Tuesday, 19 February 2019

One destination; dozens of festivals

Macao is one of the most fascinating destinations in Asia with its melange of Chinese and Portuguese cultures. 

The autonomous region is gearing up for a busy 2019 with a calendar filled with a mix of festivals and events to mark its 20th anniversary as a special administrative region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China.

Much of the limelight will be on Macao’s billing as a member of the elite global list of UNESCO Creative Cities for Gastronomy.

The former Portuguese territory and its 650,000 residents are preparing for a year-long program of events that will be headed by mascot Mak Mak, a black-faced spoonbill native to Macao. 

Among the event highlights are: 

· A-Ma Festival, where homage is paid to Macao's most popular deity, the Goddess of Seafarers (April 27)

· 30th Macao Arts Festival, various locations (May 4 – June 2)

· Procession of Our Lady of Fatima (May 13)

· Macao International Dragon Boat Races and Festival (June 1, 2 and 7)

· 19th Macao Lotus Flower Festival (June 3-16)

· 2019 Wushu Masters Challenge, martial arts contest (August 1-4)

· Mid-Autumn Festival (September 13)

· The 30th Macao Fireworks Display Contest, with additional day bringing together a record 12 countries (between September 7 and October 5)

· 33rd Macao International Music Festival, various locations (October 4 – November 3).

Macao will once again host the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants promotion (March 25-26) at the Wynn Palace Cotai and from April 26-28, Macao will host its 7th Macao International Travel Industry Expo (MITE) at The Venetian Macao.

Food for thought later in the year is the 19th Macau Food Festival (above) , which runs from November 8-24.

December is traditionally a busy month and 2019 will be no exception when the city’s stages the 9th Macau Shopping Festival, the Macao Light Festival, the giant Macao International Parade and the 4th International Film Festival and Awards. 

Sports fans will have the 66th Macau Grand Prix and the Macao International Marathon to look forward to, while lovers of fireworks will prepare for a colourful evening on December 20 to commemorate the 20th year since the establishment of the Macao Administrative Region.

“There’s little doubt that Macao knows how to party,” said Helen Wong, general manager of the Macao Government Tourism Office (Australia and New Zealand). “The number of festivals and events on the calendar is overwhelming.

“Being recognised by UNESCO for its gastronomy is one of the countless highlights in a city which has always been renowned for having one of the world’s earliest forms of fusion food.” 

See www.visitmacao.com.au or www.visitmacao.co.nz

Monday, 18 February 2019

A new way to discover the delights of Bangkok

No visitor in their right mind would dream of driving in Bangkok; a city where traffic chaos is the norm.

The SkyTrain is a good option but only covers certain parts of the city. 

Taxis are a possibility but the meter can tick over rapidly when trapped in gridlock. The brave might try tuk tuks or motorbike taxis, but now there is a new option for novice sightseers wanting to take in the city's highlights in a more relaxed style.

Siam Hop is a new hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus service that covers many of Bangkok's major tourist sights and entertainment, business and shopping locations.

Siam Hop says its service is designed to help tourists plan trips in Bangkok with comfort and safety, as well as making better use of their time.

There are four different routes available with HOP Heritage having 15 stops taking in landmarks like the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.

HOP CBD comprises 10 stops exploring the Silom, Suriwongse and Charoen Krung business districts, while HOP Entertainment has 10 stops and makes its way through the Ratchadaphisek and Ladprao areas.

The final route is HOP Shopping with 14 stops along the Sukhumvit shopping strip.

Tourists can choose from three packages, including a one-day package for 799 Baht ($35), two-day package for 1,300 Baht, and three-day package for 1,700 Baht. Flexibility is provided with the tickets having a validity period of six months.

The Siam Hop app provides useful information on the different routes operated and their schedules, details on tourist attractions in the eight languages of English, Chinese, Bahasa Indonesia, Japanese, Korean, Russian, German and Thai, and updates on hot dining and shopping spots at each location.

Free wifi and USB ports for smartphone charging are also available on the buses, which are air-conditioned, certified by the Department of Land Transport and recommended by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

The service would certainly be ideal for first-time visitors nervous about taking taxis or public transport, and also visits some destinations not covered by the SkyTrain. 

Yet to be discovered is how the service will work during one of Bangkok's rain storms, when the city grinds to a standstill. 

See www.siamhopgroup.com for details.

An evening taste of Tasmania in a Sydney laneway

Sydneysiders are being enticed to sample a slice of some of the best tastes of Tasmania at a one-off laneway celebration. 

The Laneway Cellar Door Taste of Tasmania will be held from 4-8pm on March 7 in Bulletin Place Laneway in conjunction with the Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel and Three Bottle Man.

