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September 29, 2019

Cruising Africa: An emerging wonder



From South Africa to Namibia, each port of call along Africa's wondrous coast has a history that's suffused with smoky intrigue. Some ports are bustling hives of activity while others are rarely visited, perhaps only on repositioning voyages or on a luxurious expedition, in which case your cruise is liberally laced with a sense of exclusivity. Whatever your chosen itinerary, cruise cabin comfort is of the utmost importance.

At the southern tip of the continent, nestled beneath Table Mountain, is South Africa's most famous port. Suffice to say that a visit to Cape Town is an African cruise highlight, but Durban, which faces the Indian Ocean, is the east coast port of choice. The city's seafront underwent a massive facelift for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, resulting in a beachside boulevard peppered at regular intervals with bars, cafés and restaurants. It is the closest thing to Rio that you will find on this continent.

At this grand promenade's southern end, not far from your ship’s mooring, is uShaka Marine World. It includes Sea World and is Africa's largest water wonderland with dolphin, seal and penguin shows. While scouting the Durban seafront, don't miss riding the Skycar to the top of Moses Mabhida Stadium for an outstanding 360-degree panorama. In addition, given Durban's vibrant Indian population, your shrewd choice in local dining would be a deliciously authentic curry.

Durban port and seafront (supplied)

Local excursions include a nano-safari to Tala Private Game Reserve to see rhino, hippo, giraffe, kudu and sable antelope. The Valley of 1000 Hills is the heartland of the Zulu nation with indigenous crafts for sale and energetic dancing to enjoy at cultural villages along the tourist route.

On West Africa's former Slave Coast, spirit worship for protection and luck is still part of daily life. Cotonou is Benin's teeming trading port, shifting goods from up-country neighbours including Niger, Burkino Faso, Mali and Togo. Cotonou's bustling Port de Peche is the local fishing fleet haven and it's an especially lively and colourful sight in the late afternoon when hundreds of fishermen haul in their catch.

You will find intricate masks, carvings and paintings in the Hall d’Art on Boulevard Saint Michel, but far more stimulating is the sprawling Dantokpa market, where a bewildering jumble of wares extends from clothing and shoes to the more intriguing voodoo dolls, amulets and charms.

Dark legend cloaks the old slave port of Ouidah, 40 kilometres west of Cotonou and famous for its full moon voodoo ceremonies. An insight into the ancient kingdom of Dahomey is the basis of an excursion to the Palais Royal du Roi Toffa (Musee Honmé) and ethnographic museum in the nearby capital of Porto Novo.

Young dancers, Walvis Bay, Namibia (RE)

Dakar's pulsating Sandaga market is a more adventurous outing. Alternatively, and closer to the port, the Marché Kermel sells fresh food and flowers. You may see a few bronzes for sale or buy a souvenir CD of the local mbalax music (Senegal's fusion of Western jazz, soul, Latin and rock with traditional sabar drumming) heard everywhere at high volume. There are views across the city from the observation level inside the imposing African Renaissance Monument, unveiled last year to celebrate 50 years of Senegalese independence.

Le Village des Arts, on the airport road, is a crucible of contemporary creativity with artists at work in 52 studios. La Maison des Esclaves, which literally translates to House of Slaves, on Gorée Island can be visited on a tour or by public ferry. It's the top tourist attraction, so expect a press of ardent hawkers en route to the 18th century building that's now a slave trade museum. Immense sand dunes are included in a half-day excursion to Lac Rose (Pink Lake), beside which salt farmers toil under a blazing sun. High salinity gives the water its unique tint.

By sailing into Walvis Bay on Africa's South Atlantic coast, you are following in the wake of 15th century Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias. The only deepwater harbour in Namibia is your gateway to the Namib desert, considered to be the world's oldest.

Tales of the bay's notorious Skeleton Coast - so-called for its many shipwrecks – are told best at the town museum. Walvis Bay's oldest building is an 1880 German mission church, but for most visitors the local wildlife and desert are the star attractions.

Tours within the bay seek out Heaviside and Bottlenose dolphins, visit resident seal colonies and provide bird lovers with marvellous moments. A restaurant perched above the water serves prized local catch, such as kabeljou and snoek. Cultural tours offer a fascinating glimpse into the vigorous lives of the Ovambo, Herero and Damara people.

You can climb a lofty dune on the outskirts of town, but a 4WD Namib tour gives a much closer look at the land. The Namib-Naukluft of these National Park has impressively vivid landscapes and unusual flora. Not far north is the German farming settlement of Swakopmund with its attractive colonial architecture.

From north to south, ancient to modern, desert to coast, a cruise offers the perfect setting and means of transport from which to explore the regions of this fascinating and spectacular continent.

Chile: Land of Fire and Ice


Few countries on the planet are as varied as Chile. We travel from one end to the other for two completely different experiences.

At its widest point, Chile measures just 350km across, yet stretches 4300km lengthways. It’s wedged between mountains and oceans, and bookended by deserts and fjords. Much of it sits beneath – and amongst – volcanoes and glaciers that have shaped and sculpted an astoundingly varied landscape over countless years. It’s the land of fire and ice.

My itinerary goes from one extreme to another, from the dusty, big-sky country of the Atacama – reputed to be the driest desert on the planet – in the north to the treeless plains and windswept mountains of Patagonia in the south. And my journey begins in Santiago.

Several days spent exploring the capital’s historical and cultural sights and surrounding wine regions instils a desire to try something more vigorous. I fly north to San Pedro, a popular tourist base for seeing the Atacama, where first impressions are of a one-horse town populated by backpackers. Innumerable pensiones and hostales cater specifically to the budget crowd but my digs are more salubrious, tucked away in a valley that’s far from the tourist hordes.

