Jeweller death: fingerprints analysed, court hears

Dermot O’Toole, second from left, with his wife Bridget and sons Dale, Christian and Trent.Fingerprints on packaging that contained a knife that was used in the fatal stabbing of a Hastings jeweller are being analysed to determine if they belong to the man charged with his murder, a court has heard.
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Gavin Perry, 26, appeared in Melbourne Magistrates Court court on Monday, charged with the murder of Dermot O’Toole, 64, who was allegedly stabbed for stock worth $200 at his shop, The Jewel Shed, on July 12.

Mr O’Toole’s wife of 41 years, Bridget, was also stabbed.

The court heard prosecutors were still waiting for the results of forensic testing, which included an analysis of fingerprints found on the packaging of a knife stolen from a nearby supermarket.

A blood sample from a nearby laneway, where Mr Perry was seen falling to the ground, was also analysed, the court heard.

As magistrate Charlie Rozencwajg went through the list of witnesses to be called at Mr Perry’s committal hearing, the court was told one witness had identified the accused man outside the shop, having met him the previous night.

Mrs O’Toole was one of six potential witnesses who would not have to give evidence at the committal, the court heard.

CCTV footage would be shown during the committal, the court was told.

Mr Perry, dressed in a green tracksuit in the dock, also faces charges of armed robbery and intentionally causing serious injury.

Members of Mr O’Toole’s family were in court for Monday’s proceedings.

Mr Perry was remanded in custody to appear again on March 24.

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Benefits of buying interstate

Thinking ahead: Ralph Nicholson at his home in Williamstown. Photo: Ken IrwinThere is no denying the residential property market is heating up as investors flood back in, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne. If your local area or state is getting more expensive, then perhaps it might be time to look interstate, at areas that are yet to become the next big thing.
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In fact, buying the current ”hot spot” is often a recipe for trouble as, if everybody already knows about it, the opportunities for growth have probably been exhausted.

The founder of property advice company Destiny Financial Solutions, Margaret Lomas, has 40 investment properties, many of which are interstate. She says buying interstate forces you to do more research about the property and area you are about to invest in. ”I think it’s a brilliant idea to buy interstate,” she says.

”It comes down to knowing how to ask the kind of questions that uncover the investment potential and growth drivers in an area.”

The problem with buying close to home, according to Lomas, is that we believe we know the area when we may not actually be as knowledgeable as we think. Interestingly, she also says seeing or inspecting a property is not always a good thing.

”I think actually looking at a property is dangerous, because it allows you to have an emotional buy-in,” Lomas says.

Property investor, journalist and author of Smart Property Investment Peter Cerexhe says that buying interstate can be a good idea, but that you need to be careful of when and how you do it.

”For a start, there is a well-known risk of buying property in haste while on holiday,” he says.

If you’re visiting a holiday town you might start to believe that property is cheap, just because it’s cheaper than home, which is probably a major capital city.

”A quick trip is potentially more dangerous than not going at all, if you are relying on the expertise of a reasonable professional,” he says.

Our case study Ralph, at left, relies on a network he has hooked into, via Destiny Financial Solutions, to inspect local properties that are not in his state of Victoria, but he doesn’t visit them himself.

Louis Christopher, managing director of property research company SQM Research, says you need to be careful of dodgy property promoters who are coming back into the market as it heats up. ”Whatever you do, don’t speak to property spruikers offering you free flights to the Gold Coast or whatever. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, the cost has got to go somewhere,” he says.

Different states also have different stamp duty structures and land tax, which you need to be aware of before you buy.

Capital gain potential

But the fundamentals for buying interstate and buying locally should not change. You need to find areas that have diversified industries, that is to say they do not rely on one sector such as tourism, councils with money to spend on infrastructure, growing household incomes and a growing population. ”You don’t want to be distracted just by the property,” Cerexhe says. ”The local economy is absolutely key.” And you should try to buy those areas before anyone else does.

You should also consider, like our case study Ralph, property structures that could appeal to the widest share of buyers, which in most cases are families.

All of the above might sound like a big ask, but it’s not impossible and you will end up with a much better investment than if you just jumped on the nearest property boom closest to you.Profile taken interstate

Ralph Nicholson is 53 and lives in Victoria, but four of his seven properties are outside that state. He has two in NSW and two in Queensland.

”I looked at my situation three years ago and I thought we may not have enough to survive comfortably,” he says.

His interstate property investment plan is therefore his retirement plan.

After one misstep buying in a bushfire prone area that took a long time to eventually sell, Ralph took it upon himself to get better educated and do more thorough research. ”As an investor you need confidence to buy in other markets, or else it’s a real risk and you’ve got to mitigate those risks by doing your research,” he says.

But he also values the local agent contacts he has found through his property investment adviser. ”I don’t think, even given the education, I would be confident buying in those areas unless I have those local contacts,” he says.

He buys properties that have the potential to appeal to the greatest market, which means residential houses for families with four bedrooms or at least three. ”I just try and buy garden-variety buildings, hopefully with enough land, because I place a fair degree of emphasis on land value.”

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Be realistic, vendors warned as selling season nears end

1028 Glenhuntly Road, Caulfield South, was sold under the hammer for $835,000. Photo: Ken IrwinProperty sellers are being warned to be realistic about the prices they can expect to achieve for their houses and flats with only five weeks left before the market closes for its summer hiatus.
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Melbourne turned in another solid set of results over the weekend with a few runaway successes, but some agents reported a shortage of bidders.

Melbourne’s clearance rate of 72 per cent over the weekend was derived from 925 auctions reported to the Real Estate Institute of Victoria; Australian Property Monitors (owned by Fairfax Media) reported a slightly higher 73 per cent from 692 results and research house RP Data produced a lower 69.2 per cent clearance rate from 996 results.

RP Data spokesman Robert Larocca said this was only the second weekend in 14 weeks with the clearance rate falling below 70 per cent.

”It’s too early to say the market’s pulling back but it certainly shows it’s not racing away from us,” Mr Larocca said.

Sydney had its biggest weekend of auctions with 784 properties under the hammer. APM reported an 84 per cent clearance rate.

The REIV data shows 124 properties sold before auction and 262 passed in – 142 of them on a vendor bid. A further 141 results have yet to be reported to the REIV.

While not a stellar performance, the market is much healthier than last year when a 59 per cent clearance rate was achieved on a weekend with 1100 auctions.

The solid results follow the Reserve Bank’s decision last week to keep the cash rate on hold for another month but there is some speculation that further cuts to the historic low rate of 2.5 per cent could occur next year in a bid to hold down the value of the dollar.

Some of the biggest deals of the weekend sold for close to their reserve prices. Kay & Burton’s Gowan Stubbings had the two biggest auctions in Toorak.

