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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The dish we missed: chefs name their most delicious travel memories

After two years of lockdown here in Australia, where we couldn’t leave our country, what’s the dish you missed the most? I chatted to 10 of Sydney and Melbourne’s top chefs about those delicious travel memories they hold dear, and where they’re heading when they’re back on a plane this year.

I reckon I’m booking a ticket to Spain to take Brigitte Hafner’s recommendation for slow-cooked lamb in Rioja. Or maybe I need to go back to Turkey for Iskander kebab, which Paul Farag reminded me of. Or snapper cerviche on a beach in Lima, Peru.

If you’re not heading overseas, chefs including Shannon Martinez, Christine Manfield and Scott Pickett also shared some favourite dishes closer to home, within Australia, from dumplings at Supernormal in Melbourne to arkhe in Adelaide, for the Parfait Tartlet a la Burnt Ends.

Click here to read the story, published in the Traveller section of The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald newspapers.

 


Lies, spies and disguise: visiting Albania’s museums of secret surveillance

If you ever wanted to indulge your conspiracy theories, Albania is a great place to do it.

The mountainous little country looks out to the heel of Italy’s boot, and for the last century, has played out as a field for war, foreign occupation and annexation, and the enactment of fantasies of next-level paranoid dictators.

Its capital, Tirana, is a mishmash of architecture ranging from Bronze-age fortress to Ottoman-era mosques and Soviet Brutalist monuments. But the contemporary symbol of Albanian architecture is no skyscraper or soaring minaret: it’s its bunkers.

My story about Albania’s Communist-era bunkers and the grisly House of Leaves, a museum of secret surveillance, shows a dark side to this beautiful Balkan country.

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

If you’re keen to read more about travelling in the Balkans, take a look at my earlier story about travelling in the lands of honey and blood.


Podcast: travelling in the Middle East

Recently, I went to Saudi Arabia for a holiday. Is that a weird thing to say?

Travelling in the Middle East is a guaranteed dinner party starter: travellers either love it or swear they’ll never set foot in any of its countries – from Egypt to the United Arab Emirate, Saudi Arabia to Qatar.

I love the architecture, the languages, the desert landscapes and the blue waters that fringe the Arabian peninsula. I guess that’s why I keep returning.

I chatted to host Ben Groundwater, with Lisa Pagotto, founder of the awesomely adventurous travel company Crooked Compass on the Flights of Fancy podcast to tease out travel in this most misunderstood of regions.

Click here to listen to the full podcast. Go on, you know you want to!

 


Australian expats: celebrity stylist in Midtown Manhattan

After nearly two full years, I’m so pleased to let you know that my Expat column is back! Published each week at Traveller, I hunt down Australian expats living around the globe, and ask

Lazarus Douvos

Australian expat Lazarus Douvos lives in Midtown Manhattan, NYC, USA

them to share a little of their lives with our readers.

This week, we’re in Midtown Manhattan, where Melbourne hair stylist to the stars Lazarus Douvos shares a little about his daily life – where he takes his almond-milk cappuccinos, his favourite bookshop, a hidden bar and where he goes to meditate, on the banks of the East River.

“Life was picture perfect in Melbourne: I had the boyfriend, the dog, the country house. But I had the immediate feeling that I belonged here,” he says of his arrival in NYC, almost 13 years ago. A former stylist for the late Joan Rivers and Gucci, Lazarus’s latest perfumed hair care range is The Love Note collection (see lazarusdouvos.com, agencedeparfum.com.au).

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

If you’d like to suggest someone for the column, there are a few rules: they have to be Australian, and have lived in their adopted hometown for at least two years – because six months in Bali does not an expat make. Drop me a line in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!


On high on the new Ain Dubai: the world’s largest ferris wheel

Hello blog! It’s been a quiet few months as I hit the road for two months in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Dubai. My first story in this fresh new year has an appropriate high note – it’s my review of Ain Dubai (in English, Dubai Eye), the world’s largest observation wheel.

Ain Dubai’s opening coincides with the world fair, Expo 2020, which is currently running in Dubai, until March 2022. Remember that when Paris hosted the world fair, Exposition Universelle, in 1889, it built the Eiffel Tower as the main attraction. And it worked.

Back in Australia, there’s welcome news that the Sunday Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers has returned after nearly two years’ snoozing, just as Australia welcomes the news that our international borders will finally be thrown open to tourists.

While we Australians were allowed to leave in November (necessitating a rush for the border – I can confirm that the few flights available were absolutely mobbed by those of us desperate to reconnect with our families, who we’d been separated from for at least two years), now, anyone vaccinated can enter the country.

Click here to read my story, which runs on the Traveller website and appeared in print in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (Melbourne) newspapers.

PHOTO CAPTION: Ain Dubai is the world’s largest observation wheel. Credit: Belinda Jackson


Give the gift of travel this Christmas

Why not give the gift of travel this Christmas, and help Australia’s travel industry recover?

As you’d know, our industry has had an absolute kicking in the past 20 months. Unlike footballers or construction workers, there have been no exemptions, no lifelines and few promises of a bright future.

For this weekend’s cover story for the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (Melbourne) newspapers, I rounded up a list of present ideas, from budget to bonanza for the risk-takers or trail-breakers, urban adventurers or country amblers in your life.

Christmas gift ideas include a high tea in Sydney’s lovely Fullerton Hotel, a walk along the new Grampians Peaks Trail in western Victoria and my dream gift, a stay at Tasmania’s Pumphouse Point hotel.

I also picked out some great pressies to snap up while you’re on the road, including cheese from Yarra Valley Dairy, just outside Melbourne, and some essentials for the glove box, including the fantastic first aid kits from the Australian, family-run company Survival First Aid kits.

The great thing is that as many experiences can be bought as gift cards or vouchers, to be used in the coming years, there’s no shipping, and last-minute shoppers won’t miss out! You’re welcome 🙂

Click here to read the full story.


A city sleeps: Melbourne moves into Lockdown #6

Last night, I walked through the heart of Melbourne as we went into our sixth lockdown.

The city’s laneways rang with the sound of shutters going down as the city locked itself up.

It was a pretty crazy time to be editing a guidebook for the city. But there I found myself, sitting in little Shandong Mama Mini, eating its fabulous mackerel dumplings with manager Gin, taking notes and talking optimistically about when New Yorkers are going to roam freely through our little laneways once again…maybe next June.

Walking the darkening streets, I saw a woman at the gates of Gucci, pleading, pleading to make a last purchase before lockdown – only to be turned away by staff. The cash registers are closed, she was told, night is falling and lockdown looms.

The doorman at Society, the hottest new restaurant in town, told me all the late bookings had been shunted into earlier time slots, with diners ushered back onto the streets before the stroke of 8pm.

A cheery Big Issue seller chatted about his business model falling apart: with few office workers and less city dwellers, his magazines remain unsold. But he was fully vaccinated, he told me. Was I?

“These lockdowns are killing us,” said the waiter in Pellegrini where, for the first time in living memory, I could get a seat at the bar and a chat with the black apron clad waiters. Snapping a photo of the luscious cakes of the Hopetoun Tea Rooms in the glittering Block Arcade – normally a false hope due to the hordes of drooling instagrammers – was but a cinch, and the Royal Arcade remains empty of its traditional shoppers, down on a day trip from the country.

Street cafes were being packed up, outdoor furniture stacked away, kitchen staff clearing the benches, glass of wine in hand. Music played in empty hotel lobbies, with no-one to listen to it.

The streets emptied so completely they could double as a setting for an apocalyptic zombie movie.

Food delivery drivers tore down empty footpaths on their scooters with impunity.

Traffic lights clicked uselessly as an ambulance careened unimpeded through a red light – lights flashing but the sirens silent in the darkening night.


Men getting married: best buck’s parties in the Yarra Ranges

You’d think it was a divergence from travel writing – writing about ideas for buck’s or bachelor parties – but this fun little story let me take a cruise through the Yarra Valley & Dandenong Ranges.

I found a rum distillery in Belgrave (killik.com.au), discovered a 120-meter flying fox nearby in the Tall Trees Adventures (treesadventure.com.au) and the thing I’m going to do the minute Melbourne is out of Lockdown #5, the O’Shannassy Aqueduct Trail, an easy mountain-bike trail through redwood forests in the Yarra Ranges National Park.