The access road to the Alto Atacama can best be described as uninspiring. But that doesn’t prepare me for the sanctuary inside. Spacious rooms, fine food and wine, a tranquil spa facility and no less than six swimming pools to laze beside tempt me to hole up inside the hotel for the entirety of my stay. It’s not the facilities I love most though; it’s the guest activities, all of which are included in the tariff.

I’m barely five minutes into a chat with the hotel’s activities manager when I begin hatching plans to return, for this is my kind of place. There are immersive cultural excursions and photogenic sightseeing tours, as well as plenty of heart-straining hikes and rides for exercise junkies. I slot firmly into the latter category and spend the next three days mountain biking through narrow gorges and hiking over mountain passes separating high altitude salt lakes. While I’m at it I spot flamingoes and vicuñas beneath smouldering volcanoes and fill my evenings gazing upon a million stars in some of the clearest skies on Earth.

The highlight, though, surprises me, as it is considerably less active. On my last afternoon I join a sunset tour – by minibus – through the otherworldly landscape of the Valle de la Luna, or Moon Valley. From a ridge-top pedestal I marvel at the twisted rock formations and rippled sand dunes inside the Central Canyon then motor across to the rim of a ravine known as Death Valley. From there, we watch the sun sink behind a cardboard cut-out horizon of perfectly symmetrical 5000- and 6000-metre-high volcanoes while hoeing down drinks and canapés. I can’t think of a better way to end my stay.

Extreme opposites

From one end of the country, in Chile’s far north, I travel to the other, and it’s snowing. From the windswept pampas outside Punta Arenas I arrive in Puerto Bories, where the night sky is pitch black. When I catch my first glimpse of my hotel, it’s of a fleet of vehicles parked inside an elongated shed that reminds me of those I once saw filled with farm animals at the Royal Agricultural Show. These sheds housed livestock too. And, like those at the showgrounds, they’ve also been repurposed.

The redbrick buildings of The Singular Patagonia were once used as a slaughterhouse for sheep before their carcasses were shipped around the continent. The owners bravely decided to incorporate its heritage into its current incarnation as a luxury hotel, leaving much of the original machinery intact and thereby adding a twist to the average holiday stay. Power generators and steam engines that are over 100 years old remain behind glass walls and inside cavernous chambers, and an entire floor has been spared as a gallery space displaying photographs from its industrial past.

The hotel rests on the banks of the Sound of Last Hope, a fjord requiring 200km of navigation before it reaches the Pacific Ocean. Across that fjord are snow-capped Patagonian mountains – and all are visible through the window of my hotel room when I draw my curtains in the morning.

Like the Alto Atacama, excursions and tours are included in the nightly tariff and I join a cruise first up, travelling up the fjord to the foot of two glaciers – Serrano and Balmaceda. Later that afternoon I fossick through caves housing the skeletal remains of ancient megafauna and human troglodytes. I ride a horse for the first time in years, trotting along behind a Patagonian gaucho while condors soar overhead. And then I hike to the base of the three granite spires inside Torres del Paine National Park, taking all day to reach them.

Tierra del Fuego lies further south of here. I’ll be joining a cruise next, sailing through this ‘Land of Fire’ at the tip of the continent. Explorers once branded this archipelago of glacier-capped islands and fjords the ‘End of the World’. For me though, it will be a whole new beginning – and a chance for Chile to reveal more of itself.

Originally published in Get Up & Go Magazine - Summer 2017

September 28, 2019

AirAsia: An Asian airline success story




Australia’s love affair with Thailand just seems to strengthen every year. By the time you read this, arrivals from Australia will have surpassed the 800,000 per year mark, placing pressure on our airlines and airports to deliver and receive these visitors.

Currently the majority of arrivals are through Bangkok’s two busy hubs, Suvarnabhumi (BKK) and Don Mueang (DMK), the latter being the dedicated hub for Low Cost Carriers (LCCs) such as for Nok Air, Thai AirAsia and Thai Lion Air.

Founded in 2001, Air Asia has been the dominant LCC in Asia having just won Skytrax’s ‘World's Best Low-Cost Airline’ for the 11th successive year and recently logged their 600 millionth passenger.

A true ‘pan-Asia’ airline, AirAsia serves more than 150 destinations across 400 routes with 250 modern A320 and A330 Airbus aircraft. To achieve this comprehensive coverage, AirAsia operates more than 11,000 weekly flights and utilises 23 airports (hubs) across Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, India, Philippines and Japan.

AirAsia X Airbus A330-300

Latest news from the airline is direct long-haul flights from Bangkok to Brisbane on spacious AirAsia X Airbus A330 aircraft and includes a new ‘Red Carpet Service’ with a dedicated check-in area, priority baggage delivery, complimentary lounge access and express boarding for guests departing Brisbane International Airport.

The airline projects to carry up to 150,000 people between the two cities over the next year on the XJ 310/311 flight pair which will operate four times a week.

The ‘Red Carpet Service’ is offered in conjunction with Plaza Premium Lounge and is available for pre-booking at airasia.com for just AUD$75 and offers up to three hours of lounge access, complimentary food, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and shower facilities.

AirAsia also offers ‘Red Carpet Service’ at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok.

The wide body 377-seat Airbus A330-300 is the mainstay of the long-haul arm of AirAsia, Air Asia X, with state-of-the-art A330neos soon to be introduced on this route, an Australian first.

AirAsiaX Premium Flatbed on the A330 (supplied)

These aircraft also incorporate the Premium Flatbed service in the forward cabin. The 12 seats come with a privacy screen, an adjustable head and foot rest, as well as a pillow and duvet. This premium service also includes extra baggage allowance (40kg), meals, in-flight entertainment and lounge access.

