ON a sassy Southampton Saturday evening, I am stalking screen siren Sophia Loren. Let me repeat that. I am stalking Sophia Loren, the acclaimed Italian actress. Sure, it’s not my usual Saturday night, back in Brisbane, clutching a bottle of shiraz and what’s left of my dignity while I watch Disney movies, but life as a travel writer sometimes takes you to the most unusual places, where you are plunged into the most unlikely scenarios, and on this particular Saturday night, this is precisely where I find myself.
I am in the UK, at Southampton Port, to be precise, covering the launch of the world’s newest cruise liner, MSC Bellissima which claims to be the most beautiful ship in the world. And I am sitting front row of the media throng, on the dock, having just watched Andrea Bocelli and his son Mateo perform on stage. The gargantuan ship sits in the background, attempting to provide a buffer from the gale-force winds that have whipped up on this evening. But just as Ms Loren is about to appear on stage, and cut the all-important ribbon before a bottle of champagne is smashed against the hull (a waste of plonk, in my humble opinion), all 2000 guests in the marquee are told to urgently evacuate themselves back onto the ship. The winds have become wicked, and a little dangerous in this tent, and so we “Brexit” back onto the boat. I am reminded of one of Ms Loren’s famous quotes: “Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti”. We have so much in common.
Amid the confusion, my new Kiwi mate and I make some swift decisions. Turn left and we follow the confused crowd. Turn right, and we are in a mad mosh pit of VIPS. We take a sharp right, and walk straight past a waiting Mercedes Benz. The windows are dark but we know who is in there. It’s Ms Loren, but we have no time to loiter as the crowd shuffles us in the rain and wind, back onto the boat. We snatch a champagne from the bar while we contemplate our brief brush with fame. Meanwhile the heads of this Italian shipping company, bless them, rise to the occasion.
“Everybody, have a drink,” they declare as only Italians (and possibly Aussies) in an emergency can, and 2000 people scatter among the ship, awaiting details on what to do next. I stand with my Kiwi mate, hoping to catch a glimpse in the distance of Sophia and strategizing as only two desperate Antipodeans can, on where we think she’ll do the launch.
I am dressed to impress, in a faux fur I’ve bought online from China. But I was no longer worried about embarrassing myself. The previous day, I locked myself out of my cruise cabin wearing nothing but my QANTAS pyjamas. Shoe-less and bra-less, I complete the shuffle-of-shame to the ship’s lift, descend five decks below, and saunter through a bar full of well-dressed Europeans to reception to order a new key. In order to stop my breasts from jiggling, I cross my arms over my chest, as if I’m about to abandon ship and jump into the seas below. Hell, who needs a bra when God has given me two perfectly good arms? What was I thinking all these years?
On this evening of Ms Loren, I am wearing a bra, shoes and my fur and impressively, in less than 15 minutes since the disruption, the show is ready to resume. If you can judge a cruise company on how it handles an emergency, MSC comes up trumps. I am pondering all of this when something spectacular happens. Inexplicably, I turn around. And right behind me, within hugging distance, there she is, in all of her Italian glory. She’s 84 and as elegant as ever, in a shimmering gold gown and giant crucifix. I frantically snap shots as she saunters past. She sashays and steals centre stage, mid ship. The “godmother” of MSC Cruises, she makes some comments about the beauty of cruising, before she heads back my way. I want to reach out and touch her, tell her that Australia loves her, but I simply stand there in giddy adoration. A month before, a fortune cookie I had eaten during a Chinese New Year celebration in Sydney had predicted “Your life will soon be graced with the presence of stardom.” And there she was.
