Thursday, 24 May 2018

The worst job in travel: trying to market a spectacular destination

Overseas tourists are staying away from the beautiful resorts of the Philippines in their droves, scared of making bookings and then losing their money. 

When the resort of Boracay was closed in April for a six-month clean-up, authorities cancelled pre-booked trips and also refused to refund the payments.

The European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) found interest was low when it sent a group on a tourism mission in Europe earlier this month aimed at promoting the Philippines as a tourism destination. 

ECCP president Guenter Taus said concerns followed President Rodrigo Duterte administration’s decision to shut down Boracay to address the island’s environmental issues.

“It was clearly verbalised when we were there," Taus told the Phillippines Daily Enquirer newspaper. "They said if they (the Government) can close one island, they can close any island, any time,” he said. 

Taus said it had become harder to pitch the Philippines to tour operators, especially given the experience of some who couldn’t get their money refunded because the island closure was deemed force majeure.

Force majeure refers to a clause in contracts that removes liability for unavoidable catastrophes that interrupt the expected course of events, restricting participants from fulfilling obligations, according to the world’s largest financial education website Investopedia.

“But it’s not force majeure because it was closed by the Government,” Taus said. 

“You’re a tourist operator and you have 500 people booked and then they tell you, ‘Sorry. The island is closed. Get lost and you don’t get your money back'.” 

ECCP, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, is still trying to convince tour operators in the European Union to look at other parts of the Philippines, despite their concerns.

Many of the tourists headed for Boracay and other Pinoy destinations opted instead for popular destinations in other Asian countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam, Tuas said.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

You don't have to spend a fortune to enjoy paradise

After reviewing a five-star property in Krabi, I had intended to return to familiar ground in Phuket to do some writing for two projects that had stalled. 

A couple of days at Railay Beach caused me to change me mind, however, and seek out some local budget accommodation. After looking at a couple of 2-3 star hotels I settled on the Railay Viewpoint Resort, where I have been living in a small villa for several days.

As I'm paying an off-season rate of 900 baht ($37) a night I didn't expect much, but I'm thoroughly enjoying my home away from home. 

I've noticed some complaints on websites about a lack of cleanliness at Viewpoint, and also unfriendly staff. My experience has been exactly the opposite. 

My villa, just a 100 metres from the waterfront at Railay East has a comfortable bed, air conditioning, good wifi (although it was once knocked out by a tropical storm), a fridge, TV with CNN and a wet/room shower that always has hot water. 

I'm provided with fresh bottles of water every day, clean towels and my room is serviced every day, or second day, depending on my needs. 

There is a good resort swimming pool just 10 metres from my door and all the mini-marts, massage shops and eateries are within a short walk. Its nice to sit on my balcony and watch the world go by.

There are more expensive rooms than the one I am in with more modern bathrooms and facilities (below) but my villa is just fine for basic accommodation.

Railay East has mangrove swamps and is not suitable for swimming, but just 350 metres away is Railay West, with its several chic resorts and clean sand beaches. The two are linked by Walking Street, a laneway of restaurants, Reggae Bars and juice bars and more massage places.

Railay, which can be reached only long-tail boat or speedboat from Chao Fa Pier from Krabi, Ao Nang or Ao Nam Mao, is popular with day trippers because of its laidback vibe. Dinner will cost you around 100 baht ($4) and there are no loud go-go bars, hustlers or discos. The massage places are totally legit. 

Don't even think of buying a bottle of wine, however, with taxes meaning a bottle of Jacob's Creek Chardonnay will cost you 50 bucks. The local Singha beer ($3.50) does the trick instead.   

The views are spectacular around these parts with striking limestone cliffs, and clean water that is frequented by squid boats at night. 

The perfect setting for a few days of relaxation. 

Railay Viewpoint Hotel, +66 82 4299 090. 

New codeshare deal between Qantas and Air France

Qantas and Air France customers will now have more options to travel between Europe and Australia via Asia following a re-ignited code share agreement between the two airlines. 

