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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Get going: bound for Bali

101 Bali-Legian hotel, Bali.

Hi ho, the summer sun is still only just dipping below the horizon but it’s time to think winter, with all the international resorts releasing their snow deals for the 2014 winter season, or drumming up business for summer in the mountains. 

Otherwise, there are olives to pluck in Tuscany and family holidays mixing the Taj with tigers in this week’s international and domestic travel deals. 

GO NOW

BALI

Get return flights from Sydney with Virgin Australia and
three nights at the 3.5-star 101 Bali-Legian hotel, with Wi-Fi and one
three-course dinner thrown in. From $600 a person, twin share, on stays
May 14-17. 1300 887 979, wotif.com/packages.
QUEENSLAND

Check into Brisbane’s newest hotel, the Four Points by
Sheraton Brisbane, and save up to 60 per cent on stays until September
3. There is free Wi-Fi, and craft beers in the hotel bar. From $149 a
night. 1800 074 545, fourpoints.com/brisbane.

The best of Colorado, USA.

GO SOON
USA

Discover Aspen’s glorious spring season. Local hotels and
lodges are offering the third night free from May 15-June 16, plus $50
towards outdoor activities such as ballooning, rafting or biking.

See stayaspensnowmass.com/secret.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Take one of Australia’s most luxurious hikes and bring a
friend free. The Arkaba Walk is a four-day, 45-kilometre private hike
through the Flinders Ranges, with food, wine and guides. Book by April
11 for travel June 12-August 31. Costs $2150 for two people. 1300 790 561, arkabawalk.com.

The rustic huts of Corinna, Tasmania.

GO LATER

TASMANIA

Explore the incomparable Tarkine Wilderness in winter. Stay
three nights for the price of two, get a brekky hamper, half-day kayak
hire and discounts on the Arcadia II river cruises. Three nights from
$540, queen cabin, $760, family cabin. (03) 6446 1170, corinna.com.au.

CHINA

Celebrate the Year of the Horse with $200 off Helen Wong’s
China and Vietnam group tours; its 12-day China Discovery tour costs
$3930 a person, includes international flights. Book by April 4, travel
May 1-November 30. 1300 788 328, helenwongstours.com.

TOURWATCH

HARVEST IN TUSCANY

Experience quintessential Italy at the annual olive harvest
in San Miniato, Tuscany. Back-Roads Touring’s new seven-day “Harvest in
Tuscany” winter tour takes you into the heart of the region’s cuisine
and landscape, with cooking classes, Prosecco and a night in a
12th-century castle. Tours depart November 11 and 18, 2014. From $2418 a
person, twin share. 1300 100 410,  backroadstouring.com.au.

Talking tigers, India.

 KIDS DEALS

TAJ & TIGERS

If you’re looking to take the kids into the wild, the
eight-day India Family Holiday package fits the bill. You’ll explore
manic Old Delhi by rickshaw, (hopefully) spot tigers in Ranthambore
National Park, take an elephant ride in Jaipur and witness sunrise at
the Taj Mahal.

Staying in three-star hotels, the tour departs daily
(except July-September). From $1698 an adult, $1443 a child, low season
(April-June). 1300 760 208, selectivetours.com.

Belinda Jackson‘s Get Going column is published every Sunday in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper.  


Swing and sing across Texas: travel deals 27 January 2013

Do glamour, Gregory Peck and gelato in Italy, swim with dolphins in Western Australia or hit the road, Jack, and swing across Texas, in this week’s round-up of domestic and international travel deals.


ACT
Canberra’s centenary calendar is hotting up, with the National Archives of Australia showing exhibitions by photographer Max Dupain and on Britain’s Child Migrants, there are the best political cartoons on show at the Museum of Australian Democracy in Old Parliament House and, of course, Toulouse Lautrec in the National Gallery. Stay at the five-star Hotel Realm, within the parliamentary triangle, until end June and save 54 per cent on the full rate with its ‘Love Notes’ package, which includes accommodation, a mini Moet, dessert platter, breakfast and late check-out. Costs from $375 for two people, one night, quote ‘Love Notes’. 1300 88 7979, wotif.com/hotelW50609.

