Book, stay, enjoy. That's

Sunday 30 September 2018

Under the Tuscan Sun with Frances Mayes

Fans of Frances Mayes' book Under The Tuscan Sun might be tempted by a special tour to Tuscany that features the author as a special guest. 

Guests will be taken on an immersive six-day/five-night journey into Tuscany, celebrating the region’s cultural pleasures and hilltop treasures including a keynote address from Mayes, whose book later became a box office success in the movie of the same name.

The adventure (from Otober 14-19 next year) includes hosted accommodation at Toscana Resort Castelfalfi, part of an 800-year-old medieval hamlet surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. 

This property will also host a cooking class for guests and host talks on the history of the region.

For relaxation there is an indoor pool, steam room and sauna and nine- and 18-hole golf courses.

There will be daily trips, including to Siena and the Chianti Classico vineyards, as well as San Gimignano, a UNESCO World Heritage Site encircled by 13th-century walls and its iconic towers. 

Other activities include truffle hunting, pasta making, wine pairing and olive oil tasting, along with optional activities including cycling and yoga classes. 

Tauck’s welcome reception and dinner will be hosted in a medieval castle showcasing the finest of Tuscan cuisine and wines whilst the farewell dinner on the final evening will be held at the Piaggio Museum.

Tauck Australia’s six-day/five-night Under The Tuscan Sun tour is priced from $6490 per person twin share. Bookings to Tauck Australia on 1300 732 300 or Use the code GOTR. 

Saturday 29 September 2018

Food festival returns to Norfolk Island

The Taste Norfolk Island Food Festival returns from November 26-30 and will be showcasing  locally grown, fresh, organic produce presented by a talented line-up of local chefs.

Norfolk Island is a fascinating place with a hugely interesting history and is known for producing fresh fish, meat and in-season fruit and vegetables. 

Oxley Travel has announced a seven-night Taste Norfolk Island package priced from $2079 per person twin share ex-Sydney or $2039 per person twin share ex-Brisbane. 

Packages include return flights with Air New Zealand, return island airport transfers, seven nights' accommodation at Poinciana Cottages, seven days' car hire including insurance, a half-day island tour and refreshments at Norfolk Island Airport on departure. 

Festival highlights include a welcome cocktail party, a Taste Norfolk's Bounty Festival night, a Thanksgiving Day lunch and Celebration Dinner as well as a Taste Norfolk Island Gift Pack.

Guests can choose two festival options from the likes of sausage making and  a sourdough workshop. 
For bookings, contact Oxley Travel on Toll Free 1800 671 546 or

Additional activities on Norfolk Island include swimming, fishing, snorkelling, kayaking, surfing, cycling and bushwalking, as well as glass-bottomed boat tours. 

Friday 28 September 2018

Vintage Collection underlines the benefits of maturing sparkling wines

House of Arras, the hugely successful Tasmanian sparkling wine producer, has just released a new range of five aged wines. 

Sparkling winemaker Ed Carr (below), who began the Arras project in 1988, believes the new releases will help underline the quality of Australian bubbles on a global stage.

The House of Arras Vintage Collection comprises five sparkling wines that have undergone long periods of tirage and show exceptional length on the palate. 

The newly-released quintet includes the EJ Carr Late Disgorged 2004 (RRP $199.99) which has spent 13 years on lees, and the Museum Release Blanc de Blancs 2001 (RRP $350) which has been aged for 15 years.

“The 2001 Blanc de Blancs is one of the most expensive products Arras has brought to market but we absolutely believe that it’s worth the price," Carr says. "Last year it picked up the Best Australian Future Release at the Champagne & Sparkling World Championships, and this year it won gold at the 2018 Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships.” 

TheVintage Collection is rounded off with the House of Arras Rosé 2007 (RRP $91.99), EJ Carr Late Disgorged 2003 magnum (RRP $399.99) and Grand Vintage 2007 magnum (RRP $250.00).

Carr said that it has been a case of the stars aligning with perfect maturation timing which has enabled him to disgorge and show five wines at once.

“This rare occurrence will allow people to truly understand the complexity that Arras wines have as a result of extended time on lees," he said. "They are the result of having the patience to allow the wine to mature at its own pace and the experience to know when it is at its best. It’s exciting to see how far these wines can go if you give them the opportunity to age.” 

The new vintages of the EJ Carr Late Disgorged 2004 and House of Arras Rosé 2007 are available at leading liquor retailers nationwide as well as at

The museum release wines and magnums will be available at the Bay of Fires cellar door in Tasmania and at select fine dining on-premise venues.

