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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My slices of heaven: travel in Turkey & Egypt

Nisanyan was a stone house in rural Turkey, forgotten or ignored for generations and demoted to a lowly stable before its reincarnation into a small, family hotel.

Now, the hotel is its own village outside Selçuk; a series of hand made, whitewash-and-stone cottages, inns and villas along the tree-lined laneway, which I visited on a women’s-only expedition with @intrepidtravel

I wrote about the hotel recently for a cover story in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers, where we were asked to describe our own idea of heaven.

The nights here are cool and silent, save the toll of a goat’s bell and the final call to prayer from a mosque down in the valley. In my cottage, deep red rugs are thrown over stone floors, handstitched coverlets and cushions adorn well-worn armchairs and my daybed, where I languish, the’ bells and the muezzin’s voice carried to me on the jasmine-scented night air.

Why heaven? Turkish breakfasts are the best on earth – here, the tables are laden with locally pressed olive oil, deep red tomatoes, fresh eggs, honey, handmade cheeses.
—-

I also have an affinity with oases – their sense of remoteness and salvation for the traveller.

It may be remote – on the edge of the Great Sand Sea and just 50km from the Egypt-Libya border – but Siwa’s log book of visitors cannot fail to impress; top of the list is Alexander the Great, who came to consult the Oracle of Amun in 332AD as part of his campaign to rule this rich land.

A mudbrick Bedouin town, it sits on the edge of the Great Sand Sea. It is filled with palm gardens, and surrounded by perfectly clear salt lakes, while freshwater springs bubble up from the hot sands. The local Bedouin culture is very different from the rest of Egypt, with the warmth and hospitality that befits an oasis town.

It is my slice of heaven on earth.

On the flip side, my idea of HELL ON EARTH is The Wall in Bethlehem, Palestine. Hot, dusty, fume-filled streets are dominated by the paint-spattered topped by watchtowers, which epitomises everything that is broken in the current conflict.

Also, anywhere you witness injustice to people, animals or the environment. The street dogs of Cairo break my heart. As does the dumping of chemical waste on the Israel-Palestinian border.  And the plein-air butchers’ markets of Kashmir, where the fly-to-customer ratio is inordinately high.


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


The rise of women-only tours in Islamic countries

Coming to you – most appropriately – from Cairo today, I’m sharing my latest story about the rise of women-only tours in the Middle East and surrounds.

When talking about travel in Islamic countries, top of the list of reasons why people refuse to visit is the treatment of women: the lack of access to education and financial independence, enforced dress mandates or the “guardianship” laws and customs that in extreme cases reduce women to the legal standing of a child. There’s also the fear of being ignored, duped or even groped.

Yet to avoid the region would be – in my opinion – to miss out on some of the world’s most lavish ancient civilisations and rich modern cultures.

Click here to read my cover story in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers, in Australia.


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.

 


Ten great car-free towns: from Hoi An to Hydra

Is there nothing better than a car-free town? I’m thinking those little hilltop towns dotted through Italy, the ancient marketplaces of the Middle East, the pedestrian zones of the otherwise honking, fume-laden roads of South America’s great cities.

My top 10 list includes such greats as Jerusalem’s Old City, the Princes Islands off Istanbul and beautiful Hydra, one of the Saronic islands in the Greek archipelago, which holds a special place in my heart for its donkeys and vast, opportunistic orange cat population. There’s also lovely Hoi An, Vietnam’s town of tailors and, of course, the most famous of them all, La Serenissima, aka Venice.

You can click here to read my list, published in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald’s Traveller section.

Just after it ran, I received an email from a reader telling me that Medina Malta should have made the top 10. Overlooking the fact he had an iconic Maltese surname, he’s definitely got a point – the so-called Silent City, which has been inhabited since 8th-century BC, was another beautiful film location for King’s Landing in Game of Thrones and a worthy contender.  Do you have any suggestions?


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.


In the raw in Phuket, Tiger trims down, checking out the Flying Doctors: Takeoff travel news

FOOD
In the raw on Phuket
The luxury Sri Panwa hotel on Phuket’s southern coastline
has opened its newest dining option, an authentic Japanese restaurant called Baba
IKI. Order from the sake cocktail list and get up close and personal at the
sushi bar with head Chef Haru, who trained under Iron Chef Boontum Pakpo. Top
picks include the toro sashimi (premium tuna belly) and sake
sashimi (Norwegian salmon). Seating 60 people, Baba IKI has expansive views
over the Andaman Sea. This is the fourth restaurant at the hotel on Cape Panwa including
Baba Soul Food, which serves traditional southern Thai cuisine such as as Hell
Chicken and crab and coconut curry.  The
hotel has been named Thailand’s best resort and its Baba Nest rooftop bar one
of the world’s best beach bars. A night in the pool suite ocean view costs from $800. See sripanwa.com.