NSW
You don’t have to leave the state to find one of the
world’s longest resort swimming pools: coming in at 485 metres long, it’s at
the Oaks Pacific Blue Resort in Port Stephens, 160km north of Sydney. The quiet
coastal region is a magnet for fisherfolk, dolphin spotters and those who just
like rolling down sand dunes, while the resort facilities include tennis
courts, a gym and a Japanese steam room.  Save up to $25 a night on when you book a
two-night stay from January 27-June 30. Costs from $258, studio room, two
nights. 1300 669 978, oakshotelsresorts.com.

QUEENSLAND
You’ll be praying for hot weather with a deal at QT Gold
Coast hotel’s SpaQ, which knocks the price of the day’s top temperature off
your midweek one-hour spa treatment. So if it’s 29 degrees, you’ll get $29 off the
cost of the treatment. Valid until February 28, Mondays-Thursdays and quote
‘I’m hot’.  07 5584 1108, qtgoldcoast.com.au/spa-q/.
The dolphins of Monkey Mia, WA.
WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Set foot on the most westerly tip of Australia, at Cape Leeuwin, walk through the Valley of the Giants, watched over by towering forests, and journey into Kalgoorlie’s Super Pit on a 15-day coach tour of WA’s south east. Starting and finishing in Perth, the tour includes lunch at Palandri Winery in the Margaret Valley, a walking tour of Fremantle and a meet-and-greet with Monkey Mia’s dolphins. Book during the wildflower season, from August to November, to see WA’s desert plains flushed with colour. Book with a deposit by February 15, and your friend saves 25 percent. Costs from $4550 for the first person, $3413 for your friend. 1300 228 546, aatkings.com.au.

VICTORIA
Visit some of the most beautiful
gardens surrounding Melbourne on a three-night tour just in time for Mother’s
Day. Staying at the Sofitel Melbourne, the small group tour starts with high
tea at The Hotel Windsor, followed by a street art tour through the city’s
laneways, for an edgy touch. The gardens on tour include Cranbourne Botanic
Gardens’ Australian garden, Heronswood on the Mornington Peninsula and the
William Ricketts Sanctuary in the Dandenong Ranges. Book by February 28
and save $100. Includes  most meals,
botanical guides and airport transfers. Costs from $1695 a person, twin share.
1300 305 202, botanica.travel.
Hotel Aviatic, Paris
  
FRANCE
Soak up the Parisian vibe at a discount price at the
Hotel Aviatic, on the Left Bank, close by the bars and restaurants of Saint-Germain
des Prés and Montparnasse. Save E135 ($171) on a traditional room or E165 on a
prestige room, and get breakfast, a bottle of wine and chocolates on stays
until February 28. Costs from E160 (traditional room) or E195 (prestige room).
1800 667 731, aviatic.fr.
COOK ISLANDS
The islands of the Pacific are renowned for their
welcoming arms, and those travelling to Rarotonga with Air New Zealand will
receive NZ$100 (A$75) to spend, for a very warm welcome, indeed.  You could do an Aitutaki Lagoon tour, enjoy
an hour-long massage, get two days’ car hire or buy 20 papaya smoothies! Book
by March 4 for travel until June 3, cookislands.travel. Passengers traveling
Air New Zealand from Sydney to Rarotonga direct on Saturday nights get an
additional round of discounts on activities on the islands. Flights depart
Sydney 8.30pm Fridays, arrive Rarotonga 5.30am Saturdays. 132 476,
airnewzealand.com.au.

NEW ZEALAND
Spend Valentine’s Day at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, in
Hawke’s Bay, voted one of the world’s top lodges and save 15 percent off the
standard high season rate. The package includes one night in a luxury suite, a
bottle of champagne, rose petals, bath oil and candles. There’s also a
five-course dinner, breakfast, mini-bar and, importantly, late check-out.
What’s not to love? Valid February 10-17. Costs from $855 a person, twin share
(naturally).  +64 6 875 1900, capekidnappers.com
FIJI

The sunny islands of Fiji are on the rebound after last
year’s Cyclone Evan, with deals to be had. Stay seven nights at the Sofitel
Fiji Resort & Spa on the five-star strip on Denarau Island, get return
airfares from Sydney, $535 in wine, dine and spa credit, a full-day island
cruise, a cultural heritage tour, airport transfers, breakfast, free kids food
and kids’ club. Costs from $1690 a person, twin share. Similar deals are
available at the Sheraton Fiji Resort and Outrigger on the Lagoon. 1300 00 34
54, myholidaycentre.com.au/fiji/.

