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Saturday 31 March 2018

Why winter is the new black on Tasmania

A decade or so ago, Tasmania used to hibernate during winter. Today, the islanders embrace their chilly point of difference with a range of festivals and cultural activities.

With air fares that are lower (to match the mercury), winter is an ideal time to visit Tasmania and enjoy a few fireside activities - indoors or out.

Here are some of the highlights:

Bay of Fires Winter Arts Festival, June 9-11
This regional festival highlights the artistry of local painters, sculptors, dancers, writers and musicians. A busy program of events, workshops, dance, fine art, gardens and exhibitions will lead visitors across the Bay of Fires and Break O’Day region to explore the range of installations and to visit artist’s private studios. For the first year, the popular art market will run over two days, starting with a twilight market from 2-9pm on the Saturday with live music in the evening, then reopening on Sunday. The festival culminates in the Bay of Fires Art Prize announcement, with a $20,000 prize on offer to the winner, as well as acquisition by the local gallery.

Dark Mofo, June 15-24
The winter festival from the MONA crew, Dark Mofo is an exploration of light and darkness - a celebration of the winter solstice played out in small and large spaces across Hobart. The full program is released in April with events covering music, visual arts, performance and feasting genres. The food and wine events are extraordinary, the arts mind blowing.

Festival of Voices, June 29-July 15
One of Tasmania's premier winter festivals aims to spread the joy of singing far and wide across the state. Listen to voices harmonise and soar, attend performances in concert halls, theatres and public spaces or participate in one of the choirs or workshops with international guests. Each year the festival program features the free event, the Big Sing - a huge bonfire is lit in the middle of the city and the voices combine to banish the mid-winter chills.

Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival, July 13-15
Australia's southernmost region celebrates the region’s apple picking past with a program of musical performances, cider and feasting at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed, 30 minutes outside Hobart. At the heart of the festival is the age-old pagan tradition of wassailing - scaring the bad spirits away from the orchard. Think wine, cider, food, singing, shouting, costumes and fun.

Devonport Jazz Festival, July 26-29
Now in it’s 17th year, this event attracts performers from around Tasmania and Australia. Over the festival weekend, traditional performances spaces, as well as a few surprise venues, will host a festival program packed with fresh jazz and blues for everyone.

Australian Antarctic Festival, August 2-5
Held over four days, this festival tries to give an insight into the life of an Antarctic explorer. The Antarctic research ships Aurora Australis and Investigator are open for tours, as well as open days at the the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies and the CSIRO Marine Science Laboratories. Adventurers from the Australian Antarctic Division will be on hand to share real-life accounts of their lives.

Friday 30 March 2018

The Rees up the ante when it comes to luxury in New Zealand

This time last week I was relaxing in rare style in a luxury three-bedroom apartment overlooking Lake Wakatipu, admiring the first snow fall of the season on the top of the Remarkables ranges and enjoying a glass of Quartz Reef sparkling. 

I was checking out the recently opened The Rees Lakeside Residences in Queenstown, which when it comes to work has to be one of the easiest assignments I've ever been given. 

The apartments sit underneath The Rees Hotel, a long-time favourite of mine, that take luxury to a new level. 

Just about everything has been thought of from the aromas of a freshly-baked loaf of bread when you arrive to lakefront hot tubs, your own yoga mats, or (much more my style) - a private wine cellar in your apartment. 

The Residence apartments, opened just a couple of months ago, are adjacent to but separate from The Rees Hotel Queenstown’s main building, offering seclusion and privacy with those amazing views.

The three-bedroom, 3.5 bathroom, air-conditioned villas all offer lake and mountain views,
and are an ideal setting for families and multi-generational groups looking for private accommodation with space and independence (and somewhere for your bodyguards to sleep).

Unlike any other hotel in New Zealand, The Rees Residences offer the services of your very own luxury travel curator. 

From the moment you check availability to the moment you leave Queenstown, your personal curator (the charming Richard in my case) will be with you every step of the way, to ensure your New Zealand experience is designed specially to suit your needs. 

So if you want to go bungee jumping, to do a helicopter tour of the Central Otago vineyards or just need a restaurant reservation, Richard is your man.  

Back in the apartment you'll find a spacious outdoor terrace adjacent to the living area that's the perfect setting for entertaining your guests - and there's a fully equipped luxury kitchen as well. 

Your curator (a posh name for a butler) will be on hand to provide every luxury including welcome drinks, amenities and linen, fresh fruit, flowers and bottled water, evening turn down service, and daily servicing of your villa.

In-villa dining from the hotel's kitchen team can also be arranged.

