Book, stay, enjoy. That's

Sunday 30 October 2016

d'Arenberg pushes the boundaries with its new cellar door

Chester Osborn is not a man who does things by halves.

The heir to the d'Arenberg wine dynasty is one of the most colourful characters in the Australian wine industry - but he has excelled himself with the new "cube" he is building in McLaren Vale, South Australia. 

The high-tech new cellar door will open next year but Osborn has alread inveiled key details. 

The five-storey $14 million glass-encased steel and concrete structure inspired by Rubik’s Cube is the realisation of a 13-year dream.

Osborn, 54, is the chief winemaker and futurist for the company his great grandfather Joseph Osborn founded 104 years ago but is equally well known for his love of art and his eclectic and eccentric collection of shirts.

His audacious Cube – an architectural puzzle four modules wide, four high and four deep – is already soaring above the surrounding vineyards in the heart of McLaren Vale, a 40km drive south of Adelaide. 

Due to officially open in May 2017, the Cube promises to offer an assault on the senses of anyone who ventures inside.

It will be filled with art installations, a “wine fog room”, flagons connected to bicycle horns to ‘beep’ the smell, wine tasting rooms, a restaurant, and a top balcony made of two-tonne glass panels.

Stay tuned. 

Thursday 27 October 2016

Faces of Peru offer a warm welcome

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and as I head into the Amazon for a couple of days without electricity and wifi I hope you enjoy some of these smiling faces. 

Our Contours Travel group spent today exploring the Peruvian capital of Lima and I was struck by how welcoming everyone was to tourists. 

From riot police to museum workers and security guards everyone had a warm smile to offer. 

I hope you all enjoy these pictures from just one day of exploration. 

New name and new standards for South American carrier

When I travelled to Argentina a couple of years ago with what was then called LAN, I was seriously underwhelmed by the economy class offering. 

LAN is now rebranded as LATAM following a merger with TAM, and bills itself as "the leading carrier to and from South America" with the largest network and unparalleled connectivity throughout the region:

LATAM flies from Sydney via Auckland to Santiago, the gateway to South America, seven days a week with onward connections to over 115 South American destinations, including Argentina, Peru (where I am heading this time with Contours Travel), Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Venezuela, Uruguay and Brazil.

The merger brings together South America’s two leading airlines (LAN was Chilean based and TAM Brazilian based). 

The new brand has a fresh logo inspired by the identity and heritage of the region and the rebranding roll-out also includes a new look across airports, aircraft, webpages and uniforms.

Passengers flying with LATAM en route to South America will experience the Boeing 787-9, which the airline says provides "greater comfort, security, and efficiency". 

Remarkably enough, the hype is true. Even in economy on the 787-9 there is plenty of space, a good selection of entertainment and decent food (my veal casserole was excellent). The Chilean cabernet sauvignon was juicy and fun and the post-dinner slug of Ballantine's most generous. Unlike on my previous LAN flights the crew were happy and helpful.  

Fingers crissed the return journey is as good at the back of the plane. (Update: it was, apart from that uncomfortable moment when a dickhead decided to sit himself in the empty seat next to me).

Premium Business Class on board the LATAM 787-9 includes larger auto-dimming windows, dynamic lighting, more storage space at ground level as well as spacious seats with six-way adjustments, including reclining and full-flat positions.

LATAM operates daily flights from Sydney to Santiago, Chile, via Auckland, with onward connections to Lima. LATAM also offers non-stop flights between Sydney and Santiago four times per week in a codeshare partnership. 

Call LATAM reservations on 1800 126 038, visit your local travel agent or go to

Wednesday 26 October 2016

A most satisfactory first night in Lima

I had zero expectations for the El Lobby restaurant at the El Pardo Doubletree by Hilton in Lima.

It's a nice enough hotel, but it is a chain hotel in the tourist district of Miraflores. I was thinking tourist food at tourist prices,  particularly as I am travelling with a group. 

Instead, we got flavoursome, interesting food with a local accent; beautifully presented and served by helpful, multilingual staff. 