Traveloscopy test flew the new Brisbane route with the Premium Flatbed service on the return leg (via KL to Sydney) and found the service everything it claimed to be. Of course, it’s not directly comparable to full service business class, but then you must consider the price. While there was no inflight entertainment in economy on the outward leg, AirAsia assures us this feature will be added via mobile app very shortly. On our premium leg, we were provided a preloaded tablet with a selection of movies and other entertainment.

Preordered Economy class meal. (RE)

Meals are comparable to economy class on the better full service airlines and includes such choices as the highly recommended nasi lemak, spaghetti marinara, chicken satay or a cheese omelette with mushrooms, baked beans and chicken sausage. Soft drinks are included, but alcohol must be purchased.

The seat pitch is 60 inches, expanding to 77 inches when fully extended. Width is 20 inches. While the description is ‘full flat’, it is not full horizontal as the seat has a slight downward slope when fully extended. There are two reading lights and a handy universal powerpoint under the seat. Plus you can rest your laptop on the sturdy tray table. There’s also space for storing shoes, recesses for magazines or an iPad, and a small pocket for headphones and water bottles.



We visited the Red Lounge in Kuala Lumpur’s LCC terminal KLIA2 before boarding D7-222 to Sydney. The split level lounge, while not large, has a convivial ‘clubhouse’ feel with plenty of table and bench space with connections for laptops and USB charging. Food is hot ‘finger food’ style snacks such as chicken wings, rice, pasta and noodles. Soft drinks are freely available with canned beer available at extra cost (AUD5). There are two showers and upstairs is an open ‘chill out’ space with bean bags, so you could grab a nap if it doesn’t get too noisy.

AirAsia is one of Asia’s airline success stories with increasing profit, market share and passenger numbers where many other airlines are struggling to break even. If you are looking for a no frills yet quality airline offering, AirAsia get our thumbs up.


September 27, 2019

Abu Dhabi: Out of the shadows



Build it and they will come. And so they do – in rapidlyescalating numbers. Glenn A. Baker discovered the dazzle of Abu Dhabi.

What has been built is a hotel on the scale of the Palace of Versailles, a Formula 1 race circuit, an international tennis complex, skyscrapers, museums and galleries (with an actual Guggenheim and Louvre to come), African and domestic game parks, golf courses, shopping malls, a Ferrari amusement park, a ‘fun city’, scattered outdoor artworks, a heritage village, gardens, a camel market and a zoo. And watching the horizon there, it seems that something new, something imaginative and innovative is springing up between blinks.

For many years Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, provided the wealth and steadying hand for the Dubai miracle, content to watch from a distance as Dubai dazzled the world. But then it emerged from the shadows determined to shift some of the global focus to itself. The establishment and incredible rise of Etihad Airlines ensured that visitors did come – agog tourists and those whose transfer hub was no longer automatically the traditional Asian ports.

Abu Dhabi had a big sell to accomplish. The perception of this part of the world has long been desert dunes, empty quarters, desolation, unremitting heat and sparseness. Bahrain and Dubai have gone a long way to erasing that particular mosaic leaving Abu Dhabi to surge as a thoroughly 21st century destination – modern, sleek and enticing – one that exercises the imagination.

Well, it certainly exercises its visitors. For those who do come tend to not sit still for long. Abu Dhabi is not a destination for wallflowers. Here you strap yourself in and soar, swoop, glide and bump to behold.

If you’re not gazing upon arresting artworks or catching film festival screenings then it’s a fair bet that you’re out of your plush hotel and dune bashing in four-wheel drives, hot air ballooning, sand boarding and skiing, desert camping, biking, catching camel and horse races, slicing about on catamarans, snorkelling and kayaking, subjecting your limbs to henna art, going on helicopter excursions, riding a Big Bus and becoming acquainted with the ancient and noble tradition of falconing.

Opulence is the motif

Tradition and history can be a rewarding pursuit in this Persian Gulf nation. The temptation, when you are in Abu Dhabi, is to shoot up to bustling Dubai because of its proximity – just a 90-minute drive on a wide highway. Fewer visitors think of taking a journey out to one of the 200 islands that are an essential part of the emirate; a group of them have been linked together as the ‘multi-experimental’ Desert Islands, some 240km off the mainland, a half hour small jet flight away.

At the heart is the largest, Sir Bani Yas. The title has nothing at all to do with some old English gentleman but refers to the Bani Yas tribe who took up residence on the ancient island thousands of years ago – an island that has been featuring in European literature for centuries.

The island is home to the only discovered (20 years ago) Christian monastery in the UAE, which dates back almost 1500 years which is open to the public. So too is the Arabian Wildlife Park and bird sanctuary, a touch of Africa in the Middle East established in 1971 by the UAE founder Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nayhan as part of his ‘Greening of the Desert’ program. Now by his son, the current ruler, it boasts more than 10,000 free-roaming animals and occupies a good half of the island. The most dramatic shapes in the landscape are seven giraffe but there are also ostrich, hyenas, oryx, gazelles, antelopes, urial and barbary sheep and a couple of cheetah. In the seas, a protected marine park, dolphin and sea turtles can be spotted.

Now opulence is almost an Abu Dhabi motif, as anyone who has moved across the lobby of the extraordinary Emirates Palace Hotel holding their jaw shut can attest. So it seems almost proper to arrive at the Desert Islands Resort & Spa after you have been collected from the small airport.

The Anantara hotel group, which also operates the impressive Eastern Mangroves Hotel in Abu Dhabi proper, has moved into the emirate in a big way. Their vehicles make it possible for you to range across the Arabian Wildlife Park with a quality guide, as well as hike into the world’s oldest salt-dome mountains, investigate the island’s wellstocked stables and then participate in riding, archery and snorkelling across the reef. The restaurants and creature comforts have you wondering if you have actually left ever-evolving Abu Dhabi city.

