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From kitsch to cosmopolitan: How Honolulu became hip

With its high rises, swarming beaches and a glut of tired hotels, Hawaii’s capital has long been little more than a stopover for those seeking a peaceful, high-end holiday in the Aloha State. But a new wave has hit Honolulu’s shores, leaving a trail of modern, minimalist design and inspired dining options in its wake.     

Leading the pack in Waikiki is Alohilani Resort. Formerly known as the Pacific Beach Hotel, the beachfront building has been a local landmark since the late ’60s and came to bear all the hallmarks of Hawaiiana fustiness – busy carpets, dark wood accents, bamboo furniture, furnishings covered in floral motifs. Today, Alohilani Resort’s pared-down look – some US$115 million and 18 months of refurbishment later – is a world away.

Open since December 2017, the 38-storey property is the picture of fresh design and clean lines. The New York-based architecture and design firm tasked with the redesign – the Rockwell Group – was bold enough to let the the hotel’s views do the talking. West-facing rooms hero Waikiki Beach and the bright lights of the cityscape; east-facing rooms chiefly frame the crumpled, verdant ridgeline of extinct volcano Diamond Head; and south-facing rooms look squarely at the ocean, just a few strides beyond the hotel’s doorstep. Each and every room features lanais (balconies), textured white bed linens, blonde wood furnishings and filtered prints of Hawaii’s coastline, while bathrooms boast organic and all-natural toiletries from local outfit Malie.

The Rockwell Group’s other showpiece is the expansive, fifth-floor infinity pool deck. By day it hosts yoga sessions on a secluded patch of astroturf and features guests reclining on semi-submerged sun loungers, or idling in the sunshine by the bar. By night local musicians play acoustic sets while the fire pits glow, illuminating driftwood sculptures and the rooftop’s swaying palm trees.

Also enlisted in the redesign of this Honolulu stalwart was contemporary American sculpture artist Nina Helms. She created a bespoke, 11-metre-wide, six-metre-high, coral-inspired bas-relief sculpture, known as Makai, meaning ‘ocean’. The delicate installation creeps up the wall behind Alohilani’s front desk like white oceanic ivy. “I like to play with shapes and relative sizes in nature that we commonly see, but change it up so that the viewer experiences a sense of delight and freshness,” says Helms of her work. “It’s a feeling not dissimilar to the wonder of seeing things for the first time as small children.”

Masaharu Morimoto. Image by Evan Sung Photography. 

Design aside, the five-star hotel has garnered column inches more recently for its two restaurant openings. Spearheaded by Japanese celebrity chef Masaharu Morimoto, Alohilani Resort is home to fine dining Morimoto Asia Waikiki, and the more casual izakaya-style eatery Momosan Waikiki by Morimoto. At the former our waiter – a certified sake sommelier – takes us through a flight of the Japanese rice wine, highlighting which drops are aromatic or nutty and comparing them to their wine equivalent. Here, an old fashioned is smoked tableside, tuna carpaccio (so fresh it looks practically purple) collides with anchovy aioli aboard a crisp tortilla ‘plate’, and finely marbled A5-grade wagyu beef is cooked by ishiyaki – a piping hot grilling stone that’s oiled with a morsel of fat at your table. Sister restaurant Momosan serves some equally playful options beyond its staples of ramen, gyoza and yakitori – think peking duck tacos and crunchy servings of pig’s ear.

Japanese hot stone cooking or "ishiyaki" at Morimoto Asia Waikiki. Image by Evan Sung Photography. 

Morimoto says local chefs have been raising the bar of the capital’s food scene exponentially in recent years. “I think the dining in Honolulu is really growing and we can see that with the level of sophisticated guests that we get in our two restaurants here,” he explains. “They have a good understanding of not only what tastes good, but also ask where the food comes from and want to know about the origins of the dishes. It’s an exciting time here for food.”

Words Chloe Cann

The kitchen that feeds 100,000 people a day

The Golden Temple is Amritsar in north-west India’s most well-known attraction but it’s not only a holy pilgrimage site for Sikhs, it’s also home to a huge community kitchen, which serves up meals every day of the year. 

The world’s largest soup kitchen is in full flight by the time my bare feet hit the cool marble floor. Pausing momentarily to get my bearings, I’m jostled towards the community kitchen at Amritsar’s Golden Temple, which is known as the ‘langar’,

Behind me a steady line of Sikh devotees surge forward clutching a steel tray, drinking bowl and spoon. Toddlers grasp the hands of mothers clad in rainbow-hued, elaborately embroidered Punjabi suits. Grey-bearded, turbaned men shuffle forward, some in jeans and shirt, others wearing traditional salwars in subdued pastels. Caught up in the pulsing wave, I’m carried by the crowd before squeezing through an inadequately sized doorway.

The 5,000 capacity dining hall, which will dish up more than 100,000 vegetarian meals before the day ends, is devoid of furniture. Instead, the floor is laid with woven mats running the width of the cavernous space, delineating seating areas from serving corridors.

Volunteers swinging stainless steel buckets filled with dahl, steamed rice and a sweet rice pudding called kheer ladle generous servings onto our trays. Another follows dispensing chapatis like errant frisbees. A cheeky adolescent boy manning a wheeled water trolley pours drinking water into my bowl by pressing and releasing a mechanism adapted from a bicycle handbrake.

My guide, Davinder Singh, explains how sharing is an integral part of the Sikh faith. “Sikhism is based on humanism,” he says. “All the food here is donated. If we can’t donate food we will donate 10 per cent of our income. If we can’t donate money we share our time by volunteering – around three hours is considered a worthy contribution.”

The langar is orderly yet chaotic in the way that only India can be: noisy, yet oddly subdued. As a sign of respect, every head is covered. It is a hive of efficiency. As diners finish their meals, they move outside swiftly, handing empty plates to be washed by hundreds of volunteers up to their elbows in soapy suds. Young men surge behind us wielding water-logged rubber squeegees, cleaning the floor for the next intake of devotees.

And so it goes for 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.

Reflecting the Sikh faith’s ethos of giving and sharing, this langar has been serving free meals since the 1570s, encouraging all castes to eat together before visiting the Guru of the Golden Temple, the holiest of Sikh shrines.

Surrounded by a man-made lake filled with holy water, the Golden Temple has been rebuilt countless times since the first marble was laid in the late 1500s. Each evening the Sikh holy book, known as the Guru Granth Sahib, is ceremoniously closed and carried from the sacred shrine on a floral-decorated pillow-bed to its nightly resting place accompanied by high-ranking, chanting devotees.  At dawn, as thousands of pilgrims line up to pay respect to the Guru, the ceremony is reversed. But not before they’ve feasted on dahl, rice and chappatis at the world’s largest community kitchen.

Words Fiona Harper

Hotel barge Panache moored at Damery on the River Marne.

Barging through Champagne

With vineyards sweeping down undulating hillsides on both sides of the River Marne and postcard pretty villages en route whose entire raison d’etre is the tasting, selling and marketing of the prestigious sparkling wine, a river cruise through the celebrated Champagne region is a little akin to taking an indulgent bath in the actual bubbles themselves.

I join European Waterways’ luxury hotel barge Panache on a leisurely adventure between Châlons-en-Champagne on the Canal Lateral à la Marne and Château-Thierry on the River Marne itself. Covering a distance of just 90kms through the heart of the wine-rich region, it might take an hour by car – but that’s not the point when barging. You want it to take as long as possible – in our case, a whole week.