One day, when I’m 84, the age that Sophia is now, I’m sure I’ll be telling these tales to unbelieving ears. By then, I’m pretty sure I will also be wearing QANTAS pyjamas full time and locking myself out of my room on a regular basis. Who will ever comprehend that I flew to Europe for less than a week, jumped aboard the world’s newest cruise liner, and bumped into Sophia Loren? Such is the crazy life of a travel writer. Amid all of the fog of jetlag, those long, lonely hours on the road, the anxiety of deadlines, the uncertainty of where the next word or pay cheque may come from, come these magical moments. A good mate recently reminded me that as travel writers, we have a backstage pass to the world. And if my job has taught me anything, it’s this: just like this ship launch on this wild, windy evening, life never works out as you had planned. But sometimes, it can be better. So travel as much as you can, turn right when you should turn left, and wait for the wonderful.
The Global Goddess was a guest of MSC Bellissima – http://www.msccruises.com.au
MUD crab, barramundi, exotic produce, native Indigenous ingredients…the world-class chefs in Tropical North Queensland are embracing it all. Here’s a snapshot of the fabulous feasts which await should you head to this Pacific paradise.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Tourism Tropical North Queensland http://www.tropicalnorthqueensland.org.au
This tourism tale is a ripper. And it’s built around a fictitious hotelier and 1920s architecture that Londoners are lapping up. In December, I headed to the English capital to unveil this lavish lie..
THE iconic ruby red British Beefeater gin guy is perched above the bar in which international accents are twirling around the room like Turkish dervish dancers. In one dark, moody corner, Americans are gushing about film making. The woman plonked behind me is all blustery and British, collapsing into a comfy chair with bags of designer shopping, immediately, and predictably, ordering a pot of English Breakfast tea. Around me, the walls are papered with black and white shots of screen starlets while above, a sparkling chandelier hangs from the ceiling.
I am in The American Bar of London’s Beaumont Hotel, perusing the cocktail menu. There’s the aspirational Aviation – a concoction of Bombay Saffire gin, maraschimo crème de violette and lemon juice; the comical Corpse Reviver No 2 – gin, contreau, lillet blanc, lemon juice and absinthe; or the jaunty Jimmy’s Collins, made of Finlandia vodka, lemon juice, sugar and soda.
But who the hell is Jimmy?
According to legend, Jimmy Beaumont was a famous hotelier in the 1920s in New York, but strict prohibition laws in the United States made doing business difficult, so Beaumont moved to London where he opened this Mayfair establishment.
One on floor, there’s a portrait gallery of men in military uniforms which capture the friends of Beaumont who went off to war. Guests who visit, often recount how their grandmothers stayed here in the 1920s.
The only problem here: Jimmy Beaumont wasn’t real. He never existed. Nor was this hotel built in the 1920s. Yes, it’s one big, delicious lie.
Opened just three years ago, this elegant establishment, just a short walk from Oxford Street, was the former car park for London’s iconic department store Selfridges.
While the car park façade has been heritage-listed and retained, inside the bones have been completely demolished and rebuilt, re-opening at the Beaumont in September 2014.
What is real, however, is the style and soul this art-deco hotel has managed to capture.
Glance at the top left of the building from the outside and you’ll see a piece of grey, twisty artwork. Built in partnership with the City of Westminster which decreed inner London needed more public art, the Antony Gormley sculpture is actually a three-storey high hotel suite. Designed by acclaimed artist Antony Gormley, ROOM, is a dark, oak-clad suite which aims to capture the concept of night.
There are more than 500 pieces of art scattered around this hotel, some of which do date back to the 1920s.
Guests who stay here can be forgiven they’ve stepped back into the 1920s with a private Cub Room space for quiet breakfasts in the morning or evening cocktails; the American Bar which depicts a typical watering hole you would have found in London in the 1920s and specialises in Bourbons and American Whiskies; and 100-seater Colony Grill Room, which combines the concept of a London and New York diner back in the day.
Feast on the likes of Ayrshire 30-day dry aged Aberdeen Angus steak, or a New York hot dog if you please, and finish with a Knickerbocker Glory ice-cream sundae.
Tucked away downstairs, there’s a Turkish hamman, plunge pool, spa, sauna, gym, and hair salon, which offers an old-fashioned wet shave for gentlemen.
