52 Weekends Away: food and wine in Gippsland

Temptation personified. Photo: Belinda Jackson

On a break from Cairo, here’s a little number from beautiful East Gippsland. If you’re in that neck of the woods (think Lakes Entrance way), make a beeline for this little beauty.
 
BAG END AT RIVENDELL

926 Stephenson Road, Tambo Upper, Vic
Phone: (03) 5156 4317 or 0419 302 074
Web: arkenstone.com.au

The location
Tambo Upper is an East
Gippsland hamlet located amid rolling farmland off the highway between
Bairnsdale and Lakes Entrance. Rivendell is a 44-hectare property built
on the hilltops; you can look out to the spectacular Gippsland Lakes, a
favourite spot for boaties, fishermen and birdwatchers.

The place
Rivendell is a working Angus beef farm with two self-contained cottages that have also been named after things or places in The Lord of the Rings
– Arkenstone, a wheelchair-friendly, three-bedroom cottage, and the
one-bedroom Bag End, which we stayed in. In an earlier incarnation, Bag
End’s bedroom was a concrete water tank; it’s still circular, but now
it’s filled by a comfy bed and lined with racks of wine, available for
purchase. Both cottages have well-equipped kitchens and there’s a spa
tub in the garden. The farm is home to peacocks and guinea fowl, sheep,
hens and horses.

The experience
Start the day with
owner-chef Josh Thomas’s excellent breakfast and end it with a
three-course dinner. In between, there’s always lunch: the nearby
Nicholson River Winery serves platters that complement its renowned
Gippsland pinot noirs. Rivendell hires canoes and mountain bikes to
enable visitors to explore the picturesque Tambo River and the East
Gippsland Rail Trail.

Don’t miss
East Gippsland’s vibrant
villages. Bruthen is at the start of the Great Alpine Road and here you
can sink a local brew at the Bullant Brewery before popping into the new
Bruthen Bazaar. Metung, on the water’s edge, has a thriving cafe scene
and breakfast at The Metung Galley is highly recommended. There’s also a
farmer’s market on the second Saturday of each month.

Need to know
Cost: From $240 a night.
Distance: 3.5 hours’ drive (310km) east of Melbourne.
Children: Yes.

This story, written by Belinda Jackson, is part of 52 Weekends Away, published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

Sign of the times at the pointy end of Egyptian tourism

Photo: Belinda Jackson

The first
time I visited the Pyramids, I went through the front door with several hundred
other foreigners, all lining up for a photo of ‘kissing’ the Sphinx or ‘holding’
a pyramid by the fingertips. 
The other
day,  I went round the back, where a
handful of guards nearly fell over to see someone, and the touts couldn’t
believe their luck at not one, but two carloads of visitors, even if they were
all Egyptian (including one suspiciously blonde one in the middle).   
Sitting on the boot of our cars, they
literally corralled us into a private car park to negotiate the hire of two caretas (carriages) and two horses. 
Those who
have been held hostage high on a camel until they paid up big will be pleased
to know not even the locals can resist the Giza Pyramid mafia. 
A camel driver. Photo: Belinda Jackson
Let me tell
you this: Egyptians visit the Pyramids in a whole different way to us foreigners.
Toss the guidebook, forget about learning kings’ names and studying informative
plaques earnestly. 
It’s all about the photos, the freedom of the desert
surrounds and the physicality of being beside something so magnificent, that
you forget about the traffic jams, the pollution, the protests and the curfews
that see you trapped indoors after 7pm on a Friday night thanks to the current army
curfew. 
The
newspapers are reporting an 80 percent drop in tourism to Egypt, which, based
on what I saw at the Pyramids on a sunny autumn afternoon, should read more
like 95 percent. 
There were three young Americans, skinny, bearded and wearing
the obligatory Arafat scarf, there was a Euro-couple celebrating the
end of a Cape Town to Cairo adventure, and a small tour group of Russians
snavelling basement-bargain travel. That’s all. 
Forlorn
camel owners perked up when they saw us coming, and Giza’s notoriously
overworked and underfed horses were fleet of foot and ready to run. My little
grey mare, Sousou, is surely the fastest pony in Giza. 
It’s been a
very long time since I rode around the Pyramids in the daylight. Usually, I’d
ride on a full moon, flat out down the plateau at full gallop, breathing in the
cool desert night air. In broad daylight, it’s a whole different ballgame. You
see the stones the size of basketballs that your horse is dodging. You see the
concrete wall that the horses aim for at full tilt, before swerving left to
pass through the exit gate. You see the snarling curs that lick around the
ponies’ hooves, snapping at ankles as you pass.
It’s
consoling to know that the Pyramids remain unchanged while Egypt twists and
wrenches itself into a new form. But the lesson from Afghanistan and China is
that you can never take even heroic art and architecture for granted. 

