Jetstar Review: Sydney to Osaka via Cairns return

by Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

Japan is the hottest destination for travellers from Australia. Research shows that there’s been a 170 percent growth over the past five years with travel agents saying Japan has overtaken Bali  as our favourite holiday destination and it’s only going to get hotter with the 2020 Olympic Games.

Australians love a bargain but we also like our comfort being the second highest yield traveller in the world after the Saudi Arabians. Jetstar’s business class is ideal for those who want comfort but like the idea of being luxury value shoppers.

Want to know more about Jetstar Sydney to Osaka via Cairns return, read about it here.

Melbourne’s North Star: Adina Northbank

by Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

Northbank is the place to be. There’s plenty happening in this funky end of the city once home to Melbourne Fish Markets. Whilst it it’s not the luxury end of town, it is developing an inner city chic and it’s the perfect place to stay if you would like some comfort without a hefty price tag.

Set on the Northbank of the Yarra, opposite Southbank of course, there are some real hidden gems of attractions on this side which are detailed under activities. Southbank Promenade is less than fifteen minutes’ walk, the Convention and Exhibition Centre is virtually on the doorstep and Flinders Street and Southern Cross Stations are a few minutes away.

Want to know more about Adina Northbank, read about it here.

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Matcha Matcha Matcha – the Suiran is in Matcha Heaven

by Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

Nestled in a quiet cul de sac at the west end of Arashiyama and basking on the banks of the Katsuma river is an oasis for one weary of the matcha ice-cream vendors and sushi shops. It’s called the Suiran.

Once the summer house of Shozo Kawasaki of motorcycle fame, this Meiji era hotel is the ultimate in Zen. The gardens boast a yuzu tree, a plum blossom and two hundred year old pines. Opening as a Starwood hotel in 2015, the now Marriott owned Luxury Collection is everything one would expect from this opulent brand.

Want to know more about Suiran, a Luxury Collection Hotel, read about it here.

Image courtesy of Suiran, a Luxury Collection Hotel

An Address to Flaunt: The St. Regis Osaka

by Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

Kuiadore or eat to ruin in Osaka whose visitor stats are soaring. The city has cool coffee shops, restaurants bars and boutiques along with traditional cultural and zany treasures and the address to flaunt is the St. Regis.

The St. Regis Osaka offers understated elegance in the top 16 floors of a Namba skyscraper located on Midosuji Boulevard (considered Osaka’s Champs Elysées). The Shinsaibashi-suji shopping arcade is on the doorstep of the St Regis with the neon signs and famous ‘Glico Man’ of Dotonbori at the other end of the street.  Osaka Castle is about a 20-minute walk and Universal Studios Japan is a thirty-minute train ride away. The subway Honmachi station is directly under the hotel so you can’t get more convenient than that to discover the rest of Osaka.

Want to know more about St. Regis Osaka, read about it here.

Image courtesy of St. Regis Osaka

…And loving it in The Ryokan Collection’s Sowaka

by Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

Growing up in the seventies for me meant switching on the TV after homework was finished to see Maxwell Smart, Agent 86, pull up in his red Karmann Ghia. That was during the week. On Saturday nights, I’d swap the Chief for M and be thrilled at the escapades of Roger Moore or Sean Connery. Thus, I’m rather partial to the trappings of the spy – the representation of one at least not the drab life of an ASIO employee. So, when I arrived at a tiny entrance in Gion, with a split green cloth fluttering in the breeze I felt a shiver of anticipation about what might actually lurk behind this understated façade.

Want to know more about The Ryokan Collection Sowaka, read about it here.

The Ryokan Collection’s Sowaka

Indulge Your Senses at Sette London

by Mahala Wallace

Two of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities come together with the opening of a new restaurant – Sette – at the Bulgari Hotel in London. Bringing authentic Italian food from New York City’s Scarpetta restaurant family, Sette offers an exceptional dinning and social experience. Given its location within the ultra-luxe Buglari Hotel, my expectations of the restaurant are set high. And thankfully, Sette did not disappoint.

I walk five minutes from Knightbridge station, and turn onto a pretty London side street. I spot the restaurant. It’s stylish and has a soft, modern design. Stepping inside, I hand my coat to the girl at reception before taking a seat at the far end of the restaurant. With my lunch companion running late, I have the opportunity to take in my surroundings.

Want to know more about the Sette Restaurant in London, read about it here.

