink, 30kg checked baggage, 15kg carry on baggage and priority boarding. 

Economy Fly (base) fares including taxes are from $149 from Sydney, Gold Coast and Melbourne to Singapore, and from $369 ScootBiz ex Sydney and Melbourne and $359 ex Gold Coast. 

And if you fancy a trip to Europe via Singapore how about flying to Athens (July 25-October 28) from $349 (economy base fare) ex Perth and $399 ex Sydney, Melbourne and Gold Coast. ScootBiz fares cost $999 ex Perth and $1049 from Gold Coast, Sydney and Melbourne.

The birthday fares also include destinations like Jaipur in India for $199 one way from Sydney and Melbourne, or Cochin from $279 from the same cities. 

Other destinations on sale are Hong Kong, Phuket, Maldives, Hyderabad, Krabi, Langkawi, Ho Chi Minh, Shenzen, Hanoi, Taipei, Guangzhou, Yangon and Chiang Mai.

The sale starts 10.01am in Perth 12.01pm Brisbane and 13.01pm Syd/Mel on Wednesday, March 15 and concludes on March 18. See

Friday, 10 March 2017

Affordable luxury: a quiet getaway in Tasmania

The Huon Valley town of Cygnet in southern Tasmania is well equipped with upmarket accommodation with Frenchman's River cottages and Coast House Tasmania both offering luxury homestays. 

For those on a more modest budget who still want to be comfortable and cosseted, Green Gables has two very comfortable and completely self-contained apartments in a gorgeous setting overlooking the water just a few minutes out of town.

Both apartments are individually decorated. One comes with its own lounge, the other is smaller but has a chic Parisian theme. 

The apartments are clean, nicely furnished and both have verandas with barbecues and their own private entrances. Both overlook lovely gardens. 

This family-run bed and breakfast not only provides breakfast provisions (cheese, fresh eggs and ham included), and can arrange for meals for late arrivals. It also delivers afternoon tea with biscuits and cakes (all home-made) daily - a perfect pick me up after a day visiting local beaches, farm stalls, cideries and wineries. 

Hosts Paul and Beate Fenton make sure guests have as much info and contact as they need; some may just prefer to watch yachts sail by on the Huon River; others may head to Hobart (45 mintues away) or Huon attractions including Tahune Forest Airwalk, Hastings Caves or the Wooden Boat Centre at Franklin. 

Cygnet township, with its several cafés and artists studios, is just a couple of minutes drive away; although you'll need a car.

Waterview Apartment has a king bed, lounge with TV, DVD/CD player, wireless internet and a library, along with a kitchenette with microwave, toaster, mini bar, a verandah, and a separate bathroom with a shower and double spa bath. 

The smaller Gardenview Apartment has a queen bed and private deck with outdoor seating, similar kitchenette, TV and wireless, DVD/CD player as well as a modern bathroom with fluffy towels and robes.

Prices per night for a couple start from $130 for Gardenview and $165 for Waterview off-peak ($145/$185 high season). There is a nominal two-night minimum but the owners are flexible. Apartments are serviced daily. Top value.

Green Gables B&B, 6974 Channel Highway, Cygnet, 7112. (03) 6295 0400.


Thailand aims to entice gourmets with new campaign

Thailand has launched a new tourism marketing campaign with the theme “Thai-Licious Journey” aiming to entice foodies from around the world. 
The Tourism Authority of Thailand is promoting unique food tours and culinary experiences in the Northern, Central, Eastern and Southern provinces of Thailand - where superb food can be found at ridiculously low prices.
“Thai cuisine has successfully captured the attention of consumers globally," said Yuthasak Supasorn, the TAT governor. 
"Realising that “foodie tourism” works as a catalyst to command attention, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has launched a new campaign under the theme - “Thai-licious Journey, which will motivate foodies to embark on a culinary journey to taste signature dishes in renowned venues across Thailand as the way to explore Thainess through food.”
In my experience, Thailand offers some of the highest quality and best value food on the planet.
The Thai-Licious campaign comprises three key elements: Travel and Eat like Locals; Food That Comes with a Story; and Delightful Taste.
Under the ‘Travel and Eat like Locals’ element, food-loving visitors are encouraged to travel around Thailand and seek out signature dishes of different regions. 
“They can choose to enjoy local street food or eateries, or take a cooking class to be more sophisticated foodies," said Yuthasak. "Plenty of food tours are available for visitors to experience.” 
Food That Comes with a Story highlights Thai dishes that come with fascinating background stories or legends, or foods that are associated with history and places in Thailand, while Delightful Taste will promote memorable food and travel experiences in Thailand. 

