|Ambassador House, Galle|
Elegant villas dot Sri Lanka’s jungle and coast.
Petite and chic, the true gem of Sri Lanka is its rising wave
of beautiful boutique hotels and villas peppered throughout its wild,
lush interior and sublime coastal strips. The tiny island has performed a
staggering comeback – just three years after its 26-year civil war
ended in 2009, more than a million tourists came to soak up its sun, sip
its tea and savour its culture.
Sri Lanka and Bali are emerging rivals, sharing similar
climates, a guaranteed warm welcome and an innate sense of style and
|Child’s play: the hotel’s infinity pool at sunset.|
Kuta is known for its traffic, its touts and its tattoos, but
as Belinda Jackson finds, there are pockets where families can chill
Arrayed in white linen, the Italian hotel manager glides
between tables, chatting while the DJ eases us into the evening with a
A photographer snaps the poolside model, garnished in jewels
and tiny bikini, and staff watch on as small children splash in the
toddlers’ pool, which is awash with a coloured light display.
We’re in Kuta. Yes, Kuta. The much-maligned Balinese home of tie-dye
T-shirts, cornrow braids and misspelt tattoos. But stay with me. The
Sheraton Kuta Bali is a little haven amid the insane traffic and moped
touts, right across the road from the iconic Kuta Beach.
|Nanny and charge during Sunday brunch. Photo: Belinda Jackson|
The open-air foyer is capped by a massive faux grass-weave
roof and looks over the ocean. Each of the 203 rooms, suites and the
penthouse has a balcony, with 64 rooms interconnecting and kitted out
for travelling families.
Now two years old, the hotel is still in a state of evolution
that defies its location, from the handpainted plates of its Bene
rooftop Italian trattoria to the low-key Sunday sunset pool parties and
newest addition, the kids’ club.
I’m a novice at this kids’ club thing. In the past, I’ve used nannies
with Small Girl, timing it with her naps to slip out for a few hours of
grown-up time. There have been good times, there have been tears.
“We decided to open a kids’ club because we were hit with a
massive number of families last holidays,” says the hotel’s general
manager and father-of-three, Dario Orsini. “Parents are travelling with
kids much earlier than they used to. And we just didn’t expect people
would bring their kids to Kuta.”
The sparkling new Play@Sheraton Kids Club opens with a pretty
dance by a local Balinese ballet class, and we admire the unblemished
sand pit, slides and the paddling pool outside. Inside, the little
dancing girls all leap onto the computers to play a pink, fluffy game,
the boys tear up to the mezzanine level to bond with the PlayStation 3.
My child, through some genetic programming glitch, merely stands in
front of a three-storey doll’s house, gasping in shock and awe.
In a clever piece of marketing, the kids’ club is free to
hotel guests but also to anyone spending more than $35 in the hotel’s
Shine spa. See what they did there?
|Indonesian desserts. Photo: Belinda Jackson|
With my new freedom, I take the hotel’s advice and, an hour
later, erupt from the hotel’s spa with all nails newly painted an
extremely perky orange called “A Roll in the Hague” . It is a test
drive, it is a revelation.
General manager Dario’s three beautiful children have been
instrumental in the hotel’s many kid-friendly initiatives, including the
kids’ buffet. One section of the restaurant is set with low children’s
tables, unbreakable crockery, plastic cups and pint-sized cutlery beside
the kids’ buffet, where they can pick up their own breakfast cereal,
noodles, a pastry or the cutest little ducklings made from balls of
I do mention to the (possibly childless) food and beverage
manager that a little fruit or some cheese could be squeezed between the
chocolate donuts, but Small Child seems perfectly happy with the
selection. In keeping with the local expat tradition for elaborate
Sunday lunches, the main restaurant, Feast, runs a Market Brunch.
What I love best is not the free-pour drinks package
(although that’s pretty good) nor the fact that a nanny whisks your kids
away to the kids’ area to make bracelets and drawings so you can eat,
unencumbered (also exceptionally good). No, I love the strong Indonesian
bias on the buffet.
Yes, you can have your sushi, your curry, your fruit platters
and your dim sum. But there’s also a flame grill on the terrace,
overlooking busy Jalan Pantai Kuta to the beach, where your hand-picked
monster prawn or local whole fish is grilled before your hungry eyes.
At another little trolley, an aged woman makes rujak, the
classic Indonesian salad of papaya, cucumber and sweet potato, tossed in
a salty-sweet, chili palm sugar dressing, and the bebek rica-rica, a
fiery duck curry, is the best I’ve tasted.