First up, an amuse bouche of chicken mousse, served with "welcome drink of Pisco Sour - the local speciality. 

Then a tasty octopus carpaccio with a traditional tapenade sauce, followed by local corvina fish in a bisque with potato cakes, then a selection of local pastries. 

All in all, very impressive. This trip with Contours Travel is off to a good start. 

El Pardo Doubletree by Hilton, 141 Calle Independencia, Miraflores, Lima. 

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Food is high on the agenda in Montreal

Montreal is one of the great cities of North America, combining Canadian charm with a French accent - and the food here is always outstanding.

From the superb Jean-Talon Market to eateries across a range of cuisines, it is hard to eat poorly here.

The Montreal food festival, MTLàTABLE, is back for a 5th edition from November 3 to November 13 and a total of 150 restaurants will be offering table d’hôte dinner menus at set prices of $21, $31 or $41).

The festival encourages foodies to explore different Montréal neighbourhoods and discover new cuisines.

Montréal’s downtown business and cultural centre is a good place to start.

The upmarket suburbs of Mount Royal, Outremont and Westmount are home to spectacular Victorian homes, alleyways, manicured gardens and French dining icons, while The Plateau and the Mile End are where hip artists and ambitious young business owners mingle among the old-school immigrant population.

Old Montréal and the Old Port are chic neighbourhoods popular with tourists, and offer a range of cuisines from around the world.

Quartier du Canal is actually made up of three neighbourhoods that stretch four kilometres along the Lachine Canal. There’s Griffintown, Little Burgundy and Saint-Henri. 

Then there's the Gay Village, Villeray, Little Italy and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, the suburbs of Pole des Rapides and east and north of the island.

So many neighbourhoods, so little time.

    For details visit

Sunday 23 October 2016

How good are the views from this new Bangkok hotel?

Some months ago I was invited to take a look at a new Bangkok hotel: the AVANI Riverside.

Unfortunately, I arrived a little too early to see the hotel at its best. Putting it bluntly, it was still a bit of a building site.

That said, I could not help but be impressed by the spectacular views from the 26th-floor swimming pool and ultra-chic Attitude Bar.

Tucked away in a quiet part of town, just behind sister hotel the Anantara Riverside, most of the rooms offer spectacular views of the Chao Phraya River.  

The first purpose-designed AVANI hotel has a very cool blend of contemporary decor, superb poolside food (the sliders are excellent) and those stunning views.

On arrival, guests are immediately greeted by another arresting view of the river from the 11th-floor lobby. The open-plan design blends reception, lounge, meeting, chill out and restaurant spaces. 

AVANI Riverside bills itself as "a place to relax and unwind". 

The Long Bar serves a variety of refreshments, while guests can enjoy breakfast or sunset dinner at Skyline and The Pantry offers a mix of comfort food and artisan deli snacks around the clock. 

All of the hotel’s 248 stylish guest rooms and suites have either city or river views and feature rain showers, dedicated work stations with free wi-fi, and a media hub docking station. 

The rooftop infinity pool is undoubtedly the star turn, and a multi-purpose sunken lounge area located in the middle of the terrace has a retractable roof providing sunlight or shade, depending on the desired mood. 

At the opposite end of the terrace, Attitude is achingly hip. Different areas of the restaurant and bar are designed for socialising or being seen and include an indoor lounge with a DJ booth, an open kitchen, wine wall and outdoor lounge-style restaurant and bar. 

Cocktails are the highlight, like the Molecule of Love, a blend of Chambord liqueur, Malibu and strawberry-flavoured caviar pearls to make it pop.

There is a gym with views and a spa, as well as conference facilities. 

The hotel’s riverside location means it offers a shuttle boat service to the Asiatique night market and entertainment complex, and also the BTS Skytrain at the central Saphan Taksin pier. 

Rates start from around $300 a night - and there is a shopping mall below the hotel. 

AVANI Riverside Bangkok, 257 Charoennakorn Road, Thon Buri, Bangkok 10600. 
+66 2 431 9100.