ITALY
Glamour, Gregory Peck and gelato: do Italy like Audrey
Hepburn, swanning through Tuscany, Rome and the Amalfi coast. Diva alert: join
a handful of other fabulous travellers and cruise Italy in the ultimate girls’
getaway of shopping, spas and Vespas. Book and deposit the 14-day ‘Do it like
Audrey Hepburn’ tour by February 22 for departure on June 23, and get a free
night in a 4-star Florence hotel before or after the tour. Costs from $6959 a person, twin share, quote
‘SHDIVAS’. 0408 721
569, travellingdivas.com.au.
TOURWATCH
San Antonio, Fort
Worth, Memphis, Texarkana … if these names resonate with your soul, it’s time
to hit the American West – in a Mustang convertible, of course – for a musical
road trip across the USA, from LA to Nashville. The Swing Across Texas
self-drive tour is fully escorted and departs June 15, hitting Route 66, Vegas
and Buddy Holly’s birthplace in Lubbock County, Texas, with the Grand Canyon in
there for good measure. The clincher is there’s a live act or entertainment in
every city, every night of the 22-day tour, which is included in the price
along with car hire and insurance. Costs from $7350 a person, twin share. (07)
5577 4655, classicdrivingtours.com.

Peace in Bali, bustle on the Bund: travel deals 11 November 2012

Cinque Terre, Italy

Peace is found in Bali’s Tabanan district and in a Tuscan villa. Or find fabulousness on Shanghai’s Bund and Hobart’s Salamanca market in this week’s Australian and international travel deals. 

SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Named one of the state’s top pubs by the AHA, the 4.5-star
Walkers Arms Hotel is spitting distance from the CBD, in happening Walkerville.
The hotel has a huge beer garden and there are gigs on Friday nights, DJs on
Saturdays and live acoustic music on Sundays. Save 20 per cent on stays until 28 February. Costs from $135 a night. 130
130 483, travel.com.au.

QUEENSLAND
Budget hotel aficionados know the Traders hotels: owned by the luxe Shangri-La gang, they’re aimed at 4-star corporates, with the benefits and panache from a glam big sister. Australia’s first Traders Hotel has opened on Brisbane’s Roma St, with prices starting from $289 weekdays and $159 weekends, always with free wi-fi. It’s celebrating the opening with a ‘Stay Connected’ package that includes one night’s accommodation in its recently, 34sqm renovated rooms, and a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, all for the retail price of the tablet, $459. (07) 3238 2222, tradershotels.com

Sofitel Melbourne
VICTORIA
The acclaimed play ‘War Horse’, about a man and horse’s journey through World War I, makes its Australian debut at Melbourne’s State Theatre Art Centre in December. Well that’s a good excuse to head south. Usually, a night at the Sofitel on Collins costs from $260. The ‘stay and see’ package includes a five-star sleep for two and one ‘A’ Reserve ticket, worth $124, from December 23 – February 10, 2013. Costs from $269 a night. 1300 306 341, showbiz.com.au/warhorse.

