East Coast Wine Trail

East Coast Wine Trail
East Coast Wine Trail

Friday, 24 March 2023

Really Cool new airline plans

If you want to fly with a really cool airline then keep an eye out for a new Thailand airline called Really Cool Airlines.

The new carrier has unveiled plans to launch flights by the end of the year, Travel Mole reports.

CEO Patee Sarasin said Really Cool will announce route details by the end of June.

Patee is the former chief executive of Thai budget carrier Nok Air.

The new Thailand airline will focus on international routes and has revealed its tagline ‘We Fly the Future.’

Patee aims to position Really Cool Airlines in the hybrid segment, between low cost and full service.

Thursday, 23 March 2023

Global recognition for Brisbane Airport hotel

Airport hotels can be strange beasts where many guests stay just one night, and often rise before dawn to catch an early flight.

One Brisbane Airport hotel has made a major impact on its guests, however, to have been named Best Airport Hotel Australia/Pacific for the second straight year at the Skytrax World Airport Awards.

Pullman Brisbane Airport was also named in 10th position in the World's Best Airport Hotels 2023.

Alex Penklis, Chief Operating Officer of Brisbane Airport Hotels Group (BAHG), said to have received these accolades for the third year in the five years of the hotel's operation was a testament to the dedication and quality of service shown by everyone involved.

“The entire team at Pullman Brisbane Airport is extremely proud of these Skytrax accolades," he said. "To have maintained our position as the number one airport hotel in the Australia/Pacific region for the third time in five years, with two of those awards years impacted by a global pandemic, is a truly outstanding achievement.

“I am incredibly proud of what our dedicated team has been able to achieve, both at the Pullman Brisbane Airport and also the Novotel Brisbane Airport, who secured fourth position in the Best Airport Hotel Australia/Pacific ratings.

"We have experienced a challenging couple of years, however we have never stopped working hard to maintain and deliver our world-class level of service for our guests.”

Pullman Brisbane Airport, which opened in October 2017, is part of a $150 million project which includes the 243-room ibis Brisbane Airport and the Brisbane Airport Conference Centre.

For further information see www.worldairportawards.com/

Virgin Australia re-boots flights to Samoa

Virgin Australia has resumed flights to Samoa with up to two flights a week between Sydney-Apia and Brisbane-Apia.

Virgin has also launched a 72-hour Samoa sale, with return airfares available from $549 (economy lite).

Both routes will be serviced by Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

Virgin Australia Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer Alistair Hartley said the return was welcome news for travellers across the Pacific.

“There is a strong Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR) market in Samoa," he said. 

“It’s an exciting step in the rebuilding of our short-haul international network and comes ahead of our return to Vanuatu later this month.

“Samoa is well-known for its rich culture and friendly locals and has been a popular destination in the Virgin Australia network since 2005.”

Samoa Tourism Authority CEO Pativaine Petaia-Tevita said: “The return of Virgin Australia flights from Australia to Samoa is wonderful news for the nation, boosting collective efforts to rebuild and recover Samoa’s visitor economy.

“With a diverse flight schedule it means more and more travellers will be able to make their way to us to experience Fa`a-Samoa, our beautiful culture and way of life.”

For more information or to book, visit virginaustralia.com.

Wednesday, 22 March 2023

Qantas promises a better in-flight food experience

Qantas has boasted that customers travelling across its regional, domestic and international networks can expect better a in-flight and lounge dining experience as the airline rolls out a menu enhancement program this month.

The additional multi-million dollar investment introduces new dishes and larger portions across all cabins, using high-quality ingredients from premium Australian producers.

I'm flying tomorrow, and although I no longer have Qantas Club lounge access we'll see if the flight experience has improved.

Qantas says the move is "the single biggest investment in Qantas in-flight and lounge dining in a decade" and comes as the airline returns to profit and accelerates its customer investment programs.

The menu changes follow an overhaul of the domestic economy menu in October 2022, including offering a vegetarian option for all meals.

Qantas Group Chief Customer Officer Markus Svensson said new dishes, generous portions and premium produce would take the in-flight dining experience to a new level.

“Premium food and wine is one of the top three reasons our customers choose to fly with Qantas, so this significant boost means we will be able further our efforts to deliver a world-class experience in the sky,” he said.

“We are proud to work with established and emerging Australian food and wine producers to offer the best possible dining experience to our customers.”

Qantas Creative Director of Food, Beverage and Service Neil Perry, who has worked with Qantas for 25 years, said: “We are spoilt for choice in Australia when it comes to being able to source top quality food from fantastic Australian producers, and together with generous servings and great service, these are the key ingredients to creating an enjoyable meal.”

The new menus have begun rolling out on domestic flights and will launch on international services from March 29.

New aged sparkling wine stars in Brown Brothers' Patricia releases

A new aged sparkling wine is a special release as part of Brown Brothers 20th anniversary Patricia reserve wine range.

The 2010 Extended Lees Patricia Sparkling, a wine that has been kept on lees for over 12 years, is the new addition to a range that honours late family matriarchs Patricia Brown.

The newcomer is made using pinot noir and chardonnay grapes grown in the King Valley in north-east Victoria - close to Brown Brothers' base at Milawa.

"The 2010 vintage had so much lively acid and freshness, we thought it would be great to keep a small number of bottles back and age it," says Cate Looney, Brown Brothers' senior winemaker.

"It has resulted in beautiful creamy, nutty, dried fig characters you get with this extra time on lees."

This is the 20th release for Brown Brothers most premium range, which includes the 2017 Patricia Sparkling, 2021 Patricia Chardonnay, 2018 Patricia Shiraz, and 2018 Patricia Cabernet Sauvignon.

“Patricia wines are renowned for their exceptional quality,” says Cate. “We blind benchmark each release against local and international peer wines and as we produce each vintage we're reminded of Patricia's wise words: ‘You can name this range after me, but it better be bloody good!’

"Our commitment to upholding her legacy remains unwavering even after 20 vintages.”

The 2010 Extended Lees Sparkling will be available to purchase at Brown Brothers cellar door and online at brownbrothers.com.au for $160 in a single gift box.

I shall report back when I have tasted it.