Friday 21 October 2016

Trip Advisor slam dunk for the Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley outshone all its rivals after being named with two of the top three restaurants in the country in the new TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice listing of the best restaurants in Australia.

Now TripAdvisor can be flaky and its advice can easily be manipulated, but two out of three is a tremendous result for the Hunter.

Muse Restaurant at Hungerford Hill (above), run by husband and wife team Troy and Megan Rhoades-Brown. was given the No.1 position in Australia and 15 in the world, while Restaurant Botanica (below) was named No.3 in Australia.

I've eaten in both establishments and they are world class.

"With growing tourism numbers both from domestic and international sources, the Hunter Valley has a lot to boast about: premium restaurants; a full range of accommodation; spectacular attractions; golf resorts; and the wines and their cellar doors," said George Souris, chairman of the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association (HVWTA), who specialises in boring quotes.

The Travellers' Choice awards reflect reviews made by travellers and diners on TripAdvisor.

This year's awards recognise 528 restaurants overall, including the top 25 fine dining in the world and dedicated lists for Asia, Canada, Europe, India, Mexico, South America, South Pacific, the UK and the US.

Award winners were determined using an algorithm that took into account the quantity and quality of reviews for restaurants around the world, gathered over a 12-month period.

"Hunter Valley Wine Country, only two hours north of Sydney and right on the doorstep of Australia's gateway city, has gained recognition as a premier wine and food destination," Souris said.

Keen observers of the dining scene will note that not one Melbourne restaurant appears on the list (maybe the vote was spread among several standouts), while an upmarket fish and chippery on the Gold Coast obviously made a lot of people very happy.

The Stunned Mullet in Port Macquarie, reviewed here a couple of months ago, also made the list.

Here are the top 10:

1. Muse Restaurant – Pokolbin, New South Wales

2. est. – Sydney, New South Wales

3. Restaurant Botanica – Pokolbin, New South Wales

4. Nobu Japanese Restaurant – Burswood, Perth

5. fermentAsian – Tanunda, South Australia

6. Spirit House – Yandina, Queensland

7. Spice Bar – Mooloolaba, Queensland

8. The Stunned Mullet – Port Macquarie, New South Wales

9. Courgette Restaurant – Canberra, ACT

10. Omeros Bros Seafood Restaurant – Main Beach, Gold Coast

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Iconic Sydney hotel concludes 50th birthday in style

Sofitel Sydney Wentworth and Qantas Airways have teamed up to hold a historic public exhibition to conclude the original Wentworth hotel’s year-long 50th-anniversary celebration.

Inviting guests to step back in time, the exhibition will run from now until December 31 and features a selection of heritage artifacts and imagery stretching from 1966, when the hotel was originally owned and built by Qantas Airways and was Sydney's first five-star hotel. 

The display will feature a photo exhibition of the iconic Wentworth Hotel, from its first days of construction through to fashion highlights and famous celebrities and royal visits.

To demonstrate its intertwined history, guests of Sofitel Sydney Wentworth are invited to explore the hotel’s beginnings as the Qantas Wentworth Hotel via a display of restored objects and mementos, including a miniature hotel model, which was sent around the world to promote the hotel and its convention facilities, a display of original 1960s Qantas uniforms, and a replica business class lounge.

Clive Scott, the first general manager of Sofitel Sydney Wentworth says: “Sofitel Sydney Wentworth is one of the grand old dames of hotels. It will always have pride of place in Sydney and Australia. It has historical significance as a property and landmark in Sydney. Many people across the world have fond memories in their hearts as a special place to stay.”

This free exhibition will be on display in the hotel lobby and on level 3 of the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth located at 61-101 Phillip Street, Sydney. 

Guests are also invited to stay overnight with the hotel’s 50th Anniversary luxury leisure escape package, which includes an anniversary-themed mini High Tea selection upon arrival including Ronnefeldt tea, breakfast served in-room every morning and the "luxury of time" with late check-out until 4pm. 

