Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Faces of Peru offer a warm welcome

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and as I head into the Amazon for a couple of days without electricity and wifi I hope you enjoy some of these smiling faces. 

Our Contours Travel group spent today exploring the Peruvian capital of Lima and I was struck by how welcoming everyone was to tourists. 

From riot police to museum workers and security guards everyone had a warm smile to offer. 

I hope you all enjoy these pictures from just one day of exploration. 

New name and new standards for South American carrier

When I travelled to Argentina a couple of years ago with what was then called LAN, I was seriously underwhelmed by the economy class offering. 

LAN is now rebranded as LATAM following a merger with TAM, and bills itself as "the leading carrier to and from South America" with the largest network and unparalleled connectivity throughout the region:

LATAM flies from Sydney via Auckland to Santiago, the gateway to South America, seven days a week with onward connections to over 115 South American destinations, including Argentina, Peru (where I am heading this time with Contours Travel), Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Venezuela, Uruguay and Brazil.

The merger brings together South America’s two leading airlines (LAN was Chilean based and TAM Brazilian based). 

The new brand has a fresh logo inspired by the identity and heritage of the region and the rebranding roll-out also includes a new look across airports, aircraft, webpages and uniforms.

Passengers flying with LATAM en route to South America will experience the Boeing 787-9, which the airline says provides "greater comfort, security, and efficiency". 

Remarkably enough, the hype is true. Even in evonomy on the 787-9 there is plenty of space, a good selection of entertainment and decent food (my veal casserole was excellent). The Chilean cabernet sauvignon was juicy and fun and the post-dinner slug of Ballantine's most generous. Unlike on my previous LAN flights the crew were happy and helpful.  

Fingers crissed the return journey is as good at the back of the plane. 

Premium Business Class on board the LATAM 787-9 includes larger auto-dimming windows, dynamic lighting, more storage space at ground level as well as spacious seats with six-way adjustments, including reclining and full-flat positions.

LATAM operates daily flights from Sydney to Santiago, Chile, via Auckland, with onward connections to Lima. LATAM also offers non-stop flights between Sydney and Santiago four times per week in a codeshare partnership. 

Call LATAM reservations on 1800 126 038, visit your local travel agent or go to

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

A most satisfactory first night in Lima

I had zero expectations for the El Lobby restaurant at the El Pardo Doubletree by Hilton in Lima.

It's a nice enough hotel, but it is a chain hotel in the tourist district of Miraflores. I was thinking tourist food at tourist prices,  particularly as I am travelling with a group. 

Instead, we got flavoursome, interesting food with a local accent; beautifully presented and served by helpful, multilingual staff. 

First up, an amuse bouche of chicken mousse, served with "welcome drink of Pisco Sour - the local speciality. 

Then a tasty octopus carpaccio with a traditional tapenade sauce, followed by local corvina fish in a bisque with potato cakes, then a selection of local pastries. 

All in all, very impressive. This trip with Contours Travel is off to a good start. 

El Pardo Doubletree by Hilton, 141 Calle Independencia, Miraflores, Lima. 

Monday, 24 October 2016

Food is high on the agenda in Montreal

Montreal is one of the great cities of North America, combining Canadian charm with a French accent - and the food here is always outstanding.

From the superb Jean-Talon Market to eateries across a range of cuisines, it is hard to eat poorly here.

The Montreal food festival, MTLàTABLE, is back for a 5th edition from November 3 to November 13 and a total of 150 restaurants will be offering table d’hôte dinner menus at set prices of $21, $31 or $41).

The festival encourages foodies to explore different Montréal neighbourhoods and discover new cuisines.

Montréal’s downtown business and cultural centre is a good place to start.

The upmarket suburbs of Mount Royal, Outremont and Westmount are home to spectacular Victorian homes, alleyways, manicured gardens and French dining icons, while The Plateau and the Mile End are where hip artists and ambitious young business owners mingle among the old-school immigrant population.

Old Montréal and the Old Port are chic neighbourhoods popular with tourists, and offer a range of cuisines from around the world.

Quartier du Canal is actually made up of three neighbourhoods that stretch four kilometres along the Lachine Canal. There’s Griffintown, Little Burgundy and Saint-Henri. 

Then there's the Gay Village, Villeray, Little Italy and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, the suburbs of Pole des Rapides and east and north of the island.

So many neighbourhoods, so little time.

    For details visit

Sunday, 23 October 2016

How good are the views from this new Bangkok hotel?

Some months ago I was invited to take a look at a new Bangkok hotel: the AVANI Riverside.

Unfortunately, I arrived a little too early to see the hotel at its best. Putting it bluntly, it was still a bit of a building site.

That said, I could not help but be impressed by the spectacular views from the 26th-floor swimming pool and ultra-chic Attitude Bar.

Tucked away in a quiet part of town, just behind sister hotel the Anantara Riverside, most of the rooms offer spectacular views of the Chao Phraya River.  

The first purpose-designed AVANI hotel has a very cool blend of contemporary decor, superb poolside food (the sliders are excellent) and those stunning views.

On arrival, guests are immediately greeted by another arresting view of the river from the 11th-floor lobby. The open-plan design blends reception, lounge, meeting, chill out and restaurant spaces. 

AVANI Riverside bills itself as "a place to relax and unwind". 

The Long Bar serves a variety of refreshments, while guests can enjoy breakfast or sunset dinner at Skyline and The Pantry offers a mix of comfort food and artisan deli snacks around the clock. 

All of the hotel’s 248 stylish guest rooms and suites have either city or river views and feature rain showers, dedicated work stations with free wi-fi, and a media hub docking station. 

The rooftop infinity pool is undoubtedly the star turn, and a multi-purpose sunken lounge area located in the middle of the terrace has a retractable roof providing sunlight or shade, depending on the desired mood. 

At the opposite end of the terrace, Attitude is achingly hip. Different areas of the restaurant and bar are designed for socialising or being seen and include an indoor lounge with a DJ booth, an open kitchen, wine wall and outdoor lounge-style restaurant and bar. 

Cocktails are the highlight, like the Molecule of Love, a blend of Chambord liqueur, Malibu and strawberry-flavoured caviar pearls to make it pop.

There is a gym with views and a spa, as well as conference facilities. 

The hotel’s riverside location means it offers a shuttle boat service to the Asiatique night market and entertainment complex, and also the BTS Skytrain at the central Saphan Taksin pier. 

Rates start from around $300 a night - and there is a shopping mall below the hotel. 

AVANI Riverside Bangkok, 257 Charoennakorn Road, Thon Buri, Bangkok 10600. 
+66 2 431 9100.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Trip Advisor slam dunk for the Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley outshone all its rivals after being named with two of the top three restaurants in the country in the new TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice listing of the best restaurants in Australia.

Now TripAdvisor can be flaky and its advice can easily be manipulated, but two out of three is a tremendous result for the Hunter.

Muse Restaurant at Hungerford Hill (above), run by husband and wife team Troy and Megan Rhoades-Brown. was given the No.1 position in Australia and 15 in the world, while Restaurant Botanica (below) was named No.3 in Australia.

I've eaten in both establishments and they are world class.

"With growing tourism numbers both from domestic and international sources, the Hunter Valley has a lot to boast about: premium restaurants; a full range of accommodation; spectacular attractions; golf resorts; and the wines and their cellar doors," said George Souris, chairman of the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association (HVWTA), who specialises in boring quotes.

The Travellers' Choice awards reflect reviews made by travellers and diners on TripAdvisor.

This year's awards recognise 528 restaurants overall, including the top 25 fine dining in the world and dedicated lists for Asia, Canada, Europe, India, Mexico, South America, South Pacific, the UK and the US.

Award winners were determined using an algorithm that took into account the quantity and quality of reviews for restaurants around the world, gathered over a 12-month period.

"Hunter Valley Wine Country, only two hours north of Sydney and right on the doorstep of Australia's gateway city, has gained recognition as a premier wine and food destination," Souris said.

Keen observers of the dining scene will note that not one Melbourne restaurant appears on the list (maybe the vote was spread among several standouts), while an upmarket fish and chippery on the Gold Coast obviously made a lot of people very happy.

The Stunned Mullet in Port Macquarie, reviewed here a couple of months ago, also made the list.

Here are the top 10:

1. Muse Restaurant – Pokolbin, New South Wales

2. est. – Sydney, New South Wales

3. Restaurant Botanica – Pokolbin, New South Wales

4. Nobu Japanese Restaurant – Burswood, Perth

5. fermentAsian – Tanunda, South Australia

6. Spirit House – Yandina, Queensland

7. Spice Bar – Mooloolaba, Queensland

8. The Stunned Mullet – Port Macquarie, New South Wales

9. Courgette Restaurant – Canberra, ACT

10. Omeros Bros Seafood Restaurant – Main Beach, Gold Coast

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Iconic Sydney hotel concludes 50th birthday in style

Sofitel Sydney Wentworth and Qantas Airways have teamed up to hold a historic public exhibition to conclude the original Wentworth hotel’s year-long 50th-anniversary celebration.

Inviting guests to step back in time, the exhibition will run from now until December 31 and features a selection of heritage artifacts and imagery stretching from 1966, when the hotel was originally owned and built by Qantas Airways and was Sydney's first five-star hotel. 

The display will feature a photo exhibition of the iconic Wentworth Hotel, from its first days of construction through to fashion highlights and famous celebrities and royal visits.

To demonstrate its intertwined history, guests of Sofitel Sydney Wentworth are invited to explore the hotel’s beginnings as the Qantas Wentworth Hotel via a display of restored objects and mementos, including a miniature hotel model, which was sent around the world to promote the hotel and its convention facilities, a display of original 1960s Qantas uniforms, and a replica business class lounge.

Clive Scott, the first general manager of Sofitel Sydney Wentworth says: “Sofitel Sydney Wentworth is one of the grand old dames of hotels. It will always have pride of place in Sydney and Australia. It has historical significance as a property and landmark in Sydney. Many people across the world have fond memories in their hearts as a special place to stay.”

This free exhibition will be on display in the hotel lobby and on level 3 of the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth located at 61-101 Phillip Street, Sydney. 

Guests are also invited to stay overnight with the hotel’s 50th Anniversary luxury leisure escape package, which includes an anniversary-themed mini High Tea selection upon arrival including Ronnefeldt tea, breakfast served in-room every morning and the "luxury of time" with late check-out until 4pm. 

Discover more and visit or call (02) 9228 9188.