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Thursday, 27 January 2022

Meet the country where international tourism is booming again

International tourism is starting to boom again in the small European nation of Slovenia - one of my favourite places to visit.

New figures show four million tourist arrivals in 2021 and more than 11 million tourist overnight stays - which is 31% more arrivals and 22% more overnight stays than in the same period in 2020.

Of foreign tourists, in 2021 most overnight stays in Slovenia were made by tourists from Germany (22.3 %), followed by tourists from Austria (9.0 %), Italy (7.4 %), the Czech Republic (6.9 %) and the Netherlands (6.6 %).

Most overnight stays were made in mountain municipalities.

In mountain resorts the numbers increased by 17.9 %, in seaside resorts by 20.3 %, in health resorts by 13.5 %, in the capital of Ljubljana by 60.3 % - but all figures were down on 2019 pre-Covid numbers.

A total of 20 destinations in Europe have been shortlisted for European Best Destination 2022 award with lovely Ljubljana (top) among them.

Zdravko Počivalšek, Minister of Economic Development and Technology, said: "The Covid-19 pandemic showed the importance of the tourism sector for many economic activities, as well as the economy in general.

"Due to the decline in international travel during the pandemic, global and domestic tourism industry suffered greatly in 2021, though slightly better results on tourist visits compared 2020 were recorded. This, however, is still far from the figures we recorded in the record year of Slovenian tourism in 2019."

"It is important that we highlight that tourism providers in Slovenia provide safe and quality services and that all guests are warmly welcome. Successful tourism will also have a multiplier effect on higher economic growth this year and in the future." 

Slovenia is one of the smallest countries in Europe, with a population of just two million people.  

Image: Alexis Borderon, Scop.io

Meet the Jacob's Creek wine range with a difference


Jacob's Creek is one of the best-known wine brands in the world, but its latest range barely features the name at all. 

Jacob’s Creek has released a quartet of premium wines in tribute to Ann Jacob, a South Australian wine pioneer from the 1840s, which are labelled A.J., with Jacob’s Creek a tiny afterthought on the label. 

The initial releases are a 2020 Chardonnay and and 2019 Grenache, to be joined by a shiraz and a cabernet sauvignon. 

All are made by winemaker Trina Smith, who says: The wines are made in a modern Australian style, with all fruit sourced from vineyards across the Barossa Valley. 

"The wines are fruit-forward, with a silky-smooth texture and bright delicate aromatics and are for drinking now or within two to three years."

I was particularly enamoured by the very juicy, lightly spicy and very appealing grenache. 

Eric Thomson, Global Marketing Director at Pernod Ricard Winemakers, said: “Ann Jacob was a pioneering young woman with an interest in viticulture, and an early female landowner in South Australia, planting vines on her Barossa property in the early 1840s. The vineyard still thrives as part of Jacob’s Creek vineyards today.” 

The 2019 Jacob’s Creek A.J. Grenache and 2020 Jacob’s Creek A.J, Chardonnay are now available for  $30 RRP at Coles Liquor Group stores across Australia.


Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Soccer player became "the airline passenger from hell"

We all hope and pray each time we board a flight that we do not get seated anywhere near the passenger from hell. 

Every now and then there is a media report about someone behaving bizarrely on a plane - fortunately it does not happen too often. 

Earlier this month, however, an Irishman allegedly went beserk on a flight between Dublin and New York, pulling down his pants and baring his buttocks at crew and passengers, hurling a drink can at a fellow traveller and putting his own cap on the captain’s head.

Shane McInerney was in court this week charged with refusing to wear a mask on a Delta flight and several other offences, Global Travel Media reported. 

He allegedly put his cap on the captain’s head, held a fist to his face and told him, “Don’t touch me.” The captain was on a rest break at the time and was in the cabin.

The criminal complaint said “at least one passenger” had found the Irishman “scary” and flight crew considered diverting the plane to a nearby airport to hand McInerney over to airport security.

McInerney’s flight from Ireland to New York was the first leg of a trip to Florida to begin a job at a soccer academy in the state, British media reported.

He was admitted to hospital for medical and psychological evaluation after the flight landed, prosecutors said. 

He could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $US250,000.

McInerney played for several lower league teams during his career, including a stint with Magpies Crusaders in Mackay, Australia. He also signed for Dandenong Thunder in Victoria.  

Hiking into happiness for gourmets and wine lovers

I no longer run unless someone is chasing me (which, to be fair, is very rarely).

I do still walk, usually if there is a wine or food reward to be enjoyed at the end of the journey.

Hedonistic hiking, however, sounds right up my alley, or hill climb.

Hedonistic Hiking's European tours re-start in May with new tours to central Italy, Sardinia and Corsica, and a selection of new foodie-related experiences.

The Hedonistic Hiking team say their tours are as much about gastronomic and cultural experiences that provide real insight into the region you're walking through as the actual exercise you are getting.

