Archive for the 'Travel Talk' Category


January 19th, 2015

a glorious stretch of white sand

Pottsville Beach

As a treat for my family this Christmas  I booked an expensive holiday house at Pottsville Beach.  Pottsville is a delightfully untrendy, family-orientated town on the north coast of NSW.  Many people have happy memories of childhood beach holidays at Pottsville and when I mentioned to friends we were going … they said ‘Tell us all about it, we must return’.

I am pleased to report that Pottsville hasn’t changed and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Unfortunately I cannot recommend the house we rented.  The real estate agent handling the rental (Raine & Horne at Pottsville Beach) constantly bombarded me with emails and texting to inform, then remind me of their rules and regulations, penalties for not returning the key at 9am on the day of exit ($55) etc.  I was then informed that extra cleaning charges would apply and was given a nitpicking list of things like Frig Not Wiped Out.  I consider this part of their exit clean and as the house cost $4150 for the week plus linen, it is only reasonable to expect that they will do a clean after you leave. Their rules state however that the house must be left in the condition it was when you arrived.  So … they expect that you will pack, breakfast and then spring clean the house (including cleaning the oven), and be out before 9am!  Totally unreasonable and not physically possible.

The house, called Beach and Pool at Elanora Ave , was at least 25 years old and showing its age.  It was very well positioned with direct access to the beach, but dated with worn furnishings and no air-conditioning.  The stove malfunctioned and the pool was not cleaned.  All disappointing but when I gave my feedback I was treated with distain.  So I cannot recommend this house and certainly not Raine & Horne at Pottsville Beach, who run a draconian regime apparently believing that their clients are expendable and  unimportant.  There are other agents who I’m sure have a better attitude, to whom you can give your money.  In all the years of renting holiday accommodation I have never struck this sort of thing.

The Kimberley for a Wonderful Holiday

September 2nd, 2013

OrionFrancis and I have just returned from a 2 week holiday in north west Oz.  10 days aboard the Orion, a luxury expedition ship carrying 100 passengers (with 75 crew!).  We added a couple of days in Broome and a day in Darwin to round it off.We have travelled on the Orion previously — to PNG — and loved it then.  And the superb service, restaurant quality food and comfort has not changed; many of the same staff were still there 5 years on. They run a number of Kimberley trips during the season, and my pick would be to go in June, when the inland falls are still in full rush, but little chance of rain to spoil the expeditions.  We chose mid August so the landscape was very dry (it’s the end of their Dry Season) and although we didn’t get them, apparently July/August can be windy.  Temperatures were in the mid 30s but nothing that would throw a Queenslander.  At sea we had cooling breezes and of course the ship was air conditioned.  Cabins are quite large on the Orion.

This is adventure tripping at the very soft end of the scale.  The expedition team includes naturalists, a geologist and in our case also some aboriginal art experts (from NSW and WA Art Galleries).  So we were well versed in what we were seeing, and it made things all the more interesting.  Every day there were a variety of expeditions to see aboriginal art centres, the Bungle Bungles, King George Falls, Montgomery Reef and Vansittart Bay.  Wild country with lots of history and extraordinary beauty.

Kimberley rock art The expeditions are often aboard the Orion’s fleet of Zodiacs (rubber duckies) which whisk you up rivers, through amazing canyons and onto pristine (though often crocodile infested) beaches.  Or aboard buses, planes and helicopters.  Great stuff and a photographer’s dream.  High recommended!

Of course there are other boats that ply these waters — from quite small ones taking a dozen passengers, up to the Orion with 100.  True North gets great wraps from friends and it takes 32 passengers.  None are cheap though and the most economical way to see the Kimberley is probably via bus or your own transport.

Our 2 days in Broome were also interesting.  A pretty town with distinctive corrugated architecture and a very interesting pearling history.  I have always wanted to stay at Lord Alistair McAlpine’s ex-home (an old pearler’s cottage he extended) and now a B&B with 8 rooms.  The accommodation is a bit eccentric  and not everyone’s cup of tea — many might prefer to stay in resort style at Cable Beach — but I loved it.  Do, however, make sure you get one of the larger rooms, preferably the McAlpine Suite.  McAlpine sank $500 million into Broome, buying up and restoring historic buildings (including the open air cinema) and the Cable Beach Resort.  He put Broome on the tourist map.  Quite a character, he now lives in Italy.

McAlpine House, Broome

McAlpine House, Broome

Surry Hills, Sydney

November 12th, 2011

'Far North Queensland -- Port Douglas 1992' by Brett Whiteley

On a recent trip to Sydney, I spent some time in gentrified Surry Hills, a previously rundown suburb on the southern edge of the city.  It now boasts some of the grooviest new restaurants, cafes, furnishing & homewares and edgy shops in Sydney.  Art Galleries also seem to be multiplying (7 are listed in the very useful Surry Hills Walkabout guides found in every shop

I can particularly recommend the Brett Whiteley Studio.  This is where one of Australia’s most celebrated artists lived and worked from 1988 to 1992 — and it’s one of Sydney’s best kept secrets.  The Studio exhibits a changing selection of Whiteley’s work.  Go upstairs and you get glimpses into his private world, with his sketchbooks, photographs, music and personal memorabilia.  It’s free and open on Saturdays & Sundays 10am-4pm at  2 Raper Street, Surry Hills.  (Don’t be put off if the heavy wooden door is closed with a note saying: “Warning, don’t enter if nudity offends”.  Often life drawing classes are in progress.


