December 27, 2018

24 Hours in Hong Kong

A day in Hong Kong

John Newton has a very busy day on his way back from Europe!

It's a simple 'ding ding' - but when there are more than 160 of them it adds to the cacophony of noise along the tramways of Hong Kong Island.

Affectionately called 'ding ding' by locals, mimicking the sound of a bell, the city's 114-year-old trams shake, rattle and roll their way past some of the island's skyscraper landmarks.

But one old double-deck tram in particular stands out from the rest. It's the one that runs on the 'Tramoramic' tour between Causeway Bay and Sheung Wan's Western Market – or vice versa.

As part of a three-pronged attack on completing three value-for-money attractions in a day – morning, afternoon and evening - I jumped aboard the 1920s-style open top tram for an ear-piercing slow (very) journey from the Causeway Bay Terminus to the Western Market Terminus via a branch circulating Happy Valley racecourse and through bustling streets filled with ultra-modern cityscapes, as well as colourful history and modern culture.

The one-hour tour, with free WiFi and recorded commentary with authentic tales of local life and tram history in eight languages, costs HKD$95 adults and HKD$65 children.

And to make it even more worthwhile, you get a two-day ticket for unlimited access on Hong Kong Tramways' network.

It was time to move on to transport that runs faster (not by much in Hong Kong's traffic jams), so I headed for the hop on/ hop off Big Bus, which operates daily on three routes (red, blue and green).

I opted for the green route from the Central Ferry Pier 7 – mainly because the price included a trip on the 130-year-old iconic Peak Tram without having to queue. And the wait at times can be long. Very long.

Back downtown from the heady heights of the Peak, the Big Bus joins the heavy traffic to Ocean Park, then along a winding coastal road to upmarket Repulse Bay, where there are opulent homes overlooking the sea – and even a Ferrari dealership on the waterfront.

Next stop is Stanley, where I hopped off to grab a bargain or two at the renowned market by the South China Sea.

Stanley has changed dramatically over the past decade with the market losing many of its bargain clothing stalls and the place looking somewhat tacky. But the choice of al fresco dining options along the main street on the promenade more than made up for the disappointing market.

Big Bus ticket costs range from HKD$480 for a one-day ticket that also includes a trip on the Star Ferry. A two-day de-luxe ticket – costing HKD650 – also includes a one-hour tour on Victoria Harbour and Kowloon nightlife tour.

No first-time visit to Hong Kong is complete without a signature seafood feast at the giant Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurant in Aberdeen, the last stop of the Big Bus green route.

Located at the Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter, there's a free shuttle ferry to Jumbo Kingdom from Aberdeen Promenade Pier and Wong Chuk Hang Shum Wan Pier.

Now in its 42nd year, Jumbo Kingdom is best known for its fresh seafood (customers can select what they want from a huge fish tank), traditional Cantonese cuisine and dim sum. The restaurant's interior and exterior were built following the design of the royal court of Ming Dynasty. It took four years to complete at a cost of HKD$30 million.

Over the years, Jumbo Kingdom has been the film set for many movie blockbusters.

*For more information on the three tours go to:

Hong Kong people call the tramway the 'ding ding' in reference to the double bell used by the trams to warn pedestrians of their approach.

John and Pat were guests of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, Hong Kong Tramways, Big Bus Tours and Jumbo Kingdom.

Words: John Newton.

Images: as supplied

Feature supplied by:

Peter Pinney - the original vagabond travel writer

Peter Pinney
Peter Pinney
has always had a love of adventure. In fact, travel in new places, preferably strange places, is his chief interest and his principal method of enjoying life. As a boy in Sydney, he gave early signs of his unconventional ways by hanging by his heels from the Harbour Bridge to win a small bet. His subsequent adventures have fulfilled that early promise. During World War II he was a member of an independent company of the A.I.F. in New Guinea, and since the war he has been principally a traveller, frequently describing himself for visa purposes as a student of folklore. He likes to travel almost penniless, feeling that it is the only way of meeting the ordinary people of the countries through which he is passing.

December 17, 2018

Is this the ultimate business jet? Inside Boeing's 777-8


David Ellis

AIRCRAFT maker Boeing has released details of the latest in its ultimate indulgences for the business person who has everything.

It's a version of its 777 passenger jet that normally carries close to 400 passengers in three classes, but as the company's now-newest in top-of-the-range Business Jets, this one will more likely fly anything from a mere handful to fifty or so, in an ambience more akin to a 5-star hotel suite.

And up to half-way around the world, non-stop.

The BBJ 777-8 (Boeing Business Jet 777-8) as it will be known when it goes to its first new owners in 2020 will cost around US$450m (AU$623m), the buyer then turning it over to a specialist aircraft detailer who will outfit it at a cost of tens of millions more.

And such outfitting could include everything from work places and meeting rooms, to lounges, sleeping areas with king- or queen-size beds, dining alcoves serviced from the best of airborne kitchens, possibly games rooms, cinemas and even Turkish steam-baths, plus any possibilities in personal foibles from the weird to the wondrous.