It doesn’t take long to understand just what drives that evolution and the spectacular growth you see all around you from the moment your flight touches down. Forbes and CNN have both declared Abu Dhabi (which means Father of Deer) to be the richest city in the world and when money is no obstacle, then possibilities, if not exactly unlimited, are within far easier grasp.


Originally published in
Get Up & Go, Winter 2014






September 25, 2019

Trentino Alto Adige: High on the Dolomites



Words: Michèle Shah

The majestic range of Alpine mountains, situated in northeastern Italy, reachable from above the city of Bolzano in the region of Trentino Alto Adige, are among those wonders of the world, not to be missed.  The Dolomites, one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites is mountain range of 18 peaks which rise to above 3,000 metres, featuring breathtaking vertical walls, sheer cliffs and a high density of narrow, deep and long valleys.  This is where you will find some outstanding mountain viticulture.

As a travel destination, Trentino-Alto Adige’s proximity to the Dolomites provides one with a choice of top ski resorts with alpine trekking in summers.  It also boasts the highest density of excellent eating in Italy, including three starred Michelin restaurants, all within a radius of 15km and each annexed to traditional ‘gemutlich’ hotels.   Spectacular vineyards producing fine wines make it one of the few regions to provide such a wide choice of hedonist pleasures.

Trentino (the province of Trento) and Alto Adige (the more northerly province of Bolzano, also known as the South Tyrol or Südtirol, bordering Austria, unified to Italy in 1919, after World War I, share a range of fragrant white wines and German-accented syllables. Both Trentino and the Alto Adige produce notable amounts of the popular Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon, as well as Pinot Bianco, and Riesling.  While the more aromatic Müller-Thurgau,  Moscato, Sylvaner and Gewürztraminer, which is said to take its name from Alto Adige village of Tramin, can be enticingly perfumed and unexpectedly ageworthy.

Winemaking in Alto Adige (Florian Andergassen)

One main distinction between Trentino and Alto Adige is that production in Alto Adige comes mainly from small family-owned estates that sell their wines locally with limited exports to Germany and Austria. Trentino on the other hand counts on a large number of growers, members of large cooperatives, such as Cavit and Mezzacorona. These popular wines have found their niche, both in Italy and abroad, among wine drinkers who look for reasonably good and affordable wines for daily enjoyment.

Alto Adige is divided by its waterways, the Adige River and the Isarco River, thus creating two valleys. The vineyards are dotted around the banks of the rivers rising from an altitude of 200 to 1,000 metres into the hills. Bolzano to Trento is an easy 60km and indications are well sign posted with good restaurants, hotels and excellent wineries on the way.

If you are a keen skier take a few days off to ski in the Dolomites at San Cassiano, a picturesque 70 km drive northeast of Bolzano.  In this way descending from the Dolomites make your first stop at Abbazia di Novacella, one of the most northern vineyards in Italy.  This 1142 Augustinian Abbey is a fascinating intrigue of vineyards and monastery, producing classy Sylvaner, Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and Riesling with zesty acidity due to the altitude of the vines at 870 metres.

Cooperatives in Trentino-Alto Adige, go as far back as the Hapsburg Empire and are quite common representing the lion’s share of production. Cooperative farming in Trentino-Alto Adige played a fundamental role, its success stems from the necessity to create an effective economic system for the region’s fragmented farming industry, including that of viticulture, the average grape grower owns little more than 1ha, and most vineyards rise up the mountainsides as spectacular steep terraced vineyards, some still using the ‘pergola’ system.

Alto Adige delights (Marion Lafogler)

Cantina Terlano, a cooperative founded in 1893, just above Bolzano at Terlano is one of the best expressions of ‘heroic vineyards’ in Alto Adige producing exquisite white wines, in particular its Pinot Blanc from the terraced Vorberg vineyards. Well worth the drive to visit the vineyards above Terlan.  Cantina Caldaro another model cooperative with vineyards overlooking Lake Caldaro, the perfect area to samples the region’s local red varieties such as Lagrein, a deep garnet red, with round soft tannins and a lighter Schiava or St Maddalena which is 90% Schiava and 10% Lagrein.

In the area of Lake Caldaro it is certainly worth visiting Count Michael Graf Goéss-Enzenberg  ‘eco-sensitive’ Manincor winery producing excellent Pinot Noir, Moscato Giallo and Moscato Rosa.  Travelling a short journey further south to the village of Magré, Alois Lageder’s picturesque Löwengang winery, built in 1995 in accordance with strict environmental and ecological criteria is definitely worth a visit, where you can relax at Vineria Paradeis on the old village square and enjoy anything form a good glass of wine to light meal.
Il ARUNDA Talento Metodo Classico Extra Brut

Between Caldaro and Magré be sure to visit Martin Foradori’s Hostätter, one of Alto Adige’s historic estates established in 1907 in Termeno (Tramin), especially to experience the zesty aromatic Gewurtztraminer of Tramin, his majestic single vineyard Pinot Noir Barthenau, Vinga S. Urbano and local Lagrein.  Bolzano is one of Alto Adige’s top areas for red wines.  The surrounding chain of mountains creates a perfect microclimate characterized by warm summers protecting the vines, giving good ripeness.

As we reach Trentino the wineries Endrizzi at San Michele all’Adige and Elisabetta Foradori’s biodynamic estate at Mezzolombardo, close to each other are a very good introduction to the area’s distinctive red indigenous Teroldego, characterized by it’s deep granite hue and soft tannins. Suggest you call before visiting.