The Residences also offer additional services and facilities which include fast, free wifi, in-villa spa treatments, personal shopping and provisioning of your villa, personal trainers, massage therapists and jet boat transfers. 

And just upstairs are all the hotel facilities; True South fine dining restaurant, Bordeau wine lounge and a mini business centre. 

Gourmet breakfast provisions are on offer in your villa with house-made bread and muesli, fresh pastries, local spreads, and artisan meats and cheeses replenished daily.

It's all pretty special, but what really helps to make the experience are the staff - welcoming and totally professional. 

For The Rees Hotel and Apartments bookings and enquiries phone: +64 3 450 1100.

The writer was a guest of The Rees Hotel and Residences

Airline pilloried for its treatment of handicapped woman

Yet another airline is attracting adverse publicity around the world because it refused to bend its rules just a little. 

This time it is British Airways that is facing a social media backlash after it refused to change the name on a ticket so that a severely disabled woman could travel to Canada to see her best friend.

Rachael Monk, who suffers from complex cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair and must be attended by two personal assistants 24 hours a day, bought three tickets last July for the flights to Canada next month, Travel Mole newsletter reported.

When one of her PAs had to resign in February, due to her own ill-health, Monk asked British Airways to change the name on the ticket to that of a new PA, who had agreed to travel with her.

BA, remarkably given the circumstances but within its own rules, refused to make the change, meaning that Monk, 35, had to buy another ticket for £630.

That stupidity and intransigence has seen BA described as "disgusting" and its behaviour as "disgraceful".

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has suggested Monk could take a test case to court on the grounds that BA has not made "a reasonable adjustment" for her as a disabled person under the terms of the Equality Act 2010.

EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said: "This situation is no doubt familiar to countless people living with a disability. Access to transport is a key plank of independent living for 13 million disabled people living in the UK.

"Whether or not non-transferable tickets, and the need to pay for PA tickets, in a circumstance such as this constitute unlawful discrimination or grounds for a reasonable adjustment should be tested in court.

"For disabled people to travel the distance of others, we need big business to ask themselves if they could be doing more to play their part."

All in all, a terrible look for BA - which could have handled this so much better.

Thursday 29 March 2018

Why it just became a whole lot more expensive to visit Toronto

The last time I visited Toronto I thought the hotels were extremely expensive. That will be even more the case now the City of Toronto is implementing a 4% municipal accommodation tax effective April 1 and on short-term rentals (read Airbnb) effective June 1.

A portion of this tax will provide funding towards Tourism Toronto to support the city’s tourism industry. The tax will also provide funds for the city to support programs and services, such as road repair, transit, police, economic development, culture, parks and recreation, allegedly facilities that visitors have the ability to take advantage of when they visit Toronto.

But it seems to me that the tax, known as MAT, will be more of disincentive in a competitive market place. There are a lots of great places to visit in Canada and while Toronto is a nice city, it is not on anyone's "must visit" list.

In a news release, Toronto officials said the tax will apply to all rooms used for rental accommodation for four hours or more and continuous stays of 30 days or less (so you'll pay the tax even if all you have in mind is a bonk.

Guests will have to pay the tax when they stay at full service, limited service and small hotels, as well as motels, hostels, private and fraternal clubs, and condo hotels.

Hotel guests will be charged the tax when they pay for their accommodation and the invoice will include a separate line to identify the new levy.

The hotel industry had argued against the tax in the past, noting operators already pay commercial taxes and deal with a number of regulatory issues. I think they are right.

The city expects to bring in some $16 million from the new levy - but how much vacation business will it lose to Vancouver, Montreal, Quebec City etc. And how much ill-will will it generate with visitors not expecting a 4% slug?

Wednesday 28 March 2018

Bleasdale's love affair with malbec grows

Head to the Bleasdale cellar door in Langhorne Creek next month to taste and buy a new-release set of three single-vineyard malbecs that are to be launched to mark World Malbec Day on April 17.
Malbec is an inky, robust red grape variety that is one of the six grapes allowed in the blends of Bordeaux, althoughFrench plantings of malbec (also known at Cot, or Auxerrois) are now found primarily in Cahors in South-West France
Malbec is the driving force behind the booming Argentine wine industry and thrives in site-specific parts of Australia. 
Bleasdale, which was one of the first Australian wineries to plant malbec back in the 1890s, has approximately eight hectares of malbec planted across the property, with plans for more to come. In recent years, Bleasdale has planted three more malbec clones, bringing the total up to nine.
Bleasdale’s first table wine in 1961 was a malbec.
Two of the new-release wines come from Bleasdale estate vineyards in Langhorne Creek, and the third from an outstanding grower vineyard in Kangaroo Island.
This is the second occasion Bleasdale has released three single-vineyard malbecs, produced to highlight the uniqueness and nuances of place. Each wine has been made in small quantities, with parcels picked at the optimum time to capture individual qualities of their site.
“We are impressed with the quality of malbec across Australia, and winemakers all over are creating some really exciting wines from the variety,” said Paul Hotker, senior winemaker at Bleasdale.
“With the 2016 vintage, we have chosen to profile three exceptional vineyards; two being estate vineyards in Langhorne Creek – Riparian Vineyard and Mullianna Vineyard (below) – and the third the Islander Estate Vineyard on Kangaroo Island.

"Our continued success with the variety only strengthens our belief that Langhorne Creek is one of the best places in Australia to grow and produce world class malbec wines,” said Hotker. 
"These project single-site malbec wines join Bleasdale’s three permanent tiers of malbec; Double Take Malbec, Generations Malbec, and Second Innings Malbec. 
“I arrived at Bleasdale before the 2008 vintage and was excited about the opportunity to play with Bleasdale’s malbec vineyards, knowing that Bleasdale is obsessed with this variety," Hotker said. "This obsession continues to grow.” 
Almost half of Bleasdale’s gold medals and trophies are for malbec, and Bleasdale is recognised as the leading Australian producer of the variety.
The new wines are only available at the historic Bleasdale cellar door – one of the main drawcards in Langhorne – and online. They will cost $35 each.
Bleasdale is one of Australia’s oldest family-owned wineries and the first winery established in Langhorne Creek.

Tuesday 27 March 2018

Trash talking. Serving up the hype about a new holiday destination.

It can be hard selling a new holiday destination. Particularly one on the Gold Coast, where just about every Australian has spent a whole heap of time.

So it falls to press release writers to stir up unrealistic expectations with pages of purple prose well before any new property has opened.

If your press release is accompanied by artist's impressions showing a bog standard hotel bedroom and a fairly ordinary apartment kitchen (above), then it might be a good idea to temper your enthusiasm just a little.

The guilty party on this occasion is spruiking a massive new development to be called Ruby with "amazing" ocean views. It is described as "a precious gem".

Among the hype gems in the press release: "The first of four towers in the ‘billion-dollar game changer’ Ruby Collection development – the Ruby Apartments - is set to reshape visitor perceptions of what a family holiday experience is meant to be."

The "game changing" aspects apparently include "spacious living areas, full kitchen and laundry suitable for families of up to eight to come together and enjoy all the comforts of home, and free wifi.

We are told the new development will be: "the newest and most innovative apartment style accommodation on the Gold Coast, boasting 24-hour resort amenities and services" and with a "We don't do ordinary" slogan.

Ruby may end up a stellar success. But those images look ordinary to me.

Monday 26 March 2018

Why Virgin Australia badly needs to lift its game

I have several issues with the levels of service offered by Virgin Australia - and am well placed to comment as a regular flyer with Platinum status (the airline's top level).

Business class delights last night
My main gripe concerns the lack of a Velocity Lounge in Hobart six years after it was promised by CEO John Borghetti. Check out  

Despite Hobart Airport recording record numbers a Virgin spokesperson told me: "Unfortunately since the announcement there just hasn’t been the demand in Hobart to justify the build."

I think the 20 grams of biscuit or muesli served as "a snack" on short-haul economy flights an insult. Seriously, why bother? 

I've also found the introduction of the ecomonyX fare means flyers can pay a few dollars more to dislodge frequent flyers from the extra leg room seats they are promised at the front of the plane. Again, so much for loyalty.

Throw in terms and conditions that make it difficult access any of the Platinum benefits and a call centre in Manila where the staff are unintelligible and I've now abandoned by loyalty to Virgin and fly with whichever airline is the most convenient. 

Last night, however, heaped insult onto insult. 

I had upgraded to business from economy and the air crew was so ditsy that no one even bothered to take my coat to hang up and no newspapers were offered despite there being a supply in the overhead baggage. 

I then chose a delicious sounding "Moroccan lamb jaffle" for dinner. Unfortunately, consultant chef Luke Mangan has completely taken his eye off the ball with this one (pictured above). 

Not only was the half a jaffle lukewarm, it was soggy on the inside and tasted like cardboard around the edges. The filling was the texture of soup and it came with a bread roll. Who serves a bread roll as a side dish to half a sandwich? 

I know these are all first world problems, but Virgin needs to improve quick smart before it loses the business flyers it has attracted over from Qantas. Particularly when guests are paying good money for "superior service" in business class. 

Sunday 25 March 2018

Bold boasts for Brisbane hotel that's still three months from opening

Brisbane is gearing up for the opening of a new hotel with a familiar name. 

Located in the $600 million Southpoint precinct, Emporium Hotel South Bank is boasting it will set "a new standard in exquisite boutique luxury accommodation and award-winning service".

Which is a big, some would say bold, claim for a property that is still three months away from opening its doors. 

There will be 143 suites, a selection of food and beverage options by chef Josue Lopez and a 21st-floor infinity pool and bar with views over South Bank Parklands, the Brisbane River, city and beyond. 

The Emporium Hotel South Bank is set to open on July 1, with bookings for accommodation, conferencing and events now open.

The hotel has been designed and developed by the same independent owner-operators who guided the Emporium Hotel in Fortitude Valley to the position of Australia’s most-awarded boutique luxury hotel.

With this property now sold and set to be re-branded to an Ovolo Hotel in mid-April, Emporium Hotel South Bank will carry its mantle with a grand pillarless ballroom, three state-of-the-art boardrooms, concierge, 24/7 room service and gym, steam room and sauna.

Saturday 24 March 2018

Wine in print: a fascinating retrospective

The world of wine has changed dramatically since the 1950s - and nowhere more so than in the way the topic is covered by the media. 

Writer and communicator Michael Hince will take a look at the world of wine writing in a presentation at Armadale Cellars, in Melbourne, from 2pm on Saturday, June 30. 

Writer, broadcaster and historian Hince will take a thorough look at the history of wine in print in its various guises from the late 1950s to today.

The publication of classic books like Walter James's The Gadding Vine (1955) and Sam Benwell's Journey to Wine in Victoria (1960) to the birth of The Australian Gourmet and The Epicurean magazines in 1966 through to current writing by the likes of James Halliday, Jeremy Oliver, David Dunstan and Max Allen will be covered. 

Hince promises a fascinating look at the genesis of Australia's modern wine industry through the eyes, words and pages of those who wrote and spoke about it.

The late 1950s and early 1960s heralded the birth of contemporary wine writing and vinous literature in the guise of pamphlets, books and magazines. The likes of Oscar Mendelsohn, Dan Murphy, Max Lake, Len Evans and latterly James Halliday, helped popularise table wine and educate many a palate.

Now today's online and social media has spawned a plethora of wine bloggers. So much so there is almost as much written about wine as there are wine labels! Yes, I plead guilty, your honour!

The event will be part of Melbourne Rare Book Week 2018 and is also part of Armadale Cellars 21st birthday celebrations. Light refreshments will be served.

Admission is free however places are limited.

Book on…/1025975-a-glassful-…  or phone Armadale Cellars (03) 9509 3055.

Friday 23 March 2018

Discover why Adelaide is going all MOD.

The University of South Australia is set to open Australia’s newest museum in the heart of Adelaide - and has several ambitious ideas. 

To be called MOD., the museum has been designed to subvert the standard museum experience, with spaces built for interactivity and immersion. It all sounds very MONA-like.

Opening on May 11, the future-focused museum does not have a traditional, tangible "collection", saying it collects intangible knowledge and ideas and operates at the intersection of art and science, challenging typical ideas of museums.

University of South Australia Vice chancellor Professor David Lloyd said the museum was designed to challenge worldviews and explore the interplay between science and art.

“We want to spark creative, unconventional thinking,” said Professor Lloyd. “Some of our exhibitions will make people really stop, pause and experience ‘the discomfort of thinking’ as JFK called it.

“But it is when you are really stretched to question what you know, that creativity grows.”

Located inside the university’s newly built Cancer Research Institute, the participatory museum aims to engage adults and teens in science, engineering and technology through dynamic exhibitions, with a focus on South Australian and global research.

MOD. director and "futurist" Kristin Alford said the museum brought together researchers, industry, students and the public to inspire young people to challenge and discuss how to navigate an uncertain future.

“We’re especially keen to bring young adults to MOD. because the more they are able to engage with ideas, think deeply about life’s potential and navigate our complex and uncertain world, the better they will thrive,” Alford said.

The museum will have seven purpose-built gallery spaces, a lecture theatre and studio spaces for workshops across two levels.

MOD. will also host ‘”Science on a Sphere”, a two-metre wide sphere developed by the American National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency. The data-visualisation tool will project images and data sets about global trade and migration patterns, natural phenomena, space and technology.

The museum will host two themed exhibition programs a year, as well as a shorter studio program and will be open Friday evenings for after-work drinks and on weekends.

The opening exhibition, ‘MOD.IFY’, aims to take visitors on an immersive journey to explore artificial worlds and augmented realities, making them consider what makes us human versus animal or machine.

Thursday 22 March 2018

Major Tasmanian tourism development planned by cheese producer

Ashgrove Cheese plans to create a major food-tourism drawcard at Elizabeth Town in northern Tasmania after securing a Regional Jobs and Investment Packages grant from Canberra.

The business received $565,000 and will invest $620,000 to construct and fit out a $1.19 million state-of-the-art "dairy door" and visitor complex.

Ashgrove's Project Manager, Anne Bennett, told The Burnie Advocate that the proposed visitor complex would help the dairy producer to capitalise on its position on the Cradle To Coast Tasting Trail, one of a number of wine and food trails on the Apple Isle.

“[The grant] enables Ashgrove to really bring forward a flagship project that we’ve had on the cards for two years," she said. "It will develop the Ashgrove Cheese shop into an iconic northern Tasmanian tourist destination.”

The new centre will almost double the footprint of the existing shop and factory with experiential, retail, food and outdoor areas linked directly to the farm.

“We are going to bring the farm alive inside the building, using technology like virtual reality, augmented reality and cow tracking,” Bennett said.

Company chairman Paul Bennett said: “The planning has already started. We’ve drawn up plans and will be underway as soon as council and government criteria have been met.”

The project will create an estimated 40 construction jobs and add 14 full-time equivalent roles to Ashgrove's operations once complete.

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Airline bans fat passengers and infants from its new business class seats

Obese passengers and parents with infants have been banned from flying business class on Thai Airways' new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners "for safety reasons".
The Thai national carrier added the two Boeing Dreamliners to its fleet in September last year and the aircraft manufacturer has installed new airbags on seat belts for business class seats,The Bangkok Post reported.

This meant that passengers with a waistline of over 56 inches (142.24cms) could not fasten these new seatbelt airbags, which meet US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety standards, Flt Lt Prathana Pattanasirim, vice-president of THAI’s aviation safety, security and standards department told the newspaper. 
Passengers in those seats also could not carry infants on their laps. 

The airbags are designed to protect passengers in case of an accident. Routes flown by the new Dreamliners include Bangkok-Auckland and Bangkok-Taipei. 

Tuesday 20 March 2018

The perfect vacation trip for any beer lover?

Is this the perfect holiday choice for anyone who loves beer? 

Tauck has just announced details of its new 10-day Autumn Along The Rhine river cruise for 2019, which just happens to coincide with Munich’s Oktoberfest. 

There are only two departure dates: September 16 and September 24, 2019, which gives you plenty of time to get your act together. 
The trip will combine a seven-night river cruise on the Rhine with a two-night land stay in the heart of Munich to experience the world’s largest Oktoberfest celebration.

Destinations and sightseeing will include: Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Heidelberg, Strasbourg and the Alsace region, Lucerne and Munich and the beer festival. 

Highlights include a craft beer walking tour of Düsseldorf’s Old Town highlighting local craft beers, a beer pairing at an award-winning brewery in Heidelberg and visits to winstubs 

(traditional beer pubs) in the Ribeauville/Riquewihr in Alsace. 

There is also reserved seating for lunch in one of the traditional brewery tents at the Oktoberfest.

The 10-Day Autumn Along The Rhine…Munich’s Oktoberfest cruise is priced from $8590 per person twin share.

Sydney's colourful Vivid Festival returns for a 10th year

The world's largest festival of light, music and ideas, Vivid Sydney, will return in 2018 with a spectacular new precinct at Luna Park, the return of the much-loved Customs House, and a blend of everyday objects and Australian-inspired motifs on the sails of the Sydney Opera House.

Vivid will run over 23 nights from May 25 to June 16 and will paint Australia's largest city in the colour and spectacle of Vivid Light, take over Sydney stages with Vivid Music's electric performances and collaborations, and provide a global forum for thought-provoking debate and creative discussion at Vivid Ideas.

Vivid Sydney is owned, managed and produced by the NSW Government's tourism and major events agency Destination NSW and in 2017 attracted a record-breaking 2.33 million attendees.

Minister for Tourism and Major Events, Adam Marshall said in a mind-numbingly dull press release: "Vivid Sydney has delighted and inspired people from around Australia and the world. With the festival now in its 10th year, visitors and locals alike can once again expect to be mesmerised by the Vivid Sydney program, with larger installations and a gripping Music and Ideas offering, so I encourage visitors to start planning their trip early to get the most out of this year's exciting line-up."

For the first time, Vivid Sydney's light walk will extend to a new precinct at Luna Park Sydney, where the iconic amusement park comes alive with large-scale projection on the facade of Coney Island. 