AIRLINE
Tiger trims
carry-on kilos
Low-cost airline TigerAir is dropping its free carry-on luggage
limits to 7kg a person on flights booked from March 17 for travel from April
17. Currently, passengers are allowed to bring two pieces of cabin luggage
weighing up to 10kg in total. The airline said the move will help prevent
over-filled overhead lockers and save time both on the plane and at check-in.
Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Rex Airlines have 7kg carry-on limits on their economy
domestic routes, while Qantas allows two bags of 7kg, totalling 14kg. TigerAir
passengers can buy an additional 5kg of carry-on luggage, bringing the total to
12kg, with its new Cabin+ product, which costs from $18 in advance or from $36
at check-in. See tigerair.com.

KIDS
Backyard explorers
Teach the kids a love of the great outdoors, stylishly, with
a night under canvas in the new Joey tent. Created by outdoor goods
manufacturer Homecamp, the sturdy Joey is made
from canvas, has a waterproof floor and is fire and mould resistant. Pitching
at just under a meter high and 1.4m wide, it fits in the backyard or pitch it beside
the family tent for a kids-only zone on holidays. The Joey weighs 8kg and will
sleep three little ones. So all you have to worry about now is dead torch
batteries and marshmallow overdoses. Costs $325. See homecamp.com.au. 
BOOK
Gallipoli No. 1 destination

Travellers wanting to visit the battle sites of
Gallipoli, Turkey, are being advised to avoid not only ANZAC Day, on April 25,
but also weekends until mid-June. Lonely Planet named the Gallipoli Peninsula
the world’s number one travel destination for 2015, and its new Turkey guide
advises that massive crowds are expected to visit the Gallipoli Peninsula
Historical National Park this year, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the
Gallipoli landing. Author James Bainbridge adds that weekends in September are
another peak time, when vacationing Turks visit the region. Lonely Planet
Turkey (14th Edition), $39.99.See lonelyplanet.com.


NEWS
Check-up at the Flying Doctor
The Royal Flying Doctor Service in Broken Hill has opened
a new GP clinic beside its visitor centre, where travellers heading into
central Australia can seek medical advice and ensure they’re in fine form for
the road. The RFDS has visitor centres at Broken Hill, Longreach, Alice
Springs, Kalgoorlie and Dubbo, as well as Charleville, which also as a GP
clinic. Last year, its 63 aircraft flew more than 26 million kilometres caring
for 282,000 people, and says about a quarter of its emergency medical evacuations
are road warriors driving in the outback. Broken Hill is 935km from Sydney and
725km from Melbourne, and the last medical service until Alice Springs, so plug
the new Clive Bishop Medical Centre into your GPS: it’s at the RFDS Base on
Airport Rd, next to Broken Hill Airport, open 9am to 5pm, Monday-Friday. The
Bruce Langford Visitor Centre lets you go behind the scenes and into the RFDS
airport hangar, open seven days. For medical appointments, call (08) 8080 3780.
To donate to the not-for-profit service, see flyingdoctor.org.au.
GEAR
Indigenous inspiration
Wear your country with pride with this fashion range
designed by indigenous artists. The Community Unity lifestyle bag is painted by
artist Robert Levi and measures 45×36.5cm. It’s made from polyester drill by indigenous
clothing brand Bundarra which designs, cuts and sews all its garments
here in Australia. Levi, who is from Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, says
the bag’s design shows hope for indigenous unification. It’s one of several designs across Bundarra’s range, which includes fashion leggings and its new
singlets. Bags cost $39.95. See bundarra.org.



This weekly column by Belinda Jackson is published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newpaper’s Traveller section.

Summer reading: a not-very-definitive list

My first (and last) English Christmas was a shock to many senses: there was snow (albeit very light, very dirty), there were Brussels sprouts (surely only the English consider them a celebratory food) and there was television.

As our Australian marketing machines constantly tell us, our Christmases are all about the beach, cricket and low-level sunburn. So to be huddled in front of the telly watching soap omnibuses seemed a curious way to spend the festive season.

It’s not quite television, and the weather here in Melbourne has been exemplary this year: not too hot, not too cold, but I’ve come over all Northern hemisphere and am catching up on a small mountain of unread fiction, with a travel bent, of course.

Here’s a little list of recent releases from Australian authors that have made a welcome appearance on the bedside table.