Available for booking from June 5 for flights starting from July 20, Air France will add its code to Qantas flights between Hong Kong and Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and between Singapore and Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

Air France customers will also be able to access code share services from Sydney to five cities on the Australian airline's domestic network including Canberra, Hobart, Adelaide, Cairns and Darwin.

Under the reciprocal deal, Qantas will add its code to flights operated by Air France between Singapore and Hong Kong and Paris-Charles de Gaulle, as a continuation of flights from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth.

The new agreement will see the two airlines code share on a total of more than 200 flights per week.

In real terms, Qantas fliers might find themselves on an Air France flight - and vice versa, so it will be to check bookings carefully if you have a strong preference for one over the other. 

The airlines' spin is that customers will benefit from more seamless travel experiences with single-ticket itineraries and through-checked baggage as well as the opportunity to earn points on the new code share services.

Air France eligible customers will also be able to access Qantas lounges in Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, as well as Qantas eligible customers to Air France lounges in Paris, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Patrick Alexandre, EVP commercial sales and alliances at Air France-KLM, said: "We are very pleased to be re-establishing a partnership with Qantas. Thanks to this agreement, the Air France-KLM group will be able to offer one of the best possible travel solutions for its customers from Europe to Australia. 

"It will also deliver a better travel experience for our business customers, with connections in Singapore and Hong Kong, two of the most popular airports in the world. This new co-operation confirms our group's desire to expand in the Asia-Pacific region."

Alison Webster, CEO of Qantas International, added: "This is great news for our customers who want to travel to Europe via Asia, giving them another option to get to Paris and more opportunities to earn Frequent Flyer Points. The return of this popular code share delivers on our strategy of partnering to provide customers with access to an expanded network and more seamless travel experiences wherever they want to fly."  

Monday, 21 May 2018

Join Tasmanians for seasonal wine lunches in a snug wine cellar

Tasmania used to go to sleep for much of its long winter. Now it is alive with myriad festivals.
Moores Hill winery in the Tamar Valley has decided to join in the winter fun by combining with the Vineyard Seafood team for a series of set seasonal lunches in their snug barrel room. All will feature local producers, who will be on hand to answer questions. 
The opportunity to meet, chat and dine with featured farmers and fishermen from Tasmania’s Northern region - and with Moores Hill winemaker Julian Allport - will cost $95 per head.

Seats for the intimate lunches are very limited so if you are interested in lunching on Sundays, June 3, July 8 or August 5 then you'd better be quick. 
The first lunch, on June 3, will feature abalone, beef and chocolate! There will be a four-course menu with matched wines,

Australia's First Families of Wine taking China seriously

Australia's First Families of Wine, a group of 12 of Australia's leading family-owned wineries, is taking the growing Chinese market very, very seriously.

AFFW members are heading to Hong Kong to participate in Wine Australia’s feature program at Vinexpo 2018, then staying on in the region to be part of Wine Australia’s China Roadshow 2018.

Vinexpo is the primary industry event for wine and spirit specialists in the Asia-Pacific region and AFFW will have the opportunity to feature new products whilst networking with importers, distributors and sommeliers and telling their various vinous tales.

The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre will host Vinexpo Asia 2018 from May 29-31 and the China Roadshow 2018; a tour that connects Australian wine exhibitors with influential Chinese importers, distributors, wholesalers and media in the four key cities of Shenyang, Wuhan, Jinan and Shanghai runs from June 4-11.

Australia is ‘Country Of Honour’ at this year’s Vinexpo exhibition and this year sees a five-fold increase in floor space for Australian wine compared to Vinexpo Hong Kong 2016.

The Australian contingent will showcase of 140 exhibitors representing over 35 wine regions. The 12 families of AFFW will be featured together, under their own banner, as part of the larger Australian contingent.

Among the range of educational masterclasses featuring throughout Vinexpo will be AFFW’s signature tasting, named UNLOCKED, a panel masterclass tasting featuring the wines that have put AFFW’s families on the map.

These include the 2005 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon; 1999 Tahbilk 1860 Vines Shiraz; 2008 Henschke Hill of Grace and Campbells Merchant Prince Rare Rutherglen Muscat.

While a familiar concept at home, this is the first time that UNLOCKED has been presented outside of Australia. The AFFW panel will feature different generations of the families and each will share the history, provenance and stories behind their families and the wines that they craft.

Similarly, the China Roadshow 2018 will offer AFFW the opportunity to network with important Chinese importers and media.

Thanks in part to the recent free trade agreement, Australian wine exports to China have surged 63% in 2017 to $848 million - more than total sales to the United States and United Kingdom combined.

AFFW Chairman Bruce Tyrrell from the Hunter Valley’s Tyrrells Wines, believes the boom will continue.

“China remains Australia’s largest export market and is still showing strong growth at all price points," he said. 

"Importantly it is growing at the higher price points. Australia is best placed to continue to grow in China as they like our styles and we are seen as a close and safe destination for tourism. Tourism gives our industry that opportunity to convert these visitors into Australian converts and have a thorough understanding of our premium wine offering.”

The 12 members of AFFW are: Brown Brothers, Campbells, d’Arenberg, De Bortoli Wines, Henschke, Howard Park, Jim Barry Wines, McWilliam’s Wines, Tahbilk, Taylors, Tyrrell’s Wines and Yalumba.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Slicing and dicing in paradise

The super-relaxed Thai resort of Krabi offers rare beachfront luxury at the legendary Rayavadee resort - and along with that luxury comes options. Lots of options. 

Quite a few people come to Rayavadee for the rock climbing and jungle trekking; most, however, are here to chill. 

Activities on offer include speedboat charters to surrounding islands, diving, water sports, elephant riding, tennis and squash courts, yoga, Thai boxing, a well-equipped gym and a luxurious spa offering a range of treatments. 

I opted, however, for an individual cooking class that was perhaps the most rewarding cooking class I've ever had. One-on-one with chef Salma, I learnt more about slicing, dicing and curry pastes than I ever have before. 

The benefit of doing a solo cooking class is that you can move at your own pace; ask for clarification or an explanation without feeling like a complete goose.

This being Rayavadee, one of Thailand's premier resorts, my class takes place on a terrace overlooking the Andaman Sea. It is hard not to be enthused in such a beautiful setting. 

Chatty Salma speaks perfect English, so is confident enough to makes small changes to traditional recipes (she comes from the south), or at my request. 

Guests can choose which dishes they want to cook in concert with Salma (it felt more like a group effort than a class) and I opted for prawn cakes, pad Thai and red duck curry. All of which turned out rather well, I hope you agree. 

We taste the ingredients as we go. A little more lemongrass, a tad less galangal. I learn to chiffonade and stir better than I have before - and without landing the ingredients on the floor.  

The hands-on approach to learning is followed by a sit-down lunch and my dishes really did taste restaurant quality.

You leave with your cooking apron and a comprehensive guide to Thai spices and recipes. And, in my case, a renewed appetite for cooking. 

Classes are available for between one to six people and other dish options include the likes of beef salad with herbs, chicken in green curry and spicy tom yang goong soup.

Rayavadee, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World group, is a resort for those looking for an authentic experience; a slice of nature along with a big dollop of indulgence. There is a sense here of being somewhere really special.

A full resort review will follow shortly.

Rayavadee, 214 Moo 2, Tumbon Ao Nang, Amphoe Muang, Krabi 81000. +6675 620 740.

Australian airline passengers get the rough end of the pineapple

In the United States and Europe, airline customers are protected by a range of regulations. 

If an airline wants to bump you from a flight it has to offer to pay you for the inconvenience. If a flight is a significantly delayed you are offered compensation. Etc etc, depending on the jurisdiction.

In Australia, probably because Australians are not keen on complaining - or following through with complaints - airlines get away with blue murder and accept no responsibility for their failures.

A recent case on the Australian Frequent Flyer website underlined that consumers get the rough end of the pineapple with little comeback. 

A platinum Qantas frequent flyer reported that he has been waiting months for a resolution from Qantas. 

This flyer had booked the airline's Chauffeur Drive service ahead of a Business class flight from Sydney to London. The driver never showed up. With time running out before the flight departed, this customer reluctantly drove their own car to the airport… racking up an $864 parking bill while they were away! 

Seven months later, Qantas has offered $105 and 5,000 points as compensation - though the points have still not arrived. Is this adequate? Of course not. 

Similarly with my trip last week when the Melbourne-Phuket leg was delayed for nine hours and no one bothered to tell me until I arrived in Melbourne to twiddle my thumbs. 

The excuse, given grudgingly by one of Jetstar's flight fuhrer types, was that because I had booked through Qantas, Jetstar had no idea how to get in contact with me. That despite Jetstar having emailed me the previous day and my having checked in with Jetstar in Hobart.

The truth: Jetstar just doesn't give a damn. It's only compensation was a complimentary scowl and a $20 food voucher. Big business wins again. 

Then there is the friend who purchased business class tickets from Sydney to Hobart and return but was refused entry to the tiny Qantas Club lounge because it was “too full”. Good luck to her getting compensation. She didn’t get what she paid for. 

Sadly, there is not much we can do about it - other than complain and make other flyers aware of the issues they might face. 

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Enjoy the best of the Mornington Peninsula over one weekend

The Mornington Peninsula is one Australia's most visually spectacular wine regions, as well as producing stellar cool-climate wines. 

To get a full picture of the region's strengths you need at least two or three days, which makes the  Winter Wine Weekend, an annual three-day celebration, the perfect opportunity to get to grips with the Peninsula.

The Winter Wine Weekend showcases both wines and local gourmet offerings from cheeses, pizzas and emu sausages to full meals. 

The event has been held during the Queen's Birthday long weekend in June since the 1980s. 

The program opens with the Winter Wine Fest, held on Saturday, June 9, from 11am-4pm. This ticketed event, held indoors at Red Hill Showground, is a tasting of 50 Mornington Peninsula wineries, showcasing over 200 premium wines from the region. 

This event highlights the diversity in wines resulting from the climate and terroir across the region. 

The wines will be matched by a special menu created by eight chefs and one cheese-maker, each creating inspiring entree-sized dishes to complement the wines.

Pre-booked tickets are $65 and on the day $70 - each ticket includes a complimentary Riedel tasting glass, all wine tastings, a tasting book and two entree-sized dishes (more food vouchers also available for purchase).

Throughout the weekend the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons will welcome visitors to their cellar doors to taste new release wines, visit old favourites and to experience the seasonal offerings of the region. 

Wineries participating include 100 years on Stanley’s, Avani Syrah, Baillieu, Crittenden Estate, Dexter Wines, Dromana Estate, Elan Vineyard, Elgee Park, Fenian Wines, Foxeys Hangout, Handpicked Wines, Hurley Vineyard, Jones Road, Kerri Greens, Kyberd Hills, Lindenderry at Red Hill, Main Ridge Estate, Mantons Creek, Merricks Estate, Miceli, Montalto, Moorooduc Estate, Morning Sun Vineyard, Myrtaceae, Nazaaray Estate Winery, Ocean Eight, Paradigm Hill, Paringa Estate, Phaedrus Estate, Polperro, Port Phillip Estate and Kooyong Wines, Portsea Estate, Prancing Horse Estate, Principia, Point Leo Estate, Quealy Winemakers, Rahona Valley, Red Hill Estate, Scorpo Wines, Staindl Wines, Stonier, Ten Minutes by Tractor, Telera, The Cups Estate, Tuck's Ridge, Vidoni, Willow Creek, Woodhaven Vineyard, Yabby Lake Vineyard and Yal Yal Estate 

Restaurants involved are: Alatonero, Red Hill Epicurean, Lindenderry at Red Hill, Montalto, Paringa Estate, Petit Tracteur, Point Leo Estate, Rare Hare Wine and Food Store, Two Buoys and Red Hill Cheese

For full details see: 

Young Guns: sausage fest to serious test of winemaking talent

I used to have very little time for the Young Gun of Wine Awards, which somehow gave the impression of a lot of guy judges voting for a lot of other guys who were their mates. A real sausage fest. Or that's how it looked. 

Time has passed, however, and today the Young Gun events offer a very real look at some of the fastest-rising wine talent in Australia. 

The top 50 was whittled down to 12 at Prahran Market recently and this year one-third of the finalists are female (way up on the national average) while Tasmania, which produces just 1% of all Australian wine, has three of the 12 finalists. 

Those finalists are Johnno Hughes from Mewstone Wines/Hughes & Hughes (above), Gilli & Paul Lipscombe from Sailor Seeks Horse and Ricky Evans from Two Tonne, Tasmania. It is Hughes' first time as a finalist. 

The 12th Young Gun of Wine (YGOW) will be be revealed at MONA, outside Hobart, on June 18. 

The 2018 judges included Nick Stock, Mike Bennie, Caitlyn Rees, Emma Farrelly, Michael Downer, Lisa Cardelli, Pip Anderson and founder Rory Kent. 

This line-up of finalists is year, the three from Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia, two hailing from Victoria and one from the ACT. 

There are two husband and wife duos: Yoko and Andries Mostert from Brave New Wine (Denmark, WA) and Gilli and Paul Lipscombe of Sailor Seeks Horse (Huon Valley, Tasmania). There are another two female winemakers in the group – Melanie Chester of Sutton Grange and Kate Morgan of Ipso Facto. 

The final 12 winemaker are as follows:

- Hamish Young from Mada Wines, Canberra District (Shiraz, Sauv Blanc)

- Sean Crinion from Dappled Wines, Yarra Valley (Chardonnay, Pinot noir)
- Melanie Chester from Sutton Grange Winery, Bendigo (Fiano/ Viognier, Syrah)

- Jonno Hughes from Mewstone, D'Entrecasteaux Channel (Riesling, Syrah)
- Ricky Evans from Two Tonne Tasmania, Tamar Valley (2 x Pinot Noir)
- Gilli and Paul Lipscombe from Sailor Seeks Horse, Huon Valley (Chardonnay, Pinot

- Damon Koerner from Koerner Wine, Clare Valley (Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon/
- David Geyer from David Geyer, Barossa Valley/ Eden Valley/ McLaren Vale
(Semillon, Cabernet Franc)
- Rob Mack from Aphelion, McLaren Vale (Grenache, Grenache Mataro Shiraz)

- Kate Morgan from Ipso Facto Wines, Margaret River (Chenin, Cabernet Sauvignon)
- Yoko & Andries Mostert from Brave New Wine, Great Southern (Riesling/ Native
Botanicals, Shiraz)
- Nicolas Peterkin from L.A.S Vino, Margaret River (Chenin Blanc, Touriga nacional,
Tinta Cao, Sousao)

The overall winners of the various trophies will be announced at The Young Gun of Wine
Awards ceremony held on June 18. It will be an invitation only event at MONA, outside Hobart.

Major architectural award for d'Arenberg's Cube

d’Arenberg winery has won a major architecture award just six months after opening its futuristic The Cube in December last year. 

The McLaren Vale winery was awarded a 2018 Good Design Award for its 15 million Rubix-inspired glass cube, installed in the middle of its vineyards.

The d’Arenberg Cube is glass-encased steel and concrete structure that sits five storeys high, surrounded by vines, with its design inspired somewhat by a Rubix cube, with rotated “modules” that give the illusion of floating above the ground floor entrance.

The Cube houses public and private tasting rooms, several bars, a restaurant and an art gallery, with the cellar door open seven days a week. A restaurant (below. which includes a 3D food ‘printer’ as part of its equipment) serves lunch from Thursday to Sunday (there is also the longstanding Verandah restaurant at the winery).

The restaurant is run by a South African husband-and-wife team, Brendan Wessels and Lindsay Dürr, while a rooftop bar provides panoramic views over McLaren Vale, the Willunga Hills and the Gulf of St Vincent.

The project was awarded for Architectural Design at The Good Design Awards, held at Sydney Opera House.

“This installation has captured attention and driven a massive increase in visitor numbers," the jury commented. "The jury applauds this innovative project.” 

The annual Good Design Awards is Australia’s most prestigious Awards for design and innovation, and dates back to 1958, with this being its 60th year. Winners of the Good Design Awards will be showcased to the general public during Vivid Sydney, the world’s biggest festival of light, music and ideas in Sydney later this month. 

Thursday, 17 May 2018

A new fragrance at Oxford Circus undergound station

London Underground stations are not noted for their fragrance, but Oxford Circus, one of the city’s busiest stops, has had a change of air after drinks giant Pernod Ricard installed strawberry-scented posters throughout the station to mark the launch of Beefeater Pink gin.
Pernod Ricard's immersive “exit domination” campaign aims to take customers on a “sensory brand experience as they leave the station”.
The drinks firm mounted scented posters across four of the station’s exit corridors, and has also added  branding to its escalators, The Drinks Business reported.
The two-week campaign feeds in to a wider global brand campaign.
Pernod Ricard, which also owns Jacob's Creek at St Hugo among other brands, launched Beefeater Pink, which is infused with strawberries in a bid to target the millennial market.
it is the first innovation to be launched by The Gin Hub, a new, stand-alone entity that brings together Pernod Ricard’s gin brands: Beefeater, Plymouth, Seagram’s and Monkey 47 under one roof.
“Distilled in London, Beefeater Pink represents the spirit of the city where convention and modernity coexist,” Eric Sampers, brand director for Beefeater, said rather pretentiously at the launch.
“The gin industry is booming and there is a real appetite for new and innovative expressions that offer consumers a different drinking experience.
“In Spain, the pink gin trend accounts for 40% of all value growth within the total gin category, so there is huge potential to tap into,” said Sophie Gallois, managing director of The Gin Hub.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Airline makes desperate publicity grab to coincide with Royal wedding

British Airways has taken advantage of the Royal wedding to grab some shameless publicity. 

Ahead of His Royal Highness Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle this weekend, BA has announced a "special" flight.

To mark the Royal wedding, the BA93 on May 19 from London to Toronto - the city where the couple's relationship took off - will be operated by an all-star crew of only Meghan and Harrys.

The 10-strong cabin crew, made up of two Harrys, seven Megans and one Meghan, will operate the flight that departs Heathrow at 1.10pm, an hour after the couple say ‘I Do’ at Windsor Castle, just seven miles from the airport. 

Senior First Officer, Harry Blake, will be behind the controls of the flight deck, alongside the captain.

To celebrate the Royal couple, any customer departing from Terminal 5 on the big day, who is called Harry, Meghan or Megan and their travel companions, will be invited to use the airline’s First lounge, accessed through the exclusive First Wing.

The celebrations won’t stop there as individual lemon and elderflower Victoria sponges; the same flavour as Harry and Meghan’s wedding cake, will be given out to customers departing from Heathrow on May 19.

Extra bubbly has also been loaded on to the Toronto celebration flight and the ‘Royal Crew’ will give every customer on board a personal bottle of Castelnau Blanc du Blanc to enjoy alongside their individual celebratory wedding cake.

Carolina Martinoli, British Airways’ Director of Brand and Customer Experience, said: “We are so thrilled for Prince Harry and Meghan so wanted to bring some added sparkle and make our customers’ journeys fit for a Prince or Princess to celebrate this incredibly special day.”


Tuesday, 15 May 2018

American Express to the rescue as Jetstar fails miserably

Jetstar failed miserably again. Failed to deliver even basic service. 

Thankfully, American Express came to my rescue. 

I checked my baggage at Hobart Airport this morning, having checked-in online. No problem.

It was not until I had collected my bags in Melbourne and got to the international terminal (Jetstar is incapable of getting your baggage from one of its flights to another) that things started to go awry. 

My 2.40pm flight from Melbourne to Phuket had vanished from the departure board. After finding a service desk I was told it was now departing at 9.40m. It had proved beyond Jetstar's capabilities to let me know of the delay either by SMS, email (which they had) or phone.

That was because I had booked with Qantas,I was told. All a bit mysterious. And amateurish. 

So I was left with nine hours to kill. In Melbourne Airport. Although Jetstar did cough up $20 in vouchers (in an airport where a chicken sandwich will cost you $13). 

Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I remember a story about the new American Express Lounge that opened a few weeks ago. 

I have an American Express card, so decided to give it a go.

My card passed muster on inspection so I was able to spend my time in a very chilled lounge - for free. 

There was complimentary wifi and plenty of charging points; meals, snacks and drinks; free newspapers and magazines. Just like an airline lounge. 

A selection of seating arrangements and a good range of hot meals, pizzas, chicken wings and wines from the likes of Wolf Blass and Seppelt

This is the second member of the Australian AMEX lounge network after the Sydney Airport Lounge.

Access is only for passengers with selected AMEX cards or lounge passes issued with those cards, so it is worth checking if you qualify should you find yourself unexpectedly stranded by your airline. 

Some cards, like mine, are limited to two lounge entries per year. Others get unlimited access.

Discover more at 

Monday, 14 May 2018

The best time of the year for wine lovers to visit Mudgee

The dates of the 2018 Mudgee Wine & Food Festival have been released, with a range of dinners, lunches and tastings scheduled in one of the pre-eminent food and wine destinations of New South Wales.
The festival will run from September 4-23 and will include several key events, beginning with the Mudgee Wine Show judging from September 4-6 and the show dinner on September 7. 

Other events open to visitors include:
GO TASTING, Saturday, Sept 8 Australian Regional Education Centre, 267 Ulan Road, Mudgee
This is the public tasting of the wines entered into the 2018 Mudgee Wine Show. Guests can select from over 100 of the best wines in the region and compare their palates to those of the wine show judges. Tickets will be available at or via the Visitor Information Centre at 84 Market Street.
GO GRAZING, Saturday, Sept 15, Mudgee Showground Main Pavilion, Douro Street, Mudgee
Enjoy the Mudgee's region's best produce prepared by the region's leading chefs. This three-course dinner comprises a range of bites that highlight Mudgee's diversity with its food and wine varieties.

The heart of Mudgee comes alive with Flavours of Mudgee (above), an event at which guests are invited to celebrate Mudgee's food and wine with all the producers, winemakers and growers offering tastings and meals along the town's historic main street.
WEDNESDAY NIGHT WINE, Sept 12 and 26, Roth's Wine Bar
For mid-week guests there will be casual wine tastings at Roth's Wine Bar, hosted by some of the the region's leading wine personalities and featuring small bites and share plates.
Tickets and details can be found at or calling the Mid Western Regional Council on (02) 6378 2850. 

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Debut gamay proves a triumph for Lyons Will Estate

They like to do things a little bit differently at Lyons Will Estate in the Macedon Ranges of Victoria.

While many vignerons espouse a "hands-off" philosophy, proprietors Oliver Rapson and Renata Morello aim to bring "as much science and modern viticultural practices to the vineyard as possible".

Exactly one hour north of Melbourne, Lyons Will Estate was established in 1996 with its first plants being the pinot noir and chardonnay. Gamay and riesling were planted later on what is now 10 acres under vine. Rapson and Morello took over five years ago.

The family-owned estate, which has its own winery, has just released its first gamay; the Lyons Will 2017 Macedon Ranges Gamay ($37) - and it is a delight.

If you enjoy wines with a bit of personality, this is inspired by Beaujolais winemaking techniques and is fun and funky, unfined and unfiltered. The fruit from the young vines is light, bright and perky. 

The couple say they "intend to produce wines that ring true to this stunning and rare environment". The vineyard sits in the foothills of the Cobaw State Forest, a cool-climate region with an altitude of 540 metres.

"We understand that the wine trade is a competitive environment and in order to meet the market we need to expand our knowledge, embrace change and if possible become thought leaders," they say.

Lyons Will are very involved in research trials with the AWRI and are avid members of the Macedon Ranges Vignerons Society. Morello is nominally the winemaker although Lew Knight from Knights Granite Hills is a consultant. 

Lyons Will Estate, 60 Whalans Rd, Lancefield, VIC 3435. Open the fourth weekend of the month, or by appointment.  

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Murder, She Wrote; no mystery about this guest house with a history

TV producers are the masters of trickery. So if you want to stay in Jessica Fletcher's Maine house from the TV series Murder, She Wrote, you'll actually be on the other side of the US: in California.

Fans of the 1984-1996 detective show, which starred the ageless Angela Lansbury, will recognise Blair House as the beautiful Victorian home as the abode of the mystery writer J.B. Fletcher.

It is a long way from Cabot Cove, however, actually being located in Mendocino Village, a town in Northern California.

Despite the dastardly TV sleight of hand, Mendocino Village is an attractive small town with lots of art galleries, theatrical productions, and a population of about 1,000. It is at the heart of one of California's best-known wine regions, so might make a quirky place to stay for vinophiles.

Blair House was built in 1888, and features architecture made of Douglas Fir and Redwood, with a picket fence and lots of flowers in the garden such as lavender, daffodils, and daisies. Just as when Jessica "lived" here.

The house offers three different suites, including Angela’s Room (the biggest suite, of course, running between $180-$220 per night), Jennifer’s Room ($120-$140 per night), and Eric’s Room ($120-$140 per night). All rates include the room plus a complimentary bottle of local Californian wine, Travel & Leisure magazine reported.

You might even recognise a local resident. Over 150 played background parts in the series and a handful were cast for speaking roles.

For details see:

When to make absolutely certain that you have booked the right flight

We've all heard tales, probably apocryphal, of travellers who have booked themselves to go to Newcastle and ended up in another Newcastle on a different continent.

That's why it pays to be 100% alert when booking flights to either St. John's or St John. 

It’s a confusing coincidence, but there are two similar-sounding cities in Atlantic Canada. When you are booking your flights, car rental, and any accommodation, make sure that you are booking for St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador (YYT), and not that other one, St John, New Brunswick (YSJ). Or vice versa.

This useful tip is one of several for anyone planning to visit St. John's - a wonderfully quirky city that is home to several of my uncles and cousins.

First thing to note is that Newfoundland is cold in winter. Not a little cold; seriously, bitterly cold. 

One piece of local wisdom is to never assume anything. There might not be enough rental cars or accommodation if you arrive on spec (just like Tasmania). 

So, if you want to fulfill that dream you have of standing on the most easterly point of North America — well, you’d better book ahead to avoid disappointment.

Again like Tasmania, only much more so, it’s big. Really big. People don’t always realise that. 

And with over 400,000 square kilometres of land, you never know where you might find yourself. 

To put things in perspective, Newfoundland and Labrador is a little smaller than California, slightly bigger than Japan, and twice the size of the entire United Kingdom. 

There is a story about a conversation in Corner Brook once overheard where somebody said “yes, we plan on driving to St. John’s tomorrow morning, and then stopping by L’Anse aux Meadows in the afternoon.” 

That’s not going to happen. (It could happen if you had some sort of quantum physics inspired transportation device, or discovered a wormhole that could move you vast distances in no time at all.) Otherwise, no.

Driving time from St. John’s to Corner Brook is about 7.5 hours, give or take an hour or two. It really depends on your ability to resist side trips, amazing views, and home-style food you’ll pass along the way (seal flippers, anyone?) 

Travelling from St. John’s to L’Anse aux Meadows puts you into the 12.5-hour range; not a short trip. And if you want to continue your drive on to Labrador, there are ferries to account for as well. 

There is a lot to see and do in Newfoundland (a second trip is very much on my radar). Just make sure you are properly prepared.

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