Inside the hotel’s 73 rooms, studios and suites, guests are treated to a complimentary mini bar, beautiful library books, Beaumont branded chocolates and more than 200 CDS of in-room entertainment, including New York lounge music to groove into the mood of a 1920s hotel.
The bathroom is all art-deco black and white tiled heated floors, plush Beaumont monogramed bath robes, lavender bath salts for relaxation and London’s Dr Harris & Co toiletries which date back to 1790.
For those with money to spare, consider booking the opulent Roosevelt Suite which can expand to occupy the hotel’s entire fifth floor and boasts five bedrooms and large terrace.
Guests are also presented with a list of extensive shopping discounts at exclusive stores where their purchases can be delivered back to the hotel.
Or they can take advantage of the Beaumont’s vintage Daimler vehicle, which is available for free use for drop-offs within the Mayfair area.
This five-star hotel, named Independent Hotel 2017, is the first for Chris Corbin & Jeremy King, acclaimed restaurateurs behind The Wolseley, The Delaunay, and a number of other leading eateries in the English capital.
Back in the American Bar, the fantastic fib is so believable, you almost expect Beaumont to wander in at any moment and order his eponymous cocktail.
And that’s what makes this establishment, and London lie, so damn delicious.
The Global Goddess stayed as a guest of The Beaumont London – https://www.thebeaumont.com
To secure great accommodation deals in London click on Wotif
10,000 years old, 100 staff, and 1 guest. Me. This is how I spent last week, ensconced on a luxury eco resort in Indonesia, half way between Malaysia and Borneo. So exotic is this location, it was part of the Sunda Land which linked up Peninsula Malaysia, Cambodia, Java and Sumatra, during the last Ice Age. Now, you’ll find the newly-opened and breathtakingly beautiful Bawah Island, just three hours from Singapore. Yes, last week I died and went to heaven…and the angels were serving cold Bintang on the beach.
Here’s 10 reasons Bawah Island is the new Maldives for Aussies…at only half the travel time.
1. It has luscious lagoons
Sporting not one, but three lagoons, Bawah Island is plonked in Indonesia’s Anambas group of islands. Bawah, which means “lower” or “southern”, denotes its position and because of its remote (yet accessible) location, you can expect unspoilt, crystal-clear waters. Spend your days snorkelling or diving the aqua ocean, or sailing, paddle-boarding and kayaking. The passionate Paulo, an enthusiastic Italian who runs these activities, will happily be your snorkelling buddy, provide you with gear, and introduce you to Bawah’s underwater wonders.
2. Life is sweet in your overwater suite
They don’t call these bungalows here, but suites, as this is luxe plus. Saunter along a walkway which splits into your own private jetty, where your name is etched in sand on a timber board (which you get to keep). Perched over the lagoon, your suite comes replete with a huge deck and stairs which lead directly into the water. Inside, the bed is draped evocatively in fabric and the bedroom is air-conditioned. The bathroom is all louvres and Indonesian timber, with a gorgeous copper bath and separate shower. There’s also a walk-in robe and separate toilet. This island boasts 21 beach, 11 overwater, and three garden suites.
3. The food is five-star
Apart from breakfast, where you can choose from the likes of coconut scrambled eggs from the a-la-carte menu, dining here is akin to having your own private chef, with menus based on the fresh produce produced on the island and your personal tastes. Before each meal, the chef will discuss your preferences before disappearing to craft creative plates. For fine dining, head to Treetops restaurant, 88 stairs to the top. The Jules Verne Bar is up here too, up a timber and rope spiral staircase. The Grouper Bar, at the end of the jetty, is an ideal place for a casual drink while The Boat House is perfect for feet-in-the-sand barbecues. Want to learn how to cook amazing Indonesian fare? You can do that here too.
4. The service is superior
Want something? Just ask. This travel writer has a habit of drinking the local beer wherever she goes. (Hey, I like to assimilate). When the island informed her there was no Bintang left for lunch (you are remote, remember that) but there were plenty of other beers, wines and cocktails from which to choose, by dinner, two cold cartons of the local brew had magically arrived. Yes, the staff had disappeared in their speedboat, 45 minutes each way to a neighbouring island, to bring back this liquid gold. Now, that’s service.