Discover more and visit or call (02) 9228 9188.

Tuesday 18 October 2016

What, exactly, do those gold stickers mean on your bottle of wine?

You've probably read a story in your local newspaper about how an Australian cabernet or chardonnay was named “best in the world”. But it isn't.
You've almost certainly walked around your local wine store admiring the little shiny stickers on wine labels and believed that a gold medal indicates a wine won its class in a show. It didn't.

Many Australian wine companies are obsessed with their show results, covering their labels with gold, silver and bronze stickers from a multitude of shows.
But while the industry sees stickers as a major sales tool, the reality is that most consumers do not understand how the Australian show system works – and are easily manipulated.
You'd probably imagine that a wine that won a gold medal was first in its class, like at the Olympics, a silver medallist was second and a bronze medallist third. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
In wine shows any wine gaining a score of 18.5 out of 20 (or 95 out of 100) from the judges gets a gold medal. That could be as many as 20% of all the entries. Any entry scoring between 17 to 18.4 and gets a silver, and so on. 

At the 2015 Royal Melbourne Show, to take one random example, 169 gold medals were awarded, 314 silvers and 857 bronzes. Almost half the entries got a medal.
At shows, all the wines are tasted “blind” - without the judges knowing what they are.
The outright winner in any class earns a trophy – which is what you should be looking out for after the judges have finished sipping, swirling, tasting and spitting.
But the problem is that there are still hundreds of trophy winners out there in retail land.

There are over 70 officials wine shows in Australia (some far more important than others), several unofficial regional shows and dozens overseas.
Bigger companies can afford to enter their wines into myriad different shows (it is an expensive and time-consuming business), making themselves almost certain, by the law of averages, to earn some bling to enliven their labels. Others prefer to let their wines stand on their own merits.
You need to look very carefully at those label stickers to determine whether a wine won a bronze medal at Pine Gap Show, some tasting in Moldova, or a trophy at one of the major shows like Sydney or Melbourne.
I receive regular press releases saying: "Our shiraz is the best in Australia after winning the trophy at the [Insert Any Name You Like Here] Wine Show."

Or, if the show is in London, New York or Ljubljana and has an international field: "Our shiraz is the best in the world."

It's all nonsense. Winning a trophy at a wine show does not make your wine the best in Australia, or the world. It makes it the favourite of the small group of judges who tried it at that show. Usually at room temperature, and almost certainly without food.

Most wines, as you know, are enjoyed with food. And the whites and sparkling wines are almost always drunk chilled by consumers.

The reality is that a wine can win a trophy one week, and get a score of 14/20 the next. Different judges; different scores. But no one ever sends out a press release saying: "Our wine wasn't even good enough to win a bronze."

The wine show system in Australia is extremely good, particularly at the regional level, for winemakers to benchmark their wines against others from the same area. And for keen consumers to get to know some new producers who shine against their peers.

If more than a couple of panels (different judges; different shows) award trophies or gold medals to a particular wine then there is a pretty strong basis for assuming that it is a wine of excellent quality that appeals to winemakers, sommeliers and, sometimes, wine writers with educated palates.

If the judges of one show share similar palate opinions to you; excellent news all round. But they may not.

And remember that gold medal does not mean that a wine was the best in a show. It merely means it was in the top bracket.

And bear in mind that many wineries, particularly those in the upper echelons, do not enter their wines into shows. At all.
Penfolds would be on a hiding to nothing entering its benchmark Grange red in shows, only to see a barrage of “better than Grange” press releases from rivals should it fail to win.
Other wineries, particularly small ones, find entering shows is just too expensive. They prefer to persuade wine lovers to try their wines and make up their own minds.

The fact is that a lot of very good people with excellent palates give up a lot of their time to judge at shows "and help improve the breed". I'm in awe of the number of wines they can taste each day.
Stickers help sell wines. And that's the bottom line. But look closely and that gold-coloured sticker on your bottle may just say "Good with fish". Buyer beware.