Want to enjoy a luxury Barossa weekend with a stint as a winemaker

Serious about wine? Love a luxury lifestyle?

The Louise, one the very best addresses in the Barossa, is launching a new winemaker event series launching in April.

Now part of the Baillie Lodges group, The Louise will kick off with the Tscharke Experience Vintage package, featuring the resort's closest neighbour, Tscharke Wines, from April 28-May 1.

Next up will be a partnership with historic family winery Yalumba over the dates of June 23-25, with the expperience to be led by chief winemaker Louisa Rose.

The Tscharke Experience Vintage package offers guests staying at The Louise the chance to be winemaker for a day.

Running during vintage, guests staying at the luxury lodge will venture behind-the-scenes and be part of the winemaking action.

Guests will join the Tscharke winemakers for hands-on, three-hour experience of vintage, which includes an exclusive tasting of the current vintage wines plus two specially selected back vintages to be sampled in the Underground Cellar.

The experience starts with a welcome drink in the winery’s Protagonist bar, before a tour of the winery where guests will witness the journey of the fruit as progresses through the winemaking process.

Guests can join in activities including tasting ferments, testing baumé and monitoring ferment temperatures.

The Tscharke Experience Vintage package may be taken over any two nights over the long weekend with an option of adding an extra night or two on either side.

The Tscharke Experience Vintage weekend coincides with the 75th anniversary of the Barossa Vintage Festival with some 75 events dotted around the Barossa over the weekend.

Becoming a winemaker in not a cheap experience.

Rates for the Tscharke Experience Vintage package start at $3,450 per couple for two night with several inclusions.

See www.thelouise.com.au.

Baillie Lodges’ Australian properties are all members of Luxury Lodges of Australia.

Tuesday, 21 March 2023

New Sydney eatery to have a serious French accent

Sydney's hip inner city suburb of Surry Hills is get a new French brasserie from next month.

Restaurateur Andrew Becher, the owner and operator of European-inspired restaurants Franca and Parlar, will open his third venue, Armorica Grande Brasserie, on April 20.

Armorica is being billed as a 150-seat restaurant that draws on classic Parisian brasserie culture in a contemporary way.

It will take over the site that had been occupied by Toko over the past 15 years.

Amorica is named after an ancient Celtic region that once encompassed much of modern-day Brittany and spanned into what would later become Paris.

“Armorica is a Parisian brasserie that embraces the timeless charm of classic French dining," says Becher. "We want to bring the fun, energy and excitement of dining in the city of light right here on Crown Street.”

The menu will centre around wood-fired cooking and executive chef Jose Saulog (ex Bells of Kilcare) aims to showcase the best of Australian seafood and meat.

The menu will feature small plates including a coral trout crudo with finger lime; as well as Foie Gras ‘Torchon’ (top image).

Also featured will be a seafood tower featuring oysters, prawn cocktail, octopus roulade and rock lobster, as a well as a classic steak frites.

Armorica's wine list spans 400+ labels with a focus on some of the classic wine regions of the world.

Becher has collaborated with renowned American Illustrator David Plunkert on a selection of original art that will feature throughout the restaurant.

Let's hope it is good as another French eatery in Surry Hills: chef Jacob Brown's late, lamented Tabou.   
Armorica is located at 490 Crown St, Surry Hills, and will open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday and lunch Friday to Sunday. See www.armorica.com.au

Clare Valley unveils 10 days of wine and food fun

The 2023 Clare Valley SCA Gourmet Week program has been released today and it boasts over 80 events across the 10-day festival in May.

Event organiser Belinda Heinrich of Clare Valley Wine & Grape Association said this year's 39th edition of one of Australia's first gourmet festivals is set to be bigger and better than ever. 

“There has never been a better time to make a stay of it - the midweek and final weekend programs have seen a marked increase in the number and variety of events,” she said. 

Held in the lovely Clare Valley - perhaps the country’s most quintessentially Australian wine region -  this event turns the spotlight on local wines and produce; showcases chefs from across Australia; and features a diverse entertainment line-up. 

The 10-day festival is split into three parts; Festival Weekend (May 19-21), Breathe It In (May 22-26) and Land of the Long Lunch (May 27-28).

The first weekend sees the region’s cellar doors and restaurants doing something a little different with Mitchell Wines welcoming chef Duncan Welgemoed's innovative South African-accented cooking style in Clare for the first time. 

Pikes, meanwhile, is throwing a Paella Party on the lawns, bringing back an oyster shucking
station from Pacific Estate Oysters.

The midweek Breathe It In sector sees Sevenhill Cellars offer a guided tour of a 100-year-old vineyard and underground cellar along with with yoga and art classes. 

Many cellar doors will also show off back vintage and hard-to-find wines throughout the week.

Land of the Long Lunch will feature events like Terroir Auburn presenting wine-writing duo Nick Ryan and Nick Stock with food from chef Dan Moss. 

Arkhé chef Jake Kellie, meanwhile, will be cooking over fire with Jim Barry Wines in their Armagh vineyard hut. 

Visit www.clarevalley.com.au/stay to book accommodation and see the full program at www.clarevalleygourmet.com.au. 
Images: Matt Turner 

Monday, 20 March 2023

Strikes threaten Heathrow Airport operations over Easter

Something is rotten in the state of Brexit.

Following on the heels of a threatened strike at several passport offices, industrial action at Heathrow Airport is being planned for the Easter holiday period.

Travel Mole reports that security officers at the airport's Terminal 5 will strike over Easter as part of a pay dispute.

Union Unite said over 1,400 workers will strike for 10 days starting from March 31.

“Our members are simply unable to make ends meet due to the low wages paid by Heathrow,” Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said.

"They are being forced to take strike action due to need, not greed.

“Unite has a laser-like focus on prioritising the jobs, pay and conditions of its members and HAL needs to be in no doubt that the workers at the airport will receive the union’s unstinting support.”

Heathrow management says it has plans to mitigate any disruption

“Passengers can be reassured that we have contingency plans which will keep the airport open and operational,” it said in a statement.

The airport says it has offered a 10% increase in pay.

The airport strike follows news that 1,000 passport office workers are due to strike throughout April.

The PCS union said this strike action will likely to have a "significant impact" on new passport deliveries.

Angry passenger takes on shoddy airline behaviour - and wins

An angry airline passenger has gone to court and had bailiffs sent to an airport after being let down by a budget carrier.

Russell Quirk sent bailiffs to Luton Airport to confront Wizz Air over money owed to him after his family's flights to Portugal were cancelled at the last minute, the BBC reported.

Quirk said he was left to to find another route to Portugal which cost him £4,500 ($8,170) and after months of waiting for Wizz Air to reimburse him he went to court and ended up sending in the bailiffs.

Wizz Air paid up, apologised and said its performance "fell short of our own aspirations and our customers' expectations".

The company is one of a number of budget airlines facing county court claims against them, consumer magazine Which? has reported.

The way customers have been treated by Wizz Air has been "shocking, shambolic and shoddy", Quirk told the BBC.

He had booked flights from Luton Airport to Faro, in Portugal,  in January last year for a family holiday with his wife and three daughters.

He awoke early on the morning of their flight to find a message from Wizz Air saying it was cancelled.

"There was no explanation, no alternative offered and no apology," he said.

"I had to wake my three daughters and tell them we weren't going on holiday - they were very upset."

With hotels, transfers and an airport lounge already paid for, he said the only viable option was to find another carrier, with which the family flew the following day.

Those flights, together with money lost on a night in hotel rooms and other expenses, cost him £4,500, he said.

On his return he tried to get recompense from Wizz Air, but he said it took almost two months for the cost of his original flights to be returned along with other legal compensation.

But, he said, Wizz Air repeatedly ignored his claim for "consequential losses" - the £4,500 extra he had spent.

He took his case to the county court but said Wizz Air "ignored" the judgement made against the company, so bailiffs were sent in to the Wizz Air desk at Luton Airport.

"Their option was to hand over the money or the bailiffs would take it in goods - it might have been chairs, tables, computers or an aircraft," Quirk said.

He said taking his case to court cost him about £180 in court fees, plus £60 to send in the bailiffs - although additional costs associated with the bailiff visit would have had to be paid by Wizz Air.

"Increasingly businesses are thinking they can treat customers like dirt and I'm determined to eradicate that," Quirk told the BBC.

"My message is, where big companies stonewall you, if you persevere you can get what is owed to you."

A spokesperson for Wizz Air said: "In the summer of 2022, due to unprecedented levels of disruption across Europe and the UK which affected the entire industry, we fell short of our own aspirations and our customers' expectations.

"When things went wrong, we did not react quickly enough to manage the high volume of customer claims that resulted from this disruption. We are sorry about this and we are working to ensure that our customers' experience with Wizz is better this year."

Alleged pest banned from an entire region

Now here is a great idea.

A man who has been tagged as a serial pest has been banned from the entire English county of Norfolk.

Stepehn Cutts, 51, was given the court order after being accused of abusive behaviour and begging in Norwich city centre.

Cutts, from Surrey, was charged during the week with a public order offence.

He was released on bail but given conditions not to enter Norfolk unless to attend court or other pre-arranged legal appointments.

If only courts around the world would follow suit. 

Idiots banned from city centres because of silly haircuts. 

Loudmouths banned from the radio for having extreme views. 

Or being banned from downtown Melbourne for being a loud Collingwood fan. 

The possibilities are endless. 

Image: Norwich city centre. No pests allowed. 

Sunday, 19 March 2023

The affordable business class route to Europe


Many business class travellers opt for the tied and trusted.

If they are heading for Europe from Australia then they will opt for Qantas, or perhaps Singapore Airlines.

More recently trips via the Middle East with Emirates, Etihad or Qatar Air have been hugely popular.

But those who want business class amenities at a much lower price, a new option is on offer from Vietnam-based Bamboo Airways.

Bamboo PR manager Brad Crawford is talking up bargain basement business class lie flat bed comfort with Bamboo Airways to Europe via Vietnam from only $4,500 including taxes ex Melbourne or Sydney.

Adventurous flyers, or those with some time to spare, can fly to London or Frankfurt via Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.

Crawford warns that seats are limited and that not all flights have direct links - but a day or two in Vietnam would hardly be hardship. And many flyers - myself included - enjoy breaking up their long-haul flights into two sectors.

I'm hoping to try this route sooner rather than later, so stay tuned for reports.

For details see https://www.bambooairways.com/au-en/

Melbourne boutique hotel gets new look and new flavours

There are some pretty weird ways of promoting a hotel. 

One is having just one room designed by a bloke who appears on TV. Another is highlighting an unusual ingredient featured on the menu. 

The team behind the re-launch of Melbourne boutique hotel Laneways By Ovolo have opted to showcase both those options, although they had solid logic behind the moves. 

The new-look property features reimagined public spaces and rooms by Australian interior designers Luchetti Krelle, as well as a new drinking and dining venue Amphlett House - spearheaded by chef and restaurateur Ian Curley and mixologist Andrea Gaudi. 

All good. But here is where it gets a little odd. 

First the hotel is showcasing Room 303 – "an exclusive suite styled by renowned design aficionado Neale Whitaker". Guests who reserve Room 303 can apparently expect a collection of original art, limited-edition objects and soft furnishings hand selected by Whitaker himself.

Wow! Not my thing, but whatever floats your boat, I guess. Whitaker has apparently stayed in the hotel regularly and asked to be involved.    

But wait. Amphlett House is one of the only restaurants in Australia to be serving beef heart, presented at the restaurant seared on a bed of lentils, creamed spinach and mustard.

A dish that will appeal to a very small minority, I suspect, although someone who has tried the dish describes it as "excelleent". 

One other oddity: in the hotel lobby guests will find an Honesty Bar, offering an assortment of sweet and savoury treats, bottled cocktails, wine and Champagne. Guests note what they take and it is charged back to their rooms.

I wonder how long that will last? 

Anyway, back to the basics. 

The hotel has 42 rooms and the decor takes inspiration from the Memphis Group - a 1980s Italian design and architecture collective. 

It is located at the top of Little Bourke Street, well located for the nearby theatre district.

Guests booking directly with the hotel are guaranteed: breakie to go-go, high-speed wifi; in-room mini bar (first round is on Ovolo); self-service laundry, all-day sweet, welcome goodie, social hour in Amphlett House (below) and a tree planted by Eden Project. 

