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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Best things to do on the Bellarine Peninsula, Victoria, Australia

In Melbourne, you’re either east or west holidaymaker. Mornington or Bellarine; pick your peninsula.

Never both – east is the Mornington Peninsula – a holiday hotspot close to my heart. It’s where I took my first holiday, at six weeks, and I’m still back there whenever I can shoot through from the city. Stylish and loaded with great wineries and restaurants, cafes and some of the state’s best hotels.

West is the Bellarine Peninsula. It’s the little sister. Also with great places to eat and drink, with fantastic produce and glorious views. But it’s quieter, it’s more low key. Less corporate, more family-run.

The two peninsulas are connected by a ferry across Port Phillip Bay, so I took the trip from Sorrento on the Mornington side to Queenscliff on the Bellarine, complete with dolphins surfing in the ferry’s wake- how’s that for a great omen for the holiday ahead?

The results of my finds on the Bellarine Peninsula are packed into this story for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers’ Traveller section, where I find all the gold; from gold-leaf facials to gold-medalled wines plus wild beaches, wild pinot, wild seals and wild convicts: all just 90 minutes from Melbourne.

https://www.smh.com.au/traveller/inspiration/nine-must-do-highlights-of-victoria-s-underrated-peninsula-20240610-p5jkii.html

I was a guest of Visit Geelong & The Bellarine. See visitgeelongbellarine.com.au


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

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.


Saudi Arabia on a plate

Camel kebabs, gold-flecked savoury porridge, shakshuka, mint tea, green coffee and lots and lots of dates. Eating in Saudi Arabia is an adventure in its own right.

I recently wrote a story about food in Saudi Arabia for Gourmet Traveller magazine, detailing my delicious meanderings amongst oases, deserts and desserts.

Click to read
about street eats and Michelin-starred restaurants serving up food beneath the stars, on desert sands and in the mudbrick town of oasis AlUla and seaside city of Jeddah.

All this takes place as Saudi Arabia transforms from secretive kingdom to global leader of luxury travel, with the money and imagination to make even the most incredible projects manifest.

In a whiplash reversal of protocol that took place just before the global pandemic, non-religious tourists are now welcomed into the Kingdom.

Women don’t need to cover their hair and while I admire and covet Saudi women’s dramatic abayas – long, often beautifully embroidered cloaks – there is no requirement for me to be so covered; simply modest clothing is just fine.

What to learn more about travelling in Saudi Arabia? Click to read more of my stories, such as travelling solo as a woman in Saudi Arabia.


Food of Saudi Arabia: Gourmet Traveller

Hot off the press, my travel feature in this month’s Gourmet Traveller magazine tells of the food of Saudi Arabia, and the landscapes that created it. Focusing on the sublime oasis of AlUla, in northern Saudi Arabia.

It’s mid-morning, and our camels are resting in the shade of a stone pillar. It’s a gharameel, the remnant of an ancient mountain, eroded by time, on this desert plain in north-western Saudi Arabia.

Like the camels, I’m also resting, but on long, embroidered cushions atop richly coloured rugs, drinking sweet mint tea as my mount is saddled.

To one side of the cameleer’s camp, the cook is browning cuts of tender lamb in an enormous stockpot, and I watch as he creates the classic Saudi lamb-and-rice dish, kabsa. Earthy cumin, fragrant orange blossom water and citrusy coriander are all added to the browning meat, and what looks like turmeric, for colour.

Do I detect a flicker of disdain across the cook’s face?

“It’s not turmeric,” he corrects me. “That’s saffron.” Of course it’s saffron – here in the desert, with a kitchen on the back of a truck, a couple of grumbling camels nearby. Using the most expensive spice is a reminder that, while we dine alone in a remote desert, we are still in one of the world’s wealthiest countries. A world away from clichéd Arabian bling, this is desert luxury.

On newsstands now, if you like a delicious read!

 


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.


High country luxury; The Benev, Beechworth

I love a small hotel with a history, and The Benev, in Beechworth, ticks all boxes for its beautiful restoration

For those following along on my instagram account, you’ll know I’ve been hitting the Hume Highway from Melbourne up to Victoria’s High Country a few times in the past six months. I dropped in to the new Bright Velo – a cycling themed hotel in Bright, (you can read my review here)

Click here to read my story on The Benev.

