Cairo in a nutshell

I’ve been poking around the back alleys and the big-ticket drawcards of Cairo for a decade now (How did that happen? One minute I was setting up this blog on a tiny little Juliet balcony in a pensione in downtown Cairo, the next minute, it’s 10 years later!)

In that time, Cairo’s fortunes have flowed, ebbed, and are now flowing again, after revolutions, currency flotations, elections and a whole vortex of world events that have shaped the old traditions and new fashions in this maniacal city of 20 million (give or take a few million).

It still blows me away, every time I visit. There’s the City of the Dead, which may be home to as many as a million undocumented (living) souls, the rock-carved cathedrals of Mokattam, the wild nights of horseriding around the Pyramids beneath a full moon, and the Nile. There’s always the Nile.

It scratches only the surface, but here are 10 of my tips on visiting the City that Sleeps In Shifts, published in this weekend’s Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

 

Eating in Lake Como, Italy

Grand Hotel Tramezzo Lake Como
Photo: Belle Jackson – instagram @global_salsa

“So,” says Gianni, taking my arm. “Do you like to eat?”

There’s
only one response, when the food and beverage director of an Italian
five-star hotel has you in their grip. “Si,” I reply. And again, con
passione
. “Si!”

Gianni
inhales deeply, drawing himself up to his full height which, like me,
is an imposing 163 centimetres, and we sweep into the breakfast room of
the Grand Hotel Tremezzo.

Italy’s luxury goes up a notch when you’re on Lake Como, where I managed to fit in three decadent meals a day, capped by rizo, oro e zafferano (rosotto with gold and saffron).I even have the certificate that authenticates the dish (#100624), conceived in 1981 and considered the genesis of Italian haute cuisine.

As
certified by Italy’s first three-Michelin starred chef, Gualtiero
Marchesi, whose dishes are presented at the packed La Terrazza each
night by the hotel’s executive chef Osvaldo Presazzi.
This story was published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age newspapers. To read it in full (a calorie-free option), click here 

The mighty Murray spins a winning yarn

I’m so pleased to say that my yarn about boating through the backwaters of the Murray River, in South Australia’s Riverland, has won 2018 Best Australian Story under 1000 words at Saturday’s Australian Society of Travel Writers’ pomp-and-glitter awards in Bangkok. It was an equal first, I’m sharing the award with Andrew Bain, whose work is damned fantastic.

My story was published in Fairfax’s Traveller section, and while I was there, my host Rick Edmonds, from The Frames asked me why the tourism boards don’t promote the mighty Murray as an Australian icon, as they do Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef.

I don’t have the answer, but at a time when rural Australia needs our support, I hope that can change, and the Murray receives its due recognition. Thank you to Tourism Australia for sponsoring this award, and for supporting the ASTW. In the words of another Aussie icon, the immortal Jeff Fenech, I love youse all.

Murray River at sunset. Photo: Belle Jackson

You can read the story here: http://www.traveller.com.au/murray-river-cruise-along-the-h…

Of myth, graves and art: Tasmania, Australia

Hobart
Photo courtesy of Henry Jones Art Hotel

Back in the mists of time, nobody used to admit they were from Tassie, the heart-shaped island state of Australia. If you escaped from Tasmania, you rebranded and moved on.

Now, it’s deeply fashionable to be from somewhere other than Melbourne or Sydney, and Tassie is as hot as it gets, with a bumper food scene, fabulous scenery and its Henry Jones Art Hotel, which claims is position as Australia’s first art hotel.

I popped down just as winter was kicking in – a little too early to catch snow on kunanyi / Mount Wellington – but with a wind imported directly from Antarctica, which howled down the wharves, sending shutters shuddering and reminding me,  in the dead of the night, of the myth and graves on which this island is founded.

You can read my review of the recently renovated Henry Jones, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers here .

Escape to the country – Rutherglen’s tower for two

Photo: Belle Jackson

A century-old French style winery in the Australian countryside – you’ll have to go half-way between Canberra and Melbourne to find Mt Ophir Estate, but it’s worth the drive.

The working winery has been dormant for years in its location on the edge of Victorian wine town Rutherglen, but recently reopened its couples-only getaway, a hopelessly romantic three-storey tower for two.

If the stylish artwork, the superb furniture sourced from antique stores around the world, the spectacular Rhone-inspired wines and the views of the surrounding countryside don’t woo you, then I have two words for you: smoked butter.

Photo: Belle Jackson

The next generation of the renowned winemaking family, the Browns (of Brown Brothers), are behind this renovation. They also own the nearby All Saints Winery and its excellent restaurant and the Indigo Food Co, which produces my New Best Friend, smoked butter.

With a half-dozen fresh oysters, a loaf of sourdough and a pat of this buttery beauty, you may even prefer to be in this tower as a single. After all, deep in our dark hearts, who likes to share?