And it will have the longest range of any executive jet flying, something like 21,600km without stopping (Sydney to New York, as a comparison, is around 16,000km, and Sydney to London a touch over 17,000km.)

To keep it in the air over such vast distances, this new Boeing BBJ 777-8 will fill-up with 180,000 litres of fuel, and will have fridge, freezer and pantry space for enough of the best in food and beverages to keep passengers and crew generously slaked from go to whoa no matter where they are flying.

And if you are wondering whether there are many out there likely to buy such an aerial indulgence, since launching in 1996 Boeing Business Jets has delivered 234 various model flying boardrooms-cum-hotels, to better-heeled companies, presidents, prime ministers and palaces world-wide.

[] AIRCRAFT maker Boeing's ultimate in indulgence for the business person who has everything – a Boeing 777 passenger jet that normally carries up to 400 passengers, revamped to fly a mere handful to maybe fifty or so business executives, 5-star-hotel-like half-way or more around the world, and non-stop. (Pic: JetAviationOutfitters)


December 16, 2018

Multi-generational cruising great for families

As a travel writer and photographer I love cruising, but recently I had the chance to undertake a cruise that was completely different, a cruise our family had talked about for years.

It was the adventure of a lifetime for us. We had discussed it over and over around the family dining table for years: "We should go on a family cruise together."

Finally, it happened. We booked a 10-day cruise on Carnival Spirit and I set off with my granddaughter Laylah, 7, and my parents John and Marie Kelly of Shoal Bay, NSW.

The first thing I noticed at breakfast on the first day at sea was a lot of other families had decided to do exactly what we were doing.

There were grandparents and grandkids everywhere: more than I had seen on any other cruise.

Multigenerational cruising, where three or four generations sign up for a voyage together is the new buzzword of the cruising world.

In fact, it has been voted by experts as the number one trend in world travel in 2018-2019.

We booked a balcony cabin which is a bit more roomy for the four of us, but I would recommend you book separate cabins if you have the funds.

On the first day we set off with Laylah to explore the kids' facilities and I was quite frankly astounded at how good they were. I had cruised on Carnival Spirit before, but the kids' facilities are something you really don't notice until you have a child in tow.

Laylah loved the kid's facilities right from the start. She was in the 6 to 8 years group and was designated as a Stingray and received a special backpack with Stingray gear inside.

Camp Ocean is Carnival Spirit's children's facility and it was alive with atmosphere and carefully chaperoned activities in a safe and secure environment.

At Camp Ocean, 2–11 year-olds stay busy, keep active and have fun as they enjoy all-new ocean-themed activities and entertainment made for kids.

The professionally supervised, age-based groups and with their "cool" marine-life themes allow the kids to make friends easily.

The littlest little ones, ages 2 to 5, join the Penguin colony and engage in activities like Musical Icebergs and Ocean Bingo. Then the 6 to 8 group is the Stingrays, who enjoy events like Pirate Game Night, making sea salt art or even designing their own aquarium.

The big fish are the Sharks, aged 9 to 11, who have activities like Marine Life Trivia and creating a giant ocean mural,

Night Owls opened at 5pm and was free until 9pm. From 9pm to midnight it was $8 an hour.

Some nights from 5.30pm the kids could dine independently. Pizza, Burgers, chips and donuts were served for those who decided to dine there.

We decided to book a table at 5.30pm in the grand dining room and have our evening meal together. It was a chance to allow Laylah to learn all about reading a menu, talking to waiters about the dishes and selecting her courses. This was a lifetime experience for her, something she could take with her through life.

Laylah loved the Cat in the Hat breakfast in the dining room with green scrambled eggs and ham. The characters from the movie and the book kept the kids entertained. Lots of laughing and smiles all round!

The ship had an amusement arcade which was fun and you could use your cruise card to pay for the games. There was also a studio, actually beautiful big sunny room, exclusively set aside for arts and crafts.

I found most families tend to meet at breakfast, decide what they're going to do that day and then head off in all different directions. There was a deckchair with my name on it while my father went to the gym (he's 85) and mum went off to buy our bingo tickets for the 11am draw.

The cruise was extra special for my mum and dad because they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary on board.

Kids' menus are provided in the main dining rooms and buffets and special meals are laid on to keep the kids entertained.

If you are travelling in a large family group, booking dining tables in advance is highly recommended by, to make sure you can all be seated at adjoining tables throughout the cruise.

We set times each day to meet up for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Advance planning is the key to success as well when going ashore at stunning places like Mystery Island, Isle of Pines and Mare.

We set up a base as soon as we went ashore and everyone knew where to meet. Laylah went snorkeling each day while we found a shady spot to settle down. Dad went off exploring on foot.

It pays to book your shore tours before you go because they tend to sell out quickly, especially the morning tours.