# The name ‘Arras’ means ‘rich tapestry’ and fruit is sourced across Tasmania’s premium cool climate regions. 

To date, House of Arras has received 85 show trophies and 223 gold medals. Last year, House of Arras scooped the ‘Best Sparkling Trophy’ at every capital city wine show in Australia. 

Thursday 27 September 2018

Hunter Valley boost: Two new restaurants at Brokenwood to open in December

Brokenwood Wines have named Hunter Valley hospitality stalwarts Andy and Janet Wright to run two new dining offerings: The Wood Restaurant and Cru Bar + Pantry, at the winery’s new Cellar Door development. 

Both will open in December in time for the peak tourism season.

The development centres around a new cellar door, which will include circular tasting bars known as “pods”, a large outdoor terrace, two private tasting rooms, two private dining rooms and a wine museum.

British-born husband and wife team, Andy (head chef) and Janet (front-of-house) have been residents have run The Cellar Restaurant in Hunter Valley Gardens for the past 18 years and have a long friendship with veteran Brokenwood MD Iain Riggs and his team. 

They will operate both The Wood Restaurant, a contemporary dining room, and Cru Bar + Pantry, a casual eatery. 

The Wood Restaurant, the Cellar Door’s modern dining room will offer contemporary Australian dishes, many of which will be cooked in the restaurant’s wood-fired oven.

With seating for 90 guests both inside and outside, The Wood Restaurant will serve lunch daily and dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings and will use local produce wherever possible. 

A market-style display of the freshest seafood delivered from the Sydney Fish Market will be an eye-catching feature while menu items will be designed to pair with Brokenwood’s flagship wines, the Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz and ILR Reserve Semillon.

The extensive wine list will serve premium Brokenwood wines, as well as “friends of Brokenwood” from across the globe.

Adjacent to the The Wood Restaurant will be Cru Bar + Pantry, that will serve a selection of shared plates, cheese and charcuterie, wood-fired pizzas made to order, coffee, homemade pies, toasties, sweets, and picnic packs to enjoy on the lawn or take away.

Cru Bar + Pantry will be open for breakfast, lunch and snacks daily and will feature an Enomatic self-serve dispenser which will serve a selection of premium and rare wines that would not ordinarily be available for tasting.

“The Cellar has been our home for the last 18 years, but we’re ready for a new and exciting adventure and couldn’t think of a better place to do that than at Brokenwood’," said Andy Wright.

The new cellar door is set to open on Friday, December 7.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

SO/ far, SO/ much hype. New hotel brand for Auckland

International luxury lifestyle hotel brand SO/ will open its first hotel in New Zealand in the former Reserve Bank building in Auckland - and the pre-opening hype is impressive.

SO/ Auckland, an offshoot of Accor brand Sofitel, opening in November, will join a portfolio of just seven individual design hotels worldwide.

“The arrival of SO/ brings a new level of design audacity and boldness to the Auckland hotel scene,” said SO/ Auckland general manager Stephen Gould, who is clearly not backwards in coming forwards.

“The decision to launch SO/ in Auckland comes at a time when tourism in New Zealand is booming and reinforces that this stunning natural beauty is also a bustling metropolis and the must-visit destination of the South Pacific.”

Each SO/ hotel is brought to life by celebrated names from the world of fashion and design. In Mauritius there is Kenzo Takada; in Bangkok it is Christian Lacroix. In Singapore, Karl Lagerfeld is the main man.

“We needed a designer with an approach as bold and enterprising as the SO/ brand; energetic, social, bursting with individual character but also inherently a reflection of Auckland," says Gould in a frenzy of hyperbole.

"WORLD (so important that they capitalise their own name) is a playful mix of sophistication and dynamic style and therefore was an obvious choice. SO/ Auckland is an avant-garde masterpiece imaginatively inspired by WORLD.”

Benny Castles of WORLD with the logo
The hotel emblem reflects the volcanic history of Auckland, the natural beauty of New Zealand and the history of the building itself. 

The orgy of pre-opening self congratulation puts the hotel staff under immediate pressure.

Benny Castles, designer and director for WORLD, a Kiwi fashion group, talks up the concept. “We created a stylised topographical map of Auckland and over-inflated the role of volcanoes. The emblem needed to be both nostalgic and futuristic, appealing to Auckland’s mythical past but setting itself in the future of what this city will become.