And demand for the tours is apparently high, with many tours selling out up to two years in advance, but there is still availability on tours to Central Italy, centred on the town of Orvieto; a Parmesan production and pilgrim trail; a classic Tuscan Harvest tour including a pasta-making class, and a walk encompassing truffle hunting and a cooking class in Piedmont.

All tours are fully-inclusive, including guided walking, gourmet picnic lunches, gastronomic dinners with wine, museum visits and food/wine tastings or cookery classes, and airport transfers.

Accommodation is in locally-owned hotels and alberghi diffusi, an initiative that has brought old homes back to life.

Hedonistic Hiking tours run in Australia and Europe (mainly Italy) and the company was established in 2007 by Anglo/Australian couple, Jackie and Mick Parsons, one of whom leads each tour.

Discover full details at www.hedonistichiking.com and remember flights are not included in the published prices.

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Randall pounces to buy McLaren Vale estate

Wine entrepreneur Warren Randall has added McLaren Vale producer Penny's Hill to a portfolio headed by Seppeltsfield Estate in the Barossa.

The Randall Wine Group (RWG) was established in 1978 and is Australia’s largest private luxury vineyard holder.

The move sees the group bounce back after being hit by Chinese tariff increases in its largest export market.

“Australian winemakers, invested heavily in the Chinese wine market for 10 years, supported by a free trade agreement with that country," Randall said.

"The Australian wine industry was an innocent bystander, a casualty in the crossfire of political coercion between China and Australia.

"Following a very high quality vintage in 2021 it was time to reset the company’s strategy and pivot away from the Chinese market, which is a shame because the Chinese wine consumer loves the fruit and taste profile omnipresent in Australian wines."

The Penny’s Hill and Black Chook brands are sourced from a premier location between McLaren Vale and Willunga, suiting a wine tourism village, and were founded by Tony Parkinson in 1988. He masterminded exports to 15 different countries.

Penny's Hill has 44 hectares of estate vineyards and produces around 60,000 cases a year. 

“In the face of advancing years and with no clear family succession plan, it was time to find a new custodian for the 1855 estate," Parkinson said. "Warren has a proven track record of acquiring, respecting and injecting enthusiasm and energy into historic 19th-century Australian wine estates with provenance.

“I trust that he will carry on my legacy and springboard the brands to greater international success under his leadership.”

RWG owns close to 3500 hectares of vineyards in regions across South Australia,  including the Barossa, Riverland, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek, Currency Creek, Coonawarra, Clare Valley and Eden Valley

Fruit that tastes like fruit used to taste

Supermarket chains can be ultra-demanding when it comes to the fresh fruits that will grace their shelves.

Supermarket buyers want fruits that are pristine, uniformly and specifically sized, identically coloured, blemish free and under-ripe, so that they have a shelf life of eight days or more. 

They also want to buy in large volume from big farms, so they can have a supply chain that links several outlets, and often suffocate the fruit in plastic wrapping. 

That's bad news for small growers who need to hand-sort their produce to meet supermarket criteria.

Unfortunately, when it comes to fruit, good-looking does not always mean good tasting. 

Enter Andrew Driscall, a former private chef and food entrepreneur who is well known to Tasmanians for his food truck businesses Cafe de Paris and Proper Pasties. 

Cornish-born Driscall realised that fruit does not have to be perfect looking to taste good, particularly if it is being used in a fruit salad, in an ice cream sundae or to make a jam or preserves. 

A lot of perfectly good fruit, which could have gone to waste, or be sold as animal feed, can now be found in old-fashioned punnets, ripe, unwrapped and ready to eat, either from his mobile food truck or to take home. 

Driscall is selling a range of seasonal fruit (currently cherries, strawberries and apricots) from his truck, which can be found at Huonville Esplanade, south of Hobart, or at various local markets in Tasmania. 

Pop by to pick up fruit, or enjoy an ice cream or ice-cream fruit sundae.

"A lot of supermarkets will not take ripe fruit, because they want everything to have a long shelf life, which can leave fruit growers in a bind," Driscall says. "I can access fruit direct from the growers and sell it the same day it is picked.

"I've found a lot of customers have been surprised at how good fruit that may be mis-shaped or slightly marked can taste if enjoyed straight away."

Driscall's days can vary, so call him on 0437 951 751 if you are in Tasmania and have a need for fresh fruit.           


How drinking red wine "might" help you beat Covid

Drinking wine could reduce the risk of Covid infection, a study in Britain has found.

The picture is less rosy for beer and cider drinkers, as the same study found they face a higher Covid infection risk compared with those who didn’t drink alcohol.

Details of the study conducted by UK Biobank were published by influential trade magazine Drinks Business.

The study, published in Frontiers of Nutrition, looked at the medical records of 473,957 people - tracking alcohol consumption and Covid infections throughout the course of the pandemic.