The most recent of the list is by prolific South Australian author Fiona McIntosh, who I have long admired for her adult fantasy series (think Lord of the Rings fantasy, not the other type, smutsters). She has turned out a fast-paced romance set in WWI Cairo, Gallipoli and post-war London. Nightingale ticks all the boxes, with handsome men, golden women and love found and lost in traumatic times. Does the girl get her man? It’s over to you… (Penguin Books, $29.99)

Action seekers know Matthew Reilly is the man to turn to when you want to be left breathless from reading (to give you a suggestion of his pace, the Sydney writer drives DeLorean DMC-12 – the car from Back to the Future). His latest book, The Great Zoo of China is, as the title indicates, set in China and has an absolute cracker of a premise, which I just can’t tell you about. His heroine, CJ Cameron, is a tad too tough, tenacious and intelligent for wimpy me to relate to, but I could not put this book down. That was a week of lost sleep (Pan Macmillan, $39.99)

And finally (not in the picture, as it’s already been nabbed by my mum), Stateless is the second in the Heritage trilogy about the evolution of the State of Israel. Written by Alan Gold and Mike Jones, it caused a ruckus in our house with the highly controversial throw-away line that the Egyptian army is known to be cowardly. Eeep! Otherwise, Stateless races along with plenty of secret plots and dastardly tyrants from Roman-occupied Jerusalem to post-WWII Russia. The first in the trilogy is called Bloodline, I’ll be seeking it out. (Simon & Schuster Australia, $29.99)

The next on the list is Tony Park‘s The Hunter (‘A missing woman, a serial killer at large… man is the most dangerous predator of all’). I’m not that into murder as entertainment, but this book moves from South Africa to Zimbabwe and the Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya, which I love. And in the appendices, Park also shares travel tips from his extensive experience of travelling in Africa (Pan Macmillan, $29.99)

I hope you’re all enjoying a great summer read, or if you’re further north and not nose-in-book, the plotlines in the soaps have improved.

See you all in 2015!

Belle


Traveller: Takeoff travel news July 27, 2014

Budapest
AIRLINES:Budapest bound
In the aviation world, you’re nobody if you don’t have an
Airbus or 50. The Dubai-based Emirates airline has just received its 50th A380,
cementing its position as the world’s largest international airline. New destinations
connected by A380s include Kuwait and Mumbai this month, with Frankfurt,
Dallas, San Francisco and Houston coming online in the next five months. The
airline expects its cache of A380s to increase to 90 by late 2017. Emirates is
also adding three new European destinations to its network –Oslo and Brussels
in September and Budapest on October 27. 1300 303 777, emirates.com/au.

KIDS:Trump the parents
If your children are full of bright ideas, hook them up
with Donald Trump. No, really. The five-star Trump SoHo New York’s Young
Entrepreneurs program is open to hotel guests from 3 to 17 years as well as Manhattan
neighbourhood kids. Previous events including Children’s Museum of the Arts
film screenings, business and cooking classes as well as downtime in the spa
(for those busy kids, not you).  They’ll
also get business cards, free meals and a quarterly newsletter about NYC
family-friendly events. Kids get a monogrammed robe, candy buffets and
cocktails, local maps from a pint-sized point of view and free rollaway beds. A
new partnership with phil&teds lets you use their strollers and baby
backpacks during your stay. The NYC Family Getaway package costs from $687 a
night. +See trumpsohohotel.com/kids.  
FOOD: River courses
You won’t find 2009 Masterchef winner Julie Goodwin
hiding in the ship’s galley when she stars on her third Murray River celebrity
cook cruise. The PS Murray Princess paddlewheeler cruises the river while Julie
conducts three cooking demonstrations and hosts a three-course dinner for 120
guests on the four-night cruise between Mannum and Blanchardstown, SA. The
stately paddlewheeler journeys past redgum forests and limestone cliffs and
also pulls in to historic ports, a sheep station, a vineyard and a cellar door.
Departs March 9, 2015, but book early, she’s a lady in demand. Costs from $1229
a person, twin share. (02) 9206 1111, captaincook.com.au.
Mandarin Oriental Bodrum, Turkey
HOTEL: Turkish delight
The new Mandarin Oriental has thrown opened its
doors on Turkey’s south-eastern coastline, 30 minutes from beautiful Bodrum on
the Turkish Riviera. Each of the hotel rooms – the creation of Italian design powerhouse Antonio
Citterio -looks out over the Aegean, with terraces
and decks primed for sun soaking. The suites have plunge pools and
outdoor showers. Set on the waterfront on Cennet
Koyu (Paradise Bay), the hotel has 109 rooms and suites with a spa and
10 restaurants and bars. The Discover Paradise Bay opening offer
costs from $2587 for three nights,
and includes $215 credit to spend in the spa or restaurants, available until
December 31. Phone 1800 123 693, see mandarinoriental.com.
GEAR:Bag it

