Bringing Finnish Lapland to Helsinki, Finland

Lapland Hotel Bulevardi

During winter, snow-laden winds sweep across lakes and tundras of Finnish Lapland, freezing all in their wake. Reindeer forage for lichen in the chilled earth, and the brief minutes the sun rises above the horizon are bookended by a deep blue twilight that heralds the return of the polar night.

A thousand kilometres south, there’s no snow on the footpaths of the Finnish capital, Helsinki, but it retains its connection with the drama of the deep north through Lapland Hotel Bulevardi, in the chic Design District.

Let me tell you: breakfast buffets, I’ve had a few. But this one – inspired by the food of Lapland – is one of the most intriguing.

To read my story, published by Essentials Magazine, click here

Best hotel breakfast buffet 2019: Helsinki, Finland

Breakfast buffets, I’ve had a few in this job. But this morning’s buffet at the Lapland Hotels Bulevardi, in Helsinki, was one of the best.

I’m currently in the Finnish capital, about to head even further north to Kuusamo, on the border of Russia and Lapland, which is why I chose to stay in this new hotel in Helsinki – to warm up to the Lappish way of life.

It was a mix of the stylish, handmade ceramics by Anu Pentik, the moody setting with its reindeer pelts and the exciting food – much of it drawn from Lapland, where the group is dominant – that makes it an absolute standout.

Top of the list was the most humble dish, an exceptional organic oatmeal porridge, slow cooked in the oven for three hours: I’m not usually a salty porridge girl, but with cherry jam and a swish of Lappish honey, it sung to me.

I couldn’t eat it all, I had to leave space for the spruce sprout smoothie and the sea buckthorn smoothie, the warm smoked salmon and the ice-cellar pickled salmon. Then the smoked reindeer and oyster mushroom omelette, a little of the reindeer blood sausage with lingonberry jam, cloudberries, blackberries, blueberries from Muonio, lingonberry pie and smoked cheeses from Kuusamo (where we head tomorrow). It took a while.

Small Girl tested the mini cinnamon rolls (korvapuusti) and hot chocolate, and declared them perfect.

The chef on the breakfast shift admitted that Lappish cuisine is protein-heavy. “Hearty,” was his diplomatic word for the array of meats, fish, cheeses and cakes that lined the buffet.

The devastating news is that because we are leaving so early tomorrow, we will miss breakfast, which rolls in until 1pm on Sundays.

No wonder Finns are so happy.

Hilton Manila hotel review

Hilton Manila

Manila’s traffic is so bad a whole city of airport hotels has sprung up to service airline passengers coming into the city on their way to and from the Philippines’ fabulous islands. Newport City includes a Marriott and a Savoy, convenience stores and coffee shops, casinos and shopping malls, and now the city’s only Hilton, which opened in October 2018.
It’s the end of a tropical holiday, so of the five dining venues, it must be the swim-up bar for a lunch of mango mai tais, hot fresh pizza with buffalo mozzarella and fresh fish fingers for the small fry. Service is super-chatty and super-friendly, though not speedy, as the hotel is still polishing its act. Madison Bar & Lounge near the entrance is easy to overlook but chocophiles note: its patisserie serves excellent chocolate croissants. There’s also a well-stocked gin bar with knowledgeable staff and a jazz singer who croons into the wee hours.

Click here to read the full review, which was first published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

Perfect pitch at Port Fairy’s Drift House

Drift House, Port Fairy, Victoria

A long weekend on Victoria’s Great Ocean Drive – it’s the stuff of nightmares.

One of Australia’s most popular sightseeing drives, the drawcards are the 12 Apostles (but we all know that there are heaps less – or more? – of these famed sea stacks. I managed to evade the crowds and find my own piece of peace by continuing an hour past the tourist hubs to the prettiest town around, Port Fairy.

The destination? Drift House, which is almost more famous overseas than here in Australia for its four perfect suites, and perfectly pitched service from its owners, Colleen Guiney and John Watkinson.

Now, the Edwardian cottage next door has been transformed to add two new, equally fresh suites to the best address in town. Read my short story, which appeared in my weekly column in the Sunday Age and Sun-Herald newspapers, and online at Traveller.

The grand dame of Aswan: hotel review, Egypt

Aswan, Egypt

In Egypt’s deep south (aka ‘Upper Egypt, because it’s closer to the source of the south-north running Nile River), is the golden city of Aswan.

A world away from the smoke and insanity of Cairo, the city on the banks of the Nile is famous for its granite quarries that helped build the monuments of the ancient kingdoms, and its laid-back inhabitants, Nubians who seem more connected with the African continent than the Arabian north.

It’s also the home of one of the continent’s best grand hotels, and finally I got to visit the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract. 