Australia's leading brandy producer sets its sights on whisky

For almost a century the St Agnes Distillery in Renmark has been producing a range of premium brandies. Not its owners, the Angove family, have set their sights on also producing world-class whisky. 

Richard Angove reported that the Angoves this week distilled what is believed to be the first legal whisky in the Riverland region of South Australia.

Located on the quiet banks of the River Murray, the St Agnes Distillery has been highly regarded for its unique aged expression of super-premium XO Brandies for over 90 years.

In 2016, the distillery continues its evolution of crafting aged spirits with a small batch whisky project.

"Brandy takes time, patience and craft and we see similarities with whisky," said Richard Angove. "Our aim is to produce a super-premium single malt whisky that has character and vibrancy. A whisky that shows the benefits of ageing in small oak and speaks to the history of our historic barrel halls.

"We worked with an iconic South Australian beer producer – Coopers Brewery, to make a classic single-malt beer base. Classic Scottish methods were used with a touch of our unique Australian brandy-making expertise. 

"The whisky was double distilled in copper pot #1 in our 100-year-old distillery."

The fresh whisky spirit will now be transferred to a careful selection of small oak barrels where it will rest, quietly maturing and transforming into distinctive single malt whisky.

"We will be assessing the whisky regularly but it will be a number of years before we will see the release," Angove said. "Oak maturation takes time and patience and we are lucky that we have these.” 

Dr William Angove first established a distillery in Renmark in 1910. 

"We think that Carl Angove would be happy with this little bit of experimentation and evolution, " said St Agnes Distillery chairman John Angove.

Monday 17 October 2016

Restaurant butterfly emerges from the Sydney rubble

When I attended a wine tasting at The Langham, Sydney, a few weeks back, the luxury hotel was something of a building site.

You could see the frowns on disapproval on the faces of regular guests.

Now the work has finished and Sydney has a new neighbourhood bistro, Bistro Remy, moving into a very competitive space.
Located in the luxury hotel and a short walk from The Rocks, Barangaroo and Walsh Bay, the new bistro's menu has been created by young chef Dave Whitting, who has a most impressive CV.

Whitting was most recently responsible for the new menu at the popular Subiaco Hotel in Western Australia and was Guillaume Brahimi's head chef at his western outpost of Bistro Guillaume in Perth. His experience also includes a stage at the triple Michelin-starred Le Bernardin in New York as well as stints at both Bistro Moncur and Jonah's.

“I like to juxtapose the familiar with the unexpected,” he says. “The menu is produce-led and I enjoy experimenting with the dehydrator. I use ale to re-hydrate the rye sourdough we serve as part of the bistro's heirloom beetroot dish. I use it, as well, for an element of our wild mushroom fricassee served with mushroom custard, smoked hazelnuts and hand-made chestnut cavatelli.

“I'm also a big fan of using our own smoker and use it to smoke Mt Cook Alpine salmon and many of the nuts on the menu. Our twice-cooked gruyere soufflé is a dish known to most but ours is made with veal stock that adds flavour and gives the dish a rich caramel colour.”

Modern reinventions of classic bistro dishes include a tarte tatin made with quince and a surprising pairing of blue cheese and marshmallow.

Signature dishes include black ash tortellini filled with silky potato crème and dressed with Pecorino and watercress; and Golden Plains pork belly accented with apple and potato crème.

The single-page menu also showcases plenty of choice for vegetarians.

Bistro Remy's wine list incudes the likes of the 2015 Chalmers Nero d'Avola from Heathcote and a 2012 Catena Zapata Malbec from Argentina.

Entrées are generally under $20 and there are no mains over $40. Bistro Remy is open for lunch Monday through Friday and for dinner Monday-Saturday. Bookings on (02) 9256 2222.

Sunday 16 October 2016

Food, glorious food. Is this London's best market?

Gloriously ripe, runny Bries; crumbly Caerphillys; specialities from Emilia Romagna and Emmental. Fabulous fromages from around the world.

How many gourmet cheese stalls does one street market need? Apparently a dozen or more. 