After a champagne welcome on deck, we meet our six-man crew and four other passengers – two New Zealanders and two Americans. Our cabin is well designed although compact, and is most comfortable as either a twin or double. In the morning, we slip the mooring ropes and are on our way through the first of many locks to pretty Tours-sur-Marne where evergreen trees line waterways and birdsong fills the air.

After lunch, we continue on to nearby Reims, to visit the magnificent 11–12th century Gothic cathedral, considered one of the most important in France, where all except two French kings were crowned.

Next day, we visit the esteemed hilltop village of Hautvillers, the ‘cradle of Champagne’, where Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon is credited with discovering the ‘methode champenoise’ in the mid 17th century. We visit the Abbey of Hautvillers where he is buried and wander the pretty rose-bedecked village before settling down to a private tasting of champagne with local cheese.

Food on board Panache is outstanding. As well as fresh fruit juices, fruit salad, cereals and pastries for breakfast, there is always a hot dish such as scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, filled omelets or American pancakes. For lunch, it might be moules marinières, chili garlic prawns or hot chicken, mushroom, bacon and parmesan salad.

There’s an open bar with premium wine suggestions for each meal. Dinners are three-course – perhaps smoked mackerel and horseradish paté followed by herb-crusted rack of lamb, with a classic tarte Tatin – followed by a mouth-watering cheese selection.

As it’s an unusually warm summer, we opt for early morning walks, then relaxing in the comfortable air-conditioned lounge to watch the passing scenery through wide picture windows – occasionally going up on deck to watch our progression through the series of locks along the Marne.

Daily excursions tick all the boxes of ‘things to do’ in Champagne from village rambles and champagne tastings to visiting World War I battlefields and memorials, and discovering the extensive underground labyrinth of champagne maturation caves. We learn there are 110kms of caves under the streets of Epernay – more than there are above ground in the town itself.

And in a region where food and wine is king, it seems a natural inclusion to dine in one of the region’s myriad Michelin-star restaurants. At the red-carpet Hostellerie La Briqueterie, in the village of Vinay, we dine on foie gras followed by main courses of either pan-fried turbot or pigeon stuffed with dates – all presented with great pomp and ceremony from under silver-domed cloches. It’s a delightful addition to our luxury barge experience; one we feel we could all get used to. Very easily.

Words Tricia Welsh

Take in the rugged Irish countryside on the Westport to Clifden road. Image: Mateusz Delegacz.

A drive on the wild side

Every turn and twist of the road kicks up one of nature’s surprises, which is exactly why Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way should be a slow and leisurely experience.

While the distances look tiny on a map, Ireland’s spectacular coastal driving route – among Lonely Planet’s best epic drives in the world – stretches for 2500km. But for those looking for a weekend trip, exploring the highlights of Sligo, Galway and Clare can be comfortably undertaken over two days.

Start in Sligo town (day 1) where a statue of the poet, William Butler Yeats, proudly stands on Stephen Street. A 30-minute drive away is tiny Drumcliffe, where his grave is marked with the famous lines: “Cast a cold Eye/ On Life, on Death/ Horseman pass by.”

Swing back to the coast where the soft green fields run into the Atlantic and stop at Strandhill, a popular surfing beach – you’ll need your bodysuit, even in summer. The Voya seaweed baths are great for relaxing. Sink into a warm bath filled with organic seaweed, which is harvested by hand nearby.

Shells café next door makes a decent café latte and fresh house-made salads. Or try the cosy Venue pub, especially good for seafood. The front bar has top-class Guinness and regular traditional Irish music seisiuns. Further on is Enniscrone beach and stay the night in Ballina at the Ice House Hotel.

Stop over in Galway to appreciate its postcard beauty. Image: Conor Luddy.

Next morning (day 2) take the one-hour inland route to the heritage town of Westport. The Westport to Clifden coastal road is spectacular, passing the holy mountain of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s only fjord at Killary harbour and the Sky Road with mesmerising ocean views. From Clifden, drive inland to Galway, Ireland’s fourth-biggest city, where the streets are packed with revellers and dancers on summer nights. The Harbour Hotel, on the waterfront, is very central.

The Burren, a rocky limestone geopark dotted with ancient monuments, is one of the most haunting parts of Clare (day 3). Visit Kinvara’s Secret Garden Gallery, which features local artists’ work. Further on, break for lunch at Monk’s at the Pier pub, overlooking the sea at Ballyvaughan. Just after Doolin are the Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland’s most dramatic sights, huge dark cliffs that rise up out of the Atlantic. On a clear day you can see the Aran islands but straight ahead there’s nothing between you and the US except the wild ocean. Finish the day in Limerick and stay at the cosy boutique hotel No.1 Pery Square.

Don’t hurry, be happy and remember it’s all about the journey not the destination. As the Irish are so fond of saying, “May the road rise with you”.

Words Mary O’Brien

Rosalind Park, in the heart of the city. Image by Bendigo Tourism.

Escape to Bendigo this autumn

There’s something undeniably charming about Bendigo. The central Victorian town contains many vestiges of its mining past – beautiful heritage buildings adorn the main streets – but there is an emerging modernity as well.

Thanks to the Bendigo Art Gallery, the city has a well-earned reputation as an arts and culture destination, while a growing number of cafés and restaurants showcase the region’s quality food and wine.

Drive the mere two hours north from Melbourne to spend a weekend discovering this flourishing city.

Indulge your passion for fashion (and culture)

Start your visit at the Bendigo Art Gallery, where the Marimekko exhibition is in full swing. The show explores the Finnish fashion and textile brand through the decades, from its establishment in 1951. It’s fascinating to see photographs, prints and outfits in the brand’s bold and colourful style, including dresses from Jacqueline Kennedy’s wardrobe. Afterwards, duck into the Marimekko pop-up store across the street, where you’ll find it hard to resist a few ‘souvenir’ purchases. The exhibition runs until 11 June, although with its vast permanent collection, the gallery is a must-visit all year around.

The Bendigo Art Gallery, decorated with one of Marimekko's most iconic patterns – Unikko, the rebel flower.

From there, wander to the Gallery Café for brunch. The distinctive glasshouse structure is a work of art itself – it was designed by Fender Katsalidis Architects, the firm behind the Eureka Tower in Melbourne. Enjoy views of Rosalind Park, Bendigo’s sprawling central gardens that burst with colour during autumn.

Once your food has settled, climb to the top of the Poppet Head, an unusual leftover mining relic that dates back to 1931. From the top of this lookout tower, take in breathtaking views of the entire city.

Wine, dine and relax

Bendigo is home to several award-winning wineries, though the oldest and most popular is Balgownie Estate. Sample both Bendigo and Yarra Valley wines at the cellar door (the Black Label Shiraz is divine), before relaxing in the restaurant courtyard overlooking the vineyard. The menu includes wagyu beef and lamb dishes that complement the red wines for which Balgownie is famous.

You won't have to wander far for your accommodation – luxurious glamping tents are ensconced in the bush, mere metres from the vineyard. Each bell tent has its own private deck, so you can savour the rural views and marvel at the stars after dark.

Balgownie Estate's luxury tents have all the comforts of home.

For breakfast, tuck into fresh local produce at the winery restaurant, or return to town, where Cortille is a local favourite. This bright, urban café is best described as an indoor food truck (its kitchen is even inside a caravan), and its menu brings a taste of Melbourne to the country.

Discover local secrets

Bendigo, much like Melbourne, hides some of its best secrets down winding laneways. Bath Lane, for example, is an unobtrusive strip hidden in the shadow of the Bendigo Bank building, but don’t let that fool you – this is Bendigo’s best shopping district. Visit clothing boutiques Soho and Mona Lisa to shop Australian designers such as Viktoria & Woods and Asilio, and drop into Oliver Birch for stylish homewares.

