I have just spent six days on the Golden Eagle – a private train travelling along the web of Silk Road routes, from Almaty in Kazakhstan though Uzbekistan and to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
I’ve long wanted to visit the ‘Stans, but as the song goes, it was just that the timing was wrong. So the chance to visit aboard a luxury train couldn’t be passed up.
Of all the stops on this journey – Almaty, Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva and Ashgabat, the winner of the beauty prize is Samarkand.
Its Registan Square, pictured above, is just so big, and so awe inspiring, it’s almost overwhelming to try to take in all its beauty in one day, let alone in one photo.
However, it was the quieter, more secretive streets of Khiva that possibly caught my attention. Even though its historic Old City isn’t lived in anymore, it just seemed to have more life. Maybe it was the fact it had more scarf and textile shops, each tucked into a picturesque niche lined with Uzbekistan’s trademark turquoise tiles.
This part of the world is no stranger to travellers – these oasis towns have been receiving new ideas, cultures, languages and religions since time began.
But they’ve slipped off the radar in recent decades, only to be coaxed back on by new, more lenient visa requirements and our desire – and ability – to explore further, with international flights now into all the major cities.
A few details:
I flew into Almaty and out of Ashgabat via Dubai with its low-cost carrier, fly Dubai.
The Golden Eagle is a luxury private train that started its great rail journeys on the iconic Trans-Siberian route across Russia, www.goldeneagleluxurytrains.com
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains.
Play Batman, colour in, or get cool in the pool – Abu Dhabi ticks all the boxes for travelling with kids.
I did a test-run with the 7-year-old in the United Arab Emirate, which is a natural stopover for Australians en route to Europe (or pretty much anywhere else in the world). With eight hours, three days (or even more) up your sleeve, there’s plenty to do in this super family-friendly town, even in the height of summer.
The highlights for us included the new Warner Bros Movie World, hot laps around the F1 circuit (for the teen in our gang), riding camels in the desert, and plenty of pool time at the five-star Saadiyat Rotana hotel.
If you’re after some pointers (or even a few tips for if travelling without kids), take a look at this feature I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age Traveller section, and enjoy!
It’s been a big week on the Great Barrier Reef, with the launch of the world’s first ridesharing submarine, appropriately named scUber.
Uber has teamed up with a baby sub named Barry, for a month of dives to explore the Great Barrier Reef – currently hovering around Heron Island, off Gladstone, it moves up to Cairns this coming week.
Fancy a seat? They’re $1500 a pop, book on the app.
If you think it’s just a publicity stunt, you’re right. Queensland’s tourism board has teamed up with Uber to highlight the health of the reef, to encourage people to come and see it for themselves. Hopefully, they’ll learn to love our marine icon – the world’s largest living thing – and therefore help protect it.
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? :))
|Photo: Belle Jackson – instagram @global_salsa|
“So,” says Gianni, taking my arm. “Do you like to eat?”
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
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.
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.
|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
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.
|Captain Willow keeps an eye on our glam tinnie
while we pull in for a cuppa on
one of the backwater creeks of the
Murray River, near Renmark, South Australia.
Photo: Belle Jackson
“Why isn’t the Murray promoted as an icon, like Uluru or the Great Barrier Reef?”
If you’re not Australian, you probably don’t know the mighty Murray
River (the ‘mighty’ is an unofficial sobriquet). It is Australia’s
longest river, at 2,530km (about seven times
longer than the Thames, but who’s counting?) It runs through four
states, and is even a state border for 1880km and
is estimated at about
60 million years old.
In short, it’s a pretty impressive natural formation, and it’s damned pretty, as well.
So you can see why I didn’t have an answer to the question above,
asked by Rick Edmonds, a proud Riverlands man and owner of the luxury The Frames property, which perches over the river near Renmark, in South Australia.
French word, instead of “back creeks”, to describe this labyrinth of
creeks, lagoons and inlets that cobweb the strong, flowing River Murray, here at the corner of three states.
Click here to
read my story about pootling along the Murray, spotting emus, kangaroos
and kingfishers, with Rick, his wife Cathy and Captain Willow (pictured
The story was published in the Traveller section of the Sun-Herald (Sydney) and Sunday Age (Melbourne).
Belinda Jackson was a guest of The Frames.