There will be several stalls highlighting wine brands from the familiar: Jansz, Ninth Island, Pooley and Josef Chromy, to rising stars like Hughes & Hughes and Tolpuddle.

Expect multiple stalls showcasing Tasmanian wines and spirits, interspersed with live oyster shucking, interactive cheese stations, food stalls and roaming trays of hot food.

The food will be crafted from the freshest Tassie ingredients and produce by European-trained chef, Raphael Szurek from Silvester’s Restaurant.

The Laneway Cellar Door will be the inaugural event to mark the launch of the year-long Taste of Australia series, showcasing signature food and beverage offerings from each of Australia’s six states over 2019.

Each state and their best produce, wine and products will be showcased.

Three Bottle Man has quickly become a popular laneway destination; with an ethos of serving Australian-only products.

Tickets cost $25 including four food and wine tokens and glass hire. Drinks will cost one token, food items two tokens.



Sunday, 17 February 2019

Another airline crashes out of business

You may recall my piece a few weeks ago about the risks of trying to save money by booking cheap flights on small independent European airlines. 

Yet another has just crashed out of business, leaving more flyers out of pocket.

British regional airline Flybmi has cancelled all its flights and filed for administration, the BBC reported.

The company said it had been badly affected by rises in fuel and carbon costs and uncertainty over Brexit (Britain's absurdly chaotic exit from the European Union).

The East Midlands-based airline, which had 376 staff, operated 17 planes flying to 25 European cities.

Affected passengers have been told to contact their travel agents or insurance and credit card companies.

A Flybmi spokesman said: "It is with a heavy heart that we have made this unavoidable announcement.

"The airline has faced several difficulties, including recent spikes in fuel and carbon costs, the latter arising from the EU's recent decision to exclude UK airlines from full participation in the Emissions Trading Scheme.

"Current trading and future prospects have also been seriously affected by the uncertainty created by the Brexit process, which has led to our inability to secure valuable flying contracts in Europe."

Some customers have claimed that tickets were still being sold just hours before the airline went bust. 

In 2018, the airline operated 29,000 flights, carrying 522,000 passengers.

Flying from Aberdeen, Derry, Bristol, the East Midlands, Stansted and Newcastle in the UK, its planes travelled to destinations in the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Poland and Sweden.

Wading through PR gobbledygook in search of a story

I get a lot of press releases that don't make a lot of sense, but one headlined "Kafnu to open in Sydney" had me baffled.

It turns out that Kafnu is is used as branding by international hospitality outfit Next Story Group.

Next Story wanted to report the "market entry" of its "genre-defining" Kafnu brand into Australia with the opening of Kafnu Alexandria in Sydney.

Kafnu Alexandria, set to open on March 1 (below), is the group's fourth Kafnu property following Hong Kong, Taipei and Bengaluru. Oh, and one soon in Colombo. 

The press releases says that "all Kafnu members have access to all Kafnu properties around the world".

Err, that's four properties, but "this enables members to stay connected to the Kafnu community and continue to enjoy the benefits of engaging spaces, locally-relevant facilities and thoughtful amenities when they travel for work and leisure."

Kafnu takes its name from a hamlet in Himachal Pradesh in the northern part of India, where adventurers rejuvenate, refresh and reflect before their ascent towards the Himalayan summit.

Combining "the best elements of a shared work space, boutique hotel and social community, Kafnu properties are strategically-located and designed to foster co-creation, co-exploration and co-innovation".

I feel exhausted already. But wait, there's more.

"Kafnu aims to elevate the individual and collective potential of its members, who include creators and business owners, and to support them in their journey to success by providing the ideal environment for them to work, rest and socialise".

The Kafnu Alexandria is the inner city - an area noteworthy for its lack of reliable public transport - and close to Sydney Airport.

The press release says: "Members enjoy 24/7 access to the unique and convenient facilities that span two levels. Multiple work space configurations and meetings rooms support productivity, while purpose-built media production and podcast studios offer added utility to tech-savvy members. There are also 16 luxuriously furnished guest rooms for a good night's rest and a bespoke gin bar, where members can unwind and socialise. A virtual fitness studio ensures that members can stay on track with their fitness regimens, and as an added convenience, Kafnu membership also comes with GoGet car membership."

It doesn't get any more hip than bespoke gin bars and virtual fitness studios, but, how, pray, does one become a member?

"We are excited to introduce the Kafnu brand to Australia," said Simon Hall, general manager of Kafnu Alexandria. "What sets Kafnu Alexandria apart is our positive community culture, which encourages members to share experiences, learn from one another, work together and inspire one another to achieve even more. We are building a vibrant community of hyphenates, entrepreneurs and trailblazers, and we will support their success through bespoke activities, including talks, workshops, seminars, and industry-specific events that facilitate networking and collaboration."