Some of Bendigo's best food and wine can be found on Chancery Lane
. Image by Bendigo Tourism.

Then hunt down Chancery Lane, a concealed laneway full of vibrant street art and al fresco seating that will remind you of Europe. Chancery Lane is home to El Gordo, a quirky Spanish tapas café, and The Dispensary, a bar and diner with an impressive range of craft beers, wines, spirits and cocktails. It’s easy to while away the afternoon here, especially on a sunny day.

Once dinner time calls, just a few minutes’ walk away is Masons of Bendigo, a sophisticated restaurant in a heritage-listed former bank building. Husband-and-wife chefs Nick and Sonia Anthony serve French and English-inspired dishes with a farm-to-table ethos. It’s an exquisite dining experience.

Order small savoury bites and large share plates at Masons of Bendigo. Image by Bendigo Tourism.

Take the long way home

Come morning, it might be time to hit the road, but the adventure doesn’t have to end there. Take the back roads home through the Harcourt Valley. The famous apple-growing region makes for a stunning drive. Stop off at the Mount Alexander Regional Park and walk up to Shepherd’s Flat Lookout for views of the valley’s bushland, orchards and vineyards. On your hike down, wander through Oak Forest, an otherworldly oak plantation that has thrived in the middle of the bush for over 100 years. It’s the perfect end to an ideal weekend.

Words Emily Tatti

Gin Lane, Kensington Street. Image by Megan Osborne.

Chippendale of old and new

With luxe accommodation, fine dining, street space redesigns and small businesses moving in, visitors and locals alike are stopping to see what this small slice of Sydney has to offer.

In Chippendale, just south of Sydney’s CBD, new commercial high-rises sit alongside character-rich heritage buildings. The main thoroughfare, Broadway, is home to the Central Park shopping complex, topped by apartments and shrouded in lush vertical gardens. Just two streets back you’ll find avenues arched by established amber trees and old brick apartment blocks. It’s against this backdrop that this neighbourhood is making a name for itself as a foodie destination of note.

In the suburb’ s north, perched on the corner of Kensington and Broadway, is The Old Clare Hotel. Re-opening its doors in 2015 after an impressive renovation, the hotel encapsulates the same fusion of old and new that’s evident on the surrounding streets. Owned by Singaporean hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng, the refurbishment breathed new life into two grand buildings: the original Clare Hotel and the Carlton United Brewery (CUB).

Connell Room at the Old Clare Hotel.

The update retains as much heritage as possible, particularly from the CUB building. With seven different types of room, the eclectic suites have hosted guests such as Elon Musk and Björk. Some feature original bar counter tops, wall panelling, ante-rooms and even a few bathroom fixtures, while modern design elements are artfully incorporated around the legacy of the buildings’ former life. In another nod to the past, 96 mid-century chairs from Loh Lik Peng’s personal collection are housed in the hotel.

Fine dining options

Alongside The Old Clare, restaurants Kensington Street Social and Automata have helped forge a well-regarded Kensington Street dining scene.

“The Chippendale of old has been revamped and given a new lease on life,” says Clayton Wells, chef and part owner of Automata. The contemporary restaurant was awarded two chef’s hats in the 2018 Good Food Guide and focuses on degustation dining with a blend of Australian flavours and Asian influence and technique.

Chef Clayton Wells.

Wells has impressive experience under his belt, from Sydney’s Quay, Tetsuya’s and Momofuku Seiobo, to Noma in Copenhagen. At Automata the menu is evolving, with seasonal produce guiding the way.

“I’ve always shied away from having a signature dish,” says Wells, even though he’s constantly asked what it might be. “Although there are dishes that we’re well-known for, I won’t keep them on the menu. I don’t want to stop our creative process … when people start saying ’You can never take this off the menu’, that’s when I take it off, because it slows us down.”

The ground floor at Clayton Wells' restaurant Automata.

Seasonality inspires the offering, but doesn’t mean the same dishes are simply refreshed each year.

“I love using certain ingredients, but we’re always trying to push into doing things with different techniques and flavour profiles,” says Wells.

The five-course menu – with a three-course option at lunch – changes frequently, but plates seen in early 2018 feature a starting dish of dried tomato with sheep’s curd, black plum, shiso and tomato vinegar, and a delicate dessert dish of yoghurt and marjoram sorbet with pineapple, finger lime and a burnt butter caramel. Australian produce is showcased, with dishes incorporating organic ingredients from the Blue Mountains and seafood from the south coast of New South Wales or New Zealand. “We try and stay as local as possible,” Wells says.

The modern concrete interior creates a sleek yet intimate dining space that stretches along an open kitchen on one side and windows to Kensington Street on the other. Having previously lived in Chippendale, Wells has witnessed the neighbourhood’s changes first-hand. “You wouldn’t have walked down Kensington Street at night four years ago. The way that it’s changed in such a short period of time is really cool.”

Casual eateries abound

In fact, the street is now a bustling evening spot, and it’s not just fine dining. A more casual atmosphere has arrived in the form of Spice Alley, a winding al fresco food mall with Asian hawker-style eateries, specialised bars such as Gin Lane, and the playful Koi Dessert Bar.

White Rabbit Gallery. 

When you’re ready to explore further, Chippendale’s residential back streets are home to its creative side – look out for art galleries White Rabbit Gallery and Galerie Pompom, and street art by iconic Sydney artist Scott Marsh. Keep heading south from Broadway and you’ll find things like artisan bakery Brickfields, and popular modern dining spot, Ester (touted as a place chefs go to eat).

The Central Park complex has brought a cinema into the area, and the new apartment high-rises come complete with an open area called Chippendale Green, which hosts markets and community events.

“It’s coming along,” says Wells. “You can’t just make a suburb, but it’s really getting there now.”

Words Megan Osborne
Skier on the Muggengrat-Tali ski run into Zürs. © Mark Daffey

Taming the White Ring

The White Ring ski circuit linking the Austrian winter resorts of Lech, Zürs and Zug has been attracting wannabe skiing racers for more than 60 years.

The first ski lifts have only just opened for the day but it seems like everyone in the ritzy Arlberg village of Lech has the same idea as us – to ski the White Ring.

The White Ring is a stunningly beautiful, 22-kilometre ski circuit combining groomed slopes and breathtaking views. The route was the brainchild of Arlberg native, Sepp Bildstein, who began building ski lifts above the villages of Lech and Zürs in the 1940s. Today, the White Ring sweeps down 5439 vertical metres then climbs a total of seven lifts in one of the most visually spectacular alpine settings in Europe.

Skiers on the Madlochbahn twin-chairlift. © Mark Daffey

Each January, 1000 skiers (and the odd snowboarder) in lycra race suits and novelty penguin costumes hurl down the Rüfikopf, Omeshorn and Kriegerhorn mountains at breakneck speed in the hope of taking out victory in the White Ring Race. The race began in 2006, on the 50th anniversary of the circuit’s completion, and it attracts Olympic and World Cup ski champions.

The race record stands at a tick over 44 minutes, and that includes an unavoidable 30 minutes of kicking air on the various ski lifts. But my group of six skiers and one snowboarder has no intention of trying to break any speed records today, preferring instead to ski the runs at a comfortable pace that allows us to soak up the views and to settle in for a leisurely lunch at a mountain hut part-way through.

“Welcome to my office,” says our guide, Markus, as we clip into our bindings at the top of the Rüfikopf gondola that doubles as the circuit’s starting point. Nary a cloud besmirches the sky and two metres of snow blankets the valley. Only on the jagged mountaintops do boulders break through; the rest appears as soft and fluffy as a baby’s pillow.

Winter skiing above Lech. © Mark Daffey

Most of the runs that make up the White Ring are graded intermediate and our first groomed piste, the poetic Monzabonsee, is long, smooth and sweeping, culminating at the foot of a short T-bar. Markus races ahead on the next run, the 1.5km-long Schüttboden towards Zürs, Lech’s smaller but equally swanky sibling from which lifts fan out in several directions. But to get there, we first need to ride the Trittalp cable car then tear down Hexenboden’s western flanks into town.

From Zürs, it’s possible to catch a gondola to Stuben and then continue onto St Christoph and St Anton, thereby connecting each of the five main Arlberg resorts. But it’s the opposite side of the valley we climb, after which Markus leads us away from the White Ring so we can speed down the run I rate as my favourite in the Arlberg – the Muggengrat-Täli.

The fast, twisting blue run beneath the solitary 2500m peak of Hasenfluh adds about four kilometres to our day and deposits us back in Zürs, where the 10-minute wait at the foot of the two-seater Madloch chairlift is the longest we experience all morning. But the delay is quickly forgotten once we stream down the flowing, often ungroomed Madloch piste – considered the most technical along the route – from the circuit’s highest point into the two-sled town of Zug.

Lech’s Rud-Alpe mountain hut – one of 21 hatted restaurants in Lech-Zürs. © Mark Daffey

Balmalp Restaurant, above Zug, is where we huddle down for sausage, schnitzel and strudel lunches washed down with crisp Austrian wines, so it’s fortunate most of the day’s skiing is behind us. From the Kriegerhorn summit, we’re able to ski the rousing final four-kilometre descent into Lech in one hit, some six hours after we began. We’re way outside the race record, but it may well be the greatest day I’ve had on skis.

Getting there: Fly into Zurich – private shuttles operate the 2.5-hour cross-border journey.
Staying there: Room tariffs at the luxuriously cosy Kristiania (kristiania.at) hotel in Lech start at €290 per night.
Costs: One-day lift tickets for adults cost €53. Ski and boot hire costs around €35 per day.

Words and images Mark Daffey. He travelled courtesy of the Austrian National Tourist Office.

Top 5 cultural delights in Boston

One of the oldest cities in the United States and the site of many key events in the American Revolution, Boston is also an innovation hub and home to no fewer than 35 universities. This mix of historical importance and progress make it a fine cultural destination full of grand and intimate discoveries. Fly there directly from Los Angeles or New York, or take an Amtrak train from New York City.

Harvard University
The oldest university in the United States, located across the Charles River in Cambridge, offers plenty of cultural attractions for visitors. Native American artefacts from Lewis and Clark’s exploration of the American West are on show at The Peabody Museum, and the Museum of Natural History is home to the Blaschka Glass Flowers - 3000 creations of hundreds of plant species designed by father-and-son craftsmen over five decades. Chinese jade and Japanese woodblocks are highlights at the Sackler Museum, French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art anchors the Fogg Museum, while the Busch-Reisinger Museum focuses on the arts of Central and Northern Europe.

Grolier Poetry Bookshop
Founded in 1927, this is the only bookshop in the United States that is exclusively dedicated to poetry. The Grolier Poetry Bookshop, which is also in Cambridge, has played a seminal role in nurturing poetry with its collections of works from poets both well-known and obscure, its readings, competitions, street festivals and more. Owned by Nigerian-born, Harvard PhD and Wellesley college philosophy professor, Ifeanyi Menkiti, it continues to advance the cause of poetry. It’s old, intimate and a little dusty, which only adds to its allure.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Just around the corner from Boston’s more well-known Museum of Fine Arts, the intimate Gardner Museum reflects the passions of art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner. The 1903 building, designed to emulate a 15th century Venetian palace, has an eclectic collection of tapestries, religious art and masterpieces by Titian, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Manet, Michelangelo, Matisse, Whistler and Sargent, plus original books by Dante and illuminated manuscripts. Seasonal gardens are a highlight of the interior courtyard while a new Renzo Piano-designed wing houses concerts, special exhibitions and an airy restaurant. In 1990, in the world’s greatest single property theft, thieves stole 13 artworks valued at $500 million, including paintings by Vermeer and Rembrandt. The case remains unsolved and the empty frames are still on show in the museum.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Housed in a striking I.M. Pei-designed building on the Boston waterfront, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum not only stores the original papers, correspondence and oral histories of the Kennedy administration but also 25 fascinating multimedia exhibits that immerse visitors in Kennedy’s life, legacy and leadership. There are exhibits about the 1960 campaign trail, the inauguration, the Briefing Room, the Space Race, and the Oval Office as well as Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy artefacts. Interestingly, the library is also the repository of the vast majority of Ernest Hemingway’s manuscripts, making it the world’s principal centre for research on the author.

Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
The last must-visit Boston cultural attraction is not in the city at all, but well worth the two-and-a-half hour drive west to a converted factory complex in North Adams, Massachusetts. Akin to Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art, Mass MoCa is one of the largest and liveliest centres for enjoying contemporary visual and performing arts in the United States. With vast galleries and a stunning collection of indoor and outdoor venues, Mass MoCa embraces music, sculpture, dance, film, painting, photography, theatre, as well as new, boundary-crossing works, much of which are created during on-site artist residencies.

Words Susan Gough Henly
Horse riding in the San Isidro del General area in southern Costa Rica

Paradise found in Costa Rica

It doesn’t take long to understand the meaning of “pura vida,” one of Costa Rica’s most common sayings.

As Costa Ricans or Ticos explain, it translates as enjoying “pure life”.

No wonder it’s repeated so often in a country that has topped the Happy Planet Index for years. It’s that feeling of sheer joy when you finally spy a grey sloth spread eagled on a high branch riverside, or watch hundreds of beautiful indigo blue butterflies dance among the greenery.

A leader in eco-tourism, the tiny Central American country represents close to four per cent of the total biodiversity on earth, and about 25 per cent of the country has protected forests and reserves. It is home to 500,000 plant and animal species, 750,000 insect species and more than 10 per cent of the world’s butterflies. It is also a peaceful country – the army was abolished in 1949 with funds redirected to education and health.

To experience the best of Costa Rica, leave the cities behind and head south to Hacienda AltaGracia, a sprawling luxury boutique resort located in the San Isidro del General area that is relatively untouched by tourism.

It’s the Poro trees bursting with vivid orange blossoms and green rainforests that star in this food bowl area with extensive plantations of pineapple, sugarcane, banana and coffee.

The stunning mountain retreat, part of the Auberge Resorts Collection, is set on 350 hectares with 50 casitas featuring chic bedrooms, bathrooms, living areas and terraces overlooking the Valle de El General, where eagles soar.

Nearby Cerro Chirripo National Park and Los Cusingos Biological Reserve are perfect for white-water rafting, ultra-light flights, zip-lining and horse riding tours. Complimentary hikes, meditation, tropical fruit tasting, garden walks and horse feeding are offered.

Dining is an adventure – sip a Rainforest Martini at La Cantina while a glorious blood red sunset streaks the sky. Fresh produce from nearby San Isidro farmers market – the biggest in the country – and the resort’s own sustainable farm, La Huerto, feature on the menu at Ambar.

At breakfast, try the typical Costa Rican Tico dish – Gallo Pinto with scrambled eggs, homemade tortilla, sweet plantain and tico cheese.

Later, head to the indoor or outdoor pool with killer views, followed by a coffee scrub spa treatment. Be warned those hammocks you pass on the way back under thatched pavilions in manicured gardens dotted with bright hibiscus, are traps. Despite the long journey from Australia to the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, it’s well worth it when “pura vida” is assured.

Words Sue Wallace
Tranquility in the Queensland bush

Take a walk on Queensland's wild side

It looks like a small piece of wood, a tree stump in miniature. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to miss, but inside is a female trap-door spider ready to pounce. At this startling revelation, everyone in our group immediately takes a little step backwards; but we’re already too fascinated not to slowly edge closer again, anxious to see what happens next.

With the blade of his knife, our guide – Steve Grainger of Tropical Treks – eases open the lid of the trap and we all hold our breath. But the spider is too smart for us. Aware of our presence, she’s retreated deep into her home and all we can see is the smooth, hollow core of the trap’s entrance.

For most trekkers through the forest, the spider’s home would be nothing more than an indistinguishable part of the undergrowth. But thanks to Grainger, we’re starting to see this lush, ancient rainforest environment with new eyes.

On a bespoke luxe trek, we’re walking part of the Sunshine Coast Great Walk through Kondalilla National Park. And although the luxe part involves pick-up and delivery to the entry to the national park, water and snacks, a gourmet picnic lunch, tea and coffee made on a nifty boiler Grainger pulls from his backpack like a rabbit out of a hat, and a stay at one of the region’s top boutique hotels, there’s consensus in our group of five that one of the greatest luxuries of this adventure is having access to Grainger’s experience, knowledge and passion for the natural world.

As we walk through the forest, a winding trek down to the Kondalilla waterfall and up and out the other side, he helps us identify individual birdsong, tells stories of the Gubbi Gubbi – the local Indigenous people – and of the region’s colonial and contemporary history. As we walk we smell, touch and admire the towering old-growth trees, bushes and flowers and take in the spectacular views. As the forest and its inhabitants are gradually revealed to us, our conversation deepens to cover history, ecology and conservation. From how to build a termite tower to the habits of trap-door spiders, we’ve become mini-experts in just a few hours.

Our group is all reasonably fit, but because the walking is slow (there’s so much to see and learn and we’re constantly stopping to talk) the trek is suitable for all ages, provided you’re mobile and healthy. Grainger also creates bespoke experiences tailored to different interests, fitness and age groups.

Because the walking is easy, we arrive at Narrows Escape near the hinterland village of Montville in the late afternoon pleasantly tired but not exhausted. Which is ideal, because collapsing into bed and sleeping would be a waste of this tranquil rainforest location. Child-free, Narrows was designed to be a peaceful adult oasis with private eco pavilions nestled in the forest, a large verandah looking out on to bush and a range of luxuries – including spa ensuites, high quality linens and toiletries, and complimentary local cheeses and port.

After a day’s walk, it’s a thrill to ditch the hiking boots, pour a glass of wine and enjoy the sights and sounds of the rainforest from the luscious retreat.

Tropical Treks offers tailored bushwalking and birdwatching experiences on the Sunshine Coast. ?Narrows Escape’s Luxe Trekking package includes two nights’ accommodation, a guided day walk and all meals.

Words Justine Costigan

Image: Tourism New Zealand

A Hawke's Bay driving adventure

Dubbed “the fruit bowl of New Zealand”, Hawke’s Bay is famous for its dry, sunny climate and fertile plains. Home to more than 75 wineries as well as countless artisan producers, it’s one of New Zealand’s most delicious destinations for food and wine. Throw in Art Deco architecture, soaring mountain peaks and dramatic coastlines, and you’ve got the makings of a perfect weekend getaway.


Image: Greenhill Lodge 

Hawke’s Bay is packed with fantastic places to stay, from cosy boutique hotels to charming vineyard cottages. Our pick of the bunch is Greenhill Lodge, a historic homestead in the heart of Hawke’s Bay’s wine region. Built in 1898, the lodge is a luxurious countryside escape, with tastefully decorated suites and sweeping views of the surrounding Maraekakaho area. A highlight is the farm-to-table dining experience, showcasing local Hawke’s Bay producers and wineries*. 
103 Greenhill Rd, Hastings 4174 


Image: Bistronomy

Not only does Bistronomy have the coolest decor around (think sleek, Scandi-style blonde wood with pops of green and gold), chef-owner James Beck is New Zealand’s answer to Heston Blumenthal. This is the place to try dishes you could never dream up – such as smoked beef tartare with oyster gel, leek fondue and pine nut butter or sumac-cured kingfish with liquorice carrot and prickly pear sorbet. The food may belong in a fine dining restaurant, but the vibe is relaxed and fun. 
40 Hastings St, Napier 4110


Image: Craggy Range 

Situated at the rugged foothills of Te Mata Peak, Craggy Range offers one of the country’s best wine-tasting experiences*. At the cellar door, knowledgeable sommeliers present a range of consistently outstanding new world wines. Afterwards, relax in the French country setting of the award-winning Terrôir restaurant, where much of the menu is sourced from the surrounding gardens. 
253 Waimarama Rd, Havelock North, 4230


Image: Cape Kidnappers 

With its dramatic clifftop setting and sweeping views of the Pacific, the Cape Kidnappers Golf Course has been hailed as one of the best places in the world to tee-off. Legendary US golf architect Tom Doak designed the 18-hole course and said of the site: “If it were any bigger or any more dramatic, it would probably be cordoned off as a national park”. The course is a par 71 and is a must-play for golfers of all abilities.
Forestry Rd, Clifton 4172


Image: Hawke's Bay Tourism

Don’t leave Hawke’s Bay without driving up the legendary Te Mata Peak, which rises 396 metres above sea level and offers incredible views of the Hawke’s Bay. Thanks to hairpin switchbacks and the odd stray sheep, the winding journey to the top is a thrill in itself. At the top, you’ll be treated to 360-degree views of rolling farmlands, vineyards, rugged mountain ranges and the coast. On a clear day, Mount Ruapehu is often visible in the distance.
Te Mata Peak Road, Hastings 


Image: iStock

Curating some of the best names in New Zealand design, Aroha and Friends is both a fashion boutique and art studio, stocking super cool men’s and women’s fashion as well as hand-printed homewares and artworks. The store is run by creative couple Rakai Karaitiana and Melaina Newport-Karaitiana and is located in the picturesque seaside village of Ahuriri.   
9 Ossian St, Ahuriri, Napier 4110

Words Alice Galletly

* Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Pty Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol. 
Image: Tourism New Zealand

Explore warm-weather Queenstown

Framed by the soaring Remarkables and the northern shore of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is ridiculously good-looking, and it knows it. Along with the jaw-dropping scenery, Queenstown has more than its fair share of luxurious hotels, innovative restaurants and adrenaline experiences – and the warmer months are the ideal time to explore this stunning part of the world.


Image: Eichard's Private Hotel 

If it’s all-out luxury you’re after, nowhere serves it up better than Eichardt's Private Hotel. Sitting in prime position on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, the property is an historic icon dating back to 1869. Today the sumptuous hotel features five suites, four boutique apartments and a private lakeside residence, with chic interiors by New Zealand designer Virginia Fisher. A fireside cocktail* at The Eichardt’s legendary bar is mandatory, as is lingering over breakfast with a view.
2 Marine Parade, Queenstown 9348


Image: The Sherwood

One of Queenstown’s hippest haunts is The Sherwood, a hillside hotel, restaurant, live-music venue and yoga studio overlooking Lake Wakatipu. Even if you’re not spending the night, be sure to stop by for some of the best food in town – think house-made sourdough, foraged greens and free-range local cuts, served with organic natural wines* and killer lake views.
554 Frankton Rd, Queenstown 9348


Image: Onsen Hot Springs 

Whether you’ve been hiking the slopes or sampling pinot all afternoon, the Onsen Hot Pools are a magical place to unwind at the end of the day. Perched high on a hillside overlooking the Shotover River canyon, each private hut opens out onto it’s own spectacular vista. It’s especially magical after dark, when the stars are on display and twinkling Japanese lanterns adorn the huts.
160 Arthurs Point Rd, Arthurs Point 9371


Image: Jack's Point Golf Course 

If you’re struggling to keep your eye on the ball at Jack’s Point Golf Course, it’s understandable. Set against a backdrop of the Remarkables and overlooking Lake Wakatipu, Jack’s Point has been billed as one of the world’s most spectacular golf courses. The 18-hole, par 72 course is designed around native tussock, rocky outcrops, steep bluffs and native bush.
Jack's Point Restaurant, 9348, Mcadam Dr, Kawarau Falls


Image: Amisfield 

Queenstown is an ideal base for exploring the Central Otago Wine region, famous for producing pinot noir that rivals the best of Burgundy. While you’re spoiled for choice, be sure to add Amisfield* to your cellar-door list. Set in an iconic stone building between Lake Hayes and the Remarkables, the winery is known for it pinot, riesling and sauvignon blanc varietals. Enjoy an informal wine tasting at the cellar door, or take time to enjoy the spectacular setting in the elegant bistro.
10 Arrowtown-Lake Hayes Rd, Frankton, Queenstown 9371


Image: Heli Tours, photographer Nina Boyes – Life in Thirds Photography 

Queenstown looks plenty pretty from the ground, but the best way to truly experience the soaring mountain peaks, glaciers and alpine lakes is from the air. Take to the skies with Heli Tours, which offers scenic flights, ranging from quick 20-minute tours to three- or four-hour packages that include activities such as hot pools, picnics or wine tasting.* 
Sir Henry Wigley Drive, Queenstown Intl Airport, Queenstown 9300

* Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Pty Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol.

Looking for more adventure?

Step back in time in northern Japan

Japan’s Tohoku region is often overlooked in favour of frenetic Tokyo and Osaka or storied Kyoto. But this agricultural region, encompassing six prefectures on the northern tip of the main island Honshu, lays quiet claim to some of the country’s most beautiful scenery. Jump on a bullet train north and discover a Japan of another era.

Visit sacred sites and cherry blossoms

Away from the tourist trail and economic centres, Tohoku is a time capsule for the feudal ages.

The samurai neighbourhood of Kakunodate in Akita prefecture has remained remarkably unchanged since the 17th century. At the Kabazaiku Arts Center, diminutive dressers will wrap you with surprising strength in complex vintage kimono. Appropriately attired, wander the neighbourhood where wealthy samurai lived in elegant wood compounds, most still inhabited by local families.

The three-tiered keep of Hirosaki Castle in Aomori prefecture was the seat of the samurai Tsugaru clan, rebuilt in 1810 after fire destroyed the original. Hirosaki Park is one of Japan’s most popular sakura cherry blossom viewing sites in spring, when over 2500 trees scatter a snowstorm of petals in the moats. Not to be outdone, autumn brings a red blaze to the maple trees dotting the grounds.

In the Iwate prefecture city of Morioka, traditional timber houses and shop fronts sit side-by-side with high-rises beneath volcanic Mt Iwate. In the temple district is Hoonji Temple, known as the "temple of 500 disciples" for the golden statues watching over the shrine (in actuality 499, after one mysteriously disappeared). Each expressive figure, carved by master craftsmen from Kyoto in the 1700s, is completely unique. It’s said you will find your likeness if you look long enough.

Yamadera Temple, meaning "Mountain Temple", perches in the steep mountain-side.

Over 1000 steps wind up through towering pine trees to Yamadera Temple in the crook of a mountain. On your climb, look out for moss-covered Buddha statues hidden among the ferns. First built in 860, the temple commands sweeping views of the valley. The tranquility here inspired famous poet Matsuo Basho to write one of his most enduring haikus in 1689, inscribed at a rock on site. Yamagata prefecture is renowned for cherries; before you leave try a scoop of cherry ice cream in the quaint village below.

Accommodation options

Ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) first started welcoming weary travellers in the Edo period (1603–1868), and in their hey-day could be found along most highways. Most were built over natural hot springs, onsen, where guests could soak and socialise. While ryokans have disappeared from larger cities, a stay in a traditional ryokan is not to be missed in rural Japan.

Alternatively, near scenic Lake Towada, Hotel Towadaso combines ryokan traditions with modern conveniences. Their intricate kaiseki banquet includes bite-size sashimi, delicate crab, tender local beef and an array of morels both familiar and less so. As you dine, or relax in the on-site onsen, a futon is laid out in your spacious tatami room.

From dining to accommodation, ancient Japanese traditions are still popular in the Tohoku region.

Take a bath

Mixed-sex baths were common in ancient Japan, and while changing social conventions have seen them dwindle, they are still popular in Tohoku. The 300-odd year old Sukayu Onsen Ryokan in Hakkoda Mountains is famous for sennin buro, the "thousand-person bath" – two large sulphuric pools in a vaulted timber building. Afterwards, try the ryokan’s multi-course kaiseki meal, including the Aomori Prefecture’s signature soba noodles.

With some of the world’s highest snowfall, the Tohoku region is blanketed in soft powder every season. Recover from the slopes in the open-air baths of Nyuto Onsen. The eight onsen resorts deep in beech forest in Akita Prefecture were popularised by samurai recovering from battle over three centuries ago. To this day, they are still relatively unknown to tourists. Stay at century-old rooms at Tsurunoyu Onsen, and dine on a banquet prepared on traditional sunken hearths called irori.

Dress the part

Cotton yukata gowns are the preferred ryokan attire, tied left over right (right over left is reserved for the dead), with leather slip-ons for different rooms. While many modern onsen have made allowances for tourists, Tohoku onsen are generally more beholden to tradition. Complete nudity is the norm, no bathers or modesty towels here, and uncovered tattoos are a no-no.

Change comes slowly to Tohoku, and mercifully so has the crowds. Discover it for yourself, before the rest catch on.

Words Krysia Bonkowski

Discover Tasmania’s Piermont Estate

Winding your way from Hobart up to the Freycinet Coast is the perfect scene-setter for what lies ahead at Piermont Estate. Just minutes after leaving the city, Tasmania’s landscapes slowly begin to be revealed – meandering rivers and rolling hills dramatically give way to forests and mountainous climbs, before the scenery changes once again.

The reward at the end of this stunning drive (as if the road trip wasn't an experience in itself) is the recently refurbished Piermont Estate and Piermont Homestead Restaurant.

Making an entrance

Turning into the significantly un-gated driveway, you are immediately struck by the untouched coastal view. Even on a cool late winter’s day, the sea sparkles and the sky reveals wispy blues. A tray of local Tasmania bubbles awaits our group, arranged under a tree that borders the classically designed amphitheatre. It’s clear that this is not an average boutique hotel. 

A walking tour of the property with owners Marie Von Haniel and Juan Maiz Casas reveals where Piermont came from – and where it is heading.

Exploring Piermont

The property was acquired by Von Haniel’s father decades ago, as he sought far-flung adventure and warmer climes beyond the confines of Germany. The property became home – but only for a few years, before the family again relocated, this time to Argentina. 

Von Haniel always felt a connection with the property and returned years later, determined to transform it into one of the island’s most luxurious retreats. This family heritage remains significant – a relaxed welcoming feel is important for Von Haniel – hence no gates on the driveway.

Guests can stay in either self-contained chalets or spa suites, and have the option to dine in the newly refurbished Hecker Guthrie-designed Piermont Homestead Restaurant. Naturally, in the eatery, seafood features heavily, as does locally grown produce. Chef Chad Woolford’s carefully curated menu includes the likes of Tasmanian Pacific oysters shucked to order, freshly baked bread, pepper crusted kangaroo loin with roasted mash potato, bacon and caramelised onion and chocolate fondant with a chilli and lime sorbet. The perfect accompaniment, of course, is a selection of Tasmanian wines, handpicked from local wineries.

Like the menu, the quietly restrained trademark Hecker Guthrie designs speak for themselves. The thoughtful interiors imbue a sense of paired-back sophistication and have been designed to make the most of the changing weather and light palette. Keeping the atmosphere casual is the inviting bar area and the cozy lounge by the fire.

See and do

Between meals, guests can spend their days exploring the property’s two private beaches, frolicking in the water in the summer months, enjoying a game of tennis, lounging by the pool or simply kicking back in front of a cosy fireplace when the weather rolls in. 

Beyond the property’s border there’s plenty to keep visitors occupied. Choose between a visit to nearby Freycinet National Park, take in a wineries tour, explore the world-famous Great Eastern Drive or embark on a scenic helicopter flight to Hobart’s MONA. For those seeking more physical activities, take your pick from hiking some of Australia’s most stunning trails, kayaking or sailing.

While exclusivity is key to Piermont’s success, Von Haniel and Casas are embarking on a restrained expansion with a new cluster of 32 waterfront residences from architects and designers, Jackson Clements Burrows and Hecker Guthrie. With these carefully considered construction plans underway, the future looks bright for Piermont Estate.

For more on this, and other exclusive accommodation around the world, read the November 2016 issue of Mercedes-Benz Magazine.

Images courtesy Piermont Estate

Words Lucy Siebert

Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Pty Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol. 

Discover Réunion in 2017

Réunion is arguably one of the world’s best-kept island secrets, an overseas department of France that is nestled in the remote south Indian Ocean. Despite its far-flung location, the island is surprisingly easy for Australians to get to and offers a truly unique cultural experience. Located 6042km west of Perth, 226km southwest of neighbouring Mauritius and 942km east of Madagascar off the coast of East Africa, the 2512 sq km island is a mere dot in the vast sea of blue.

In addition to offering visitors a French cultural experience, the island is home to volcanic landscapes and the Piton de la Fournaise or ‘Peak of the Furnace’, one of the most active volcanos in the world, which earlier this year blew its 2632m-high stack twice.

Along with Mauritius, which is often looked upon as a big sister – although it is an entirely separate country, and nearby Rodrigues, Réunion forms part of the Mascarenes, sometimes called the Vanilla Islands.

As a French overseas territory or a département of France, Réunion accepts much financial support from the fatherland but relies heavily on tourism. Although reputedly one of the richest islands in the Indian Ocean with a high standard of living, it is, for all intents and purposes, a colourful, exotic, tropical (although not strictly in the tropics) island with a wonderful mélange of cultures and traditions.

It is believed the first visitors to the island were Malay, Arab and European mariners – but none stayed. In the mid 1600s, the French settled the island but it wasn’t till the beginning of the 18th century that the French government and the French East India Company took control. When coffee was introduced between 1715 and 1730, slaves shipped in from Africa and Madagascar formed the nucleus of the strong Creole heritage that has survived and prospered ever since.

While French is the official language, most inhabitants speak Creole – a sort of pidgin French. In the capital Saint-Denis, you can take a guided tour of Creole houses and even be introduced to the Creole language through a fun workshop. Boulangeries sell baguettes alongside Creole specialties, Chinese corner stores, Indian linen shops and Arab bazaars trade alongside Malagasy craftspeople in the Grand Marché market. Throughout the island, restaurants feature local Creole dishes such as carri (or curry) of seafood, chicken, duck or pork cooked over an open fire in a sauce made from tomatoes, garlic, onions, thyme, ginger and tumeric, and rougail – a similar sauce but with sausages, cod or perhaps goat.

Luxury stays

At LUX Saint Gilles, you can watch carri chef Henri Romily prepare one of his famous carri dishes over the open charcoal grill. You can later choose a selection of such carris for lunch – perhaps vanilla duck, chicken, eggplant, octopus with red wine or spicy Creole sausage.

Located in the island’s northwest, LUX Saint Gilles is one of just three five-star resorts on the island, and the only one with direct access to a lagoon beach. It makes the ideal base, offering comfortable accommodation for 450 guests in charming colonial-style wooden units, surrounding a central complex with three restaurants, bars, their signature LUX me spa and the island’s largest swimming pool.

According to Christophe Adam, sales and marketing director of the hotel, some 50 per cent of guests are from France, who take advantage of up to six flights daily from Paris while 30 to 40 percent are repeat guests. Not surprisingly, the island’s peak season coincides with the French school holidays. With LUX resorts on both islands, he says many guests combine a visit to Réunion with on Mauritius, too. For Australians, there are direct flights from Perth to Mauritius and regular connections onwards from there to Reunion. Alternatively, fly direct to Johannesburg from either Sydney or Perth and connect onwards from there.

While many of the near half million of visitors to Réunion come to chill out on the beaches and enjoy the relaxed lifestyle, a surprising number come to participate in the more adventurous aspects that the island has to offer, with some 70 different outdoor sports and pursuits from hiking – the number one activity – to climbing, diving, paragliding, white water rafting and canyoning.

Crowned in the north by the circular remnants or cirques of three former volcanoes and in the south by the still active volcano, Le Piton de la Fournaise or ‘Peak of the Furnace’, if you were able to iron it flat, its rugged oval shape would probably double in size. In 2010, almost half of the island was designated a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site.

Air adventures

The best way to appreciate the island’s majestic landscape is to take a helicopter ride with Helilagon Aviation who have been flying guests over the island for 25 years and have nine choppers. Depending on the weather, there are several circuits they fly. Although clouds prevent us flying over the volcano, I take the flight over the northern cirques that circle the island’s highest point, Le Piton des Neiges at 3070 metres. We fly over seaside towns and head for the verdant green centre where the jagged cirques are edged by drop-away peaks. Mountain-top villages cluster on small plateaus between countless rivers and valleys carpeted with thick natural scrub and tree-ferns. Waterfalls cascade between rocky crevices like runny icing on a giant bundt cake. Former French military pilot Jean Claude points out the impressive fast-flowing 400m-high cascade of Trou de Fer: “The same height as the Eiffel Tower,” he says.

Back at the resort, I sit under the shade of feathery filao trees that edge the water and lunch on a salad of local palm heart and seafood as whales breach and spurt in the distance. Between June and October, whales give birth on the reef’s edge with possible early morning sightings of dolphins all year round. While this little corner of paradise might be relatively unknown at the moment, I’m suspecting it won’t take long for word of its idyllic lifestyle to start making news of its own – and, for all the right reasons.