Abu Simbel’s time to shine: Egyptian antiquities

At the feet of the gods, Abu Simbel, Egypt. Photo: Belinda Jackson.
There’s a lot of change going on in Cairo at the moment, but some things, thankfully, remain the same. 
Later this morning, the sun will touch the face of King Ramses II in the magnificent Abu Simbel temple, south of Aswan, by the Sudanese border. 
The temple, built in 1257BC, was constructed so that twice a year, the sun’s rays would shine into the inner sanctuary and light all but the statue of Ptah, the god of the Underworld, reports the Ministry of Tourism today. The two days of the year are October 22 and February 22.
The temple is dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-
Horakhty and Ptah and also to Ramses, who rather fancied himself as a deity.
You can see a live streaming of the event on www.youtube.com/egypt or on local television, if you’re in Egypt. The phenomenon will occur at 5.53am local time, and last for 20 minutes.

Petting lions and paddling in the Med: a day in Egypt

A day spent swimming and patting lion cubs: in all, an excellent day in Egypt.
Apologies for
the silence, I’ve been offline up on Egypt’s north coast, where I had no
internet, curfews (thank you, revolution) and not even a chemist for lousy cold tablets.
It’s
sometimes strange to think that Egypt is a Mediterranean country (did you know there are 21?), but it’s home to some of the most budget-friendly Med resorts. The flashiest of
them all is Porto Marina, 280km from Cairo, where ministers and other high government officials
have their summer getaways, in the form of luxe tower apartments and chic chalets.
Porto Marina and a foolhardy bungee jumper.
There’s a
touch of Australia’s Gold Coast to it all, with a huge restaurant strip on a marina full
of white boats, a crane hauling quaking bungee jumpers up into the sky. But it’s
still Egypt: while we were having lunch there today, a man walked by, carrying
a five-month-old lion cub. The photographer by his side made sure nobody got to
take a snap without producing the gold.
The little
cub is from a local circus, and they assured me she wasn’t drugged, as she
curled up against the man like a kitten. We patted her paws, stroked her back and
admired her beautiful eyes without complaint.
“Do you
want your daughter to sit on the lion for a photo?” asked the tout. Listen
mate, I’ve already horrified enough animal lovers with posts of Eid’s sacrifices, I
told him. Let’s not push it…
(PS: I can’t show you the pic of the lion because I’m a dentist. No, it’s because I don’t have a scanner. Will work on that one…)

Building Interest: architectural tourism

Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring
Resort, China.

Build it and they will come. Or will they? Belinda Jackson rounds up the best newcomers on the architecture scene.

Could you visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower? Or
miss the Blue Mosque when in Istanbul? The Tower Bridge is a London
essential and Cairo’s pyramids are possibly the oldest tourist site on
the map.

But tell friends you’re going to Oslo to see the new design
by Renzo Piano and chances are you’ll be tarred with a try-hard hipster
tag. “Architecture is the great public art,” says Eoghan Lewis,
architect and founder of Sydney Architecture Walk, in defence of
architectural tourism.

While not buying into the tallest-fattest-most-brightly-coloured
debate (“Do people really travel to see the new tall?”), he readily
admits to admiring Burj Khalifa, but describes Sydney’s Opera House as
“the most important 20th-century architectural moment”, matched only by
Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia basilica, in Barcelona.

The Cardboard Cathedral, New Zealand.

However, if you were so inclined, the battle for the tallest,
longest and shiniest building has just two serious contestants: the UAE
and China, with Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, at 829 metres, currently the
tallest building in the world. Pitch that beside Australia’s loftiest
offering, the Gold Coast’s Q1, and we come out looking positively puny
at just 322 metres high.

Architecture aficionados have their 2013-14 diaries full,
with a smorgasbord of beautiful little offerings from Britain and plenty
of Zaha Hadid curves in Asia.