Right, but what about minor details like how one becomes a member? How much does it cost? How does the system work?

The press release doesn't say. It tells me to go to www.nextstory.com/. I still couldn't discover how to become a member. I wish you better luck, should you be interested.

Friday, 15 February 2019

A chilled falanghina followed by a Nero di Troia

I enjoyed a delicious glass of falanghina last night; followed by a savoury Nero di Troia and then a piedirosso. 

All three were from the Chalmers vineyard at Merbein outside Mildura, all were from the 2018 vintage and all were first releases of the relative grape varieties in Australia. 

The wines are part of he 2018 Chalmers Project wines, the first Australian wines to be made from a suite of 10 new grape varieties selected in 2011, introduced in 2013 and released from quarantine in 2015.

Five of the 10 varieties are brand new to Australia, the other five are new clones of grapes which already have a small presence on Aussie soil.

So wine lovers might have tried a verdicchio or a teroldego before, but maybe not a ribolla gialli, or an inzolia.

I'm hugely impressed by falanghina (also known as beneventana), a white from Campania, north of Naples, that sits somewhere between soave and muscadet in style and is a fine partner for grilled seafood. 

I can't wait try some more piedirsosso, also from Campania, sometimes called palumbo, and Nero di Troia, a very moreish varietal that is grown alongside negroamaro and primitivo in Puglia.

The Chalmers family has been the forefront of new varietals in Australia since the 1990s when they imported around 70 selections of "new" wine grape varieties and clones into Australia through their nursery business. 

"It was a bold move and took years of hard work and passion to come to fruition," says Kim Chalmers. 

"We enthusiastically promoted those varieties and shared those vines with hundreds of growers across Australia with over two million vines from these original importations now planted in vineyards across Australia.

"Today we are super proud of the contribution these varieties have made. Excited to be responsible for every single Nero d’Avola vineyard and wine in Australia, every single sagrantino or schioppettino vine."

Chalmers began making wines from these varieties in 2003 including vermentino, greco, malvasia istriana, aglianico, Nero d’Avola, sagrantino, negroamaro and more. 

The Chalmers Project is now in its fourth year. 

"The results from these experiments have been an important factor in the decision making for our viticulture and winemaking over the last few years," says Kim Chalmers. 

If you fancy trying a grechetto or a pecorino or any of the other newcomers, they will cost you $32 a bottle. See www.chalmersproject.com.au

Thursday, 14 February 2019

A swish new cellar door in the Barossa

The first Kalleske family members arrived in the Barossa Valley in 1847 and various branches have been involved in grape growing and the wine industry ever since.

John and Barbara Kalleske purchased land and vineyards near Atze’s Corner in 1975 and have been developing vineyards in Ebenezer and Koonunga Hills since then.

The oldest vines on the current estate date back to 1912 on what was previously the Atze family property.

In 2005, Andrew Kalleske - the current vigneron - produced their first batch of shiraz called Eddie's Old Vine.

Atze’s Corner now also produces wine from mataro, graciano, petite syrah/durif, montepulciano, grenache, cabernet sauvignon and vermentino.

Now, in a plus for visitors to the Barossa, Atze's Corner wines can be sampled in an architecturally-designed space that has undergone a remarkable transformation from a mezzanine floor to a sleek cellar door with offers views over the valley.

Think rustic charm with copper, marble and timber fittings, as well as leather seating.

“We wanted our cellar door to maximise the views, especially at sunset," says Andrew Kalleske. "The result is a balcony that points towards the sun as it sets down the valley and overlooks our old vineyards.

"With our wines gaining considerable recognition, we wanted to offer visitors a true wine experience. This spectacular setting provides a symbiotic connection with the vineyards and the winery. By staying open later, this also means we will be the last stop for many on their visit to the Barossa.

“We are open until after sunset so when all of the other cellar doors are closing, ours provides another option.

“People can buy a glass of wine and a platter made from local produce and sit on the balcony overlooking the original old 1912 vineyard while the sun descends over the valley.”

Atze’s Corner is at 415 Research Road, Nuriooptpa and is open Friday and Saturday 1pm-sunset and Sundays and public holidays noon-5.30pm. 

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

A destination for those with a sense of adventure

Ever wonder why you read so much about cruising, or vacationing in France, or Bali?

And so little about holidays in Albania, Uzbekistan, Costa Rica or Bulgaria.

It's because the mainstream media is driven by advertising dollars - and some destinations have a lot more to spend than others.