NEW SOUTH WALES
It could well be the best deal in town: stay in one of
the Sheraton on the Park’s 48 suites, take home a Boucheron diamond. Between
November 17-25, and you’ll be on a treasure hunt for a diamond pendant and a
diamond bracelet hidden in the suites, but could be consoled with other surprises
including a splash from Moet, bath butler service, Polynesian spa treatments by
Thalgo or a sparkling midnight swim – it’s a surprise, people. Costs from $599,
includes access to the Sheraton Club, with pre-dinner drinks, canapés and
breakfast on Level 21.  (02) 9286 6000, sheratonontheparksydney.com/sparkle.
The Tarkine, Tasmania
TASMANIA
Hobart’s been cosying up with San Fran, Amsterdam and
Beijing, all named in Lonely Planet’s top 10 cities to visit in 2013. The new
Unknown Wilderness itinerary from Inspiring Journeys travels from Launceston to
Hobart, visiting the mountains, lakes and rivers in between, not to mention
dishing up your fair share of wine and cheese. Departs from January 31 to April
28 with more dates pending: book six months in advance, save $190. Costs from
$3750 a person, twin share (excluding flights) 1800 467 747,
inspiringjourneys.com.au.
NORTH-WEST
AUSTRALIA
Play spot the croc along Australia’s remote north-western
coastline. This 22-day adventure travels in coach-style 4WDs from Darwin to
Perth, crossing the Kimberley until the Coral Coast. Includes cruises on the
Ord River and through Katherine Gorge at sunrise and four nights at Bell Gorge
and Bungle Wilderness Lodge. Save up to $575 a person when booking six months
in advance, until December 31, for travel May 1-September 30, 2013. Costs from
$10,920 a person, twin share. 1800 044 066, travel-associates.com.au.
Palais Amani, Fez, Morocco
MOROCCO
Your home in the open-air theatre that is Fez is a riad;
those perfumed, inward-facing homes beloved by Morocco’s old merchant class.
With only 14 rooms, the luxury riad,
Palais Amani, is set within the medina. Normally from
$169 a night, save 33 per cent on stays until January 31, 2013, excluding
December 20 – January 1, 2013. Includes a traditional Moroccan breakfast, and a
spa with hammam and rooftop showers for those hot summer nights. Costs from $125
a night, minimum three nights’ stay. 1300 896 627, mrandmrssmith.com.
CHINA
Shanghai’s promenade the Bund has another swanky
resident, the Banyan Tree Shanghai On The Bund. Its 130 rooms overlook the Bund
and the Huangpu River. Check out the three-floor spa and 150-minute hot stones
therapy, made more delicious by a 30 per cent discount. Until February 28, get
your second night free and half-price on all subsequent nights, breakfast and
free non-alcoholic minibar on stays in the riverside retreats. Costs from $460
a night. +86 21 2509 1188, banyantree.com.
INDONESIA
Alila Villas Soori, Tabanan, Bali, Indonesia
Bali’s Tabanan district is famed for its traditional
dancers and gong (gamelan) orchestras, and private viewings can be arranged by
Alila Villas Soori, a collection of villas set between beach and rice paddies.
Save 20 per cent off the internet rate when you book one of their newly
relaunched Mountain Pool villas, when booking seven days in advance for stays
until December 19. Costs from $490++. +62 361 894 6388, alilahotels.com/soori.
ITALY
From your base in the spa town of Salsomaggiore Terme,
you’ll explore Bologna, Milan, Cinque Terre and then Lake Maggiore in this
eight-day Hidden Treasures of Northern Italy tour. Book before December 27 to
get an early-bird fare of $1475 for return flights with Cathay Pacific to Rome,
and book four months in advance to save 2.5 per cent on the tour cost. Costs
from $1134 a person, twin share. 1300 230 234, cosmostours.com.au.
EUROPE
A Contiki tour through Europe is a rite of passage for
first-time travellers. Tick off all the biggies – Paris’ Eiffel Tower, Rome’s
Coliseum, Athens’ Acropolis, Amsterdam’s red light district – in one fell swoop
on the 33-day European Explorer. You’ll also get into the boat in Venice, shake
it in Mykonos and dream on the Isle of Capri. Book before December 27 for
travel from April to September 2013 and save up to $620. Costs from $5154 a
person, twin share. 1300 266 845, contiki.com.au.  
TOURWATCH
Cycling, yoga, Italy: the recipe for perfection. Throw a
little hiking in, as well as a 17th-century country villa near Lucca, Tuscany, and
it’s music for the soul. This seven-night retreat sees you practising yoga each
day, with views of the villa’s olive groves and peaceful panoramas, and cycling
through quiet country lanes. Yes, there is eating. This is Italy, after all.
There’s one completely free day in the midst of the retreat for guests to do as
they please, and non-cycling friends and spouses are welcome. “It’s a retreat,
not a boot camp,” says organiser Virginia Slevin, and there are no
super-humans, the 14 guests require just a general level of fitness. Runs from
June 8-15, 2013 (yoga & cycling) and June 15-22, 2013 (yoga, cycling &
hiking). Costs $2450 a person, twin share with a shared bathroom, or $2855 with
a private bathroom. 0407 788 600, soulfitadventures.com.
 Source: Belinda JacksonSun Herald 

Boyzone plays Tuscany

Is this the most perfectly Tuscan pic? Aside from the crappy sky. There was a ladder, an old bike and a low-slung chair perched against an olive tree. Hello, is there a Vogue stylist walking ahead of me? I thought, as I hummed my way through Boyzone’s hitlist (ok, so there IS a downside to solo walking).

