Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Shut up, get off your phone and pay attention

With the European summer holiday season in full swing, online travel agent Agoda has been asking travellers what they think are the most annoying travel habits.

Noisy travellers (57%), travellers glued to their devices (47%), and those insensitive to cultural nuances (46%) topped the most annoying habits of fellow travellers according to Agoda's global Annoying Travel Habits survey. 


Mass tour groups and selfie-takers, cited by 36% and 21% respectively, completed the top five irritants. 

Chinese travellers seemingly have the highest tolerance for selfie-takers, with only 12% of Chinese respondents irritated by selfie-takers compared to Australians who are on the other end of the tolerance spectrum with nearly a third (31%) citing holiday selfie-takers as annoying. 

Insensitivity to local culture nuances is more than twice as irritating for Singaporeans, (63%) Filipinos (61%) and Malaysians (60%) as it is for Chinese (21%) and Thai (27%) travellers. 

About half of British (54%) and two-fifths of American travellers (41%) are intolerant of this habit.    

Almost half (47%) of the global respondents cited travellers spending too much time on their mobile devices as a grievance. Compared to travellers from other countries, the Vietnamese find those glued to their devices the most annoying (59%). Thai travellers, on the other hand, have the most relaxed attitude with only 31% against constant device usage on holiday.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, solo travellers spend nearly two hours a day on their devices when on holiday (117 minutes) - which is 15% more time than when they are travelling with friends (100 minutes) and 26% more time than if they are with family (86 minutes). 

Americans are the only exception to this trend and on average spend less time on their devices when travelling solo (62 minutes) than when they are with family (66 minutes) or friends (86 minutes). 

Brits are the most engaged travellers when travelling together, limiting their screen time to just over an hour (63 minutes) a day; comparatively Thai travellers spend more than two hours a day (125 minutes) on the phone when they travel with friends or family. 

The survey was conducted by independent market research firm  YouGov between June 19-25 and over 10,000 travellers were interviewed.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Asian cities pulling in the tourist hordes

Asian cities lead the way as leading global tourism drawcards.

There are seven Asian cities in the top 10 in terms of international tourist arrivals in 2017, leading data and analytics company Global Data reported: Bangkok, Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur and Shenzhen.

Europe, the Middle East and the United States were limited to one city each: London, Dubai and New York City respectively.



Depreciation of most of the Asian currencies (except the Chinese yuan) played a vital role in attracting international visitors to Asian cities. Tourists from Europe and China were behind the growth of international arrivals to Asia.

Bangkok continued to remain the top international tourist destination globally for the third consecutive year, with 20.8 million international visitors in 2017. Tourism-friendly visa policies of Thailand, strong promotional efforts and low-cost connectivity drove Bangkok to the top spot.

London was the second most preferred destination with 20.4 million international visitors riding on the back of deprecation in the value of British pound since the Brexit referendum, followed by Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong with 17.42 million, 15.8 million and 14.03 million, respectively. 


Konstantina Boutsioukou, Travel and Tourism Analyst at GlobalData, says: “Huge expanding middle classes, the growth of low-cost carriers and geographical proximity makes traveling within Asia easy and convenient, particularly for the first time travelers.”

GlobalData's report Tapping Into the Luxury Travel Market reveals that emerging affluent nationals of Indonesia, Turkey, Singapore, Mexico and India are saving most for overseas holidays.

Despite lower hotel costs, the occupancy rate in most of the Asian cities was around 70%, lower than cities in Europe and the US in 2017.

This is because the growth in hotel development in recent years is substantially higher than the growth in the number of travellers.

An exception is seen in Tokyo, Singapore and Seoul, where business tourists helped maintain occupancy rates at more than 80%. In terms of average daily rates (ADR), New York City leads the pack followed by London.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

A discovery: Somewhere comfortable and affordable to stay in Sydney


A week ago I was staying in a five-star hotel in the centre of the Sydney CBD (you'd all know the name). There were hot and cold running staff and all the mod cons you'd expect of a $400-a-night+ hostelry. 

The only problem was that my room over looked no fewer than five different building sites; and at 8.01am precisely hammering, banging, drilling and bashing started on all five of them.

More sleep? Forget it.