Image courtesy of Sette at Bulgari Hotel London

Living it Luxe at The Lanesborough London

by Mahala Wallace

One very confused Uber driver later, I arrive at the Lanesborough Hotel London. With a sigh of relief, I walk toward the entrance clutching my scarf tightly around my neck. The doorman sees me coming. And opens the door for me with a smile. There’s a fire burning just inside. I linger for a moment, letting the heat warm me.

I’d walked passed The Lanesborough when I lived in London in my early 20’s but until now, I’d never been inside. From my position next to the fire, I cast my eyes around the lobby. Regal. It’s truly the only word to describe this hotel. I feel as though I’ve stepped through time. I half expect to see characters from a Jane Austen Novel and historical figures of the Regency period to walk around the corner. Realising I’ve lingered by the fire long enough, I approach the check-in desk.

Want to know more about The Lanesborough London, read about it here.

Image courtesy of The Lanesborough, Oetker Collection. Photo by Dominic James

Glitz and Glam at The Ritz London

by Mahala Wallace

As I walk up the steps of Green Park Station, the iconic The Ritz London hotel comes into view. There are few hotels in the world that have the capability of stopping you in your tracks. The Ritz London is one. People walk around me quickly, some even huff as they go past the woman who has decided that stopping in the middle of a busy London street is a good idea. I arch my head, looking up toward the pavilion roof and the large green copper lions that adorn it.

Finally, my feet start working. I walk between the archways and the exterior of the Ritz Club and Bar, before turning the corner to the hotel entrance. In a momentary lapse of complete cliché, I start humming ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’. The doorman smiles warmly at me as I step through the revolving doors, forgetting the song and the world outside The Ritz London.

Want to know more about The Ritz London, read about it here.

Image courtesy of The Ritz London

The Hoshinoya Kyoto brings the Edo period of nobility alive in exquisite luxury

by Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

“Domo arigato,” I say to the taxi driver who smiles, bows twice and says “Hai. Hai.” I wheel my bag along a pathway by the Ooi river just over the Togetsukyo bridge heaving with crowds of tourists who clot in Kyoto’s Arashiyama district. Some are in rent-a-kimino taking selfies, others are in school uniform giggling and smiling and then there’s the occasional western tourist biting into a Miffy shaped donut.

This side of the bridge is much quieter. My quest is to find the private boat ramp for the Hoshinoya Kyoto. I see the sign just ahead written in English and Japanese and stop and breathe a sigh of relief. ‘No. No. This way,’ says a Japanese man with a camera hung around his neck gesturing downstream. I smile. Perhaps I should have donned a pair of Blahniks and a flowy Camilla for this journey. “You have to be a very special Japanese person to stay at the Hoshinoya,” my taxi driver confided before he dropped me off.

Want to know more about Hoshinoya Kyoto in Japan, read about it here.

Image courtesy of Hoshinoya Kyoto

Flower baths and Balinese bells in a ‘glamboo’ retreat

by Rebecca Weisser

On the banks of the Ayung river, bounded on one side by an ancient nutmeg forest and on the other by the village of Mambal, lies Fivelements Retreat Bali, a luxurious eco-sanctuary that puts the glam into bamboo. This is the perfect place to get healthy and go back to nature in comfort and style.

The retreat consists of a collection of thatched bamboo buildings with soaring cathedral ceilings connected by stepping-stone paths between gardens and small stone bridges traversing streamlets. Although the resort is not large and is frequently booked out, it often feels as if you are the only guest.

Want to know more about Fivelements Retreat Bali, read about it here.

Sakti Dining Room at Fivelements Healing Center. The soaring roofline, sculpted from bamboo and thatch, resembles a banana leaf, symbol of nourishment.

In the Pink at the Langham Melbourne

by Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

I have a room at the Langham. It’s on the twenty-second floor So it’s going to be a great stay. Twenty-two is my birth date and my special number along with seven which is the number you get when you add up my whole birthdate. And my room is 2217. Zero seven would be better but 2217 is pretty auspicious.

My room has an amazing view out over the CBD looking on to Flinders Street Station, and a church dwarfed by some modern boxy mirror buildings. The marble tiles in the bathroom are floor to ceiling and there’s a big bath to soak in, a comfy bed, a well-stacked minibar, a couch, a chair and a desk.  There’s also a turn down service where I’m given two cute little bottles of water with pink Langham labels.

Want to know more about The Langham Hotel Melbourne in Australia, read about it here.

