I’m a journalist, travel writer, editor and copywriter based in Melbourne, Australia. I write pacy travel features, edit edifying websites and fashion flamboyant copy. My articles and photographs have appeared in publications worldwide, from inflight to interior design: I’ve visited every continent, and have lived in three. Want to work together? Drop me a line… 

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Chasing auroras in Tasmania

A couple of years ago, I found myself standing on the top deck of a Norwegian coastal liner, the Hurtigruten. The night was pitch black, it was way below zero degrees, and we stared at the sky, our necks cricked in the cold as we attempted to capture the Northern Lights.

Then, another Australian reemerged from the warm cabins below to show us a magnificent photo of the aurora phenomenon. Where’s this? we all asked. It’s in Tasmania, he said. The Australians in the group noted it was a good 15 degrees warmer and 23 hours closer to home. So on my list for this year is to see our own Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights.

I got in touch with one of Tassie’s best-known aurora chasers, Margaret Sonnemann, founder of the Aurora Australis Tasmania Facebook group and author of The Aurora Chaser’s Handbook for her tips.

Happily, she says, you can see the Aurora Australis all year round in Tasmania, one of the landmasses closest to the South Magnetic Pole, which is where aurorae originate from. She shares camera tips as well as her favourite viewing points.

Click here to read the full story, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age‘s Traveller website.


A guide to Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula

Some people have an ancestral base – it might be a castle, a city or a family home that has been in the family for generations.

Coming from a family that was always on the move, and now spread to the four corners of the earth, the closest I can come to is our beach house on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, which my grandfather built in the 1960s. It’s seen five generations holidaying here, and while it’s not a hunting lodge or a town that with streets named after us, the beach is at the end of the street and dolphins play in the waters: it’s not so bad.

Decidedly daggy (read: unhip) for decades, known only for its beachhouses and fish & chip shops (which are, still, very good), it’s now got its mojo on, and in a massive way. In just five years, we’ve got five-star hotels, artisan gin distillers, we’ve got fabulous cafes and our great coastal walking paths have been mapped out.

I wrote my 20 reasons for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section, which you can read by clicking here


The grand dame of Aswan: hotel review, 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 

Travels in the land of honey and blood

The Balkans are literally the land of honey and blood, named by Turks who netted the peninsula – from Slovenia to Albania – into the Ottoman Empire, where it remained ensnared for five centuries until 1912. In Turkish, “bal” is honey, “kan” is blood. And as they learned, the riches are sweet, but come at a price.

This summer, I spent a couple of weeks on a tour with Intrepid Travel, from the Albanian capital of Tirana through to Kosovo and on to Macedonia, before returning back to Albania.

It was my first time in the western Balkans, though I’ve skirted around the region, in Greece, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria, at different times of my travelling life.

So some things were familiar – using bears as novelty drawcards at restaurants, the Cyrillic alphabet – but there was plenty of new ground – seeing little red-roofed villages, the symbol of Middle Europe, clustered around a mosque, instead of a church, or the sheer beauty of the Accursed Mountains.

Beautiful and blissfully ignored by the mass tourism that pervades such European cities as Barcelona or Paris,  I almost don’t want to share them, to preserve their purity.

My story was published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age newspapers, and you can read it here .

Eating in Lake Como, Italy

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

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 .


Cairo: The palace walk

Lined with palaces, mosques, merchant’s mansions and markets, Cairo’s Al-Muizz is a contender for the Middle East’s most beautiful street.

It’s the ancient thoroughfare of medieval Cairo, the lifeblood of a dozen centuries: every time I return to Cairo, I find myself walking the length of Al-Muizz li-Din-Allah. Like most before me, I’m lured by the street’s imposing palaces and caravanserais, its dusty mosques and vivid markets.

I’ve walked this street countless times over a decade, and each time, I make a new discovery. A forgotten tomb. A synagogue. Cool, dark water cisterns that plunge deep underground or a merchants’ mansion, instructive in the ways of generations of traders, aristocrats, craftsmen and families who filled the streets of Islamic Cairo when it was established by the Shi’ite Fatamid regime in 969AD.

In case you haven’t twigged, Egypt is back on the tourism trail after seven years languishing in the doldrums after its revolution in 2011, which overthrew dictator Hosni Mubarak, who’d run the country as his personal fiefdom for 30 years. They’ve now got another army brass running the country – plus ça change, plus c’est la même.

Cairo’s Citadel, which overlooks the city. Photo: Belle Jackson

But finally, with stability and growth taking place around the country (think, highways remade, new airports open, Nile cruise boats dusted off), it’s fabulous to see the return of one of Egypt’s major industries.

Cairo often gets but a cursory glance while everyone rushes to the Pyramids then down to Luxor, but spend the turn of the day in El Muizz for what I think is one of the world’s most beautiful streets.
Thanks to Vacations & Travel for again going ahead of the trend and publishing my feature on this beloved street.

https://www.vacationsmag.com/palace-walk-cairo/


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.


The five places that made me: Ray Martin

I love the fact that top Australian current affairs journalist Ray Martin was scared, lost and happy in Istanbul – after all, isn’t that true culture shock? He name the Turkish capital in a list of his top five places that made me, for Traveller.

“I was culturally and physically out of my comfort zone and I loved it,
from the incessant bargaining and arm-twisting of the Grand Bazaar to
the Muslim mystique of the Blue Mosque, down the grimy side alleyways
and into smokey coffee shops,” he says.

To read more about his top five places, which range from Launceston, Tasmania to New York City, click here for the article, which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers’ Traveller section.


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