See https://www.exploretravel.com.au/story/8124768/slow-road-to-a-blissful-state/


Spend 15 minutes in Sarawak, Borneo

Would you travel for laksa? I would! Come spend 15 minutes in Sarawak, Borneo – as I chat about one of Malaysia’s easternmost states with Phil Clark, of ABC Radio’s Nightlife program.

And I’d definitely travel to Sarawak for its take on the famed Malaysian noodle soup, which the late American chef and food writer Anthony Bourdain thrust onto the world stage, declaring it the ‘breakfast of the gods’.

In the name of research for you all, I ate laksa for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but also managed to fit in a huge range of indigenous fruits and foods I’d never seen before (orange eggplants, wild mangoes easily mistaken for cannonballs).

Also, Kuching is the place to see semi-wild orangutans (the Borneo orangutan is endangered due to hunting, unsustainable illegal logging, mining and agriculture) I also met an ethical animal charity, Project Borneo, whose volunteers rescue and rehabilitate animals injured after human intervention, either from loss of habitat or as pet trade rescues – not only orangutans, but also sun bears, hornbills, sleepy binturongs (bear cats) and fresh and saltwater crocodiles.

I’ve included some great places to eat in Kuching, a couple of boutique hotels and a homestay in the jungle on the Malaysian-Indonesian border run by Saloma, a woman from Sarawak’s Bidayuh tribe.

Click here to listen to our interview on ABC Radio, which runs nationwide. And tune every Monday evening for the Monday night travel segment.

You can listen to past travel chats between me and Phil Clark, including Langkawi & Penang  and, closer to home, hiking in Victoria’s Grampians on the new Grampians Trail.

https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/nightlife/nightlife-travel-sarawak-borneo/102090380

 

 


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/


Hotel review: cycling holidays at Bright Velo, Bright, Victoria Australia

Those who love cycling holidays in Australia will know that Victoria’s High Country is peak cycle territory. We’re talking lycra on the main streets, ebikes galore, kids’ tagalongs … it’s not just the pelotons who dominate the roads.

One of the main reasons this area – three hours’ drive from Melbourne, just before you hit the border with New South Wales – is such a cyclist’s paradise is that it caters for all comers, and its development of rail trails – the old train tracks that have been converted into scenic cycling roots that keep riders off the main highways.

So it makes sense that the newest hotel in the region is a cycling themed hotel. Originally built as the Empire Hotel during Bright’s crazy gold-rush days, Bright Velo is a smart renovation of this lovely building on Bright’s main street. It’s not going to bomb you out with cheezy bike paraphernalia everywhere – it’s a little more subtle than that. Stylish vintage cycling posters dotted here and there, the public bathrooms painted in the colours of the winning jerseys of the three great European tours.

There are three levels of accom – the five unique Heritage rooms, a three-bedroom apartment and the dorm accom which caters for groups. There’s also excellent eating, a whiskey bar and the amaretto sours should have cult status in this town.

Click here to read my review of the hotel for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section.

See https://www.traveller.com.au/bright-velo-the-victorian-alps-welcomes-cosy-new-cycling-themed-lodge-h29qzl


Travel Writers Radio: Victoria’s High Country by ebike

Fancy cycling Victoria’s High Country, but don’t want to go the whole Tour de France?  Ebikes, friends.

Recently, I cruised the 68km from Beechworth to Bright on the Mountains to Murray rail trail on an ebike; the first time I’ve traded my road bike for one of these cruisy little numbers.

I chatted to Graeme Kemlo on the Travel Writers Radio show, which airs on Melbourne’s J-Air 88FM about the experience,

We talked about High Country wineries, how beautiful Mt Buffalo is when seen from a bike, and why knicks are your best friend, even on an ebike with a saddle inspired by lounge furniture.

To listen to our chat, click here https://soundcloud.com/travelwritersradio

The Travel Writers Radio show runs on J-Air 88FM every Wednesday at 5-7pm (AEDT) or catch up online, anytime at soundcloud.com/travelwritersradio

For more about biking in Victoria’s High Country, see ridehighcountry.com.au


Global Salsa

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