Off the list is the tediously square new George W. Bush presidential
centre. And while we’d love to jet to Lima for sheer wackiness, its
cliff-hanging hotel is, unsurprisingly, still at the planning permission
stage, while Shanghai’s Songjiang Hotel, where two floors are
underwater, won’t open till 2015.

Back home in Australia, now is the time for quiet, beautiful,
subtle achievers. Read on for a baker’s dozen of great new
architectural statements going up around the world.

ASIA

Here’s a statistic that will probably be outdated by the time we go
to print: nine of the 20 tallest buildings currently in construction
across the world are in China. But just because they’re tall doesn’t
make them fabulous: they have to be beautiful, too.

At heart, many travellers are mountain goats who need to
climb to the top for the birds-eye view of a new city. So take a look at
the new Shanghai Tower, which erupts from Pudong, one big paddy field
until a couple of decades ago.

he stats are impressive: the futuristic
skyscraper designed by American super-firm Gensler, was “topped out” in
early August at 632 metres, making it China’s tallest building; well
under Burj Khalifa. It is expected to be overtaken in the sky race even
before its completion by the ambitious Sky City, in Hunan, which aims to
scrape past the Burj by nine metres. Is it just me, or does this smack
of playground politics? Would it make you plan a trip to Hunan to see a
pointy tower that won’t fit in your camera lens?

Still big but less pointy, the new Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring
Resort, also near Shanghai, is dominated by what’s unscientifically
been dubbed a “doughnut”. Perhaps “glowing horseshoe” is a kinder term
to describe Beijing-based MAD architects’ work: the ring is covered in a
metal skin covered with LED lights, which erupts 100 metres high from a
lake. The resort opened this year to the tune of about $1.5 billion and
should win dinner parties as the ultimate Shanghai weekender.

The Iranian-born, British-based architectural powerhouse Zaha Hadid
has been one seriously busy woman, with the new Dongaemun history and
culture park opening in Seoul next year. With her signature organic
curves, Hadid’s “urban oasis” is in the centre of old downtown Seoul and
includes a design museum and traditional Korean gardens. Detractors say
Hadid hasn’t tried hard enough to keep the old city but her admirers
won’t be disappointed (ddp.seoul.go.kr/eng/).

As an aside, while she’s not everyone’s cup of tea, Hadid’s
work definitely is admired by a group of Chinese builders, who have
pirated her Beijing Wangjing SoHo complex, in Chongqing. The copy may
even be completed before the original is finished, in 2014.

For more organic forms and materials, head to Kontum City in
Middle Vietnam for a cup of coffee at the waterside cafe in Kon Tum
Indochine Hotel. Designed by Vo Trong Nghia architects, the cafe’s roof
is upheld by 15 gigantic bamboo columns inspired by Vietnamese fishing
baskets. The cafe is on the shortlist for an award at this month’s World
Architecture Festival at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore (indochinehotel.vn).

Den Bla Planet, Denmark.

SCANDINAVIA
For most, the drawcard of Copenhagen’s Den Bla Planet (The
Blue Planet) won’t be the architecture, it’ll be the 20,000 marine
animals wriggling around on display at this new aquarium, designed by
Danish architects 3XN. The largest aquarium in Northern Europe, Den Bla
Planet holds seven million litres of water inside, is encircled by a
reflection pool outside, and the building’s form is inspired by a
whirlpool, a visual treat from the air when you fly in to nearby
Copenhagen Airport. Australian aquarium architecture specialists
Crossley Architects, who spent almost four years working on the project,
name the Amazon display as the best in show (denblaaplanet.dk). The aquarium has just won its category for display architecture at the 2013 World Architecture Festival.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Masdar City

Normally, we’d associate the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with excess:
the world recreated in man-made islands (“Anyone for Nigeria?”) or very,
very big, pointy towers, a la Burj Khalifa. Abu Dhabi’s new World Trade
Centre won’t disappoint on that count but for something completely
different, Dubai’s bankroller is also home to a sustainable,
zero-carbon, zero-waste, car-free city.

Set beside Abu Dhabi’s airport, Masdar City is designed by
British architect Norman Foster of Foster & Partners. A so-called
“arcology” project, which marries architecture and ecology to create
self-sustaining, densely populated cities, Masdar City runs on solar
energy – sensibly, given it’s built in a sunny desert.