Au Revoir to the Canal du Midi Trees

July 29th, 2011

Angelique Chrisafis of The Gardian reports:

The doomed plane trees of the Canal du Midi

An unstoppable fungal disease has left France no choice but to reach for the chain saw, bringing down the ceiling of leaves covering the nation’s most romantic waterway.  The felling of these trees is seen as a national tragedy and its Unesco heritage status is at risk.

The 42,000 plane trees provide a beautiful dappled canape over the Canal du Midi, which winds from Toulouse to the Mediterranean.  They date back to the reign of the Sun King Louis XIV.  The disease has spread steadily along the canal since being identified in 2006.  It arrived in France in wooden ammunition boxes of American GIs in World War II.

Replanting will start soon but it will take 30-40 years to replant the famous leafy lane that runs for 200 kms through the historic heart of southrern France.  2000 trees will be felled by the end of this year, and 4000 next year until they are all gone.  So, if you ever planned to travel on this wonderful waterway, DON’T delay — see details of our recent trip in a post below.

The Amazing Raymond Blanc

July 15th, 2011

Blanc started out life in the hospitality business as a waiter.  He taught himself how to cook and his Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons (outside London in lovely Oxfordshire) has had 2 Michelin stars for 25 years.  He now heads up an empire that includes various bistros, TV series, books and a cooking school.   But Le Manoir is his focus and he has spent decades renovating the beautiful old buildings and gardens.  He is dedicated to producing as much organic produce for the restaurant as possible and in summer has 10 gardeners.  Le Manoir itself is set in acres of beautiful gardens and has 32 guestrooms.

Manoir Chef, Bruno, Francis, Me & Raymond Blanc

We had lunch there with Bruno and Catherine Loubet  (Raymond Blanc was his mentor) and then stayed overnight.  In Blanc’s own words he wants his guests to find perfection in food, comfort, service and welcome.  It ticked all those boxes for us and is an experience we will remember for a long time.  For more information about this amazing retreat:

Fancy a culinary holiday in France?

July 6th, 2011


Chef Di Holuigue's cooking class at La Combe

Imagine a beautifully restored 18th century country house in South West France, with 7 of your best pals.  An 8 day program of hands-on cooking with a top chef.  Daily guided trips to places you would have difficulty finding — like Edouard Aynaud’s truffle farm, the last working water-powered walnut mill or lunch in the grounds of a 10th century abbey.  Add to this the marvellous markets in 16th century town of Sarlat, lunch at a 1-Michelin star restaurant, visit some artists’ studios, buy antique linens for really reasonable prices … and of course lots of eating.

Francis and I spent a wonderful week at La Combe en Perigord in probably France’s premier food region — the Dordogne (or if you use the old name, Perigord Noir) in South West France.  The 3200 euros cost per person includes absolutely everything — accommodation,cooking school, all meals and wines, restaurants and informative guided tours every day.  Simply one of our best holidays ever.

Market day in 16th century town of Salat

Expat Aussie Wendely Harvey and husband Robert Cave-Rogers give you a very personal glimpse of life in France.  An editor of cook books for many years, she translated her love of food,  decor and the dream of living in France … into a business operating during the French summer.

Other highlights were a visit to a world-renowned prehistoric cave painting site, 18th century formal French gardens, foie gras farm and a walk through Limeuil, one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France.  For more information:

Our culinary class have lunch at Michelin-starred Le Vieux Logis in Tremolat

The Canal du Midi

June 27th, 2011

We have recently returned from a marvellous month’s holiday in France.  May is one of the best times to travel over there.  It is late Spring and this year (UK and France are in drought) we had perfect weather.  I can highly recommend the canal boat we booked for a week on the Canal du Midi, one of prettiest stretches of the vast canal system in France.  ‘Tango’ is a beautifully restored 1930s traditional canal boat — 30 metres long and with generous living and deck areas.  It accommodates 6-8 people in 4 ensuite cabins.  We had skipper and owner Daniel, chef Tony, guide Christophe and the gorgeous Angie to look after our every need — all speak perfect English. 

We spent a week gliding along the canal (at walking pace) enjoying wonderful meals aboard, and every day Christophe took us off for a few hours adventure to nearby villages, chateaux, a winery, fresh food markets and historic towns.  This is the best way to holiday … unpack only once for the week and your floating hotel follows you.  We ended up at Carcassonne, one of the most amazing restored medieval cities in the world.  And ate (in a little hidden restaurant up a back lane) the best Cassoulet ever — though I think our chef Graham Waddell’s version on our current Winter Menu is equal to it.