Just off Heyington Place, 3 Rostill Court fetched $3.02 million, only slightly over its $3 million reserve, with competition from two bidders. Mr Stubbings said the buyer planned to live in the house, which is on 692 square metres.

An hour later, he auctioned 21A Albany Road, a single-level three-bedroom townhouse. While the result is undisclosed, it is understood to have sold for $4.55 million after a single bid.

Mr Stubbings would not confirm the price but he emphasised how much time and effort went into educating vendors about the value of their properties. ”People have to be realistic about … valuing their homes. The buyer pool is big but vendors have to be realistic,” he said. ”We’ve really only got five weeks to go … there are buyers out there for pretty much everything so long as vendors meet the market.”

Williams Batters director Philippe Batters said: ”We find there are very, very good results but they aren’t happening all the time. I keep reading that we’re in a boom market; the trouble is, some vendors believe it.

”If a property is really good, people will fight for it. It doesn’t mean it’s really expensive, it just means it has special features,” Mr Batters said.

As summer is beckoning, the number of beach houses on the market has started to increase but the buyers are slow to arrive.

Prentice Real Estate agent Don Campbell put two properties from a deceased estate to auction on Saturday but the house at 19 Oxford Street, Sorrento, was passed in on a vendor bid of $500,000 and an adjoining block of vacant land was passed in, also on a vendor bid, at $450,000.

”Even in the current market, $450,000-$500,000 for a block of land in Sorrento is cheap, very cheap,” Mr Campbell said.

”Things down here are pretty slow. We’re not reflecting what’s going on uptown. Rye and Rosebud, the cheaper end of the market, are going well. But from Blairgowrie to Portsea, it’s very slow.

Kay & Burton had better luck in Flinders, where 14 Bass Street, a four-bedroom beach house with sea views, sold for $1.645 million.

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Remembrance Day in the Hunter: photos

IN MEMORIAM: Wreaths laid during the commemoration of Remembrance Day at Newcastle City Hall. Picture by Simone De Peak Scenes from the Remembrance Day service in Newcastle. Picture by Simone De Peak
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PAYING RESPECTS: Ron Smith of Hexham salutes at the commemoration of Remembrance Day at Newcastle City Hall. Picture by Simone De Peak

PROUD RECORD: A former serviceman wears his medals at Newcastle City Hall, where 150 people attended the ceremony. Picture by Simone De Peak

STANDING TALL: Geoffrey Baigent and Joyce Foster pay homage to the fallen at the Civic Park War Memorial. Picture by Simone De Peak

NEVER FORGET: WRANS members Elaine Wallace, a radar operator in the ’60s and Rhonda Boag, a navy medic in the ’70s. Picture by Simone De Peak

Scenes from the Remembrance Day service in Newcastle. Picture by Simone De Peak

Scenes from the Remembrance Day service in Newcastle. Picture by Simone De Peak

THE Hunter stood silent for one minute at Remembrance Day ceremonies across the region yesterday, when thousands reflected on the brave sacrifice of those who lost their lives or were wounded fighting for their country.

The rain proved no deterrent for attendees with many ceremonies moved indoors, including the City of Newcastle RSL Sub-Branch ceremony planned for Civic Park relocated to City Hall.

A crowd of about 150 inside the venue sang and prayed before observing 60 seconds of silence at 11am – the time when the Allies and Germany signed the Armistice to officially end World War I on Monday, November 11, 1918.

Remembrance Day was originally known as Armistice Day, but was renamed after World War II to commemorate those who had died or suffered in all wars, armed conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

City of Newcastle RSL Sub-Branch President Ken Fayes was the third generation in his family to serve, following in the footsteps of his grandfathers – who served in World War I on the HMAS Melbourne and in the Light Horse Brigade in Palestine – and his parents who served in the RAAF and WAAF in World War II.

He said yesterday he was thinking of the mates he served alongside in Vietnam, where he was deployed with the army in January 1970.

‘‘I still see their faces every day,’’ he said.

‘‘But no-one remembers the bad things, we celebrate the friendships that have formed through thick and thin and have a laugh.

‘‘There’s virtually nobody out there who hasn’t had someone in their family make a sacrifice of some sort in the name of freedom.

‘‘We wouldn’t be who we are without them, regardless of where it [the conflict] was or when it was.’’

Hunter President of the WRANS Naval Women’s Association Rhonda Boag remembered her father Noel Barden, who served with the army in Papua New Guinea during World War II and later inspired his daughter to join the navy as a medic at 18.

‘‘He never spoke about any of the fighting, only the mischief the young servicemen got up to – everything else was too horrific.’’

Former WRANS radar operator Elaine Wallace paid homage to her father Tom Colquhoun, who was in the Air Force and maintained Catalinas at Rathmines, and his brothers George and Jack who served with the army in the Pacific Islands.

‘‘We must never forget, we need to carry this through to the next generation,’’ she said.

‘‘History governs the future and if you forget history, you end up in the same position again.’’

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Cruise director

Comfortable: A verandah suite on the Seabourn Odyssey. Relax: The spa pool.
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Degustation menu: Restaurant 2 on the Seabourn Odyssey. Photo: Michel Verdure

Were you among the thousands of passengers on board Pacific Pearl and Pacific Jewel for the Melbourne Cup cruise last week?

If you missed the boat this year, you can book now for the 2014 event on the same ships.

Carnival Spirit is also doing a Melbourne Cup cruise next year and there are some exciting big event cruises coming up, at home and overseas.

First up is the 2014 Australian Open Tennis, which runs from January 13 to 26. P&O Cruises is offering a four-night cruise to Melbourne on Pacific Pearl, a round-trip from Sydney departing January 20. Your fare includes transfers and general admission into the grounds, and for $100 you can get ticket upgrades to Rod Laver Arena.

If you’re a tennis fan who happens to be cruising on Silver Shadow from Melbourne to Bali on January 19, you can take advantage of the line’s three-night pre-cruise package to the Australian Open. It includes reserved seating in the Rod Laver Arena, and access to all outdoor courts, the Melbourne Park precinct for night sessions and exclusive bars.

The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is one of the world’s biggest parties. It attracts some 2 million spectators to its wild parades and legendary balls and takes place between February 28 and March 4.

It’s not too late to book a cruise on Holland America Line’s Maasdam, which will be in Rio for three days on its 26-day Amazon and Carnaval Explorer itinerary. MSC Orchestra will dock in Rio on March 1 after a three-night cruise that leaves the city on February 26.

Formula one fans also have a choice of ships that will be on the spot for the 72nd Monaco Formula One Grand Prix.

If you’re cruising on Silver Spirit, you could take a land package that includes Tribune K seating, right in the thick of the action, on Sunday, May 25.

Azamara Quest and Azamara Journey will rendezvous at the port on race day; Quest will be on a four-day round-trip from Nice; and Journey is offering an eight-day Grand Prix cruise from Rome

to Barcelona.

