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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Glamping in Saudi Arabia wins TravMedia’s Travel Writer of the Year award

 

I’m on a bit of a roll at the moment – this week, in Sydney, I took home a new award, the inaugural TravMedia Travel Writer of the Year! Gongs galore!

The award recognises the most read story on the TravMedia platform, and it was my story on glamping in Saudi Arabia, for the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers, which caught TravMedia users’ eye. It was a review of the gorgeous Habitas AlUla, hidden in a canyon in the Asher Valley, and the first five-star property to open in AlUla oasis, now the jewel of Saudi’s tourism offerings.

TravMedia is the global media network and the world’s largest online news portal for travel media and travel industry PR professionals, and holds an annual conference in Sydney, which we’ve just returned from this weekend. There was a strong Melbourne contingent, with writers from all over Australia and some international fly-ins from Bali and New Zealand. We were there to meet with tourism reps from around the world, from as far as Dubai and New York, Tokyo and the most distant islands of Australia.

A huge thanks to TravMedia founder Nick Wayland (that’s him in the photo with me) and his team, including Blake, Julie, Lauren and Gaynor!

If you’re keen to read my award-winning story, click on the url below 😀

https://www.smh.com.au/traveller/reviews-and-advice/this-amazing-glamping-resort-shows-saudi-arabia-can-be-fun-20230905-p5e21v.html


Rail review: Travelling by train on the London-Paris Eurostar, Business Premier class

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Eurostar train from London to Paris.

THE ROUTE London Pancras International – Paris Gare du Nord
Departs 10.26 Arrives 13.50
Coach 16, Seat 65, Train no 9018

BOARDING Eurostar advises arriving an hour before departure, and ticket gates close 15 minutes before departure. I pass through the ticket check, with security and a helpful UK passport check, and then a French passport check, with much complaining from the Brits around me. I can attest that the French check is completely humourless – my old joke that if you look like your passport photo, then you need a holiday – drops flat. I get naught but a Gallic shrug (and probably earned it, too).

Once inside, my Premier Business ticket affords entry to the lounge beneath the arches, where coffee, croissants and a little breakfast buffet of fruit and muffins is on offer. Newspapers are everywhere, it really feels like old-school train travel here in the vaults of the Victorian Gothic St Pancras railway station, which was built in 1868.

The maelstrom begins when boarding commences, as lines – regardless of your class – snake around the arches and up the stairs to the platform. Entire families, including generations of women, are dressed as Minnie Mouse. Of course! This is the fast track to Disneyland Paris , and we’re travelling right at the beginning of the Easter holidays. The group aims to transport 30 million passengers a year by 2030 – it feels like they’re all here today.

THE SEAT & LUGGAGE LIMITS Coach 16 is at the very top of the train, and I’m seated in a single, forward-facing seat. I spy a USB and electricity outlet, and the tray pulls down to reveal a little mirror to check my blood-red lipstick (on trend in this Paris-bound train). The clientele is brandishing a lot of Gucci, there’s Diptyque soap in the bathrooms, and a magazine rack.

Smugly, I have carry-on luggage only, but should I wish, I could carry three pieces of luggage up to 85cm long, and a piece of hand luggage – there’s no weight limit; if you can carry it, you can bring it. In the Standard and Standard Premier classes, that’s two pieces of luggage and a hand bag. Unlike airlines, there are no limits on liquids, if you didn’t want to visit the bar coaches 8 & 9 on the train, you can actually BYO beer or a bottle of wine to drink on the journey – though there’s no need in the generous, free-pouring Business Premier class.

FOOD & DRINKS On taking my seat, the bilingual staff offer a little bag of cranberry and nut mix, an antibacterial towel and a QR code for the lunch menu by. At 10.35am, the bar is open, would I like a glass of champagne? No skimping here on sparkling wine, I’m offered a glass of Piper-Heidsieck and water in a Eurostar-branded glass.

By 10.50, good, savoury smells are wafting through the carriage, and my tray table is loaded with glassware and silverware, a salad of such grilled root vegetables as celeriac, a crusty roll, and a pat of butter from The Estate Dairy in Somerset. Desert, a layered caramel slice, is also on the first tray. This could easily comprise the entire meal, but Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc, best known for his Oxfordshire landmark, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, isn’t finished with me yet.