Trentino, which pioneered sparkling wine making by the classic method early in the century, has retained its leading position and these sparklers are now grouped under Trentodoc appellation. They are predominantly Chardonnay based, and the extensive amounts of Chardonnay in Trentino’s vineyards reflects the importance of this production.  A visit to Ferrari, one of the oldest sparkling estates is a real eye-opener to premium Italian sparkling wines.

South of Trento two distinctively different estates show up for the quality of their wines.  The first near Volano is home to Eugenio Rosi, a controversial, yet authentic production of the indigenous Marzemino wine and slightly further south near Avis is the San Leonardo estate, home to one of Italy’s premium Bordeaux style blends. Suggest you call before visiting.


My perfect day in the Dolomites

Morning

Stay and Breakfast at Hotel Pacherhof in Novacella. Visit the Abby of Novacella and enjoy a wine tasting of winemaker Urban von Klebelsberg’s mineral whites the Abbey’s Enoteca. Drive south 65 km to Cantina Terlano in Terlano, especially good for mineral white wines from their Praepositus range characterized by depth and minerality. Ask for Judith Unterholtzner marketing assistant. They also have a good shop where you can purchase wines of current vintages and backdated vintages. Take a drive above Terlano to the Vorberg vineyards.

Lunch

Drive 10km south to Appiano and have a light lunch at Enoteca Pillhof. If the weather is good they have a wonderful courtyard for al fresco eating. The wine list is extensive and you can choose from a good range of local wines even by the glass. The cuisine is local and changes according to the season and local ingredients.

Afternoon

Drive a short 8km to Lake Caldaro and visit the vineyards around the lake. Visit Manincor estate, or if you wish to stock up on wines take a visit to Cantina Caldaro’s ‘Winecenter’, a large shop and tasting room on several floors. Here you can explore their entire range of wines. Especially good for red wines: Lagrain, Pinot Noir and the lighter Schiava – a light and versatile wine. 25km further south visit Hofstatter in Termeno, one of Alto Adige’s premium wineries but also with a good range of entry-level wines. Be sure to taste the Gewurtztraminer, which is said to originate from Termeno. Excellent Pinot Noir Barthenau and Mazzon.

Evening/overnight

Drive 5km from Termeno to Cortaccia and stay at the Turmhotel Schwarz Adler and soak in the South Tyrolian atmosphere and hospitality. Also has a spa and gourmet restaurant. If you wish to dine out try Gasthaus “Zur Rose”, serving gourmet and seasonal traditional dishes cooked in a modern and light twist with good local wine list.


Where to stay, eat and shop

HOTELS

Hotel Rosalpina, San Cassiano (BZ)

Relais & Chateaux hotel and spa and individually styled rooms some with fireplaces, lots of use of light pinewood, balconies with views of dolomites, great place for relaxing and skiing. Excellent food at the Wine Bar & Grill or the two starred Michelin restaurant St Hubertus.

Annual gourmet ski safari and wine ski safari organized on skis at an altitude of over 2000 metres by www.altabadia.org

www.rosalpina.it

Schwarz Adler Turmhotel, Cortaccia (BZ)

Cozy Tyrolean style hotel with 24 rooms well situated with nice views over the vineyards and mountains. Good for a stop over and has a spa and gourmet restaurant.

www.turmhotel.it

PacherHof, Novacella (BZ)

Friendly Tyrolean style hotel with an excellent spa and an outside infinity pool with great views over vineyards, Novacella Abbey and the dolomites. Comfortable place for a stop-over with the possibility of dining in the old ‘stube’ where they also serve an excellent breakfast. Pacherhof also has its own winery and wines.

www.pacherhof.com

Hotel America, Trento (TN)

Centrally located, clean and functional hotel in Trento with good parking possibilities. The historical centre of Trento is full of character, in particular the main Cathedral square. Trento is also a good place for shopping.

www.hotelamerica.it

RESTAURANTS

St Hubertus, Hotel Rosalpina, San Cassiano (BZ)

Superb gourmet 2 star Michelin restaurant with Chef Norbert Niederkofler at the helm and head sommelier Christian Rainer who has a magnificent wine list of 1900 labels. Norbert’ research and culinary style, is deeply rooted in the use of local seasonal quality products sourced from local organic farmers who farm according to Norbert’s specifications. His essence, as he likes to put it, is ‘back to roots and pure flavours’.

www.rosalpina.it/restaurant-st-hubertus.htm

La Siriola, Hotel Ciasa Solares, San Cassiano (BZ)

La Siriola, one star Michelin Restaurant, just two kilometers outside San Cassiano is housed in the Ciasa Salares Hotel. Chef Matteo Metullio, age 25 is Italy’s youngest star-studded chef. La Siriola offers four tasting menus, each one themed to local traditional fare or to a more daring intermingling of flavours and ingredients. Matteo’s creative streak is well balanced in texture and flavors and is what makes his cuisine tantalizingly appealing.

www.siriolagroup.it/eng/la-siriola/restaurant-la-siriola

Gasthaus “Zur Rose”, Cortaccia (BZ)

Cozy wood paneled two room restaurant takes one back to another era, where one can relax and dine by candlelight, savouring some of Alto Adige’s traditional dishes, today prepared in a lighter fashion. Good wine list and romantic atmosphere. Good value.

www.baldoarno.com

Enoteca Pillhof, Appiano (BZ)

Pleasant atmosphere, whether eating outside al fresco or in the inviting wine bar which has some smaller areas for more intimate dining. Impressive selection of wines and very tasty dishes, excellent selection of cheeses and local cured meats. Good value.

www.pillhof.com

Ristorante La Cacciatora, Mezzocorona (TN)