“The food concept for Amphlett House is elevated pub dining, with a classic menu highlighting quality Victorian produce," says Curley. 

"I’ve loved this part of Melbourne for many years and am looking forward to serving up humble fare with big flavours at the top end of town. We welcome guests to share a meal with family and friends or grab a quick bite with your better half.”

In addition to beef heart, other food offerings might include smoked bone marrow served on toast, parsley and shallot salad, blue oyster mushroom skewer with smoked romesco and moules marinières, aioli and toasted sourdough. 

To learn more, or to make a booking, visit https://ovolohotels.com

Laneways By Ovolo is at 19 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne. 

Passport office strike: travel misery post-Brexit goes on and on

Travel in and out of Britain is already a lot more cumbersome and time consuming than it used to be - one of the many "benefits" of Brexit.

Now a passport office strike could spell disaster for the holiday plans of thousands of Britons already suffering from the folly of their political masters and their own stupidity in voting to leave the EU.

Over 1,000 workers at the passport office will go on strike for several weeks from April 3, Travel Mole reports.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union warned of a ‘significant impact’ on the processing of passports

About one quarter of all passport office workers will strike.

The proposed industrial action will impact locations at Durham, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Newport, Peterborough and Southport.

It could potentially affect the handling of an estimated one million passport applications.

The PCS union said the Passport Office strike is over an imposed, non-negotiable 2% pay rise.

The union says it was forced into the "significant escalation" as ministers ‘have failed to hold any meaningful talks with us.’

Saturday, 18 March 2023

ProWein delegates warned to prepare for "chaos"

There are thousands of wine exporters from around the world - including many from Australia - ready to descend on the German city of Düsseldorf for one of the most important events on the wine calendar: Pro Wein.

The event starts on Sunday and runs until Tuesday, but unfortunately coincides with a Düsseldorf bus and metro strike.

"Public transport in Düsseldorf and the region will be the subject of a strike by the Verdi union on Monday and Tuesday, March 20 and 21, 2023," event organiser Messe Düsseldorf announced.

"The strike will start at 3 am and will last 48 hours."

Unfortunately, the Düsseldorf exhibition centre is located well away from the city centre in the direction of the airport.  

The hunt for taxis promises to be a competitive sport but organisers have announcd that shuttles will run every 30 minutes to the exhibition center from the airport and Düsseldorf Central Station.

Queues for the Düsseldorf metro and bus can already be substantial in normal times, wine website Vitisphere reports, adding "these exceptional conditions raise fears of some form of chaos."

The 2023 edition of ProWein is expected to welcome 6,000 exhibitors and over 50,000 visitors. 

Saluting the best of the best in Australian tourism

From major international operators to single-person businesses, Australia's best of the best in the tourism industry have been honoured at the Qantas Australian Tourism Awards.

In an event held at Doltone House in Pyrmont, the tourism industry celebrated the premier tourism businesses in the country.

“This is the biggest annual celebration of tourism business excellence in Australia - and we have much to celebrate recognising and elevating the very best of what tourism has to offer in this great country of ours,” said Shaun de Bruyn, chairperson, Australian Tourism Awards.
“Each of our award nominees have reached the status of absolute excellence in tourism and business.

“As an industry we are susceptible to many external factors, which has been highlighted over the past several years, but we continue to innovate, collaborate and come back strong. Many of our tourism operators are going from strength to strength, bouncing back after the worst of the pandemic."

There were 75 awards presented across 25 categories with a gold, silver and bronze winner
announced for each category.

Here is the full list of winners:

Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island Tourism Experience
GOLD- wukalina Walk TAS
SILVER - Spirits of the Red Sand QLD
BRONZE - Angkerle Atwatye - Standley Chasm NT

Cultural Tourism
GOLD - Geelong Gallery VIC
SILVER - The Cedars Hahndorf SA
BRONZE - Venture North Safaris NT
Adventure Tourism
GOLD - The Hike Collective WA
SILVER- Ocean Rafting QLD
BRONZE - Bendleby Ranges SA

New Tourism Business
GOLD - Wildcat Mackay QLD
BRONZE – Sequoia Lodge SA

Tour & Transport Operators
GOLD - Fun Over 50 Holidays QLD
SILVER - The Hike Collective WA
BRONZE - Air Adventure Golf TAS

Major Tour & Transport Operators
GOLD - SeaLink WA
SILVER- Searoad Ferries VIC
BRONZE - Sea World Cruises QLD

Caravan & Holiday Parks
GOLD - BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort QLD
SILVER - BIG4 St Helens Holiday Park TAS
BRONZE - Oasis Tourist Park NT

Hosted Accommodation
GOLD - Bli Bli House QLD
SILVER - Tallawarra Homestead VIC
BRONZE - Redwing Farm SA

Unique Accommodation
GOLD - Jamala Wildlife Lodge CBR
SILVER - Woodhouse Activity Centre SA
BRONZE - Mitchell Grass Retreat QLD

Self-Contained Accommodation
GOLD - The Woods Ocean Grove VIC
SILVER - Tree Chalets WA
BRONZE - Villa Talia TAS

GOLD - Live Ningaloo WA
SILVER - Tasmanian Walking Company TAS
BRONZE - Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort QLD

Tourism Retail and Hire Services
GOLD - Willie Creek Pearls WA
SILVER - Sydney Harbour Kayaks NSW
BRONZE - Uluru Audio Guide NT

Visitor Information Services
GOLD - Mudgee Region Tourism NSW
SILVER - Quilpie Visitor Information Centre, Museum & Gallery QLD
BRONZE - Bendigo Visitor Centre VIC

Business Event Venues
GOLD - Pullman Bunker Bay Resort WA
SILVER - Darwin Convention Centre NT
BRONZE - Peppers Silo Hotel TAS

Tourism Restaurants & Catering Services
GOLD - Char Restaurant and The Darwin Club at Admiralty House NT
SILVER - Potager NSW
BRONZE - Mures Tasmania TAS

Tourism Wineries, Distilleries & Breweries
GOLD - Bangor Vineyard Shed TAS
SILVER - Courabyra Wines NSW
BRONZE - Billson's Brewery VIC