If you need evidence of the changing face of London, head for Borough Market; offering myriad gourmet delights on the doorstep of London Bridge Station.

I was on my way to lunch at Aqua Shard; high in the sky, but my attention was diverted to street level and the many market delights.

First opened in 1851 on its current site (and refurbished a decade ago) - it has a history that dates back 1000 years, although it was under recently more a wholesale market that a retail one. Its recent resurgence reflects the gentrification of Southwark and surrounding south-east London suburbs.

Borough Market boasts that it "is a source of quality British and international produce, but it is more than just a place to buy or sell food".

The Market is a place where both locals and tourists come to connect, to share food and fun. 

Today, it is regarded as London's most renowned food and drink market. It has featured in movies from Bridget Jones's Diary to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and even Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Borough Market is located in the heart of central London, easily accessible by train, tube, bus, bike or on foot.

The layout reflects its storied history, with a warren of passageways and open spaces; new discoveries around every corner. The vibe is typically London, with traders exchanging banter with their regulars. 

Three Crown Square, the Market's largest trading area, is devoted to fresh produce, including fruit and veg, meat, fish and cheese, while the spaces around the periphery offer an eclectic blend of foodstuffs and ready-to-eat meals (from pie and mash and jellied eels to soul food). 

Borough Market is open from Monday to Saturday, although the full market only operates Wednesday to Saturday.
For details see 

Saturday 15 October 2016

Five reasons to love flying Etihad business class

Etihad has been one of the greatest airline success stories of the modern era. The national carrier of the United Arab Emirates launched just 13 years ago and is now a major international force.

Based in Abu Dhabi, Etihad has built a global schedule with flights to and from Australia code-sharing with Virgin Australia – great news for Virgin Velocity frequent flyers, who earn points and status credits on Etihad flights.

From small beginnings in 2003, the airline now operates more than 1,000 flights per week to passenger and cargo destinations in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas, with a fleet of 128 Airbus and Boeing aircraft.

The lounges

The lounges in Sydney, Melbourne, Paris and Abu Dhabi are all outstanding with excellent food, solicitous staff and quiet nooks in which to relax.

Virgin Platinum flyers can use the new first class lounge and spa in Abu Dhabi and enjoy a free massage in the luxurious Six Senses Spa, time permitting.

All business class passengers can use premium lounges, which are outstanding particularly at Abu Dhabi Airport, one of the most modern in the world. Food and beverage options are copious, a hot shower a great way to break up a long trip and, for a small fee, services like a massage, manicure or hot shave are available.

There are Etihad Premium lounges at Abu Dhabi, Dublin, Frankfurt, London, Los Angeles, Manchester, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Sydney and Washington DC, where guests can choose between a la carte dining or an impressive buffet throughout the day.

The spicy lamb biryani (below) that I enjoyed in Sydney and an Arabic omelette (with peppers and sumac) for breakfast in Abu Dhabi were both excellent.

At Abu Dhabi, business passengers are also invited to use an arrivals lounge to freshen up after their flight.

The seats

Etihad guarantees roomy seats that convert to comfortable lie-flat beds on all long-haul business class flights, which included all four legs on my recent trip to Paris.

The most luxurious experience is on the Airbus A380 flights with "business studio" seats and a shared "lobby" area in which to socialise, but the A340 and 777 cabins also offer plenty of space and enough comforts to ensure a good night of sleep.

Eligible business passengers get limousine transfers to and from their airports of choice, Luxe amenity bags, complimentary bottles of water and all seats feature universal power points and USB slots for charging phones and laptops.

The service
Business passengers are all allowed two bags weighing up to 32kg each, as well as carry-on bags.

Etihad is known for its multinational, multilingual staff, and the best get to work in the business and first-class cabins. On my way back from Europe recently one cabin supervisor was from Japan, another from Tanzania. Nothing was too much trouble.

Business class guests get priority check-in and boarding and are given express path vouchers to use on arrival, by-passing sometimes long immigration and customs queues at Australian ports.