Other highlights included the thermal baths at the hilltop village of Bagno Vignoni (population 53), where 40-degree waters gushed from the hillside into the public pools or, if you were a tad more posh, the Hotel de Terme, with its newly built bathhouse, all glass roofs and walls, so you could bathe in sunshine and waters designed for soaking thighs weary from schlepping up the hill to get there. No wonder it was a hot spot on the old pilgrim route to Roma.

Weirdly, when you photograph Tuscany, with its crumbling stone, washing strung outside the windows and old-fashioned signs, it looks so poor. But those leather boots and hand-crafted cheeses will strip your euros from your pocket faster than you can say ‘artisanal fromagerie’.

The landscape was all green, lush rolling hills often cloaked in a veil of rain (let’s not be picky here, it had to get green somehow), and rows of Roman pines that had me thinking back to the opening scenes of Russell Crowe’s house in Gladiator. Tacky, I know but your mind plays with your mind when you’ve many hours alone.
And the trip couldn’t go without a mention of the Eurostar from Florence to Milan, which hit speeds of 300km/hour, with barely a jiggle.

PS other hits from the Tuscan mental soundtrack included Jimmy Barnes’ Cheap Wine and the War of the Worlds soundtrack. A tough one to sing along to, but consider it achieved.

Didn’t the paparrazi start in Italy?

Tuscan walking tour in a nutshell: So much walking! So much rain! Not enough sit-down time! Too much food!

I would like to think that my eating activities have been balanced by my exercise activities, but I think not. In a classic ‘eating to feel better’ move that could be the US’s motto for the global recession, my spirits were restored after a 22km hike through the Tuscan wilderness and rain with dinner in the hilltop village of Montalcino, trying a local Tuscan pasta, pici, fat, hand-rolled spaghetti strands doused with a wild hare ragu. The alternative was the wild boar ragu. It’s surprising in such a cultivated landscape there are still so many rampant animals roaring around – deer ran past me, hares sat on quiet roads…who knew I was about to eat them? I also had a glass of the region’s famed 2001 Brunello di Montalcino (7 euro/glass) and tried the 2000 for good measure -putting the miles of vineyards to the test.. If you were to find yourself in Montelcino, I thoroughly recommend the Albergo di Giardino on via Cavour, and the owner, Mario, also has a few self-contained apartments in town as well. There was no breakfast, so it was two brioche (croissants to the rest of the world) and two cappucinos at the bar, where you had to elbow out the road all the old men knocking back shots of red wine to get your breakfast.The hilltop town is riddled with picturesque corners and even more picturesque old people, and walking down its flanks the next morning toward the ancient Roman baths village of Bagno Vignoni, the sun was finally making a show, and I spotted this old guy tending his geraniums. “I am a journalist…” I started in my slummy Italian, before he interrupted. “You want photograph me?” He’s done this before, I thought… then I papparaz’d him.

Old gold in Toscano

I now know why Milano Centrale railway station smells like a large urinal: because the toilets cost E1 entrance! We were all titillated with the news that it cost a pound to ‘spend a penny’ in London’s Harrods, but this is not quite the same experience. It even has electronic gates like the metro stations.

The next leg of the Italian trip is a walk through Tuscany. The train journey from Milano to Buonconvento in southern Tuscany was the first day of drizzling rain that miraculously held off during Milan’s design festival, much of which was open to the elements.

Encouragingly, even the locals on the regional train bound for Sienna don’t know the starting town of Buonconvento. Perhaps it really is undiscovered. My scepticism radar is switched on high, though…

Ahhh, lovely, lovely Italy. Blessed is the country that gives hope to those of us plagued by the advent of aging. It’s a land where short, fat old people are papparazzi’d by amateur photographers in the narrow streets.
To illustrate: I’m standing at the atmospheric medieval gates of bucolic Buonconvento’s when the stout backsides and black dresses of two old ladies prove too much, and they are snapped relentlessly by a bevy of tourists at as they chat about the things old Italian ladies chat about – flowers in the church, grandchild one-upmanship, Sex and the City…
The places to go for internet on this trip included a very nice bar in Montelcino that sells the local superstar wine, Brunello de Montelcino, by the glass in a range of vintages. Unfortunately, it also came with the resident barfly, Massimo, who tried to ply me with cheap pro secco and stand behind my shoulder to watch me working. If he didn’t have a few ‘roos loose in the top paddock, I would have smacked his chops.

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