Tourism Marketing & Campaigns
GOLD – ‘Viva Bendigo’ by City of Greater Bendigo VIC
SILVER - MidCoast Council - Destination Barrington Coast NSW
BRONZE - Tourism Tropical North Queensland QLD

Excellence in Food Tourism
GOLD - Coal River Farm TAS
SILVER - CORE Cider House WA
BRONZE - Margan Wines & Restaurant NSW

3-3.5 Star Accommodation
GOLD - Urban Camp Melbourne VIC
SILVER - Broadwater Resort Busselton WA
BRONZE - Magnums Unique Accommodation Airlie Beach QLD

4-4.5 Star Deluxe Accommodation
GOLD - Cape York Peninsula Lodge QLD
SILVER - Ship Inn Stanley TAS
BRONZE - The Byng Street Boutique Hotel NSW

5 Star Luxury Accommodation
GOLD - Mt Hay Retreat NSW
SILVER - COMO The Treasury WA
BRONZE - Eos by SkyCity Adelaide SA

Festivals & Events
GOLD - Outback Queensland Masters QLD
SILVER - Macedon Ranges Autumn Festival VIC
BRONZE – Tumbafest Inc NSW

Major Festivals & Events
GOLD - The Darwin Festival NT
SILVER - Tesselaar KaBloom VIC
BRONZE - Optus Stadium – AFL Grand Final 2021 WA

Tourist Attractions
GOLD – Bundaberg Rum Distillery Visitor Experience QLD
SILVER – Katherine Outback Experience NT
BRONZE – Willie Creek Pearl Farm WA

Major Tourist Attractions
GOLD - Adelaide Zoo SA
SILVER - National Zoo & Aquarium CBR 
BRONZE - Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary QLD

Image: Bangor Vineyard Shed  

Austrian wine industry a runaway success story


The Austrian wine industry continues to boom across international markets.

In 2022, the value of Austrian exports reached a new record level of Є231 million.

White wines and Sekt (sparkling wines) saw the greatest growth in value and Austrian wine was in particularly high demand in Canada, the US and northern Europe.

Statistics Austria figures show Austria exported 67.7 million litres of wine in 2022, equivalent to Є231.3 million euros in value.

Although volume was slightly lower than the previous year (-3.5%), value rose by 6.4%.

“Success in the export markets, and especially the record average price, is very important for our wine industry," said Chris Yorke, CEO of Austrian Wine (the Austrian Wine Marketing Board).

"The current wave of inflation is hitting our winegrowers hard, which is why we need to focus on growing their added value."

Austria’s white Qualitätswein was in particularly high demand (+7.9% in value).

“We have noticed that our white wines are really hitting the spot with international consumers and demand is continually growing,” says Yorke. Demand for Sekt also continued to rise (+19.3%) from a lower base.

Exports to Canada showed a 46.7% increase in value and over the last five years, the value of exports to the Canadian market has grown more than sevenfold.

The US was also on the upswing, recording an 11.2% rise in value.

The UK was on a downward trajectory in 2022, dropping 38% in value - largely due to complications caused by the idiocy known as Brexit.

Friday, 17 March 2023

Major Tasmanian tourism attraction faces shutdown

One of the biggest tourism attractions in Tasmania - the West Coast Wilderness Railway - is to shut from June.

Tourism Tasmania reported that the railway, which can operate between Queenstown and Strahan in the west of Tasmania, will shut to undergo major upgrade work during the winter in a bid to improve the reliability of the operation.

The railway is already offering reduced services following a recent derailment and all services will close from June 5.

Railway operations are expected to recommence gradually in time for the peak summer tourism season of 2023-24.

In response to the shutdown, the Tasmanian Government has developed a $1 million support program to drive continued visitation, while also supporting West Coast operators to invest in their businesses during the winter period.

The program includes:a targeted travel voucher program to encourage Tasmanians to visit the west and enjoy the attractions that are open during winter.

The West Coast Council and West by North West regional tourism organisation will develop a heritage tourism masterplan to ensure the railway is developed and enhanced as a visitor attraction for the long term and linked to other ventures.

Further information on the support package, including the travel voucher and grant program will be available soon.

Anyone with tickets booked on affected services will be contacted directly and provided a full refund.

Passengers booked on services out of Queenstown between now and June 5 will not be affected by the shutdown.

All staff will be retained and cafés located in Queenstown and Strahan will continue to operate.

Mapping 50 years of wine history in Marlborough

Appellation Marlborough Wine (AMW) has announced the launch of the Wine Map of Marlborough, a reference tool that delineates the major New Zealand wine growing region for the first time.

The release of the map coincides with the 50th anniversary of the first commercial vineyards being planted in Marlborough. Vineyards now occupying around 30,000 hectares and Marlborough is a global touchpoint for sauvignon blanc. 

Marlborough is home to three-quarters of all wine grape plantings in New Zealand.

“Naturally, sub-regions with distinct microclimates and stylistic features have been identified over this time,” says John Buchanan, AMW chair. 

“The Wine Map of Marlborough represents the first genuine attempt to map these in a detailed way.”

AMW is a member-led organisation established in 2018 to protect the integrity, authenticity and brand value of wines produced within its region.

The map project was driven by the Marlborough Wine Map Collective (MWMC), a team of five AMW members comprising Simon Waghorn of Astrolabe, Matt Thomson and Sophie Parker-Thomson MW of Blank Canvas, Ivan Sutherland of Dog Point, Brian Bicknell of Mahi and Brendan Neylon of Rapaura Springs. 

“We robustly debated and defined the current sub-regional hierarchy of Marlborough,” says Matt Thomson.

Over a two-year period, the ensemble worked in consultation with Wellington-based cartographer Roger Smith of Geographx and local designer Megan Boreham of Eye Catcher Designs.

“The resulting ‘Wine Map of Marlborough’ is a vital resource in understanding the sub-regional detail and diversity of Marlborough,” says Buchanan.

“We look forward to making it available to a wider audience, including industry colleagues, wine educators, and engaged consumers.”

Simon Waghorn adds: “The Marlborough Wine Map is an important step in creating some guidelines and understanding around our variegated region. 