The Waterworks is great for kids of all ages and is the number reason kids want to cruise with Carnival.

I'll leave the final word with Laylah on multigenerational cruising: "Nan, when can we go again"?

Find the cruise for your family:

Words and Images by Sharon Micallef

Feature supplied by:

1. Carnival Spirit means fun in the sun
2. Great grandfather John with Laylah
3. The kids' slides
4. Sharon and Layla
5. Laylah dressed up for Island Night
6. Mystery Island was our favourite place

December 12, 2018

Croatia: From A to Zagreb

Zagreb has just about everything!

It may not have an Eiffel Tower, Colosseum or Trafalgar Square, but what the dynamic Croatian capital lacks in monumental icons, it does have a treasure or two of its own - even if they are somewhat quirky, writes John Newton.

Topping the bill is the Museum of Broken Relationships in the city's Upper Town. Dedicated to failed love relationships, the museum's exhibits include personal objects left over from former lovers, along with brief descriptions.

The award-winning museum, founded by two Zagreb-based artists – a film producer and a sculptor - was set up as a travelling collection of donated items, but is now in a permanent city location.

After their four-year love relationship came to an end, the two men joked about setting up a museum to house the left-over personal items. But it was not until three years later when they started asking their friends to donate objects left behind from their break-ups, that the collection came to fruition.

At its core, the museum is described as an ever-growing collection of items, each a memento of a relations past, accompanied by a personal, yet anonymous story of its contributor.

But also in Zagreb, is the unique Mirogoj cemetery, which as well as its historical significance, is considered one of the more noteworthy landmarks to visit, covering 72 hectares (177 acres) just outside the city.

There are more than 350,000 people from all walks of life buried in Mirogoj (meaning peaceful hill) – and is regarded as one of Europe's most beautiful cemeteries.

One minute you'll be looking at a huge statue in memory of a Croatian historical figure and next door is a gravesite of a Jewish family. You will find the graves of Croatia's most noble families, famous writers, poets, composers and architects.

The magnificent cathedral, too, is not without a touch of the unconventional with its casino's chandeliers mixed with so much history, and different artistic styles.

The chandeliers came from the former Gold Coast Casino in Las Vegas, which was redecorating while, at the same time, Zagreb Cathedral was struggling with its old lighting system. A Croatian immigrant working at the casino urged his bosses to donate them to the cathedral, which gratefully accepted them.

Murals or street art is widespread in Zagreb, but it's certainly not frowned upon with commissioned work all over the city, including several adjacent walls of paintings of famous Croatian inventors, such as Slavoljub Eduard Penkala, who invented the first fountain pen and patented the 'hot water bottle'; Nikola Tesla, inventor of the world's first hydro-powered plant at Niagara Falls in 1895; David Schwarz, who invented the first Zeppelin airship; and a fingerprint of Ivan Vučetić (aka Juan Vucetich), who invented the system of identifying people by fingerprints.

Zagreb's first public transport is a 66-metre high ride on a funicular called Uspinjaca. From the main street – Ilica – in lower town, the shortest funicular in the world it takes people to the Baroque upper town to admire the city.

Built in 1890, over an old city vineyard (vines are still growing), it takes just 64 seconds to reach the top, where you can climb the 13th century Lotrscak Tower to watch a cannon fired at noon.

From museums and upmarket shops to micro-breweries, ice cream shops and chestnut and corn vendors, it just about has everything. Vincek – the most popular ice cream shop – sells 40 different flavours – the most unusual being pumpkin. Another delicacy found on Ilica is called bajadera – a Croatian delicacy made of praline nougat enriched with almonds, hazelnuts and/or walnuts.

Zagreb's main form of transport – its steely blue electric trams – run up and down Ilica and to all corners of the city, which boasts 4500 restaurants, cafes and coffee houses with one on almost every street corner, according to my well-informed guide.

At the top end of Ilica, you'll find the 'Zagreb 360 degrees' observation deck from where you get a bird's eye view of the city's commercial hub – Ban Jelacic Square – its busy market and the soaring twin spires of the cathedral – Croatia's tallest building.

Not to be missed is the big, colourful farmers' market – called Dolac – located on a roof terrace above Ban Jelacic Square. It's a beehive of activity from early morning to mid-afternoon flaunting top quality food from all around Croatia, as well as souvenirs – the most popular being shirts of Luca Modric, the Croatian footballer who plays for Real Madrid and just recently won the Ballon d'Or '(Golden Ball') awarded to the male player deemed to have performed the best over the previous year.

For a break from the city, Samobor, a half-hour drive away, is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in inland Croatia. It's famous for 'kremsnita' (custard cake) and 'cesnjovka' (garlic sausage) – either/or both washed down with bermet – an aperitif made of red wine, spices and fruits – which, according to some documents, was served on the Titanic.