Star Clippers’ tall ship Star Flyer will be in town for the trials on May 22 as part of its seven-night round trip from Cannes – an interesting combination of traditional sailing and the world’s most thrilling race for petrolheads!

[email protected]南京夜网.au.

SEABOURN ODYSSEYShipshape: Seabourn Odyssey

LAUNCHED 2009. Seabourn Odyssey, pictured, is almost identical to sister ships Sojourn (2011) and Quest (2011). A fourth ship in the series is due to launch in 2016.

PASSENGERS & CREW 450 passengers (double occupancy); crew 330.

ACCOMMODATION Out of 225 suites, 90 per cent have verandahs. The Wintergarden Suites are the biggest and have their own private solariums; suites range from 30 to 120 square metres.

REGULAR HAUNTS Middle East, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Europe.

PERFECT FOR Sophisticated couples and singles, 40-plus.

DINING Four dining venues: The Restaurant (fine dining in a super-cool contemporary space); Restaurant 2 (degustation menus for 50 guests); The Colonnade (indoor-outdoor buffet and bistro); and the poolside Patio Grill. All drinks are included in the dining rooms and bars throughout the ship.

PARTYING The Club on Deck 5 is the spot for dancing the night away; for a quieter ambience, there’s piano music in the Observation Bar. The Grand Salon hosts a variety of shows.

DOING Odyssey has a smallish water sports marina stocked with kayaks and other water toys used when the ship is at anchor in hot climates. There is a large, two-deck spa that has six treatment rooms, saunas, steam rooms, a fitness studio with a Kinesis Wall, and a gym.

DID YOU KNOW? Frequent Seabourn cruisers earn Seabourn Club Benefits – including a free cruise after ten 14-day cruises.

THE DETAILS Fares from $5499 per person for Seabourn Odyssey’s Auckland to Sydney voyage, January 10, 2014. Calls include Tauranga, Wellington, Picton, Akaroa and Oban; cruising Fiordland; stops at Melbourne, Geelong and Burnie. Phone 13 24 02, see seabourn南京夜网.Deals

OFFER OF THE WEEK

When you’re looking for value for money it’s hard to beat this 22-night fly/cruise/stay package from Sydney to Hong Kong for $2439. P&O World Cruises’ Aurora departs on February 16, 2014, and the package includes a 20-night cruise, two nights at the Marco Polo hotel in Hong Kong and return airfares to Sydney. Phone 1300 369 848, see ecruising.travel.

OTHER DEALS

UNIWORLD Save $300 per person on 14-day cruises from Vienna to Amsterdam on luxury vessels River Duchess or River Princess, when you book and pay in full by November 29. All-inclusive fares from $7299 for departures between April 28 and November 1, 2014. Phone (02) 9028 5199, see uniworldcruises南京夜网.au.

AURORA EXPEDITIONS The 20-day ‘‘In Shackleton’s Footsteps’’ voyage to Antarctica and South Georgia (round-trip from Ushuaia, Argentina) departs March 11, 2014, on Polar Pioneer. Experts will lead tours. Book and pay a deposit by December 31 and save 20 per cent. From $US12,415. 1800 637 688, see auroraexpeditions南京夜网.au.Tip

It’s getting harder to be a smoker on cruise ships, but it is still legal – you just have to abide by the rules, and these vary from ship to ship. If you’re on a ship where smoking is allowed on your balcony (very few of those nowadays, although the new Europa 2 is one of them), show consideration to your neighbours and book a cabin at the aft end of the ship so the smoke blows out to sea and not into the next-door cabin. Most ships have a cigar lounge and designated areas where cigarette smoking is permitted, but be warned, if you break the rules you can expect a hefty fine.

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Shore excursion

Bob Henry and his wife Rhonda with a staff member at the St Kilian Kellerei.WHAT Visiting a historic Bavarian distillery.
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WHERE The town of Miltenberg, via the port of Wertheim in southern Germany.

THE SHIP Bob cruised with his wife, Rhonda, on Scenic Ruby (scenictours南京夜网). They chose the popular 14-night Jewels of Europe river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam.

THE EXPERIENCE

“The St Kilian Kellerei cellars are a real gem in the beautiful Bavarian region of Germany,” says Bob.

“We docked in the quaint, mediaeval town of Wertheim and took a short coach ride to Miltenberg, where the cellars are in the centre of town.

“We had been offered a huge range of shore excursions, from hiking and mountainbiking to a German biscuit-making workshop, but having the Stone Pine Distillery in our hometown of Bathurst gave us an interest in visiting the St Kilian Kellerei.

“We toured the historic vaulted cellars, which can be traced back to 1482, when tunnels up to 100 metres deep were constructed in the red sandstone.

“The temperature in the cellars is below 10 degrees Celsius all year round, so the conditions are optimal for storing alcohol. With the addition of nearby winter ice, further cooling down to zero degrees was possible, in the days before fridges and freezers.

“After our tour and history lesson we went to the tasting room where you can taste up to 20 samples of schnapps and brandies, predominantly made from local fruits, berries and nuts.

“The blueberry schnapps was our favourite, so we purchased a bottle to take home. We were told it was very good with ice-cream, so we were keen to experiment.”

VALUE FOR MONEY

Shore excursions are included on Scenic cruises.

“We have previously travelled with other tour operators where you are constantly reaching into your pocket to pay for extras, including shore excursions, but everything was included with Scenic,” says Bob.

“Having it that way gives you genuine opportunities to select experiences based on your level of interest, rather than price.”

As told to Jane E. Fraser

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The Tripologist

Papers in order: Make sure you have enough time left on your passport before travelling.MY THREE-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER AND I HAVE A DUST MITE ALLERGY SO WHENEVER WE STAY IN A HOTEL WE ARE OVERCOME BY DUST AND OTHER IRRITANTS. MY DAUGHTER ALSO HAS A PEANUT ALLERGY WITH AN ANAPHYLAXIS RISK, WHICH ALSO AFFECTS OUR ABILITY TO GO ON HOLIDAY. ARE THERE HOTELS OR CHAINS IN AUSTRALIA THAT SPECIFICALLY CATER FOR PEOPLE WITH DUST ALLERGIES AND OTHER ALLERGIES?
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A. BARNES, GOONELLABAH, NSW

Accor (accorhotels南京夜网.au) has a number of hotels with dedicated allergy-free rooms. Allmitee Healthy Sleeping (allmitee南京夜网) is a South Australia-based cleaning specialist that can provide you with a list of hypoallergenic guest rooms in Adelaide and surrounds. Check the Healthy Hotels Guide (healthyhotels南京夜网.au) for a list of hotels that might fit your criteria. Ideally, you want a hotel room with no carpet, but with anti-allergy pillows and mattresses, blinds, no soft furnishings, good natural ventilation and where housekeeping staff use only scent-free cleaning products. The Allergy Friendly Hotels website (allergyfriendlyhotels南京夜网) has useful tips. Most hotels are conscientious when serving diners with an anaphylaxis risk. However, peanuts and peanut oil are frequently used in some Asian cuisines. These restaurants may be best avoided.