The food

Etihad's multicultural menus offer at least four main-course choices on international business class flights as part of a four-course dinner served with white linen and metal cutlery.

Think of choices like braised beef cheek with mascarpone mashed potatoes, carrots and mushroom sauce, brie and pumpkin tartlet with mache, walnuts and parmesan, or maybe perch with warm barley and pomegranate, beans and lemon butter.

Alternatively, there is the option of dining whenever you want to from an “all day” menu that features dishes like steak sandwich with Emmental cheese and red onion chutney, or a mushroom and cheese omelette with Lyonnaise potatoes.

The wine list features the likes of Duval-Leroy Champagne and a choice of three whites and three reds from producers around the globe, including Australian wineries like d'Arenberg, St Hallett and de Bortoli Yarra Valley. There is also a dessert wine and choice of top-shelf spirits.

Wine list stand-outs included Moreau et Fils 2014 Chablis and Chateau Eglise L'Armens Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2013 red blend.

The entertainment

The latest movies and TV programs are part of Etihad's E-Box service.

I particularly enjoyed the live TV channels available between Abu Dhabi and Australian ports; watching a live English Premier League match on the way out and the Ryder Cup golf on the way back, as well as news programs on BCC and CNN.

There are over 120 movies to choose from, more than 300 TV shows and some box sets for binge viewing on long-haul flights.

You can pay a token sum for on-board wi-fi, which is a real bonus for those wanting to catch up with emails or work while in the air.

For full details visit This is an edited version of a story that first appeared on, which is a source of much useful advice for travellers.

# The writer travelled on a fully paid-for business class ticket.

Friday 14 October 2016

What now for tourists in Thailand?

Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles. Tourists are usually made very welcome and their excesses frequently overlooked.  

But everything has changed - for the next few days at least - following the death last night of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who ruled for 70 years. 

Thais adore their royal family, who are revered much more than royals in just about any other country. The impact of the King's death will be real and profound - and the mourning will last for a considerable time (officially for 12 months).

Although Australia has issued no warnings at all, Britain’s Foreign Office advised visitors to Thailand to take into account “the feelings and sensitivities of the Thai people” after the death of the King. 

Visitors have been advised to wear sombre clothing (preferably black) and to be aware that “access to entertainment, including restaurants, bars, and shopping areas may be restricted” 

Thai police colonels/superintendents, under the guidance of the army, will decide the period of time bars/clubs will be closed. In Phuket that will be three days. In other tourist centres like Bangkok and Pattaya, no time frame has yet been announced.

But given the sensitivity of the times, tourists would be well advised not to drink in public, not to be obviously drunk, or to make any unwelcome approaches to females. 

To do so would not only be insensitive, it might provoke angry responses. Tourists have also been reminded not to talk in a way that may be considered critical of the Thai royal family, which is a serious offence and could earn jail time.

So things will be a little different for tourists - including possible cancellation of "anything goes" full moon parties. Lying low is advised.   

The Thai prime minister has already said that entertainment must be “toned down” for a month - and tourists should certainly also tone down their behaviour and display the cultural sensibility that a few Australians did not manage to show recently in Malaysia.

#UPDATE. There is little logic to what has been postponed and what remains open. Concerts featuring Oasis and the Scorpions have been cancelled, as has Muay Thai boxing at the two main stadiums in Bangkok. Yet transvestite cabaret shows in Pattaya and Phuket remain open daily. Check with local authorities before travelling to any attractions.     

Here is the latest official communique: 

Would you be prepared to sleep in a pod like this to save money?

Would you be comfortable sleeping in a pod like this? 
Tourism operator Jucy is banking on the fact that lots of visitors to New Zealand would rather spend their money on bungy jumping and white water rafting than expensive accommodation. 
Jucy will launch New Zealand’s first "micro accommodation" concept on November 1, 
Christchurch, New Zealand’s second-largest city, is the home of the pod-style hostel, which features 271 pods just minutes from the international airport.
The accommodation is low cost and designed for short stays, including layovers before and after international flights. 
The self-contained accommodation capsules or pods feature beds with linen supplied, storage lockers, power supply and wi-fi connectivity.