The Toby iMail laptop
bag.
Be prepared to suffer bag envy when you spot the Jackson
Casual Messenger slung over a hardened traveller’s shoulder some time soon. The
new range from Australian design company Zoomlite will be released in late
August, with the Jackson coming in olive, khaki or navy. The heavy-duty washed
canvas bag (25x32cm) features a vintage leather trim with a cross-body strap, leaving
your hands free for adventure. Keep an eye out also for the Toby iMail laptop
bag, for those who don’t need to shriek geek. The vintage-leather bag comes in
camel or deep brown and its padded section lets you truck a 13-inch laptop with
discretion (29x35cm).  Jackson Casual
Messenger, $69.95. Toby iMail, $229.95. zoomlite.com.au.
Designer Kash O’Hara
FASHION: Super styler
Get under the skin of chic Hong Kong and its
mainland cousin, Shenzhen, with Sydney fashion stylist and designer Kash O’Hara.
Kash will do a style analysis and help write your shopping list beforehand. She’ll even help you
design pieces that are then tailored in Shenzen. But it’s not all hard
shopping. The tour includes high tea at The Peninsula hotel, a swish dinner and
guided tours. “It’s partly a holiday, 
partly a shopping trip,” says Kash. From $3630 a
person, twin share. Includes international flights, four nights’ accommodation
in Hong Kong and one night in Shenzen. Departs October 1. Phone 0411 166 623,
see oharadesigns.com.
FAMILY: Self-catering in
Phuket

Face painting, Teen Idol and mini discos need to be balanced with
adult playrooms – and the swim-up bar and massage pods at Phuket’s two
Sunwing resorts, Kamala Beach and Bangtao, do the trick. Sunwing’s
Happy Baby Studios are designed for families with babies: the
ground-floor rooms have enclosed terraces and locking gates and all the
accoutrements, from pots to cots, baby recliners and unsmashable
crockery and cutlery. Happy Baby Studios cost from $138 a night,
off-peak (until October 31). sunwingphuket.com.

This weekly travel news column, Takeoff, is published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald‘s Traveller section each week. Visit smh.com.au/travel 

Travel deals: New Zealand

Matakauri Lodge, New Zealand
GO NOW

NEW ZEALAND
Live well at the prestigious Matakauri Lodge, near
Queenstown, and get the third night free on stays until July 31. Get
cosy in a deluxe suite, with gourmet dinner and all lodge facilities,
not to mention the views. From $1895 a person, three nights, twin share.
matakaurilodge.com.


WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Stay three nights, pay for two at the dictionary definition
of “glamping”, Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef’s beachside eco-tents. Save $750 a
person on stays July 20-31, when the whale sharks are in town. Includes
meals and wilderness trips. From $1500 a person, twin share. 1300 790
561, wildbushluxury.com.

Trilogy Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia

GO SOON
QUEENSLAND
Stay three nights, pay for two, saving $255 at the four-star
Trilogy Surfers Paradise. Deposit only $5 and pay the balance 28 days
before check-in. Stays in a self-catering, one-bed apartment cost from
$510, three nights, until October 19. 1800 359 769, lowcostholidays.com.au.
USA
Go after-hours into MOMA, backstage on Broadway or see the
Yankees on a six-night custom tour of New York. Book by June 30, get a
$215 voucher at 5th Avenue’s Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa. Departs May
22 and August 28, 2015. From $4320 a person. (03) 9029 1193, see insiderexperience.com.

GO LATER
FINLAND
Save 5 per cent on 20 winter small-group journeys, including
the five-day family tour of Finnish Lapland to meet Santa, take a
reindeer sleigh ride and go ice-fishing. Book by June 30, travel
December 23. Save $160, from $3197 a person, quote BRTWEB5%. 1300 100
410, backroadstouring.com.au.
TASMANIA
Take a luxe three-day walk on historic Maria Island and save
$100 when you book and pay by June 30, for travel until April 2015.
Expect your bags to be carried, tents erected and wine poured for you.
Low season (September 20-October 30) from $999 a person. (02) 9913 8939,
lifesanadventure.com.au.

TALKING TURKEY
Feed your stomach and your soul on a gastronomic and
historic cruise through Turkey. Group size ranges from eight to 18
sailing a wooden gulet along the Carian coast visiting ancient sites,
foraging for wild food and hitting the markets. Learn to cook Turkish
in a family home and eat in traditional restaurants. Departs September
20, 2014 and May 23, 2015. From $3875 a person. petersommer.com.

KIDS
GO WILD IN MELBOURNE
Take the kids to see the wildlife in Melbourne this winter.
Ibis Melbourne has family-friendly deals for DreamWorks Animation: The
Exhibition in Federation Square and the Melbourne Zoo. The DreamWorks
offer includes accommodation, breakfast and two adult tickets to the
exhibition (kids 4-15 years, $10). From $183 a night, until October 5;
1300 656 565, accorhotels.com/melbexhibition.
The zoo offer includes accommodation, breakfast and two adult tickets
to the zoo. From $129 a night, until September 25; phone (03) 9666 0066,
see ibis.com.

This travel deals column by Belinda Jackson is published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper every Sunday.  


Global Salsa

Well, you’ve scrolled this far. What do you think? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you.

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