Thursday, October 13, 2022
Thursday, April 21, 2022
|Broadway Tower, Broadway, Worcestershire. ©AP|
I love Britain's West Midlands in the heart of England, especially patchwork fields, walking trails, history, castles, villages, gardens, all things Shakespeare and the glorious countryside. My heart skips a beat whenever I see the sinuous outline of the Malvern Hills (the Sleeping Dragon) and to walk on them is magical.
But in researching and developing my travel App, Birmingham & West Midlands, I've also channelled some family roots that are firmly planted in the heart of the industrial Midlands.
These include Quarry Bank, Brierley Hill and Dudley in the industrial Black Country where you'll find the fascinating Black Country Living Museum – think Peaky Blinders and much more. Also Coventry, a recent City of Culture.
Food? Yes, I'm a fan of the countryside's fresh produce, farm shops, great pubs, lively cafes plus the brilliant multicultural cuisine of Birmingham. Artisan distilleries, craft breweries and vineyards are outstanding in this region. I love Morgan cars, too!
Foodie Ludlow in Shropshire is a great place to visit, especially on market days, while the entire Welsh border country is dreamy and atmospheric – perfect for country drives and exploring.
My App dives into industrial heritage, leads you to vintage transport collections so symbolic of the Midlands, as well as many specialist museums, energised with interactive displays and dynamic exhibitions. Some such as the Almonry (below) are significant buildings and treasure troves in themselves, recording fascinating local history including the destruction of Evesham's great abbey.
In England I am based close to Evesham, the North Cotswold village of Broadway and just a stone's throw from Stratford-upon-Avon. I love the black and white architecture and thatched cottages of the Midlands as well as the honey-coloured stone houses of the Cotswolds.
|The Almonry, Evesham.©AP|
I'm also a short drive from Coventry, now emphasising its heritage with landmarks including the Telegraph newspaper building repurposed as hotels and accommodation, as well as heritage walks, the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum and the Coventry Music Museum. Coventry Cathedral has a very special place in my heart – my father was born in Coventry and loved the old cathedral, so sadly destroyed.
Meanwhile, Birmingham has been busy regenerating its city centre with impressive buildings such as The Cube, home to Hotel Indigo Birmingham and Marco Pierre White's Steakhouse, Bar & Grill (think modern comfort food and champagne). Dishoom Birmingham promises Irani/Bombay fusion, all welcome. Bakeries and cafes reflect the mix of influences and there's fine dining, too. Vegans and vegetarians, so often neglected in the past, can travel and eat well.
|The Library of Birmingham.©Visit Birmingham|
|The Garrick pub, Stratford-upon-Avon.©AP|
I might be the only one to think this, but I'm quite taken with the echoes I see in the Library of Birmingham's decorative exterior patterns and those of The Garrick pub in Stratford-upon-Avon, thought to be the oldest in town. Shakespeare himself may well have imbibed at the Garrick as it is very close to th recently re-vamped New Place where he lived in his later years until he died. Of course Stratford-upon-Avon is a key Midlands' attraction, with much ado about Shakespeare and the beautiful houses associated with him and his family including Anne Hathaway's Cottage and Shakespeare's Birthplace.
|Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Shottery, Stratford-upon-Avon.©AP|
Major Rivers in the Midlands include the Trent, Tame, Avon, Severn and Wye (forming the English/ Welsh border for much of its length) and the area is linked by a network of canals built to carry freight at the height of the Industrial Revolution. Canal boat holidays are a rewarding way to travel through the countryside and right into the heart of towns and cities including Birmingham, Stourport-on-Severn, Stoke-on-Trent, Stratford-upon-Avon, Upton-upon-Severn.
|The Hatton Flight of locks, Warwickshire.©AP|
|Canal boat on the River Avon.©AP|
|Bourton House Garden. ©AP|
Friday, August 6, 2021
Slingology – the new art of Raffles' Singapore Sling cocktail, now refreshed with craft ingredients and sustainability
Recently enjoying an extensive restoration, Raffles Hotel Singapore has gone to great lengths to retain the ambience and service so loved by its devoted clientele while appealing to those who are yet to experience its charms. Cosy social spaces and courtyards, new restaurants and bars are all part of the recipe along with treasured venues including the Long Bar, the mention of which triggered a fond memory.
|The Sling at the Long Bar. © Raffles Hotel Singapore|
My last visit to the hotel a few years ago was to attend an intimate, luxurious wedding reception in a private dining room. Between copious intriguing courses I was whisked away on a tour of some timber walkways framed by arches. My guide (a fellow wedding guest) hurried me along and I lost a heel from one of my slingback shoes on the way – I planned to return in daylight to look for it but that didn't happen. Despite my not being well-heeled, we all had a last drink in the Long Bar after the reception dinner. Inevitably, the group decision was that a Singapore Sling would make up for my loss!
Star of the Long Bar
It's too late to retrace those exact steps now, but happily the Long Bar remains, complete with the iconic Singapore Sling now revitalised after its own makeover. Using craft ingredients, the cocktail's taste has been refreshed to suit modern palates while the use of ecoSPIRITS makes it more sustainable and environmentally-friendly.
|New delivery for the Singapore Sling. ©Raffles Hotel Singapore.|
Adding to its accolades, the Singapore Sling has become the forerunner for Raffles Hotel Singapore in its move to reduce single-use waste and the carbon footprint. Working with Proof & Company and patent-pending ecoSPIRITS technology, key ingredients Widges Gin, Luxardo Cherry Sanque Morlacco and Ferrand Dry Curaçao are delivered to Long Bar in patent-pending ecoTOTETM format, saving tens of thousands of glass bottles each year.
Cocktail in Disguise
Originally created in 1915 by Ngiam Tong Boon, a Hainanese bartender at Raffles Hotel Singapore, the Singapore Sling cleverly disguised a cocktail as fruit juice. Why? Etiquette required that ladies shouldn't consume alcohol in public, so their choice of beverage was limited to tea and fruit juices. Ngiam Tong Boon saw an opportunity, creating a cocktail that looked like a fruit juice but was actually infused with gin and other liqueurs. It was a hit!
He used pineapple and lime juices for a tropical flavour and cleverly masked it in pink with grenadine syrup to give it a feminine flair, leading people to think it was a socially acceptable drink for women. Today the Sling continues to delight and inspire with its rich heritage and now a fresh taste. It's also the subject of a new Slingology cocktail bar collaboration in Singapore.
Tuesday, June 8, 2021
How lovely is this? Celebrating 200 years of an Austrian musical tradition, the Forelle Ensemble is currently travelling through NSW/ACT in the spirit of Franz Schubert whose Lieder (songs) were played to small groups of friends in intimate musical soirees that became known as "Schubertiaden”. The Forelle Ensemble will perform 10 concerts, taking listeners on a musical journey to Austria in Bowral, Canberra, Albury, Young and the gorgeous setting of the Hunter Valley's Winmark Wines.
Forelle is the brain-child of James Armstrong, winner of the ‘Austria Scholarship’ granted by Sydney Youth Orchestras and Austrian National Tourist Office. Visiting Vienna and Salzburg in early 2020, James fell in love with Austrian chamber music, especially the music of Franz Schubert.
|The Forelle Ensemble.©|
To honour Schubert and as a reference to one of the composer’s most famous chamber music pieces ‘Forellenquintett’ (Trout Quintet), James Armstrong formed the Forelle Ensemble with four fellow students of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Members include Lilly Bennett (double bass), James Armstrong (violin), Angela Shin (cello), Estelle Shircore Barker (piano) and Aisha Goodman (viola).
The first documented Schubertiade took place 200 years ago in 1821 and the term still refers to intimate concerts and festivals around the world, in all kinds of settings. Most famous is the Schubertiade Festival in Austria's Alpine province Vorarlberg with around 80 events and 35,000 visitors annually, making it the biggest Schubert Festival in the world.
|Musicians Schubertiade, Bregenzerwald, Vorarlberg. (Bregenzerwald Tourism, Christopher Lingg.)|
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to be able to play this beautiful repertoire of Schubert’s music. We can reimagine it in the sense that we are performing music which was composed in the Austrian countryside and we are bringing it to the countryside here in NSW and ACT.”, says James Armstrong. “The works on the program are very colourful, each in their own way, to the extent that I imagine each piece as a postcard of Austria. The music intimately reflects the landscape and lifestyle - from the elegant and lavish decor of Viennese salons to the striking snow-capped Alps and lush green fields of the countryside. Schubert’s music illustrates these settings so sublimely.”
“James Armstrong stole the hearts of the Viennese with both his incredible talent as a young violinist but also with his curiosity and interest in Austrian classical music and culture during his time in Vienna early last year,” says Astrid Gruchmann-Licht, Director of the Austrian National Tourist Office in Sydney. “This year we were delighted to find out that James wanted to share his passion for Schubert - and for Austria - with Australian audiences in regional NSW and ACT and we partnered with the Forelle Ensemble to bring this project to life. I view it as a true collaboration and love the idea of an Australian Schubertiade”.
|James Armstrong performing Chamber Music at Hotel Sacher, Vienna, above, and enjoying beautiful Vienna, below. (ANTO, Marion Carniel.)|
* Public events: tickets and more information are available on Eventbrite (E) or via the venue website
Source: Austria National Tourism news release
Friday, April 2, 2021
Here's exciting news for those in search of exclusive dining experiences – Restaurant Amara at Spicers Sangoma Retreat in the Blue Mountains is now taking a small number of outside bookings. So now you don't have to be an in-house guest to experience the highly creative degustation menus by head chef Will Houia, but you'll wish you were!
|Amara - Eggplant taco shell, smoked mushroom and pea flowers|
Amara is the Zulu word for grace and the restaurant's philosophy is to provide a graceful dining experience, drawing on an ecosystem of local producers and sustainable on-site practices reflecting the natural bushland surrounds.
|Amara - King Edward potato, marigold, sage and basil|
|Amara - Squid confit stuffed with chicken and tarragon mousse, fennel, chicken broth|
The daily seven course dinner degustation menu and five course lunches on Friday to Sunday are all based on the freshest organic and seasonal produce available within 100km of Sangoma, including the Hawkesbury region. Amara's ‘Harvest Menu’ shared lunch concept, offered on Monday to Thursday, focuses on one succulent protein and four of the freshest organic vegetables, mostly sourced from local friends at Harvest Farms, followed by dessert.
|Amara - Milk skins, hazelnut praline, smoked ice cream, raspberries, dulche|
Chef Will Houia prefers traditional cooking techniques with charcoal and fire and the use of controlled dehydration to prepare fruit and veggies, as well as indigenous ingredients to add subtle layers of flavour. Why not stay for a week and have Will cook for you every day?
|Amara - Head Chef Will Houia|
Restaurant Amara, Spicers Sangoma Retreat
70 Grandview Lane, Bowen Mountain NSW 2753
Amara dining only guests - an intimate fine-dining experience by appointment
Dinner - 7 course degustation. 7 days 6pm-9pm $125pp
Lunch - 5 course degustation. Friday to Sunday 12.30pm-2.00pm $105pp
Lunch – Harvest Menu. Monday to Thursday 12.30pm-2.00pm $85pp
Please advise any dietaries at the time of booking
In-house guests dine 7 days
Breakfast, Harvest Menu Lunch Mon-Thurs & 5 Course Lunch Fri-Sun, 7 Course Dinner
|Spicers Sangoma Retreat, Blue Mountains, NSW|
Monday, March 15, 2021
|Peter Garrett and Midnight Oil, Hope Estate. Image © AP|
|Midnight Oil onstage, Hope Estate. Image © AP|
|Troy Cassar-Daley and the crowd we were part of at Hope Estate. Image ©AP|
Alice Skye's quiet, awesome ownership of a stage set up for a phenomenal rock band still sends shivers down my spine. Playing piano and accompanied by twins on guitar and drums, Alice, a Wergaia/Wemba Wemba person from Horsham, Victoria, played her heartfelt songs including her own I Feel Better, but I Don't Feel Good, also Terror Australia , written by Peter Garrett and Bones Hillman (Wayne Stevens) who sadly died in November 2020.
|Alice Skye at Hope Estate, Image © AP|
Hopefully heading out of Covid are we going back to a better, more thoughtful world?
How good is this? School children in lockdown around the world can hook up with a live personal call to see elephants in their natural jungle habitat in Northern Thailand at Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort.
|Virtual field trips at Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp © Anantara|
The complimentary service offers virtual participation in a jungle field trip including the resort’s Walking With Giants experience to get to know the elephants and develop a connection with them. The community initiative follows the success of ’s (GTAEF) live streams of rescued elephants walking in the jungle and taking a mud bath in the Ruak River.