This type of holiday is quite intimate and you interact closely with the crew.  I don’t think it would suit teenagers or small children though.  It is quiet, contemplative, visually stunning and a total delight.  Everything is included in your holiday price:  all meals, drinks, wines, trips and restaurants off the boat.

One highlight was an unusual lunch in the markets at Narbonne. Chez Bebelle is owned by a popular retired rugby player whose cafe adjoins two butchers — one selling horse meat and the other beef.  When you put in your order, Bebelle uses a megaphone to shout the cut of meat required from one of these butchers.  The meat is wrapped and then hurled 10 metres over the heads of customers.   The atmosphere is a hoot … chaotic, loud and buzzing with happy customers munching on their steak et frittes.  Prices are very reasonable and the place is always full at lunchtime. 

We had just spent half an hour wandering the fresh food markets which was packed with the most wonderful fresh produce.  Acres of terrines & cheeses, rabbits and chicken with their heads still on, white asaparagus and amazing mushrooms.  Our guide Christophe bought a huge platter of the freshest prawns, sea snails and oysters to have whilst we waited for our steaks to be cooked.  Highly recommended!   More details about ‘Tango’ go to

Dinner with Rick (Stein)

March 19th, 2010

I’m not thrilled by a great deal these days, but having dinner and a cooking class with Rick Stein in his new restaurant at Mollymook (3 hrs south of Sydney) is the best thing I’ve done in ages.  I have been a fan because he is so down to earth and uncheffy, and he does a good line is gastro-tourism with his very entertaining TV series — French Odyssey (canal boating thru France), Mediterranean Escapes and coming to ABC TV in May Far Eastern Odyssey.  All of these by the way come with the same-name cookbook. He is just as charming and passionate  in person, as on film.

Rick Stein at Bannisters (Bannisters is a boutique hotel at Mollymook) is the first restaurant he has done outside his home base of Padstow in the UK.  We were part of a group of foodies who spent 2 days at the hotel indulging in some excellent food, a dinner with Rick and a cooking class at his nearby home.  Here is a very easy recipe he gave us, perfect for your next dinner party:

Marinated Tuna with Passionfruit, Lime & Coriander

“Chefs agree that tuna is best served rare.  Here I’ve taken the idea of a ceviche and added some Australian flavours — but don’t marinate the fish for longer than 10 minutes.”  Rick Stein

3cm thick piece of tuna loin fillet (or Atlantic Salmon)

1 tablespoon lime juice

2 passionfruit

3 tablespoons sunflower oil

1 medium/hot green chilli, seeded and finely chopped

1 teaspoon caster sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander

1/2 teaspoon salt plus ground black pepper

Slice tuna into very thin slices.  Lay slices overlapping onto plaates.  Just before serving make the dressing.  Sieve passionfruit pulp into a bowl to extract the juice and mix the rest of the ingredients. Spoon marinade over tuna for 10 minutes only and serve.

Gregor & Lewis Bespoke Travel at Noosa organised the trip, and hopefully will be able to do another … after Rick has filmed his northern Spain/Portugal TV  series. or phone 5447 4666.

Something quite different in Paris

October 4th, 2009

canal low res.Did you know that you can take a 2 1/2 hr canal boat ride, starting in the centre of Paris (under the Bastille) and finishing in the gentrified suburb of Parc de la Villette?  The cruise takes you via the 100 year old Canal Saint Martin, through four locks and two swing bridges, past retro style cafes and shows you “Parisians’ Paris”.  Whilst in a long tunnel at the beginning of the trip they give you a “Sound and Light” history trip of the area.  Quite unlike anything else we have ever done in Paris.  You can catch the Metro back into Paris from Parc de la Villette.  More info:


The new way to travel

October 3rd, 2009

Lafayette smallWe have just returned from Paris and this time we took an apartment for 5 nights, rather than a hotel room.  Paris hotel rooms are notoriously miniscule (they must price real estate there by the square inch), and even though our “apartment” was hardly commodious it was still the much better option.  Get a one bedroom not a studio, so that if one of you is jetlagged you have the living room to read your book, rather than perching on the toilet in the middle of the night.  We used which gives you excellent information (including the square meterage of the unit) and you can book in real time.  It pays to do your homework on which areas of Paris you prefer.  We like  Ile Saint Louis (the little island behind Notre Dame) because it’s 17th century little streets are like a village in the heart of Paris.  Other areas to consider are the Marais (the medieval Jewish sector) and The Latin Quarter.  I prefer to avoid the Champs Elysee and Louvre areas because of the wide boulevards and traffic.  If you are set on a hotel check out Hotel du Jeu de Paume on the Ile Saint Louis ( — small and full of character.

Another option is VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) which Kathy from Lets Travel told me about (minimum 2 nights).  Kathy said that she did this very successfully in Rome, where the owner picked them up at the Airport and showed them the nuts and bolts of the apartment.

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