Take Mongolia, for instance. A fascinating destination that certainly flies under the radar.

A 12-Day Trip to Mongolia's Golden Eagle Festival certainly sounds fascinating.

In remote Bayan-Ulgii, a dwindling number of ethnic Kazakhs carry on a 6,000-year-old tradition - hunting with golden eagles, one of the world’s largest predatory birds.

The Golden Eagle Festival sees the eagle handlers display their birds’ speed, skill and training, as well as the bond that forms between bird and human.

The tour also features Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, with its Buddhist and nomadic heritage, and the fabled Gobi Desert, as well as a visit to Kazakh families around Tolbo (Frog) Lake, hearing about their way of life in the Mongolian outback.

The one-off tour is scheduled for September 28-October 9, 2019, and prices start at $7,595 USD. For more information, visit https://www.mircorp.com/trip/mongolias-golden-eagle-festival/.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Lifting the bar when it comes to economy class meals

A lot of airline food is generic and close to inedible - particularly in economy class. 

I once did several legs on the same airline and was served four variations of a ham and cheese sandwich. 

Among the best airlines for economy food is Malaysian-based budget airline Air Asia - and now En Route has announced the launch of innovative hot hand-held snacks, developed exclusively for Malaysia Airlines. 

Passengers flying on selected flights from Australia to Malaysia will be able to enjoy the hot snack trio.

The hot snack, consisting of two pastries and a calzone, draws on the cultural heritage of Malaysia by bringing together Malay, Chinese and Indian flavour influences (plus Italian with the calzone, which has nothing at all to do with Malaysia).

The trio will contain lamb rendang, Chinese barbecue chicken and tandoori paneer. There will also be a vegetarian option available. 

Lau Yin May, Head of Customer Experience, Malaysia Airlines, said: "At Malaysia Airlines we are always looking at new ways to improve our food offerings on-board. We are confident that these handheld snacks will be a great new addition, capturing the unique tastes of Malaysia’s rich cultural traditions that we, as the national airline, are renowned for.”

David Helm, Asia Pacific and Middle East director for En Route International, said: “Malaysia Airlines asked us to provide a solution that was different to other hot hand-held products in the market. By working collaboratively with the team at Malaysia Airlines, our team was able to offer a solution that we are all very excited about.”

If you get to taste these snacks before me please let me know. The idea certainly makes good sense - and whole lot better than those ham and cheese sandwiches. 

For information about Malaysia Airlines, please visit: www.malaysiaairlines.com/au

Monday, 11 February 2019

Fifty-year milestone for Australian women winemakers

At a time when women winemakers are the new normal in the Australian wine industry it is extraordinary to note that Ursula Pridham was the first commercial woman winemaker in Australia in 1968 - just 50 years ago.

Pridham (below) was born Ursula Rauschl in 1935 in Austria and was educated in Germany and Austria, training as an electrical engineer.

She migrated to Australia, married Geoffrey Pridham in 1961 and established the Marienberg Winery in 1966 in McLaren Vale. Her first commercial vintage came a couple of years later under the guidance of the late Sid Hamilton.

Pridham used to say she made wines in a "feminine way" which garnered a lot of media publicity for the brand. She was one of the first winemakers I interviewed when I started writing about wine in the 1980s.

Marienberg Wines was sold in 1991 but Pridham was a true pioneer, ahead even of Pam Dunsford, who a few years later became the first Australian woman to gain a oenology degree.

No-nonsense Dunsford was the first woman to be accepted into Roseworthy Agricultural College, back in 1972 as a 22-year-old, where she studied alongside 180 men. 

She was armed with a degree in bio-chemistry and horticulture from the University of Adelaide, but told she would not get a job in the male dominated industry.

Dunsford worked as a consultant at Wynn's Glenloth and was chief winemaker at Chapel Hill for almost two decades, also doing vintages at Krug in Champagne. 

This duo helped pave the way for today's industry leaders including Sue Hodder at Wynn's, Vanya Cullen at Cullen, Louisa Rose at Yalumba and Sarah Crowe at Yarra Yering, among dozens of others.

# Three years ago, Ben Pridham, Ursula's son, purchased the Marienberg business - so look for a serious Marienberg revival. Dunsford, meanwhile, was today recognised as a "glass ceiling smasher" in the Adelaide Advertiser.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Are you ready for a little moxy in your life?

Get ready to welcome yet another new hotel brand to Australia. 
Moxy Hotels, described as Marriott International's "playful, experiential hotel brand for the next generation of travellers", is set to debut in Australia with the opening of Moxy Melbourne South Yarra (artist's impression below) in July 2021. 

