THE PIL­GRIM’S WAY

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - Susan Kuro­sawa

THERE seems to be no end of un­usual ac­com­mo­da­tion th­ese days. You name the style of build­ing and chances are it has been con­verted into a ho­tel. Depar­tureLounge has bed­ded down in a light­house, a pig­gery (well scoured and sty lishly re­fur­bished, thank­fully), sta­bles, ma­hara­jas’ palaces, an adapted desert fort and a Ja­panese tem­ple.

But not at a monastery, which seems an over­sight given that three vol­umes have landed on Lounge ’ s desk de­voted re­spec­tively to re­li­gious houses in France, Italy and Spain. Ari­zona-based Eileen Bar­ish, who pro­duces the chunky guides, says most of the prop­er­ties are about $40 a night; res­i­dent monks and nuns, ac­cord­ing to Bar­ish, of­fer a warm wel­come. Se­cu­rity is a given and while guests need not be re­li­gious, it would seem most are at­tracted by the in­trin­sic his­tory and sense of spir­i­tu­al­ity, as well as the bud­get prices.

At the Foyer du Sacre-Coeur, a for­mer sem­i­nary in Paray-le-Mo­nial, Bur­gundy, men­tioned in TheGuidetoLodgin­gin France’sMonas­ter­ies , guests bed­ding down in room four are in the wake of good com­pany; this is where Pope John Paul II stayed in 1986, al­though the ba­sic lodg­ing fee was no doubt waived for his ho­li­ness. Pil­grims pay j24 (about $40) a night for ba­sic board.

Bar­ish in­cludes spe­cific re­li­gious re­treats in the sim­ply pro­duced guides pub­lished by Anacapa Press (mono pic­tures, some­times blurry; no maps). De­spite a lack of glossy images and pro­mo­tional bud­get, mul­ti­ple up­dated edi­tions of Bar­ish’s books have been pro­duced since 1999; the cover price is $US22.95 ($28), but the ti­tles can be or­dered on­line with ad­di­tional postage. www.monas­ter­iesof­france.com (links to Italy and Spain). ■ AUS­TRALIA-BASED An­gela Hoban has a dif­fer­ent take on monastery stays, at least in Italy. While Bar­ish’s books put book­ing into the hands of trav­ellers (the con­tact listed at var­i­ous lodg­ings in­vari­ably is ‘‘ whoever an­swers the phone’’), Hoban’s small com­pany, Monastery Stays, acts as a cen­tralised reser­va­tions sys­tem. There is no need to speak Ital­ian, she says, or ‘‘ deal with the va­garies of the Ital­ian bank­ing sys­tem’’. Hoban has more than 170 venues on the site, with em­pha­sis on Rome, Florence, Venice and As­sisi. A room in the cap­i­tal, for ex­am­ple, at a monastery with a rooftop ter­race (heav­enly view of the city, Lounge pre­sumes) and within a stroll of the Vat­i­can, starts at j65, break­fast in­cluded. (Cur­few is mid­night: such places are not for night owls.) www.monasterys­tays.com.

FROM Jaki Arthur at Ha­chette Aus­tralia comes a taste of Alexan­der McCall Smith’s

HOW won­der­ful that an Aus­tralian-based au­thor has won the Dol­man Best First Travel Book Award. Claire Scobie’s ac­count of her trav­els in Ti­bet, LastSeenin Lhasa (Ran­dom House, $24.95), has taken out the hon­ours in the Bri­tish award, which has been in place for two years. The in­au­gu­ral win­ning book, in 2006, was The PresterQuest by in­vet­er­ate trav­eller Ni­cholas Jub­ber. Both books em­body a quest and nei­ther men­tions ren­o­vat­ing a French­man or mar­ry­ing an Ital­ian farm­house, which Lounge con­sid­ers a small mir­a­cle. latest news­let­ter. The pro­lific au­thor of the Botswana-set TheNo.1Ladies’De­tec­tive Agency ar­rives in Aus­tralia this week­end for the lit­er­ary fes­ti­val cir­cuit. He has been trav­el­ling re­cently in his beloved Botswana — surely a des­ti­na­tion that must thank McCall Smith for an up­surge in tourism as fans of lady de­tec­tive Pre­cious Ramotswe head there in droves — and his choice of sa­fari digs were three prop­er­ties run by the Ori­ent-Ex­press group. Looks like Kh­wai River Lodge, Ea­gle Is­land Lodge, and Savute Ele­phant Camp can put up the Alexan­der McCall Smith Slept Here signs. He also trav­elled to Gaborone, where the film­ing of TheNo.1Ladies’De­tec­tive Agency , di­rected by An­thony Minghella, is ‘‘ in full swing’’. McCall Smith as­sures us Minghella is ‘‘ a mag­nif­i­cent di­rec­tor’’ and ‘‘ Ramotswe and her story are in good hands’’. Fans wor­ried that the lady de­tec­tive has run out of crimes to solve can rest easy. McCall Smith was also do­ing re­search for vol­ume nine of the se­ries. www.alexan­derm­c­call­smith.co.uk.

TRAVEL&In­dul­gence ’ s Fam­ily Hol­i­days is­sue (Au­gust 11-12) has re­ceived great feed­back; Chris­tine McCabe’s cover fea­ture on chil­dren’s clubs re­sulted in a wave of ex­tra info from ho­tels and re­sorts proud of their fa­cil­i­ties for ju­nior guests. But here’s one that takes the con­cept a stride fur­ther: Fiji’s Trea­sure Is­land Re­sort gives kids the op­por­tu­nity to go to a lo­cal school for a day. When Lounge ’ s two sons were young, it would have been a shock to sug­gest to ei­ther that their va­ca­tions be in­ter­rupted by study. But Trea­sure Is­land Re­sort re­ports ‘‘ a high num­ber of tak­ers’’, though it’s not re­vealed if the lit­tle ones have to be dragged along by the tails of their tiny bula shirts. The school is in the vil­lage of Vi­sei­sei on Fiji’s main is­land of Viti Levu, a 15-minute boat ride from the re­sort. Af­ter all that hard work, kids can hare back to the re­sort for wa­ter­sports, mini-golf and even spear-throw­ing, though hope­fully not at par­ents. www.fi­jitrea­sure.com.

FIND of the week: Billed as Aus­tralia’s new­est ac­com­mo­da­tion op­er­a­tor, Mint Re­sorts & Apart­ments has a great deal at its six prop­er­ties: stay four nights and pay for three (valid to De­cem­ber 20), start­ing at $99 at the Beach Re­treat at Coolum Beach on the Queens­land Sun­shine Coast. Coolum has long been over­shad­owed by Noosa, but lots of new ac­com­mo­da­tion, cafes and restau­rants have meant an in­jec­tion of style for this ocean­front sub­urb. The Mint group has two prop­er­ties at Coolum, one at nearby Caloun­dra, two on the Gold Coast and, in Syd­ney, the CBD’s Napoleon on Kent. Mint’s stu­dios and apart­ments in­clude self-con­tained fa­cil­i­ties, gen­er­ally at rates well be­low ho­tels (in Syd­ney, from $149, a reve­la­tion by Emer­ald City stan­dards). www.staymint.com. ■ LOUNGE loves: The cheeky Provo­ca­teur pack­age at Hil­ton Syd­ney, in­clud­ing five se­duc­tion tips from Madame Lash. www.hilton­syd­ney.com.au. ■ LOUNGE loathes: Fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms ar­rival forms. Why are they printed in such a pale yel­low that the boxes one is meant to tick are barely vis­i­ble?

Il­lus­tra­tion: John Tiede­mann

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