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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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/
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.
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
For more about biking in Victoria’s High Country, see ridehighcountry.com.au
This year is a bumper year for Egypt and for travel in Cairo – it’s the 100th anniversary of the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb by Egyptology Howard Carter. It’s also the 200th year of the cracking of the code on the Rosetta Stone, which led us to understand Ancient Egypt’s hieroglyphics. It’s the year that Cairo’s Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) was supposed to have opened – though there is a hint that it will open partially this year, just because 2022 is such a big news year, and because we’ve all been waiting for this museum for more than eight years.
The last surprising “Wonder of the Ancient World”. The liveliest of lively street cultures. Fabulous and affordable historic, luxury hotels. A familiar golden backstory prominent in school curriculums around the globe. Cairo, Egypt’s chaotic but captivating capital, is the megalopolis that seems to have it all.
This city, like a colossal bowerbird, has spent millennia sequestering new treasures left in the wake of a parade of invaders from Persia to Macedonia, Assyria to Rome, more recently France and Britain, the last colonial power, to be dispatched in 1956.
Yet for reasons I can never understand, Cairo is given short shrift on travellers’ itineraries, with just a day often allocated on either side of a Nile cruise, or worse, a half day on the way to the airport. The markets! The food! The architecture! The crazy, rushing, structured chaos in which this city survives and thrives. It is one of the world’s biggest cities, it’s inexplicable in its workings, yet it continues to work – in a fashion – to be simultaneously a major Middle Eastern hub and one of the most important cities in Africa.
Summing up more than a decade of ramblings around Cairo, and looking ahead to what’s new in the city, I wrote this story for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section, titled Pyramid Selling. Click here to read my story.
I hope you enjoy, and let me know what you love – or don’t enjoy – about Cairo.