The 180-room, new-build standalone hotel is being developed by Melbourne businessmen Hector Ktori and Peter Arvanitis and will be designed by architectural firm Rothelowman. 
What is a moxy? You may well ask. 
Decades ago, when I worked for the Associated Press wire service, I was baffled when a senior editor told me I had a "whole lot of moxie". It apparently means "showing force of character, determination, or nerve", although I think he actually meant that I was bloody rude and cocky.
Moxie and moxy are apparently the same and there are 30 Moxy hotels across Europe, North America and Asia and more than 80 properties in development. 
The blurb says Moxy Hotels "redefine the traditional affordable hotel experience, allowing guests to work, play and connect while surrounded by bold design and contemporary style". 
The wifi is described as "furiously fast", although how that will work in Australia is anyone's guess. 
“Australia has seen growing demand in the select-service tier (hotel jargon at its best) and we look forward to introducing the Moxy brand to this market with Moxy Melbourne South Yarra,” said Paul Foskey, Chief Development Officer, Asia Pacific, for Marriott International.
Moxy Melbourne South Yarra will be at 30-32 Claremont Street. Guests will be a short walk from Chapel Street - Melbourne's trendy shopping and entertainment strip - and South Yarra Station.  
For more information see http://moxy-hotels.marriott.com/en

Health-conscious Australians cut back on alcohol

It sounds downright unAustralian, but people from the land down under are drinking less alcohol than before. 

A new report from the Roy Morgan organisation highlighted a gradual decline in the percentage of the Australian population aged 18 and over who consume at least one type of alcoholic drink over an average four-week period.

Roy Morgan’s Alcohol Consumption Currency Report September 2018 showed that 67.9% of adult Australians had at least one drink in an average four week period, compared to 70.1% in 2013, The Shout reported.

The report also detailed the type and volume of alcohol drunk and showed declines over the four-week period for all major categories of alcoholic drinks, except for cider (below), which recorded growth.

Wine is consumed by 43.3% of the 18+ Australian population over an average four-week period, ahead of beer with 38.4% and spirits on 26.7%. 

Cider is now consumed by 12.3 per cent which has increased from 10.3% five years ago. The incidence of cider drinkings is now ahead of RTDs (11.4%), liqueurs (7.2%) and fortified wine (5.2%). 

Over the last five years the biggest decline was for wine (down 1.3%), followed by RTDs (down 0.9%) and liqueurs (down 0.8%). 

Michele Levine, Chief Executive Officer for Roy Morgan, said: “There is a gradual social change in Australia over the last five years in terms of a declining incidence of alcohol consumption. This is evident by the fact that five years ago 70.1% of Australians 18 and over consumed an alcoholic drink over an average four-week period; this has now declined to 67.9% currently. 

"The potential reasons for this decline are likely to be as a result of switching to healthier options, cost, social issues involved such as drink driving and alternative drug taking."

Saturday, 9 February 2019

When was the last time you tasted a Malvasia?

Queensland's Granite Belt wine region is known for promoting its "Strange Bird" grape varieties.

Regional pioneer Ballandean Estate has just launched its 12th alternative variety - the 27th in the region - with a limited production of malvasia istriana.

Widely grown throughout northern Italy, Croatia. Greece and Spain's Balearic islands, just 90 cases of malvasia istriana were produced from the 2018 vintage.

Leeanne Puglisi-Gangemi, fourth-generation Ballandean Estate family vigneron, said: “We had a block of chardonnay vines that we were looking to rejuvenate.

“Dad (Ballandean Estate owner Angelo Puglisi) is always keen to experiment with Italian varieties. His interest in Italian varieties is not just about the increased diversity of smells and flavours, but most importantly about structure: and, specifically, acid.

"Grapes grown for natural acid balance deliver a fresh expression of our granitic terroir, and require minimal intervention in the hands of the winemaker.

“We often visit the north of Italy, particularly Veneto and Venice where Mum’s (Mary Puglisi’s) family comes from. Soave is one of our most-quaffed holiday wines - and malvasia is blended with so many of the crisp dry Italian whites we love. 

"After the runaway success of our Strange Bird fiano, when we discovered malvasia was an early ripening, late flowering aromatic — we were inspired.”

Ballandean Estate winemaker Dylan Rhymer has applied a different unique approach to the malvasia istriana, a variety also produced by Billy Button and Bunyip Hollow in north-east Victoria, Chalmers and Vinea Marson in Heathcote and Grey Sands in Tasmania. 

“I wanted to distinguish this wine with a completely different flavour profile to our fiano," he says. "The wine has spent just three months in oak barrels, as opposed to 12-14 months for traditionally oaked white such as chardonnay.