The dessert display groans with sweetly coloured ice-creams
and petite fours, sharing the limelight with cantik manis (literally,
“beautiful dessert”), a pink banana and tapioca slice arranged beside
green dadar gulung rolls and klepon, little balls filled with liquid
palm sugar that has my Indonesian colleague reminiscing of her
The next day, I want to experiment to see if that
happy-kids-club thing wasn’t a fluke. Small Child runs toward said club.
I run toward spa. Even better. The masseuse slaving over my
densely knotted shoulders nods knowingly when I mention my young
daughter (“Ah, picking her up all the time,” she diagnoses
sympathetically as she drives a thumb beneath my shoulder blade, making
it stick up like a chicken’s wing. It feels surprisingly good.)
It’s also at this hands-free time that I discover another
hotel secret: walk out the front entrance and you literally walk into
Zara, in the Beachwalk shopping mall, which shares the same block of
real estate. Zara and Top Shop not your thing? OK, head for Armani, the
surfware shops, slick cafes.
If you’re in the market for exceptional local fashion, make a
beeline for Satu, which showcases Bali’s best labels including Natasha
Gan’s floaty dresses, chic, monochromatic pants suits from Uluwatu Lace
and bags by Jakata-based Soe.Hoe.
I also pop in to the beautiful Museum Kain, Bali’s first
cloth (“kain”) museum, well curated with excellent interactive displays
on the history of Indonesian fabric design.
It’s our last day, and Small Girl has spent every waking
minute either talking about or dancing around the kids’ club. I have to
pry her out to check out.
At the reception, the three-year-old drops to the floor and
turns on a spectacular tantrum. People turn to stare, disapprovingly as
her howls echo throughout vast lobby.
“Noooo! I want to go to kids’ club! I don’t want to go home!”
Dario, the general manager, passes us with a small smile: he knows I’ll be back.
The writer was a guest of Sheraton Kuta Bali.
STAYING THERE The Play@Sheraton family package includes breakfast, kids’
club, a play pack, kid’s manicure, free-flow bottle for juice or milk
and all kids’ meals from $215 a room, a night (two-night minimum) for
two adults and two kids under 12. Sunday’s Market Brunch costs from $25
for adults, $12.50 for children, and is open to non-guests. A Shine Spa
signature massage costs from $37 for an hour. Sheraton Bali Kuta, phone 1800 073 535; see sheratonbalikuta.com
floodplains in the Kalahari Desert, has been named UNESCO’s 1000th
World Heritage Site. From June to August, the delta trebles in size as it
floods, attracting Africa’s great wildlife. Explore on foot, game
drive, helicopter, on horseback or by dugout canoe. Best visited in the cooler
months from April to October, check out the new Dhow suites in the Zarafa tented
camp (1300 237 422, benchinternational.com.au) or the newly renovated ecological Sandibe
Okavango Safari Lodge (andBeyond.com). The
lodge reopens on September 1.
muscling their way onto the world’s tables, with a legion of fans including
many-Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal. Wander through the trees of Oak Valley truffle farm in Western Australia’s
Manjimup district, hunting with hounds for French black truffles. The new tour
aims to demystify the pricey fungus while you snack on freshly roasted
hazelnuts and trail a truffle dog. ‘‘People are fascinated by truffles,
particularly their rarity and expense,’’ says guide Peter Norris. Catering for up to seven guests, the tour ends with a truffle lunch at
Watershed Premium Wines in Margaret River. The full-day tour costs $240 a
person, including lunch and wine. Phone 0411 186 430, see goinstyle.com.au.
|The Paris Cat, Melbourne|
darkest alley in Melbourne – then go down the stairs. Basement bars are where
it’s all at in this town at the moment, from hip jazz cafes to boutique wine
bars. Half the fun is finding them (signs are for tourists), and the latest
edition of Melbourne’s Bars and Pubs is now free and spells out the dress code,
the average price of a meal, happy hours and even the average age of punters. This
is not a directory – expect a curated list that’s written and developed by
Melburnians. It’ll hook you up with the cool bar nearest you, with GPS, maps
and photos, weekly gigs and lets you check in via facebook or foursquare,
for extra bragability. Available on iPhone and Android, free. melbournesbarsandpubs.com.au.
not just because they’re usually a foot shorter than you. Let local kids lead yours
around their home town, from Brisbane to Fiji or Glasgow, on the Bound Round
travel app for iPhone and iPad. In each location, kids aged eight to 12 years share
tips about great parks and sights to fun activities and food, with videos,
photos and games. Currently, there are travel guides and experiences for 20
locations worldwide, with the Pacific Islands, Darwin, Adelaide and Perth going
live by the year’s end. Next year, there’s a focus on the US and the UK, but
even if you’re not jetting off anywhere soon, it’s ideal to crack the conundrum
of what to do in school holidays in Sydney or Melbourne. Founded by Sydneysider
Janeece Keller, all content is vetted by a board of kids and the iPhone app has
also just gone live, free. See boundround.com.
Pack your passport in your
pocket without ruining the line on your skinny jeans with the Travel Wallet
from Victorian designers Bellroy, who are evangelical about reinventing the
slimline wallet. The wallet is a favourite with bag aficionados and stockists
Rushfaster, who recommend it for the micro pen – essential when all the airport
pens at customs are dead.
It’s carefully designed not to crumple boarding passes. Costs $119.95. Phone (02) 8594 1100, see rushfaster.com.au.
four-day journey into the heart of Australia. One of a new series of train journeys,
it departs Darwin and takes four days to reach Adelaide, stopping for a starlit
dinner in the MacDonnell Ranges and a day underground in the opal-rich town of
Coober Pedy. For an additional charge, you can even fly in to Uluru and still
have time to rejoin the train. The four-day, three-night Ghan
journey runs from May 23-August 22, 2015 and is one of the new offerings in the
Costs from $3199 a person, Gold twin share. Phone 1800 725 993, see greatsouthernrail.com.au.
Parks is pulling out the cobwebs and pumpkins for its annual Halloween
camp-out to raise money for children’s cancer charity Camp Quality. Campsites
cost $20 in the 85 participating Big4 parks across Australia, with many
parks running additional activities such as BBQs, face painting and creepy
capers. Camp and sCare runs Friday 31 across Australia, and Friday October 24
in Victoria. Book online at BIG4.com.au.
|Bon Voyage shoes|
you want to be with the cutest women’s shoes from Venuzuelan brand Hot
Chocolate. Imprinted with an old-school map of the world, they have a rubber
sole for comfortable strolling and the soft polyester upper makes them easy to
clean. Flip the buckle and they’re an ideal inflight shoe, but if you’re not
travelling anywhere soon, just look down, map out your route and daydream. Bon
voyage shoes, $75. Phone 0499 116 659, see pimposaustralia.com.
Sydney’s The Powerhouse Museum and Indian textiles aficianado. You will watch
silk and cotton weaving in women’s charities, learn about ancient tribal dyeing
techniques, block-printing and visit renowned ateliers during this new 15-day
textiles tour. Other highlights include the 1st-century Buddhist
caves of Ajanta, sufi concerts, local village visits and the photogenic Rajasthani cities of Jaipur and Jaisalmer. Accommodation includes
Jodhpur’s Ajit Bhawan Palace and Samode Haveli in
Jaipur. Threads of Rajasthan tour numbers are capped at 12, tour departs
February 7, 2015. Costs from $11,500 a person, twin share, including flights
ex-Sydney, meals and guides. Phone 1300 130 218, see classicsafaricompany.com.au.
bottom dollar you won’t miss your luggage on the
carousel amid a sea of boring black. Online retailer Kogan’s new
budget-friendly three-piece luggage sets are lightweight with a hard-side shell,
and sit sturdily on four multi-directional spinner wheels. The set has two suitcases, 100-litre (4.2kg) and 65-litre (3.5kg), and a 40-litre (2.6kg)
cabin bag, with TSA-approved locks and a one-year warranty. Colour challenged?
Available also in charcoal. Kogan Hardside Spinner luggage set, $159, three
pieces. Phone 1300 304 292, see kogan.com.au.
against the masses, and you’re demanding the hotel room decorated with street
art. You’re the epitome of the new traveller. “Curation is the future of
says Mat Lewis of new boutique accommodation booker View Retreats. Travellers are seeking
architectural statements for eye-popping travel snaps. “Our
most-viewed property is the Wollemi Wilderness Treehouse in the Blue Mountains,
followed by Campbell Point House on Victoria’s Bellaraine Peninsula and Alkira
Rainforest Retreat in the Daintree.” Romantic cocoons are the top request. See viewretreats.com.
mother-of-two, Ingrid Huitema, is dedicated to journeys with babies. The site aims to take the grunt out of
travelling with young kids and give parents time to reconnect as a couple.
“Taking a few hours each day to eat lunch uninterrupted, walk on the beach or
try a surf lesson are things that usually don’t happen when you’re on holidays
with babies and toddlers,” says Huitema. “We want to change all of that.” Packages
in baby-friendly Bali comprise villas tailored for children, with pick-up at Denpasar airport, car seats and pool fences with nannies. A five-night stay in
Seminyak starts from $1895, with four days’ nanny service. Phone 0408 112 728, see babyandtoddlertravel.com.au.