MY HUSBAND IS IN GOOD HEALTH, BUT HE USES TWO WALKING STICKS TO GET AROUND. I HAVE ASKED IN LOCAL TRAVEL AGENTS AND FIND THEIR ANSWERS TO MY QUESTIONS ARE NOT REALISTIC, E.G. A RHINE CRUISE WITH WALKING SHORE EXCURSIONS AT A MODERATE TO FAST PACE, OR SOUTH AFRICAN GAME SAFARIS. DO YOU KNOW OF AN AGENT OR A COMPANY WHO MAY BE ABLE TO HELP? HE IS INTERESTED IN EUROPE.

S. PIPER, WAHROONGA

If you and your husband have a hankering to see animals on the tawny plains of Africa, go for it. In my experience, the staff at game lodges will care for your husband as if he is their flesh and blood. If getting your husband on a safari vehicle is the extent of your worries, you really won’t have a problem. Talk to Bench International (benchinternational南京夜网.au) or the Classic Safari Co (classicsafaricompany南京夜网.au). Europe is not so easy. Everywhere requires walking. A cruise that involves scenery, rather than foot slogging, might be a good option. Special Care Travel (specialcaretravel南京夜网.au), Leisure Options (leisureoptions南京夜网.au) and Clubmates Travel (clubmatestravel南京夜网) are just a few of the operators that specialise in disabled travel.

A GROUP OF US WAS HEADING TO BALI FOR A WEEK; ONE OF US HAD SIX MONTHS AND ONE DAY LEFT ON THEIR PASSPORT AND WAS REFUSED A BOARDING PASS. A FRANTIC DASH TO PERTH WAS MADE – BUT THEY MISSED OUT ON THE HOLIDAY AND THEIR AIRFARES. IF A 10-YEAR PASSPORT IS ONLY USABLE FOR NINE YEARS AND SIX MONTHS, IS THAT A BREACH OF THE TERMS OF THE CONTRACT BETWEEN GOVERNMENT AND THE TRAVELLER? WHY WOULD A PASSPORT VALID FOR SIX MONTHS AND ONE DAY BE REFUSED FOR A SEVEN-DAY TRIP TO BALI?

P. OLDMAN, ARMADALE, WA

It seems to me the check-in staff got it wrong, and your friend should not have been denied boarding. According to the website of the Embassy of Indonesia in Canberra, the requirement for a tourist visa is “Passport still valid at least 6 months from the date of entry”. By the barest of margins, therefore, it appears that your friend’s passport would have qualified.

Regarding your other question, an adult Australian passport is normally valid for 10 years, and the bearer is entitled to leave and return to Australia until the very last day of that 10 years.

What the Indonesian government requires is another matter. But on the basis of the facts as you’ve presented them, the airline check-in staff were clearly wrong. I’d be pressing your case with the airline in question.

As well as asking for a refund of the ticket, your friend should consider the value of the holiday in Bali that he or she was denied, and include that in any claim for compensation.

Get everything in writing, and if you do not get a satisfactory response, contact the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (accc.gov.au).OVER TO YOU

The question was: “Do you use a search engine such as Hipmunk or Kayak to book flights, or for information only?”

“Skyscanner lists free flight comparisons worldwide, including the cheapest fares,” writes K. Shanahan. “I frequently use Skyscanner to book and pay for short internal/domestic flights in Asia and Europe.”

P. Markson says, “I really like the Momondo search engine because it seems to find cheap flights that are overlooked by others and it shows me exactly which dates within a month offer the cheapest fares. It’s especially good for flights within Europe.”

“Kayak gets my vote,” writes J. Reddy. “I can filter the results by cost, departure time, flight duration and airline among other factors.”

“I’ve just discovered Routehappy and it’s a real gem for finding the best flights,” according to K. Lim. “Not only does it give me fares, flight times etc in a simple readout, I can also get a ranking for factors such as seat pitch, on-board entertainment and flyer ratings.”

Next question: Have you got a clever way of beating the extortionate parking fees at Sydney Airport’s car parks? Send a response, or your travel question, to [email protected] com.au. All published responses will win a Lonely Planet guidebook.

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Famous Flyer

‘Locals give you insider tips – places to eat, hidden gems’: Damien Leith. Photo: Louisa Kirby Luxurious: The pool at the Taj Mahal Hotel.
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WHICH WAS YOUR BEST HOLIDAY?

A birthday celebration in Stockholm, Sweden in 2002. It was winter so the whole place was covered in silky white snow and we stayed in a boat hotel on a lake that had turned to ice so you could walk and ice skate on it. We discovered these great little vodka bars, trendy cafes and restaurants and partied all night on a sleek nightclub boat. It’s so special sitting by an open fire drinking warm glogg (mulled wine) and eating pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies).

AND THE BEST HOTEL YOU’VE STAYED IN?

My wife and I backpacked for months around India in 2003 and one night decided to splurge at the luxurious Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai (pictured above). We met an Indian fashion designer and had a very indulgent night drinking cocktails and swimming in the grand pool until the early hours of the morning. I even sang with the jazz band.

WHAT DO YOU ALWAYS TAKE WITH YOU?

A pen and notepad and my guitar. You never know when you’ll get inspired to write a song or have a good jam session.

WHAT’S YOUR BEST PIECE OF TRAVEL ADVICE?

Locals give you the best insider tips, places to eat and off-the-beaten track hidden gems. On a holiday to Italy in 2001 a local told us to go to Caorle, near Venice. No one spoke English, it had a beautiful beach and a gorgeous old town with colourful restaurants, bars and gelaterias. Magic.

AND YOUR WORST EXPERIENCE ON HOLIDAY?

Getting conjunctivitis in India was gross. I’d sit in the restaurants at night with my sunglasses on to cover my weeping, swollen eyes – people must have thought, “Who does he think he is?”

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO NEXT?

South America. I’d love to go to Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Peru to visit Machu Picchu and the Incas, and of course Rio for Carnival.

Damien Leith’s new album, Chapter Seven, came out on November 1. He is touring main cities and regional centres, finishing December 14 in Sydney.

Interview by Nina Karnikowski

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Dumpling delight

Delightful: Red lanterns in Chinatown. Photo: Linda McCormick’So, how do they get the soup inside the dumpling?” I asked, biting through the white luscious surface to let the salty contents pour forth.
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With a smirk, our guide, Monique, replied: “Ha, I was just waiting for someone to ask. Someone always does.” Her answer paralysed my swallowing reflex.

