Laos Plenty of Water in the Dry Season

 Plenty of Water in the Dry Season

Luang Prabang is a UNESCO world heritage listed site, but that does not mean just seriously cultured travellers should go there


Laos is one of those countries not many people can locate mentally on a map. Can you? The inland country is squeezed between Vietnam to the North and along the East, Cambodia – shares a small border to the South –, Thailand along the West as well as Myammar and China along the North West. Name of the capital anyone? Vientiane. You knew it? Fine, this one is harder, name of the old royal capital? Luang Prabang. That was our destination for 6 days last Easter.

The small town nestled between the Mekong and Nan Khan rivers celebrated Songkram – new year – on the 14th–16th April. The festival has a deep religious meaning for Buddhists; so many religious offerings, processions and other ceremonies take place here.

We arrived there from Hong Kong via Bangkok as there are no direct flights from Chek Lap Kok airport to Luang Prabang. We were picked up and taken to Mouang Luang Hotel. The building looks magnificent from the outside; inspired by traditional Laos architecture the structure really impressed us upon arrival.
But this was really an unpretentious hotel: the interior, the rooms and the facilities were clean, spacious and had good air-con – an essential to survive when one is not used to that kind of dry and hot weather. The hotel wasn’t hyper luxurious or ultrachic; the garden has a swimming pool and there were lots of trees to provide perfect shade to laze around. The charming and extremely helpful manageress gave us some basic information about the town and we left.

It was almost midday and off we went merrily walking under the sun equipped with long sleeve linen shirts, sunblock, sunglasses and hats. Well, we should have carried an iceberg with us to try to remain cool. We almost melted. After wandering along the main street for one hour we returned to our refuge and decided to splurge in the pool and lounge under the trees until the sun went down a bit.

Our second attempt to explore the town was more successful. Still, we felt lucky we had six days there, so we could take it easy and avoid the sun at its worst. Luang Prabang has over thirty Buddhist temples but we did not intend to see every single one of them. We selected the most important and interesting ones and decided to take the time to enjoy visiting those select few. I am one of those people who prefers to be left hungry for more than have an overdose of hurried visits to the hundreds of places recommended by travel guides. Having travelled around Asia quite a bit in the last year and a half we really preferred to cut down the amount of sites we visit and carefully select the images we want to keep in our memory.

The town was apparently full of visitors, but it did not feel overcrowded. The limited accommodation of hotels and guesthouses allowed us to stroll among the locals. We could visit the lively night market on the main street without being pushed around, and enjoy the curious looks and smiles children – and adults alike- gave us when we saluted “sabbai dee.”

Once the festival started on the 14th of April, people from the surrounding villages came to town and things got more fun. On the first day, I got up at 5:45 to be able to see the Alms Giving Ceremony. People were sitting on the ground along the main streets with bowls of rice. Handfuls of rice were offered to the monks who approached them in lines carrying shiny metal bowls. Unfortunately, the holiday season brings along flocks of vendors who want to put up their little stalls and profit from the relative avalanche of potential customers who visit the location during those days. As a result, many motorcycles come and go among the monks, pilgrims who visit the temples and the rest of the people around. Pedestrians find themselves in a difficult situation trying to stay alert and survive while enjoying the interesting street ceremony.

After the formal religious parade the water battle started. People were equipped with buckets, hosepipes, cups, water guns and they would target absolutely everyone; from old grannies to young children –usually the most enthusiastic fighters. The origin of this battle has religious roots. Water is for Buddhists, a symbol of purity and to this day is still perfumed with flowers and sprinkled over the monks and other people to wish them good luck during the processions. But the street combat is less delicate and much livelier. During the three days of the festivities I had to be careful with the cameras. I saw more than one foreigner getting angry at children because they had dampened they expensive cameras and I didn’t want to spoil the fun of the community nor get upset because of an accident.
In the afternoon the fiesta was relocated on the sandy riverbank across the Mekong. We took a long narrow boat to cross over there and started walking among the crowd. For a few moments we were spotlessly clean and surrounded by people drenched in water and with flour and paint all over their faces and bodies. Only three minutes later we looked just like them and taking revenge with our water guns and some flour a young girl gave me. Later on that evening we walked into the lobby of our hotel and despite our messy aspect were greeted by the staff, “You are very lucky, you are very wet!”

In the evening the main street becomes an animated market where women sell lots of handmade textiles, some old, some new, all colourful. The small restaurants offer a variety of food you could find Lao cuisine –with tasty Mekong fish and also a kind of acidic noodles that I did not like- but there were also many French delicacies. The heritage of the old colonial power could be seen in the presence of baguettes and in many other recipes like crepes. The food was good but the natural fruit juices and milkshakes were superb, I could have lived on them for the week.

The following day we went to see the Royal Chapel, one of the most magnificent temples in the town. The rich and profuse decorations were coloured in gold, black and red. The colourful mirror mosaics were astonishing. People were going in and out of the temples with offerings and they were also getting ready for the procession in the early afternoon. We strolled around the well-kept colonial part of town and decided to have lunch on the veranda at the elegant Villa Santi hotel. We couldn’t have founda better place if we tried. We were about to start our meal when the procession began just below our balcony. It was the perfect place to see it and take photos -it was safe and dry. The colourful parade started with the formal monks, some authorities, the ‘queens and kings’, the ‘devils’, and then the informal groups of teenagers, followed by what looked like a bunch of drag queens and clusters of visitors who joined in and followed the carnival.

After three days of ceremonies, street parades, and water battles, the town was quiet once again and all the visitors disappeared. We finally saw Luang Prabang as it is for 362 days per year: a calm and beautiful Lao town where life goes at a tranquil pace. Not an impressive monumental city, but rather a cosy town where it’s a pleasure to get lost for a few days and slowly discover its charm.

Written by Rita Slva
 

Tuscany Raiders, Italy


Tuscany is a region that offers much more than fine plonk and pasta. So forget Chianti and cannelloni, and drive yourself down to Central Italy for a cultural awakening. Jim Stewart says ciao

Don’t get me wrong but I just can’t imagine going on a pleasure drive through southern China. Pollution, traffic and bad road etiquette – no thanks! Well actually it’s same over in Europe, but if there’s one thing that appeals to me about travelling there over any other region, it’s that in a day’s drive, you can see so much. Not that you’d want to stay for only one day like most Asian-operated tours encourage you to, but once you get used to the driving which often borders on maniacal, a few hours on the road can give you a superb insight into the country’s offerings.

In easy reach within central Italy, for example, are cities of huge cultural significance, achingly-beautiful countryside and food and drink to die for. Just one hour can see your blood pressure soar when struck by the beauty of Renaissance cities, level out through the tranquil fruit-growing areas, and then rocket again whilst dealing with traffic from hell in Pisa. One eye on the unpredictable Fiat in front and one eye on the Leaning Tower is not a situation to be recommended.

Relaxation and contemplation are easy to come upon though. But it is on foot that you’ll have more fun. Enjoying a pizza or gelato on the Ponte Vecchio maybe the tourist “thing to do”, but it’s in areas such as this that you can don your intellectual hat and savour the results of a cultural revolution that happened over 500 years ago. Every journey to Italy is a “tour artistique”. There are so many art treasures of such quality, spread so far across the country that Italy can rightly be considered a bona fide open-air art gallery. No other country in the world can boast the cultural and artistic treasures of Italy. And according to UNESCO, more than half the world’s historical and artistic heritage is found here.

It was in Tuscany between the 14th and 16th centuries that the great era of humanism and the Renaissance was born and developed. Of that extraordinary period of history, Tuscany, starting from the regional capital Florence, bears the greatest witness. As testament to this, there’s no way that you’ll visit all the churches, museums and archaeological sites in less than a few weeks!

There is no shortage of shopping opportunities, particularly for tourists from Asia! One of the most interesting areas to discover is “the other Florence”: the Oltrarno (on the other side of the River Arno). The best way to do this is to cross one of the four historical bridges: Ponte alla Carraia, Ponte Santa Trinita, Ponte Vecchio or Ponte alle Grazie. When the city walls were enlarged between 1172 and 1175, Florence had to be divided into six districts which included the Oltrarno, home to many artisan and craftsmen called Gonfaloni.

Nowadays the area is a living reality where the past is still alive in the “hum” of generations of artists tenaciously attached to their ancient crafts. In the labyrinth of lanes in the Oltrarno one can still encounter artisans who preserve and hand down original and refined working methods, directly transmitted by the Gonfaloni who in past centuries enriched Florence with their handmade objects.

Dotted around the city’s central district are great works of civic and religious architecture, sculpture and paintings of extraordinary artistic value. Most famously they testify to the creative genius of great artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, and Filippo Brunelleschi. But Tuscany is not just Florence. There is Siena too, with its towering Duomo and expansive Piazza del Campo (the theatre each summer for its famous Palio). It’s simply a joy to stroll around the shaded pedestrianised alleyways and shop for pasta or to duck into a gnocchi restaurant on the piazza and watch the Vespas whiz past.

In the province of Siena (it’s here that you get your hands on the Chianti, by the way) Montepulciano and Pienza stand out as extraordinary gems of renaissance architecture, as well as San Gimignano, with its famous towers and turreted houses. Elsewhere, Lucca, a medieval Tuscan town on the left of the River Serchio is enclosed in thick 16th century walls. If you get up early enough, you can cycle around the ramparts and view a spectacular dawn break.

The exquisiteness of the Tuscan countryside is difficult to describe. If you’ve seen the film Stealing Beauty, you’ll already know it’s not just Liv Tyler that steals the aesthetics show! The landscape is unique, gentle and warm. Grapevines intertwine with olive trees; ramshackled huts sit next to grandiose Machiavellian castellos.

Now all you need is an Italian sports car to motor you around, as long as you’ve avoided the plonk that is!

Mexico Beyond the Beach Chairs

Beyond the beach chairs
Whether you like it or not, it’s not all about underage debauchery and Spring Break in Cancun. Mexico provides the perfect natural  surroundings to appease thrill seekingtourists

While relaxing by the beach with a frosty drink will always remain a popular vacation activity, tourists are increasingly seeking hands-on vacations involving adventure seeking. According to Mexico’s Tourism Secretariat, Sectur, adventure tourism and ecotourism in Mexico generate US$52 million annually. Whether the activities are landbased, sea-based or in the air, Mexico’s unspoiled natural surroundings, diverse geography and breathtaking scenery offers endless possibilities.

From exploring the Copper Canyon in Chihuahua to water rafting in Veracruz, adventure tourism in Mexico takes many forms to suit every taste and budget.Most tour operators offer a variety of options, from half-day trips to longer packages featuring a combination of activities. There are also activities to meet the needs of people of all physical and mental conditions: from the somewhat fearful and sedentary traveller to the physically-fit tourist seeking an experience that is truly extreme in nature.



Mounta
in Climbing and Rappelling
Ain’t no mountain high enough, you say? Then you haven’t tried the volcanoes in Puebla. Not for the weak, the Peak of Orizaba (also known as Citlaltepetl) is North America’s third-highest, soaring 5,745 meters high above the colonial city of Puebla. Only the most advanced hikers make it to the Jamapa Glacier and Espolon de Oro. Three-day hikes starting out at Piedra Grande Refuge are the most common. Other popular volcanoes for climbing are the Iztaccíhuatl, also known as the “sleeping maiden” as it resembles a reclining figure with curves and the Nevado de Toluca, a snow-capped volcano near Mexico City. Visit: www.amtave.org.

Apart from shimmying up volcanoes, other popular climbing destinations are Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, the Sierra Norte in Oaxaca State and the Sierra Madre Oriental in Nuevo León State near Monterrey.

Ain’t no Canyon low enough
Canyoneering (also known as “canyoning”) involves t ravelling down narrow waterways incanyons by rappelling, jumping, scaling slippery surfaces, swimming… and praying. The sport, which started approximately nine years ago in Europe, has quickly gained momentum over the world and Mexico features several ideal spots to practice it. These include Copper Canyon in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range in Chihuahua and Matacanes Canyon and Potrero Chico Canyon in the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. Excursions vary from day-trips to week-long adventures. For the competitive, Chihuahua State hosts the Transglobal Adventure Competition and an annual Adventure Tourism Festival where athletes compete for cash prizes in several sports including sand-boarding, marathons and mountainbiking. If the competition doesn’t take your breath away, the lush scenery will.

Hiking and Backpacking
The mild climate and rocky mountains of the central Mexican state of Guanajuato makes it a popular destination for hiking and backpacking. Just fifteen minutes from the capital city of Guanajuato is the Las Palomas recreational zone and wildlife preserve, an important area of biodiversity and an ideal place for naturalists and birdwatchers.

Trained guides employed by the preserve and who are experts in the areas of botany, bird migration and the area’s flora and fauna provide a variety of tours, while there are also facilities for mountain-biking and camping.

Cycling
Cycling is a wonderful way to get to know Mexico and Mexico offers everything from short visits to archaeological sites to hard-core mountain biking/camping combinations. COUPLE SCUBA DIVING IN THE CARIBBEAN Photo By NADINE MARKOVA Tourist fisherman with catch Photo by Bruce Herman
The beautiful bay, lush scenery and rain forests around the Pacific resort city of Puerto Vallarta, for example, provide the ideal setting for the ultimate mountain biking experience. Bike Mex offers biking tours at all levels of the surrounding countryside, with visits to water falls, ranches, hot springs and quaint towns. They even offer tours to out-of-the-way-villages such as Yelapa, located in the Bay of Bandera’s southernmost cove, accessible only by boat or bike. For cyclists who prefer paved roads, Rosarito and Ensenada on the Baja California Peninsula host an annual bike ride every spring and fall, taking place April 17 and September 25 this year. The “Rosarito Ensenada Bike Ride” is one of the largest and longest-running cycling events in the wor l d, whose 50-mile course offers breathtaking views of the Pacific coastline. Nearly a half-million people of all ages and abilities have completed the course’s cycling competition.

On Horseback
Mexico boasts countless parks, wildlife reserves and beaches where horses are available for organised tours or for rent. Longer organised calvagades are common in the states of Sonora, Jalisco and Veracruz, just to name a few. Chihuahua State also hosts an annual week-long scenic cavalgade for the entire family (IX Villista Cavalgade) from the city of Chihuahua to Hidalgo del Parral, covering more than 136 miles.

Taking Flight
What better way to see Mexico than with a bird’s eye view? Paragliding has become overwhelmingly popular in A great way to experience Mexico’s exotic marine life is through sea kayaking. Kayaking out fittter soffer kayaking/camping adventures out of Loreto and La Paz on the Sea of Cor tez (located on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula) where tourists can get up close and personal with finback and blue whales, dolphins, sea lions and exotic fish. Apart from paddling among islands, additional activities include snorkelling and hiking up scenic canyons offering breathtaking panoramas. Visit www.bajawild.com and www.kuyima.com. Other great places to kayak include the Mayan canals in the Sian Mexico, with Mexicans and foreigners alike flocking to places like Valle de Bravo in Mexico State and Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake and just an hour’s drive south of Guadalajara in Jalisco State, to enjoy the country’s lush scenery from above.

For heights without the risk, peaceful air travel is still possible through hot air balloon tours such as those offered by Globo Aventura in Tenancingo, in Mexico State. The 3-hour tour includes breathtaking views of the Tenancingo Valley and an in-air champagne toast followed by an invigorating mountain bike tour.

Get Your Feet Wet
Veracruz State, which borders the Gulf of Mexico, is the ideal destination for white-water rafting. With more than 40 rivers, including the popular Rio Actopan and Rio Antigua, Veracruz offers Class II and Class IV rapids with ominous names like “Doors to Hell”. Most tour operators combine rafting with camping, hiking, visits to quaint towns and dips in nearby hot springs. Sunset in the mountains Photo by Carlos Sanchez Surfer in Puerto Escondido Photo by Guillermo Aldan Mexico also boasts countless destinations for diving. Top spots include Los Cabos on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, as well as Loreto and La Paz, located on Sea of Cortez and famous all over the world for its biodiversity. Referred to by French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau as “The World’s Aquarium,” the waters that make up the Sea of Cortez are teeming with blue, black and striped marlin, sailfish, dorado, sea lions, blue fin whales, hammerhead sharks, moray eels and tropical fish. Other top diving spots include the Yucatan Peninsula, surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea; Cozumel, Mexico’s largest island just off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, renowned for its underwater clarity and home to the second longest reef in the world; Isla Mujeres, a smaller island to the north of the Isla de Cancun; and the Yucatan Peninsula, whose cenotes (sinkholes) are increasingly favoured by divers.

Adventure, Without Breaking a Sweat
Strenuous activities aren’t for everyone. For those who like adventure without the physical stuff, Mexico offers an interesting variety of activities. El Chepe is a 400-mile train ride between Chihuahua City and Los Mochis in Sinaloa State on the Sea of Cortez, offering breathtaking scenery past rivers and lakes from the coast into the deep chasms of Copper Canyon in Chihuahua State. The train climbs as high as 8,000 feet above sea level and passes over 37 bridges and through 86 tunnels, stopping in tiny towns on the rims of majestic canyons. Trips include overnight stays in the towns and walking tours. Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a 1.3 million-acre wildlife paradise in the Riviera Maya; the mangroves of Lake Sontecomapan, the Isla de Monos (Monkey Island) and Laguna Escondida (Hidden Lagoon) in Veracruz; and the Balsas River in Michoacan. Visit www.alltournative.com.

Puerta Vallarta, with its ocean and jungle, is a paradise for kayakers and trekkers. Packs of humpback whales can also be spotted just outside Puerto Vallarta’s Bahia de las Banderas. Visit www.vallar tawhales.com and www.ecotoursvallarta.com.

Written by Peter Guy

South Australia Travel around in luxury & style

Travel
Around
in Luxury and Style


 
South Australia (www.southaustralia.com) has long been recognised for its abundant free roaming wildlife, its fine quality food and wine, and its laid back, alfresco lifestyle. Now it is developing a matching reputation for its luxury accommodation and touring opportunities.
 
Below are detailed eight of South Australia’s top luxury tour operators and properties which provide easy access to the State’s signature experiences:
 
Southern Ocean Lodge (www.southernoceanlodge.com.au) – It is a luxurious world class eco-wilderness lodge located on Kangaroo Island, renowned as Australia’s Galapagos.  Southern Ocean Lodge opened in April 2008 to instant success and international acclaim and is currently Tatler’s “Hotel Of The Year”. From the start, the Lodge has exceeded guests’ traditional five-star expectations by fusing design and nature, gourmet and wilderness. By offering impeccable service, sophisticated dining and exceptional touring, the result is luxurious in style whilst uncompromisingly sensitive to the environment.

Arkaba Station (www.arkabastation.com) – It is one of Australia’s oldest and most famous Outback sheep stations whose historic homestead dates back to 1851.  Situated on 60,000 acres in the Flinders Ranges close to the geological amphitheatre of Wilpena Pound, Arkaba was recently purchased by Wild Bush Luxury and has undergone a major refurbishment which includes the construction of a swimming pool.  Guests are now able to experience the authentic country lifestyle of a working sheep station as well as the majesty of the Flinders Ranges and its prolific wildlife.  Activities include guided scenic four-wheel drives and three-night/four day walking safaris that include sleeping in swags under the Outback sky at established en route camps.

Outback Encounter (www.outbackencounter.com) – It is a private concierge and full service travel company that has the ability to organise every aspect of a trip from flights and accommodation through to dinner reservations, opera tickets and golf lessons.  Boasting an impressive knowledge database of local contacts, Outback Encounter provides access to exclusive beach houses, city villas, private jets, specialist guides, sporting and entertainment stars and other memorable experiences. All itineraries are customised to meet a client’s exact requirements.

Gawler Ranges Wilderness Safaris (www.gawlerrangessafaris.com) – Run by a passionate team of South Australians who have lived in the Outback most of their lives, Gawler Ranges Wilderness Safaris has specialised in customising wildlife and natural history tours for over two decades.  Based 600 kms north west of Adelaide on the Eyre Peninsula, they focus predominantly on the Gawler Ranges and the immediate coastline.  Their base camp, located at Kangaluna near Wudinna, is set in a beautiful bush location on the edge of Gawler Ranges National Park and is itself the ideal spot for wildlife spotting and nature viewing during evening or morning walks.  Gawler Ranges Wilderness Safaris adheres to the “leave only footprints, take only photos and memories” philosophy, so tour groups are small, between two and six people, with travel in luxury four-wheel drive, air-conditioned vehicles. Other activities include swimming with wild dolphins and sea lions at Baird Bay.

China Air Tours (www.chinta.com.au) – When time is short, South Australia with its vast vistas, can really only be appreciated from the air.  This is why Chinta Air Tours offers a selection of air safaris that include whale watching at Head of Bight and wildlife spotting on the Eyre Peninsula and Kangaroo Island.  To comfortably cover the vast distances involved, tours combine light aircraft flights with regional airlines and four wheel drive vehicles.  The main light aircraft used are Cessnas – high winged aircraft that allow each passenger to have a window seat.

Kangaroo Island Wilderness Tours (www.wildernesstours.com.au) – It uses knowledgeable local guides to introduce visitors to Australia’s top wildlife destination. Each fully hosted tour have been developed over the years to reveal Kangaroo Island at its best using luxury four-wheel drive vehicles. In addition, should a client have a special interest in flora, fauna, birds or photography, Kangaroo Island Wilderness Tours offers private charter tours for an exclusive touring experience. In addition, after a day’s touring, guests can enjoy the comfort of Seascape Lodge located on Emu Bay, a five-star, fully hosted bed and breakfast which is available exclusively to Kangaroo Island Wilderness Tours’ guests.

Banksia Adventures (www.banksia-adventures.com.au) – It adheres to the slogan “Go Beyond Your Expectations” revealing lesser known destinations and experiences to their clients in style and comfort. Experiences include Outback Australian Culture, Marine and Coastal, Nature and Eco-tours plus Unique Food and Wine tours. Banksia Adventures team includes outback four-wheel drive guides, pilots and wine guides.  Their internationally renowned air charter tour is the “The Great Aussie Outback Pub Crawl”, a five-day private air charter and 4WD experience through the Outback, whilst newer tours include a luxury golf package based on the world’s longest golf course, The Nullarbor Links.

The Louise (www.thelouise.com.au) – Situated in the renowned Barossa wine region, The Louise is a luxuriously appointed 15-suite property surrounded by vineyards as far as the eye can see. Each suite offers guests their own gated courtyard entrance, a spacious ensuite and private open air terrace with vineyard vistas. Some suites also have private outdoor showers. Bicycles are available on site whilst activities include hot air ballooning and private tours of heritage sites and local wineries. The Louise is also home to APPELLATION, their acclaimed restaurant run by British-born Executive Chef Mark McNamara.

The Great Australian Outback Cattle Drive (www.cattledrive.com.au) – Riders and nature lovers looking for the ultimate Outback experience should take part in the Great Australian Outback Cattle Drive, from 30 July to 29 August 2010.  Over these five weeks riders of all levels and experience can choose to join one of six four-night/five-day cattle drives that will take them through the pristine landscapes surrounding South Australia’s legendary Oodnadatta Track, droving cattle and working with some of country’s most experienced drovers.  This epic journey involves approximately 500 head of cattle and up to 120 horses.

As one of the largest and most popular events in South Australia’s calendar, this is fast becoming a “must do” for horse lovers worldwide who want to experience the romance and adventure of the real Australian Outback, immersing themselves in its unique landscape, history and people. Baz Luhrrman found the experience so inspirational when he took part in 2003 that he went on to write and direct his 2008 epic “Australia” starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

The city’s known as the wedding capital of the world

Everything about Las Vegas is big. The city’s known as the wedding capital of the world, it’s entirely appropriate that 100 couples were married to make it an extra special occasion.

A land auction, held back on May 15, 1905, initiated a revolution that saw this desert valley transform itself the fastest American city and the home to almost two million inhabitants in just one century. This auction was re-enacted on May 15 on Fremont Street – the current home to the more old-style, less flashy casinos such as the Lady Luck and 4 Queens. In true Vegas style, a huge half-a-million dollar firework display was held over The Strip on New Year’s Eve.

This most flamboyant stretch of road brings in almost US$7 billion a year in gaming revenue alone. But there so much more to it than the casinos. If you haven’t seen any Joe Pesci mob movies, let me fill you in. Stretch limos weave there way through the traffic and neon is ubiquitous. The Strip is a mere five kilometres long but it is filled with lights, excitement and the dreams of an optimistic following.

For one thing, what other street can you walk down and visit Egypt, New York, Paris, Rome and Hollywood? Where else can you see Tom Jones, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond – and a score of other classic institutions – in consecutive nights? And where else can you get into a lift and not raise an eyelid at the Elvis impersonator, the Wookie and the cocktail waitress in a bunny girl outfit standing next to you?

Text by James Moore
 

Queensland Stuck Between A Reef & a Lush Place

In just over six hours you could be walking through the world's oldest rainforest and swimming over the world where two world heritage sites actually touch, Far North Queensland is home to a swarm of stirring pursuits and a small amount of wildlife to keep you on your toes

Pete, theirreverent Aussie-hatiing Kiwi land driver, picked me up from Cairns International Airport. At the profane hour of 5:30 am, the first thing he made sure was clear was FNQ? You don't want to come anywhere near here half of the time. If the taipans, the browns, the stingers, crocs or sharks don't get you, the mozzies certainly will.'

FNQ stands for Far North Queensland and its to many people, other Pete obviously, one of the most subirne places on earth you can visit. The Daintier Rainforest and the river that runs through it mark the end of your mobile reception and civilization for the most part. Further up into Cape Tribulation, the Forest gets thicker and the beaches more remote.

Text by James Moore
Photography: Tourism Queensland

Paris Special


The City of Blinding Lights

With Parisian boutique of all boutiques – fashion landmark Colette, celebrating its 10th year at the forefront of international chic, Away In Style takes a look at what’s new in the city of couture and romance. Read on for the low-down on where those in the know are eating, drinking, shopping and sleeping…

“Nightclub and restaurant Black Calvados, a partnership between famed fashion
show producer Alexandre de Betak, and former Soundgarden front man, Chris
Cornell is the only place to visit during Paris Fashion Week.”

“Gentry Lane designs sexy French lingerie worthy of old Hollywood screen sirens,
racy Burlesque divas, and the most discerning grandes dames.”

“Espousing a womanly, boudoir sensibility is Eternamé, the fine jewellery line from
former Dior publicist Sarah Besnainou, and supermodel Audrey Marnay.”

“No trip to Paris would be complete without some major pampering à la française, so
look no further than Autour de Christophe Robin.”

“When Colette launched in 1997, it caused a major revolution…no one had ever
before presented an intelligently edited collection of the best ‘must-haves’ in fashion,
music, technology, literature, art, food, and beyond.”

   

By our correspondent in Paris, D’Arcy Flueck.

This year’s 10th anniversary celebrations for the legendary retailer, Colette, was a reminder that Paris is not just about historic couture houses and shopping on the Avenue Montaigne.

When Colette launched in 1997, it caused a major revolution that could be felt around the world. No one had ever before presented an intelligently edited collection of the best “must-haves” in fashion, music, technology, literature, art, food, and beyond. Free to set the tone and present its own special brand of fashion-future, 10 years later the store is still breaking ground where others fear to tread, remaining a must-visit for style-lovers touring the French capital.

Some newer boutiques garnering major attention include the newest offering by Lacoste Creative Director Christophe Lemaire. Lemaire’s eponymously titled boutique is designed to be like a secret box; amongst the contemporary architecture, a white-gold, faceted ceiling mixes with high-tech elements and vintage musical instruments, allowing clients to enjoy an exceptionally creative universe of quirky and casual luxury. The clothing tells a unique story: with a pre-collection that was created for this specific retail space in mind, Lemaire plays with genres, designing men’s clothes for men, as well as men’s clothes adapted to women, with a unisex range uniting the two. Japanese denims mix effortlessly amongst the limited edition designer collaborations with Macintosh, Lacoste and Wrangler, his subtle basics providing an accent instead of the normal backdrop. According to Lemaire, one “can develop a full collection of essential pieces with accessible prices, if you express radical choices of details and colours. These are the choices that give the piece its personality.”

No stranger to the world of big personalities, Etienne de Swardt has created the unparalleled parfumerie, Etat Libre d’Orange, inspired by the 19th century Boer republic of his native South Africa. Establishing his own territory in which to defy all accepted olfactory conventions, de Swardt works with some of the most gifted “noses” in the industry, like the creators of Armani Code, Antoine Lie and Antoine Maisondieu; Blonde by Versace‘s Nathalie Feisthauer; and newcomer Shyamala Maisondieu; all of whom have the freedom to produce a strikingly original scent, influenced by a powerful eroticism and playful subversiveness rather than the standard odes to love and desire that the fragrance industry is known for promoting. Dare to wear unisex fragrances like Nothing, Sécrétions Magnifiques, and Jasmin et Cigarette, for an intriguing feeling of subtle defiance.

Perhaps not trying to break the rules, but certainly trying to make them a whole lot sexier, is Gentry de Paris, the haute lingerie line from Californian expat Gentry Lane. Lane designs sexy French lingerie equally worthy of old Hollywood screen sirens, racy Burlesque divas, and the most discerning grandes dames; and believes “one should allow only real French silk and Calais lace next to your skin". However, for those seeking comfort over sex appeal, Gentry de Paris is just as famous for their decadent cashmere underpants, as they are for their fine French silks. “Coddled in the luxury and fine craftsmanship that she deserves, our classic, elegant lines, opulent fabrics and restrained palates are created for women with chic European sensibilities. They know not to settle for anything less than the best”, which is why Gentry de Paris is sold in exclusive departments stores around the world. Nothing, however, can top a personal shopping experience with Gentry herself, from the privacy of her Parisian boudoir/ showroom.

Also making women feel beautiful is Yesim Chambrey, a Turkish designer and former winner of the prestigious Hyères young designers award for women‘s ready-to-wear, who expertly creates women’s clothing which is irresistibly feminine, flattering, and pretty. Using natural fabrics like bamboo (which feels almost as soft as silk), and unfinished linens with an unfailingly girlie sensibility; this new boudoir boutique is about as Parisienne as one can get. Changing rooms are marked by the pink silk taffeta curtains, poodles display the handmade crochet-style jewellery, available in a multitude of the sweetest colours, and an Ali Baba-like cave in the lower level is slated to open showcasing Chambrey’s own pieces of feminine décor, skillfully designed to work with fabrics from her ready-to-wear, along with selected accessories.

Espousing an equally womanly, boudoir sensibility, is Eternamé, the fine jewellery line from former Dior publicist Sarah Besnainou and supermodel Audrey Marnay; who have named the line after its similarity in sound to “eternity for me“. Celebrity gal pals like Kylie Minogue, Diane Kruger, Jacquetta Wheeler, and Natalia Vodianova seem addicted to collecting their own little pieces of eternity, like the fine pieces from the art deco or entrelas collections; and luckily, whatever is not on hand, the Eternamé girls are happy to customise, source, or design, according to your personal moods and desires.

Of course, nowhere in Paris can cater to your personal wants and whims quite like the world famous super luxury hotels that manage the ever-changing requirements of the international travelling elite on a daily basis. For those seeking a stay in Paris a bit off the beaten path, look no further than the new Five Hotel, located in Paris’ artistic left bank. This boutique hotel mixes five essential elements to create its signature sense of wellbeing, from the colour palette, use of metals, clever lighting, a note of transparence, and a personal signature scent unique to all rooms and suites. Owners Philippe Vaurs and Pascal Laffon can even boast of an integrated fibre-optic lighting system incorporated into the bathroom tiling and bedroom ceilings, casting a starlit sky into each of the hotel’s 24 rooms. By the fireplace, guests may select which Diptyque signature scent will be suffused into your personal environment, choosing between tonic, relaxed, natural, sensual, and gourmand.

For real gourmands wondering where to grab a chic bite to eat, the recently opened Le Saut du Loup, located in the renowned Musée des Arts Decoratifs, is the ideal place to balance your lunch between cultural excursions, and shopping in the nearby rue St. Honoré. With two levels, perfect for people watching, their terrace is one of the most beautiful in Paris, overlooking the gardens of the Carrousel du Louvre. for fashionable dinners, the L’Eclaireur restaurant, inspired by the famous Dulciora patisserie designed by Piero Fornasetti, is the latest offering from the chic designer shopping emporium of the same name. Owners Martine and Armand Hadida worked with the designers’ son Barnaba, to create this ode to the Italian master.

For a night on the town, head to Pierre-Charles Cros, Olivier Bon, and Romée de Goriainoff’s The Experimental Cocktail Club, designed by Cuoco Black, who also created New York’s Gin Lane. A trendy and fashionable crowd is happy to try an assortment of cocktails, and Saturday evenings have the distinction of being open all night, a rarity in Paris indeed! However, if dancing is more to your tastes, head to the nightclub and restaurant Black Calvados, a partnership between famed fashion show producer Alexandre de Betak, and former Soundgarden front man, American musician Chris Cornell. This is the only place to visit during Paris Fashion Week, having previously hosted after-parties for John Galliano, as well as supermodel birthday parties for the likes of Liya Kebeda. Lindsay Lohan and Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas have already followed in their footsteps, so you know this is the place to be!

Of course no trip to Paris would be complete without some major pampering à la française, so to look your most appropriately glam at all those parties, dinners and drinks, look no further than Autour de Christophe Robin. Robin is a famous hair colourist and adviser to L’Oréal, who enjoys a loyal following from everyone from Catherine Deneuve to Kylie Minogue and John Galliano. Having recently moved into a private mansion or hotel particular, Robin invited his friends, including top facialist Joëlle Ciocco, manicurist Bastien Gonzalez, and make-up artist Mina Matsumara, to join him, catering to his high-end clientele. Even former fashion model Dorothy Barrick signed on to present a capsule collection of her handbags, including vintage finds, making this one of Paris’ most in-demand confidential addresses.