Image courtesy of Langham Melbourne

How I Overcame my Snake Phobia at Aro-ha NZ

by Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

I hate snakes. I hate them so much that when I was 38, I learnt to surf, jumped out of a plane (Point Break style) and crossed the Gobi desert with just one can of coke. Ok I might be exaggerating about the can of coke. Despite my feats that year, I couldn’t eat one of those jelly snake lollies. (Although I did eat a squirm – no big jelly head.) So when I land in Queenstown, New Zealand where the scariest thing is a hungry bird called a kea, snakes are nowhere in my thoughts. That is until I meet Adam at Aro-ha.

Want to know more about Aro-Ha in New Zealand, read about it here.

Image courtesy of Aro-Ha

Meditation with Monkeys at Bagus Jati, Bali

by Rebecca Weisser

High up in the misty forests of central Bali, far from the crowded cities with their bright lights and traffic snarls, is the tiny village of Jati — just a handful of houses amid rice terraces and market gardens on a small road that leads, eventually, to Mount Batur.

In ancient times, a holy man lived under a mahogany tree in this secluded spot, and villagers built a temple to pray for a long life, harmony and happiness. Today, that temple is the highest point in a luxurious wellness retreat, Bagus Jati Health and Wellbeing Retreat, that spreads across five acres of terraced gardens, plunging down to a secret river and a waterfall.  Luxury villas, built in a circular style, dot the landscape, with enormous balconies that look across to the forests.  Four poster beds draped with soft with white curtains and intricately carved dark timber furniture create an old-world air of romance.

Want to know more about Bagus Jati Health and Wellbeing Retreat in Bali, read about it here.

Image courtesy of Bagus Jati Health and Wellbeing Retreat

Where to Stay in the ‘Pink City’: Grand Hôtel de l’Opéra Toulouse

by Mahala Wallace

The Grand Hôtel de l’Opéra is one of the most popular hotels in Toulouse, and it’s easy to see why. This lavishly appointed four-star boutique hotel exudes charm and character. The Grand Hôtel de l’Opéra is ideally located in the heart of Toulouse on the famous Place du Capitole. And it offers the perfect base for guests to explore the highlights and monuments of Toulouse with ease. There is no better place to stay when exploring the ‘Pink City’.

Want to know more about the Grand Hôtel de l’Opéra in Toulouse, read about it here.

Image courtesy of Grand Hôtel de l’Opéra

Hotel Adlon Kempinski

by Mahala Wallace

Luxury knows no bounds when it comes to the Hotel Adlon Kempinski. The original Hotel Adlon built in 1907, was one of the most famous luxury hotel across Europe. Despite large portions of the hotel being destroyed in 1945, the Hotel Adlon has remained strong through its redevelopment and reopening as the Hotel Adlon Kempinski, in 1997. Situated just two minutes’ walk from Brandenburg Gate, the hotel offers its guests elegance and glamour.

Want to know more about the Hotel Adlon Kempinski in Berlin, read about it here.

Image courtesy of Hotel Adlon Kempinski

Tailor-Made Luxury at Schlosshotel Berlin by Patrick Hellmann

by Mahala Wallace

After being in Berlin for a few days, I find myself needing to retreat from the city’s bustling and wild centre. Whether it’s the jet lag finally catching up with me or the knowledge I’ll soon be surrounded more by nature than people, I feel a sleepy smile creep across my face as the bus bumps along*. Thanking the driver, who seems surprised by the interaction (I’m sure my German isn’t that bad…), I leave the bus behind. A short walk along the house-lined streets, my suitcase following diligently behind me, and the Schlosshotel Berlin by Patrick Hellmann comes into view. I have found my oasis.

*I have terrible sense of direction so I prefer to take transport and walk to help get my bearings. Guests with a better sense of direction than I, can organise a limousine transfer, luxury van or book an experience with the Rolls-Royce Ghost, all with a chauffeur.

Want to know more about the Schlosshotel Berlin by Patrick Hellmann, read about it here.

Image courtesy of Schlosshotel by Patrick Hellmann

Rolling into the Royce

by Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

I feel like I’ve just stepped out of a pumpkin as my Adidas shoe plants itself on the polished floor of the Royce Hotel on St Kilda Road. If only I had my boa or a flapper dress and some dashing T-strap heels. Even the air is delicately perfumed in this lobby which oozes 1920s style with its gold painted ceiling, red velvet wall panels and winding ballroom staircase.