5. You can enjoy your own private beach
There’s 13 beaches here, and with only a maximum of 70 guests at any one time, chances are, you won’t be bumping into anyone else anytime soon. Staff will happily pack an esky and deposit you, and your picnic, at an exclusive enclave. And if there’s anything an Aussie loves, it’s being left alone on a beach. Think along the likes of beaches such as Coconut, Lizard and Turtle, christened after their flora and fauna inhabitants. Sipping champagne in the warm waters? Oh, OK, if I must.
6. Mother Nature sparkles
Fling open the curtains of your overwater suite, laze back in bed and watch the sun rise over a neighbouring island (there’s 5 in this group). At sunset, head to the Jules Verne Bar for a cheeky cocktail. And if you’re lucky, just after dawn, witness the harmless black-tipped reef sharks circle the shallows. There’s plenty of butterflies, birds and giant monitor lizards on this island too. Walk one of the three marked trails for great views of the island. And on a clear night, look up. There’s more stars here than at the Oscars.
7. It’s eco-friendly
The island’s Permaculturalist Joe Semo, who calls himself “the green pirate of Bawah” is working on making the island so self-sufficient that it grows around 80 per cent of its own vegetables and 60 per cent of its own fruit. Where possible, the island trades seeds for food with neighbouring villages. Water is a coveted resource here and comes from three sources: rain, wells and a reverse osmosis system. And you won’t find any plastic bottles, guests are supplied with endless glass bottles of sparkling or still water.
8. It embraces the local community
The island has established the Bawah Anambas Foundation (BAF) which focuses on initiatives to make above (the rainforest), below (the ocean) and beyond (local communities) more sustainable and ethical. The big issues throughout all of Indonesia have been over-fishing and waste disposal and through BAF, local communities are being engaged and encouraged to look at alternatives that will not only address these issues, but ensure long-term employment for future generations. Around 45 per cent of staff on Bawah hail from local villages.
9. The spa is sublime
In the name of research for this story, I took one for the team and experienced a treatment every day. At Bawah’s wellness centre, Aura, you’ll find a spa and yoga pavilion. Select from a magical menu of mind and body treatments. I started my week with a 60-minute Garden of Deep Calm, continued the next day with a 60 Minute Aura Lost Treasure, followed by 60 Minutes of Facial Yoga and finished with 60 Minutes of Foot Mapping, or reflexology, by the pool.
10. You can mix with the staff
Bawah has captured Indonesia’s laid-back vibe that Aussies love so much, and paired it perfectly with five-star service. Unlike other luxury resorts, guests are invited and encouraged to tour back-of-house where you can witness how this property maximises its resources and see where its workers live. A highlight of my week was dining in the staff canteen as well as attending an English class for employees.
HOW TO GET THERE
Start your journey to this exotic locale in style, flying with Singapore Airlines Business Class. This award-winning carrier, which is renowned for its superior service, has just introduced its Book the Cook service from Brisbane for its Business and Premium Economy Class customers. Under Book the Cook, customers can pre-order a main meal from a selection of options, with creations inspired by the Airline’s International Culinary Panel of chefs, including Australian celebrity chef Matt Moran.
Due to airline connections, you may need to stopover in Singapore either before or after your Bawah adventure, or both, as was the case for me. On this journey, I experienced the Royal Plaza on Scotts – a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts https://preferredhotels.com – which has just been awarded its 10th win as Asia Pacific’s Best Independent Hotel. Inside, enjoy Singapore’s first 100 per cent smoke-free hotel, outside you are mere metres from Orchard Road.
Bawah will arrange for a limousine to collect you from your Singapore hotel and transfer you to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal where you will board the Majestic Ferry to Batam Centre in Indonesia. From there, you will be met by Bawah staff for VIP fast-track through Indonesian Immigration and Customs, and driven to the airport where you will board a seaplane and taken to the island.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Bawah Island; Singapore Airlines Business Class; and Royal Plaza on Scotts Singapore.