To put it bluntly, downtown Sydney is a dump at the moment with the incomplete (will it ever be finished?) light rail project a blot on the landscape and a further congesting factor in a city already plagued by chaotic traffic. It is an eyesore and an earsore.

There is, however, an easy solution. Choose a hotel on the city fringes, away from the noise and dust.

My latest discovery is the comfortable Metro Hotel Aspire, tucked away in a very quiet street in Ultimo - just two minutes' walk from the Powerhouse Museum, a few blocks from both Chinatown and Broadway. And situated next to a very quiet little park.




No traffic problems, nice refurbished rooms with private balconies - and zero noise. This is largely a residential area.

The staff at reception are very friendly and helpful and there are a restaurant/bar, function rooms, a tour desk and two computers and a printer for guest use in the lounge area. 

All rooms have complimentary tea and coffee making facilities, hairdryer, iron/ironing board, in-room safe, work desk, fast free wifi and digital TVs with YouTube/Netflix access.

Security is good with reception manned 24 hours a day.

Even better news is that I've seen double/twin rooms online starting from $103 per night to $149 - which is downright ridiculous value for Sydney, where you can easily pay triple that amount in a very average hotel.



Prices rise during peak periods, obviously, but its well worth a call to check out the fluctuating tariffs. Several different packages are available on the hotel's website.

The Metro Hotel Aspire, part of a small chain, also offers daily dinner deals in its Gumtree Restaurant that are pretty hard to resist; on Mondays try John Dory and chips and a Gumtree lager for just $15, or, on Wednesday, penne with meatballs and fresh tomato sauce and a beer for the same price.

There is also in-room dinner service and pre-paid buffet breakfasts that weigh in at $20. On-site underground car parking is available. 



With its very cosy beds, this is an ideal budget four-star choice for tourists, or anyone visiting Darling Harbour, Sydney ICC, Sydney Aquarium, Australian Maritime Museum, Cockle Bay Wharf, University of Technology (UTS) or the Star City casino.

I'd happily spend several days here on my own dime.

Metro Aspire Hotel, Sydney, 383-389 Bulwara Road, Ultimo, Sydney, NSW 2007. 
(02) 9211 1499. https://metrohotels.com.au/hotels/metro-aspire-hotel-sydney/

# The writer was a guest of Metro Hotels 
      

Friday, 27 July 2018

Chinese winery snaps up leading Australian winemaker

The Chinese are getting very serious about making their own wines. The latest signing by a leading Chinese winery is Adam Clay, previously a key member of the Penfolds red winemaking team.
Clay has joined China’s COFCO Wine & Spirits as technical director to oversee production at its Great Wall winery, Drinks Business reported.
 

Clay, 40, worked at Penfolds for 10 years from 2007 to 2017 and is a former Len Evans Tutorial scholar. 

“Adam is honoured to be Great Wall’s technical director, and will work with the team to improve its wine qualities,” the Chinese company said in a press statement.

Prior to being a member of the Penfolds red team, Clay honed his skills in wineries in Italy, California and Australia including at De Bortoli, Marchese de Frescobaldi, Pellegrini Family Vineyards and Deakin Estate.

This is not  the first time Great Wall has worked with a foreign winemaker. Leading Bordeaux wine consultant Michel Rolland has been consulting to the winery’s top wine label Chateau Sungod since 2011. 

Founded in 1978 and one of the oldest and most popular Chinese wineries, Great Wall, has nine different estates across four provinces in China: Ningxia Winery, Chateau Yunmo in Ningxia, Wujiaqu in Xinjiang, Zhuolu Winery, Chateau Sungod, Shacheng Winery, Huaxia Winery, Chateau Huaxia in Hebei province and Penglai Winery in eastern Shandong province.

New luxury hotel unveiled for the Adelaide Hills

South Australia will soon have a new boutique hotel with start on the final redevelopment stage at award-winning Mount Lofty House, part of AccorHotels' MGallery by Sofitel brand.

To be named Sequoia, the development, which will sit separate from Mount Lofty House, will include 15 luxury villas which will be positioned on the front escarpment of Mount Lofty Estate, and will capture unparalleled views of the Piccadilly Valley and its vineyards.



Each of the villas will have private balconies overlooking the valley, fireplaces and views from every room, whether it be from the bathroom, bedroom or lounge area.