TAT will roll out the Thai-Licious campaign with the first four episodes of promotional videos covering destinations in the Northern, Central, Eastern and Southern provinces of Thailand, all of which have very different food cultures.
Examples of regional dishes and experiences being promoted are:
Phat Thai: The best-known and most-loved of Central Thailand’s dishes is Phat Thai. It is best enjoyed on Rattanakosin Island at the famous Phat Thai restaurants around the area, which are busy every night as people queue to enjoy this tasty dish.
Khao Soi: The North is famous for delicious Khao Soi curried noodles and in Chiang Mai, the eateries are best known for this typically Northern dish made with chicken, beef or pork. 
Crab Curry: The southern island of Phuket is famous for its seafood with local crab combined with the rich curry sauces of Thailand’s south. 
Grilled Shellfish and Papaya dip: A popular seafood dish of Thailand, grilled shellfish is a good example of a local fresh product. 
For details visit

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Asian travellers becoming more adventurous

Visitors to Asia are becoming more adventurous with a trend towards lesser-known destinations, a report from agoda, a leading accommodation booking site, reveals. 
The top 10 destinations in Asia gaining in popularity with travellers from around the world include quieter regions in the Philippines and Thailand. 
The fastest riser is Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan's skiing Mecca. Niseko features four interconnected resorts with more than 800 skiable hectares along the eastern side of the mountain. With an annual snowfall of over 15-metres, Niseko offers off-trail skiing and some outstanding Hokkaido cuisine. 
With seven of the ten destinations in South-East Asia, tropical island holidays continue to attract nomads looking for holiday spots off the beaten track. 
These includes islands like Thailand's Koh Kood (3), Cambodia's Koh Rong (5) and the Philippines' Siquijor Island (9). 
Andy Edwards, agoda's global director for brand and communications says: "It's clear that more travellers are adopting a more adventurous approach to travel, exploring new, undiscovered places rather than the traditional 'holiday' to a well-trodden destination.
Koh Lanta
"We're seeing an increase in bookings made in areas that bring travellers closer to local culture and nature, where life is experienced at a different pace, and against a different backdrop."
The rankings for Asia's 10 fastest-growing destinations are as follows: 1. Niseko, Japan; 2. Banaue, Philippines; 3.Koh Kood, Thailand; 4. Koh LipeThailand; 5. Koh RongCambodia; 6. Koh LantaThailand; 7. Harbin, China; 8. Tangalle, Sri Lanka; 9. Siquijor Island, Philippines; 10. Khao LakThailand. 

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Vitality Week is coming up: one hotel takes it very seriously

The week of March 20-26 has been designated Vitality Week. By whom I have no idea, but Swissôtel Sydney has taken the idea seriously and will deliver "a range of inspiring healthy menu items and activities" designed to help guests maintain their mental and physical wellbeing.

During this week guests will enjoy locally-brewed Kombucha tea on arrival, a fruit and vegetable lobby display ripe for the picking, popular breakfast bowls and the option to partake in daily walks hosted by staff members.
The five-star hotel's executive chef, Joshua Askew, has also introduced a new $25 weekday Vitality Lunch, with a goal to deliver a nutrient-filled dining experience on an ongoing basis to health-conscious Sydneysiders and hotel guests.
Chef Askew's Vitality Menu features a gut-cleaning detox shot such as spirulina, wheatgrass, beetroot or acai, followed by either a Vitality Bowl, Power Protein Salad or Sandwich, plus an accompanying drink including cold-press juices.

All menu items are made with fresh seasonal ingredients, including honey direct from Swissôtel Sydney's rooftop beehive, and will alternate on a weekly basis to ensure the best use of local produce.  
Chef Askew's Vitality Week menu features poached chicken Vitality Bowl with green tea soba noodles, avocado, cabbage, Asian herbs, sesame seeds and edamame; and pan-seared Ora King salmon; power protein salad with fennel, radish, asparagus, labneh, roasted almonds, wild rocket and dill oil; as well as a rooftop honey-glazed ham sandwich with tomato, Swiss cheese, seeded mustard, pickles, grilled zucchini on sourdough.

"All of the ingredients in this menu have been carefully considered," the chef says. "Something as simple as quinoa can be excellent for travellers in relieving altitude sickness due to its rich oxygen-carrying iron whilst proteins, such as low-GI beans, fish, chicken and beef, will keep the stomach satisfied for longer, and keep the brain alert with essential amino acids." 
Last time I looked visitors to Sydney were not at great risk of altitude sickness, but a healthy approach certainly can't be a bad thing.

Vitality Lunch is available weekdays from noon-3pm for $25. To book call (02) 9238 8888 or email

On the right track: Japan railway trips soar

Japan has become one of the hottest railway destinations for visitors from Australia and New Zealand, Rail Plus has reported. 

As someone who recently caught several trains in Japan; fast, clean and efficient, that comes as no surprise. 

With numbers up by over 10% during winter (ski season) and Sakura (cherry blossom) season always popular, rail is an increasingly popular way to travel for visitors. 

Ingrid Kocijan, commercial director of Rail Plus, says while Japan's rail network has a solid reputation for being one of the world's safest and most punctual, increased accessibility in and around Japan also plays a large part in the steady growth in visitor numbers.

"Japan has always been a fascinating country for many Australian and New Zealand travellers thanks to the country's spectacular mix of culture, ancient traditions, cutting-edge technology, infrastructure, quirks and cuisine, among other interests," says Kocijan.

"With more affordable and frequent flight options made available complemented by lower rail travel costs, there is no doubt we'll continue to see the numbers grow in healthy double digits."

Kocijan says more travellers are appreciating and enjoying the bonuses and savings afforded by Japan Rail Passes. They include free seat reservations, outstanding on-board services and facilities, the free use of certain bus lines, ferries and airport trains, as well as free entry to popular attractions such as Tokyo Tower, Mt Fuji and Himeji Castle among many others.

Rail Plus currently offers the lowest prices for Japan Rail Passes in Australia and New Zealand, with the 7-day consecutive pass starting at $178 for children under 11 and $355 for adults. Passes are valid for non-Japanese
residents and must be obtained before travelling to Japan.

For details see Rail Plus: