Five Fijian resorts under $450 a night

Who doesn’t love a swim-up bar? The new $2.2m adults-only pools
at Outrigger on the Lagoon,

Sure, Mel Gibson owns an island in Fiji, but if your budget is Homebush than Hollywood, here are a few good options from the old faves of the Coral Coast to mysterious Kadavu, Fiji’s large, southern island. 

Most do packages that include flights from Australia, airport transfers and at least breakfast thrown in. Keep an eye out for specials that might snag you a free massage, dinner or kids’ club.

OUTRIGGER ON THE LAGOON
On the Coral Coast, southern Viti Levu (the main island). Costs from $282 a night, room only. Phone +679 650 0044; see outrigger.com.

MATAVA
The Astrolabe Hideaway eco-resort on Kadavu Island. Costs from $389 a night, all-inclusive. See matava.com.

THE UPRISING BEACH RESORT
A 3½-star adventure resort in Pacific Harbour. Costs from $148 a night, B&B (beachfront bure). Phone +679 345 2200, See uprisingbeachresort.com.

RADISSON BLU
Newly refurbished five-star on Denarau Island, 20 minutes from the airport. Costs from $278 a night. Phone 1800 333 333; see http://www.radissonblu.com/resort-fiji.

MATAMANOA ISLAND RESORT
In
the Mamanuca Islands, 1½ hours by boat from Denarau Marina. Costs from
$270 a night, B&B (garden room) or $438 a night (beachfront bure).
Phone +679 672 3620; see matamanoa.com.

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sydney Morning Herald/The Age

Flight test: Drukair, Royal Bhutan Airlines

Drukair’s home base of Paro International Airport is mediocre inside,
but the traditional architecture is beautiful. Photo: Belinda Jackson

THE ROUTE
Paro (Bhutan) to Bangkok via Guwahati (India).

THE PLANE
Airbus A319.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME
None.

UP THE BACK OR POINTY END?
Business class, seat 4F. It costs about $80 to upgrade from economy class.
 TIME IN THE AIR
Four
hours, including a 45-minute stop at Guwahati in India. The flight
connects to Melbourne through Thai Airways, with a grinding eight-hour
stopover.

THE SEAT STUFF
38 inches (96
centimetres) pitch in business, 32 inches (81 centimetres) pitch in
economy. It’s a 2-2 layout for business class and 3-3 in economy.

BAGGAGE
One checked bag up to 30 kilograms; economy is one checked bag up to 20 kilograms, with five kilograms hand luggage.

COMFORT FACTOR
A pillow and blanket in business class. The seats recline slightly, with the footrest coming forward.

THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT
There
are no TV screens on the plane. Entertainment is out the window: on a
clear day, the flight down Paro Valley gives spectacular views of the
Himalayas. Paro is at 2225 metres, with “hills” either side of up to
4875 metres and the approach is by visuals only. Some say you can see
Mount Everest when coming inbound on this route, but it’s best seen on
the Paro-Kathmandu (Nepal) flight. When flying into Guwahati, the
captain points out the broad, sacred Brahmaputra River, which flows 3000
kilometres down from the Tibetan Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal. For
best views, request a left-hand-side window on the way up from Bangkok
and a right-hand window on the return.

THE SERVICE
Extremely
polite, a little reserved. The women wear Bhutan’s colourful national
uniform, a silk crossover jacket (tego) and a long, straight skirt
(kira). Men usually wear a gho, cut the same as a mid-thigh shave coat
with long socks, but for comfort and practicality, they’re wearing
trousers and tie inflight. The friendly captain likes a good chat on the
intercom.

FEEDING TIME
The Bangkok flight
departs mid-morning, so we get a cup of sugar-sweet orange juice with
roasted peanuts after take-off – the same in both classes. Lunch is
served after our stop in Guwahati. I go the vegetarian option (which I
didn’t pre-book), which is shamu datse, a Bhutanese dish of mushrooms
cooked in a white cheese sauce with rice. There are condiments galore,
including Bhutan’s national dish, ema datse (long green chillies in
cheese sauce) and etsy (smoking-hot fresh chilli relish) with a
lacklustre pasta salad on the side. The wine is Lindeman’s Premier
Selection Shiraz Cabernet 2011 or Semillon Chardonnay 2001.

ONE MORE THING
Paro
International Airport (and Drukair’s business lounge) is extremely
mediocre inside, but its traditional architecture is beautiful. Airport
staff expect you to jump off the plane and start snapping photos on the
tarmac. No security goons here.

THE VERDICT
How
to put this politely: like it or lump it. Drukair has a monopoly on
this route, so there’s no other way to fly in to Bhutan’s only
international airport. It’s a short, pleasant flight.

THE FREQUENCY
Drukair
flies Paro-Bangkok daily with extra flights in Bhutan’s high seasons
(March-May and September-November). All flights are indirect except the
4.45am departure on Monday mornings during high seasons.

Tested by Belinda Jackson, who was a guest of Bhutan & Beyond.

Royal babies and rooftop bars that give royal treatment

There’s been a marked absence of royal baby babble on this blog – oh sorry, everyone but I’m going to break the silence.
Because this (left) is surely the most beautiful baby’s cake, from the makers of the most beautiful cakes.
Ms B’s Cakery is the braincandy of Hong Kong fashion doyenne Bonnae Gokson. Some of you may know Bonnae’s HK hot spot, Sevva, on the 25th floor of the Prince’s Building in Central. If you don’t know, you have no excuse not to go there now.
Last time I was there, late in the afternoon, one of the outside terraces has being guarded by men with earpieces, while fashionistas took elegant high tea. 

And as the afternoon deepened into evening, the beautiful aperitifs crowd pranced in for sunset drinks. The dress code is ‘easy glam’ (they request no singlets, tattered t-shirts or sooty runners: that’s right, no sooty runners). 

Oh, and Sevva serves MsB’s incredible cakes. 

See, you think you’re reading yet another royal baby story, but you also learn one of the best places for sundowners in central Hong Kong. Thanks for persevering.

Sevva: Prince’s Building 25th Floor, 10 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong 
Ms B’s Cakery: 39 Gough St, Central, Hong Kong

Hidden secrets on the Mornington Pen, Barrington Tops and foodie Sicily: travel deals July 21, 2013

Discover the hidden secrets of Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, NSW’s Barrington Tops, or a kids’ getaway in Sydney.

GO NOW: Discover
the Big Blue Backyard at the Mornington Peninsula’s secluded St
Andrew’s beach. Until August 31, stay three nights and pay for only two in one
of their three retreats, with Cape Schanck nearby. Costs from $1191, three nights. 1300 896 627, mrandmrssmith.com.

Big Blue Backyard

GO SOONER Enjoy a home amongst the gumtrees near Barrington Tops, three
hours north of Sydney. Stay three nights, pay two in one of Yeranda’s three
bush hideaways with $50 credit at nearby café. Costs from $325, three nights. (02) 4992 1208, yeranda.com.au.

Yeranda’s bush hideaways
GO LATER: Get
a free night’s stay when you book a cooking tour of Sicily with chef
Dominique Rizzo before July 31. The 15-day tour departs May 3, 2014. Costs from
$6095 a person, twin share. (07) 3267 1667, purefoodcookingtours.com.au.

Dominique Rizzo


KIDS
Planning a weekend away in your own backyard? Upgrade the kids
to Swissotel Sydney’s kids’ rooms, chocked full of toys, dvds and kids’ minibar.
The rooms, for kids age two to 12 years, can be a separate room or set up in the
parents’ room. Costs from $229 a room a night (half-half) or $299 for two rooms
(interconnecting available). 1800 334 888, swissotel.com/sydney.
Swissotel Sydney’s kids’ rooms

SOURCE: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald

Kids in Paris: travel deal June 30, 2013

Children in the Tuileries Garden, Paris.
Pic: Hotel Le Meurice
Paris in summer is a kids’ playground, with puppet theatres, donkey rides, carousel rides and duck feeding in the lake of the Tuileries Gardens.

Stay nearby, at the luxe Hotel Le Meurice, between July 14 and August 29 and pay half price on a deluxe or executive room for the children, including breakfast, room upgrade and $120 dining credit.

Costs from $3846, two rooms, two nights. virtuoso.com.au.

Play in the snow, on the golf course or in New York City: travel deals July 14, 2013

It’s all about playing: in the snow, on the golf course, in China or New York City, in this week’s travel deals. 

KIDS:
Kids 14 and under ski free on July 20-21, August 2425 and
September 14-15 at Thredbo when they’re with a paying adult on a two-day lift
pass. Also, the Learn to Ride week, September 16-20, throws in free lessons and
gear hire on all lift passes. (02) 6459 4100, thredbo.com.au.
GO NOW Bunker
down in the Tasmanian wilderness at the Barnbougle Dunes spa and golf course.
Their winter deal includes 18 holes of golf, a hot stone massage, overnight
accommodation and breakfast for two. Usually $718, save $192 until September 30.
Costs from $526 a couple. barnbougledunes.com.au.
GO SOONER Sleep
sweet in eight New York City hotels: pay for two nights in a suite and get a
third night free until September 2. Hotels include the new JW Marriott Essex
House, hip The London NYC and the Mad Men-esque The Chatwal. nycgo.com/thirdnight.
GO LATER Get
free flights to China when you book a 19-day China Explorer by October 31, for
travel in 2014. Highlights include Kunming’s stone forest and Chengdu’s panda
breeding centre, Beijing and Xi’an. Costs from $7595 a person, twin share. 1300
278 278, aptouring.com.au.

Tasting tradition: Ramadan kareem

Cairo at sunset. Photo: Belinda Jackson
Today is the first day of Ramadan 2013, which for me is about the scent of almonds, the sweetness of fresh dates and the call to prayer. 
If you’re shaky on the whole Ramadan thing, it’s Islam’s holy month, where Muslims take time to
reflect on themselves and their lives. 
The most
obvious part of Ramadan is fasting: followers don’t let anything pass their
lips from first light to sunset. At the moment, wintery Australia is considered a cushy place to be for Ramadan 2013: first light this morning was around 6am and the sun set at 5.15.
In comparison, it’s high summer in the Middle East, which sees 14-hour days,
with 5am sunrise and sunset not until 7pm.
That
means no food, no water, no cigarettes (a tough one for countries such as
Egypt, where smoking is rated a profession). Some people don’t use
toothpaste in the daylight hours…mmm.
Of all
the Muslim countries I’ve visited during Ramadan, I had the most fun in Egypt.
Egyptians like to joke that they actually put on weight in Ramadan, sunset
is the time for feasting, and feast they do. In a city where you can hit a
traffic jam at 1am, the streets are empty at sunset: you can cross town in 20 minutes,
normally a two-hour journey, as everyone’s sitting down to drink sweet drinks
such as tamrhindy (tamarind) or qamardeen, a thick, sweet apricot juice, and taste elaborate dishes and desserts made
only in this month.
Ben Youssef madrasa, Marrakech.
Photo: some helpful, random tourist
who didn’t run away with my camera.
The five-star hotels and the streets are lined with Ramadan ‘tents’ that serve banquets from sundown to sun-up, elaborate low lounges designed for smoking shisha and nibbling sweets, drinking tea and catching up with old friends. Music tends toward the traditional, though I spotted plenty of glam actors and smoking hot MTV stars (Amr Diab, people!). During Ramadan, TV shows tend toward swords-and-sandals dramas with strong moral punchlines.
I also
like the solidarity of Egypt’s citizens: around 10 percent of the population is
Christian, yet they will never smoke, eat or drink on the street. It’s
considered poor form, and most tourists get the picture.
In far
more liberal Morocco, where tourists amble around in hot pants, wining and
dining on street cafes during Ramadan, it must be tough not to have a tiny
touch of resentment when you’re hot, thirsty and hanging for a fag. But the locals I know are proud of their country’s
tolerance of all cultures, and they have some pretty fabulous Ramadan sweets, including honey and sesame cookies, halwa chebakia
I rate my favourite fitar or iftar (the meal you take when breaking fast at sunset) as the cool almond milk and dates stuffed with almond paste served at Marrakech’s sublime La Mamounia hotel.  
In
comparison, in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, we foreigners were ushered into makeshift
restaurants in the five-star hotels’ basements for lunch, and the bars were
shrouded affairs, if open at all. We were instructed sternly by hotel staff to dress even more modestly than usual, and our attire scanned before we left the hotel in case a rogue knee or shoulder should present itself to daylight.
Wherever you find yourself, Ramadan mubarak (Happy Ramadan)!

Of white wallabies and chic Sydney babes: travel deals 23 June 2013

Bruny Island’s white wallaby.
GO NOW: TASMANIA
The
cutest little white wallabies are waiting to be seen on a Bruny Island Safari,  which includes a gourmet touch. Usually $140,
save $40 on Sundays or Fridays from July 1 to August 31, quote ‘whitewallaby’.
Costs $100 a person. 0437 499 795, brunyislandsafaris.com.au.
GO SOONER: NEW ZEALAND
Winter in style luxury Kauri Cliffs and The Farm at Cape
Kidnappers.  Save 35 per cent on your
room rate, which includes pre-dinner drinks and canapés, a five-course tasting
menu and unlimited golf or a massage. Costs from $740 a person a night, twin share. Kauri Cliffs, +64 9407
0010, kauricliffs.com or The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, +64 6 875 1900, capekidnappers.com.
 GO LATER: USA
& CANADA
Sleeping in style @ QT Sydney
Save up to $400 when you book a guided tour and airfare
with Trafalgar before June 28. The 14-day East Coast USA & Canada trip starts
and finishes in New York. From $3395 a person, flights from $1299. 1300 663
043, trafalgar.com.
KIDS: SYDNEY
Stylish babes stay at QT Sydney: its new BabyQ package
beds tots down in a super-chic Leander cot and includes a complementary iiamo
Go self-heating baby bottle worth $129. Parents get two nights in a king deluxe
room, breakfast (including fresh baby food), massage and a bottle of champagne.
Costs from $900 for two nights, qthotels.com.au, (02) 8262 0000.