“Adverse effects of alcohol consumption have been widely documented," the survey found.

"The observed relationships between alcohol consumption and diseases are often non-linear, with low-to-moderate alcohol consumption being protective and heavy alcohol consumption being harmful.”

It found that compared with non-drinkers, the Covid-19 risk was 10–17% lower in red wine consumers, and 7-8% lower in white wine and Champagne drinkers.

Beer and cider drinkers were found to be at a 28% increased risk of Covid infection compared to those who didn’t drink at all.

Drinks Business reported that Polyphenols in red wine could be an influence.

Scientists noted that these have antioxidant properties and this would explain why red wine was found to represent the greatest fall in Covid infection risk.

“Studies have shown that wines exhibit beneficial properties which are independent of the presence of alcohol, and should be attributed to their polyphenolic contents,” the study says.

“Red wine provides additional benefits to other alcoholic beverages probably due to its higher polyphenolic content, by decreasing blood pressure, inhibiting the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein particles and other favourable effects on the cellular redox state, improving endothelial function, inhibiting platelet aggregation, reducing inflammation and cell adhesion, and activating proteins that prevent cell death.”

The authors noted in conclusion that: "“Our study suggests that subjects who usually consumed red wine and white wine and Champagne above guidelines, and sometimes consumed 1-2 glasses/week fortified within the guidelines appear to have chances to reduce the risk of Covid-19.”

Food (or wine) for thought. But all things in moderation.

 Image: Manu Saez, Scopio

Covid is no barrier to Lunar New Year fun

The people of Sydney won't let a pandemic prevent them from having a good time.

The City of Sydney is hosting Lunar Lanes - a one-off Sydney Lunar Festival event - in Haymarket this Saturday featuring roving performers, market stalls, DJs, lion dancers and a night-time concert.

The event will run from 5pm-10pm.

Lunar Lanes offers the first chance to see this year’s new crouching tiger lanterns, standing guard in Dixon Street Mall as part of the city's lunar lanterns display of the 12 zodiac animals.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the event is a terrific opportunity for Sydneysiders and visitors alike to come back and enjoy the city and Chinatown, the traditional heart of Sydney’s Lunar Festival celebrations.

“We launched this wonderful community celebration in 2020 and we’re looking forward to once again seeing people experiencing the cultural activities, entertainment and feasts on offer,” Moore said.

Lunar Lanes is a wonderful way for people to enjoy the spirit of our 2022 Year of the Tiger celebrations.

“Creating outdoor opportunities for visitors and residents is an essential part of what we’re doing to support our local businesses through these challenging times, and we are doing everything we can to make this a safe event for everyone.

"Covid-19 safety plans will be in place for Lunar Lanes and all NSW Health regulations will be followed.

“People are keen to get out of the house and enjoy what Sydney has to offer, safely. By closing off streets, we’re creating extra space that will give people a safe way to support local businesses and re-engage with their community.

“Given the ongoing spread of the Omicron variant, people still need to exercise caution, follow health guidance and get vaccinated. When it comes to enjoying events like Lunar Lanes and our Summer Streets activations, we urge people attending to be vaccinated, wear a mask and practise safe distancing.”

Entertainment and activities at Lunar Lanes will include cultural performances by Sydney’s Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, Taiwanese and Japanese communities on the main stage at Hay Street, lion dancers performing to the beat of accompanying drummers and 10-metre illuminated LED lion dance performance.

Street stalls will be set up for a carnival atmosphere and food trucks will be on site as well as local restaurants.

For more information on Sydney Lunar Festival events, entertainment, restaurant offerings and art installations, visit the City of Sydney’s What’s On website.

Monday, 24 January 2022

A new reason to take a trip to Woodend

Woodend is a small town in regional Victoria - a lovely spot for a day trip from Melbourne. 

Located halfway between Melbourne and Bendigo in the Macedon Ranges, the town of around 6,000 people has a new drawcard with the opening of The Rock and Wombat bar.

This stylish looking spot is showcasing premium local wines, spirits and brews.


The Rock and Wombat Bar is located in the landmark Victoria Hotel, helmed by innovator Emily Blades. 

The list features cocktails including Moscow Mules, French-style martinis and the specialty Victoria Cocktail. 

“It’s great to see so many people coming in”, said Blades. “We’ve only been open a few weeks, and already I’ve had people saying we’re their new 'go-to' spot.


“It’s been such a tough few years. Not just for venues but the local wineries, distilleries and breweries who rely on them. We really wanted to create a destination for people to immerse themselves in all the region has to offer.”

The dog-friendly Victoria Hotel has slaked the thirsts of locals since 1861.


The ‘Rock’ refers to the nearby Hanging Rock formation and The ‘Wombat’ to the furry natives that populate the region.

