PINK GINS AND DISCO LEGO
Order up a cocktail and get ready for a party in the sky, it’s time to celebrate another year in travel
In the past year I took 66 flights, slept 132 nights in hotels, spent six weeks in India, hopped islands in Greece and journeyed from Ethiopia to the Armenian border. Here are my best (and worst) travel experiences of 2018.
BEST IN-ROOM ACCESSORY
A monkey stick. Seriously. You’ll find them in the 37 suites at Amanbagh resort in rural north India, in case guests need to shoo away cheeky langurs that sneak in from the surrounding bushland.
Online visa applications are a boon for 21st-century travellers but Turkey wins the prize for ease of entry. Would-be visitors complete the usual application questions, transfer $US60 ($84) and then receive an approval email in about 60 seconds. It should be the model for e-visas worldwide.
SMARTEST HOTEL LIGHTING
In-room lighting can be a challenge even at the best addresses so it’s a relief to check into Phuket’s Sri Panwa resort (and sister property Baba Beach Club in Hua Hin) to find touch lamps by the bedside. No more hunting down obscure switches in a semiconscious state, or having to master iPad controls to perform a basic function. Just tap the lamp stem and let there be light (or not).
At Cape Town’s Ellerman House, a grand, 13-room mansion hotel high on the hill above Bantry Bay, guests really look forward to the end of the day. That’s when staff roll out the (complimentary) gin trolley and canapes on the panoramic terrace of Ellerman’s Bar Roc for sunset cocktails. The trolley stocks a range of boutique South African spirits, such as Cruxland Gin infused with truffles from the Kalahari Desert and pink Musgrave Gin fragrant with rosewater and spices.
Paired with tonic, strawberries and a sprig of rosemary, it’s a fittingly pink match for evening skies over the Atlantic.
MOST SURPRISING SCAM
Perhaps the last place you’d expect to get ripped off is Switzerland, but it happened to me last summer. The Zurich taxi rort works like this: if you call and book a cab for a certain time, apparently you’re supposed to be in the car and ready to go when that time comes. Otherwise the driver can add another nine francs ($12) to the already exorbitant fare, as ours did even though she could see us walking towards the car at the appointed pickup time. We were too stunned by her nerve to object.
BEST HOTEL LAUNDRY DEAL
I’ve always believed hotel laundry pricing was a massive rort until I checked into Alila Fort Bishangarh in India. It’s a stunning renovation of a 230-year-old Rajput warrior fortress but what I remember most clearly is the laundry list: for a five-star hotel it’s remarkably cheap. Guests can get any clothing item washed, from socks to jackets, for a flat rate of 200 rupees, or about $4. It’s the best laundry deal since Mum did mine for free.
BEST AIRLINE HACK
Qatar Airways operates a slick economy service between Australia and the Middle East but it’s even better when you sit upstairs.
QATAR’S A380 SERVICES FEATURE A MUCH NICER UPPERDECK ECONOMY OF JUST EIGHT ROWS
Qatar’s A380 services (ex- Sydney, Melbourne and Perth) feature a main cabin of 394 economy seats crammed together, and another much nicer upperdeck economy of just eight rows tucked behind the first and businessclass cabins. The trick is, unless you’re a platinum and gold frequent flyer you can’t request an upperdeck seat until you physically check in at the airport. But it’s worth asking, (a) because the service is better up there; and (b) given seats can’t be reserved online, the cabin seems to fill last.
Flying upstairs in November, I had two free seats beside me. On the return leg I had three.
BEST GREEK ISLAND
Plonk me on any Greek isle and I’ll be happy but my pick is Milos, the horseshoe-shaped island south of Athens. Its mineral-rich soils have created a weird and wonderful place that ranges from the bone-white rock formations of Sarikiniko to the bloodred shores and sulphur-yellow cliffs of Paliorema; the crayon-coloured houses along Klima’s seafront to main town Plaka’s classic Aegean scenery. The seafood’s fabulous too.
BEST DOMESTIC AIRPORT
Fun trivia question for aviation buffs: which Australian airport operates at less than half its eight-millionpassenger capacity each year and has a shiny international terminal that handles just 14 flights a week ?
The answer is Canberra, and its sleek, empty and efficient spaces are a breath of fresh air compared to Mascot and Tullamarine.
BEST CITY TOUR
Serious streetfood fans should seek out Culinary Backstreets, a team of passionate gastro-guides who lead tours in some of the great food capitals – Tokyo, Rio, Naples, Mexico City and New York among them.
On a calorie-packed eating binge in Istanbul, guide Gonca Karakoç took me for tea and Turkish bagels (simit) in a 16th-century caravanserai before we settled in for a full Turkish breakfast including menemen scrambled eggs and water buffalo clotted cream drizzled in wildflower honey. Then we wandered down alleys through doorways to more than a dozen food joints – a show of the city’s best baklava, boreks and pizzastyle lahmacun, among other delicious detours. As a fellow eater said midway through our movable feast, “This is the most authentic thing I’ve ever done on vacation.”
Firew Rede Adele, known to all his guests as Freo, is a veteran Ethiopian guide with a smile as wide as the Blue Nile and an easy manner that puts visitors at ease in his home country. During a 12-day escorted adventure through Southern Ethiopia, organised by WA-based Travel Directors, Freo’s longstanding friendships with chiefs and leaders in tribal villages gained us privileged access and insights into a world we never even imagined existed.
The 24 villas and 10 residences of Six Senses Malolo Island have been built to resemble a traditional Fiji village except for one important detail – the entire resort is powered by solar panels and Tesla batteries.
Kiwi developer-director Andrew Griffiths wanted to create a sustainable property that would leave the island in a better state than he found it. It’s an attitude seen in everything from the onsite farm supplying produce to resort restaurants to an old-school grocery where goods are stored in jars and packed in paper bags.
BEST WILDERNESS RETREAT
Freycinet Lodge’s six new coastal pavilions look across tranquil Coles Bay to the $2200-a-night Saffire resort but cost a fraction of the price.
The new suites, crafted from Tassie oak, ironbark and glass, crouch in pristine woodlands with water glimpses through the casuarinas. Book number 65 or 66 for sweeping and unobstructed bay views.
BEST NEW AUSTRALIAN HOTEL
In a crowded year for local hotel openings it was the four-year renovation of the old Paramount Pictures HQ in inner-city Sydney into a 29-room inn that stood out.
The Paramount House Hotel in sohot-right-now Surry Hills offers jetset digs with all the trimmings, from rooftop yoga and farmer’s market to a bustling coffee house, gastronomic wine bar Poly, Golden Age Cinema and a chic co-working setup called The Office Space.
It’s hotel as instant hotspot, and a most welcome addition to Australia’s accommodation scene.
WORST TRAVEL ACCESSORY
The sales assistant at Dubai airport assured me the Swiss-designed, Thai-made Skross adaptor would work anywhere in the world. Except, as I discovered, if you’re Australian and use three-point earthed plugs, which don’t fit in this $70 piece of useless plastic.
MOST BIZARRE IN-FLIGHT SAFETY VIDEO
When was the last time (or even the first time) you boarded a flight and thought, “It’s a party in the sky!”?
That’s the catchcry of the latest inflight video from Turkish Airlines, which stars Lego Movie characters such as Batman and Wonder Woman performing the pre-flight safety spiel.
The creative concept’s fine, inventive even, but loses the plot when the aisle morphs into a disco and Lego figurines sing, “We’re gonna have a good time in the air tonight; It’s a party in the sky, Let’s pack our dreams and fly!”
Said no passenger ever.
Find serious glamour and ... monkey sticks ... to keep cheeky visitors away in the suites at Amanbagh resort in rural India.
INDIA Alila Fort Bishangarh in India is memorable, like its laundry service; Phuket’s Sri Panwa resort excels with touch lamps; Greek island Milos is weird and wonderful; cheers to Cape Town’s Ellerman House for its terrace sunsets.