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YOURDepar­ture Lounge doesn’t feel like Mr Bean and rather hopes she doesn’t look like him. The ho­tel park­ing at­ten­dant has dis­ap­peared to find and de­liver the rented Mini and there is ut­ter re­lief, es­pe­cially from Lounge’s god­son Se­bas­tian, when the uni­formed chap re­turns with a dash­ing red Mini Cooper con­vert­ible and not a Bean-style lime-and­black banger.

With the top down and the ra­dio up, we are tootling off for a sunny Satur­dayafter­noon pic­nic, an in­clu­sion in the In­terCon­ti­nen­tal Syd­ney’s new In­sider Oc­ca­sion pack­age. We have a thump­ing pic­nic bas­ket, a bot­tle of Veuve Clic­quot (promised ex­clu­sively to Lounge ’ s hus­band and Se­bas­tian’s mother, Chris­tine, who are sulk­ing in the back seat with their knees all but un­der their chins) and a map.

It’s not just any old map of Syd­ney but a guide to five ‘‘ se­cret pic­nic spots’’ sug­gested by the ho­tel’s concierge team. We de­bate the var­i­ous op­tions, from McKell Park at Dar­ling Point to Cas­tle Rock Beach be­tween Clon­tarf and Grotto Point at Mid­dle Har­bour, but head in­stead to Bal­moral Beach, which is hardly a se­cret but one of our favourite spots. It’s sparkling to­day — sea, sky, cham­pagne— and we even find a per­fect park­ing spot for the Mini Cooper un­der a stately More­ton Bay fig.

Re­luc­tantly we put up the car’s lid at the park­ing spot, which means a mere but­ton’s flick, un­like the soft-top Ford Capri I drove in the early 1990s, the re­ar­rang­ing of which re­quired four men, a wrench and the prom­ise of a slab of beer.

We pre­pare our pic­nic on Rocky Point Is­land, reached by a small bridge from Bal­moral Beach proper. It’s a splen­did pul­pit for stick­y­beaks such as us, with views to shore and across the har­bour. Our cham­pagne ham­per from the In­terCon­ti­nen­tal Syd­ney con­tains a checked pic­nic rug, swirls of smoked salmon, sal­ads ga­lore and a cheese plate, so it’s a right pukka spread.

In­clu­sive pack­ages such as this, which force guests out and about, are a fine idea. The ho­tel has a range of sum­mer deals, in­clud­ing In­sider Surf­ing, which in­volves a private surf­ing les­son at Manly fol­lowed by fish and chips on the beach. Or there’s In­sider City, a mapped walk of Wool­lahra and $100 to spend at that posh­est of provi­dores, Si­mon John­son, which I would blow on five 250g boxes of im­ported Di­van orange or rose and lemon turk­ish de­light, no con­test.

The in­sider ex­pe­ri­ence is a joy­ously flexible con­cept, al­low­ing time to en­joy this five-star ho­tel near the har­bour with its ex­cel­lent and very groovy ground-floor Mint Bar and Din­ing and, for club-room guests, ac­cess to the rooftop lounge where break­fast is served daily plus com­pli­men­tary twi­light drinks and sub­stan­tial canapes from 5pm to 7pm (the lat­ter ses­sion is a feast and surely rep­re­sents Syd­ney’s best ho­tel club perk).

Three days af­ter we check out, Lounge gets a call from the rental car com­pany. Would I, er, care to re­turn the car? Yikes, af­ter its one out­ing, it is still in the In­terCon­ti­nen­tal Syd­ney car park with the keys in the ig­ni­tion. There has been a mis­take with the pa­per­work. Lounge has been driv­ing her lit­tle Miss Con­nie Corolla with its un­seemly scrapes and dents since Sun­day morn­ing and, as usual, feel­ing less than flash. It’s enough to make Se­bas­tian and his god­mother see red.

The In­sider Oc­ca­sion overnight pack­age costs from $649 for two in a Wat­sons Bay­fac­ing room and in­cludes break­fast in Cafe Opera, 24-hour use of a Mini Cooper con­vert­ible (ex­clud­ing in­sur­ance and petrol), valet park­ing, pic­nic bas­ket with Veuve Clic­quot and late check-out. Other in­sider pack­ages from $419. www.syd­­tercon­ti­nen­ ■ BY the way, a good new guide­book for a so­journ in the emer­ald city is The Slow Guide: Syd­ney by He­len Hawkes and Leta Keens (Af­firm Press, $29.95). It in­cludes a sec­tion on beaches and hid­den coves and is part of a bright info-packed se­ries (Melbourne is sec­ond city off the rank) with the ir­re­sistible call to ac­tion of ‘‘ live more, fret less’’. Very Lounge . ■ ON Mon­day this past week, Lounge was in Melbourne and dined at Ezard in Flin­ders Lane just un­der the re­vamped Adel­phi Ho­tel (among the re­vi­talised fa­cil­i­ties is the bril­liant new late-open­ing Hep­burn Spa, com­plete with Turk­ish steam room). Chef­pa­tron Teage Ezard’s eight-course tast­ing menu ($130 a per­son; with matched wines, $220) is sub­lime. Stand-out dish: steamed suzuki sea bass topped with a dol­lop of thick and pun­gent XO sauce and placed in a mini-broth of Ja­panese plum wine and finely sliced Asian mush­rooms.

The long, class­ily ap­pointed din­ing room was packed, which seemed un­usual for Mon­day, tra­di­tion­ally the slow­est night of a restau­rant’s week. But in­sid­ers claim Ezard (a two-hat­ter in The Age Good Food Guide 2007-08) is al­ways de­servedly busy.

What re­ally struck Lounge was the fab­u­lous ser­vice: not a shred of Syd­ney up­you at­ti­tude, just in­formed and perky wait­ing at ta­ble, all with a great sense of fun. Lounge is in­creas­ingly dippy so ap­pre­ci­ates a bit of like-minded nut­ti­ness. And restau­rant man­ager Joshua An­lezark and his team de­liver fun in spades. ‘‘ If we are nutty, then I am Cap­tain Nutty,’’ he quips. Love it. ■ FIND of the week: Re­cently un­veiled is Marika Martinez’s Women’s Own Ad­ven­ture, which she bills as Aus­tralia’s first ad­ven­ture travel com­pany for women. Cul­tural and wildlife trips to Bor­neo and Viet­nam are early out­ings in 2008. www.wom­en­sow­nad­ven­ ■ LOUNGE loves: Changi Air­port’s ter­mi­nal three has opened af­ter a seven-year de­vel­op­ment project led by Aus­tralian ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign firm Wood­head. There are more than 100 re­tail and 30 food and bev­er­age out­lets to serve an ex­pected 22 mil­lion pas­sen­gers a year. With this ex­tra ca­pac­ity, the much-awarded Sin­ga­pore airtropo­lis should have no prob­lem re­tain­ing its world’s-best crown. www.changi.air­ ■ LOUNGE loathes: Silly spell­ing er­rors in ho­tel com­pendi­ums. The Adel­phi sug­gests in-room ‘‘ din­ning’’ op­tions for hun­gry guests. A din in­deed, as Lounge wails and screeches in de­spair. DEALS OF THE WEEK To cel­e­brate Aus­tralia Day, this week our ar­ray of on­line daily deals fea­tures a host of do­mes­tic hol­i­day op­tions. Money-sav­ing in­ter­na­tional of­fers are also fea­tured in Travel&In­dul­gence’s hol­i­day deals, up­dated daily, which can be found via our up­graded and di­rect link. ■ www.theaus­

Il­lus­tra­tion: Tom Jel­lett

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