See www.thevictoriawoodend.com.au/

Mornington Peninsula wine pioneer mourned

Baillieu Myer
Baillieu Myer, the only surviving son of the founder of the Myer retailing dynasty Sidney Myer and a Mornington Peninsula wine pioneer, died over the weekend in the family home at Merricks, south-east of Melbourne. He was 96.

Myer and his wife Sarah established Elgee Park in 1955 and planted the vineyard 1972, leading the way for viticulture and winemaking on the Peninsula.

He was one of the founding members of the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association in 1982, which brought the region together with a collective vision and focus on building a successful wine industry.In 2021 the Myers launched the Dr Allan Antcliff Viticulturist of the Year Award to celebrate the work of winegrowers across the region.

"We are going to miss Bails and his love for the Mornington Peninsula, his thoughtfulness and his humour, as well the contribution to the growth and success of Mornington Peninsula Wine," the MPVA said in a statement.

Myer was the owner and vigneron at Elgee Park.

He is survived by his wife Sarah and three children.

Cognac sales soar around the globe

Cognac is one of the drinks du jour with producers saying sales have never been stronger. 

Sales figures for 2021 suggest new grape plantings will be needed soon as the French region of Charente struggles to keep up with demand, the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac says. 

"The demand for Cognac has never been so strong in our markets," says Christophe Veral, president of the association. 

"Cognac remains marked by a very strong momentum," Veral said. "We are recording very good shipment results in 2021. 

"We end the year with an increase of +16.2% in volume and +30.9% in value compared to 2020. 

"This result in value stems from a relative growth of old qualities and a good valuation of Cognac on its buoyant markets. 

"Demand for Cognac has never been as strong on our markets as this year. Despite the uncertainties related to weather conditions, the 2021 harvest allows us to support the continuation of our growth, while all the available data lead us to be reasonably optimistic for the year 2022."

Figures show that 20 years ago the sector shipped 117 million bottles per year worldwide but 2021 figures were close to 230 million, Vitisphere reported. 

There are plans to exceed the milestone of 350 million bottles by 2035 as Cognac is increasingly used in high-end cocktails as well as a stand-alone drink. 

In other good news for Cognac, the Michelin Guide France will unveil its 2022 edition on March 22 from the Cognac region. 

"A benchmark of French excellence, and a global jewel in terms of spirits, Cognac and the Charente region will host the best of French gastronomy talent:" the association said in a statement. 

The BNIC was founded in 1946 to promote the drinks of the region. 

Taste the Hunter then take in the views

It is hard to match the panoramic views from Audrey Wilkinson winery in the Hunter Valley - and there are three accommodation options to choose from after your wine tasting and behind-the-scenes tour. 

The sandstone and timber building winery building includes a museum displaying a curated collection of original vats and wine and barrel-making equipment, and guests can enjoy either a tasting or tour, or both. 

There are three self-contained guest cottages on the property. 

Mulberry Cottage (above) is a spacious modern country house with three queen-sized bedrooms and one king-sized bedroom, all with their own en-suite bathrooms and can comfortably accommodate up to four couples or a large family. 

Oakdale Cottage is a three-bedroom guest house set high on the historic vineyard, while The Dairy Cottage is a two-bedroom, self-contained cottage featuring 360 degree views of the valley and the imposing Brokenback Ranges.

Visit Audrey Wilkinson for details or check out a range of winery experiences and accommodation at www.ultimatewineryexperiences.com.au/

Sunday, 23 January 2022

England and Germany in a wine fair conflict

Along with the various VinExpo events and VinItaly, the London Wine Fair and ProWein are two of the major wine industry events of the year in Europe. 

So how, then, have the London Wine Fair and ProWein (above) ended up with a date clash? 

It would appear the organisers of ProWein are to blame. 

After two years of cancellations the German trade fair announced this week it had switched its dates from March 27-29 to May 15-17. 

The only problem is that the London event, which has run for 40 years, had already locked in May 16-18. 

ProWein director Bastian Mingers told Drinks Business the Dusseldorf event had selected “the only alternative date” - which seems a little lame. 

Blaming the move on the spread of the Omicron variant in Germany, Wolfram N. Diener, CEO of Messe Düsseldorf – the organisers of ProWein – said that both the fair’s “partners and associations involved” regard the early summer “as the ideal period”. 

London Wine Fair director Hannah Tovey told Drinks Business that she was “confused, bemused, and angry” at the date clash, describing the move as “an extremely aggressive assault on both the London Wine Fair and the UK drinks market.”

Exhibitors, including wine producers from around the world, will have to choose one fair over another, while buyers will be faced with a similar choice. 

ProWein is expected to return to its usual March schedule in 2023.

In the meantime, it appears that all is fair in love and wine. 

Dogs are valued guests at a Tasmanian beachfront hideaway


There is something special about sharing a holiday with the whole family - including furry friends. 

