Archive for the 'Travel Talk' Category

From the sublime to the historic … recommended Sydney hotels

August 4th, 2009

Just returned from Sydney and can recommend these 2 hotels — ones that you may not have considered before:

The Lord Nelson Hotel

The Lord Nelson Hotel

The Lord Nelson Hotel — said to be the oldest hotel in Sydney, it is situated in the Rocks area in a quiet backwater on the corner of Argyle Place & Kent Street.  It is a micro brewery, popular bar, brasserie and rooms.  The queen or king bedrooms with ensuite and breakfast (with contemporary fitout) cost $190.  The rooms offer individual charm and with only 9 rooms you wont find any specials for this hotel on Wotif.  I would however check how noisy it gets downstairs in the bar in the evenings.

Observatory Hotel, low res

Observatory Hotel

The Observatory Hotel — is now 16 years old but has the timeless appearance of an old (but stylish) English aunt.  The rooms are huge and luxurious and as a “small” hotel of 100 rooms you are really looked after by staff who really care.  Although they do have harbour view rooms (Darling Harbour, not the more spectacular views you get from Circular Quay hotels) I would choose the city view rooms — their standard room at $315 per night, and worth every penny.  (There may be specials on Wotif.)  It also has an amazing subterranean heated pool with twinkling LED lights on a deep blue ceiling — just like the movies — and a spa for massages and facials.  The high tea is quite special too.  This hotel is part of the Orient-Express group of unique hotels, cruises and luxury rail advantures.

New Zealand Touring

April 13th, 2009

I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do this year is shoe-horn myself onto a plane for 25 hours and go to depressed Europe or the UK.  I have better things to do with my money.

With this thought in mind we recently spent 2 wks in one of our favourite places — New Zealand.  Close to home, and great value for money (the exchange rate is very much in our favour at the moment), NZ offers relaxed touring on uncongested roads, great food, wine and accommodation options and fabulous scenery … not a grey gum tree in sight.

NZ scene, small3.jpg

International carriers like Emirates are only charging about $200 each way to Auckland, a city remarkably like Brisbane in size and feel.  We had two outstanding meals there — at the French Cafe (not a bit like a cafe, but a quietly elegant upmarket restaurant), and Soul at the Viaduct on the harbour.  Both remarkably busy considering that New Zealand has been in recession for over a year now.

Whilst in Auckland try to spend time on a nearby island called Waiheke, a charming 45 minute ferry trip from Auckland harbour. There are some excellent overnight accommodation options or just go over for the day. Besides being very scenic, there are wineries and olive oil producers — have lunch at Mudbrick Restaurant or Cable Bay Vineyards. Take a private tour of the island in a 6 seater bus with Christine Gisby

A 40 minute drive north of Auckland is Matakana, a small village with an exceptional Farmers’ Market every Sat morning. Introduced to us by Lauraine Jacobs, a food editor with Cuisine Magazine (one of the best food mags in the world we believe, and comes bi-monthly out of little NZ). She has written a book about Matakana (recipes, where to stay and eat) so tap into some local knowledge and buy it directly from her:

New Zealand is an easy place to discover yourself, but here are a few tips: Continue Reading »

The Goroka Mudmen & Other Tales

April 7th, 2008

Mudmen 002 resized 2.jpgWhilst moored in Madang Lagoon, 27 of us chartered a plane for the short flight to Goroka to see the famed Mudmen. Those who remained on board had the option of just having a relaxed look around the town and markets, a more involved tour which included a trip to the village of Bilbil (famous for its pots) for a sing-sing, or go scuba diving.

The mudmen were fascinating and the trip also involved visiting a coffee plantation, museum and the local Goroka markets. 

Since the Australians departed PNG the economy is fragile with, we’re told, corruption rife.  The traditional clan (Wontok) system does not blend well with democracy and it will probably take a couple of generations for this country to get its act together. Nevertheless, the people we met were happy, healthy and many spoke English — compliments of the various church groups that still hold sway in PNG.  Of course we did not visit Moresby and Lae where things are more chaotic.

In the Milne Bay area we visited a tiny island on Easter Sunday and attended the lovely stone church for a service.  The harmonising voices of 100 locals soared above the pounding of a tropical storm.  These people are strong, with deep faith.