“The Marlborough appellation can not and should not be simplified to the provincial boundary, we must take a lead from pioneering wine regions who’ve defined their land by geology and geography.”

# The Marlborough Wine Map will be available for purchase direct from Appellation Marlborough Wine with profits returned to the Marlborough Wine Map Collective for research and development.

Thursday, 16 March 2023

Consumer watchdog has Qantas in its sights

Consumer organisation CHOICE has Australia's national airline Qantas under fire because of its refund policies.

“CHOICE gave Qantas a 2022 Shonky award in large part for its unfair flight credit system, which has let customers down time and time again over the past few years,” says Patrick Veyret, head of Policy and Government Relations at CHOICE.

“The intense public outrage in response has clearly had some impact on the airline - but there’s much more to do to make all credits workable for all consumers.
“Some Qantas flight credits can only be used for a booking of equivalent or greater value - so if you have a $300 flight credit, you can’t use it to book a $290 flight. That is clearly unfair.

“Qantas customers also frequently complain that when they go to rebook a flight at the same time on the same route, they have to pay significantly more when using a credit than they paid for the original flight.

“Flight credits should work like gift cards. People should have the choice to transfer the credits to other people, as well as split the credits over a number of transactions.

In April last year, CHOICE filed a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) calling out "”onerous restrictions" in Qantas's credit redemption rules.

Qantas is one of the most complained about businesses on the New South Wales Fair Trading Register for the past six months in a row, CHOICE says.

New role for wine industry big gun

Former Yalumba chairman and managing director Nick Waterman has popped up on a new wine industry role: as a board member and chairman for The Usual Suspects Collective.

Waterman recently retired from Yalumba/Hill Smith Family Vineyards after over seven years in the top job, but has now joined the Hesketh family's group, which includes labels like Hesketh, Ox Hardy, St John's Road, Miss Kilm, Barratt, Parker Coonawarra Estate, Vickery and The Usual Suspects.

Waterman held key roles within Yalumba/Samuel Smith & Son dating back to 2003, including being GM of distributors Negociants.

"Nick brings a wealth of wine industry knowledge and experience to the Usual Suspects business, and is charged with overseeing strategy as well as challenging and supporting the executive team and wider business," group managing director Jonathon Hesketh said in a statement.

"He will add an enormous amount of value and is widely and universally respected in the industry. But more importantly, Nick is a great cultural fit."

Taking a Chiang Mai stay to a new level

I have visited Thailand on many occasions but have never made it to the northern city of Chiang Mai.

That's a pity as I keep hearing great things about the city.

One spot that will be on the "to do" list when I finally make it will be a new 'hotel within a hotel' called The Level in the Meliá Chiang Mai.

The Level has 43 rooms and suites as well as a private lounge (above) and bespoke privileges.

Housed on the upper floors of the 22-storey urban hotel, the selection of rooms offer some of the most spectacular views of the city.

Guests staying in The Level have exclusive access to 21st-floor executive lounge The Level Lounge, which offers all-day snacks and beverages accompanied by vistas of the city and famed Doi Suthep Temple on the mountain to the west.

Tucked under the hotel’s 22nd floor rooftop bar Mai The Sky Bar - the highest bar in Chiang Mai -The Level Lounge has large installations of illuminated umbrella ribs - which have regional significance - clinging to the ceiling.

Various artworks of umbrella canopies hang on the walls, such as those made from antique Chiang Mai textiles.

The Lounge offers private breakfast service from 7-10.30am, afternoon tea from 2.30-4pm, and cocktails and canapes from 5.30pm until 7.30pm.

Guests get private check-in and check-out and dedicated concierge service.

Business guests also enjoy complimentary use of The Level’s meeting room for two hours per stay and a 10% discount at YHI Spa.

Meliá Chiang Mai is located on Charoen Prathet Road by the River Ping and Night Bazaar.

To contact Meliá Chiang Mai’s The Level or to make a booking, call +66 5209 0699 or see https://www.melia.com/en/hotels/thailand/chiang-mai/melia-chiang-mai/index.htm

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Italian family business shines at hospitality at sea

It is 10 years - almost to the day - since I was invited to join the launch cruise of the MSC Presziosa, an impressive tour of the Mediterranean from its base in Genoa. 

I was introduced to MSC "godmother" Sophia Loren and enjoyed several magical days on board the new luxury vessel. 

It was someone at MSC - perhaps current Australia/NZ chairperson CEO Lynne Clark - who suggested I should add a blog to my list of print and online outlets and write about my experience.

Thus it was that Gourmet on the Road was born. 

From small beginnings, GOTR has enjoyed over 3 million visits and has built a solid following of travel, wine and food lovers. 

It was a timely coincidence, then, that I spent today having lunch and exploring the MSC Magnifica when she docked in Hobart - the first Australian port on her current round the world voyage. 

The sun was shining and the ship dominated the low-rise Hobart skyline. 

For those not familiar with the name, MSC is a family-owned and -operated cruise line, founded by the Aponte family over 50 years ago. 

Today the business has over 150,000 employees and 22 cruise ships that sail all five continents and serve 250 destinations.

The MSC Group - with a strong sustainability message - will this year begin to launch six ultra-luxe vessels under the Explora brand as it continues to expand. 

My few hours on board today - with a delightful lunch (images above) - reminded me of what a good time I had a decade ago. MSC does hospitality well. 

For details please see msccruises.com.au or msccruises.co.nz

Which country now has two airlines - both as national flag carriers

Saudi Arabia has unveiled a new national airline.

To Middle Eastern powerhouses Emirates, Etihad, Saudia, Qatar Airways and Oman Air add newcomer Riyadh Air.

The new airline will be led by CEO Tony Douglas, an ex-Etihad executive, and is wholly owned by sovereign wealth fund PIF.

The Saudi airline is aiming to operate to more than 1000 destinations by 2030, Travel Mole reports.

It is predicted that Riyadh Air will generate up to $US20 billion for Saudi Arabia’s non-oil GDP growth through tourism and trade, state news agency SPA said.

The airline will be based at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the new carrier, which will operate alongside head of state-owned Saudia while serving different destinations.

Saudi Arabia is now home to two national airlines, both serving as the kingdom's flag carriers.