We were sitting in Shanghai Street dumpling house, savouring their Xiao Long Bao, which have had a cult following from day one. It was our third restaurant on the dumpling walking tour and I was quickly developing a whole new appreciation for these little morsels of goodness.

Dumplings come in all shapes and sizes, and, as I found out on the tour, are quite particular to certain areas of the world. There’s a way to fold them, cook them and eat them. And they’re all good.

Meeting at a pre-arranged point in the city centre, Monique from Walk Melbourne talked us through the plan for the night. Our group of nine would visit four of Melbourne’s fine dumpling establishments during the evening tour, which would take around three hours.

Our first stop was at North East China Family on Elizabeth Street. While we waited for the first serve of dumplings, Monique gave us a little history of the place and the people who run it. She pointed out a huge poster relaying the origin of the humble dumpling: “Jiao Zi date back 1800 years to the great medical practitioner Zhonging Zhang of East Han Dynasty in northern China, but the dumplings served up at North East China Family are a recipe perfected by one of the restaurant owner’s ancestors.”

Before tasting the dumplings, we were told how to make our own dipping sauce, which is very much up to personal preference. Monique recommends just a few drops of chilli oil in a small dish of soy sauce. I like a hint of heat, but my lips swell up with too much chilli – so I played it safe for the first tasting.

Two plates laden with spinach dumplings stuffed with cabbage and carrot were set in the middle of the table, sending my salivary glands into a little samba all of their own. I was hungry, but etiquette says one shouldn’t just dive in when in the presence of strangers, so I did the decent thing and waited until a few others had taken their first dumpling before nabbing mine. I breathed it in, hoping nobody noticed.

I can’t say I’m a fan of cabbage, but thankfully the Chinese variety tastes very different to the mush I was used to as a child. I gave the second dumpling a little more attention.

After dipping it into my personally mixed sauce I gingerly took a bite, waiting for the chilli to sting. But it didn’t. It was just right. It maybe could have had a little more kick, but I wanted to preserve my tastebuds for later.

Leaving the dumpling house, we walked north through the city streets, following Monique to the next destination. It was an opportunity to find out more about the walking tours, which have been running for a bit over a year.

Monique left a well-paying corporate job to do something more fulfilling. Being passionate about Melbourne’s food, wine and coffee scene, she decided to share her love for her native city and its cuisine with others through a series of tours. Each is set out on a carefully planned route through Melbourne’s very walkable central business district. Most of the tours are a few hours long, with some – like this dumpling tour – being exclusive to Walk Melbourne.

“Don’t forget to look up,” shouted Monique. “So many people forget to look up in a city, and miss so much.”

The writer was a guest of Walk Melbourne.

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Twenty reasons to visit Christchurch

Recycling: The Re:Start complex is built from shipping containers.1 QUAKE CITY
Nanjing Night Net

When a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch at 12.51pm on February 22, 2011, the earth rose one metre. A short time later, the earth moved horizontally the same distance. In its wake, 185 people died and a city centre became a terrifying scene of collapsed and teetering buildings, falling masonry and giant palls of dust. Quake City is a visitor centre dedicated to telling the story of this and a less destructive, but more powerful, earthquake that hit about six months earlier.

canterburymuseum南京夜网/quakecity

2 CITY OF CHURCHES

Given the name of the city and the piety of its founders, it was especially painful that every church was damaged in the February quake. Among the worst hit was the 19th century Christ Church Cathedral, situated at the physical and symbolic heart of the city. Its 63-metre spire collapsed and, so great was the damage, no church member has returned and few treasured items, like hymn books, were recovered. Today, the cathedral stands forlorn behind hurricane fencing, its nave wall is just a massive gaping hole.

3 CARDBOARD CATHEDRAL

Three CBD buildings survived the quake almost intact: a strip club, the casino and a gym. But cathedral worshippers were not down for long. Today, choral music rings out across Latimer Square from the Cardboard Cathedral. Designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, its A-line roof is constructed of 98 cardboard tubes, each up to 20 metres in length and covered in polycarbonate sheeting. There’s also lots of steel, timber and, below ground, tonnes of concrete. Conceived as a temporary measure, it now has an estimated 50-year lifespan.

cardboardcathedral.org.nz

4 185 EMPTY CHAIRS

A few steps away from the new cathedral and close to the CTV building where many lives were lost, there’s a tribute that’s so stark and moving it simply stops you in your tracks. On a grassy, vacant block at the corner of Cashel and Madras streets, 185 white chairs stand starkly in rows of nine. There are dining, office, kitchen and outdoor chairs, stools, a baby’s basinet and a wheelchair. Each one represents a life lost.

5 C1 ESPRESSO

For a long time, the CBD was in the so-called red zone and closed to the public. Today, it’s a scene of vacant blocks, half-demolished buildings and limited commercial life. With almost no high-rises, a statue of a bloke on top of C1 Espresso’s grand premises is easy to find. And find it you must for fabulous coffee, great corn fritters and buttermilk pancakes. The cafe’s quirky features include DIY water via an antique sewing machine.

C1espresso.co.nz

6 PALLET PAVILION

C1 also does brisk trade selling a pre-quake street map poster emblazoned with the words “There’s nothing to see here”. It’s harsh, but even the locals confess to sometimes forgetting what once went where. But life is returning. Where buildings once stood, some truly inspirational developments have grown. Places like the Pallet Pavilion, a series of outdoor rooms created using stacks of blue pallets as walls, seats and planters. Food and drinks are served at the site from a double-decker bus and old caravans.

palletpavilion南京夜网

7 GAP GOLF

Fancy a hit? The par 6, second hole of the Gap Golf putting course is located beside Pallet Pavilion. It’s one of nine holes across the city in a project designed to get people to venture into what is known as the Garden City but has the contemporary nickname of “gravel city” because of its vacant lots. Each golf hole acknowledges its site’s history. Equipment available at the Pallet caravan.

gapfiller.org.nz

8 CONTAINER LOAD

Christchurch lends itself to another family game: I spy a shipping container. It’s easy because they are berthed everywhere. After the earthquake they were a quick, easy and stable solution for many homeless businesses. Bank branches and ATMs operate from them along with cafes, bars, a pizza shop and beauty salon. Some are used in their original state – often for storage – while others have been given the Grand Designs treatment with the sides opened, windows installed and superior paint jobs. But most are stacked, like Lego, supporting crumbling facades.