I’M on assignment this week on beautiful Bawah Island, a luxury eco-resort three hours from Singapore via ferry and private seaplane. I’ll be back shortly with more photographs and I’m certain, an evocative travel tale or two, to share with you, my lovely reader. Sending you warm island vibes. The Global Goddess. x
The Global Goddess is travelling as a guest of Bawah Island https://bawahisland.com
THE green ferry is paddling across Sydney Harbour like a sanguine sea turtle and the sparkling city resembles an Outback night sky. Turns out it’s a celestial weekend in every sense of the word. I’m in Sydney for the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) National Travel Industry Awards in which I am a finalist for the Best Travel Writer and I am staying at The Star Astral Residences. Let me be clear upfront: when I refer to “stars” in this blog, I am not referring to myself. I like to think of myself more as a Halley’s Comet – showing a flash of brilliance once every 75 years or so.
I’ve been upgraded to a one-bedroom suite befitting of a celebrity far more cool than this Brisbane broad who always feels a bit out of place among the lurid lights and screaming sass of the southern capital. From my perky perch on the 15th floor, from which I have a view across Darling Harbour of the city’s skyline, I have a yawning, sunny balcony, a downstairs lounge room, dining, kitchen and powder room. Upstairs, there’s a bedroom, bathroom, two more toilets and my favourite room of all: a media nook in which they have plonked a ruby, red velvet couch which swivels.
Just when I think I’ve stumbled across the most beautiful hotel room in Sydney, I am shown the latest additions to The Star: three “experiential” studios all of which sport different themes. Chic geeks will adore the Cyperpunk Studio replete with four 65-inch TV consoles as well as its own virtual reality chamber. Then there’s the 70s Glam Studio where the couch comes complete with a hole for your champagne ice bucket and a rotating disco ball hangs from the ceiling. No surprises that my favourite suite is the Dark Romance with its art-deco furnishings, four-poster bed and a romance button where the lights are automatically dimmed and a fireplace bursts to life.
Alas, there is no one on this trip to light my fire, so I scurry back to room I privately label the “no romance suite” (which has everything to do with appalling love life and nothing to do with this gorgeous suite) and collapse on my ruby couch to spin and contemplate romance for a while. But not for long. There’s a decadent afternoon in The Darling Spa (one of three hotels in the Star complex apart from the Star Residences and Star Towers), where a pretty Parisian called Pauline pampers me in a relaxing massage. In February, The Darling was named the first and only five-star hotel in Sydney by the influential ForbesTravelGuide.com.
My five-star experience continues that evening at the beautiful Balla, a fine Italian restaurant within The Star complex and from which I spy my turtle ferries crossing the inky night waters of Sydney Harbour. The Sydney Harbour Bridge winks at me as I dine on duck ragu gnocchi followed by wagu steak, washed down with an Italian Montepulciano. The one benefit of being such a booze hag is that I know my wine and this is a fine drop indeed. I finish this feast with a soft blue gorgonzola cheese with cherries in balsamic vinegar, and a cherry liqueur. Another benefit of staying at The Star is that if you don’t finish your bottle of wine (I know…there’s a shock), and while under law you are not able to take it with you, room service will collect it and deliver it to your suite.
It’s a late breakfast at The Star’s Harvest Buffet the next morning where I appear to have entered Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. There’s not one, but three chocolate fountains among a range of international cuisine as well as your standard breakfast fare. By the time I have lunch downstairs at Pizzaperta, and spend the afternoon drinking the rest of my red wine with a mate on my sunny deck, I realise I haven’t left The Star complex since I checked in, 26 hours ago. For a travel writer who is always on the go, this is one of life’s great luxuries. It’s a short cab ride to the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre for the AFTA awards where, although I didn’t win, I come home with a gorgeous glass trophy.
Yes, it’s been a weekend of stars and I suspect this particular Sydney stay will be hard to eclipse.