It is even more special when you are staying in a beach shack just 50 metres from the ocean, waking and falling asleep to the sound of the waves. 

For the past two days the three of us have been enjoying our own delightful beach shack right on the ocean on Tasmania's East Coast. 

That's my wife and I and dog Albi; who usually has to be left at home when we travel. 

Dog lovers living in, or visiting, Tasmania should jot down the name of Sandpiper Ocean Cottages, where well behaved dogs (sit Albi!) are not only allowed but welcome. 

Albi has raced up and down deserted Denison Beach (above), sat on an enclosed veranda overlooking the ocean and snuffled around the bush. And slept. A lot.

Sandpiper Ocean Cottages are located just 8km north of Bicheno on the East Coast of Tasmania right on Denison Beach, which is often completely deserted. 

You are a 30-minute drive to Freycinet National Park and iconic Wineglass Bay, while The Bay of Fires is an hour to the north. 

Set on four acres of coastal gardens, each cottage at Sandpiper is private, spacious and well equipped for a stay of however long you wish.

There are some lovely touches like tea, coffee, biscuits, breakfast provisions (including eggs from the family hens and local jam). 

There is also a mini bar with wines from McLean Bay (grapes grown just down the road) and Thorne Clark “Sandpiper”.

Think fully equipped kitchens, laundry facilities and decks on which to wile away the hours with a book. There are spacious lounge and dining areas, wood fires in most cabins and covered rear decks with gas barbecues.

A private trail takes you the two minutes down to the beach, where you can walk barefoot for miles on the white sands, swim safely or fish from the beach.

The two-bedroom cottages are called Sandpiper, Beachcomber and Driftwood and can sleep up to five people. 

Hanalei is wheelchair/elderly friendly with walk-in shower, ramp access and extra wide doors.

We stayed in Ocean View (below); modern, fully self-contained and designed for couples. There are views of the ocean and Albi made himself very much at home on a specially provided blanket on the couch. 

"We love dogs, as we have two of our own, and we want them to enjoy themselves just as much as their owners," say owners John and Annette Hughes. "A lot of he time we find dogs are better behaved than children." 

For those wanting a bit more space and seclusion, The Beach House is a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house with ocean views on 40 acres with its own beach access. It sleeps six people.

Now the nitty gritty. Sandpiper Cottages charges a flat $10 fee for each dog, and each cottage has its own gated deck. Pooches are welcome inside (though not on the beds) but are not allowed to roam free on the property due to the local wildlife. The beach, however, is a different matter. Seagulls beware.

Sandpiper Cottages have beach gear (chairs, umbrella, boogie boards) to share. Dusk and dawn bring out the local pademelons, quolls, devils, wombats and deer.

Just down the road the delightful holiday village of Bicheno has shops, community garden galleries, the "must visit" Farm Shed East Coast Wine and Gin Centre, Blue Edge Bakery, Food and Brew, the Sea Life Restaurant or the Beachfront pub.

Wander over the the Gulch (above) and enjoy fish and chips or crayfish from Tasmanian Coastal Seafoods or the Lobster Shack.

Take a glass-bottom boat ride or fish from the pier, take a Bicheno Penguin Tour or Devils in the Dark Tour. Or just explore the many coves and beaches.

There are several cellar doors close by: Pop into Freycinet Vineyard for a bottle of delicious dry riesling, Devil's Corner, Spring Vale, Gala Estate, Milton or Craigie Knowe, with its own on-site patisserie.

I've saved the best news for last. Low-season tariffs at Sandpiper Ocean Cottages start from just $170 per night. And if you stay for three nights or more, mention Gourmet on the Road and get a free bottle of wine. Deal!

Book direct on www.sandpipercottages.com.au/ for guaranteed best deals. See https://eastcoasttasmania.com/ for holiday ideas.

# The writer was a guest of Sandpiper Ocean Cottages and East Coast Tasmania but plans to return as a paying guest.

Saturday, 22 January 2022

Americans and Europeans warned: Stay away from Australia

Oops. Despite assurances from Crime Minister Scott Morrison that everything is going "according to plan", the rest of the world is being told to stay away from Australia because Covid-19 is "rampant". 

From the Wall Street Journal to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, reports are encouraging potential visitors to stay away. 

"Australia Had Covid-19 Under Control- - Omicron Changed That," The Wall Street Journal reported this week, adding "frustration among citizens is mounting as test kits run low, vaccination programs stumble and labour shortages bite". 

Not the image Mr Morrison and his henchman Greg Hunt want for Australia globally. 

It may also have slipped under your radar that the US Government has told its residents to “avoid travel to Australia” after the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention upped rating of the Covid-19 levels globally. 

Australia joins a long list of nations deemed to have “level four: very high” levels of coronavirus by the CDC. 

“Because of the current situation in Australia, even fully vaccinated travellers may be at risk for getting and spreading Covid-19 variants,” the CDC website says. 