Tuesday, 14 March 2023

The lowdown on one of Tasmania's quirkiest festivals

Tasmanians love a festival. The quirkier the better.

Maybe a festival celebrating steam. Or an event devoted to garlic.

One of the more offbeat of the island’s festivals is ECHO, which will run from March 31-April 2 on the east coast of the island state.

The East Coast Harvest Odyssey is the brainchild of singer and social dynamo Ange Boxall, who is also one of the owners of the Splendid gin brand.

The festival’s theme for 2023 is Water Birds - with a strong focus on the Black Swan.

The festival aims to guides guests on a journey of exploration that encompasses all the senses: taste, smell, sight, sound and touch.

Hosted in picturesque wine country on the fringes of Swansea, the program brings together chefs, winemakers and producers along with artists, musicians, storytellers, scientists, entrepreneurs, cultural and thought leaders.

The program features the weird and the wonderful, including Wreck of Utes, which utilises found and decaying utility vehicles from the east coast.

These vehicles have been a part of farm life, and the machinery required to run them.

Rather than sending them to be scrapped, they will be reimagined as lighting sculptures at ECHO Festival by lighting designer Jason James.

Also think blacksmith classes and morning yoga. 

So something for everyone.

ECHO falls in vintage - the grape harvesting season and when much of Tasmania's produce is harvested.

Wines from the immediate region - Cranbrook, Swansea, Little Swanport - are celebrated, along with Splendid Gin and Waubs Bay whisky, from just down the road in Bicheno.

One of the highlights of the festival is the Native Bounty Feast - a dining experience focused on using local and indigenous ingredients.

There will also be a wine masterclass and tasting hosted by wine merchant Joseph Burton and grape stomping - with the chance to step in to a wine barrel and squish the grapes between your bare toes.

# ECHO runs a free shuttle bus starting at the Waterloo Hotel, stopping along Franklin Street, Swansea Beach Chalets, and The Barkmill Tavern & Backpackers.

For full details and bookings see https://www.echofestival.com.au/

Discover one of the most beautiful places on the planet

Lake Bled was recently named one of the 25 most beautiful places on earth by CNN.

The US broadcaster said: "The glistening blue water. The soaring backdrop of the Julian Alps. The famous church perched on an island at its centre. It’s no surprise that Lake Bled has developed into one of the hottest destinations in Europe in recent years."

Bled has a population of just 8,000 people, but its is a hugely popular tourist destination in the Upper Carniola region, and in Slovenia as whole.

You can get there by bus - it is just a short ride from the capital of Ljubljana, but so is everything in Slovenia.

There can be crowds in summer - but such is the beauty of Lake Bled that any hassles are worthwhile.

The lake is 2.12 kilometres long and between 0.5 to 1 kilometre wide. In summer, the surface water reaches 25 °C (77 °F) but during winter, the entire lake freezes and can be used for ice skating.

The island - and the much-photographed the  Assumption of Mary Pilgrimage Church can sometimes be reached on foot when the lake freezes.

Here are a few snaps, most of them from a visit last summer.

For more details see https://www.slovenia.info/en

Monday, 13 March 2023

Want to fly to Asia on the cheap?

AirAsia has continued its post-pandemic celebrations with a new Mega Sale featuring 10 million discounted seats across Asia and beyond which are available for booking now to destinations worldwide.

From now until March 19, 2023, all-in fares one way from Sydney and Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur are on sale from $269, from Sydney and Melbourne to Bangkok from just $239, from Auckland to Sydney from $NZ199, from Perth to Bali from $169 and from Gold Coast to Kuala Lumpur from just $189.

For those seeking extra comfort, premium flatbeds are also on sale starting from $799 from Perth to Kuala Lumpur and from $NZ559 from Auckland to Sydney.

AirAsia’s fly-through connecting services to popular destinations from Australia are also included in this sale. Fly from Australia (Sydney/Perth/Melbourne/Gold Coast) to Phuket, New Delhi, Manila, Seoul, Kuching, Hanoi and more starting from just $193 all-in fare one way.

In Malaysia, AirAsia’s main hub, domestic fares are also now on sale to many popular leisure favourites from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi, Penang, Johor Bahru and more from under $120.

AirAsia X has flights on sale to many popular international destinations such as from Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo or Taipei from under $120.

The Mega Sale prices are only available until Sunday and cover travel dates between September 4, 2023, and July 9, 2024.

Bookings can be made at airasia.com, or via the airasia Super App.

So you fancy a seriously long cruise, and have loads of money?

Regent Seven Seas Cruises has announced its longest world sailing to date - if you are prepared to wait almost three years. 

The Seven Seas Mariner will depart from Miami on January 10, 2026, for the world cruise, named The Sense of Adventure

Guests will cruise three oceans over 154 nights and dock in 41 countries.

The itinerary spans the Americas, South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, Asia, Africa, and Europe, Travel Mole reports.

The world cruise visits three new off-the-beaten-track ports – Lifou Island, Maré in the New Caledonia archipelago, and Waingapu in Sumba in Indonesia.

“We are excited to announce our newest and longest world cruise for 2026,” said Andrea DeMarco, president of Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

There is a choice of 431 included shore excursions and 16 in-port overnight stays.

These include Bora Bora; Darwin and Walvis Bay, Namibia.

The itinerary provides access to 47 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Robben Island off Cape Town.

Before boarding Seven Seas Mariner, guests will enjoy a one-night pre-cruise stay in a luxury hotel in Miami, and an exclusive pre-cruise gala event.

Fares for the 154-night voyage start from £79,219 $AU144,000 per guest for a deluxe veranda suite and reservations open on March 22. A pre-register period is now open.

For shore. New islands discovered

Imagine discovering a swag of islands that you previously had no idea existed.

Japan has just "discovered" over 7,000 islands off its extended coastline, Travel Mole reports.

Japan’s Geospatial Information Authority recently completed a comprehensive mapping of its territory for the first time since 1987.

Japan’s total of what was 6,852 islands then is now 14,125 islands - thanks to advances in surveying technology.

There is no globally recognised formula for what constitutes an island and Japan has claims on several small island chains which are disputed.

It has disagreements with Russia, South Korea and China, with some dating back many decades.