"The swirling, hypnotic effect feels as though you’re looking directly into the eye of a volcano, reflecting that feeling of stepping into a boutique hotel; a hypnotic experience where the outside world is left behind and a new experience begins.”

The ground floor of the hotel has been fitted out by Dutch design house, Moooi and is inspired by founder and renowned creative, Marcel Wanders who is famous for creating multi-layered sensory experiences.

The press release says: "Challenging traditional hotel concepts, the GM says guests can 'expect service excellence with contemporary flair'." But will they get a cold beer to you quickly?

"There is no dull lobby but rather a bar that looks like it might be the meeting spot for celebrities, the fashion elite and rock stars,” Gould said. Because, of course, Auckland is just chock-a-block with rock stars.

SO/ Auckland will offer a taste of French inspiration at Harbour Society restaurant on the 15th floor, helmed by French Chef Marc de Passorio, former owner of Michelin-starred restaurant, L’Esprit de la Violette in Aix-en-Provence.

“In 2012 I visited New Zealand for the first time and fell in love with the country," the chef says."It offers so many things, from fantastic produce and wine to amazing scenery wherever you go, fresh air and generous, friendly people.

“When Stephen invited me to join SO/ Auckland as the Head Culinary Designer [ouch, the pretentiousness is too much]. I felt it was fate and an offer impossible to refuse. I am excited to start this culinary adventure."

The 130-room hotel will also feature a café, Club Signature lounge, SO Spa, SO Fit and indoor heated pool. 

SO/ Auckland,  67 Customs St, Auckland 1010, New Zealand. +64 9-365 0000

Tuesday 25 September 2018

New wine initiatives for Vinexpo Bordeaux

While wine trade fares are now common around the world, there is nothing of the size and scale of Vinexpo, in Bordeaux.

The 20th edition of Vinexpo Bordeaux, which takes place from May 13-16, 2019, has announced several new features to highlight its position as a strategic show.

Over 40,000 trade visitors from 150 countries are expected to attend and discover products presented by 2,000 international exhibitors.

The Vinexpo brand now organises events in four cities around the world: Bordeaux, Hong Kong, New York, and soon Paris in January 2020, as well as a touring event, Vinexpo Explorer.

“Vinexpo is continuing to expand internationally and Vinexpo Bordeaux is the group's cornerstone - this is our flagship and it will receive even more resources for 2019,” said Patrick Seguin, President of Vinexpo’s executive board and Chairman of the Bordeaux-Gironde Chamber of Commerce.

A planned investment scheme to refurbish the exhibition hall has been accelerated. For its 2019 edition, the show will be housed in a new facility replacing Hall 2 (cost: €34.7 million). This initiative will continue in the next few years with the gradual renovation of Hall 1.

At the same time, new access will be set up to the exhibition. Attendees will be able to use the Vinexpo Citypass. This pass gives free access to the TBM (tramway and bus) network and offers numerous advantages so they make the most of their stay in Bordeaux (free entrance to the Cité du Vin, some of the city's museums etc.). There will also be a special reception and information stand at Bordeaux-Mérignac airport and at the Bordeaux Saint-Jean railway station.

The first Symposium Vinexpo will be organised in association with the Regional Council of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. This event will provide answers to the major challenges facing the industry. The theme for 2019 will look at the impact of climate change on the wine and spirits industry.

The scientific, technical and economic aspects will be considered during talks taking place throughout the day on 14 May. This topical issue will be examined by representatives from the French Wine and Vine Institute and its international experts.

Another initiative is Les Diners du Palais (May 13-14) where exhibitors will be able to invite their guests to the Palais de la Bourse. Their own wines will be served as they dine, paired with a menu designed by a Michelin-starred chef.

La Grande Dégustation (tasting event) will be held at the Palais de la Bourse on the evening before Vinexpo opens; it will be open to the general public. Information on

Great Scoot air deals for Asian escapes

Are you able to drop everything and head off for a week or two between now and mid-November? 

If so, Singapore Airlines' budget offshoot Scoot has some terrific airline deals available. 

Scoot launches a special sale from tomorrow with fares from $149 each way from Perth to Singapore including all taxes, or $169 from the Gold Coast and $179 from Melbourne and Sydney, with baggage and meals extra.

Or go in style with ScootBiz with all-in fares from $339 (Perth) $379 ex Gold Coast and $419 from Sydney or Melbourne each way, including taxes.
Try your luck and enter the Promo Code SCOOT15 for an additional $15 bucks off the fare!
Singapore is the perfect short break destination with spicy street food, fashion bazaars, massages and luxury hotels on tap. 