The Global Goddess was a guest of The Star. A night in the Cyberpunk and 70s Glam Studios starts at $1500. A night in the Dark Romance Studio starts at $500 and the Suite in which I stayed at between $400 and $500. http://www.thestarsydney.com.au
SOME days you just have to let the world come to you. Last week, I was back in beautiful Noosa on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. I’ve been up there a lot lately, more by default than design, and what’s really cool is that every time I’m there, I discover a host of new things. On this trip, I stumbled across some cool international experiences in which you can indulge. Here’s five of my favourites.
New York, New York
If it’s graffiti grunge you’re seeking, look no further than Streets of Harlem Café, along Hastings Street. At first I thought this was a new entrant into the Hastings Street scene, but I am reliably informed this eclectic establishment has actually been there for about five years. Lord knows how I missed it. But I’m glad I found it this time. On an uncharacteristically wet and wild winter’s day, I slipped in here for breakfast. If you like a bit of edge with your eggs, this is the place. Oh, and if you want to know what the future holds, there’s even a clairvoyant upstairs.
(8 Hastings Street, Noosa)
Now this is a café I know has been along Hastings Street for forever and a day. And as kitsch and clichéd as it may appear, if you are looking for some of the finest people watching on the planet, pull up a perch at Aromas Noosa, order a smart latte, and do as the French do, and watch the world wander by. In fact, there’s plenty of French influence in Noosa, from the French Quarter to the acclaimed Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort. I’ve wanted to stay in the latter since it first opened as the big, pink Sheraton 26 years ago. Now, it’s more subtle but the service is still five-star and the views out over the ocean are divine. For a truly international experience, indulge in the Thalgo Indoceane Spa Ritual in the Aqua Day Spa here, a treatment, which combines Mediterranean, Egyptian, Indian and Chinese influences.
Around this time every year, when the temperature drops in Brisbane, I start dreaming of a return to Bali. If you don’t have the time, or the money, to visit Indonesia right now, here’s the second best thing. As soon as you walk through the heavy, carved timber doors at the Ikatan Balinese Day Spa, you feel like you are Indonesia. Surrounded by statues and set in a tropical environment, you can choose from a variety of sublime spa treatments. I had the two-hour Warmth of Bali treatment which, among other things, involved my spa therapist scrubbing my body with chai tea. Among a long list of treatments you can select the Bali Getaway; Noosa Dua; and Kuta Time. But above all, go. You won’t regret it. http://www.ikatanspa.com
Blink and you’d miss this little slice of Italy tucked away in a quiet corner along Hastings Street. Which would be a great shame as Locale was one of the best dinners I have ever eaten. Outside, you’ll find a zippy Vespa. Inside the moody black interior is a menu of gold. I am not even really a risotto fan, but I will often choose a menu (and a destination for that matter) because I am enamoured by its description. In this case, the Organic Acquerello Carnaroli risotto, Fraser Island spanner crab, lemon and sea urchin butter, was the winner. You had me at sea urchin. A few steps up the street, and also a little hidden, make sure you check out El Capitano Pizzeria and Bar which ferments its organic sourdough pizza bases for 72 hours. Here, I encountered for the first time in my life, burrata cheese. It looks like someone has plonked a scoop of vanilla ice cream on your pizza, but in fact it’s a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream which melts all over your topping. Died, I did, and went to heaven.
Having visited Sri Lanka for the first time about two years ago, I’ve since been fascinated by this distinctive cuisine. So it is such a delight to have celebrity Sri Lankan chef Peter Kuruvita call Noosa home for his namesake restaurant. Attached to the Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort, Noosa Beach House Peter Kuruvita combines a relaxed setting with innovative dining. For breakfast alone, you could order the Sri Lankan crab omelette, while you’ll find the Sri Lankan snapper curry on the dinner menu. Kuruvita combines his exotic recipes with local produce such as Mooloolaba prawns.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Tourism Noosa – http://www.visitnoosa.com