Find out more on Zagreb at:

Words and images: John Newton

Feature supplied by:


1 Ban Jelacic Square (or Zagreb main square)
2 Shortest funicular
3 Fountain pen inventor
4 St Mark Church
5 Chestnut street vendor
6 Modric – best seller
7 Zagreb Cathedral
8 Broken Relationships

December 03, 2018

Are the Greek Islands the answer to a long healthy life?


David Ellis

THE 8,500 people of the little Greek island of Ikaria in the Aegean Sea, say they have more healthy residents amongst them who are 90 years of age or over, percentage-wise, than any other place on earth.

Elderly Greek Islanders enjoying life at a relaxed pace [source:]

And they say they can thank being insulated from mechanised conveniences and gadgets and the fast-food culture of modern society elsewhere, for helping them preserve age-old customs and lifestyle habits to explain their exceptional average long-lifespans.

Plus the fact that a daily 30-minute afternoon nap is a cherished custom of Ikarians in reducing stress and decreasing the chance of heart attack, while they say that few of them wear watches, and that showing-up late is both socially acceptable and a help in reducing stress and wrinkles.

And family and community support and strong social connections are positives to lowering depression and body weight, and ultimately also help increase that lifespan.

THE people of the little Greek island of Ikaria claim to have
more healthy residents living amongst them who are 90 years of
age or over, than percentage-wise any other place on earth.
The Ikarians also boast diets high in vegetables and beans, low in meat and sugar, and with extensive use of Extra Virgin Olive Oil whose antioxidants, they say, lower the risk of heart disease and cancer, while those who live to 90 or above also drank goat's milk almost weekly as it was easier to digest than cow's milk, and was high in tryptophan that reduced stress and again lowered the risk of heart disease.

They also use goat's milk to make cheese, incorporate some 150 varieties of wild- growing green vegetables rich in antioxidants in their general cooking, and drink teas they make from herbs they grow themselves to lower blood pressure, and to in turn further lower the risk of heart attack and decrease dementia.

And they say that living in the mountains means they get plenty of daily exercise without thinking about it – further helping so many of them live to 90 or beyond.

December 02, 2018

Bratislava Old Town: Fairytale of decay

The Old Town Hall

Len Rutledge explores the Old Town of medieval Bratislava

Atmospheric churches, cool new cafes, quirky museums and statues, and all the cobbled-fairytale beauty of your typical medieval European city are hallmarks of central Bratislava, Slovakia. This is an intimate, easy-to-navigate city of around half a million inhabitants and one of the youngest capitals in Europe, but it is actually a city with a long history.

As with most European cities, it is the Old Town that has the main appeal so my wife and I spend most of our time exploring the cobbled pedestrian streets and hotchpotch buildings that make up this area. There are a variety of lovely little shops, cafes and eateries, and every so often we come across a beautiful church or spacious square.

St. Martin's Cathedral

This New Gothic-style building was built in its current form in 1452 and features stunning Gothic stained glass windows. Eleven Hungarian kings and eight queens were crowned in this remarkable Cathedral between 1563 and 1830.

City Museum

In the gracefully refurbished Bratislava City Museum I learned about some of the city's history. There is a chapel dedicated to a Hungarian king and a map of Vienna from 1430 showed Bratislava as almost a suburb of the Austrian capital. With the Turkish occupation of much of Hungary after 1526, Bratislava then served as the Hungarian capital for some three centuries.

Old Town Hall
Michaels' Gate

Bratislava's Old Town Hall complex dates back to the 14th century, making it one of the oldest stone buildings still standing in the Old Town. Climbing to the top of the clock tower (which dates back to 1370) provides a panoramic view over the main square and Old Town.

The Apponyi Palace next to the Old Town Hall has a Museum of Viniculture. Pay a fee and a sommelier will make recommendations about which wines to try. There is also a Period Rooms Museum upstairs.

Primatial Palace

This pretty pink palace was built in 1778 for Archbishop József Batthyány. Today, you can experience the historical grandeur of the palace by visiting the second floor with its stunning Hall Of Mirrors. If you don't want to go in take a seat in the small square in front of the palace and view the building topped with allegorical statues.

Michael's Gate

Originally built in the 14th century, many modifications have been made to the gate over time. The tower now houses Bratislava's Museum of Arms. We climbed the 110 steps leading up to the top of the tower which was part of the original city fortifications and the only bit remaining.


Bratislava's has a few funny statues with Cumil by far the most famous. He's a bronze representation of a man who is working in the sewers and has just popped his head up to get some fresh air.

Bratislava Castle

We walked to the imposing Victory Gates of white Bratislava Castle. It is decorated with military sculptures and provides incredible views of the city stretching below you. The oldest part still standing is the Crown Tower that dates back to the 13th Century. You can also stroll through the Baroque gardens and enjoy a beer or coffee at a picturesque cafe overlooking the Old Town.

The Blue Church

The Blue Church
This nice church is very blue. Even the roof tiles are blue. With a fabulous Art Nouveau facade featuring flowers and whimsical white details, the church is just outside the Old Town but is worth seeking out.