Words Tricia Welsh

Ubud for the “conscious traveller”

A firm favourite with Australians, a holiday in Bali can mean different things for different people. For tourists seeking an authentic and environmentally friendly experience, intimate luxury guesthouses are a great place to stay and they are often located within easy reach of fantastic restaurants and attractions.

On arriving at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport, there’s no mistaking where you are. Aromas of spice and sea salt simultaneously hit passengers as they exit the plane – signalling you have indeed arrived at one of Asia’s most beloved and spiritual destinations.

Leaving the airport for the road transfer to Ubud, the traffic is maddening, but the journey offers a slideshow of life in Bali.

On this particular Ubud holiday, the aim is to “travel with a conscious” – by actively engaging with local communities, food and activities for an authentic Balinese holiday experience.

Where to stay

Of course, there is no shortage of fantastic accommodation options in Ubud – from swanky hotels perched over river rapids to eco-friendly health retreats, villas commanding rice paddy vistas and guesthouses that provide an intimate and authentic stay.

Located in Kutuh Kelod village and about 400m from the main road of Jalan Raya Ubud, Kano Sari is a delightful guesthouse that is entirely built from natural materials such as marble and locally sourced wood.

The villa’s light airy communal living areas immediately make an impression on newly arrived guests.

Within the guesthouse, each spacious room features beautifully appointed local items that are hand-selected by owner and manager Karen Lewis. With a view to reducing the number of plastic bottles that tourists use on the island, unlimited filtered drinking water is provided in each room.

The Jepun Suite (meaning frangipani) is popular due to its separate living room that is perfect for a family and its balcony that overlooks the gorge. Although many of the rooms have gorgeous outlooks, guests in all rooms will wake to the early morning alarm clock of spine-tingling chanting that echoes through the ravine; an exquisite start to the day.

Lewis is passionate about living in Ubud and running a business there, saying she loves “being part of the community and the staff are like family”.

What to do

Ubud is considered Bali’s spiritual capital and there is a plethora of yoga, meditation and other spiritually minded things to do.

One option is a Hindu water blessing at Tirta Empul water temple. While one visit might not fully purify the soul, it will leave you refreshed as you pray while dunking your head beneath the numerous water spouts.

Also known for its art, Ubud has plenty of galleries for visitors to browse.

Nothing, however, beats watching the artists in action. Batuan Village is famed for its paintings of Hindu daily life and mythology. Here, works of art can take up to five years to complete and are sometimes so intricate that they are created under a microscope.

Keliki Village has derived a similar style from the Batuan teachings with its Keliki Painting School, which trains children to paint. There are more than 1000 pieces to view and enjoy, with some pieces for sale. Prices start from $400 and all proceeds go to supporting the village and artists.

Where to eat

Ubud’s eating scene is just as prolific as Seminyak’s and if you want to support local farmers, head to The Elephant, which serves eco-friendly vegetarian fare. At just 2.5sqm, the tiny Fair Warung Bale sees the proceeds from every meal providing two free medical treatments for those in need.

Other ethical options include Element (Jalan Penenstanan Kelod) and Locavore.

Words Carmen Jenner. She was a guest of Kano Sari and Bali Assist.

Explore Vienna with the experts

After you’ve listened to the Vienna Philharmonic, wandered through Vienna’s grand museums, feasted on cake and coffee at its well-known Belle Epoque cafes, it’s time to escape the Austrian capital’s tourist hordes and dig a little deeper. Here is a selection of Little Black Book entries from some of the city’s finest art and museum curators. These are people who live and breathe Vienna and whose profession requires a discerning eye. It’s difficult to imagine more useful insider guides.

Museum curator's top picks

Dr Ursula Storch, deputy director of the Wien Museum, has recently wrote a book on The Prater, Vienna’s iconic park, and the museum’s fascinating exhibition, Meet me at the Prater, details the park’s history since Emperor Joseph II opened his imperial hunting grounds to the general public 250 years ago.

Dr Storch recommends having lunch at The Lusthaus, located in a pretty rotunda at the bucolic end of the Prater. Further afield, she suggests visiting another locale of the Wien Museum: Hermesvilla, Empress Sissi’s “Palace of Dreams” located in Lainzer Tiergarten Park.

On the outskirts of the city, she also loves going to Wirtshaus Steirerstöckl restaurant, located in a rustic former hikers’ shelter on the edge of Pötzleinsdorfer Schlosspark beside the Vienna Woods. Here, feast on traditional Styrian dishes based on ingredients from the restaurant’s own farm. If you are visiting the eccentric Hundertwasser Museum in the 3rd District, for a little retail therapy she recommends the beautifully curated collection of scarves, jewellery and other colourful gifts at the tiny nearby Dea gift shop at Salmgasse 16. 

Discover hidden cultural gems 

Freelance curator and arts consultant Paul Asenbaum was one of the guest curators at the National Gallery of Victoria’s exceptional exhibition, Vienna: Art and Design. He recommends exploring Vienna in search of its striking modernist architecture from the turn of the 20th century. Top of the list is the whimsical gold-domed Austrian-style Art Nouveau Secession Building designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich. Inside you’ll discover Gustav Klimt’s erotic Beethoven Frieze and, as a bonus, see exhibitions of today’s avant-garde from an artist-run cooperative.

He also suggests admiring the minimalist LoosHaus on Michaelerplatz, Adolf Loos’ radical departure from the Neo Renaissance architecture of the Imperial Palace directly opposite. And he loves Otto Wagner’s work, both the Art Nouveau Stadtbahnstation on Karlsplatz and his sleek-lined modernist Postal Savings Bank. If you are keen to purchase any of the rare decorative arts from Vienna’s Modernist and Art Nouveau artists and designers, he suggests visiting Galerie bei der Albertina and Galerie Wolfgang Bauer.

For a contemporary take on Vienna’s design, fashion and café scene, he suggests exploring the neighbourhoods of Neubaugasse and Gumpendorferstrasse, which are both near the Museumsquartier.

Eat, drink and shop 

Dr Alfred Weidinger is deputy director of Vienna’s esteemed Belvedere Museum, the UNESCO World Heritage Baroque palace which is home to the world’s largest collection of the works of Gustav Klimt (including The Kiss). One of his favourite places is Supersense, which is a fascinating contemporary wunderkammer, a perfect German word to describe its cabinet of curiosities. Located on the ground floor of a Venetian-style Palazzo, it is a café that serves excellent coffee and Tyrolean craft beer as well as a shop with a carefully curated collection of photography and hand-made paper products plus a studio that hand-cuts vinyl records and offers the highest quality “direct-to-disc” live recordings.

Independent curator of contemporary art, architecture and design Jade Niklai is a big fan of the MAK, Vienna’s Museum for Applied Arts, which shows furniture, glass, china, silver and textiles from the Middle Ages to the present day as well as offering a space for experimentation for applied arts at the interface of design, architecture and contemporary art. The design shop is a terrific place to find the most interesting gifts. She also recommends annual festivals Impulstanz, one of the world’s largest festivals of contemporary dance, and Curated by Vienna where international curators conceive exhibitions across 20 commercial Viennese galleries.

For the latest in Viennese fashion, she loves the work of Ukrainian-born, Viennese-trained Petar Petrov and for exquisite bags made from full-grain leather and (yes) fish scales, she suggests looking for the Vienna-based Batliner label.

As for places to stay, her pick is the contemporary/retro Austro-Hungarian monarchy style of Hotel Grand Ferdinand, right on the Ringstrasse, which celebrates a life full of relish with a generous dash of good humour.

Words Susan Gough Henly