GOT IT COVERED
they’re the ones cosily bedded down with their own neck pillows and eye
masks in cute-as jungle scenes or candy-pink babushka prints. The
Australian-designed travel products are kid-sized and include matching
passport covers and luggage, thus teaching kids that if they want to
bring it, they also have to carry it. Each item is sold separately so
you can build the collection as your kids’ needs change. Pillow, $19.95,
eye mask and passport covers, $16.95 each. Phone (07) 3018 3504, see bobbleart.com.au.
Airbus or 50. The Dubai-based Emirates airline has just received its 50th A380,
cementing its position as the world’s largest international airline. New destinations
connected by A380s include Kuwait and Mumbai this month, with Frankfurt,
Dallas, San Francisco and Houston coming online in the next five months. The
airline expects its cache of A380s to increase to 90 by late 2017. Emirates is
also adding three new European destinations to its network –Oslo and Brussels
in September and Budapest on October 27. 1300 303 777, emirates.com/au.
with Donald Trump. No, really. The five-star Trump SoHo New York’s Young
Entrepreneurs program is open to hotel guests from 3 to 17 years as well as Manhattan
neighbourhood kids. Previous events including Children’s Museum of the Arts
film screenings, business and cooking classes as well as downtime in the spa
(for those busy kids, not you). They’ll
also get business cards, free meals and a quarterly newsletter about NYC
family-friendly events. Kids get a monogrammed robe, candy buffets and
cocktails, local maps from a pint-sized point of view and free rollaway beds. A
new partnership with phil&teds lets you use their strollers and baby
backpacks during your stay. The NYC Family Getaway package costs from $687 a
night. +See trumpsohohotel.com/kids.
hiding in the ship’s galley when she stars on her third Murray River celebrity
cook cruise. The PS Murray Princess paddlewheeler cruises the river while Julie
conducts three cooking demonstrations and hosts a three-course dinner for 120
guests on the four-night cruise between Mannum and Blanchardstown, SA. The
stately paddlewheeler journeys past redgum forests and limestone cliffs and
also pulls in to historic ports, a sheep station, a vineyard and a cellar door.
Departs March 9, 2015, but book early, she’s a lady in demand. Costs from $1229
a person, twin share. (02) 9206 1111, captaincook.com.au.
|Mandarin Oriental Bodrum, Turkey|
doors on Turkey’s south-eastern coastline, 30 minutes from beautiful Bodrum on
the Turkish Riviera. Each of the hotel rooms – the creation of Italian design powerhouse Antonio
Citterio -looks out over the Aegean, with terraces
and decks primed for sun soaking. The suites have plunge pools and
outdoor showers. Set on the waterfront on Cennet
Koyu (Paradise Bay), the hotel has 109 rooms and suites with a spa and
10 restaurants and bars. The Discover Paradise Bay opening offer
costs from $2587 for three nights,
and includes $215 credit to spend in the spa or restaurants, available until
December 31. Phone 1800 123 693, see mandarinoriental.com.
|The Toby iMail laptop
Casual Messenger slung over a hardened traveller’s shoulder some time soon. The
new range from Australian design company Zoomlite will be released in late
August, with the Jackson coming in olive, khaki or navy. The heavy-duty washed
canvas bag (25x32cm) features a vintage leather trim with a cross-body strap, leaving
your hands free for adventure. Keep an eye out also for the Toby iMail laptop
bag, for those who don’t need to shriek geek. The vintage-leather bag comes in
camel or deep brown and its padded section lets you truck a 13-inch laptop with
discretion (29x35cm). Jackson Casual
Messenger, $69.95. Toby iMail, $229.95. zoomlite.com.au.
|Designer Kash O’Hara|
mainland cousin, Shenzhen, with Sydney fashion stylist and designer Kash O’Hara.
Kash will do a style analysis and help write your shopping list beforehand. She’ll even help you
design pieces that are then tailored in Shenzen. But it’s not all hard
shopping. The tour includes high tea at The Peninsula hotel, a swish dinner and
guided tours. “It’s partly a holiday,
partly a shopping trip,” says Kash. From $3630 a
person, twin share. Includes international flights, four nights’ accommodation
in Hong Kong and one night in Shenzen. Departs October 1. Phone 0411 166 623,
Face painting, Teen Idol and mini discos need to be balanced with
adult playrooms – and the swim-up bar and massage pods at Phuket’s two
Sunwing resorts, Kamala Beach and Bangtao, do the trick. Sunwing’s
Happy Baby Studios are designed for families with babies: the
ground-floor rooms have enclosed terraces and locking gates and all the
accoutrements, from pots to cots, baby recliners and unsmashable
crockery and cutlery. Happy Baby Studios cost from $138 a night,
off-peak (until October 31). sunwingphuket.com.