You can also travel to over 60 other destinations beyond Singapore, many of which are also on sale. Travel dates are from October 1-November 16 or February 10-March 31, 2019. 
All deals are subject to availability and some blackout periods may apply over school holidays and event periods.

Book tickets at or call (02) 9009 0860. 

Farewell to Kensington Street Social; hello to Barzaari

I enjoyed visiting Kensington Street Social but Brit chef Jason Atherton's Sydney outpost is on the way out - to be replaced by the Eastern Mediterranean flavours of Barzaari.

Barzaari Chippendale will seat up to 120 guests and will take over the former Kensington Street Social space within The Old Clare Hotel. KSS paid the penalty, as do so many restaurants, for having an absentee big-name chef.

The new Barzaari will serve lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday and lunch only on Sunday as well as providing in-room dining for guests of The Old Clare Hotel. The restaurant will offer a modern take on the cuisine from Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt.

Chef Darryl Martin and Andrew Jordanou (owners of Barzaari Marrickville) have partnered with Loh Lik Peng (founder and owner of Unlisted Collection) to open the new eatery.

Peng says: "It’s an exciting opportunity to present a new cuisine to the Chippendale precinct, which has such varied culture and a rich food scene – but no offering like this."

Martin (formerly of TheThree Weeds and Quay) says: "After trading successfully in Marrickville for a little over two years we are thrilled to be opening within The Old Clare. I’m excited to be cooking for a new neighbourhood and across the street from my mate Clayton Wells (of Automata and A1 Canteen) with whom I worked at Quay."

The Barzaari menu is designed to be shared and will offer bites through to small and large plates, sides, desserts and smaller sweet alternatives.

Barzaari, named after a Cypriot marketplace where Jordanou’s grandfather used to sell his farm-grown produce, will have a strong focus on changing seasons, with vegetables championed on the menu.

Barzaari Chippendale will be at 3 Kensington Street, Chippendale, NSW 2008.

Monday 24 September 2018

City restaurant and country outpost share Tasmanian wine list honours

Mure's Upper Deck on the Hobart waterfront (below) and small town outpost The Bridport Bunker Club on the north-east coast were today announced as joint winners in the 2018 Tasmanian Wine List of the Year competition.

Wine Tasmania chief executive Sheralee Davies announced the judging panel had been unable to split the winners. 

The Bridport Bunker Club (below) was awarded the People’s Choice, based on members of the wine-loving public voting for their favourite finalist.

Davies congratulated the two winners and recognised each of the finalists (listed below) for their strong support of the Tasmanian wine sector.

“The growing global profile of Tasmania’s wines means that more and more people are travelling travel to Tasmania to try our wines - close to 300,000 of our visitors called into a cellar door during their stay over the past twelve months,” she said. 

“It is an important part of the visitor experience for them to be able to enjoy a glass of local wine over a meal during their visit, and it’s great to see so many venues promoting Tasmania’s outstanding wines as part of their offering.”

The judging was undertaken by an independent panel comprising 2018 guest judge Hon Peter Gutwein MP, wine writer Winsor Dobbin (that's me!) and Davies. 

Venues were assessed against a range of criteria, including the representation of Tasmanian wines by the glass and bottle, the depth and scope of wines offered, the way Tasmanian wines are listed and promoted on the wine list and relevant aspects of wine service, training and knowledge.

2018 Tasmanian Wine List of the Year Finalists:

Sunday 23 September 2018

Tasmanian winery holds its own music festival

Wine lovers who also enjoy some funky music might want to plan for a trip to Tasmania in late October.

The Delamere Music Festival returns to Delamere Vineyard, Pipers River, on Saturday, October 27.

Delamere owners/winemakers Shane Holloway and Fran Austin had been looking for ways to shine a light on the creative talent, innovation and spirit of the regional Tasmanian community when they conceived the first Delamere Music Festival three years ago as the winery partner of the North East Rivers Festival.

The festival, which brings together roots-based musical talent from around the country to perform in the beautiful setting of the Delamere gardens, has since gained its own strong following.

“We decided to create an event that gathered together friends and families to enjoy intimate performances of some really talented musical artists, all while enjoying local food, beverages and the stunning local scenery," said Fran Austin.

"It’s a beautiful way to celebrate what regional community is all about, and it’s been particularly rewarding to see the community get behind it with so much enthusiasm."

The Music Festival is going ahead this year, along with a number of other satellite events, despite the main North East Rivers Festival being put on temporary hold whilst the committee seeks additional volunteer support to manage the full program of events.

This year’s line-up includes the award winning South Australian singer/songwriter (and ex winemaker) Kelly Menhennett, who will be accompanied by her talented band for the first time in Tasmania.

The Bad Dad Orchestra is on the bill as well as one of the country’s most experienced young bluesmen, Tasmania’s own Pete Cornelius. Funktional, Launceston’s energetic nine-piece funk band completes the program.

Festival goers can also enjoy food from Formosa Bites (below) with Taiwanese food from Tasmanian produce; beer from Little Rivers Brewing Co and Delamere’s range of 100% estate-grown and -made wines. Attendees are welcome to bring along a picnic.

Delamere Music Festival tickets are $35 (plus booking fee) per person and kids under 18 get in for free. Tickets are limited and are now on sale via the Delamere Vineyards website:

Saturday 22 September 2018

Venice to tourists: You are not really welcome here

Tourists in Venice could be fined for sitting in public areas or pausing on bridges as part of new measures being discussed by the Italian city to deal with overcrowding, the TravelMole website reports.

The ideas, proposed by Mayor Luigi Brugnaro, will be voted on by the city council in October.  month.

Mayor Brugnaro said: "The aim is to create more of a deterrent to people who think they can come to the city of Venice and do what they want, not respecting the city, urban decorum, and public safety."

Other proposals include bans on picnics unless they are in public parks, bans on excessive noise at night or between Venice's siesta time of 1pm-3pm, no feeding of pigeons, no riding or wheeling along of bikes and no busking, drawing or other art without a permit.

Breaking the rules could see tourists fined anywhere between €25 ($40) and €500 ($805), the city's official website says.

Paola Mar, the councillor responsible for tourism, told Sky News people need to take the rules seriously.

"The message we have to get through is that we're not joking," said Mar. "If it gets about that people who do this kind of thing are fined, as well as it being flagged to their respective embassies, perhaps we'll be able to stop others copying."

The proposals are the latest in a list of measures to deal with the city's over-crowding problem, which also includes the banning of large cruise ships from 2021.

Venice's #EnjoyRespectVenezia campaign, which launched in summer 2017, highlights the message that tourists are welcome but they must follow the city's rules.

Australian Government plans to impose travel bans

The Australian Government is threatening citizens with a welfare debt that they could be hit with international travel bans.

Using inflammatory terms like "welfare debt dodgers" a Government press release issued by The Hon Michael Keenan MP, the Minister for Human Services, has threatened travel bans as part of a new push to recover money owed by those unfortunate enough to have needed to apply for welfare.

The Department of Human Services began issuing Departure Prohibition Orders (DPOs) in June to prevent former welfare recipients from leaving the country if they have an outstanding debt that they have been unable, or unwilling, to repay.

More than 20 DPOs have already been issued and the Department is now looking to escalate their use to help recover money owed.

In a blanket statement, the press release said: "These people are making no effort to repay their debts and the Government believes that if they can afford to go on an overseas holiday, they can afford to start repaying what they owe.

"We make no apologies for the tough action we are taking, as many of those who are in our sights have known about these debts for years – in some cases for up to a decade.

"Others accrued their debts as a result of deliberate acts of fraud and have gone out of their way to evade attempts by my Department to sign them up to repayment plans, repeatedly ignoring our calls, letters and emails.

"The message we are sending to them is that you cannot ignore us forever. If you received a payment you were not entitled to, you have an obligation to repay the money you owe and we will use every tool at our disposal to ensure it is recovered on behalf of Australian taxpayers." 

So if a relative offers a sick or stressed "debt dodger" a holiday treat then the recipient may be banned from leaving the country.

Many welfare payments were, of course, made in error by Government departments with no intention of fraud on behalf of those receiving the money. Either way, beware. Big brother is watching you.

Where to discover a traditional taste of Thailand

If you've ever visited Thailand and felt you spent too much time at the beach, or lazing around your hotel swimming pool, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has just launched a new tourism route aimed at showing off the uniqueness of Thai culture.

TAT is promoting a tourism route in Chanthaburi province under the concept "Joyful Chanthaburi". This new route is aimed at providing tourists with an experience of local "Thainess".

Chanthaburi is a province in the east of Thailand, largely off the well-beaten tourism track despite its crystal clear seas and beaches, waterfalls and unspoiled forests.

The Thai government have has, with a stunning lack of creativity, named Chanthaburi as "the Eastern Fruit Corridor of Thailand".

The route for tourists who want to taste exotic Thai fruit takes in the Patthawi community and Rak Khao Bai Sri community.

Both host fruit buffets at which tourists can enjoy eating unlimited fresh fruit off the trees.

Chanthaburi also has many kinds of seafood including crabs and fresh oysters.

TAT suggests seafood lovers get to the Bang Sa Kao community and Uncle Thom's Oyster Farm, where guests can enjoy fresh oysters with local sauce and experience the fishing community's traditions.

For those who are interested in the local way of life, then Samet Ngam community offers an insight into traditional reed farming and local handicrafts, including weaving a Chanthaboon mat.

For more information, please visit

Friday 21 September 2018

Burgers and lobsters: Los Angeles pop-up proves a mega hit

The last time I was in Los Angeles I was lucky enough to be a guest at one of the best addresses in town - the impeccably-located Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. 

I loved the property; but was not totally thrilled by the food offering.   

I was obviously not alone as the five-star hotel opened a pop-up eatery in April specialising in hamburgers and lobsters: Cattle & Claw. It just doesn't get any more American, or fun.  

Now, by popular demand, the casual pop-up has had its stay extended for the fall (that's autumn to us)-winter season. 

The photos caught my eye; how hard would it be to turn down the option of a decadent lobster mac 'n' cheese (below)?

The new menu also includes a lobster bisque, a nod to Quebec in the form of a savoury poutine and the ultimate Californian dish: surf  'n' turf.  For some serious decadence I'd be ordering some truffle fries. 

For anyone who happens to be in the city of  angels, the new menu launches tomorrow.

Prices might appear to be low by Australian standards, but remember you'll be expected to tip at least 20%.

For full details visit: The Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills is at 8555 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90048. 

Life is too short for clumsy Brits to learn to peel an avocado

The British apparently lack the motor skills to peel an avocado with slicing themselves to bits.

The Tesco supermarket group is trialing the first “easy-peel” avocado, with flesh that comes away from the skin without a struggle.

Sufferers of “avocado hand” – a growing condition afflicting Brits from injuries caused by attempting to slice an avocado - will get the chance to sample the EasyAvo this month.

Developed by South African growers Westfalia Fruit, the new breed is a naturally grown hybrid of different varieties.

Lazy or ham-fisted shoppers will have to pay a premium for the luxury, however, with one avocado costing £1.95 ($3.55), triple the price of an avocado from a supermarket twin pack at £1.31, and double the cost of a single ready-to-eat avocado.

“Last year customers bought nearly 60 million avocados from us, so we’re sure that this fantastic avocado will minimalise fuss and make life a little bit easier,” said Tesco buyer Laura Marsden Payne.

The Daily Express reported that last year leading London plastic surgeon Simon Eccles said avocados should carry warning labels following a rise in knife injuries suffered when Brits attempted to cut into the fruit.

Eccles said he treated about four clumsy patients a week for their wounds.


Thursday 20 September 2018

New high-speed rail route links Hong Kong and China

Hong Kong's Transport and Housing Bureau has announced the official launch date of the new High Speed Rail System connecting Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

The new system, which is expected to reduce travel time by approximately 60%, will commence operation on September 23.

Boosting Hong Kong's position as a gateway to Greater China, the 142km track will connect the city to 44 stations across Mainland China, including six short-haul and 38 long-haul stations.

With trains reaching speeds of up to 350kmh, Wuhan, one of China's major cities, will be accessible from Hong Kong in five hours, whilst the journey time between Guangzhou and Hong Kong will be reduced from 100 minutes to about 50 minutes.

The Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong High Speed Rail is approximately 26km and runs along a dedicated underground rail corridor from a new terminus at West Kowloon to the boundary near Lok Ma Chau, where it connects with the Mainland section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong High Speed Rail.

The West Kowloon Station will also debut on September 23, and will be the main Hong Kong hub for the new rail network.

Once completed, the station (below) will be one of the largest underground high speed rail stations in the world. It features a pedestrian skywalk with views of Victoria Harbour and the Hong Kong skyline; an urban green oasis and more than 4,000 glass panels.

Hong Kong Tourism Board Regional Director for Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific, Andrew Clark, said the new High Speed Rail System will reinforce Hong Kong’s position as the gateway to China.