The terrace, where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile.
Photo: Belle Jackson

Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile on its terrace, and I wrote my hotel review for Fairfax Media’s Traveller section (the question is, of course: which will have greater longevity? :))

With an unsurpassed setting, smooth service and the undoubtedly fabulous
history, I rate it this of my top historic stays around the world. Armchair travellers should binge on Secret of the Nile (2016), which is the first Egyptian series on Netflix. The subtitled murder
mystery was filmed in the hotel, which is the undoubted star of the show.

You can read my story, published on Fairfax Media’s Traveller website, here 

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 

Lindenderry Red Hill review, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Picnicking by the lake amidst bushland.
Photo: Belinda Jackson

An hour from Melbourne down the M1, Red Hill is prime real estate on the
Mornington Peninsula, and Lindenderry, owned by Australian family
company Lancemore, has held its 12-hectare spot on the ridge for the
past 20 years. It’s in the news for its recent deft, “multi-million
dollar” renovation.

I’m a sometimes-resident on the Mornington Peninsula, so I’m very pleased to see this old-timer get such a swish makeover. Every room looks out over structured courtyards with fresh lime trees, Australian bushland or the vines that the estate turns into its exceptional wine.

Inside, there are crisp sheets, moody walls, a touch of whimsy in the Ukrainian-babushka cushion. The Lindenderry has banished its placid plaid for a grown-up country style in Red Hill.

Even if you’re not staying, you can drop in for a glass of wine and – hot tip – order the picnic hamper and wander through the vines for an afternoon well spent.

Click here to read my review of the revamped Lindenderry in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

New groove in ancient Athens

A magnet around which the city revolves, this is the view of the Acropolis from the top floor of my hotel, New Hotel in Athens.

It’s ironic that the more I travel, the less I post on my poor blog. I’m just back from nearly two months in the Middle East, working from my base in Cairo.

Cairo’s my second home: I’ve lived here, and return most years to watch it race toward change – some good, some absolutely dire. This year, I also took a walking tour through Palestine’s West Bank and a brief island hop in Athens and the beautiful island of Hydra, about 90 minutes by ferry from the main port of Piraeus.

I got a lot of love from the @Traveller instagram account, and just spotted this clip in the weekend papers of my shot of the Acropolis, which I took from the top floor of New Hotel, Athens, a chi-chi little design hotel.

Sure, you can book the penthouse to soak it up, but the breakfast room is also currently on the top level, so we can all enjoy one of the world’s great landmarks.

Athens_clip.JPG

From Rajasthani fortress to boutique hotel

FortBishangarh
Photo: Belle Jackson

Catching up on my poor, neglected blog. The reason for my neglect is
good: I’ve been tromping around the wilds of Rajasthan, specifically
Bishangarh, a little village about an hour north of Jaipur.

The lure was the opening of the new Alila Fort Bishangarh, a fortress turned boutique hotel. I went crazy on instagram – take a look.

It took seven years to convert the 230-year-old fort, and it still
retains a tang of military austerity. Happily, the dungeon is free of
bats, snakes and gunpowder: it’s now an Alila spa, and staircases lead
to rooftop restaurants or a little yoga platform. I did a little
housework, cooking flatbread over an open fire in a mud-floor house, I
cycled past camel carts and flocks of goats and took a brief pilgrimage
to a Hindu temple – interspersed with cool, scented towels, sugared lime
juice and dips in this pool (below) because hey, it’s monsoon season in
this part of the world, and why suffer if you don’t have to?

FortBishangarhpool.JPG
Photo: Belle Jackson

My first review is out, for the Sydney Morning Herald/Sunday Age Traveller: click here to read it. If you’re planning a sojourn to Jaipur in the near future, this hotel absolutely must be on your list.

From Rajasthani fortress to boutique hotel

Oh I’ve been bad – this poor blog! But the reason for my neglect is good: I’ve been tromping around the wilds of Rajasthan, specifically Bishangarh, a little village about an hour north of Jaipur.

FortBishangarh
Photo: Belle Jackson

The lure was the opening of the new Alila Fort Bishangarh, a fortress turned boutique hotel. I went crazy on instagram – take a look.

It took seven years to convert the 230-year-old fort, and it still retains a tang of military austerity. Happily, the dungeon is free of bats, snakes and gunpowder: it’s now an Alila spa, and staircases lead to rooftop restaurants or a little yoga platform. I did a little housework, cooking flatbread over an open fire in a mud-floor house, I cycled past camel carts and flocks of goats and took a brief pilgrimage to a Hindu temple – interspersed with cool, scented towels, sugared lime juice and dips in this pool (below) because hey, it’s monsoon season in this part of the world, and why suffer if you don’t have to?

My first review is out, for the Sydney Morning Herald/Sunday Age Traveller: click here to read it. If you’re planning a sojourn to Jaipur in the near future, this hotel absolutely must be on your list.

FortBishangarhpool.JPG
Photo: Belle Jackson

.