PARKES: THE PERFECT 1 0
1 ALMOST GRACELAND: Elvis is blocking my way, bearing only a faint resemblance to the famed rock ’n’ roller. For one thing, he boasts a moustache. Like about 300 other Elvis impersonators, he has been drawn to the NSW regional country town for its annual Elvis Festival (the 25th was held in January), which attracts about 25,000 visitors and is Parkes’s top tourismoriented event. He asks me to buy him a beer and he’ll sing an Elvis tune. I remind him the festival ended the previous day. The five-day festival helped put Parkes on the tourist trail. Its aim, initially, was to liven the town during somnolent summers. It was dreamt up by Anne and Bob Steel, owners of the Hotel Gracelands, who remain festival volunteers and also help promote a smaller country music festival held each October. Parkes Shire Council runs a year-round Elvis museum at the local visitor centre in partnership with ex-Wiggle Greg Page, who’s ranked fourth worldwide as an Elvis memorabilia collector. A second, private museum (also open year-round) is operated by Parkes resident Elvis Lennox. Formerly Steve, he changed his name by deed poll. More: visitparkes.com.au; parkeselvisfestival.com.au.
2 A LITTLE STARGAZING: CSIRO Parkes Observatory is affectionately known as “the dish”. Built 55 years ago, it’s been regularly upgraded and is 10,000 times more sensitive than when it opened. Observatory scientist John Sarkissian says the facility “remains at the forefront of global research”. Located 25km north of Parkes, it’s a major attraction and anchored the 2000 movie The Dish, starring Sam Neill, which chronicled the true tale of the observatory’s pivotal role in relaying pictures and sound after Apollo 11 crewmen stepped on to the moon in 1969. A visitors’ centre, alongside the 64m “dish”, includes a cinema showing films about astronomy, a museum, a gallery, restaurant and shop with branded merchandise. More: parkes.atnf.csiro.au.
3 TRUNDLET OUT OF TOWN: Trundle (population: 666) is a 55km drive from Parkes, where locals described it as a suburb. It’s famed for Forbes Street, an ultra-wide (60m) main thoroughfare, one of Australia’s broadest, with residents relying on the farfrom-unique explanation that this was so bullock carts could U-turn along it. Similarly famous is the 86m-long balcony of the lone pub, the 128-year-old Trundle Hotel. Opposite the pub is a replicated streetscape housing many local businesses and highlighting Trundle’s timewarp ambience. “Trundle Talkies”, trumpets a sign on a former cinema transformed into a storeroom. Down the street, former Sydneysider John Lagerlow bought a former post office and converted it into a 25-seater cinema. “I’m thinking about starting a film society,” he reveals. Trundle’s big drawcard is an annual ABBA Festival, held each May (this year’s was the sixth; in 2018 it will take place on May 5). ABBA tribute band Bjorn Again is a regular and festival founders Gary and Ruth Crowley acknowledge they were prompted by the success of Parkes’s annual Elvis event. More: trundlehotel.com.au; trundleabbafestival.com.
4 OURS IS BIGGER: NSW’s largest inland lake, Lake Cowal, 102km (a short distance in outback terms) from Parkes, currently measures about 21km long and up to 9.5km wide. It dries completely during prolonged dry spells, last disappearing three years ago. However, Lake Cowal Foundation projects manager Mal Carnegie estimates that even without rain it would now take another three years to dry up. The lake attracts varied birdlife, including endangered species. The shallow lake (typically 2.5m) also tempts considerable landbased wildlife to its edges where visitors hike trails on short walks and longer hikes. The foundation is bankrolled by Evolution Mining which operates an open-pit gold mine at one point along the lake’s perimeter. No cruises exist but Carnegie, formerly a farmer, has three kayaks that visitors can use for free. He says, “If I feel like going out on the water, I’ll guide them to interesting spots and point out wildlife, mostly birds.” Carnegie, with encyclopaedic lake knowledge, also lectures school groups. More: lakecowalfoundation.org.au.
5 TOP TRIO: Parkes (population: 15,330) has several coffee shops along Clarinda Street and nearbyb plus Chinese, Indian, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants as well. Four pizza outlets thrive. But the three leading places to dine are stylish Bent Food and Wine opposite the law courts and frequented by lawyers; Italian-flavoured Bellas; and Hart Bar, upstairs in Parkes’ liveliest and recently revamped pub, the Railway Hotel. More: bentfoodandwine.com.au; bellascafe.com.au; therailwayhotelparkes.com.au.
6 UTE BEAUT: Easily twinned with a half-day trip to Trundle is a quirky display called Utes in the Paddock on farmland near the tiny village of Ootha. Now in Parkes Shire, it will be relocated late this year to nearby Condobolin. Essentially, it’s a line of Holden utes, no longer roadworthy and some up-ended, which artists, mostly from Parkes, have transformed with the likes of a Godzilla-like monster, a Bundy bottle and Dame Edna sitting on an outdoor dunny. More: utesinthepaddock.com.au. 7 GOOD AS GOLD: A former goldmining town, 49km north of Parkes, Peak Hill reinvented itself as a tourist destination after the closure of the mine. At the small town’s edge is an open-pit mine with several lookout points. Entry is free, with two short walks: a 1.3km discovery trail along the pit’s edge with lookouts offering extensive views and, almost as easy, a 1.8km peak hill bush walk trail traversing native bushland with mine vistas. Perhaps inevitably, signs refer to Peak Hill as the “town with a heart of gold”. More: peakhill.nsw.au.
8 CENTRE OF ATTENTION: A five-minute drive from central Parkes is the modern Henry Parkes Centre, housing the Parkes Visitor Information Centre, King’s Castle Elvis Presley Museum (including Greg Page’s collection) and the Parkes Motor Museum, a display of highly-polished old vehicles including delivery trucks and a 1917 Buick. More: visitparkes.com.au.
9 LEST WE FORGET: The best spot for 360-degree v views over Parkes and the surrounding outback i is Memorial Hill, five minutes’ drive from the town centre. The hilltop is dominated by a 33m obelisklike Shrine of Remembrance honouring the fallen in past conflicts and visible from several spots in town. More: visitnsw.com.
10 MOTOR INNS RULE: Three lodgings stand out among many motels. With five-star accommodation and a handy stroll from Clarinda Street, Astrodish Motor Inn accurately describes itself as the “most modern and newest”. Parkes International, a member of the Quality Inn chain, is similarly upscale. An Elvis-themed option at the top of the market is four-star Hotel Gracelands, pictured. Parkes is served by air, rail and coach (car rentals available) though most visitors arrive on self-drive holidays. More: astrodish.com.au; parkesinternational.com.au; gracelandsparkes.com.au.
Chris Pritchard was a guest of Destination NSW and Parkes Shire Council.
CHECK IT OUT PALACIO TANGARA, SAO PAULO
In the late 1940s dashing Brazilian playboy Francisco “Baby” Pignatari commissioned architect Oscar Niemeyer and modernist landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx to create a lavish retreat in the heart of Sao Paulo for his glamorous wife Nelita Alves de Lima.
The marriage failed, Baby’s avant-garde residence was demolished, and work on a subsequent hotel abandoned in 2001. As luck would have it Burle Marx completed the gardens and stunning parklands, now serving as a lush green backdrop to a new palace hotel from the Oetker Collection.
Operators of a small group of landmark hotels including London’s Lanesborough and Le Bristol in Paris, Oetker stepped in to rescue the original hotel project and opens the doors this month to the luxurious Palacio Tangara, featuring 141 large guestrooms, almost half of which are suites.
Named for a brilliantly coloured songbird, the hotel embraces its verdant locale, a fine example of Burle Marx’s groundbreaking work, influenced by Cubism and Abstractionism and featuring a wealth of exotic plants. The setting provides a relaxing respite from the sprawling, frenetic Sao Paulo, or Sampa as locals like to regard their metropolis.
All guestrooms claim lovely park views and most open on to a furnished terrace or balcony; at 47sq m the lead-in room category is the most generous in the city. Interiors by Brazilian design firms Bick Simonato and Anastassiadis favour French doors and subtle hues, delivering a contemporary country-house chic and restrained sense of luxury.
Extensive hotel facilities number an elegant Sisley day spa with its own garden, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, fitness centre and children’s club.
DON’T MISS: A 25 per cent discount on all spa treatments when you book a Timeless Spa package, available until the end of the year. DINING IN: Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who owns and operates more than 30 restaurants worldwide, designed the dining experience at Tangara with a signature restaurant, chef’s table, wine cellar and lobby lounge. Try the sea bass crusted with nuts and seeds with a sweet and sour jus, or the tuna tartar with avocado and a radish and ginger dressing.
DINING OUT: Plan lunch in Bixiga, the lively Italian quarter (check out Speranza, serving pizzas since 1958). Serious foodies should make a booking at Mani helmed by Helena Rizzo or at celeb chef Alex Atala’s D.O.M. for cutting-edge Brazilian food.
ASK THE CONCIERGE: Not to be missed museums include Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo, Latin America’s best collection of European art housed in a Brutalist landmark and Pinacoteca do Estado. Pop across to Sampa’s Soho, Vila Madalena, where there’s a great weekend handicrafts and antiques market. Check out the fantastic view of Old Downtown from the rooftop of the Italia Building.
CHECKING IN: Rooms from $US450 ($605). More: palaciotangara.com/eng/home/.
ALSO TRY: Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa, BadenBaden, Germany; Il Salviatino, Florence.
Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore has unveiled its new look Tower Wing following an extensive refurbishment of all 503 guestrooms and suites; the makeover encompasses three new restaurants, including the swish Japanese Nami on level 24, and a revitalised lobby and club lounge • Hotel Bocage has opened in Hua Hin with just six contemporary guestrooms kitted out with Italian design essentials and private balconies overlooking the Gulf of Thailand; the hotel sits atop Seenspace, a new open-air entertainment and restaurant complex • Little Tai Hang is a newly opened, design-savvy hotel tucked away on a street corner next to Hong Kong’s Victoria Park in one of the city’s most enchanting neighbourhoods; there are 91 super smart guestrooms and serviced apartments, perfect for the independent traveller • Fairfield by Marriott Phnom Penh will open in Cambodia in 2021; part of a mixed-use development on Russian Boulevard within the administrative heart of the city, the hotel will offer 300 business-friendly guestrooms, a restaurant and fitness centre • Orpheus Island Lodge has appointed a new executive chef; following stints at Longitude 131 and Chalet du Rassel in France, Daniel Main joins the team at this five-star Great Barrier Reef island resort where he’ll oversee degustation menus built around island-grown organic produce and local seafood.
CSIRO Parkes Observatory, top; Utes in the Paddock, centre right; magpie geese on Lake Cowal, centre left; Elvis impersonators at festival time, above; Trundle Hotel, below