This very local restaurant is always busy. The food and the service are good even on the busiest of Sunday’s. Main dishes are the local cured meats, followed by risotto or pasta, hearty meat dishes and home made desserts. Menus change regularly. Good value.

www.lacacciatora.net

Ristorante Scrigno del Duomo (TN)

Fantastic location on the main Piazza del Duomo in Trento. Creative gourmet food prepared with fresh seasonal ingredients. Good place to stop for a light lunch or a romantic dinner. Good value for lunch.

www.scrignodelduomo.com

SHOPPING

Vinum Alto Adige in the centre of Bolzano, has a great assortment of wines that they will on request ship to a number of countries. http://www.vinum.it

Enoteca Grado 12, Largo G. Carducci, 12 Trento in the centre of Trento a well-reputed wine shop with a selection of 1500 lables and good selection of olive oils. (no website)

Fact file (based on Federdoc 2013 stats)

Planted area

The region vineyards cover 13,137.00 hectares

Grape varieties

Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco, Riesling. Müller-Thurgau, Moscato, Sylvaner Riesling, Gewürztraminer. Lagrein, Teroldego, Marzemino, Schiava, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc.

Production

Yearly wine production is 958,000 hectoliters - 45% white, 55% red

GETTING THERE

Either fly to Verona and rent a car and drive up to Trento then Bolzano. It is 150km from Verona to Bolzano and about 97km from Verona to Trento. Or fly direct to Bolzano. There are plenty of flights from London to Verona, fewer to Bolzano. Ryanair flies to Treviso (near Venice) which is 134km

September 22, 2019

Lord Howe Island: Is this Paradise?


After travelling around the world for more than 45 years I am often asked, ‘Where is your favourite place, a place where you like to have a real holiday’. My answer has always been Lord Howe Island.
I made my first trip there nearly 40 years ago, flying across in a King Air. The first sight of the island was a sight that lives in my mind and imagination.
We all have a mental image of what a tropical island might look like and here below me was my perfect tropical island. In the following years, I have been fortunate to see most of the islands around the Pacific and have yet found one that even comes close!
 Accommodation on Lord Howe Island
There are just 400 tourist beds on Lord Howe, which is part of what makes it so special.
Because accommodation is limited, it’s important that you book your flights and accommodation at the same time.
You’ll find the complete range of lodges, guesthouses and self-contained apartments available on Lord Howe. You can book your QantasLink flights online, or book a complete holiday package through a specialist travel agent, including flights and accommodation.
We stayed as guests of Earl’s Anchorage which boasts a tranquil, private and central location with convenient and easy access to the main beaches and walks on both sides of spectacular Lord Howe Island.
Earls Anchorage is surrounded by the endemic Lord Howe Island Kentia Palms, each bungalow on the six-acre property offers absolute privacy to ensure your stay is completely undisturbed. The self-contained bungalows are each named after one of Jack Earl’s famous Australian yachts and have been uniquely designed by Arcoessence Architects to take advantage of the sunny (northern) aspect of the property. All six bungalow’s link via a boardwalk surrounded by the sub-tropical vegetation.
Dining
Anchorage Restaurant, situated just a stone’s throw from the iconic Lagoon Beach, is the perfect venue, whether it be for morning coffee and breakfast, a quick lunch between walks or tours or a relaxing dinner after a hard days exploring.
Anchorage Restaurant offers modern Australian cuisine utilising local ingredients, and an ever-changing menu, always featuring the best of locally caught fish and locally grown fruits & vegetables.  The restaurant is serviced by private aircraft to import the freshest produce direct from the markets.
They offer dine-in or take-away for all meals – 7 days per week.
The on-site bakery offers daily baked artisan sourdough, traditional loaves and Turkish breads, along with house-made pies, cakes and pastries. They also make cakes and baked goods to order – including wedding/birthday cakes for your special events.
We found that you had to order early as it is so popular and they can run out, in busy periods.
They will also make up meal packages with your stay. They also offer the option of takeaway BBQ packs delivered to a beach BBQ of your choice, or directly to your room at Earl’s Anchorage.

Capella Lodge
We didn’t get the chance to stay as they were fully booked, but next prize was the chance to dine here. Our reaction and the other diner’s was the answer as to why it is rated as one of the best in Australia.
Fine dining in the Lodge Restaurant showcases a bounty of local seafood and fresh regional produce. Guests unwind in the petite Capella Spa with its menu of signature treatments for complete relaxation.
Luxurious surrounds, exceptional island-inspired dining and unforgettable ‘first-name’ service combine to create an outstanding lodging experience.
Capella Lodge sets world-class standards of exclusive luxury on Lord Howe.
More wonderful surprises – A visit to the golf club for the Famous Fish Fry and the scenic sunset. The sunset happens every night, but when we were there, the fish fry was on a Tuesday. Now bookings are essential, as this is so popular. The bar is open from 4.30 and meals are served from 7.00.
Relax over a few drinks, your accommodation usually drops you there and the club volunteers will drive you back, no worries!
Fresh fish delivered and Beach BBQs
If you’re in a self-catering apartment, you can have fresh fish delivered to your door or you can pack a picnic and take advantage of one of the communal BBQs, set in some of the most scenic spots around the island.
The Lord Howe Island Board ensures that cut firewood is neatly stacked at the BBQ, ready for use.
Lord Howe’s 11 beautiful beaches are perfectly suited to barbequing outdoors, with their golden sand and spectacular views of the island, to be enjoyed by families, friends and romantics alike.
Glass Bottom Boating
For the non-diver, this is the perfect chance to be enthralled with the marine life in the lagoon. They also offer a full range of marine outings and fishing trips.
We travelled as guests of Lord Howe Tourism
Words: Michael Osborne
Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

September 08, 2019

Seeking Count Dracula in Transylvania





Len Rutledge Goes Exploring Transylvania for signs of Dracula

We are driving along narrow, winding roads through dense, dark, ancient forests and over steep mountain passes through the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania. Tales of the supernatural have featured in Romanian folklore for centuries and the countryside seems so right for this that we now find it easy to be caught up in the Dracula story. Certainly, Transylvania evokes powerful images of vampires and Gothic castles.