"This has completely changed its structure and aromatics, lifted the nose and intensified its mouth feel, without bringing oak onto the palate. The process delivered a crisp, dry, fruity, perfumed wine, a great match with lighter summer foods or creamy Brie.”

Discover Australia's spectacular new dive site

Scuba divers from around Australia are expected to descend on the Fraser Coast, Queensland, to exploring the underwater wonderland created by the wreck of the HMAS Tobruk. 
Commercial operations will launch on February 25.

Fraser Coast Tourism & Events general manager Martin Simons said many divers had been waiting for months to dive on the wreck and operators were likely to be busy in the coming months as they worked through long waiting lists.
“The ship is resting on her starboard quarter about 25 nautical miles from Hervey Bay in 28 metres of water and will be an extraordinary experience for beginner and experienced divers alike,” he said.
“The side of the ship will be within about 10 metres of the surface and divers of all skill levels will have access to the vessel's major compartments as well an outside view of the propeller and rudder.”
When in service with the Royal Australian Navy, the 127-metre amphibious heavy-lift ship could carry up to 18 tanks, had two helicopter decks and provided accommodation for up to 520 troops. The ship was scuttled on June 29, 2018. 
The uniqueness of the Tobruk as a naval dive wreck was its size, Simons said.
“There is plenty of room to move around its wide companionways and large transport decks,” he said.
Hervey Bay Dive Centre director Ed Gibson toured the dive site recently. “The sea life is extraordinary,” he said.
“We saw loads of fish, turtles, the biggest eagle ray I've ever seen and squid eggs floating everywhere.”

Friday, 8 February 2019

Epic Paris-to-St Petersburg Cycling Tour Announced

You'll need to be a very fit and accomplished cyclist to want to attempt the new Paris-to-St. Petersburg "Napoleon" Cycling Tour.

Ride & Seek Adventures, the adventure travel company known for its Hannibal Expedition cycling tour from Barcelona to Rome, has announced an even more audacious excursion taking riders on a 36-day bike tour from Paris to St Petersburg.

The “Napoleon Epic Adventure” will cross seven countries following in the footsteps of Napoleon’s Grande Armée and cover over 3,700km. 

It begins in Paris with a spin down the Champs-Élysées, followed by aperitifs under the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe before departing for Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Russia 

The scenery will include rolling vineyards, forests, medieval villages, and historic cities. The tour is slated for July 6-August 10, 2019 and prices start from $15,850 USD. 

There is an option to ride 8-day or 15-day stages of the tour starting at $3,560 USD. 

“Our guests will experience total immersion into the landscape, history and culture as we ride this inspirational trail on the roads less traveled,” said Ride & Seek Founder, Dylan Reynolds. “We will sample the culinary delights and embrace the abundant cultural and historical elements as we meander our way across Europe.”

Guests will ride across the Champagne region of France into southern Germany. The route then heads through UNESCO-protected medieval villages in Poland to the North Sea. From here, it moves east via the great lakes of Poland and the Baltics. Guests will eventually arrive in St Petersburg, a city Napoleon never took, but a "must see" on a Russian odyssey.

“We will visit expert Champagne makers, eat wonderful regional cuisine, explore UNESCO recognized sites, and ride through beautiful forests, remote territory and bustling cities, all in the footsteps of Napoleon,” said Reynolds.

Tasmania's clean, green image takes a hit

Tasmania has carefully crafted a clean, green image to boost tourism - but that image has taken a couple of major hits. 

First, bush fires meant air conditions in the Huon Valley were worse than those in Delhi and Beijing, then came a report that metal contamination levels in lakes in Australia's island state were among the worst in the world.
Lakes within the state’s Wilderness World Heritage Area have been badly polluted by mining, the Australian National University study found. 
Its report said atmospheric metal contaminates from historic mining activities in Queenstown and Rosebery in Tasmania had “contaminated most of the Wilderness World Heritage Area”.
The six lakes studied – including the heritage-protected Dove Lake at Cradle Mountain, Perched Lake, Lake Dobson and Lake Cygnus – were contaminated with lead, copper, arsenic and cadmium. The readings for Owen Tarn and Basin Lake – closest to the Queenstown mine – were even worse. 
Dove Lake is beautiful but polluted
Lead researcher Larissa Schneider compared the Tasmanian lakes to highly polluted waterways such as the Kurang River in Pakistan and the Shur River in Iran. 
“The levels of contamination are really, really high,” Schneider told Guardian Australia. “There is a case in the US where levels were actually lower than Owen Tarn and Basin Lake and they had serious reproduction problems with the fish there. The levels in Tasmania are even higher.”
Research was needed to determine the impact on fish, algae and bacteria, she said, noting that lead could cause deformities in the offspring of affected fish.
The study examined the impact of airborne metal contamination stemming from the introduction of open cut mining in the 1930s until the Tasmanian government created the Environmental Protection Act in 1973.
It found metal contaminants from mining sites at Queenstown and Rosebery as far as 130km away.
Throw in continued logging and pollution caused by high-intensity fish farming and Tasmania may have some work to do to remediate its reputation. 

