UNDER THE COVERS
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.