Jucy Snooze also allows customers to self-check-in and -out - either by smartphone or a specially designed kiosk avoiding queues.
Jucy CEO Tim Alpe says there has already been strong interest in the accommodation with 600 international bookings secured a month before its launch. 
“We set about challenging the traditional service model of hostels, completely redesigning it to remove the barriers guests commonly encounter. In one example, our research found that hotels were inadvertently causing bottlenecks for their reception staff by forcing guests to leave at the same time. 
“Any time when customers need to queue to pay their bill creates the potential for customer satisfaction to be diminished. We wanted the first and last impression our guests have to be one of efficiency and convenience,” he says. 
While the Jucy Snooze target market is primarily backpackers, room layouts have also been designed to cater to low-cost travellers, families and baby boomers.
Visitors will be able to socialise and share communal spaces such as the general use lounges, with hot desks provided for casual web browsing.
The Jucy Snooze pod prices start at $39 and so confident are Jucy of success that they will soon begin construction shortly on a second Jucy Snooze in Queenstown opening in June 2017. 

For full details:

Thursday 13 October 2016

Winery rolls out a massive solar project

The Yealands Wine Group today rolled out the largest solar panel initiative in New Zealand at its Marlborough winery. 

Founder Peter Yealands, who has long been at the forefront of winery sustainability, said the unveiling underlined the company's belief in renewable energy. 

The installation at the company’s Seaview Vineyard of  918 photovoltaic panels brings to 1,314 the number of panels on its winery roof. 

This means the vineyard is now capable of generating 411.12 kiloWatts of solar power – the equivalent to powering 86 New Zealand homes - while offsetting 82 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

“We already had a pretty substantial solar array in place, but it takes a lot to power any kind of building and a winery’s no different," said Yealands. "By increasing the size of our solar array we will decrease our reliance on the national grid and generate 30% of the power we require to power our tank coolers, computers, you name it. 

"I've always been passionate about renewable energy and also about self-reliance. We have been carbon neutral since inception but that doesn't mean we can just sit back. Our new solar panels will further help reduce our carbon emissions and keep us true to our claim of being the most sustainable winery in the world.” 

The solar panel installation took a six-person team four weeks to complete. The panels were installed on the northern side of the winery’s roof to ensure optimum solar energy capture throughout the day and allow for the maximum number of panels to be installed.

The Yealands Wine Group includes Yealands Estate, Crossroads, and The Crossings brands. 

The combined entity is now one of the largest privately-owned wine companies in New Zealand, with a global reach of more than 70 international markets.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

Hard work earns Fran a trip to Champagne

Delamere winemaker Fran Austin is on her way to Champagne at someone else's expense after winning the $10,000 Dr Don Martin Sustainable Viticulture Award. 

Austin, who runs Delamere at Pipers River with her husband Shane Holloway, will undertake a study tour of Champagne to investigate vineyard practices, winemaking and marketing in the world's greatest sparkling wine region. 

In particular, she will explore the economic and environmental sustainability of Champagne growers/producers and the relationship they have with Champagne Houses. 

She will share what she learns with other Tasmanian sparkling wine business. 

Wine Tasmania CEO Sheralee Davies welcomed the announcement of Fran as the 2016 Don Martin Fellowship recipient.

“The Alcorso Foundation has instigated this valuable program to support the development of individual wine professionals and, through them, the broader Tasmanian wine sector," she said. 

"With sparkling wine representing a third of Tasmania’s wine, this is a key area of focus for the sector and the insights Fran obtains from Champagne are expected to be of particular relevance to Tasmania’s sparkling wine producers.”

The Don Martin Sustainable Viticulture Fellowship was initiated by the Alcorso Foundation to commemorate influential Tasmanian viticulturist, Dr Don Martin. 

The fellowship is available to Tasmanian-based wine professionals to encourage research via study-based travel or new localised research projects across viticulture/oenology that benefits the broader sector.