Oh, and I forgot that you can't swim at the southern end of popular Blackmans Bay Beach, south of Hobart, because the water is polluted. Also, wild shellfish collected in Hobart’s Derwent Estuary and Launceston’s Tamar Estuary are always unsafe to eat.

Tight Scots want to tax visitors to Edinburgh

Most cities welcome visitors. They welcome the business they bring to local hotels, restaurants and attractions, the money they inject into the local economy and the jobs that tourists create. 

Some, like Venice and Barcelona, are full to the brim - and trying to scare visitors away. Now, add to that list Edinburgh in Scotland, which wants to gouge its visitors with a daily tariff. 

The BBC reports councillors in Edinburgh have voted in favour of a "tourist tax", which could become the first of its kind to be imposed in the United KIngdom.
The new tax will not come into effect until the Scottish Parliament has passed enabling legislation, which is unlikely to happen before next year.
Edinburgh's transient visitor levy (TVL) proposals include a £2-per-night charge ($3.65) added to the price of any room for the first week of a stay. It would apply to all accommodation, including Airbnb-style short-term lets.
It is my view that collecting such a desultory charge will probably cost more than is raised. But councillors in Edinburgh backed the plans by 43 votes to 15. Five  did not vote. You have to wonder if having 63 councillors is not rather excessive (and expensive) for one city. 
The councillors say the aim is to raise money to pay for the costs of mass tourism in the Scottish capital, which is estimated to attract more than four million visitors every year.
It is estimated the tax could raise between £11.6m and £14.6m per year in Edinburgh and would apply to "all paid accommodation" across Edinburgh, including hotels, B&Bs, short-term lets and hostels. Visitors staying in campsites would be exempt (meaning campsites would be too hard to manage).
The council's decision was welcomed by Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce but they asked for more information about how the money will be spent.
Edinburgh would follow in the footsteps of European cities such as Paris and Barcelona, while Bath and Oxford councils have also called for powers to charge visitors.
Travellers to Scotland now know where they are not wanted. 

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Why you need to be very careful when booking budget flights in Europe

There are dozens of budget airlines flying to small airports all over Europe, and further afield. 
If you want to fly to Rodez, or perhaps to Stavanger, there will be options to be found online. And the fares will be cheap.
The trouble is that these airlines go out of business with alarming regularity. 
The latest to go bust is Berlin-based budget airline Germania, which has ceased flying with immediate effect. 

The airline, which carried more than four million passengers a year across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, blamed rising fuel prices and currency fluctuations for its demise.
"We ultimately failed to successfully complete our financing efforts to meet short-term liquidity needs," said managing director Karsten Balke.

"We very much regret that, as a consequence, we had no choice but to file for bankruptcy."

The company said that passengers who had booked flights as part of a package should contact their tour operator to make alternative arrangements. Passengers who booked directly with the airline are not being offered replacement flights. So there goes your money. 

The Icelandic-owned, Danish-based budget airline Primera Air went out of business last October, while the collapse of Germania follows the demise of Air Berlin, which filed for insolvency in August 2017. I still have an Air Berlin frequent flyer card somewhere. Many of its routes were picked up by easyJet.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Hear them roar. Women winemakers make a statement.

Look out for Hear Me Roar, the world’s first wine produced by women to raise funds for women in wine. 

The Australian Women in Wine Awards has announces that the new release will see100% of profits go to assist women to flourish and succeed in their chosen profession in the wine industry.

Hear Me Roar is a 2018 shiraz sourced and blended by four of Australia’s top female winemakers from parcels in the Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Eden Valley and McLaren Vale regions of South Australia.

Those involved come from the highest echelons of winemaking: Sue Hodder, Wynn’s Coonawarra Estate; Emma Norbiato, Calabria Family Wines; Rebekah Richardson, Irvine Wines, and Corrina Wright, Oliver’s Taranga.

The wine will be released on February 21 with quantities strictly limited.

A minimum order of six bottles is required, with free Australia-wide delivery. Irvine Wines have funded the project thus far and are assisting with the sales process.

The brand name Hear Me Roar is a deliberate reference to the iconic Helen Reddy song released in 1971 and taken up more widely as a rallying cry for female empowerment.