9 RE:START

Containers come into their own at Re:Start, a pedestrianised shopping complex constructed almost entirely from the steel boxes. In primary colours and placed single and double storey with awnings stretched across the pathways, the funky containers are home to more than 40 retailers such as former city bookshop Scorpio Books. Fashion labels include Mimco, Nicholas Jermyn shirtmakers and cool Kiwi outfits like Soeur Design, Kathryn Wilson designer shoes and Christchurch jeans institution Hunters and Collectors.

restart.org.nz

10 HUMMINGBIRD CAFE

Kiwis and Australians share a love of fine coffee. One of New Zealand’s best, Hummingbird, was established in 1990 and hand roasts about 20 single origins. It’s a good reason to visit the two-storey Hummingbird Cafe, constructed of three containers, at Re:Start. Another is the terrific food. At breakfast, try juicy mushrooms on thick toast with spinach, warm fetta and a squeeze of lemon. Choose Re:Start blend coffee and a donation goes towards the historic Court Theatre rebuild.

hummingbirdcoffee.co.nz

11 EAT STREET

In a city centre that goes spookily dark and silent after nightfall, Re:Start is a lively daytime hub. To follow the action after nightfall, head for Victoria Street which radiates from the CBD. On and around this notable eat street, find hip Asian favourite King of Snake and Harlequin Public House, a smart restaurant in a historic house. Take a seat at the counter of slick Japanese restaurant Sala Sala and order outstanding salmon and tuna sashimi with a glass of sake.

kingofsnake.co.nz; hphchch.co.nz; salasala.co.nz

12 COOL BARS

After the quake, people felt safer outdoors. That, and the necessity to use containers, created an awesome bar scene, much of it around Victoria Street. At Revival, a DJ plays, an All Blacks game is projected on a wall, chairs are made from supermarket trolleys and cocktails come from a converted container. A bus acts as a bar at Smash Palace, where patrons sit under giant umbrellas and fairy lights. It’s huge fun.

revivalbar.co.nz; thesmashpalace.co.nz

13 THE TANNERY

The earthquakes are reshaping Christchurch, with much commercial development moving to the outer fringes and suburbs. Woolston, a thriving tannery centre in the late 1800s, is now home to a stylish centre of shops, restaurants and a brewery called The Tannery. In a restored brick and timber building once used for supplying hides to the shoe and boot industry, Cassells and Sons craft brewery operates alongside Gustav’s Kitchen and Wine Bar. Order mussel fritters and diamond shell crab with Alchemist pale ale.

thetannery.co.nz

14 NEW REGENT STREET

Whisky lovers should not leave town without visiting cocktail bar The Last Word. It’s situated in New Regent Street, a delightful pedestrianised mall, fully operating in the city centre, and home to specialty boutiques, restaurants and shops. The Last Word has a wide range of whisk(e)ys but visitors also find shops selling jewellery, clothes and the famed Mrs Higgins cookies. Opened in 1932, the pastel-coloured terraced shops are Spanish Mission in style.

newregentstreet.co.nz

15 HERITAGE HOTEL

Hotels are among the first businesses to be re-established in the CBD and the granddaddy of them all is the Heritage Hotel. For more than a century, this imposing building with arches and columns aplenty has been a gateway to Cathedral Square. A government building for most of its life, the public rooms and bedrooms are on a grand scale with wide corridors, sweeping staircase and high ceilings. Modern necessities include a well-equipped gym and indoor pool.

heritagehotels.co.nz

16 GONDOLA RIDE

No one is quite sure where Christchurch’s population stands. It was about 400,000 pre-quake, making it New Zealand’s second largest city, but many allegedly left town. A recent census will soon reveal all. In the meantime, look down on the city by riding the Christchurch gondola, or cable car, one kilometre up to the top of Mt Cavendish. The 360 degree views include the Southern Alps, ocean, Port Hills and the crater rim around Lyttelton Harbour.

gondola.co.nz

17 ARTHUR’S PASS

Having looked down on the surrounding country, hire a car and take a drive. Head inland to Arthur’s Pass for a spectacular trip across the Canterbury Plains then uphill into the Southern Alps. The road is a mix of single-track bridges across wide, stony river beds and ice-blue waters, splendid vistas of snow-covered peaks and high lakes. This is Lord of the Rings country. Arthur’s Pass village is a good spot for lunch.

18 AKAROA AND BANKS PENINSULA

For an altogether more gentle day’s drive, head to Akaroa, the South Island’s oldest colonial town and the country’s only French settlement. It sits by a beautiful harbour and, when you’ve explored the historic town, take a cruise to see penguins, fur seals and the world’s smallest and rarest dolphins, Hector’s dolphins. There’s no escaping New Zealand’s shaky character … the peninsula originates from volcanos millions of years ago.

akaroa南京夜网

19 ANTARCTIC CENTRE

Christchurch is the world’s airline connection to the Antarctic. America and Italy are among those who use the airport, flying about 100 military aircraft with 5500 passengers and 1400 tonnes of cargo annually. Take a trip to the world’s coldest place without leaving the ground by visiting the Antarctic Centre. Dedicated to recreating the harsh continent, visitors can take a 3D simulated cruise, experience a storm at -8C, see an Antarctic light show and travel in a giant overland truck.

iceberg.co.nz

20 JUST WALK

Few of us ever visit a disaster area – or want to – but there’s an element of it in Christchurch CBD, a fascinating study of a place in transition. There’s also vitality about the place and some of the world’s most creative minds are there to work on a blank canvas. Just walk to see exciting street art, new buildings, creative uses of ordinary objects. It’s an inspiration.

The writer travelled with assistance from Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism.

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The green beyond the gold

Luxury lodge: Dreamridge Retreat is set in about 10 hectares of landscaped gardens in the Currumbin Valley. Grand setting: A dining area at the retreat.
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A hilltop haven is the perfect place to dream a weekend away, writes Angela Young.

As our poor little car struggles up the incredibly steep incline of Tomewin’s slope, it becomes abundantly clear that even if there is just a tiny, grotty little shack at the top, we are going to have some amazing views.

Of course, there is no shack. And Dreamridge certainly isn’t tiny.

But those views definitely are amazing. Spectacular, in fact.

From the sumptuous master bedroom (one of six), two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows allow the occupants sweeping, 180-degree views of what the locals call “the green beyond the gold” – the stunning Gold Coast hinterland, proof that a trip to the Gold Coast doesn’t have to mean over-bronzed blondes or yachties with tattoos.

Beyond the region’s golden beaches lies this lush, mountainous realm, with idyllic, rural communities that still manage to boast sea views – yes, even from our serene inland spot.

Owned by Shaun and Donna Williams, Dreamridge Retreat is among a small handful of high-end properties available to hire on Tomewin Mountain, and is definitely the most impressive (although the others, including the very funky Viria and gorgeous little B&B Kallora Escape, are still lovely, beautifully presented holiday spots).

Bedecked in sculptured wood and a vast array of antiques, the furniture and many of the fittings are handmade by the creative pair, while the historical items adorning the walls and shelves – ranging from 1950s Coca-Cola freezers to ancient-looking tools and traps – are from their personal collection.