The new survey entailed counting all naturally occurring land areas with a circumference of at least 100 metres.

Nagasaki and Kagoshima prefectures in south-western Japan had 1,479 and 1,256 islands, respectively, while 1,473 were listed in Hokkaido, northern Japan, news agency Kyodo reported.

Image: Islands of Kukikushima, Nagasaki  

Sunday, 12 March 2023

Get up close with icebergs, then enjoy a drink made from them

Long before an iceberg sank The Titanic - now 111 year ago - the massive islands of floating ice have been a source of fascination and wonder. 

So much so that today they remain a major tourism attraction off Canada’s eastern-most province of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

The waters here are home to two natural wonders: migrating whale species including humpback and minke skirt the island year-round, while icebergs drift past on Iceberg Alley from June to September. 

Tourists can kayak off the coast of Cape Broyle to see the types of icebergs that sank the Titanic.

Here you'll find giant icebergs, surrounded by “bergy bits”, small floating chunks of ice, and “growlers” - grand piano-sized pieces.

May to September are when temperatures are warm enough in the northern hemisphere for them to break off but not warm enough for them to melt entirely. In winter, this region is bone-numbingly cold. Summer is just chilly. 

On a sunny day, these 10,000-year-old glacial giants can be viewed along the northern and eastern coasts, with colours ranging from snow-white to deep aquamarine. 

Visitors are encouraged to experience the rugged beauty of the coastline as they explore sea caves, inlets, and fjords.

Back on land they can experience an Iceberg Vodka, made from what is claimed to be the purest water on the planet. 

Iceberg hunters harvest the ancient ice, comprised of water frozen long before industrial pollution, creating what is marketed as "a uniquely smooth, quintessential Canadian vodka."
It was only around 600km from the Newfoundland coast that an iceberg sank the Titanic.

Roughly 90% of icebergs seen off Newfoundland and Labrador come from the glaciers of western Greenland, while the rest come from glaciers in Canada's Arctic. 

Saturday, 11 March 2023

So you want to Play? Hard.

Anyone travelling in Europe and wanting to get to the US on a budget might like to make note of Icelandic low-cost airline Play, which could be on the way to becoming a major player.

Play will launch flight between Glasgow and Keflavik in Iceland in May, adding to a fast-growing list of destinations.

The route between Glasgow International and Keflavik marks the airline’s first Scottish route and ticket sales are now open at www.flyplay.com.

Glasgow flights launch on May 26, 2023, and offer US connections.

Play will soon offer four US destinations: Newburgh in New York State, Boston, Baltimore/Washington and Washington Dulles. It will also fly to Hamilton, Canada, from June.

Flights between Glasgow and Keflavik start from £69 ($AU125) one-way, with US flights starting at £169.

Play will operate four flights per week over the northern summer months, Travel Mole reports.

CEO Birgir Jónsson said: “In January 2023, Brits made up the largest percentage of tourists to Iceland.”

Play's routes to and from Paris and London had an impressive load factor of over 90% in February. 

The airline was founded in 2019 and has been flying for around 20 months. It serves several European destinations from Keflavik.  

Coonawarra celebrates in style

Coonawarra Vignerons and community members got together on March 16 to celebrate the start of the the 2023 Vintage (aka. V23).

The famous landmark the Coonawarra Railway Siding was the venue for the first official Vintage Launch ceremony in many years.

Featuring a traditional grape stomp and the christening of the new vintage with a bottle smash (similar to that of a ship setting sail on her maiden voyage), the launch was aimed at bringing the whole Coonawarra Community together.

That means grape growers, cellar hands, vineyard workers and machine operators, to lab managers, winemakers and vignerons and everybody in between was involved.

Coonawarra Vignerons executive officer Hugh Koch said the event emphasised the importance of vintage, not only to the Coonawarra community, but for the entire district.

“Vintage in Coonawarra is more than when a wine's grapes are harvested," he said. "It heralds the anniversary of a new year in Coonawarra, where we reflect and say goodbye to the previous season.

“As a community it is the commencement of the economic driver that sustains our economy, creates our jobs, gives us our services, drives our visitation, and continues to put us on the map as one of the most pre-eminent wine regions of the world."

Coonawarra Vignerons president Dan Redman says: “A vintage brings the whole community together, working in unison to ensure that grapes are picked for optimum quality and that winemaking teams can produce wines of a world-class standing."

With a nod to Coonawarra’s founding father John Riddoch (a Scotsman) , Coonawarra Vignerons Patron Doug Balnaves piped in the event on his bagpipes.

Friday, 10 March 2023

Playing around in the Hunter Valley: wine fun and games

Not made plans for Easter yet? How about a wine tasting and a lazy game of boule at family-owned and operated Scarborough Wines in the Hunter Valley?

Visitors can get a group of friends or family together and book an Offshoot wine tasting paired with a game of garden boules (also known as pétanque),

The experience comes with its own wine carts, so cellar door staff can guide you through the wines while you play.

Guests get to taste a selection of five or six Scarborough Offshoot wines paired with a share plate of cheese and crackers.

The experience costs $50 per person for one hour with a minimum of four people and maximum of six.

There will be four boules greens available every weekend throughout April, including Easter Monday.

Another Scarborough experience is a colab with Hunter Valley chocolate producer Cocoa Nib matching a vertical tasting of current and back vintage Black Label Shiraz and The Obsessive Shiraz wines from the cellar with as selection of four different chocolate bonbons.

Scarborough staff will guide guests through the characters of the wines as they have aged, and how they pair with the chocolate selected. This experience is $35 per person for 30-minute seated tasting. Available from Good Friday to Easter Monday with bookings essential.

For serious wine lovers wanting a vinous experience, the Keepers of the Flame premium wine tasting focuses on the range of the same name

The first three vintages (2019, 2020, 2021) are chardonnay and have been made from small parcels of fruit picked specifically for the project. The wines are paired with a gourmet cheese board designed to delight foodies and wine-lovers alike.

This 1 1/2 hour experience costs 90 and features Riedel varietal specific glassware. It is availableThursday to Monday throughout April at 10.30am and 2pm.

For details and bookings see www.scarboroughwine.com.au/Visit-Us/Our-New-Tasting-Experiences