UFO Observation Deck and Restaurant

This is so called because it's set in a spaceship shaped building on the pylons of the SNP Bridge 95m above the Danube. The views are spectacular, particularly at sunset.

In summer you can join the locals nearby at Magio Beach, a public area, with imported sand and a fun atmosphere on sunny days. You can't swim in the Danube, but you can swim at the pool located near the bar. You can also play a game of beach volleyball in the sand.

National Theatre

For something special, catch an evening opera performance at the Old Building of the Slovak National Theatre in the centre of the Old Town. The Neo-Renaissance building exudes old-fashioned charm and dates to 1886.

Devon Castle

To reach Devin Castle it's under half an hour by car, or in the summer months, there are boat trips you can take along the Danube. The ruined cliff-top castle itself is impressive, then visit the Maiden Tower, separated from the main castle and balanced on a lone rock.

Visitors should consider the Bratislava CARD which gives free admission to 14 museums and galleries, a free 1-hour walking city tour in English held daily at 2.00 pm, and unlimited travel on the public transport network in all zones in Bratislava and the Bratislava Region. A one-day card costs 15 euros.

Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge

Feature supplied by:

November 26, 2018

It's Christmas in Washington

THE Presidential White House National Christmas Tree is lit up every night from late November to early January, drawing thousands of visitors to marvel at its 81,000 colourfully twinkling lights and decorations.


WHEN you’re starting to string the lights around the Christmas tree this year, give a thought to those who do the job on the National Christmas Tree outside the American Presidential White House in Washington DC.

Because that Tree is some 15 metres tall and lit with no fewer than 81,000 blue, green and red static lights interspersed with white twinkling ones, that takes a crew of five a whole ten days to install.

The tradition of the National Christmas Tree goes back to 1923 when then-President Calvin Coolidge had a Balsam Fir brought in from a nearby forest, and erected and illuminated on what is known as the White House Ellipse, a 21-hectare public park adjacent to the Presidential residence.

Some 2,500 electrical bulbs were used on that first National Christmas Tree, with cut-down fir trees subsequently being brought in every Christmas over the ensuing years. And when it was decided to give the White House its very own permanent Christmas tree in 1973, that first one unexpectedly died just five years later and was replaced with the current Colorado Blue Spruce planted in 1978.

The Tree is encircled every Christmas with a vast toy train set whose nine little trains run around on some 300 metres of tracks, with all this in turn surrounded by fifty-six other smaller Christmas trees representing every American state and territory, and decorated with handmade ornaments representative of an aspect of each of those states and territories.

The National Christmas Tree’s 81,000 lights are turned on from 4.30pm to midnight every night from late November until early January.

And visitors drawn nightly in their thousands also get to see the adjacent Presidential White House all decorated-up as well. If you’d like to know more about Washington DC and things to see and do there, visit

November 25, 2018

Southern Croatia with Back-Roads Touring

John Newton joined Back-Roads Touring on an 8-day/7-night mini coach journey. It was an off-the-beaten-track night ride to a remote agritourism farm for a feast to remember that was one of the standout highlights of this tour of southern Croatia., which also included a glimpse of Montenegro.

In the tiny village of Ljubac – high up in the hinterland about an hour's drive north of bustling Dubrovnik - the Medica family is reaping the rewards of its local culinary and cultural expertise.

The family has captured the small group tour market with its traditional home-made meat dinner feasts and a mix of Croatian-Turkish dancing and music show.

The Medicas throw open the doors to their modest home three nights a week - and there's seldom a spare seat at the table.

The meat is cooked in a bell-shaped iron cast pot under hot ash and served in an ancient stone hut, together with wine produced on the farm.

Dubrovnik's cultural history and world-renowned monuments - part of the UNESCO heritage – lure visitor from far and wide to this exquisite and one of the best-known cities in the Mediterranean.

Back-Roads Touring operates an 18-seat ultra-comfortable Mercedes Sprinter mini-coach on its growing number of European tours, with emphasis on its name – that is using as many back roads as possible, instead of main roads, to avoid traffic snarls.

Our trip began in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed ancient town of Trogir, close to the Dalmatian coastal port of Split.

An early morning stroll is well worth getting out of bed when the bells toll at 5.30, as you can pound the old town's cobbled streets in comfort before the day trippers move in. And there's plenty to see as Trogir's architecture ranges from Greek to Romanic, Gothic, Austro-Hungarian and modern. Surrounded by walls, Trogir's well-preserved fortress, towers and numerous other buildings and palaces date from the Roman, Gothic and Baroque periods.

During the two-night stay in Trogir, our genial tour leader has done her homework on visits to Roman emperor Diocletian's palace in Split and another tour highlight – Krka National Park and its magnificent waterfalls, most notably Skradinski Buk, one of Croatia's natural wonders.