When it arrives, piping hot and fragrant, the mains is a generous slab of buttery fish served with cauliflower in a rich, quintessentially French sauce. No more champagne, we drink rosé with our fish. I am served a 187ml bottle of 2021 Tourelle de Tholomies syrah rosé from Pays D’Oc and a bottle of spring water from Harrogate, “the original British spa town”, which has been bottling water since 1571.

If I was travelling in economy, I could grab a breakfast croissant with coffee and a juice for UK6/E7.70, or a lunch offer of a soft drink, a bag of crisps and a baguette for UK8/E10.20.

THE JOURNEY Advertisements flash on the communal screen overhead, while hyper-green English fields flash past the windows, but otherwise, the focus is mercifully on letting guests travel in peace. Most people are plugged into their own devices, reading newspapers or the magazines on offer, or simply watching the scenery, which disappears for about 25 minutes while we’re in the 50.45 km Chunnel, the sea tunnel that delves beneath the English Channel. I’m on dessert when we emerge to kilometers of razor wire, the train flashing past stations too fast to read their signs – the overhead screen tells me we are travelling at 214km/hr, “en tranquillité” and the train reaches top speeds of 300km/hr.

SUSTAINABILITY It’s no surprise trains’ carbon emissions are significantly lower that of airplanes – Eurostar states that its trains emit more than 90% less CO2 than flights. It calculates its CO2 output at 10g per passenger per kilometer, and is working to cut its carbon footprint by a further 25% by 2020. Independent calculations state my journey emitted 2.4kg of CO2, compared with 66kg if I’d flown.

BOOKING My ticket was booked before I left Australia with Rail Europe. Later, if you use the Eurostar app, you can use mobile tickets to pass through the ticket gates, get travel updates and discounts to top attractions in the city of your destination.

AND ANOTHER THING If you had time, you could get your photo taken (for free!) at Harry Potter’s Platform 9¾ at Kings Cross Station, which is joined to St Pancras. Otherwise, take a wander around to discover St Pancras’ surprising history in the many plaques and statues dotted around the station – well worth it. And if you wanted to stay close by the night before, you could splurge on Marriott’s gorgeous St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, which was actually part of the historic railway station. If it’s out of your price range, you can still drop in for coffee, a drink or a fabulous afternoon tea, and take a sneak peak at its stairwell, which featured in the Harry Potter films.

TO BOOK Fares cost from A$97.30, to book, visit Rail Europe
https://www.raileurope.com/en/trains/eurostar m

Disclaimer: I travelled from London to Paris as a guest of Rail Europe.

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Mindful travel in Nepal & Hiking with refugees

Walking slowly in silence in the Nepalese Himalayas is just one of the ways travel writer Nina Karnikowski says we can embrace mindful travel. Belle talks to Nina about taking the time to travel, and taking in the world around us on a more acute level.

“We can travel at a pace so fast, we actually miss all the wonder around us as we tick our boxes and return home exhausted,” she says. You can see more about Nina’s work, including her latest book, The Mindful Traveller, at ⁠ninakarnikowski.com, and for more about her tour to the Nepalese Himalayas, visit worldexpeditions.com

For many refugees from war-torn countries, settling into Australian life can be daunting. Especially for those who have suffered trauma most of us can’t even imagine. Finding solace in nature himself, Neil McCulloch decided to start a charity where he could help new refugees in Australia settle into life here, and experience an Aussie pastime, camping and hiking – and First Hike Project was born, firsthikeproject.org.au

Neil talks to Kirstie about how the transformative effect of nature on many of the refugees he takes into the Aussie bush, and why it’s so life-changing.

We also reveal the world’s most loved landmarks, including which Australian landmark makes the list (it might just surprise you), share tips on the best ways to save money when you’re travelling in Europe, and take a little ride down the Great Victorian Rail Trail, see greatvictorianrailtrail.com.au

Visit our podcast at https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/theworldawaits


Nominations for the Australian Society of Travel Writers’ awards 2023

Good things come in – whatever size, shape or form you’d like. But today, I have news of two very good things, I’ve received two nominations in the 2023 Australian  Society of Travel Writers’ Awards; for Travel Writer of the Year (yep, the big one!) and Best Accommodation Story.

Some years are tough for those of us working in the creative industries: pandemics, deaths of loved ones, that sort of thing takes a toll on your creativity. Then there are the times where the light is golden, the stories pour into your lap and the words flow like sweet honey.