The show will celebrate the history, magic, creativity, engineering, fantasy and imagination that have come together to create millions of memories on the site. Luna Park's iconic ferris wheel will be lit for the festival following an LED refit.

Vivid Sydney's bright lights will also illuminate the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney again in 2018.

In celebration of their 100-year anniversary, May Gibbs' iconic and immortal characters, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and their stalwart companions will come to life on the façade of Customs House, while, as usual, all eyes will turn towards the World-Heritage listed Sydney Opera House at the centre of the Vivid Light Walk for Lighting of the Sails, to be created in 2018 by award-winning Australian artist Jonathan Zawada.

Other buildings which will once again be transformed, including the facade of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) with Virtual Vibration.

Popular precincts Taronga Zoo, Darling Harbour, Chatswood, Barangaroo and Kings Cross will all return in 2018.

Vivid Music ups the ante in 2018 with an electric line-up, from noise to jazz, sonic experimentation to soul. Highlights include a one-night-only performance by Grammy award-winning St. Vincent, as well as jazz maestro Branford Marsalis and chanteuse Madeleine Peyroux.

Vivid LIVE at the Sydney Opera House will host a stellar line-up. Highlights this year include American pop icons Mazzy Star, the "godfather" of West Coast rap Ice Cube and acclaimed '90s indie rock singer/songwriter Cat Power. A line-up clearly put together by someone in their fifties or sixties.

For full dates and details see

Monday 19 March 2018

Barging through Burgundy - sounds like the ultimate vacation

I've been lucky enough to enjoy river cruises and ocean cruises and much prefer to travel by river than sea. 
I've never managed, however, to travel on a luxury barge through a wine region - which sounds to me like heaven on earth. 
This musing was prompted by a press release from hotel barge cruising specialist European Waterways, announcing the completion of a $500,000 upgrade and refurbishing program across the company's fleet as it prepares to launch its 2018 season. 

The upgrades addressed every aspect of the company's hotel barges, from the operation of the vessels themselves, to the dining, entertainment and sleeping areas, as well as the off-shore transportation of its guests, who are treated to daily guided excursions.
The company's latest upgrades include a complete redesign of the saloon for the 12-passenger L'Impressionniste hotel barge, which cruises Southern Burgundy. The hotel barge also received a new staircase, bar area, banquettes, and an oval dining table to help create more space and seating. 
The eight-passenger L'Art de Vivre, which cruises Northern Burgundy, was upgraded with new bathrooms, while the Anjodi, an eight-passenger vessel on the Canal du Midi, was fitted with a new hardwood sundeck to complement a new saloon last year. Deck furniture has also been upgraded across many of the vessels.
This all set me dreaming of a leisurely week or two on the waterways of France, coffees and wines at waterside auberges and visits to some of the great cellars of Burgundy. 
I can't recommend this company, but I do like the concept.
“It's the small details that make the difference between a good vacation and a great one,” said Waterways Europe managing director Derek Banks. “Once we have the engineering work completed, we are free to focus upon the exclusive, personalized service that our guests adore."
European Waterways' luxury hotel barges in Scotland, which cruise Loch Ness and the Great Glen between Inverness and Fort William on the Caledonian Canal, have been spruced up for the new season.
Founded nearly 40 years ago, the company owns, operates and markets a private fleet of luxury hotel barges with cruises in France, Italy, Scotland, Ireland, England, Germany, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. For more information visit

Sunday 18 March 2018

Yes, you can have a beer, but first give me your shoe

Belgian beer glasses are so desirable that local bars lose thousands of dollars each year through theft.
Now two bars have taken action to stop the glasses going walkies; one installing a €4,000 security system and the other asking for customers shoes as a deposit.

Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad reports theft has reached absurd proportions.

At the Beer Wall in Bruges, owner Philip Maes told the paper that his establishment loses “at least 4,000 [glasses] each year”.

“The tourists, especially, like to walk with them,” he added. “For some reason, the customers think that when they pay for something to drink, they get the glass as a present.”

To counter the glass thieves, Maes has attached small security alarms to each glass and  installed a €4,000 alarm system with a scanner at the door.

Another beer bar, Dulle Griet in Ghent, demands drinkers hand over a shoe as a deposit before being served a glass of house beer. 

“We then put them in a basket that we put up against the ceiling," said spokesman Alex Devriendt. "The basket has now become an attraction, but for us it remains a guarantee. The glasses are quite expensive because we have them made especially for us and tourists simply want a souvenir."

Belgians take their beer glasses very seriously and consider it particularly important that beer is served in the appropriate glass. Tourists simply like to nick stuff. 