Expect
super-modernity from the car-free city, which is connected by little
driver-less pods, but expect also lessons from the past, such as wind
towers, or barjeels, Iran’s ancient alternative to air-con (masdarcity.ae).

The Shard

BRITAIN
Architects
feature consistently in the top 10 sexiest occupations, which must make
Renzo Piano, co-architect of Paris’s Centre Georges Pompidou,
absolutely irresistible. Britain is currently revelling in golden years
and Piano’s Shard, which opened in February, is the new jewel in
London’s skyline. Stats first: topping 310 metres, yes, it’s the tallest
building in Western Europe, with 11,000 glass panels and, amazingly, 90
per cent of its construction materials are recycled. It’s not just a
viewpoint, the tower will soon house a hotel, four restaurants and
residencies with a price tag from £30 million ($50 million) (the-shard.com).

Shard aside (and we haven’t even gone to Glasgow’s
Commonwealth Games build), this year’s top talking points are all
low-to-the-ground historical landmarks, led by the new Mary Rose museum
in Portsmouth, which opened in May. The Mary Rose, a 16th-century Tudor
warship, was built on these docks in 1510, sinking after 34 years’
service. She was raised from the bed of the Solent River and four
centuries and $56 million later, is now encircled by a modern museum
displaying her sunken treasure. The museum is designed by architects
Wilkinson Eyre, the name behind Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay and the
Crown Sydney resort at Barangaroo (maryrose.org).

Going further back into the mists of time, the new visitors
centre at Stonehenge is set to open in February next year, after two
decades and more than $60 million spent on planning and construction.
The building has sparked interest among the design community for the
hurdles it faced: the low-key design, by Denton Corker Marshall, sits
lightly on the ground so as to not disturb nor detract from the ancient
Salisbury plain (stonehenge.co.uk).

The Mary Rose.

Serious design aficionados already have their names down for
the chance to sleep amid the serene architecture of celebrated architect
Peter Zumthor, winner of the RIBA Royal Gold Medal 2013. The Secular
Retreat, which taps into the concept of “ecclesiastical architecture”
(read “monastic use of rammed concrete”) is located among the rolling
hills of South Devon and will be completed in 2014 (living-architecture.co.uk).

OCEANIA
As a half-Tasmanian, here’s a sentence I never thought I’d
utter: “You must go to Glenorchy and check out this amazing piece of
architecture.” The Glenorchy Art and Sculpture Park (GASP!) sits on the
banks of the Derwent River, just a couple of kilometres downstream from
another fine architectural statement, Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).

GASP, Tasmania

Designed by the young guns at Room 11, a boardwalk that curls around the
bay to MONA opened in 2011, followed in April by a new pavilion of rose
glass and concrete that juts out over the river. GASP! is already a
popular promenade and there are plans for regular art events and a new
social enterprise cafe and food truck. Ferry to MONA and hire bikes to
coast down to GASP or borrow free Art Bikes in Hobart and ride 30
minutes to GASP! (gasp.org.au, arts.tas.gov.au/artsatwork/artbikes).

Across the pond to New Zealand, the Cardboard Cathedral in
Christchurch officially opened in late August, already has a solid fan
base. Designed and donated to the city by “emergency architect” Shigeru
Ban after the Anglican cathedral was destroyed in the 2011 earthquake,
the temporary cathedral is an exercise in the resilience of faith and
community. Made from gigantic cardboard tubes, it has a life span of
about 20 years (christchurchnz.com/planning/cardboard-cathedral).

Architecturally, across the world there is no one trend:
there are small conversations and there are immense statements. With
Australia’s and the world’s top awards soon to be announced, the
conversation continues.

FIVE CITY ARCHITECTURE TOURS
MELTOURS ARCHITECTURE TOUR
Found in Melbourne; costs $39, phone 0407 380 969; see meltours.com.au.
SYDNEY ARCHITECTURE WALKS
Costs from $30; phone 0403 888 390; see sydneyarchitecture.org.
CHICAGO ARCHITECTURE FOUNDATION
Costs from $10; phone +312 922 3432; see architecture.org.
THE BAUHAUS TOUR
Found in Tel Aviv, Israel; costs $18; see bauhaus-center.com/tours.php.
EDINBURGH ARCHITECTURE TOURS
Found in Scotland, phone +44 1620 825722; see edinburgharchitecture.co.uk.