Yet even in my runners I’m greeted warmly by the concierge and shown through a round mirrored room to the lift and up to the Royce Suite.  I open the door to see sheer grey curtains flirting with the view, revealing just a hint of Melbourne Grammar School playing fields, rooftops and the foliage of the Botanic Gardens in the distance. An extra-large chocolate freckle with a Royce Hotel sticker beckons me to the modern four-poster bed. It lounges on the bed almost saying, ‘Take me.’ I’m easily led so rip goes the plastic and into my mouth goes crunchy hundreds and thousands and a creamy chocolate.  I smile bits of chocolate between my teeth, jubilant that there are no ugly stepsisters to take this pleasure from me.

Want to know more about the Royce Hotel in Melbourne, read about it here.

Image courtesy of the Royce Hotel

The Hotel Zoo Berlin

by Mahala Wallace

Blink and you might miss it. I look out the window of my taxi as we slow to a stop. The driver points toward a small entrance nestled between Hugo Boss and an Apple Store. He says, “es ist da”, which I manage to understand despite my limited (or rather non-existent) German. I walk toward the entrance of the Hotel Zoo Berlin, suitcase in tow.

The moment of worry around trying to juggle my very over-packed suitcase and find a free hand to open the door, is short lived. The outer doors swing open, as if they’ve read my thoughts. Thank goodness for automated doors!

Want to know more about Hotel Zoo Berlin, read about it here.

Image courtesy of Hotel Zoo Berlin

Transformation at the Golden Door

by Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

When you first become a vampire, you’re fixated on the small things. You look for hours at a pattern on a carpet, a stained glass window or even life itself, according to Ann Rice in The Vampire Lestat. This is the book I take with me for my week at Golden Door in NSW’s Hunter Valley. And whilst perhaps the Golden Door is not the perfect place for vampires: lack of night life, in bed by nine and up at sunrise, being there does transform you into a mindful mortal. You take time to watch nature such as the flight of the butterfly who mesmerised me with its golden wings that flitted and danced upwards to the clear sky and back to the magnolia tree with its white flowers and large brown leaves.

Want to know more about The Golden Door in Australia, read about it here.

Image courtesy of Golden Door

Heaven can wait – go to Sukhavati Spa instead

by Rebecca Weisser

Fat bumblebees hum as they dip in and out of violet trumpet flowers languidly swaying over the verandah. Tiny yellow-bellied warblers dart in between sucking nectar as they sing. Sukhavati Ayurvedic Retreat and Spa is only 50 minutes from Bali’s international airport but stepping through its ornately carved wooden door is like entering the land of the lotus eaters, Homer’s mythical isle of honey-sweet fruit, which once tasted banishes any desire to leave.

Want to know more about Sukhavati Ayurvedic Retreat and Spa in Bali, read about it here.

Image courtesy of Sukhavati Bali

From Brewery to Boutique Hotel

by Mahala Wallace

When I was younger, I either wanted to be an actor or an archaeologist (Indiana Jones was regularly watched in my house). But over time that dream changed. Before I had realised I wanted to be a writer, I was fortunate enough to already be doing it professionally. One thing which has stuck with me from those childhood dreams, is a love for the back story, for learning about the history of a place, a person or in this case a building, specifically the B2 Boutique Hotel and Spa in Zurich.

Want to know more about B2 Boutique Hotel and Spa in Zurich, read about it here.

Image courtesy of the B2 Boutique Hotel and Spa

Who is up for a bear hunt?

I’d always loved big cuddly creatures, especially those that lived in a land of ice, snow and glittering night skies. However it wasn’t the Northern Lights I wanted to see when I alighted in Longyearbyen on the Svalbard archipelago – 78 degrees north of the equator. I’d come here to see the polar bears.

Some 3000 Polar Bears inhabited the area around Svalbard (the Norwegian name) or Spitsbergen (what the rest of the world calls it). I hoped to photograph just one.

As I waited for my luggage to come off the carousel I got my first look of a real bear, down on all fours and gnashing his teeth in my direction. Unfortunately for him, he was dead, and stuffed, so I don’t think this really counted in terms of bragging rights.

Want to know more about about this Aurora Expeditions adventure, read about it here.