A stop for a tipple or two and some home-made tapas topped off a full day before we headed back to Trogir, which was founded by the Greeks in the 3rd century.

It was back to Split the following day to hop on a ferry to Korcula, arguably the most captivating Adriatic island of Dalmatia. The sixth largest of Croatia's 1247 islands, of which just 48 are inhabited, Korcula is reputed to be the birthplace of Marco Polo.

With its natural beauty, clear turquoise waters, and 182-kilometre long indented coast with idyllic coves, beaches and promontories, it's little wonder Korcula is a nautical mecca.

Our two days on this island gem was enough time to explore the enchanting old town and meet up with a local identity, whose patisserie is a serious magnet for locals and tourist alike.

Smiljana Matijaca has been making traditional sweet biscuits called Cukarin using aromatic herbs for the past 24 years. But she won't divulge the recipe, saying the secret ingredient is "love". The award-winner makes all her pastries by hand, without any machine help, and is featured in a Croatian cookbook with over 150 recipes from the country's best chefs.

After another ferry ride back to the mainland, it's a long drive to Kotor in Montenegro with a winery stop, a medieval little town called Ston, with the longest stone wall in Europe (5.5kilometres).

This didn't give much time to explore charming and historic Kotor, a medieval UNESCO Heritage-listed town tucked into the massive bay of the same name, where tourism is blossoming.

It's surrounded by mountains plunging into picturesque Kotor Bay, which stretches 30 kilometres from the Adriatic and is Europe's southernmost fjord.

Our next stop was Perast, from where we hopped on a boat to the tiny island of Our Lady of the Rocks to meander through the ancient Byzantine-style church before heading back for two nights to Dubrovnik.

Strong winds in Dubrovnik can halt boat trips to outlying islands and the cable car operation (we did manage to get to the top of Mount Srd when the wind dropped), but our planned boat ride to the Elaphite archipelago was called off.

To make up for the disappointment, our gem of a tour leader organised a farewell lunch by the waterfront.

*For details of Back-Road Touring's Croatia and the Dalmatian Coast tour dates next year, go to:

Back-Roads also two other different tours in Croatia.

See all the tours, around the world:

As well as a tour leader who's with the group from start to finish, Back-Roads Touring provides local guides in Trogir, Split, Korcula, Kotor and Dubrovnik.

Back-Roads Touring has had 25 years' experience in small group and tailor-made tours across Europe, Asia and the UK. It says the tours – with a maximum group size in Europe of 18 – enables travellers to reach places that conventional coach touring groups can only dream of while keeping to small groups allows the company to set a more relaxed pace.

Words and images: John Newton

The writer was a guest of Back-Roads Touring

Feature supplied by:

November 23, 2018

Flanders: Belgian beer and Flemish chocolates

John Newton explores a country much smaller than its European neighbours, but finds Belgium (Flanders) is on a par with its big brothers when it comes to culture, history – and political clout. But as he also discovered, it's the amber liquid and chocolates that lure hordes of beer guzzlers and sweet-toothed tourists. And, of course, classic Flemish cuisine.

Europe's most beautiful city square, arguably, is in Brussels - and you don't have to wander far down a side street or opulent shopping arcades before coming across windows full of mouth-watering chocolates or a hip bar selling more beer varieties than an Aussie cricket team could handle.

There are breweries in all the main cities. Lots of them. Big and small. From farmhouse breweries to legendary Trappist beer.

And Flanders boasts more than 100 Michelin-starred restaurants and is recognised as having one of the world's highest densities of top-class venues.

You can even enjoy a six or seven-course meal aboard a tram fully decked out as a modern gourmet restaurant.

But eating and drinking aside, Flanders and its thriving cities is rich in culture, some seriously quirky, such as Manneken Pis (little pee man, in Flemish). It's a small bronze fountain statue from the 17th century.

Located two blocks behind the Brussels town hall, the 61-centimetre 24-inch) tall statue.

There are occasions when the cheeky Manneken Pis is hooked up in different flavours of Belgian beer, which is poured from the fountain tip and given out to the public. Little wonder the most famous inhabitant of Brussels is a popular figure – yet, despite many legendary stories, no-one has yet identified his true origin.

On most days, Brussels' magnificent Grand Place and town hall square – a mixture of styles and periods - is a heaving mass of both locals and tourists. Begun in the 15th century, it was destroyed in the 17th century and renovated in the 19th and 20th centuries it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site 20 years ago.

A tour of the Royal Palace, along with visits to the Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudula, countless art galleries and museums will keep you busy for at least three days – and that should be the minimum stay in the 'Capital of Europe'.

Just 26 kilometres by train from Brussels, Leuven is a bustling university city, where there's a heavy focus on beer consumption – after all, it is the home to the world's largest brewing company – AB inbev Brewery - producers of Stella Artois, Leffe and Hoegaarden. It produces more than 40 million litres worldwide and has a bigger turnover than Coca Cola – 56.4 billion US dollars in 2017.

