UN­DER THE COV­ERS

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - Susan Kuro­sawa

SOME ho­tels are most ret­i­cent about celebrity guests; oth­ers see no harm in spread­ing the word that the world’s A-lis­ters have cho­sen their prop­erty for a lux­ury breather. When De­par­ture Lounge was younger and more agile she was re­quired by her then ed­i­tor to go un­der­cover as a bar host­ess to get ev­i­dence of a politi­cian’s noc­tur­nal predilec­tions at a cer­tain ho­tel.

Aside from the small prob­lem of where to con­ceal a tape recorder in a cos­tume that looked like a cross be­tween a Play­boy bunny suit and a vinyl ten­nis rac­quet cover, twen­ty­ish Lounge ac­quit­ted her­self with, if not aplomb, then cer­tainly with plum wine (this was Tokyo’s Shin­juku, af­ter all).

Lounge is more dis­creet th­ese days, usu­ally get­ting her way with lit­tle more than a spi­ral-bound note­book, poised pen and po­litely in­ter­ested ex­pres­sion. Which was the case re­cently when Lounge dined with Thierry Douin, gen­eral man­ager of the Shangri-La Sin­ga­pore. He re­vealed that re­cent fa­mous guests at his five-star pile have in­cluded David Beck­ham and wife Vic­to­ria. The soc­cer star is a charm­ing man with a hearty ap­petite, ac­cord­ing to Douin, but for this gen­eral man­ager, who’s a French­man and there­fore rather fond of his food, Vic­to­ria was a puzzle. ‘‘ She ate leaves,’’ he told Lounge, with an air of de­spon­dency. ‘‘ And no salad dress­ing.’’

NEW Zealand’s Huka Lodge at Lake Taupo in the North Is­land even pub­lishes names of its celeb guests in a sea­sonal news­let­ter. That’s how Lounge knows that re­cently bed­ded down at the lodge’s Owner’s Cot­tage, a private re­treat within the river­side es­tate, was Billy Crys­tal, while at the lodge’s sis­ter prop­erty Grande Provence in South Africa, Jude Law has signed the vis­i­tors’ book.

Huka Re­treats has an­nounced a ren­o­va­tion of its de­light­ful Dol­phin Is­land off the north­east coast of the main Fi­jian is­land of Viti Levu. The is­land has been let as one book­ing for a max­i­mum of four guests but new bures, an in­fin­ity-edge pool and more ameni­ties will see Dol­phin repo­si­tioned as a small re­sort. Thrillingly fa­mous guests wor­ried about their weight can pre­sum­ably feast on palm fronds. www.hukare­treats.com.

JAUME Tapies, in­ter­na­tional pres­i­dent of the pres­ti­gious Paris-based Re­lais & Chateaux ac­com­mo­da­tion and gourmet restau­rant group, is a man who knows about food and he has been in Aus­tralia this past week spruik­ing to travel agents and me­dia.

He says Re­lais & Chateaux will be ex­pand­ing its pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­i­ties in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion and has just opened a Bangkok of­fice.

It’s a bit of a de­par­ture for an or­gan­i­sa­tion that is per­ceived as Euro-cen­tric. Its name smacks of three-star Miche­lin restau­rants and lordly cas­tles but the 21st-cen­tury im­age is much more in­ter­na­tional. Re­lais & Chateaux has added seven Asian prop­er­ties to its 2007 list, in­clud­ing the charm­ing Eu­ge­nia, a 12-suite colo­nial re­treat in Bangkok, and Ja­palama Re­sort on Tioman Is­land, Malaysia but, alas, none from Aus­tralia.

In fact, we are de­press­ingly un­der­rep­re­sented on the Re­lais & Chateaux roll­call. Just one prop­erty, Chateau Yer­ing in Vic­to­ria’s Yarra Val­ley, is in­cluded, and one re­lais gour­mand, Tet­suya’s in Syd­ney. New Zealand has three of its best lodges — Kauri Cliffs, The Lodge at Parahito Farms and Whare Kea Lodge & Chalet — on the books.

Mar­tyn Myer, pro­pri­etor of Whare Kea, was at Tet­suya’s on Mon­day evening at a din­ner hosted by Tapies. Al­though Myer (of the Melbourne re­tail dy­nasty) is far too old­school to boast of guests past, Lounge knows Tom Cruise and his then part­ner Pene­lope Cruz stayed at Whare Kea in 2003 when the world’s most vo­cal Scien­tol­o­gist was film­ing The Last Samu­rai. Lounge can con­firm this as she checked into their room the day af­ter they left, which is in­deed a brush with fame, al­though there was no foren­sic ev­i­dence of the then happy cou­ple’s re­cent pres­ence. (They brought their own sheets, ap­par­ently, and a sup­ply of body­guards and fizzy drinks.)

Mean­while at Tet­suya’s, af­ter a splen­did 15-course de­gus­ta­tion din­ner, Tapies in­vited owner-chef Tet­suya Wakuda to say a few words. With his cus­tom­ary hu­mil­ity, Aus­tralia’s most lauded restau­ra­teur said he was so taken aback when in­vited to join Re­lais & Chateaux that he con­tacted the com­mit­tee to dou­ble-check. ‘‘ Are you sure?’’ he asked. www.re­lais­chateaux.com.

AUS­TRALIA-BASED French tourism boss Pa­trick Ben­hamou was at the din­ner, too, and talk was, nat­u­rally, all about the forth­com­ing Rugby World Cup. France can ex­pect big tourism ben­e­fits from the in­ter­na­tional event but the Aus­tralian in­dus­try can also crow about the div­i­dends from the 2006-07 Ashes Test and one-day in­ter­na­tional se­ries. Ac­cord­ing to eco­nomic im­pact study fig­ures re­leased by Tourism Min­is­ter Fran Bai­ley’s of­fice, the cricket gen­er­ated $317 mil­lion for the Aus­tralian econ­omy and at­tracted 37,000 over­seas tourists. So it’s of­fi­cial: we can make good money out of the Barmy Army as well as fall about laugh­ing at the form of their wor­shipped play­ers.

LOUNGE loves: The re­cently launched chil­dren’s ruck­sacks and bags in five colour com­bos avail­able on board Emi­rates flights. The bags are full of good­ies, from Dr Seuss books to toys. Emi­rates has also in­tro­duced ju­nior menus and head­sets plus ad­di­tional kids’ en­ter­tain­ment chan­nels and games; www.emi­rates.com/au.

The new cus­tomised In­dia tour pro­gram from Syd­ney-based spe­cial­ist Ram World Travel; www.ram­world­trav­els.com.

The interactive map­ping tech­nol­ogy at re­cently stream­lined www.aus­tralia.com, the of­fi­cial Aus­tralian travel web­site (no matches found for Lara Bin­gle, re­cently up­staged by Dorothy the Di­nosaur and the Wig­gles).

That quick on the heels of World En­vi­ron­ment Day, my lo­cal com­mu­nity at Hardys Bay on the NSW cen­tral coast is run­ning an expo this week­end fo­cus­ing on en­ergy con­ser­va­tion and fea­tur­ing guest speak­ers; the event will be car­bon neu­tral, says or­gan­iser Anna McCall, with the small amounts of en­ergy con­sumed off­set into re­new­able en­ergy projects. www.hbyc.com. au/html/gogreen.htm.

LOUNGE loathes: Air-locker rage, as wit­nessed on a Syd­ney-bound Jet­star flight from Bali re­cently. The sight of pas­sen­gers fight­ing over where to put their wooden carv­ings of frogs sit­ting un­der ba­nana leaf um­brel­las was not a pretty one. And let’s not go any­where near the ques­tion­able taste of the sou­venirs.

Ho­tels, re­sorts, guest­houses and lodges that don’t in­clude break­fast in their tar­iffs. Lounge paid $40 re­cently in an Aus­tralian cap­i­tal city ho­tel for a room-ser­vice cof­fee, two crois­sants of du­bi­ous fresh­ness and a bot­tled orange juice. Is this a record?

DEALS OF THE WEEK

A COM­PLI­MEN­TARY dig­i­tal cam­era when book­ing an es­corted pho­to­graphic tour to Laos and Bangkok? A travel writ­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy con­test for bud­ding Bill Brysons and ama­teur snap­pers? Three free nights in Cape Town or a no-cost air ticket on China South­ern? All th­ese specials and more are fea­tured in Travel&In­dul­gence’s hol­i­day deals, up­dated daily at www.theaus­tralian.com.au/travel.

Il­lus­tra­tion: John Tiede­mann

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