My story on eight great ideas for buck’s parties is in the current edition of Off-Peak Wedding Magazine, produced by Yarra Ranges Tourism – click here to download the free mag.


First look: new Next Hotel Melbourne

Next Hotel Melbourne. I love hotels. I love the time warp that hotels lead us into: suddenly, there’s a different view from the window, my toiletries all smell more exotic, I have far better bed linen.

It’s bizarre to think that, in the midst of a global pandemic, hotels would still be opening. But life still goes on, and here in Australia, we’re luckier than most.

Recently, I embraced the call to arms to #letsMelbourneAgain, and took a staycation in my own city, Melbourne.

The sparkling, new Next Hotel Melbourne is located in the hottest piece of real estate in town, 80 Collins Street, “up the Paris end of Collins St,” as we say. Not just because that’s where all the boutiques are (Dior, Chanel, Vuitton etc), but also because that’s where you’ll find a lot of the glamorous, turn-of-the-century architecture built with the flush of gold-rush money. In between the ornate street lights and those funny old-fashioned bathrooms that were built beneath the pavements, rise the glossiest skyscrapers – all cunning angles and unexpected entrances.

Compressed tomato

Compressed tomato in white soy stuffed with stracciatella with basil. Photo supplied.

The entrance to Next is next-level discreet. Entered from Little Collins Street, you’ll first see Ingresso, a little coffee and Campari bar, with little fixed stools inside and out, for a touch of laneway chic. (Ingresso means ‘entrance’ – see what they did there?)

The Clef d’Or concierge at the door is a hint of things to come – the hotel is embedded in the DNA of the CBD (if you fancy a few acronyms), with a restaurant and cocktail bar worthy of a visit in their own right, not just as accoutrements to your guest room.  Sicily meets Hong Kong as chefs Daniel Natoli and Adrian Li rule La Madonna, which set the pace with a fabulous compressed tomato with white soy, stracciatella and basil entree, and ended admirably with a cannoli spiked with Fernet-Branca bitters and pistachio.

Follow me to the bedroom: firstly, there are 255 of them, each looking out to a cityscape, be it a cafe-filled laneway you never knew existed, or bigger views across the tops of skyscrapers. From my eyrie, I spy champagne bars, Mexican restaurants, jewellers and designer sneaker shops all tucked into the angled architecture of the 80 Collins St precinct.

Back in the room, toiletries are supplied by Melbourne brand Hunter – the body wash blends grapefruit, tangerine peel and rum, for a spicy scent, and the hairdryers are top-of-the-line Dyson which cost more than a room night, for top marks in the bathroom. There’s also a Bose sound system, if you’re going to order a cocktail made with the hotel’s own barrel-aged spirits. Otherwise, pull a stool up at the bar for a romp through Negroni nirvana, and listen to Phil, the Master of Spirits, wax lyrical about the spirit world.

Next Hotel Melbourne guestroom. Photo supplied.

The next morning, I did pop into the gym for a little stretch, but really, the whole point is to hit the city streets again. So an early jog down quiet Little Collins is an easy heartstarter, and will make you feel better about ordering the black pudding for breakfast (chef Adrian’s special recommendation).

What it is not: it’s not splashy. You won’t find here is a signature rooftop pool or a pair of neon angel wings in which to photograph yourself in front of.

What it is: tricky to find, with a dark and moody palette and serious food and drink credentials – Next fits this city like a glove.

From $289 a night. 103 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, nexthotelmelbourne.com


In the pink: nine of Australia’s best pink lakes

What’s hot right now? Pink gin. Pink salt. Pink hair. Pink lakes. Yep, pink lakes, of which Australia has plenty.

From champagne to candy, with rose and bubblegum in between, is it any wonder we love them? The natural phenomenon occurs only with the right balance of salt, sun and some hardworking micro-organisms.

In this piece, I rounded up nine lovely pink lakes around Australia with the hottest hues, for your pink perusal. Some, like the pink lake that occasionally lives beneath Melbourne’s Westgate Bridge, are easy to find. Others, such as Western Australia’s Lake Hillier, are our most iconic, but also the hardest to reach.

Click here to read my story in Traveller about nine of Australia’s best pink lakes.


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