Dracula House
Bran Castle
We are here now because we want to visit some sites associated with Dracula and try to sort legend from truth. When Irish writer Bram Stoker wrote his famous novel, he started something which is now a great tourist attraction.

Count Dracula, a fictional character in the Stoker novel, was inspired by one of the best-known figures of Romanian history, Vlad Dracula, nicknamed Vlad the Impaler, who was the ruler of the Romanian province of Walachia in the mid 1400s. As we travel around, we find some physical evidence and hear many stories about him which have vague connections with the Count.

Sighisoara is at the heart of the Count Dracula legends. This was founded in the 12th century by Transylvanian Saxons, but it's Dracula that has put the town on the map with today's visitors. Designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the town is full of cobbled streets and ornate churches.

Sighisoara is the birthplace of Vlad Dracula. You can visit his birth home which is now a restaurant and museum. As we climb the narrow stairs to the museum in almost complete darkness, something falls on my neck causing goose bumps all over my body. Emerging into a darkened room we come face to face with a vampire in a coffin. As we approach, his arm springs out causing muffled screams from several visitors. For one second I almost believe in vampires.

Sibui

Not too many people can call vampire acting their full-time occupation!

Brașov is the largest city in this part of Romania. It is fringed by the Southern Carpathian Mountains and resplendent with glorious architecture and historical attractions. It was founded by Teutonic Knights in 1211 on an ancient site and was settled by the Saxons as one of their seven walled citadels.

We stroll around the old Town Hall Square where we admire colourfully painted and ornately trimmed baroque structures. We go inside the Black Church, the largest gothic church in Romania, named for damage caused by the Great Brașov Fire of 1689, when flames and smoke blackened its walls. The interior is impressive and it houses one of the largest pipe organs in Eastern Europe.

Part of the defensive wall, once 13-metres-high, two-metres- thick and over three-kilometres-long, can still be seen today. So too can Rope Street, the narrowest street in Europe, at just 1.3 metres wide.

The relationship between Vlad Dracula and Brașov was problematic over a number of years. At one point he invaded southern Transylvania and destroyed the suburbs of Brașov, ordering the impalement of all men and women who had been captured. It is said that Brașov has the distinction of seeing more stakes bearing Dracula's victims than any other place. Fortunately, there is no evidence of this today.

Sibiu is the other city in this region. The heart of the city is its medieval centre complete with open squares, stone wall defences, towers, and centuries-old buildings and churches. Staircases link the Lower Town with its small, colourful houses and the Upper Town which was inside the main fortifications.

From 1451 to 1456 Vlad Dracula lived in Sibiu yet just four years later he mercilessly raided this region and killed, impaled and tortured 10,000 of his former fellow citizens and neighbours. I wonder if Count Dracula would be impressed.

Dracula House
Vlad Dracula's house in Sighisoara

Perched on top of an 80-metre-high rock, Bran Castle owes its fame to its imposing towers and turrets as well as to being the castle Stoker used in his book. While the association with Dracula is dubious, the castle continues to hold a strong attraction for all fans of the Count, so naturally we have to visit. We find narrow winding stairways and torturous passages lead through some 60 timbered rooms.

While Bran Castle is the spooky place that inspired Stoker's tale, it's really Poenari Fortress about two hours west that is considered to be the real Dracula's Castle. Poenari Castle was erected around the beginning of the 13th century then later was abandoned and left in ruins. In the 15th century, Vlad the Impaler repaired and consolidated the structure perched high on a steep precipice of rock, making it one of his main fortresses.

The ruins of Poenari Fortress are all that are left today. If you decide to climb the 1,462 stairs, you'll be able to touch pieces of the walls and towers that are still standing.

Did we find Dracula?

We encountered a make-believe vampire and learned much about Vlad Dracula and his exploits. While vampires may not be real, there is no doubt that Stoker's Dracula has become a powerful reminder of the rich and authentic Romanian folklore, and a great tourist attraction and money-spinner for the country today.

www.LenRutledge.com

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Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

September 03, 2019

Alaska's new 'Gold Rush' - with Fiona McIntosh



Ian and Fiona McIntosh find not all that glitters needs to be gold in Alaska

Stage one of our Air New Zealand flight to Vancouver is over - we are in a very comfy terminal talking about how good the experience was. Lovely flight attendant, both welcomed by the flight director, comfy leather seats - plenty of leg room and we were seated just behind the entrance door to the 777 200. It is a short flight from Sydney to Auckland - around two and a half hours but we had a massive tail wind and rolled to the terminal nearly half an hour early. We left on time and drinks soon arrived - I had a glass of bubbly - pity it was in a plastic cup though. The simple menu looked very promising - to begin a beetroot and goat cheese salad with balsamic and beef gel, toasted hazelnut crumble. Did it live up to expectations? Absolutely. - appetising to look at and all the real flavours were there. Bread variety includes sourdough loaf and walnut loaves served with extra virgin olive oil and yes the bread was warm. What a start. Drinks are served with the main course - I naturally chose a sauvignon blanc from Villa Maria, New Zealand's most awarded winery. I now know why it earns the gongs. The real treat followed - braised beef short rib with potato puree, sage, buttered carrots and parsnips, creamed Swiss chard with horseradish jus. Adding to the experience was NZ butter and cheese. After more than 40 years of looking forward to main courses on airlines I know how easy it is to be disappointed. Very, very disappointed. Not today folks. The meat pulled away and each veg made a contribution. We were very happy. The movie selection is ok - the screen on the small side but picture quality is excellent. To finish lunch the offering was flourless dark chocolate cake with vanilla bean cream. What did the chef (she who must be obeyed) think? Good enough as one of the small treats for the wedding of one of our sons that is coming up next year. High praise indeed.

