Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wonderstruck by Wanaka - New Zealand

Melissa Reynolds has just returned from a short break in New Zealand and was blown away by the natural beauty and indulgent pleasures of the stunning South Island. Here she shares with us a little of her journey (and a special offer too!):

Last week I was lucky enough to head over the ditch to a place of incredible beauty only three hours' plane ride away. It was to a lakeside village of such incredible charm and good looks that I wondered if anyone ever left willingly. I'm talking about Wanaka, near Queenstown in the South Island of New Zealand.

The ski fields of Treble Cone and Cardrona are just 40 minutes away but as the season doesn't start until later in the year I had to find other attractions to fill my days. Of which there are many. There are vineyards, gorgeous walking trails, bike riding, boating and fishing on the lake, picnics to be had with fantastic local food and fabulous restaurants and cafes. Should weather turn inclement there are quirky cinemas (like the Paradiso which comes complete with mismatched sofas and a Morris Minor you can watch movies from!), Puzzling World, Warbirds and Wheels Museum, the Transport and Toy Museum and much more.

The Wyndham Vacation Resorts Wanaka makes a smart and comfortable home away from home, walking distance from the town centre. Our one bedroom apartment came complete with kitchen, lounge room, dining area and balcony. The hot tub outside was a crowd pleaser with couples wanting to ease any aching muscles from a day's biking, hiking or wine tasting - those vineyards can be exhausting you know.

At this time of year you're never too far from an open fireplace and a glass of local pinot and the Wyndham Wanaka's own Rafter's Restaurant has all that and more. Head Chef Stefan Link serves up local specialties with panache so if you're worn out from a day of exploring you need venture no further than upstairs. We also had a delicious dinner in town at Botswana Butchery (+64 3443 6745), you can guess that steak is their specialty and Trout (+64 3443 2600) where of course fish was the order of the day. For brekky, coffee and cake drop into Relish or Ritual, both cute timber walled coffee shops filled with rugged up patrons, works of art for sale and a general feeling of bonhomie. 

I could go on and on about what there is to do but all you really need to know is that this place is. It's beautiful. It's romantic. It's charming ... and frankly, I need to go back as soon as possible!

Wyndham Vacation Resorts Wanaka have a special rate available from now until October 31 2012 for a studio room plus one two course meal at Rafter's Restaurant from just NZ$129* per room, per night. *Guests must book and stay between these dates. Subject to availability.  To book your romantic escape at Wyndham Wanaka and for full terms and conditions call +64 3443 0025 or email and mention this deal.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sungai Gold gives more luxury love in Bali

Couples wanting the ultimate in bespoke and intimate romance in Bali can check in to their very own premier 'owner's villa' at Villa Sungai, tucked away in a jungle setting in an authentic village twenty minutes from Legian. The newly expanded Sungai Gold villa is a slice of paradise in this private compound, where every dream and fancy is catered for in exclusive style.

Sungai Gold already features the same services as Villa Sungai with exclusive only hire, twenty-four hour butlers, personal chefs and chauffeurs and a private concierge.  Only now, after recent renovations, Sungai Gold has more space with two identical master suites.

Couples can choose to use the second master suite as a dedicated spa treatment room for in-house spa therapy or convert the master suite to two king singles when travelling with children. Two couples travelling together also have the option of a third sleeping space if needed in the Sungai Gold leisure pavilion with a king or king singles bed with private ensuite. Or just enjoy the peace and total privacy that comes with hiring out the entire Sungai Gold just for the two of you ... perfect for an exceptional honeymoon experience, we think.

Larger parties may wish to exclusively book both the three bedroom Villa Sungai and Sungai Gold for the ultimate house party, complete with two full size pools, six king bedrooms and seven bathrooms. Awesome!

We're always up for a little bit of exotic glamour, and nowhere does that quite like Bali and Villa Sungai ... this dreamy destination is rated high on our lust-list! 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sydney cocktail culture gets some global kudos

Congratulations to The Speakeasy Group, which has been nominated in five categories in Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards, the biggest and most influential bar industry awards globally! 

We've been to and enjoyed a drink at the seriously hip bar Eau de Vie in Sydney (that's it pictured - we've featured it in 'The Scene' in our next issue of Holidays for Couples!), so it's great to hear it is up for the 'World's Best Cocktail Bar' award, alongside these others:

  • World's Best Drink Selection - Eau de Vie Sydney
  • World's Best Cocktail Menu - The Roosevelt
  • International Bartender of the Year - Max Greco, Eau de Vie Sydney
  • Best Bar Mentor - Sven Almenning (owner of Eau de Vie, Eau de Vie Melbourne and The Roosevelt)
Proving the awesome bar and cocktail culture of Australia sits alongside New York and London as being home to the world’s best bars! 

For a full listing of awards and other nominees, check out the Tales of the Cocktail website. The winners will be announced in June at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Good luck guys!

Top five rooftop bars from Design Hotels

Five Hotel & Spa, Cannes 
The Great Getaway Medina, Marrakech
Hotel Omm, Barcelona
Tribe Hotel, Nairobi
Malmilla Hotel, Jerusalem

We love a great rooftop bar, so when the ever-stylish, always cool peeps at Design Hotels shared with us their top five rooftop bars at their exclusive hotels around the world, we just had to pass the love on with you, too ...

There’s something about getting to the roof of a building that brings a natural high with it. Slap on a pool, some delicious slurpy cocktails, music, unbelievable cityscapes and you’ve got all the ingredients for a perfect  sun-fueled chill-out session!

Enjoy awe-inspiring views over Jerusalem’s Old City from atop designer Pierro Lissoni’s Mamilla Hotel; take in the fantastic panorama of the Sagrada Familia and Casa Milá while lounging by Hotel Omm’s swimming pool; relax after a day of wandering around Marrakech’s souk on the roof of the The Great Getaway Medina; sample a house-blend of shisha flavors and signature martinis at the Tribe Hotel in Nairobi; or bask in the sun of the Côte d’Azur and the glamour of Cannes at the Five Hotel & Spa.

If you're planning a trip to any of these fabulous cities, be sure to high tail it to the top of these cool rooftop bars for a stylish sunset drink to remember!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

unWINEd on Orpheus - Great Barrier Reef

From 7th June, over four evenings, the tranquil island of Orpheus, located in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, will play host to 'unWINEd', a bespoke wine event offering guests the ultimate in tropical escapism and vinous hedonism.

Each evening, well-known Melbourne wine raconteur, Peter Marr, will lead guests on a unique sensory experience as he showcases a selection of premium drops from the world's great wine regions. Guests will join him on an intimate and comprehensive 2-hour masterclass each evening, savouring a range of wines from the Piedmont (Italy), Burgundy (France), Iberian (Spain and Portugal) and the New World regions (Americas, Australia & New Zealand). In addition, guests will acquire the techniques to complement wines to perfect food matches.
Resident Head Chef Arie Prabowo (pictured), a protégée of the esteemed Cheong Liew (Botanical restaurant, Melbourne), will tailor an awe-inspiring menu over the course of the four days, with dinners themed to each masterclass region, honouring a bounty of locally-sourced and seasonally fresh ingredients.

The unWINEd on Orpheus (from $5,300) package includes:
- Four nights' beachfront accommodation for two guests 
- A two-hour masterclass each evening
- All gourmet meals (dinners themed to masterclass region) 
- Complimentary inclusion of selected regional wines, beers and soft drinks 
- One nature-based experience each day (snorkelling, fishing, sunset cruise, local island tour) 
- Return transfers between Townsville and Orpheus

Spaces are very limited so be quick to book your place! To take part in this ultimate vinous/foodie escape, simply call (07) 4777 7377. 

Thredbo's 'Winter Wonderland Weekend' party to kick off the ski season!

Thredbo are throwing a big Winter Wonderland Weekend party, June 9-11, to kick off the season in true alpine style. The village is dressing up, the skies will sparkle with fireworks and there's an event schedule jam packed full of activities to warm you up ... so you can pack your party shoes along with your ski boots! With snowmaking fired up on May 21st and a run of cold temperatures predicted, there's a lot of enthusiasts hoping for some serious skiing and boarding across the long weekend.

The party kicks off Friday night with a Winter Warm Up night in the Schuss Bar of the Thredbo Alpine Hotel, where Venus Duo are playing live. And the traditional Welcome to Winter Ball is back - guests will be transported into a white winter wonderland as they sip bubbles, enjoy a three course dinner and be entertained by the engaging Jeff Duff and his band.

Sunday is all about a Long Lunch in the Village Square featuring a hearty winter warming meal get together. Then shuffle along to the Village Square, kick off your ski boots and slip into your party shoes as the much loved O'Donnell Brothers make a return to Thredbo with their amazing Best of Brothers Show, so don the jacket and beanie and warm up with a bit of boogie from 8pm. 

Combine a packed party plan, with skiing and boarding and hot deals from the Thredbo Resort Centre and you have a perfect long weekend away in the mountains. Here's some hot deals for your long weekend in the snow:
Thredbo Alpine Hotel
Conveniently located to all the hot spots
3 nights accommodation
breakfast daily
from $400 per room twin share *

House of Ullr
A handy village location with bar and restaurant in-house
Stay 3 pay 2 including cooked breakfast
from $310 per room twin share
from $740 per family (2 adults + 2 children)*

Thredbo Alpine Apartments
Located in the heart of Thredbo, only minutes to everywhere.
Stay 3 nights and only pay for 2
1 bedroom apartment
from $556 per apartment*

*Valid 8-11 June 2012, all prices are 3 night stays.

To book visit or call Thredbo Resort Centre 1300 020 58.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Experience local Himalayan life with Shakti Himalaya

India rates as one of our all time favourite destinations, a country like no other with the most amazing and truly unique, colourful, and spiritual experiences for intrepid travellers. And for one of the most memorable of all Indian adventures, look to the mighty Himalayas - one of the most picturesque places on Earth!

The little known Kumaon region lies in the northern hill state of Uttarakhand, with views of the perennially snow capped peaks of the Great Himalaya range in the north to the pretty hill stations at the foothills. It's here that you will find the stunning property, Shakti 360° Leti, an innovative combination of traditional building techniques and contemporary design (that's it pictured above!). 360° Leti is set in a stunning mountain wilderness at 8,000 feet ... we're day dreaming about a stay here amongst the peace and beautiful landscape!

Shakti Himalaya also offer an incredible range of programmes, like the Ladakh programme that really gets you in amongst an authentic Himalayan life, taking guests to the region with travel from May to the end of September. With a high altitude desert dominated by rugged snow capped mountains and deep turquoise lakes, the scenery of this region is nothing short of breathtaking.
Shakti has six houses in Ladakh, each with its own unique charm, and each guests itinerary is tailored specifically to his/her interests. From village walks accompanied by local porters and guides - and staying in traditional houses, which Shakti has "spruced up" to provide proper comfort without compromising authenticity - to visits to local schools, monasteries, and markets, you will get a full understanding of the culture of each region, its people, religion and customs.  And for the brave hearted, river rafting on the glacier-fed Indus and Zanskar rivers is an included activity in Shakti's Ladakh programmes and is a wonderful way to explore Ladakh. 

Prices start from: 7 night package from 3898 USD per person based on 2 people sharing, including private accommodation in village houses on a fully inclusive basis including all meals and beverages, all activities including two raft trips, an accompanying English speaking guide, private chef, support guide and porters, car at disposal and taxes with transfers between Leh Airport and the village experience. Flights not included.


Bali Hai in the Daintree

Finding Bali in the heart of the beautiful Daintree region of North Queensland? Sounds a little like heaven to us! This is Bali Hai, and its location is so exclusive that it is kept confidential, other than to say somewhere in the rainforest. We can confirm this slice of paradise is located just five minutes drive from the nearest town, Mossman and 20 minutes from port Douglas ... but the rest is quite the surprise. Every room in this idyllic hideaway opens up to the majestic Daintree Mountains. You get your own 80 acres and a series of thatched bures that can accommodate up to 8 guests in three bedrooms ... ideal for a holiday with friends or family, or an incredible honeymoon! 

You can get all your Bali-inspired holiday bliss without the international flight, with all the modern exotic luxury you can crave in the heart of one of the most magical regions of Australia. It's a perfect mix!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

In Love with Macau

These days when choosing a holiday destination, the dining possibilities are just as important as the sightseeing options, so when you find a place offering unique cultural attractions and food good enough to impress even the most hardened food critic ... well, you've got to visit, haven't you? 

Editor in Chief Rhonda Bannister has just spent some time in Macau, and here she shares with us her journey of discovery ... 

I'm on a press famil in Macau with Macau Tourism and we are so lucky because we have a great tour guide named Joao whose knowledge of the area is encyclopedic, his personality warm and friendly and his obvious love of this fabulously rich and diverse destination is quite contagious - so catching that after just a few days here, I'm really beginning to fall in love with the place myself! 

Most Australians probably think of Macau as Asia's own Las Vegas and whilst it's true that it's certainly a gambling mecca, that's just a shiny wrapping. Under the glitzy cover is a unique destination offering a centuries old blend of Asian and European cultures and architecture not seen anywhere else in the world. Macau is a truly fascinating place to visit! 

And the food – foodies will love it here with its Macanese, Portuguese and Asian inspired dishes including some of Asia's best dim sum. I've only been here three days and already gained two kilos but I don't care because I've experienced some of the best food in the world, even dining at the two Michelin starred Zi Yat Heen at the Four Seasons Hotel where we're staying. 

Take my advice if you're coming to Macau and stay here, it's a divine slice of heaven on the Cotai Strip where most of the casinos are (from the hotel you just walk through to The Venetian, which is also amazing). This property is so different from the glitz you would expect in Macau, with its classic design reminiscent of a Portuguese palace, manicured grounds which include five(!) swimming pools and adjoining Shoppes at Four Seasons - DFS Galleria ... there's no need to go outside! 

I'm on my way home now via a couple of days in Hong Kong (more on this destination later!) but here's my top things to see and do in Macau and please - if you're planning a trip to Hong Kong leave a few days to hop over here - you'll be glad you did:

Historic Macau
The historic centre of Macau is a World Heritage site and the streetscapes and squares, churches and temples are truly unique. The Ruins of St Paul's is the most famous image of Macau - it's a facade only of what was once a Jesuit church destroyed by fire in 1835.

Senado Square is so picturesque with its wave-patterned stone mosaics and gaily painted colonial buildings - it's not far from St Paul's.

Little alleyways run off the square and here you'll find little tea shops or Portuguese pastry shops such as Ou Mun Cafe - great spot for a coffee and pastry - just like a small cafe in Europe. Around every corner there's something new to see.

Mount Fortress and the Museum of Macau overlook the ruins - the museum traces the history of the colony and it's really fascinating. It's amazing to see all the cannons placed around the top of the fortress where you get a bird's eye view of the old and new.

Ah-Ma Temple is the most famous temple in Macau and helped give the city its name.

If you're up for a freefall at 200 kms an hour from what is reputed to be the highest bungee jump in the world (233 metres) then come to the Macau Tower.  You can also skywalk around the perimeter or just come for the best 360˚ views of Macau. You can't miss it - it's the tallest building around.

Favourite dining and nightlife:
For authentic Macanese food and THE best African chicken and other traditional favourites, head to the lovely Restaurant Litoral just around the corner from Ah-Ma Temple. With its warm and inviting decor of whitewashed walls and gleaming timber furniture plus the standout cuisine it's a sure winner for lunch or dinner.

Authentic Portuguese food doesn't come any better than that served up at Antonios by renowned chef Antonio Coelho. This hole in the wall restaurant situated in a colonial building in the alleyways of the charming Taipa Village is an absolute MUST when you come to Macau but make sure to book and also ask if the musician, Marcelino will be there - he's terrific! This restaurant is one of the reasons I've gained so much weight in a couple of days!

It comes as no surprise to find truly innovative chinese food in Macau but I have to make note of two that we tried and couldn't fault - the two Michelin starred, Zi Yat Heen restaurant where Chef Ho Pui Yung creates unique Cantonese cuisine at the Four Seasons Hotel and Beijing Kitchen at the Grand Hyatt which features specialities from northern China - quite different from Cantonese cuisine.

We went to City of Dreams Casino to see a fantastic show - The House of Dancing Water which was unbelievable - probably the most spectacular performance by an incredibly talented troupe I've yet seen and I have seen a few ... don't miss it if you come!

I can't wait to go back to discover more fabulous restaurants but first I'm going on a diet to lose what I've gained this trip!


Getting Here: 
We flew from Sydney to HK with Cathay Pacific and were lucky to experience the new seating/lie-flat beds in business class which of course made the flight fantastically comfortable - not to mention the great service, food and wine along the way – the only way to travel! On arrival into Hong Kong airport we jumped on one of the subterranean trains that whisk you around this gigantic airport to arrive at the Turbojet counter for our one hour cruise to Macau - you don't go through immigration or collect your bags if you have pre-booked your tickets from Australia and the whole process is just so easy.

Fun at Antonios with Marcelino 

Restaurant Litoral

Lisboa Casino

Friday, May 11, 2012

Yulefest magic in the mountains

Toasty fires, roast dinners and puddings, decorations and Santa: it may not be Christmas just yet, but in the Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon region it's all about the winter wonderland! The magical Yulefest celebrations see this unique landscape transformed into an icy winter retreat as the many great hotels, motor inns and guest houses,restaurants and cafes become warm havens with roaring fires, hearty meals and hot drinks to retreat from the chill.

The history of Yulefest in the Blue Mountains goes back about 30 years to a small group of Irish visitors relaxing in front of a fire after enjoying the crisp, clear winter climate. They commented on how the conditions and atmosphere reminded them of Christmas celebrations back home so a savvy hotelier offered to re-create a similar festive atmosphere and meal for his nostalgic Celtic guests. That first Yulefest was a hit. Word spread throughout the region and before long, St Nick was doing the rounds twice a year.

Mountain Heritage Hotel and Spa Retreat, Katoomba is popularly regarded as the ``Home of Yulefest’’ in the region, and this year the hotel will be having celebrations on Saturday June 30th and July 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th. Pre-dinner drinks will be served from 6pm in the lounge followed by a five-course dinner and entertainment, a visit by Santa, a souvenir photo and after dinner treats. It's a special experience that locals and visitors alike all love. 

Cost: $149 adults, $66 children (5 – 12 years), $15 children (0 – 4 years). Accommodation packages available. For bookings and details email or phone (+61) 2 4782 2155.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge to host 'Tasting at the Top' festival

Foodies take note! Following on from all the excitement of the Noosa International Food and Wine Festival that we blogged about yesterday, today we're warming up for a winter time feast in beautiful Tasmania. Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge is set to take gourmet dining to new heights when it plays host to Tasmania's premier culinary festival, 'Tastings at the Top', from Saturday 23 to Monday 25 June.

The idyllic wilderness retreat will provide a stunning backdrop to the gourmet extravaganza, now in its 18th year and rated one of Australia's top food and wine experiences. The event will be jointly hosted by Peter Bourne - widely known as "The Wine Man" from Sydney and Australia's foremost wine educator, long time wine retailer, industry consultant, hospitality trainer and regular wine writer - and Nick Haddow, the owner and artisan cheese maker from Bruny Island Cheese Co. Both Peter and Nick share an intimate knowledge and enthusiasm for Tasmanian produce which translates into a highly entertaining culinary experience.

From degustation dinners to cooking demonstrations, fresh produce markets to wine and cheese tastings and decadent spa treatments at the Lodge's spectacular Waldheim Day Spa, the event encompasses the very best the region has to offer.

Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge is offering a special 3 night package encompassing all scheduled 'Tastings at the Top' events and including accommodation; full mountain breakfast each morning; two lunches; dinner each night including a five-course dinner on Saturday and a gala dinner with entertainment on the last night, matched wines as part of the Tastings program, and the opportunity to sample a wide variety of local produce while mingling with the providores - all for just $1695 per person twin share (all inclusive).

What better way to sample some of the region's finest produce, cuisine and wines, and all in a truly magical setting in Tasmania's wilderness. A perfect winter short break, we think!

For bookings phone Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge on 1300 806 192 or email  You can get further information and a full program of the 'Tastings at the Top' events at the Peppers website.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Got your tix to the Noosa International Food & Wine Festival yet?

Get set to wow the taste buds and delight the senses with the annual Noosa International Food & Wine Festival which rolls in to Noosa from Thursday 17th May - Sunday 20th May! 

As one of the country's most celebrated food and wine festivals, locals and visitors get to rub shoulders and dine on delights from some of the rock stars of the food world, as the crème de la crème of international chefs  descend on the Sunshine Coast for this must-visit event in any foodie’s calendar. The calender is jam packed with themed picnics and degustations, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, special food trails, and the internationally renowned Qantas Best Dinner in the World. 

For the first time, festivalgoers will experience a sensory explosion with The Cook, The Chef and The Orchestra – a gala concert and dinner featuring Maggie Beer and Simon Bryant savoured to the strains of the Queensland Arts Orchestra.

This year’s entertainment lineup is set to keep the party going late into the night with ARIA award winners Jessica Mauboy and Anthony Callea rocking the stage on Friday night, and electro-pop outfit Sneaky Sound System bringing down the curtain on Sunday.

General Admission Tickets are $65 (adult) or $20 (child under 13) which covers general admission to the Welcome Party & Concert on Friday and general admission on Saturday and Sunday to Lion's Park, The Grand Marquee, Celebrity Chef Cooking Demonstrations, The Courier Mail Life Annexe and live entertainment. General Admission also includes two tickets for food or wine. The best way to experience the Festival is with a Weekend Gold Pass which costs $315 and includes VIP Admission for Friday's Welcome Cocktail Party, Saturday and Sunday with entry to hospitality pavilions and preferential concert seating.                

To see the full program and buy tickets go to the festival website.