Seeing New Guinea the Easy Way

April 7th, 2008

Mudmen cropped resized.jpgFrancis and I are a bit over travel as hard slog, so when a friend recommended that we see PNG aboard the expedition ship ‘Orion’, it sounded right up our alley. This Australian owned, small luxury ship (takes 100 passengers with 70 crew) is part owned by Paspaley Pearls and everything about it spells class.  Menus are by Serge Dansereau (of Bathers Pavilion fame) and the food was superb.  Likewise, the service, spaceous cabins, friendly efficient staff … absolutely flawless.

The ship goes only to small, remote locations — having first organised the villagers to welcome us with special dances, firewalking, historic tours (related to World War 11), and just to show us their way of life.  We mostly did “wet landings” via Zodiacs and the ship has very knowledgeable expedition leaders who have great local knowledge.  Highly recommended.

On a small ship like this you meet everyone, it’s quite a personal experience.  One amazing 92 year old gentleman, who had been in the area during the War, went on all the tours including being transfered from Zodiacs to traditional outrigger canoes for a paddle up the Sepik!

Genuine, well-priced artifacts (carvings, pots, baskets and shells) were a bonus of our visit. 

Memoir of Women in Paris

October 10th, 2007

Paris at night1.jpg

A great read to get you in the mood to see a more personal side of Paris — ‘True Pleasures, A Memoir of Women in Paris’ by Australian author Lucinda Holdforth. She tells the stories of Collette, Marie Antoinette, Nancy Mitford, Pompadour, Coco Chanel and others, all strong women who made their mark. She introduces you to some of their favourite places in Paris: Continue Reading »

Favorite Places in the Sth of France

October 10th, 2007


Carcossonne — An almost perfectly restored walled city between Toulouse and Montpellier, it is of course crawling with tourists during the day but I recommend you stay at a hotel within the walls and emerge at night (everything is floodlit) to eat and enjoy the magic.  Take the tour of the castle.

Hotel Donjon — 132-157E high season for a double room. Old world setting.

Hotel de la Cite — if you are feeling cashed up, this Orient Express luxury hotel is wonderful. 375-525E per double. Or just drop in for a drink as we did but expect to pay $A14 for a beer — worth it though.

Continue Reading »

Paris, September 2007

October 10th, 2007

Patisserie.jpgI think I have discovered my all-time favourite area to stay in Paris — Ile St Louis, the little island behind Notre Dame. This was the first part of Paris to be settled by the Romans and is like a separate little village in the heart of Paris. It’s also an easy walk to the interesting bits of the Left Bank and the fascinating old jewish sector, The Marais.

As you can tell by the photo (left), it was World Cup time Continue Reading »

The Dordogne, France

October 10th, 2007

French Sausage Seller.jpgThe outside temperature is minus 59C and I’m on to my second glass of Champagne. My flight back to Oz, after 3 intensive weeks of eating and  drinking in France, was supposed to be the start of my diet … but what’s one more day?

I’ve consumed more than my fair share of foie gras, duck confit, cepes, terrine, french bread and sublime butter (what is it we do to Australian butter to make it so … ordinary?).  With some of the family we have rented a village house for a week in the Dordogne (or Perigord) –in south west France. This is an area that still feels quite traditional, with many medieval walled (bastide) villages, beautiful rivers, forests and superb markets (marche) are a regular feature of town life — the sheer variety and quantity of lovely handcrafted food leaves me breathless. Continue Reading »

How to Buy a House in the South of France

July 27th, 2007

Provence house.jpgStuart and Lidia Darlow live in the beautiful city of Nimes in the south of France. They visit Brisbane every year, bringing details of houses for sale in the Languedoc Roussillon region — houses by the sea, 17th century village houses, farmhouses, maison de maitre (master’s house). They have some very happy buyers in Brisbane and next visit will also go to Sydney and Melbourne.

It is very easy to buy property in France and they can arrange 100% finance at 5% fixed interest for 25 years.  You can expect 8-10% capital gains per year and 3/4 of the mortage could come from rentals. You will however have to find 8% of the purchase price for legals etc. Continue Reading »


June 13th, 2007


Shanghai 043.jpg

This dynamic city (and region) today produces half the wealth of China and is a showcase for development in this emerging communist country.  It has had a fascinating history of foreign occupation (French, English, Americans and White Russians) during the period when China was closed to the world from 1650 to the early 20th century.  In the 1920s it was a modern, decadant city of opium, Chinese ‘mafia’, liberal sexual mores and was known as the ‘Paris of the East’ or ‘Whore of the Orient’ — it was a very exotic port of call.  Continue Reading »

« Prev - Next »