Another top drop is Old Leuven blond, inspired by a classic beer whose 18th century popularity led to it being hailed as 'the king of all drinks'.

Not to be missed in Leuven are the 15th century town hall, interior of St Pieter's Catholic Church – one of the best examples of late Gothic style - and the Old Market Square, known as the 'longest bar' in Europe.

Flanders is renowned for its rich tradition of tapestry. Although the making of tapestries in Flanders stopped in the 18 century, its art still lives on in places like the De Wit Royal Tapestry Manufacturers in Mechelen. It's open every Saturday and gives an insight into what makes Flemish tapestries unique.

Mechelen has been called one of Flanders' most under-rated cities - and also lays claim to having some of Belgium's famous beers, such as Het Anker's Maneblusser, a pale ale that dates back to 1687 when the moon projected its reddish glow on the city's St.Rumbold tower, which was covered in a dense fog.

A drunken man was heard shouting "Fire, fire, the tower is on fire" – but before firefighters could reach the so-called blaze, the moon slowly moved through the fog. Since then, Mechelenanians have been called the Maneblussers or 'Moonextinguishers'.

For more details on Flanders, go to

Where to stay:

I've bedded down in many high-class hotels around the world, but one in Brussels that is not only elegant and offering 'indulgent hospitality' – but the wonderful staff really cared for me when I suddenly became unwell and had to seek medical help, resulting in an extra two days stay.

The Dominican Brussels - centrally located among the city's distinguished guild houses of the splendid Grand Place – is in a class of its own when it comes to style and service – even at the front entrance, where a dapper doorman greets guests wearing checkered pants, with a white button-up shirt, black wool waistcoat, a red tie and a black bowler hat.

The hotel's 150 rooms and suites are highlighted by bespoke carpets, which feature an ecclesiastical pattern inspired by the Dominican Abbey Order that once resided in the location- one which boasts a rich history and was a source of inspiration in the design of the hotel.

It was also once home to famous French painter – Jacques-Louis David - in the 19th century. One of the five suites is named after him, while his paintings are referenced in contemporary design details throughout the hotel.

It also has a fine dining restaurant with a classic range of cuisine.

*See more on The Dominican at:

The writer travelled as a guest of Visit Flanders and The Dominican
Words and images: John Newton
Feature supplied by:


1.      Galeries St Hubert (one of the first shopping arcades in Europe).
2.      Chocolates galore
3.      Brussels Grand Place
4.      Shop selling just beers
5.      Spoiled for choice
6.      Leuven Town Hall
7.      The Dominican Guest Lounge (supplied)
8.      The Dominican Art in the boudoir (supplied)

November 13, 2018

Lilianfels: Tea with Miss Lilian

Words and pictures: Lisa Doust

First a mini-history lesson: Lilianfels Resort and Spa was originally owned by Sir Fredrick Darley, an Irishman who arrived in Australia in 1862 and was knighted in 1887 after serving five times as Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales. In 1888, Sir Darley and his wife Lucy wisely purchased 11 acres of prime real estate adjacent to Echo Point, in the Upper Blue Mountains village of Katoomba. The Darleys then commissioned architect Varney Parkes (son of Henry) to design a summer residence for their family. Built in 1889, the charming bungalow was named for Lilian, one of the couple's seven children, who died of tuberculosis at the tender age of 22. The word 'Fels' is German for 'high land'.

Knowing this sad fact adds poignancy to my experience at Miss Lilian Tea House, which overlooks the original bungalow (home to the renowned Darley's Restaurant) and is a genuine breath of fresh air. Sipping on a cup of soothing blossoming tea (White Tea Camellia Mango, to be precise), I imagine the spirit of Miss Lilian wafting through the property's manicured gardens, inhaling the heady mix of eucalyptus and roses.

I'm brought back into the room by the equally heady mix of aromas delivered to our table. Utilising local produce, the menu is inspired by 'authentic Asian comfort food' – steamed dumplings, spring rolls, pho, laksa and wonton noodles all make a welcome appearance.

Sharing was the obvious way to go for our group of 10, and the standout dishes for me were the ultra-fresh Prawn & Papaya Salad, $26; Vietnamese Pho with locally sourced Angus Beef tenderloin served rare, $17; and Mekong Chicken (turmeric-flavoured free-range chicken with a creamy coconut dressing), $20. Equally flavour-filled was the Circa 1888 cake (Amande Praliné Blanc, 65% Madagascan Smoky Chocolate Mousse and Kacinkoa Cacao Glaze with a mini 24K gold '1888' topper), $15.

The setting is as refreshing as the Ginger Punch mocktail I chose to go with lunch (the beverages menu also includes cocktails, wine, beer and cider). Coloured lanterns line the entrance and brightly painted antique birdcages add whimsy to the interior, which subtly blends oriental and modern features. The overall effect is cool and calming, much like a weekend visit to the Blue Mountains.