All proceeds from the sale of the wine will go towards scholarships, mentoring programs and professional development for women in the Australian wine industry. Information on how to apply and the selection criteria will be made available in June.

“This is an exciting next stage in the way we are able to support Australian women in wine,” said Jane Thomson, founder and chair of the AWIWA.

“While the awards continue to provide an important platform to champion the success of women, we also recognise that more action is needed to retain women in all roles of the industry at greater levels. Releasing this wine is a means of generating the funding we need to make that happen.”

“The amount of support received has been fantastic,” said Rebekah Richardson. “And it’s a great reminder of what we as an Australian wine community can do when we come together.”

The Australian Women in Wine Awards (AWIWA) was founded in 2015 to acknowledge and reward the work of women in the Australian wine industry, and industry leaders who champion equality and fairness for all sexes in the workplace. 

The wine can be ordered here: https://womeninwineawards.com.au/hear-me-roar/

Monday, 4 February 2019

So you enjoy a stroll: Take a walk on the mild side

North-East Victoria is a popular destination for active travellers - and Victoria's High Country has launched a new site - Walk High Country - showcasing more than 100 must-do walks around this spectacular region.

From short village strolls to multi-day mountain hikes for the more adventurous, Walk High Country is a one-stop shop for visitors keen to explore the beauty of Victoria's North East on foot.

Visitors can guide themselves or choose from a selection of new guided walk experiences around the region, including: at Mount Buller, where Ness Hinneberg of Skadi Adventures offers fully supported walking adventures for women, from half-day to overnight hikes.

Bright Adventure Company's new three-hour guided adventure explores Mount Buffalo, while High Country Hikjing Tours  has a guided, multi-day walk in and around Mount Stirling including Craig's Hut, Eagle Peaks and Crosscut Saw

At Falls Creek, the new Trails, Tails and Tucker walk takes in historic High Plains huts and superb scenery on an easy guided walk and picnic, suitable for any age.

Another option is a fully guided and supported pack-horse walking holiday through the Victorian Alps with Parktrek and Bogong Horseback Adventures. 

These new guided adventures are additions to well-established Walk High Country experiences including the Hedonistic Hiking all-inclusive luxury walking holidays including the King Valley and Mount Buffalo and Bright-based Akoine Walking Guides' three- and five-day walks from Mount Hotham to Falls Creek. 

For more details see: www.walkhighcountry.com.au

Calabria family spreads its wings to the Barossa

The Calabria family has been making wines in the Riverina region for 74 years but will this week celebrate the launch of its new base in the Barossa Valley.

Bill Calabria AM, patriarch of Calabria Family Wines, visited the iconic Barossa Valley a decade ago and made a decision that the family should spread its wings to South Australia.

Bill, wife Lena and their four children this week celebrate the opening of their Barossa Valley cellar door in the former Artisans of Barossa facility.

The picturesque Barossa landmark is situated in the outskirts of Tanunda and comprises a modern cellar door, tasting bar, restaurant and 10 hectares of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon vines.

Managing Director Michael Calabria said: “We wish Artisans of the Barossa all the best on their new venture, as they open the doors to their new wine room and bar in Tanunda. They have been instrumental in bringing a new era of wine and food to the cellar door in the Barossa Valley.”

Third-generation siblings Frank, Michael, Andrew and Elizabeth Calabria will work alongside the team from Harvest Kitchen, who will remain in residence.

“We are looking forward to partnering with the Harvest Kitchen team to continue to bring honest and flavoursome food and wine of the Barossa Valley,” said Michael Calabria.

Established in 1945 Calabria will remain based in the Riverina, where their award-winning wines include the Three Bridges label and Italian varietal range: Calabria Private Bin.

Michael Calabria said: “As a family, we saw the Barossa as Australia's equivalent to the Napa or Bordeaux regions which supports our vision of pursuing a more diverse and premium wine portfolio. This is such an exciting time for us and we have to thank our Dad, Bill, for pouring hours into the care of the vineyard and refurbishment of the cellar door. He has an affinity with the Barossa and the whole community has been exceptionally generous and supportive.”

The Calabria Family are owners of three premium Barossa Valley vineyards including the 2012 purchase of The Sophie Vineyard and the 2010 purchase of The William Vineyard, originally planted by the Hahn family in 1914 and the source of their new vintage release, Calabria The Iconic Reserve Shiraz 2014.

Calabria Family Wines Barossa Valley is on the corner of Magnolia and Light Pass roads, Vine Vale will be open daily from 11am-6pm. Harvest Kitchen will be open seven days for lunch from 11:30am and late on Friday and Saturday evenings.