The development of Sequoia is part of a $14 million upgrade of Mount Lofty House, which has seen the construction of the triple-hatted, multi-award winning Hardy's Verandah Restaurant, the introduction of the Stables Day Spa, and a new heritage-inspired entry to the estate.

Also part of the upgrade, work is well underway on refurbishing all existing rooms of Mount Lofty House, which will elevate the property to an all-suite hotel.

The refurbishment of the guestrooms is expected to complete in February 2019, while Sequoia is scheduled to open mid-2019. The hotel's Piccadilly Panorama Event Centre is also undergoing a redesign which will be completed by the end of 2018.

The general manager of Mount Lofty House, Jesse Kornoff, said: “Construction has now started on Sequoia and we are all incredibly excited by the development as it will add an entirely new level of guest experience on the estate which has been synonymous with decadence and celebration in Adelaide for 170 years.

“The Sequoia development will rival some of the best boutique hotels in Australia and together with the refurbishment of the rooms at Mount Lofty House, we are confident that Mount Lofty Estate is going to become a destination in its own right.”


Mount Lofty House showcases South Australian produce, history and lifestyle within 15 minutes of the Adelaide CBD, and is a gateway to several wine regions.

Cruises designed with wine lovers in mind

Ultra-luxury cruise line Silversea has developed a new wine program designed to encourage wine lovers to join a series of themed wine voyages.
Approximately 160 different wines populate Silversea’s wine selection, which have been selected by the cruise line’s expert, Lawrence d’Almeida. It includes one of the largest and broadest choices of complimentary wines aboard any cruise line, with roughly 70 different labels.



Every major wine region in the world is represented in the complimentary range, as well as every major wine grape. Italian wines are particularly well-represented as an homage to the cruise line’s heritage.

Linked to Silversea vessels’ ports of call, local wines are added to the wine selection depending on destinations visited.

The cruise line’s range of themed wine voyages is increasing all the time.

Departing October 18, 2018 and arriving October 31, Silver Whisper will cruise between Lisbon and Fort Lauderdale for Silversea’s next wine voyage, for which the cruise line has partnered with Comitato Grandi Cru d’Italia and the American Fine Wine Competition. The cruise will introduce guests to both ‘old world’ and ‘new world’ wines, in line with the ship’s crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

Guests will sample approximately 33 different varieties of sought-after Italian wines, which will be provided by Comitato Grandi Cru d’Italia. Subsequently, an additional American wines will be available, thanks to Silversea’s partnership with the American Fine Wine Competition.

A further four wine voyages are scheduled for 2019, including Auckland to Sydney On January 20-February 2, with Marlborough, New Zealand, and Ghost Rock in Tasmania among the destinations.

“From a rare Italian wine that is virtually unheard of, to the very finest bottles that no luxury establishment can be without, our range of wines - both complimentary and premium - is tailored to provide our guests with an insight into the world’s best wines," said Birgit Vadlau, food and beverage director of Silversea Cruises.

“Our offering of fine wines is unmatched to any other all-inclusive program at sea. Our wine voyages exemplify the exceptional range of experiences that guests can enjoy through Silversea and incorporate the finest tastes of the visited destinations.”

See Silversea’s range of scheduled wine voyages here: 
www.silversea.com/wine-voyages.html


Thursday, 26 July 2018

Wine Australia pulls out the big guns for US industry push



Having just completed a major push into China, Wine Australia has pulled out some of the biggest wine-making guns for this week's Australia Decanted mission in the United States.

The inaugural event at Lake Tahoe, California, saw 100 key US wine industry figures given a four-day tutorial on Australia’s diverse wine offering.

Over four days from July 22-26, 13 winemakers including Tim Kirk, Louisa Rose, Sue Hodder, Jeff Grosset, Bruce Tyrrell, Sarah Crowe and Michael Dhillon, shared stories about Australia’s fine wines and regions.

Senator Anne Ruston said Australia Decanted plays an important role in accelerating growth of Australian fine wine in the US.



“The Australian government’s $50 million Export and Regional Wine Support Package provides the opportunity to kick-start a renewed push by our exporters into this critical market, allowing the sector to build on the export growth Australian wines are experiencing in China, the UK and Canada,” she said.

Wine Australia chief executive officer Andreas Clark said Australia Decanted was the perfect platform to launch the wine sector’s return to a US market in which it was once a dominant player but has recently lost its away.