A two-minute walk to Echo Point is the perfect end to a lovely lunch. Looking out over the Three Sisters, I think again of Miss Lilian, who is surely resting peacefully in this magnificent corner of the country.

Miss Lilian Tea House
Lilianfels Resort and Spa
5/19 Lilianfels Avenue
Katoomba NSW 2780
02 4780 1200

November 11, 2018

Historic Train Journeys in Yorkshire

John Newton returned to his roots in northern England to jump aboard the Settle to Carlisle train, which runs across a stunning viaduct and takes in the unforgettable views of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and neighbouring Cumbria.  

It's recognised as one of the world's greatest railway trips - like the Glasgow to Mallaig route over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, the 'Harry Potter Bridge'- further north.

But the Settle-Carlisle line was doomed to be closed by British Rail in the 1980s until a former government minister - now a UK and international railway guru - stepped in to save the tracks from being torn up.

As Britain's transport minister at the time, Michael Portillo, who fronts the long-running TV series - 'Great British Railway Journeys'- announced a government U-turn for the Settle-Carlisle railway line, after a long campaign by rail groups, local authorities - including the county councils of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire – enthusiasts and residents to keep the line open.

By far the highlight of the spectacular journey is the massive Ribblehead Viaduct, with its 24 arches. Its 402 metres (440 yards) long and 32 metres (105 feet) high. Every sixth arch is double the thickness of the others – so if one of these collapsed only five would follow.

Further down the line, at Dent in Yorkshire, is the highest main line station in England – and the glorious landscapes continue along the Yorkshire Dales National Park into the Cumbrian countryside.

The train – which now operates several daily services with diesel engines, although there are steam charters now and then – clatters past rolling hills, manicured moorland fields, kilometres upon kilometres of Roman walls, babbling streams, pristine rivers and historic towns and villages.

Although only a one hour 40-minute journey, what this short 117-kilometre journey lacks in distance is more than made up for in grandeur. From Settle to the England-Scotland border city of Carlisle, there are 20 stations (11 open, nine closed, 17 major viaducts and 14 tunnels.)

It was the last mainline railway in England built using pure physical strength and was opened to passenger trains in 1876 and has had its fair share of ups and downs since.

The line became famous through concerted efforts to save it from closure in the 1980s. Since its reprieve in 1989, millions of pounds have been invested in the railway, its stations, and the visitor centre at Ribblehead Station and to preserve signal boxes, including the one at Settle.

Situated in the foothills of the Pennines, Settle is a bustling market town and well worth at least a three-day stopover, allowing travellers to take in the sights - including Attermire Scar, with its numerous caves where bones of prehistoric animals have been found. And among the many other nearby attractions worth exploring are stunning waterfalls; the Settle Hydro, Weir and Salmon Ladder; and the dazzling limestone scenery of Ribblesdale, where the landscape is dominated by Yorkshire's Three Peaks – Ingleborough, Pen-y-ghent and Whernside – which tower over the surrounding countryside and moors. They are a top drawcard for climbers, hikers and ramblers. Walkers.

At the end of the line, Carlisle is a 2000-year-old city full of rich heritage and famous for Hadrian's Wall, the city's cathedral and Tullie

House, where there's a granite walkway which links it to Carlisle Castle.

Garsdale: Just north of Dent, there's a statue of Ruswarp the dog. A very special dog. Perched on the southbound platform, the statue commemorates the 20th anniversary of the government's reprieve of the Settle to Carlisle line. Ruswarp's paw print was accepted as a valid signature objection to the closure of the line, as he was a fare-paying passenger. But, sadly, just months after the re-opening of the line they helped to save, Ruswarp's owner died while walking with his dog in the Welsh mountains. It was not until almost three months later that his body was found near to a mountain stream. Close by was Ruswarp who had stayed with his dead master for many cold winter weeks. The dog was so weak he had to be carried from the mountain and survived just long enough to be at his master's funeral.

Where to stay:

Oozing character, The Angel at Hetton, formerly Angel Inn - just over 10 kilometres from Settle - is one of North Yorkshire's most historic pubs featuring a multi award-winning restaurant

This nine-room rural gem has recently changed hands and a start has been made on an extensive facelift by the two couples who have bought the property. However, it will stay open over the festive season and New Year before the major refurbishment resumes and the property closes again for a short time. The creation of a second dining facility featuring 'pub grub' gives patrons another option to the finer dining experience. One of the new owners, Michael Wignall, has achieved a Michelin star at every restaurant he has worked at since 1993.

*More details on the Settle-Carlisle train and the Yorkshire Dales region, contact

Words: John Newton
Images: John Newton and supplied
Feature supplied by:

A.        Settle Station
B.        Ribblehead Viaduct
C.        Yorkshire Dales
D.        Country Manor
E.         The Angel
F.         Grand Bar and lounge The Angel
G.        Mars and Saturn over Ribblehead

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