“Travellers should follow recommendations or requirements in Australia, including wearing a mask and staying 6 feet apart from others.”

Australia was one of 22 countries to be added to the “very high” levels of coronavirus list this week.

Authorities in Europe, meanwhile, have designated Australia, Canada and Argentina as Covid “danger zones,” advising member states to adopt tougher restrictions on arrivals such as new testing and/or isolation requirements, regardless of vaccination status. 

Belgium has placed Australia on its “red list”, meaning visitors must present a negative test less than 72 hours before departure and get a PCR test on the first and seventh day after arrival. 

Image: Michele Princigalli, Scop.io 

Cruise company in deep waters

With its parent company Genting Hong Kong in financial dire straits, luxury line Crystal Cruises is suspending operations.

The ocean cruise business will be initially suspended until April 29, with river cruise vessels laid up until the end of May, Travel Mole reported.

Genting Hong Kong this week announced it will wind up operations as cash reserves will soon run out and it has not been able to secure funds.

"This was an extremely difficult decision but a prudent one given the current business environment and recent developments with our parent company, Genting Hong Kong," said Jack Anderson, Crystal’s president.

"We look forward to welcoming back our guests when we resume our operations. We wish to thank our guests and travel advisors for their support during these ongoing challenging times."

Genting HK, which purchased Crystal Cruises in 2016, also owns Asia-based cruise brands Star Cruises and Dream Cruises.

"Suspending operations will provide Crystal’s management team with an opportunity to evaluate the current state of business and examine various options," Crystal said in a statement.

Crystal’s three ocean ships will complete their current sailings.

The company says it will will offer a full refund for bookings on cancelled cruises.

Update: The Crystal Symphony was this week re-routed to the Bahamas rather than Miami after an arrest warrant was issued in the US over unpaid fuel bills. 

Friday, 21 January 2022

Remote luxury for wine-loving tourists

Visitors to the Fleurieu Peninsula, one of South Australia's top wine and wilderness regions, will soon have a new accommodation option

ESCA will open in late April and is the first of a range of pod suites that will eventually be rolled out nationally.

The launch property, an ideal base for anyone wanting to explore the many wineries of McLaren Vale while staying in a remote location, contains two luxury stand-alone suites, self-contained and suitable for couples in the Inman Valley, just one hour from Adelaide between Victor Harbor and Yankalilla. 

The suites are architecturally designed and crafted to appeal to high-end tourists and are off-grid without compromising on luxury. They sit in a rural location on 200 acres with sweeping views.

Each 60sqm suite includes an al fresco area, separate stone outdoor terrace, open-plan kitchen, dining, lounge and bedroom with double-glazed floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Inman Valley to the Southern Ocean

Think automated blinds and energy-efficient design. 

Each suite will offer a selection of complimentary alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages with a coffee pod machine and Italian percolator, provided with freshly ground coffee and recyclable pods, as well as a selection of teas.

There will be breakfast goodies and provisions for an aperitivo (sunset drinks and nibbles) as well as built-in outdoor barbecue, outdoor soaking bath, firepit and fully stocked firewood supply. 

The team behind ESCA, formerly known as Esacpod, features several Adelaide-based trailblazers in the tourism, architecture and construction industries, headed by Steve Kernaghan, who is ex Tourism Australia, Qantas, South Australian Tourism Commission, Journey Beyond, and Great Southern Rail. 

Further Clare Valley and Fleurieu locations are in the pipeline. 

Advance purchase rates start from $480 per night at esca.com.au

Fly on holiday direct from the city centre

One of the great things about being in Europe - and particularly London - is the huge number of excellent travel destination options within a couple of hours of flight time.

Last-minute trips to Portugal. or maybe Hungary, are easily organised and can sometimes be snapped up for a pittance.

And for those who hate a long journey to and from an airport, British Airways is launching four new routes across Europe for the summer season out of London City Airport.

Customers can now book flights to Barcelona, Luxembourg, Milan and Thessaloniki.

Flights to all four destinations will operate on BA CityFlyer’s Embraer E190 aircraft.

The season kicks off with daily Luxembourg and Milan services from March 27, Travel Mole reports.

Thessaloniki launches on June 18, operating once a week on Saturday, and from June 19, Barcelona flights will operate six times a week.

Tom Stoddart, Managing Director of BA CityFlyer, said: "As customers start to plan their next summer getaway, we wanted to offer new routes to some of the most popular European destinations."

Seasonal services to Jersey and Guernsey are also returning. Flights will operate on Monday and Friday from June 20 to September 2 (the summer does not last very long in the UK).

Thursday, 20 January 2022

New Hunter wine tasting experiences at De Iuliis

Just as the 2022 harvest hits, Hunter Valley winemakers De Iuliis are launching two new tasting experiences.