My three stories for the Travel Writer of the Year award are from far afield – from the deserts of Saudi Arabia and the jungles of Borneo – while my accommodation story is far closer to home, from lovely Beechworth, in north-eastern Victoria.

I’ve shared the links to my stories, if you’d like a read, and send especial thanks to my editors, who continue to commission me and are willing to listen to stories from these remote corners of the world.

2023 Travel Writer of the Year nomination:

Solo travel in Saudi Arabia (Sydney Morning Herald/The Age Traveller) : https://www.smh.com.au/traveller/inspiration/visiting-saudia-arabia-as-a-woman-i-went-to-the-notoriously-sexist-country-as-a-solo-female-tourist-20220705-h24v9q.html

Women travellers in the Middle East (Sydney Morning Herald/The Age Traveller): https://www.smh.com.au/traveller/inspiration/travel-guide-for-women-travellers-in-the-middle-east-tips-and-advice-20220624-h24nad.html

Lore of the Jungle (Gourmet Traveller) https://www.magzter.com/de/stories/travel/Gourmet-Traveller/LORE-OF-THE-JUNGLE

2023 Best Accommodation Story nomination:

Slow Road to a Blissful State (Explore/Canberra Times) https://www.exploretravel.com.au/story/8124768/slow-road-to-a-blissful-state/

 


AIRPORT LOUNGE REVIEW: Etihad business class lounge, Abu Dhabi, UAE

THE LOCATION This Etihad business class lounge is located near gate 35 in Abu Dhabi international airport.

A haven for long layovers, it’s obvious this lounge is winding down ahead of the new airport terminal opening in November.

Arabic cookies

Etihad business class lounge, Abu Dhabi, UAE

THE VIBE Very, very low key, with light muzak in the background, but this is forgiven as we arrived in the lounge at an unholy 5am, on a stopover from Melbourne to Cairo. In keeping with the low-key mood, this is a no-notification zone, so it’s up to you to keep an eye out for your flight’s boarding time from the many boards around the lounge, spooling in English and Arabic. The décor is in muted chocolate, cream and aqua.

THE FACILITIES If you’re not a long-haul traveller (and let’s face it, almost every Australian who’s left the country qualifies for this title), you don’t understand the beauty of a mid-journey shower after 13 hours in a pressurised tin can, before you board for the next leg of your adventure. There are six showers in the lounge, with a dedicated concierge who creates the wait list and gives you a buzzer to notify you when it’s your turn. Towels and toiletries are supplied, and the wait at 7am is just 10 minutes. The downside – that buzzer is SUPER loud and cannot be switched off, expect baleful glares from your (once-were) snoozing neighbours if you don’t nip to the showers quick smart.

THE FOOD At 5am, the food is limited to a small buffet of cold cuts, cheese, juices and – for a nice local touch – cardamom-spiced Arabic coffee, dates and traditional pistachio cookies and baklava. However, over the next hour, the full buffet cranks up, with loads of regional foods including masala-spiced eggs, ful (fava beans – the Arabian take on baked beans), a super delicious lamb and potato keema and plenty of mezze and paratha on the side. It’s finished off with the fruit station, and self-serve fridges with soft drinks and the local Al Ain water. I do spot a Western businessman searching in vain for bacon and eggs; happy to report it’s far more exciting than that tired fare. Walk past the self-serve coffee machine and ask the bar staff to crank their gleaming white La Marzocco machine up for a creamy brew. At this hour, there’s only one intrepid traveller sitting at the bar stools, nursing a glass of champagne.

THE SERVICES There is a bag concierge at the entrance where you can drop your gear, and beside it, a dedicated children’s room with toys and nest seats that little ones can curl up in. In better times, Etihad’s famed nannies ran this room, which meant you could drop your children and run off to the shower/buffet/bar . It was an amazing service that gave me sanity on long-haul travel with a toddler, let’s hope that better times see the London-trained nannies return.

Airport lounge

Etihad business class lounge, Abu Dhabi airport, UAE

The business hub has a line of computers with charging stations, and The Den has a series of single alcoves with a comfy leather armchair facing a tv, for those who need a news update or somewhere quiet to take a call. Regional magazines and The National newspaper are on offer at the entrance.

THE DOWNSIDE I’m going to preface this part by saying that the brand new, $3bn Midfield terminal opens in the next couple of months, with Etihad Airways, amongst others, moving to the new terminal the minute it opens. So it’s painfully obvious they’ve let this lounge run down – this is Etihad’s home ground, and this should be its flagship lounge. But the decor is tired and it misses the gloss and glamour of its regional rivals.
The biggest bugbear is the inability to charge your devices. You’ve got to search to find a chair close to a powerpoint, and the first couple I try simply don’t work, or the usb slots are actually broken. The wireless printer in the business hub isn’t working, though the staff smoothly proffer the front desk email, and have my docs printed in no time.

THE VERDICT For a five-hour layover, having a lounge to hide away in is bliss. If you’re not eligible to enter the Etihad lounge, Terminal 1 has a pay-as-you-go Priority Pass lounge. Every staff member I speak to is charming and helpful (although occasionally clueless, like the waiter who doesn’t know the correct name of the Arabian cookies – they’re ghraybeh), and everyone is dying to move to the new terminal. Me included.

See Etihad.com

Disclaimer: I paid for my own flight, but was hosted by Etihad to visit the lounge. This review aims to give fair and balanced coverage of the facilities.

September 2023


Free things to do in airports: ABC Radio interview

Waiting in airports is one of the downsides of travel. But is it? I reckon airports are magical places, and there are so many free things to do in airports.

This week, I chatted with ABC Radio Melbourne’s Sunday program about the best things to do in airports over the world – and many of them free or just the price of a cup of coffee.

Sure, you can scroll on your phone or put on your headphones and tune into a movie. Or… you could wander through a museum dedicated to Hellenic history (Athens), admire the great Dutch Masters (Amsterdam), have a cup of tea at Harrods (Doha) or dress up in traditional Korean hanbok and try a few handicrafts (Seoul). What could a be better way to spend your time?

Even our Australian airports are worth discovery – I love that in Melbourne, you can drink coffee from some of our most famous cafes – I’m thinking of St Ali here, and snack on food by our top chefs, such as Movida and Cafe Vue by Shannon Bennett.

Click here to listen to my interview with Lisa Leong on ABC Melbourne.


The World Awaits podcast goes to Spain and Nauru

It’s been a big couple of weeks in GlobalSalsa World – Turkiye, Australia’s Northern Territory and I’ve also also refreshed my podcast, with a fresh new name and a little nipping and tucking at the format. It’s now The World Awaits podcast, and you can listen to the latest edition here .

This week, fellow travel writer Kirstie Bedford and I take you to Spain and Nauru – at opposite ends of the tourism spectrum. I interviewed one of Australia’s best known travel writers, Ben Groundwater, who is a Spain aficionado and total foodie. Ben invited me on his Flights of Fancy podcast, with Nine Media, a few times – sadly now defunct (but still live if you’d like to take a listen), so I asked him to return the favour.

After embedding himself in San Sebastian in the Basque country, for a year, Ben is a great one to chat about how overlooked Spain is outside the major hotspots such as Barcelona. You know I”m a lover of this country as well, especially after my train adventure in Andalucia last year, which started in (very touristy) Seville, but pushed on through to Jerez, Cadiz and then I ended up in Spain’s most beautiful pueblo blanco, Vejer de la Frontera. If the chat makes you hungry, you can join Ben on one of his foodie tours to San Sebastian with World Expeditions, next year.

You’ll also hear from Lisa Pagotto, founder of Crooked Compass tours. Lisa goes seriously off track in her travels – she’s talking to Kirstie about travelling in the beautiful island of Nauru, best known for its role as the host site of Australia’s detention centre for refugees (please don’t go there, a particularly ugly part of Australia’s foreign policies). I travelled with Crooked Compass on a week-long hike in Palestine a few years ago. How’s that for off-beat travel?

Anyway, tune in, I hope you enjoy the show, and let us know what you think, or where you’d like us to go next on the podcast.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas!

You can listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever else you get good ear candy.


Hotels reborn: 10 historic buildings that are now luxury hotels

Where are you sleeping tonight? In a prison cell? A castle? A monastery. A jam factory? I’m talking about rooms inside buildings that have been reborn as hotels – buildings that may otherwise have fallen into irretrievable disrepair, or worse.

Traveller cover photo Pentridge Prison

Traveller cover photo The Interlude @ Pentridge Prison

This weekend, my cover story in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers is about hotels whose buildings have served a previous life – I rounded up 10 across Australia and abroad, with an extra serve of five Australasian hotels on the side. I looked at hotels as far apart as London, Peru and Turkey, which have been train stations, palaces, even a state Department of Education. Some, like the Las Casas de la Juderia, in Seville and London’s St Pancras Renaissance, were from recent travels. Some, like The Interlude here in Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison complex, are only just about to open. All are close to my heart.

Sometimes, it’s the location or the beauty of a building that lures developers to imbue it with renewed life. Other times, it’s the building’s backstory that a visionary can weave into its incarnation, to be reborn with new purpose.

“Heritage is the art of saving what is useful and beautiful, but also updating it for modern use,” says Terry Fripp, of Kerry Hill Architects, whose projects include Perth’s much-lauded COMO The Treasury, formerly Western Australia’s historic State Buildings.

It’s the ultimate act of recycling: reusing existing resources while also giving back, in the form of hotel restaurants, bars, spas and event spaces that are, for the most part, accessible by the public.

Click here to read my story on the 10 great hotels reborn, with another serve of five Australasian hotels on the side.

or see https://www.theage.com.au/traveller/inspiration/10-historic-buildings-reborn-as-stunning-luxury-hotels-20230512-p5d7vp.html


Stars of the spa: the best spas in Victoria

Victoria is up to its neck in hot water, and loving it. And our love of balneotherapy – to give mineral-water bathing its scientific name – shows no signs of drying up. Indeed, run your finger along a map of Victoria’s coast, and you’ll find aquifers aplenty, bubbling to the surface, and that’s before you head up to the spa country of Hepburn Springs, in central Victoria.

It’s not all facials and massages: hot springs and mineral water bathing taps into the aquifers below ground, to yield mineral-rich waters that help heal and detoxify our bodies and minds.

The bellwethers are Peninsula Hot Springs and Hepburn Springs, with two newcomers opening in recent months: the sparkling, new Alba on the Mornington Peninsula and Metung Hot Springs in East Gippsland. We’ve got an eye on Phillip Island, where a new hot springs facility is being developed in conjunction with Peninsula Hot Springs, to open later this year.

This wellness journey was a tough assignment, but I visited what I’m dubbing the UnDirty Seven: the best spas in Victoria who specialise in hot springs and mineral water bathing facilities in Victoria, on the Mornington Peninsula, the Bellarine Peninsula, in Gippsland and Hepburn Springs, not forgetting Warrnambool’s sleeper hit, The Deep Blue (see thedeepblue.com.au)

Click here to read my cover story for the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

See https://www.traveller.com.au/the-best-spas-in-victoria-seven-top-soaking-experiences-in-australias-spa-state-h29r0u


ABC Radio Monday Night Travel: Langkawi & Penang, Malaysia

Occasionally, I chat with ABC Radio’s Nightlife presenter Phil Clark about travel for his Monday Night Travel segment, and recently we chatted about Malaysia – specifically two of its most loved destinations, Langkawi and Penang.

Langkawi is all about getting away from it all: island-hopping in the Andaman Sea, visiting picturesque paddy fields and jungle-clad hills, finding tranquil waterfalls.

Penang is a different animal: with a stronger Chinese influence compared with Langkawi’s greater Malay population, there’s a hustle about Penang that is undeniably contagious. Feel it in the early morning wet markets where you’re grabbing a bowl of breakfast noodles. Feel it again as you wander the streets of Little India or snap some of Penang’s well-documented street art, or when the sun goes down and the shophouses are lit up and transformed into little bars that spill out onto the footpaths and merge into the streets lined with food carts.

Click here to listen to my radio interview with Phil Clark.

Got an new appetite for travel in Malaysia?  My recent cover story asks the cheeky question: is travel in Malaysia better than Bali? Ooooh – that’s a big one to ask Bali-loving Aussies. Let me set the argument for a Malaysian holiday! https://globalsalsa.com/better-than-bali-why-malaysia-should-be-on-your-travel-radar-in-2023/

See https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/nightlife/travel-to-malaysia-belinda/101465284

See also  https://globalsalsa.com/better-than-bali-why-malaysia-should-be-on-your-travel-radar-in-2023/


Global Salsa

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