"We have seen growing interest in China among the Australian and New Zealand markets, however accessibility has also been a main area of concern," he said. "We believe that this rail system will be the missing link to connect Hong Kong to the main cities of China and beyond."

Tickets for the High Speed Rail System start at HK$78 (approx $12.50) from Hong Kong to Futian station; HK$247 (approx $40) to Guangzhou South; and tickets to long-haul destinations, such as Beijing will start at HK$1,240 (approx $200).

For further information visit:


Wednesday 19 September 2018

Special river cruise deals for solo travellers

Solo travellers often get a raw travel deal, being forced to pay massive supplements or to share rooms with strangers.

Aqua Expeditions has just announced some solo traveller deals for its high-end Mekong And Amazon cruise adventures with the single supplement will be waived on selected departures aboard the Aqua Mekong (below) and Aria Amazon.

With a small-ship capacity of only 32 to 40 passengers on each sailing, solo travellers can easily mingle with and get to know other guests on each of these ships at meals and on active biking, hiking, fishing, swimming, and kayaking excursions during their cruises of the Mekong and Amazon rivers.

Guests are encouraged to take advantage of the luxury onboard amenities including relaxing spa treatments, cooking classes, evening entertainment programs and a lively bar scene (depending, of course, on how lively your fellow travellers are).

Many of Aqua Expeditions’ solo guests incorporate their cruises into a longer travel itinerary in which they may choose to visit the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, stay in Phnom Penh or Ho Chi Minh City (Aqua Mekong cruises) or take a trip to Machu Picchu or Lima (Aria Amazon cruises).

Aqua Expeditions is committed to employing local expert guides on its cruise vessels, whose passion for sharing knowledge of the Mekong and Amazon regions helps create a memorable adventure for travellers.

The naturalist guides – many of whom grew up on the rivers – lead guests on daily expeditions.

Aqua Expeditions will waive the single supplement on the following cruises for the
remainder of 2018:

Aqua Mekong
3-night Discovery Cruise from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, Cambodia
November 13-16. Priced from $US4050 per person twin share or single

4-night Explorer Cruise from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, Cambodia
November 30-December 4. Priced from $US5400 per person twin share or single

Aria Amazon
3-night Discovery Cruise from Iquitos to Iquitos, Peru
October 1-15, November 2-5, November 9-12, November 16-19. Priced from $US3825 per person twin share or single.

Bookings for Aqua Mekong and Aria Amazon cruises are available through travel agents or Aqua Expeditions Australia on 1300 124 204 or

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Affordable accommodation deal for the Melbourne Spring Carnival

Anyone who travels to Melbourne on a regular basis will have been caught out by fluctuating hotel prices.

An big AFL match, a big concert or the Spring Racing Carnival can easily send prices spiralling.

I've written before about Metro Apartments on Bank Place, brilliantly situated in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD, and they have just released a Spring Carnival racing offer with rates starting from $140 per night throughout the carnival period.

Book before October 7, and you can save up to 15% on your accommodation. The package includes one night’s accommodation in a compact room, complimentary wifi, discount meal vouchers, and early check-ins.

Metro Apartments on Bank Place offers inner-city apartment-style accommodation down a cobbled laneaway that is a short stroll away from Melbourne’s sought-after attractions including Bourke Street Mall, Federation Square, Southgate Centre and Crown Casino. 

The property has a choice of compact rooms, studios, and one-bedroom suites.

The $140 deal is valid for stays between October 18 and November 12.

Book online

Monday 17 September 2018

Is this the ultimate luxury wine experience?

Wine lovers from Asia are being enticed to South Australia to enjoy what is being described as the most exciting hands-on wine experience in the world. 

Wine lovers prepared to pay $US250,000 per couple for the Ultimate Barossa Australia Wine Experience will get the chance to make their own wine and return home with 800 bottles for their personal cellar. 

The well-heeled wine lovers will spend seven days flying in luxury and experiencing the best of Australia's most famous wine region. 

Guests will fly to Adelaide and then stay at Cambourne Boutique Accommodation in the heart of the vines next to Hentley Farm, where much of the experience takes place. 

Stops at some of Barossa’s best-known wineries, including Penfolds and Seppeltsfield, are also part of the itinerary.

The highlight of the trip will be the personal wine blending session, headed by Hentley Farm’s chief winemaker Andrew Quin, who will advise guests how to create their own personal blend of fine wine.