The sheer expanse and outlook from Dreamridge, over Mount Cougal, Springbrook Mountain and Mount Tallebudgera, is breathtaking, but we’re soon back on solid (albeit high) ground with a comforting cup of tea and homemade muffin from the overflowing hamper kindly provided by Donna atop a kitchen worktop that must once have been a serious piece of forestry.

Dreamridge is not only a timber wonderland. The landscaped gardens are also perfectly coiffed, testament to Shaun’s landscape gardener background – and he’s obviously a perfectionist.

The couple have thought of practically everything when it comes to the little details – plush linen, comfy bathrobes, a very well-stocked kitchen and larder, music equipment and DVDs, candles, birdseed . . . The only thing amiss is the lack of a full-length mirror in each of the bedrooms – crucial if the property is to host weddings in the future, which is definitely on Shaun and Donna’s agenda, with “entrance by helicopter” an option for the flamboyant.

We’re keen to experience Mount Tomewin properly, so we head off down the hill to purchase some of the tasty produce on offer at the quaint, dilapidated Freeman’s Fruit Stall truck, selling organic fruit and vegetables, including tasty bananas from trees planted way back in 1928.

The night is almost as impressive as the day at Dreamridge. We follow a beautiful sunset with a roaring log fire to keep out any hilltop chills. Probably best not to watch a horror movie on the widescreen, though – those vast windows, blackened by night, could have even hardy souls jumping at the slightest noise.

Next morning, I make sure to wake early in order to open the master’s curtains – it would be sacrilege not to lie in bed and lazily revel in that glorious view.

Duly sated, and after a handsome breakfast enjoyed on the large verandah, we take the short hike up to the local Hanging Rock, a precarious-looking geological formation just behind the property – impressive, if sadly lacking author Joan Lindsay’s air of mystery.

This mild exertion leads the weary group to collapse into the four hammocks in the garden, where we gently rock away our final afternoon, snoozing and taking in the unbelievable peace and serenity.

It’s hard to believe the bustle and activity of the brassy Gold Coast is so close . . . just over there, in fact.

I can see its golden beaches and blue surf, but I can’t hear it up here on my peaceful perch.

It would be silly not have to one more doze in these blissful surroundings, I think, as I nod off to the sound of birds singing and absolutely nothing else.TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

One hour’s drive from Brisbane, 10 minutes from Currumbin.

HOW MUCH

$1600 a night.

STYLE STATEMENT

Natural, woodsy haven on high.

PERFECT FOR

Groups of friends or couples, families, weddings.

SHAME ABOUT

The lack of a pool or spa.

KUDOS

The artefact and photo-adorned walls – the cosy front lounge is like a history lesson.

TAKE THE KIDS

Yes, there’s plenty of space for gallivanting, and the games room/library is well stocked.

MORE INFORMATION

Dreamridge Retreat, 639 Tomewin Mountain Road, Currumbin Valley, Qld.

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Salute to the Fab Four

Peppered: Blake’s restaurant is an appreciation of the designer of the amazing Sergeant Pepper album coverWhen writing about the Beatles, it’s tempting to mine their song list for titles and phrases. With that in mind, I’ll try to avoid mentioning my “golden slumbers” (sorry, too late) at the Hard Days Night Hotel, but I should mention that the room service menu is labelled “Any time at all” and you can hang a sign on your door saying “Let it be,” rather than the usual “Do not disturb”.
Nanjing Night Net

This isn’t the only four-star hotel in the Beatles’ hometown of Liverpool, England, but it is certainly the ideal port of call for many of the 600,000 tourists who visit every year to pay homage to the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band. (Such is their status that, even if you disagree, “world’s greatest” sounds like a rational description.)

A Beatles hotel? The idea is so obvious, it’s surprising that it took so long for some enterprising soul to open one. Obtaining the rights, of course, was a lengthy process. (You could say a “long and winding road”, but we won’t, thank you very much.) The music in the lobby is a mixture of Beatles songs and – just to provide variety – cover versions.

Happily, it is a step above the usual theme hotel. Each room is bright and colourful, with a different framed picture over the bed. Some guests specifically ask for a room with a picture of their favourite Beatle. I’m happy with anyone, so I awake under John Lennon, alongside his scrawled lyrics to Help.

The hotel’s two upstairs suites – the John Lennon Suite (styled after Lennon’s whiter-than-white New York apartment) and the Paul McCartney Suite (complete with a suit of armour in the corner, cheekily included because Macca is now a Knight of the Realm) – are out of action for the 50th anniversary of Beatlemania, thanks to a fire earlier this year. They should reopen in early 2014, in time for anyone wishing to celebrate the anniversary of the band’s momentous Australian tour.

Fortunately, the thematic decoration doesn’t go much further. While the room design is funky and cheerful, the hotel withholds the desire to place a lava lamp in each room. The Beatles, after all, were not simply a frivolous pop band. Hard Days Night is not a cute, Disney-style construction, but part of a stylish, 128-year-old building.

For Beatles fans, the locale is part of the attraction. It’s around the corner from the Cavern Club, the Beatles’ first public venue, where new bands still perform. It’s a hop, step and jump to the Beatles Story museum, which sends visitors into a yellow submarine and an expert reconstruction of the Cavern Club, circa 1960.

But it’s also in the centre of modern Liverpool, which has transcended its working-class reputation, and still has many clear reminders that it was European cultural capital in 2008. Here is the home of the Tate Liverpool, northern England’s centre of modern art, and such development projects as the $1.7 billion Liverpool ONE shopping and leisure centre. Yet the city’s most famous cultural contribution is still the Fab Four.

Hard Days Night also has Bar Four, wallpapered with news clippings and Beatles-inspired artwork, with unique Beatle-esque cocktails. Next door is Blake’s Restaurant – named (as the more devout fans might guess) after Sir Peter Blake, the artist behind the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover – where guests can dine on pigeon breast with beetroot and balsamic-coated root vegetable salad. As I said, not your typical theme hotel.

At Blake’s, diners are watched by photos of the many people on that album cover, all of whom inspired or influenced the Beatles.

Guests at Hard Days Night have already included everyone from Michael Buble to Mike Myers. Justin Bieber’s visit, somewhat fittingly, attracted so many screaming fans that the roads had to be closed. Liam Gallagher’s, however, was a relatively quiet affair, in which the Oasis frontman was both enthusiastic (no surprise) and very pleasant.

Downstairs, the hotel offers function rooms like Hari’s Bar, dedicated to George Harrison. The hotel also has a wedding studio, The Two of Us Room, used almost every week – and not just by Beatles fans. Even non-fans are willing to endure endless Lennon-McCartney ballads to stay here, hold their functions, or even get married. Like the very best songs, it’s simply a nice place to be.

The writer was a guest of Hard Days Night Hotel, with the assistance of Visit Liverpool.TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

Hard Days Night Hotel is in Central Buildings, North John Street, a 10-minute drive from Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport, just over a kilometre from James Street railway station.

HOW MUCH

Rooms range from about $130 (single “luxury room”) to $1580 in peak time for the Lennon Suite (with grand piano, and $300 more than the McCartney Suite). Phone + 44 20 7836 4343, email [email protected]南京夜网.

SEE + DO

Hotel taxi tour is a treat for Beatles tragics. More expensive than the Magical Mystery Tour bus, it goes into more depth, from all of their childhood homes to Eleanor Rigby’s grave.

MORE INFORMATION

harddaysnighthotel南京夜网;

visitliverpool南京夜网.

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Floating through Provence

Provence: The town of Vienne on the Rhone south of Lyons Photo: . Picturesque: The mediaeval fortified village of Les-Baux-de-Provence
Nanjing Night Net

Avignon’s famous bridge from the water.

Service: The river cruiser AmaDagio?s welcoming party

We’re not the first eager Francophiles to visit Provence and we certainly won’t be the last. Foreigners have been invading for centuries. The Greeks planted grapevines there in 600BC; the Romans gave Provence its name and stayed for about 700 years; seven popes deserted Rome for Avignon; artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cezanne made it their home – and English writer Peter Mayle’s best-selling 1989 book A Year in Provence attracted truckloads of Brits looking for their rural French idyll.

Our river cruise on board APT’s AmaDagio, heading north on the Rhone, started in Arles and finished in Lyon. I still can’t believe how much ground (or water) we covered in a mere seven days, although the pace never felt hurried. I could have happily stayed in Arles for a week, but a night and day had to suffice. This is where Van Gogh stayed in hospital (now an art museum) before he was shipped off to the nearby St Paul de Mausole asylum, where he produced some of his most famous paintings. It is a fascinating, if haunting, place to visit.

The market at Arles on a sunny autumn Saturday is a visual feast. Mouthwatering Provencal goods such as olives, olive oils, nuts, fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, cheeses (fromage sounds so much more appetising), nougat, meat and fish are displayed on colourfully artistic stalls; live rabbits and ducks in cages await their future.

Bullfights are still held in the 20,000-seat Roman amphitheatre and there are impressive Roman monuments and ruins throughout Provence. The Pont du Gard, 21 kilometres from Avignon – our second port of call – is a magnificent example of Roman design and engineering. The three-level, 50-metre-high aqueduct bridge took 15 years to build in the first century AD and over 2000 years it has withstood earthquakes, wild weather and even bombing in 1944. Contemporary builders might appreciate the recipe for the mortar, which was made with pig fat and figtree sap.

The living history lesson continues with a visit to the beautifully preserved Renaissance town of Uzes – Mick Jagger once had a house nearby but that was just last century – and a night-time guided walk through Viviers. Local actors in medieval costume told the story of the philandering Huguenot captain who was responsible for building the 16th-century facade of the grand Maison des Chevaliers.

There is a very good choice of shore excursions from AmaDagio, orchestrated by our tireless cruise director Anja. One of my favourites was to a truffle farm in the Rhone Valley near Grignan, yet another impossibly picturesque mountain village surrounded by lavender fields, orchards and olive groves.

Domaine Bramarel is run by Gilles Ayme, whose great-grandfather established the farm in 1850. Gilles talks us through the growing cycles of Tuber Melanosporum, which is known as the “black diamond” because of the €1000 a kilo price it commands.

Two happy honey-coloured female Labradors give a demonstration of truffle-hunting and come up with a few samples of the autumn variety, which are not as valuable as the black winter ones but it’s just lovely seeing the dogs in action and obeying orders in French and English. Our group was then treated to a generous tasting of the black diamonds – very pungent – washed down with a crisp rose from a local vineyard.

Other foodie highlights of the shore tours were visits to a goat farm in the Ardeche Verte and a saffron farmlet in the Isere district, near Lyon. Both businesses are owned and operated by women, who share their specialised knowledge with charm and enthusiasm. The adorable alpine goats, which were all due to give birth the following day, tolerated us photographing them and were probably very relieved when we moved on to tasting Geraldine Cognet’s superb home-made chestnut cake and quince paste in the peaceful garden of her farmhouse.

Stephanie Sable runs one of just a few hundred saffron farms in France – Iran is still the world’s major producer of the “red gold”. Saffron sells for about €32,000 a kilo, totally eclipsing the prices even for the white Italian truffle (about €3000 a kilo). It’s a one-person, highly labour-intensive business, although she says she has help from her farming neighbours during the brief picking season.

Following Stephanie’s informative talk, she invited us to her rustic home where we tasted exquisite jams, chutneys and mustards that she makes from local organically produced fruit and spices when she’s not working on her saffron plot.

Excellent food, fine wines and good fun are also integral to the experience on board AmaDagio. Head chef Jozsef Kovacs has worked with the cruise line for eight years and he and his team of eight create dishes that reflect the regions we cruise through. Jozsef’s soups and desserts are a major highlight and fromage fans like me were seriously spoilt for choice every evening at dinner.

The crew is a tight-knit family and our very young French captain (all of 27) is extremely popular with the ladies. The officers put on a hilarious show one evening and certain passengers danced and partied hard until the wee small hours – is 65 now the new 25?

Lyon, our final port of call, is another eye-opener. Set at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers, it is France’s second-largest city after Paris and gives it a good run for its money. As with all the places we visited, I could have stayed there for days, but a joy of cruising is sampling a destination and returning later to savour it.

The writer travelled as a guest of APT and EmiratesEATING OUT IN LYON

Lyon is reputedly France’s “gastronomic capital’’. Treat yourself to at least one fabulous meal there. Celebrated chef Paul Bocuse’s three Michelin-starred l’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, is near Lyon and he has four brasseries in Lyon: Le Nord, l’Est, Le Sud and l’Ouest – somewhat more affordable.

Then there are bouchons, small, informal brasseries that are a Lyon institution.

They serve regional dishes, particularly duck, pork and offal. There are about 20 bouchons officially certified by the Association for the Preservation of Lyonnais Bouchons but many more in the style. To find a genuine bouchon check out en.lyon-france南京夜网.

Bon appetit!TRIP NOTES

CRUISING GROUNDS

AmaDagio operates seven-night cruises between Arles and Lyon on the Rhone River, and 14-night cruises between Arles and Amsterdam.

GETTING THERE

Emirates operates 82 flights a week to Dubai from Australia (Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne and Adelaide) with onward daily connections to London and Europe. Phone 1300 303 777, emirates南京夜网/au.

MORE INFORMATION

aptouring南京夜网.au; en.lyon-france南京夜网.

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