Click here to read my review of Mt Ophir, published on Fairfax Media’s Traveller website. 

Belinda Jackson was a guest of Mt Ophir Estate.

Seven dishes you must try on the Sunshine Coast

Seven_dishes_sunshine_coast
Koji creme caramel, Spicers Tamarind

The path to the Sunshine Coast beach town of Noosa is a well-worn path for southerns. However, chef Cameron Matthews’ recommendations of what to eat will send you up into the cool hinterlands to try Asian-inspired creme caramel, wash-rind cheeses and fresh feijoas.

You can find out what his seven must-eat dishes are by clicking here

This article appears on the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age‘s Traveller website.

Walking in Palestine: make hummus, not war

The turn of each year always calls for contemplation, and looking back at last year’s travel, Palestine definitely wins as the most dramatic of the destinations I visited in 2017, which included Jaipur (India), Bali (Indonesia), Egypt, Greece, a brief fling in Qatar and plenty of lovely Australian destinations.

 

Upload FilesIt’s been a while since I entered a country with such trepidation and so many questions (Will they stamp my visa on a piece of paper? (Yes) Will I find beauty? (Yes) Will I starve (An emphatic no) Will I cross borders easily? (No bother until I departed Tel Aviv airport at the end) and, most importantly, Will I be safe? (A resounding yes to feeling safe in Palestine, especially compared with the state-sponsored gun-fest that was, for me, Jerusalem).

Bedouin_campJPG

On my week-long hiking tour through Palestine’s West Bank, I walked with just one other hiker – another woman – and our guide, the fabulously patient, deeply knowledgeable and supremely courteous Anwar. Just the three of us, wandering remote valleys and sunbaked hilltops.

We slept in Bedouin camps, in people’s houses and in small, family-run hotels, drinking an inordinate amount of sweet, thyme-scented tea and eye-poppingly strong coffee, while eating our bodyweight in fresh dates that melt on the tongue like brown sugar.

Highlights include adding our own Banksy-designed graffiti onto the towering concrete walls that separate the West Bank from Israel, wandering ancient markets buying spices and baklava, and visiting remote monasteries hidden in the ravines and valleys that mark the countryside.

DISCLAIMER: In Palestine, I was a guest of Crooked Compass tours, and would recommend them thoroughly for their wildly adventurous destinations and experiences.

Get out of town: Discover a Mornington Peninsula drive

polperro
Polperro Winery, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia Photo: Belinda Jackson

It’s an hour from Melbourne, and when you’re among the leafy vines of one if its fine wineries, with an overflowing picnic basket, the Mornington Peninsula is a whole different state of mind.

I had my first holiday here on the peninsula (aged 5 months), and still return to Safety Beach for my weekend getaway.

So it was an easy task to share my suggestions of great shopping strips, natural hot springs, and how to find that winery with picnic basket.

Click here to read my recommendations on where to shop, eat, stay and play on the Mornington Peninsula for Mercedes Benz owners.

Get out of town: Discover a Mornington Peninsula drive

Polperro Winery, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia
Photo: Belinda Jackson

It’s an hour from Melbourne, and when you’re among the leafy vines of one if its fine wineries, with an overflowing picnic basket, the Mornington Peninsula is a whole different state of mind.

I had my first holiday here on the peninsula (aged 5 months), and still return to Safety Beach for my weekend getaway.

So it was an easy task to share my suggestions of great shopping strips, natural hot springs, and how to find that winery with picnic basket.

Click here to read my recommendations on where to shop, eat, stay and play on the Mornington Peninsula for Mercedes Benz owners. 

Tonga: pitch perfect

Tongan Beach Resort  PHOTO: Belle Jackson

“We Tongans party today, and there’s nothing on the table tomorrow,” a
Tongan woman tells me as we queue at Tongatapu’s airport. It’s 2am, I
haven’t even set foot in the country and already I’ve been warned that
Tongans are hardened socialites.

Looking around, I realise it’s true. You’re nobody if you’re not
kissing a staff member. Customs officers, passport controllers, baggage
handlers – they’re all wrapped in warm, loving embraces from the
passengers from our plane, all serenade by a tuneful, live ukulele band.
I guess there’s a reason why Captain Cook called them the Friendly
Islands.

My recent story in Air Niugini’s inflight magazine, Paradise,
finds the song of Tonga, from ukulele bands at the airport to the
ancient, deep and almost mournful whalesong that reverberates through
the water and into my bones.

It’s not a country high on the tourism radar, and I can’t work out
why. Surely the great Aussie tropical getaway is the new one-two – first
stop Fiji, second stop Tonga (the whale-loving archipelago of Vava’u is
now connected by direct flights to the Fijian capital, Nadi).