FIVE MORE OCEANIA BUILDINGS

MELBOURNE
Occupying the corner of Swanston and Victoria Streets, the
super-restrained Design Hub by Sean Godsell Architects is tipped to
clean up at this year’s national architecture awards, agree Eoghan Lewis
and Jerome Miller, of Meltours Architecture Tours. The building’s
“skin” is a grid of disks that can be rotated to catch the sun,
ultimately to power the building. Jerome also names 700 Bourke Street,
Docklands worth a look for its vivid “slices”, best seen from Southern
Cross Station.

CANBERRA
Opened in February, the National Arboretum is 250 hectares
dominated by a dramatic amphitheatre with secret gardens, cork oak
forests and high-arched, stone-clad visitor centre overlooking Lake
Burley Griffin, designed by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects and
landscape architects Taylor Cullity Lethlean (nationalarboretum.act.gov.au).

SYDNEY
The new Prince Alfred Park+Pool in Surry Hills is designed by
Neeson Murcutt Architects and Sue Barnsley Design. The 50-metre heated
outdoor pool lined playfully with palms and smart, sunny yellow
umbrellas, set amid grassy mounds that “fold” over the main building,
hiding it from street view (princealfred.org).

AUCKLAND
The Auckland Gallery Toi o Tamaki has just been named 2013
World Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival. It was
remodelled by Sydney’s FJMT and Auckland-based Archimedia and reopened
in September 2011 (aucklandartgallery.com).

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

The night before the feast: animalia in Cairo

A young camel for sale in the souk in Nasr City.

Cairo’s
streets are always crowded, always colourful, but moreso this week, in the
lead-up to Eid al-Adha, the great feast. 

Impromptu butchers shops have cropped
up on major intersections, the fumes from a hundred thousand minibuses curing
the slabs of beef, lamb and goats’ meat that hang in the open air.

Beside the
butchers, shepherds in dirty gellibayas care for the next batch of carcasses – fat-tailed
sheep, blank-eyed goats and unperturbed cattle huddle together, tethered by the roadsides in
readiness to be sacrificed for tomorrow’s feast. The meat will be distributed evenly
between the family, the poor and the freezer.
Sheep on a Cairo roadside, awaiting a buyer.

This
morning, I popped down to the local souq, here in central Cairo, where makeshift stables house a
hundred head of animals, alongside the usual market offerings of ducks, fish,
pigeons and rabbits. Standing separate from the melee, a young camel stands awaiting a buyer.

The day
before, observant Muslims fast in preparation, parents buy their children party
hats and new clothes, and tomorrow?
“Tomorrow,
the streets will run with blood,” is the ghoulish refrain in the lead-up to the
feast.

Of dusty plains and no-fly zones: welcome to Cairo!

Sunset over the Nile tonight, Cairo. Photo: Belle Jackson

It looks
like the khamaseen has come early to Cairo this year. The fifty days of dust
storms that scour North Africa usually cover the city’s windows and put the grit in your teeth each
February and March, but a strange cloud hangs over the city and it’s still just
October.
Looking out
from the balcony, airplanes slip quietly through the early morning mist. Their
passing doesn’t seem to happen that often: Cairo’s international airport was pretty
low-key when we came through three days ago, with Singapore Airlines the only
international I spotted: the rest were Egyptair planes, codesharing where the
other big names don’t want to go.
The duty
free shop was bereft of customers, I saw a boarded-up Thomas Cook counter and
the tourism touts could barely raise an eyebrow when I walked past: they know
that most passengers are locals returning for Eid al-Adha, the great feast,
this week. Any tourists are well and truly on organised packages and I didn’t
spot a single backpack.
Our three
flights from Melbourne to Cairo (via Singapore and Dubai) were shared with a
woman in her late 50s or early 60s. We were both worried by the brief, 55-minute
transit time in Singapore, as our incoming flight was late.
“No
matter,” I said. “There are worse places to have a forced stopover than
Singapore.”

“Well I
wouldn’t like to be doing it on my own!” said the intrepid lady, with some
concern. Woman, I thought to myself, you’re going to Cairo…

It’s just the two of us: mother-daughter travels

There’s a world of ideas for a mother and daughter getaway with it all, writes Belinda Jackson. 