“The US trade has told us that now is the time for Australian exporters to re-engage with the US market," he said.

“This event will flow into Aussie Wine Week later this year and we’ve earmarked September 2019 as Aussie Wine Month to hit the US market en masse and really grab hold of the growth opportunities available.”

Jom Makan: Enjoy the flavours of Penang

Penang is on of the best places on earth for gourmets and food lovers are being enticed to the seafront city by one of its leading hotels: DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Penang. 

With Georgetown is often described as "the culinary capital of Malaysia" the new Jom Makan (Come Eat) campaign will allow guests to uncover the island’s most mouth-watering attractions, from busy markets to sizzling street food stalls, top-notch restaurants, creative cooking classes and much more.



With its rich cultural diversity, including Peranakan, Indian and Chinese influences, plus a tropical climate and abundance of local seafood, Penang has a hugely vibrant food scene. 

The island’s most famous dishes include nasi kandar, or rice served with various choices of curries; laksa, the famous spicy noodle soup; char koay teow, a fried flat noodle dish; and a popular Penang version of Hokkien mee featuring yellow noodles in prawn soup. 

All of these delectable dishes, and many, many more, can be discovered at the street food stalls and local restaurants of  regional capital Georgetown and the popular beachfront area of Batu Ferringhi.

The launch of Jom Makan also coincides with the Penang International Food Festival (PIFF), a culinary extravaganza that returns to the island this September. 

This annual event is a celebration of Penang’s street food, with 16 days of mouth-watering food and drink on Georgetown’s Lebuh Pantai (Beach Street). Guests can choose from over 150 food trucks, themed dining experiences, mini festivals and a professional chefs’ challenge.


DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Penang offers regular complimentary shuttle bus services to and from Georgetown and Batu Ferringhi, allowing guests to experience this free culinary fiesta and other events such as the Georgetown Festival, which returns this summer.

“Every visit to Penang is a feast for the senses," says Jamie Mead, the resort's regional general manager. "At DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Penang, we are proud of this rich culinary heritage and encourage our guests to experience every mouth-watering delicacy the island has to offer. 

“Our own chefs present an array of authentic local dishes at Makan Kitchen, our lively all-day restaurant. Alternatively, guests who want to learn more about the island’s food can ask our concierge who will be delighted to recommend the best places to discover local cuisine.

“I would like to invite all guests to jom makan – come and eat with us here in Penang, the culinary capital of Malaysia.”

Visitors who want to discover the best of Penang can choose to visit the island’s markets such as Chowrasta Bazaar, where locals flock to buy fresh meat and fish, along with a wide range of sweets and pickled fruits. 

After dark, Macallum Street Night Market and the Long Beach Food Court are just two spots to savour flavoursome local street food. 

Cooking class options include the Tropical Spice Garden Cooking School and Nazlina’s Spice Station, which takes guests on a tour of the local food markets before returning to Georgetown for an  al fresco class.

For more information call +604 892 8000. 

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Why Changi Airport wants to you stick around for a day or two

Of all the airports in the world Singapore's Changi is probably the most pleasant in which to spend a few hours waiting for a transfer. 

But Singapore tourism officials want flyers to spend a day or two exploring rather than an hour or two in the airport.

With over 1.4 million Australians travelling through Changi Airport annually, heading to key destinations including Europe, India and Thailand, Singapore has become a key stop-over.



With transfer passengers currently making up about 30% of Changi’s total traffic, the airport is looking to enhance the experience for its transfer guests and, in partnership with the Singapore Tourism Board, has announced a new ‘Changi Stopovers’ program aimed at enticing­­ passengers to stop over in Singapore and explore the Lion City.

From today, travellers are able to book a stopover package from as little as $63 per person which includes a complimentary one-way airport transfer, a mobile SIM card for data roaming and a choice of 20 hotel partners.

The partnership hopes to better serve stop-over passengers and strengthen Changi’s position as a regional hub of choice.

‘Changi Stopovers’ will be promoted jointly by CAG and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to overseas travellers in a $3.2 million marketing partnership spanning two years.

Look out for something special from Wynns Coonawarra Estate

For just about all of the 20 years she has worked at Wynn's Coonawarra Estate, winemaker Sarah Pidgeon has wanted to create something special from the few rows of Pedro Ximénez vines planted in front of the winery.

The vines date back over a century and were originally used to produce fortified wines. Pedro Ximénez (also known as PX) is the name of a white Spanish grape variety that can produce outstanding sherries and tawny port styles and was often distilled.



Now the first fortified from Wynn's in decades is about to be released - a joint effort between Pidgeon and Treasury Wine Estates fortified guru James Godfrey.

Over the years, Pidgeon has experimented with making sherry from the PX grapes, as well as a shiraz/PX blend and a moscato style. None made the grade.

Now she is thrilled that a wine likely to be labelled as "Aged Dessert style" will be released later this year - made using a solera system that guarantees an average five years of age.

I was lucky enough to get an advanced taste of this smooth, intense and raisiny wine earlier this week and can confirm it will be something special.

"The vines were planted in Coonawarra either in 1907 or 1917," Pidgeon says. "The records are not at all clear. It has been decades since the grapes were used in a fortified style, so it is really exciting to see this project come to fruition."

No price or labelling has yet been announced but the small volumes are likely be restricted to cellar door and mailing list only. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Is this the excuse you've been looking for to visit Tasmania?

If you've been meaning to visit Tasmania but have not yet got around to it, the Great Eastern Wine Weekend might be the excuse you have been looking for. 

To be held from September 7-9, the Great Eastern Wine Weekend is a celebration of the finest wine and fare from East Coast Tasmania - and is hosted by wilderness escape Freycinet Lodge.


The weekend begins on Friday evening with a casual ‘Meet the Makers’ tasting at sunset and the following two days feature cellar door specials, lazy brunches, vineyard events and cruisy tastings. 


There are freshly shucked oysters to enjoy standing in the very waters they’re grown, picnic rugs at the ready on secluded beaches, and a rustic long lunch between the vines of the region’s oldest vineyard.


Guests can design their own itinerary based around an Eat, Drink and Stay package at Freycinet Lodge, which includes two nights’ accommodation for a couple including breakfast, and two tickets to the Great Eastern Wine and Dinner on the Saturday night co-hosted by Tim Goddard and Claudio Radenti from Freycinet Vineyard. 

RACT member packages start at $619 and public packages start at $729. Guests looking for even more luxury might want to book one of the new and exclusive Coastal Pavilions (below). 


Some of the events are free, including the Friday tasting, while supplements are payable for activities including an interactive visit to Freycinet Marine Farm, a cooking class and three-course feast at Twamley Farm, a pinot vertical at Milton Vineyard and lunch in the vines at historic Craigie Knowe, as well as Bubbles and Bivalves sparkling and oyster brunch at Devil's Corner. 

Serious aficionados can enjoy a vineyard visit at Freycinet vineyard while more casual visitors can enjoy a range of cellar door visits.   
   
For further details and bookings visit www.freycinetlodge.com.au/wineweekend or phone (03) 6256 7222.  I did this weekend last year and can confirm it is an absolute ripper. 


Monday, 23 July 2018

How sweet it is: new wine symposium announced for Margaret River


Australia’s first Sweet Wine Symposium will be in the Margaret River region of Western Australia on October 20-21. 

The event aims to celebrate the diversity of sweeter style wine varieties being produced Down Under. 

The inaugural event will take place at Happs Wines and the launch event will feature 20 sweet wine category stations located throughout the winery for tasting, including sparkling,rosé, Late Harvest and Botrytis styles, as well as port styles, moscato, liqueurs and vermouth. 

A strong contingent of wines from across Australia is expected at the event and the entry cost of $30 for members of the public will include branded glassware, a ‘People's Choice’ vote for each category and variuous prizes. 

Winemakers and marketing experts will hold a masterclass on the Sunday studying the evolution of sweet wines in Australia. The weekend program will be rounded off with sweet wine-paired lunch. 

Happs Wines manager Leah Clearwater says the event is inspired by the need to increase the awareness and acceptance of sweet wines to the wine community.

“Surprisingly, there is no other event like it in Australia yet the enjoyment of sweet wines is celebrated daily around the world," she said. "I believe this will bring sweet-wine-lovers out in numbers and we look forward to joining with other Aussie producers to reveal some of the incredible sweet wines being produced out there.”

Wineries such as De Bortoli, All Saints, Brown Brothers, Gramps, Seppeltsfield and Morris have helped forge Australian’s long and distinguished history in sweet wine production. 

Katherine Brown, assistant winemaker and brand ambassador for Brown Brothers, said: “I think this is a great initiative as we need to ensure that sweet wines are taken seriously. 

"Of course, we can still drink them for the good fun that they are but [consumers need to] understand that it takes a lot of time and skill to make this style of wine."

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Nothing sells airline seats like panda cuteness


Never underestimate the power of cuteness to sell a product.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 20 July 2018

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

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

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



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

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

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




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

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

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

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

For more general information regarding the Spa Country Railway timetable and fares please see www.dscr.com.au/fares-and-times.php All seating is non-reserved and bookings are not required.

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


# Tim Adams points out that Rick Robertson used to bring in trainloads of wine lovers from Adelaide to the Clare Valley until the line was destroyed by fires. 

Up-market accommodation to open on the Bellarine Peninsula

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

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



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

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



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

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


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

For details see: http://lonretreat.com.au/

New luxury hotel opens in Champagne with eye-watering prices

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


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

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

Each of the 49 rooms in the hotel Hermès bath products.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Australia's other red centre hits the road

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For info phone (08) 8737 2392 www.coonawarra.org.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Stroll around Lake Macquarie for an al fresco art experience

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

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

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




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

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



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

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




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

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

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

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

For more information on what Lake Macquarie has to offer, visit www.visitlakemac.com.au

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

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

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

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


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

People are strange; no doubt about it. 

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


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


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

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Singapore Airlines and AirAsia take Skytrax honours

Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways and AirAsia were the big winners at the respected Skytrax World Airline Awards announced overnight in London.

Singapore won best overall airline for the first time in 10 years and edged out last year's winner, Qatar Airways, for the top spot.



"We're ecstatic," Yeoh Phee Teik, Singapore's senior vice president of customer experience, told CNN after his carrier also took out best first class, best airline in Asia and best first-class seat.
Qatar, a four-time winner, won best business class, best airline in the Middle East and best business class seat.
Asian airlines dominated the list, with seven of the top 10 coming from the region. Lufthansa was the only European airline to make the list and US airlines failed to earn a single award.

The results are based on surveys of more than 20 million travellers, who rated more than 335 airlines they flew between August 2017 and May 2018.

Third place went to Japan's All Nippon Airways, fourth to Emirates, fifth to Taiwan's EVA Air and sixth to Cathay Pacific. Lufthansa was sevenths ahead of China's Hainan Airlines in eighth, Garuda Indonesia ninth and Thai Airways in 10th.

Qantas climbed from 15th last year to 11th but is no longer a serous contender, while Virgin Australia plummeted from 13th place in 2017 to 22nd this year (the judges were probably sick of eating 60 grams of dried biscuit as a snack).

Qantas was successful in the Australia-Pacific region, taking out best airline, best first class, best business class, best economy class and best staff.



Malyasia-based AirAsia (one of my personal favourites) was named world's best low-cost airline for the 10th year in a row.

As part of its celebrations, AirAsia will be offering special low fares from July 23-29 on www.airasia.com and AirAsia mobile app.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Tired of paying solo cruise supplements? At last, a solution.

Solo travellers often get asked to share rooms or a cabins with complete strangers, or are forced to pay hefty single supplements. 

Riviera Travel has come to the rescue of solo voyagers by increasing its solo-river cruise offering for 2019. All cabins covered the by deal are for sole occupancy with no single supplement – potentially saving saving customers thousands of dollars. 


The British-based river cruise company has added four European river cruise itineraries reserved exclusively for solo travellers.

* A seven-night, round-trip cruise from Porto along the Douro River in Portugal from March 31, 2019
* Two seven-night, round-trip cruises from Budapest on the Danube River departing April 1 and October 28, 2019
* A seven-night cruise on the Rhone and Saone Rivers from Lyon to Avignon in France on October 31, 2019.


The two spring sailings next March and April will coincide with the start of the summer cruise season.

Riviera Travel’s International Sales Manager, Thomas Morgan, said solo cruises address a gap in the market for people who wish to enjoy a river cruise but are travelling on their own or simply prefer to have a cabin to themselves.

“We know solo travellers enjoy our river cruises and to meet growing demand, we have upped the number of cruise itineraries exclusively for solo travellers to four in 2019,” Morgan said. “Our five-star ships provide the perfect base and our itineraries offer opportunities to share wonderful experiences with like-minded travellers. 

"The cruises have been planned for spring and autumn, 2019, when the destinations visited will be more relaxed so customers don’t have to jostle with the summer crowds They can choose any cabin or suite on each ship and there will be no additional single supplement to pay whatsoever.”

Fares start at $2769, are subject to availability and include daily visits and guided excursions, all on-board meals, wifi and the services of a Riviera Travel cruise director and tour manager.

For general information on Riviera Travel’s river cruises, visit www.rivieratravel.com.au

New accommodation option for visitors to Brisbane

Visitors to Brisbane have a new accommodation option in the heart of the city with TFE Hotels opening the new Adina Apartment Hotel Brisbane, which features sweeping views over the Brisbane River. 

On the corner of George and Elizabeth streets in the city centre, the new hotel is housed in a restored Heritage-listed building that was opened in 1922 to house the Queensland Government Savings Bank. 
Several original features have been retained and the hotel now offers 220 luxurious rooms and suites, and includes an extra five levels designed to complement the historic building. Some will love the juxtaposition of old and new; others will hate it. 
The banking hall has been transformed to accommodate a new hotel lobby and restaurant, with a bar below. The lobby celebrates the building's 1920s origins. 
Facilities include a gym alongside a heated pool on the ground floor, which is enclosed on each side but open to the Brisbane sky. 
TFE Hotels chairman Allan Vidor said: “The hotel creates a real point of difference for the Brisbane market with its magnificent sense of history, and its wonderful setting, just a few steps from the waterfront and close to the heart of the city. 
"This will be a flagship for the Adina brand, which has developed since its beginnings in Sydney in 1982 into a collection of apartment hotels in Australia, New Zealand and Europe.”
The apartments are described as "spacious and contemporary". Each has its own kitchen, laundry and living room with full hotel services including 24-hour reception. 

The ground floor restaurant, Donna Chang (the name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to a Seinfeld episode and far too clever by half) will open soon. It is described as a “dining experience for the senses” with Sichuan and Cantonese flavours. 
Below the restaurant will be a 250-seat bar called Boom Boom Room.
Rooms are currently available at the 25% off introductory rate, starting from $135.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Queensland Wine Show result sparks a controversy

Are wine shows designed to help consumers discover excellent wines, to "improve the breed" or to help boost the morale of winemakers in an emerging region? 

That question was bought into focus by the results of the Royal Queensland Wine Show released over the weekend. 

The wine at the centre of much social media attention was the Symphony Hills Wines 2017 Gewurztraminer. 

This wine was named The Courier-Mail Best Queensland Wine of Show "for the best Queensland wine made and produced in Queensland by a Queensland winery ". 

There was only one problem. The grapes used for the wine came from New England in New South Wales. 

What does it say about the Queensland wine industry that the wine judged the best in the state is made from grapes grown in another state? A slap in the face for Queensland viticulturists? 

The problem for chief judge David Bicknell and his team was that no Queensland wines won a trophy, or gold medal, at the show. Although it should be pointed out that several leading Queensland producers do not enter.

Either way, it does not seem that the show committee are being totally open and honest with consumers reading their results catalogue. 

Chief judge Bicknell said on Twitter: "The elephant in the room - no gold-medal-winning wines grown in Queensland. One outstanding wine from a local producer. As an emerging area, better to focus on the positive rather than dwell on the negative?"

Vastly experienced wine show judge Iain Riggs agreed, saying: "Give recognition where due. Don't think any subterfuge intended in results."

But Peter McGlashan, winemaker at leading Queensland winery Ridgemill Estate, clearly thought no trophy should have been awarded if there was not a good enough wine from Queensland. 

"I worry it sends the wrong message about our GIs (geographic indictators)," McGlashan said on Twitter. "It is awesome to have multi-regional wineries in our area, and the great wine they produce. But those wine, according to the Label Integrity Program, are not Queensland wine.

"Hence the issue is not with the wine but with how the award is awarded by the show society."

The wine at the centre of the controversy, should you be tempted, retails for $45.