Bee Hydrated - a thirst quencher that does you good

Australians don't drink enough water - so much so that many of us are in a permanent state of dehydration. 

According to Water Logic Australia, the average Australian only drinks 1.29 litres of water per day – which, for men and women alike, barely reaches half the recommended daily intake.

When we do choose to imbibe we often choose sweet fizzy drinks, or waters that use artificial sweeteners. 

Proper hydration is the cornerstone to maintaining optimal daily health and energy levels - but we often overlook its importance.

Enter Melbourne-based sisters Joanne and Marina Nikoloulea, who have combined together a "healthy dream team" of purified and mineralised water with 100% natural cold-extracted Australian honey to create Bee Hydrated Honey Water (clever name!). 

Containing just 3 grams of naturally occurring sugar per 100ml, Bee Hydrated blows many fruit juices and even coconut waters out of the water (joke) with its low-sugar content. 

The range boasts three flavours and comes in 100% recyclable bottles. 

Relieve is a combination of pure cold-extracted honey with orange blossom 
and cinnamon to promote a good source of calcium, iron and magnesium while providing a calming and relaxing effect on the central nervous system. 

Replenish (by far my favourite flavour and most thirst-quenching) is a blend of pure cold-extracted honey with lemon myrtle and green tea for a source of antioxidants and other phytonutrients to help replenish the mind, body and soul, while Revitalise includes pure cold-extracted honey, ginger and ginseng to aid in revitalising the metabolism while helping to strengthen the protective function of our immune system.

All stockist details and locations can be found at

Friday 16 March 2018

Aldi gets behind half bottles of wine

Australian consumer trends often follow those in Britain - so look out for an increased range of entry level wines in half bottles in the not-so-distant future. 

UK supermarket chain Aldi is promoting a range of 37.5ml wine bottles, which are selling under screw caps for £2.99 a bottle (just under $AUD 4.50). 

The wines are being sourced from Romania - an increasingly prominent supplier of entry-level wines - and from Chile. 

“With more and more consumers opting for a healthier lifestyle, half bottles are a great way to still enjoy a midweek tipple with dinner, without needing to open a whole 75ml bottle of wine,” Julie Ashfield, managing director of corporate buying at Aldi told Drinks Business.

While half-sized bottles have had a somewhat mixed past, their popularity with British retailers appears to be on the up.

Last year Waitrose launched a range of half-sized bottles as part of its mid-tier Blueprint Wine range. Its range includes a Rioja (RRP £3.99), a white Burgundy (RRP £4.99), a Pinot Grigio from Veneto (RRP £3.49), a reserve claret (RRP £3.49), an Argentine Malbec (RRP £4.49) and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (RRP £4.49).

Co-Op supermarkets, meanwhile, are trialling single-serve wine pouches across 598 stores nationwide under the Most Wanted label, in a bid to tap into convenience. 

The new 187ml pouches are available as either a Sicilian Pinot Grigio or a Mendoza Malbec, with a RRP of £2.49.

In Australia there has also been a Dan Murphy's/BWS-led push towards wine in cans produced by Fourth Wave Wines. Interesting times. 

Heath homeward bound to take over at Katnook Estate

Winemaker Tim Heath is quitting one of the biggest jobs in the New Zealand wine industry to return to his home state of South Australia and take over chief winemaker at Katnook Coonawarra. 

Heath is currently senior winemaker at one of the world’s most successful wineries, Cloudy Bay Vineyards, New Zealand, where he has pursued his craft for the past 14 years. 

During this time, he has been responsible for all facets of crafting Cloudy Bay’s internationally renowned wine styles, as well as overseeing winery infrastructure and expansion. He also has extensive experience promoting wine and liaising with key opinion leaders in national and international markets.

He takes over in June from long-serving Katnook winemaker Wayne Stehbens, who died a few months ago. 

Prior to his move to Cloudy Bay, Heath was winemaker at Mountadam in the Barossa Valley, during which time he assisted with vintage at Cave de Tain-l'Hermitage in the Rhone. 

Born and raised in Adelaide, Tim began studying a Bachelor of Science at the University of Adelaide, before transferring to a Bachelor of Oenology, when he realised that winemaking “looked like too much fun to be considered a ‘real’ job”. 

“I’m excited to be joining the team at Katnook, which has some of the finest terroir in the Coonawarra region, as well as an incredible pedigree and history,” Heath said.
Katnook’s executive director of operations and finance, Chris Pike, said of the appointment: “We are thrilled that someone of Tim’s winemaking calibre has accepted this role. Tim brings a wealth of international expertise and creative flair that is certain to build on the great legacy left by Wayne Stehbens and to take Katnook Coonawarra into an exciting future.”

Thursday 15 March 2018

New luxury retreats open at Freycinet Lodge

The Freycinet Peninsula is one of Tasmania's most spectacular regions - and now visitors can enjoy a new luxury experience with the opening of the Coastal Pavilions at Freycinet Lodge.

Photos: Mel Ferris
The nine pavilions provide an environmentally sensitive and architecturally innovative accommodation offering. 

Designed by a consultancy team led by well-known Tasmanian tourism developer Brett Torossi, the retreats are dotted along the coastline of Great Oyster Bay.

The use of curved glass, Tasmanian timbers and tactile finishes adds to the immersive experience.

Each pavilion was built mainly off-site, with the components transported into the Freycinet National Park and custom-fitted to the landscape. Outdoor baths on the deck and separate lounge spaces, both taking in the view, will enhance the guest experience.

Each of the nine pavilions has its own unique character. Some sit overlooking the waters of Great Oyster Bay, while others nestle gently within the bush, with filtered coastal views. The works of local artists, commissioned especially for this project and inspired by the nature of the peninsula, are featured on the walls of the bedroom and lounge.

Locally made furnishings have also been purpose-built to reflect the surrounding natural elements.

The baths are embedded outside on the deck, overlooking the natural surrounds – the perfect place to relax after a day of exploring the local bushland, mountains and beaches. And the cleverly designed showers also take in the view, while maintaining guest privacy.

Guests will enjoy all the regular Freycinet Lodge facilities - amazing natural vistas, local wildlife, quality local food and wine and friendly, personal service. 

Taking it to the next level will be some added gourmet goodies, such as a bottle of Tasmanian wine and house-baked treats on arrival; a nightcap and chocolates waiting in your pavilion after dinner; and the option of a continental breakfast hamper. 

For those looking for a night of romance there is a choice of three Tasmanian-themed dinner platters that can be delivered to pavilions. 

Prices start from $549 per night. See,accommodation_viewItem_51-en.html

Wednesday 14 March 2018

United Airlines: puppy killers

United Airlines is the world's third-largest airline when measured by revenue, after American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. And it has form when it comes to causing anguish to its customers. 

The latest scandal to envelope the US carrier occurred earlier this week when a 10-month-old puppy suffocated after it was placed inside an overhead compartment on a three-hour flight from Houston to New York City. 

The puppy has been stored in a carrier at the passenger's feet but a flight attendant demanded that the  woman travelling with the puppy and her two children place the puppy in its carrier inside the overhead bin for the duration of the flight.

The woman protested, witnesses said, but the flight attendant assured her that the dog would be safe, and told her the family would not be allowed to travel if she refused to stow the dog in the bin.

When the plane landed at LaGuardia Airport and the owner opened the overhead bin, the puppy was no longer breathing. The family had paid $125US so the dog could travel with the family rather than being placed in a cargo hold.  

"This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin," a United spokeswoman said. Which did not explain why its own staff member insisted the puppy be placed there. 

"We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them."

The puppy whimpered through the beginning of the flight, but eventually grew quiet. The incident sparked widespread social media outrage. 

CNN reported the incident as "another PR disaster" for United. 

Torbreck splashes out on one of New Zealand's biggest wine names

Super-premium Barossa Valley winery Torbreck has announced the acquisition of The Escarpment Winery in Martinborough, New Zealand, bringing together two of the New World’s biggest-name wine houses. 

The Escarpment’s founder Larry McKenna (below) – known as the ‘Prince of Pinot’ and an inductee into the New Zealand Wine Hall of Fame – will stay on as winemaker and all current employees will be retained.

“We’re excited about this strategic acquisition of one of New Zealand’s finest pinot noir producers,” Torbreck general manager Peter Perrin said.

“Larry is an international pinot legend and his continued influence on the wines was an essential part of this negotiation. 

“Larry has spent 18 years evolving his definitive New World pinot style and we see this as a great marriage between Martinborough, the birthplace of New Zealand pinot noir, and the Barossa, the home of Australian shiraz.

“The acquisition is a logical step for Torbreck enabling us to expand our portfolio and bring our well-established marketing and distribution strength to build both brands in Australia, New Zealand and beyond.” 

The Escarpment Vineyard was established in 1999 by the Kirby and McKenna families. The assets include a 19-hectare vineyard, a 300-tonne winery, finished goods warehouse and a brand portfolio across three price points. 

Torbreck is owned by American businessman Pete Kight, who purchased it from Dave Powell. 

Note: At the time of release the sale remains subject to New Zealand OIO approval.