Winemaker and owner Mike de Iuliis has good news so far, saying the fruit grown on De Iuliis’s own Lovedale Road, Talga Road and Steven vineyards is looking "fantastic". 

And at cellar door, De Iuliis team have doubled down on their estate and premium wine tastings with  the new DeWine and Hunter DeLuxe Experiences that actually take wine lovers into the heart of the winery to discover some insider secrets.

“Being able to open our winery doors to showcase the passion, innovation and craftmanship that goes into our winemaking is exciting," says Mike, pictured below with Lucy. "We love being able to connect with guests in an authentic and unique way."

The daily bookable experiences will run throughout the year, with January and February the best time to visit as guests can experience vintage 2022 as harvest rolls in.

De Iuliis Cellar Door Experiences

DeWine Experience $30 pp

Available daily at 1pm and 3pm

Explore the winery discover what goes on behind the scenes before enjoying a tasting of award-winning Hunter Valley wines.


DeLuxe Experience $45pp

Available daily at 1pm and 3pm

Join one of the De Iuliis team on a winery tour and then experience the a wine and cheese tasting using local producers Hunter Belle and Hunter-grown wines.

For details see www.dewines.com.au 


A touch of Canada in downtown Hanoi?

The hotel industry is a beast in perpetual motion.

When I first started writing about travel Fairmont was an upmarket brand centred on Canada, known for its rather grand hotels in mountain settings and most of Canada's big cities.

Nowadays, Fairmont - founded in 1907 - is a global brand, part of the Accor portfolio, with properties around the world.

Now the Fairmont brand will be introduced to Vietnam with news of a 241-room luxury hotel The Fairmont Hanoi to open in 2024 in the city centre.

Fairmont was founded in San Francisco but has been involved in landmark locations including The Plaza in New York, Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City and more recently in Seoul and the Maldives.

The hotel will take inspiration from the art of lacquer with the traditional colours of Vietnam, the Indochinese style from the French colonial period.

Just a 10-minute walk to Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter, Fairmont Hanoi will feature extensive leisure and event facilities.

There will be six dining and bar venues including a rooftop restaurant, along with two indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a gym, wellness spa and bathhouse.

The exterior (top image) looks extremely generic and ugly to me - and out of place in beautiful Hanoi. More suited to Des Moines or Bristol. Just my opinion. Hopefully, it looks better than the supplied picture.

“The signing of the first Fairmont city hotel in Vietnam is a significant step forward in Accor's development within the country," said said Garth Simmons, CEO of Accor Southeast Asia, Japan and South Korea.

"Our ambition is to debut a greater collection of premium and luxury offerings to meet the rapidly growing demand for high-end hospitality in the market.

"A stay in any Fairmont hotel is truly unforgettable - our guests love to visit this collection of grand, awe-inspiring properties and appreciate the thoughtful service they receive each and every stay. 

"Fairmont Hanoi will offer an experience that is steeped in local culture and is sure to become intrinsic to the local neighbourhood."

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

Meet a new Hunter Valley retreat for larger groups


No matter how many hotels, guest houses and B&Bs open up in the Hunter Valley there never seems to be enough accommodation on busy weekends. 

A new luxury house for hire, capable of sleeping up to eight people, adds to the options on offer from Hunter Valley Stays. 

Acacia House is a 120-year-old four-bedroom traditional timber house featuring high wooden ceilings in the hamlet of Branxton, which boasts a pub, butcher, bakery, café, general store, golf course and public pool, all within walking distance of the property. 

It is just a short drive to the delights of Wine Country Drive and the famous vineyards of Pokolbin, Lovedale and Rothbury for some gourmet tastings. 

Described as being "packed with character" Acacia House has been designed as an escape for groups of friends and families, including four-legged family members. 

There are four bedrooms; two bedrooms with king split beds, one bedroom with a king-sized bed, and the fourth bedroom has a queen-sized sleigh bed. 

There are a total of 2.5 bathrooms; one with a clawfoot bathtub and walk-in shower, another with a shower over the petite bath. 

There is a living/dining room and country kitchen with an ornamental cast iron stove, French door fridge, dishwasher, oven and coffee machine.

An outdoor undercover terrace has a large dining table, barbecue and pizza oven, while the garden has an outdoor hot tub and a hammock. 

There is also a games room with pool table, Pac-Man arcade game, Smart TV, PlayStation 2, dartboard, selection of board games, and outside basketball hoop and trampoline. A separate bathroom is also located in the games room.

Tariffs from $1000 per night (Thu-Fri, Fri-Sat or Sat-Sun) or midweek from $750 per night. 

See https://www.huntervalleystays.com.au/hunter-valley-accommodation/acacia-house

Quiet tourism powerhouse builds up steam

You might not have heard of the brand, but Mulpha Australia is a fast-rising powerhouse in the Australian hospitality industry. 