The little township of Skagway Alaska was super busy today thanks to a maximum of four cruise ships clogging the harbour - but the thousands of visitors hardly rated a ripple compared to the influx during the Klondike Gold Rush. More than 100,000 hopefuls arrived after gold was discovered in 1896. Madness is the only word for what followed - men and women - even children made a life-threatening journey across treacherous, icy valleys and harrowing rocky terrain. We saw part of it today aboard a vintage railcar as it traces the track from Fraser to Skagway. The railway was built to make the journey to the goldfields easier - but the gold had petered out by the time it was finished in 1900. The White Pass and Yukon Railway clatters through increasingly hostile valleys and mountains - how anyone managed the trek during summer let alone winter is a mystery you are left to ponder from the comfort of your train seat. The 3 ft (914 mm) narrow-gauge railroad linked the port of Skagway with Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon. The trip on the section from Fraser is interesting enough - before we boarded we braved a suspension bridge over a raging river way below. While you marvel at man's ability master nature to blast the railway out in the first place, you could be forgiven for getting a little bored as the journey rolls on. Most memorable, as i said before, is pondering just how people managed to tame some of the most inhospitable country on earth.

Less than half of those who started the trek to the Yukon arrived and after that monster effort they stood little chance of finding gold.

Out soon from Fiona. Click for more info.

It was discovered by American George Carmack in 1896 in Rabbit Creek (later renamed Bonanza Creek), a Klondike River tributary that ran through both Alaskan and Yukon Territory. Canadian authorities required every prospector to have a year's worth of gold mining equipment and supplies before crossing the Canadian border which made the trek along a narrow path all but impossible for pack horses. It's estimated 3,000 of them died on White Pass. After crossing Chilkoot or White Pass, prospectors had to build or rent boats and brave hundreds of miles of winding Yukon River rapids to reach Dawson City. No one knows how many died during the river trip - only about 30,000 weary stampeders finally arrived in Dawson City to discover reports of available Klondike gold were greatly exaggerated. By the end of 1898 countless miners had already left Yukon Territory penniless, leaving cities such as Dawson and Skagway in rapid decline. These days fortunately the gold boom is back - but it has been renamed tourism.

Fiona ponders her next blockbuster. Will our heroine find love and
adventure amid the icy wastes of the Gold Rush-era Klondike?
Today we woke up to see rugged, ice capped mountains and hurried to dress and get out onto the top deck because we were about to confront the Hubbard Glacier. I visited the San Rafael Glacier in Patagonia many years ago but this sort of natural, ancient brilliance never gets old. And the bridge mentioned that they often sail here into a misty or rainy day but we were blessed by a sparkling, sunny morning where the ice winked and glinted at us, as did the freezing waters. It was unnerving to see so much ice broken and thawing and I tried to reassure myself it was summer but a fellow next to me who had been here at least half a dozen times let me know that the glacier used to be much, much bigger with huge icebergs all around. I'm assured it continues to thicken, defying other glaciers around the planet, but even so, he seemed determined it was larger with towering ice pillars breaking off 'back then'. 

The 450 year old glacier remains awe inspiring and so very beautiful to gaze upon, which we did for an hour. Everyone was hushed - it demanded silence from us all. No wildlife, not even birds around although I gather it supports a population of grizzlies and the rare, silverblue 'glacier' bears. The glacier flows for more than 120 kms with a 120 metre or so 'snout' and is embraced by 24 million acres of wilderness - hallelujah. It's famous for its swift surges and has been known to suddenly move forward up to 30 metres a day - that was back in the mid eighties. This is the largest tidewater glacier in North America.

A special day in a far flung spot called Hoonah. 
Talk about isolated. Today we arrived at Icy Strait Point Hoonah Alaska. Beautiful day - and we were the only ship at the tiny destination designed to lure more tourist dollars into the area by the Huana Tiingit people. To say I was impressed is an understatement. The ship was tied up to one large pier - and the gangway allowed passengers on Oceania's Regatta to walk straight into the settlement. Its green colour and simplicity meant it blended straight into the thick natural undergrowth and forest of pines. While having breakfast in the outdoor restaurant we saw our first bald eagle - perched at the end of the mooring area consuming what I assume was a salmon. It stayed there for a while and then joined a mate in a tree nearby - we assumed they had a nest. 

When you arrive after a short walk down the gangway you are greeted by an interesting collection of attractions - ranging from shops to the old cannery factory and a zip rider. Kids roar down from a 1,300 foot mountain hitting speeds for more than 60mph. There are buses for the elderly - the site is super clean and tidy - a great example to any destination wanting to lure tourist dollars. We were on a special tour tracking bears - but the guide was very honest with us saying the morning tour had failed to spot any of the famed four footed locals. After a short bus ride we went from lookout to lookout with the same result - nothing - and then as we could hear the bus motor starting in order to take us back - a bear finally appeared. Amazingly he strolled down the river right past us and kept going until he discovered a bald eagle eating prey. Naturally enough, the eagle decided to move giving us another glimpse of life in one of the most remote parts of the world. We returned to the ship delighted with our day. Even if the bear had not appeared - it was enough to wander through narrow tracks between virgin forest - the light every now and then illuminating the group.

Follow Ian and his travel treasure hunts at his website