Shop,
spa, eat, see and do – for mums and daughters, a trip together is a
unique way to celebrate and refresh your relationship without the
demands of kids, work and partners. Mums with teenage girls, snatch that
special time before they disappear into the world alone: perhaps this
is the chance to test the waters before gap years and the prospect of
solo travel raise their heads. After all, who could ask for a better
teacher of essential life skills?

PRINCESS DIARIES: ITALY
“When
in Italy, what would Audrey Hepburn do?” She’d probably drive to
beautiful little Siena (mental note: pack Pucci scarf and big
sunglasses), climb the top of the Mangia tower before shopping for
handmade Tuscan boots, then refreshing herself with lunch at a trattoria
and a little gelato.

Guide
Andrea Powis channels the ultimate diva on a 10-night tour through
Tuscany and down to Rome on a tour made for sisters or mums and
daughters. “It’s effervescent, elegant and timeless,” she says.

There
are home-cooked dinners at family vineyards and lunches in Renaissance
palaces with Florentine princesses, nights spent in country villas,
palazzos and monasteries, and two days on red Vespas, stopping for
morning cappuccinos in walled towns, with light shopping workouts in
between (non-Vespa divas are chauffeured). The tour ends in Rome, with a
tour of Villa Borghese and a promenade (and possibly more shopping)
along Via Condotti. The 10-night tour departs Florence on June 7, 2014.

Costs from $6699 a person, twin share. Phone 0408 721 569. See travellingdivas.com.au.

FROM NEON TO BLOSSOMS: JAPAN
Revel in the flash and dash of fashionable Tokyo then soak up the tranquillity of a Shinto shrine in the Japanese countryside.

With
stays at traditional ryokans and imperial palaces and Buddhist temples
on the list, there is time for peace and reflection on this journey.
But, hey, there’s also fabulous shopping at oh-so beautiful department
stores and Tokyo’s hip strips.

This is a privately guided journey,
making it perfect for mums and daughters to reconnect: in spring for
cherry blossoms, summer with its gentle warmth or among the spectacular
autumn colours.

Departing from Tokyo daily, the nine-night tour includes
a first class on a bullet train from Hakone to Kyoto, a tea ceremony in
a private home, Michelin-starred restaurants and local izakayas and the
chance to emulate some of Japan’s best-dressed women in a kimono and
obi.

Costs from $11,185 a person, twin share. Phone 1300 851 800, see abercrombiekent.com.au.

SHOP THE CITY: NEW YORK
Shopping is bonding, says Karen Parker O’Brien, who leads private shopping tours of New York City.
“On
a mother-and-daughter day out, you’re bonding as best friends who care
about what the other thinks,” says the former fashion buyer, who will
take you into private showrooms and studios.
Her top shop is the homewares “museum” ABC Carpet & Home, on Broadway. “It’s a magical store.”
Expect
champagne and gourmet snacking, expect retail highs in designers’ NYC
showrooms, expect up to 80 per cent off in the wholesale haunts. A
private four-hour VIP walking tour costs from US$400 for four people,
limo tours from US$500. See karen@styleroom.com, styleroom.com.

A CREATIVE REVOLUTION: SPAIN
Spain
is proof that daily life can and should be lived exuberantly, says art
historian, chef and guide Marieke Brugman. Celebrated culinary guide
Marieke’s nine-day tour through northern Spain starts in soulful
Barcelona before venturing north to Bilbao, Navarra and La Rioja.

Visit
mediaeval fishing harbours that spawned navigators and fashion
designers. Dine at a coveted chef’s table in the three-Michelin-star
Arzak, rated eighth in the world by San Pellegrino.
Devour
pintxos, sleep in mansions and learn kitchen secrets from northern
Spain’s masters. Marieke may even lead you into the whiskey bars of San
Sebastian or into tavernas run by elegant septuagenarian ladies.

“Women,
especially of a more mature age, are not invisible in Spain,” says
Marieke. “To the contrary, they’re celebrated.” Departs September 26,
2014. Costs $10,000, phone 0419 580 381, see mariekesartofliving.com.

Crown Metropol’s sky-high pool, Melbourne.