At the end of the experience, 800 bottles of that personal blend will be delivered to the guests’ home, anywhere in the world. A personalised label, where guests are named “co-winemakers” will finish off each bottle with a flourish.

Other high points include a helicopter transfer from the Barossa Valley to Penfolds at Magill Estate (below), a private lunch at the Penfolds Barrel Room, as well as a private translator and concierge service for additional comfort, the South China Post has reported in Hong Kong.

One of Australia's most experienced wine experts, Peter Jackson, is chief concierge for the experience, which has been backed by South Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment David Ridgway. 

Contact Phil Hoffman Business Travel in Adelaide for all details and use the code word "Winsor" to ensure you get the best possible service. 

Visit or contact Flight Centre in Hong Kong. For bookings: PH +61 (0)8 8179 9625 or or in Asia: PH: +852 6972 3293.  



New earphones prove a serious travel hit

A few months ago I wrote about the PaMu wireless earbud headphones, which I liked a lot because they are darn close to impossible to dislodge even if you are jogging or dancing.

The second generation PaMu Scroll earbuds were launched this week - and will retail for only US$39 including charging case.

Here's the link, should be be interested:

I'm using the new earbuds both with my iPhone and my Smart TV. They are ultra-lightweight, weighing just 4.5 grams.  

So what is different? Bluetooth 5.0, enhanced bass, wireless charging, autro pairing, an even snugger fit, a leather shell, scroll design, water resistant and touch control.

I'm very impressed. These are perfect for using when travelling if you don't want to be carrying bulky headphones - and the sound quality is good.

Sunday 16 September 2018

System meltdown as Eurostar staff threaten strike

It was once the icon of European railway travel but now Eurostar staff are threatening to strike over what they describe as a "system meltdown" and "shocking working conditions".

Eurostar is a high-speed rail service connecting London with Paris, Amsterdam, Avignon, Brussels, Lille, Lyon, Marseille and Rotterdam. 

All its trains use the Channel Tunnel between the United Kingdom and France.

Rail workers union RMT said station staff at St Pancras, along with Eurostar train managers, will strike for 48 hours on Sunday, September 30 and Monday, October 1. So check your travel schedules.

The union said workers are in a dispute with management over "shocking and dangerous working conditions resulting from repeated service failures and breakdowns".

The union says the international terminal at St Pancras , which has only been operational since replacing Waterloo International in late 2007, was "reduced to chaos" over the summer following a spate of service problems, with staff left to bear the brunt of public anger.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "The conditions at St Pancras have been simply appalling over the summer with dangerous levels of overcrowding on the concourse as services plunge into meltdown on the cusp of the busiest part of the year. RMT will not tolerate a position where our members are left to pick up the pieces due to corporate failures.

"Eurostar train managers are now joining this dispute after a recent ballot and will also be striking alongside their station staff colleagues.

"The union remains available for genuine and serious talks that will bring about guarantees to resolve the situation."

His statememt added that workers at the French end of the Eurostar operation have also registered their "disgust"' and have taken action in an attempt to force the company to act.

A spokesman for Eurostar said the company was aware of the planned strikes and is disappointed the action is planned.

"We are meeting with the RMT next week to discuss this further and hope to find a solution," he said.

Friday 14 September 2018

Choose from over 100 wines by the glass

For well over a decade Fix Wine Bar and Restaurant has been a popular meeting place for wine industry folk in Sydney.

Owner Stuart Knox, a former sommelier, has made a special effort to woo winemakers and wine sellers as well as wine lovers, offering a hugely impressive range of styles and prices (including some of that cloudy shit that somms love so much).

Stuart, who opened as Fix St James 12 years ago but has since expanded both his wine and food offerings and brand name, sent me an email this week to let me know that his new wine list features no fewer than 111 different offerings by the glass from around the globe.

"I've gone a bit stupid and made my life harder," he joked. The wines are all preserved using the Coravin system.

"Actually I’ve been using Coravin for quite a while now and really see them as a huge plus for my business," he says. "Once the fear of wastage is removed then we can offer people the chance to try just about anything.

"Flexibility is always part of what keeps this place ticking and now anyone can come in and try random wines from random places, or the classics.

"As a wine bar we get a lot of solo drinker/diners in so now they don’t have to feel left out either."

Don't expect a list of trophy wines, or famous names. Look, instead, for an unusual grape variety or a new boutique producer.
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Fix Wine Bar and Restaurant is at 111 Elizabeth St, Sydney NSW. You'll find all the details at

See you there one day.