The owner and operator of Bimbadgen Wines in the Hunter Valley is rapidly building up a formidable stable of hotels and eateries. 

The latest Mulpha acquisition is popular Italian restaurant Ioesco at Sanctuary Cove in Queensland.

Restauranteurs Max and Amanda Alfieri (above), who have operated Ioesco since 2008, will stay on as managers of the restaurant, with the support of the hospitality teams at Mulpha and Bimbadgen.

Mulpha's brands include Bimbadgen Estate and its award-winning restaurant Esca and Palmers Lane in the Hunter Valley, the recent purchase of Emma’s Cottage Vineyard with café in the Hunter Valley, InterContinental Sanctuary Cove Resort and restaurant Fireplace, InterContinental Sydney and InterContinental Hayman Island.

Ioesco seats 120 patrons with plans underway to extend the deck.

Ioesco founder and manager Max Alfieri said: “We are pleased that we have secured the support of Mulpha to ensure the future of Ioesco. 

"It has been a labour of love and a privilege to serve Sanctuary Cove locals and the Greater Gold Coast community, and witness so many happy guests and wonderful moments over the years.”

Belinda Stapleton, the dynamic Mulpha general manager of hospitality, said: “We are delighted to invest in the future of this much-loved restaurant that helps makes Sanctuary Cove a great place to live and visit.

“Mulpha has a deep respect for the business that the Alfieris have built at Ioesco, and we want to ensure that continues into the future. Having Max and Amanda stay on through this partnership will ensure we continue the great legacy that they have created over more than a decade.

“To celebrate the partnership of Ioesco and Bimbadgen Wines, Mulpha are working with Max and Amanda in planning exciting new events and exclusive food and wine experiences for 2022. As well, diners at Ioesco will now be able to select premium Bimbadgen wines from the restaurant’s walk-in cellar for dinner or for a catered function in the restaurant.”

Mulpha also has several property development interests across Australia.

Thailand travel with a Spanish accent

Spanish hotel group Meliá Hotels International is a global giant aiming to make a major impact in Thailand.

Meliá Phuket Mai Khao, a wellness-inspired beach resort with a beach club and private pool villas, has just opened on Thailand’s largest island.

The resort is the second five-star property to be launched in Thailand under the Melia banner and is part of a brand roll-out across the country. 

Situated on Mai Khao beach on Phuket’s north-western coast on the Andaman Sea, the resort sprawls over eight acres and is now fully operational after some initial opening delays. 

The 30-suite and 70-villa resort is a 15-minute drive to Phuket International Airport and close to Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation, Sirinat National Park and Wat Phra Thong temple.

The resort’s design melds traditional and contemporary Thai aesthetics with a smattering of Mediterranean elements (as you'd expect from a Spanish company).

The resort has three accommodation categories. Each features a single bedroom and is differentiated by an anchoring amenity - be it an outdoor bathtub, a private plunge pool or a wellness arrangement.

All of the suites and villas feature outdoor bathtubs, open-air showers and outdoor terraces to take advantage of Phuket’s climate. 

The 78sqm suites are complemented by cabanas and the 85sqm one-bedroom villas have private plunge pools.

At the top of the accommodation scale, the 15 wellness villas each feature an open-air Vitamin C shower, ultrasonic essential oil diffuser, GermGuardian air purifier, Tempur-Pedic pillows, aromatic salts for the outdoor bathtub, a fit ball and yoga mat. 

Which sounds just hunky dory. A highlight of staying in a wellness villa is a daily 60-minute massage included.

All rooms and suites have individually controlled air-conditioning, 43-inch LCD TV with satellite channels, Bluetooth speaker, Nespresso coffee maker and gourmet capsules. 

The resort has four food and beverage outlets under culinary director Luca Mancini. 

Gaia Beach Club celebrates Spain by serving Mediterranean and fusion cuisine from an open kitchen and a cocktail selection from a long bar.

SASA is an elegant all-day dining restaurant that specialises in international and Thai cuisine, while the Elyxr Café serves coffee and tea.

The Pool Bar is a swim-up affair at the centre of the resort that serves a range of refreshments including fresh juices, smoothies and cocktails.

On site amenities include a spa with a menu of massages, facials, body scrubs and wraps and the resort will offer wellness packages that include healthy menus and freshly squeezed juices as well as activities such as meditation, yoga, and walks and cycling. 

There is also a fitness centre and children's club.

“Meliá Phuket Mai Khao’s debut marks such an exciting time for Phuket, signalling our genuine optimism for the future of tourism on Thailand’s largest island,” said Maetapong Upatising, Phuket Villa Group's managing director.

Meliá Koh Samui debuted in January 2020, while Meliá Chiang Mai is slated to open in April 2022. INNSiDE by Meliá Bangkok Sukhumvit (a very silly name), the first property of its brand in Thailand, with 176 guest rooms, is due to open 2023.