PUT THE “AH” INTO SPA: AUSTRALIA
What
better way to repay your mum for the sleepless nights, the endless
dishes and a lifetime of caring than to check her in for two days of
water therapy … we’re talking rituals using Aveda products,
stress-busting massages, a soothing facial and exclusive spa access at
Melbourne’s sky-high Crown Metropol. Level 27 is home to Crown’s lush
Isika spa, expansive views of Melbourne’s skyline as well as that
amazing pool, the one where Offspring’s lovely Patrick farewelled
television’s most glamorous mum-to-be, Nina.

The revive package
also includes one night’s accommodation in an Isika spa suite, breakfast
at the sky-high private guest lounge, 28, lunch and dinner at Mr Hive
and stress-free valet parking.
For total relaxation, book midweek
to avoid the weekend hustle. Costs from $880 a person or $1485 for two,
twin share. Phone 1800 056 662, see isikaspa.com.au.

THREE MORE TRIPS CLOSE TO HOME

GOLDEN DOOR ELYSIA
in
the Hunter Valley is an easy getaway, with healthy cuisine, meditation,
morning tai chi and motivational speakers. Save 15 per cent on a
two-night weekend stay until December 20. From $940 a person, two
nights. 1800 212 011, goldendoor.com.au.

THEATRE TRIP
Take
in dinner and a show, with Agatha Christie’s A Murder Announced, with
an overnight stay in Mantra 2 Bond Street, Sydney, from $500 a night
(until October 27) or in Melbourne, staying at Mantra on the Park, from
$472 (from October 30 to December 4). 1300 987 604, mantra.com.au.

HIGHLANDS RETREAT
Revive
the soul with a gentle bushwalk in the Southern Highlands and a stay at
the no-gadget Solar Springs Health Retreat, from $255 a person, twin
share. (02) 4883 6027, solarsprings.com.au.

Written by Belinda Jackson, published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper.

A ghost in the jungle: spotting lost leopards in Sri Lanka

It’s late, I’m slogging away on a deadline about Sri Lanka. Ok, I’m not. I’m blogging instead. But to take a break from wringing words from a bleeding brain, I started hunting for photos to accompany the piece, which has a breakout on leopard spotting in Yala National Park.

And you know those weird things that get in your computer system and fidget with your photo catalogues? Yes, those. They were in there, and this is the photo they lost.

The young female leopard was standing on the side of the dirt track we were cruising in our 4WD. Noel Rodrigo, internationally hailed as Sri Lanka’s leopard whisperer, saw her and pulled up sharp. She wandered across the track in front of us, then padded along the dirt road before turning back into the scrub. Within seconds, she had disappeared from view once again, a ghost in the jungle.

Noel’s camp is located around the back entrance to the park: up to 400 trucks pour through the main gate every morning, cowboys roaring through the park, two-way radios blaring, each promising a glimpse of these elusive cats. We crept in the back gate early and slowly to find our girl. And now I’ve found her again.

www.leopardsafaris.com

Bargains in Bali and Britain, family-friendly fun in Malaysia: travel deals 29 September 2013

The Sheraton Mirage Resort & Spa, Gold Coast, Qld.

Grab an off-peak bargain on Britain’s trains or in Bali’s villas, be one of the first to see the revamped Sheraton Mirage on the Gold Coast, or splash out with the kids in Malaysia, a truly family-friendly country. Go on, you’re worth it.

Go now:
See the five-star Sheraton Mirage Resort & Spa Gold
Coast’s $26 million renovation. Stay three, pay for two nights, from $580 or
stay four and pay three nights, from $870, until December 22, (07) 5577 0000, sheratonmiragegoldcoast.com.au.
Go sooner: Britain
Save 20 per cent on the BritRail Pass and Britrail
England Pass between November 1 and February 28, 2014 when you book by February
12, 2014. From $185 an adult for a three-day pass, raileurope.com.au
The main bedroom, Villa Asanda, Bali.
Go now:  Bali
Nine beautiful Balinese villas are on sale: save 20
percent on rates at the fully staffed villas on stays until December 20. Villas
range from three to six bedrooms, from $420 a night, three-bed villa, marketingvillas.com.
KIDS
The themed Kid Suites at the Holiday Inn Resort Penang are
part of a Malaysian getaway with Sheraton Imperial Kuala Lumpur. The
seven-night, two-town package includes domestic flights, two free nights, bonus
upgrades, tours and kids under 12 stay and eat free in Penang. Book by November
30, from $1790 a person, 1300 696 252, myholidaycentre.com.au/Malaysia.

This article was written by Belinda Jackson and published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper.