Book, publisher: Hardie Grant Explore
Get ready for the weekend with Friday, Saturday, Sunday: 52 Perfect Weekends in Australia, a curated guide to the best weekend getaways you can have anywhere in Australia. Written by checked in and clued up travel writers, this brand new travel guide from Explore Australia will show you how to have the best time at the best destinations in Australia, from Melbourne to Margaret River, the Barossa to Brisbane, with itineraries written for 52 weekends - one for every weekend of the year!
Finding fun in south-east Australia's Victoria certainly isn't difficult. Just head uphill.
Fittingly, in Victoria’s High Country, the higher you go, the better the views get. Start down low and you’ve got valleys and fields flush with wildflowers, rustic old farm buildings and row upon row of grapevines. A little higher up, you can add tumbling rivers and majestic lakes. Higher again, and it’s winding roads, undulating hills, and sweeping sky-scapes making it into the mix. Oh, and mountains. Did we mention the mountains?
8.30: We take in a traditional Turkish breakfast on the rooftop balcony of the Deniz Konak Hotel. From here, we have a view out over the tumbling rooftops of the ancient, tourist-friendly heart of the old city, Sultanahmet, to the Black Sea beyond. Breakfast is hearty and delicious: a cheesy potato dish called kremali patates, hard boiled eggs sprinkled with flaked red pepper, peppermint and thyme, meats, sliced cucumber and tomato, bread and butter dripping with honey and hot, sweet tea.
9.30: The autumn sun is shining, so we head out to explore the tourist-friendly heart of this ancient city, which is perfect for follow-your-nose wandering. We head in a northerly direction up narrow, winding, cobble-stoned streets, stopping to take in the grandeur of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, which sit opposite each other and are the jewels in Istanbul’s historical crown. A little further on and we are in the leafy, well kept grounds of the Topkapi Palace complex, a vast compound that was once the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years of their 624-year reign.
“Buda is like a garden, Pest is like a factory,” say the locals in Budapest, capital of Hungary. The pretty central European city is loved for its crumbling post-Communist grandeur, folksy culture and pocket-friendly prices. Yet, partying here in the non-political sense is a relatively new concept – from 1949 to 1989 the country was part of the Eastern Bloc and uncontrolled gatherings were forbidden. Now, the new generation of Hungarians, or Magyars, live it up like lab rats on caffeine, with an art-infused nightlife that’s possible to see any day or night of the week.
July 14th 2012
Pozdrav! Jesi li gladan? "Hello! Are you hungry?" shout smiling, bald-headed men who wouldn't look out of place on the door of a nightclub. Despite the smell of spit-roasting pork in my nostrils and their no-nonsense appearance, I'm too busy getting my bearings in the small, vibrant town of Guca (pronounced goo-cha) in Serbia's Dragacevo district to think about food - yet.
It's early, and the stallholders are still setting up. They hang opanci - traditional folk shoes - and T-shirts, and arrange sajkaca (military hats) and beer mugs as bunting in the blue, white and red of the Serbian flag flutters overhead.
Flakes of snow fall in lilting drifts around our heads and pile gently on the cobble-stoned streets while the sweet scent of candied fruits mingles with the rich, nutty smell of roasted chestnuts and the heady spiciness of hot glühwein, or mulled wine. We're loitering with intent at the towering, gothic-style City Hall in the Austrian capital of Vienna, where the atmospheric, open-air Christkindlmarkts (Christmas markets), have been in full swing since mid November.
Despite the subzero temperatures and an average of just two hours of sunshine per day at this time of year, they've been a must-do during the festive season as far back as the Middle Ages. Locals come here to socialise, enjoy the festively adorned trees and fairytale displays, shop for Christmas gifts, and indulge in seasonal treats like the aforementioned glühwein, which does much to keep us warm from the inside out.
A traditional Turkish breakfast consists of a cheesy potato dish called kremali patates, hard boiled eggs sprinkled with flaked red pepper, peppermint and thyme, meats, sliced cucumber and tomato, bread and butter dripping with honey and hot, sweet tea.
It’s autumn, but the sun is shining, so we dine on the balcony of our hotel. From here, we have a view out over the tumbling rooftops of the ancient, tourist-friendly heart of the old city, Sultanahmet, to the Black Sea beyond. Dozens of boats - cargo vessels, ferries and cruise ships - dot the sparkling harbour, while seagulls wheel and cry overhead.
For centuries, this city – which has been known by at least ten other names, including Byzantium and Constantinople – has been a major European trading port. It still is. Situated on the cusp of Asia and Europe, Istanbul is a designated 'alpha world city': an important node point in the global economic system with more than two millennia of UNESCO World Heritage listed history to explore.
When I ask museum director Diane Grobe to show me her favorite piece, she quickly indicates a gilt-framed painting of a wintery country scene. In the foreground is a wizened, bare-branched tree, while to its left, barren stone cottage pulls my attention into the snow-covered distance.
The work is by English artist Tom Keating, and is one of seventy or so fakes Grobe houses at the Faelschermuseum (Museum of Art Fakes) in a former wine cellar in Vienna's bustling Landstrasse district.
Wait a minute. Fakes? Yes, art fakes. This museum of creative criminality holds more than 70 artworks by forgers who made a living fooling art experts and ingénues alike.
History and modernity sit side by side in any European city, but especially in Berlin. On any given day, visitors can wonder at the grandeur of historical structures like the Brandenburg Tor (Brandenburg Gate) and the Reichstag, gain insight into the devastating impact of World Wars I and II at numerous museums and memorials, and immerse themselves in the city's internationally renowned art and design scene.
Berlin is a cyclist's city, so we make the locals and begin our day by renting bikes and cycling to the Eastside Gallery, where a 1.3km long memorial stretch of the art-strewn Berlin Wall still stands. Like Berlin itself, the Eastside Gallery is a work in progress, and is repainted regularly by both local and international artists.
Lap up some five-star luxury at the Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales
Since it opened eighteen months ago, the $125 million Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa has played high-class host to some of Australia – and the world’s – hottest property: Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton, Oprah’s entourage, Jennifer Hawkins and Jake Wall, Zara Phillips. And those are just the people we’re allowed to mention.
Part of the Saudi-owned Emirates portfolio, it’s no surprise the Wolgan Valley is a retreat fit for future kings and queens... and me, your intrepid mX writer. I suffered people, I really did. After two days being treated like a princess at Wolgan Valley, I’m betting that when the newly hitched Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (a.k.a. Wills and Kate) visit Australia on their world tour this coming spring they’ll pop in to Wolgan Valley for a cup of tea and a lie down.
“Don’t stand too close!” warns Pete Chantler, looking over his troupe of dromedaries (one-hump camels) as a crisp desert dawn breaks in Marree, 685 kilometres north of Adelaide where the Outback anecdotally begins.
An impressive two or more metres high at the hump, Chantler’s 10 charges seem placid enough, but he is adamant they’re not to be trusted – and perhaps he’s right. Since arriving in Australia in 1860 to serve as the main mode of transport for the ill-fated Burke and Wills’ expedition into Terra Australis’ vast inland, they’ve gone feral. More than a million roam wild in our arid regions, and occasionally, Chantler and his best mate Greg Emmett catch one and race it in the Marree Camel Cup, held annually in July. It’s this sleepy desert town’s busiest weekend, and the first in a chain of camel races peppered throughout the Outback in the temperate winter months.
Set your watch to island time up the Hawkesbury River in New South Wales
Home to a vibrant community of artists and writers, painters and potters, Dangar Island is just an hour and a half by road or rail, then boat, up the Hawkesbury River, from Sydney’s bustling heart. Its history precedes European settlement by hundreds, even thousands of years.
Once a birthing island frequented by the women of the Guringai tribe, today it’s the only residential island on the Hawkesbury River, with a permanent population of around 200, and a steady flow of visitors – day trippers and weekenders – who come to wind down on its 76 acres of bush and beach.
There are 27 different species of birds on Dangar Island, and it seems like they’re all outside my window, all at once, warbling and screeching a raucous welcome to a new day. But we’re here to relax, so we ignore them, and pretty soon the dawn chorus quiets down and we get back to the business of sleeping in. There are no cars on the island, which means there’s no morning traffic to interrupt our slumber, and by the time we finally arise morning has well and truly broken.
‘I’m mad about birds,’ gushes our guide, Devon, as yet another well endowed specimen comes into view. His eyes glaze over and a dreamy grin spreads across his face. ‘Phoar! What a beauty!’ For a moment, I think we’ve lost him. But this man has the energy of Steve Irwin on steroids, and it’ll take more than a dose of ornithological excitement to get him off track.
Orni-what? Birds. Not womenfolk, but the two-winged, bundle of feathers kind, and here, at the Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa’s Kwazulu Natal, we’re spoilt for choice.
Paraic Grogan had never done any charity work before he went to Cambodia at the age of twenty-six in 2003; he wasn’t interested. He went to the capital city, Phnom Penh, because he’d heard it was a wild frontier city with no rules, and he thought it would be a cool place to live. He got the chaos he was after: there was a riot in his third week there when the locals burnt down the Thai Embassy.
He also got an eye opening introduction to the devastating impact of the wars, genocide, and totalitarianism still ricocheting through the lives of the Cambodian people today. Take your pick: the bombing and invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War; Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, which imposed a cruel system of slave labor, malnutrition, and executions resulting in the deaths of what some estimates place at three million people; the brutal Cambodian-Vietnam War that followed; or the years of UK and US funded controlled chaos – again at the hands of the Khmer Rouge - that came after.
Immerse yourself in Thailand's spiritual soul with a visit to the city of Chiang Mai, Thailand
High on a hilltop at the end of a curling mountain road, far above the glitter and smog of the city below, sits Chiang Mai’s must-see temple, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. I share my visit with hundreds of visitors: curious international tourists, devout lay-Buddhists who have made the pilgrimage to walk the 309 steps up to the temple, and its keepers; the serene, shaven-headed, orange-clad monks who live and worship within its gilt edged pagodas and walls.
Located in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains some 700km from Bangkok, at 40km2 Chiang Mai’s metro area is not even a tenth of the size of Bangkok’s, but it has nearly as many temples, or Wat. They sit at street corners and emerge from leafy enclaves, and are particularly enchanting at dusk, when the monks chant their evening prayers.
Eat, drink and shop your way through Vietnam’s ancient trading port of Hoi An
“You buy more? You buy more?” variations on this refrain are as familiar as strange dreams on a sleeper train to the traveling ear in many parts of the world, but for once I’m not feigning deafness or trying to slip away into the crowd. I’m in a made to measure tailor’s shop in Hoi An on Vietnam’s South Central Coast, and I’m seriously tempted.
Hoi An has long been famous for its commerce. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was an important trading port for a medley of Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Indian and French sea merchants, and from the seventh to the tenth centuries its wealthy Champa residents controlled the regional spice trade.
Monsoon season is in full, wet swing when I arrive in India one hot Keralan night. As I descend from the plane the darkness wraps around me like a warm, wet blanket, and a distinctive scent - part animal, part vegetable, part mineral - pervades my nostrils. I am here for a month to journey up India's South West coast, from Trivandrum to Mumbai. This is my first visit to India, and I have received so many different pieces of advice that my idea of this ancient land and what lies ahead for me is a melting pot of excitement, fear, anticipation and dread. Coupled with this is my awareness that all travel is ultimately a journey of self-discovery, and that India is the travel destination of self transformation par excellence. "It's not a holiday," I was sagely told more than once, "it's an experience."
My first impressions of India are madly multi-sensory. Men shouting and horns blaring, traffic roaring everywhere. The feel of monsoon rain on my skin, moving from gentle patter to whirling assault in seconds. Hot creamy chai and sweet lassi slipping over my tongue and down my throat like liquid velvet. The smell of fresh curry simmering on a cooking stove. And the sights - women in brightly coloured saris making their morning puja, sprinkling mandalas of white camphor powder over cow dung swept hearths. Porters at the train station dressed in bright red lungis, weaving their way through the crowds with towers of luggage atop their sturdy heads. A field of pink lotuses, rising from the mud. Cows lazing in the middle of the road, diverting the traffic and adding to the ordered chaos that is life in India.
Lorne, the third major stop outside Melbourne on the Great Ocean Road, is a huge drawcard in the summer months. Its beachfront shopping strip, al fresco restaurants and stunning scenery charm locals and visitors alike. Camping grounds fill with families indulging in the great Australian summer, hotels are booked to capacity and the entire town stays up late, relaxing in the wakefulness that comes with a hot Victorian night. I had a tip-off a few months ago that makes Lorne worth visiting year round - one from a local, too, the kind that shouldn’t be ignored: “You must go to Qdos,” the woman said as her husband busied himself behind his newspaper in a cafe on Lorne’s Mountjoy Parade. “It’s an art gallery set in a sculpture garden. And cake!” she said, her eyes meeting mine. “They have wonderful cake.” So we followed her directions up into the hills to Allenvale Road. And what a tip-off. Qdos was more than the satisfaction of a sweet tooth – it was the highlight of our trip down the Great Ocean Road.