Who is up for a bear hunt? Credit: Aurora Expeditions

Be Our Guest at the Dolder Grand

by Mahala Wallace

I stopped mid conversation with my Uber driver as the Dolder Grand came into sight. Unable to look away, my eyes widened. I had seen the photographs and even a walk-through video on the website, but nothing quite compared to seeing the Dolder Grand in real life. Their motto is ‘be our guest’. And from the moment I walked in I felt like the only guest in the hotel. The warmth and genuine desire to make you feel welcome is truly refreshing. Living up to its name the Dolder Grand is grand in every sense of the word.

Want to know more about The Dolder Grand in Zurich, read about it here.

Image courtesy of The Dolder Grand. Photo by Zeljko Gataric.

Bora Bora’s most luxurious overwater bungalows

by Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

If you are ever going to treat yourself, splash out on a holiday to Bora Bora. There is nothing on earth more decadent than diving off the stairs of your private overwater bungalow into a vast lagoon that is your own personal pool. The water is the perfect temperature, not too hot, not too cold. The turquoise palette of the lagoon defies belief and looking down upon it from your glass bottom floor is an experience unrivalled by anything on the planet.

The overwater bungalow was created for the heaven that is Tahiti so it’s a given that this is where you’ll stay. Here’s our choice of our favourite resorts built over Bora Bora’s stunning lagoon.

Image courtesy of the Four Seasons Bora Bora

Four Seasons Bora Bora

Each of the 100 overwater villas presents a mini oasis with eight boasting infinity plunge pools, a truly unnecessary addition when you have acres of private lagoon to snorkel, lie on your back or just blow bubbles at the fish. You cannot fault this resort from the staff through to the food through to the incredible spa with 72 foot soaring ceilings. Set on 54 acres with an internal private lagoon, decadence surrounds you from the daily raking of the beach sand through to the red coral like chandelier with lights on the top of each stem.

There is an infinity pool, tennis court and guided snorkelling tours of the lagoon sanctuary as well as kayaking, catamaran cruises, windsurfing and shark feeding. There are four on site restaurants offering Polynesian, French and Asian specialities. The Sunset Bar offers the end to a perfect day with a pina colada and a sunset.

Image courtesy of Four Seasons Bora Bora

St Regis Bora Bora

The St Regis and Four Seasons rival each other for luxury. Set on 44 acres with its own heli-pad, private yacht and personal butlers, this decadent resort has been home to many a celebrity including hosting Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban’s honeymoon in 2006. The resort offers 100 over water bungalows, the largest in Bora Bora with the smallest being 1,550 square feet, and they come either with a private garden, sun deck or even the unnecessary plunge pool. The Spa Miri Miri is set on its own private island and is reached by a passing golf cart. There are multiple restaurants including the famous Lagoon by Jean-Georges. There’s also a tennis court, bridal boutique and an internal private lagoon teeming with brightly coloured fish.

Image courtesy of St Regis Bora Bora

Le Meridien Bora Bora

Le Meridien was the first to introduce the overwater bungalows with glass floors. It’s magical in the evening to put the floor light on and watch what swims beneath you.  The resort has a prime location with the best views to Mount Otemanu.

One of the highlights is the Turtle Centre which rehabilitates turtles.  The project began when an injured turtle was brought to the hotel by a guest. From there on, the concept for the Turtle Centre emerged. Over the past ten years, Le Meridien Bora Bora has continued to invest in the centre which has its own conservationist and a special program to ensure a lively and successful future for turtles in Bora Bora.

Besides turtles, there is free snorkelling equipment, canoes, kayaks, pedal boats, paddleboards and even children’s windsurfing boards.

Of course there is a wellness centre where one can enjoy massages and there are two restaurants and a cocktail bar with the best views in Bora Bora.

Image courtesy of Le Meridien Bora Bora

Le Meridien Tahiti

If you’re travelling to Bora Bora or any of Tahiti’s islands, there’s usually an obligatory overnight stay in Papeete. Le Meridien is one of the best hotels in Papeete situated in a quiet location around 20 minutes by shtuttle bus from the hotel. Papeete does not offer the same luxury and turquoise waters as Bora Bora yet there is still many reasons to visit from buying some Tahitian black pearls to watching one of the heaviest waves on the planet, Teauhupoo which is the place of battle for the Billabong pro every year in August. There’s also the Paul Gaugin museum, deep sea fishing, temples, lava tubes and more.

Le Meridien Tahiti offers overwater bungalows although there are just twelve. Most decided to stay in on one of the rooms. The corner suite offers an undercover verandah which looks out to sea past grassed lawns and tropical gardens.

When not sipping cocktails, you can play tennis, swim in the pool, or enjoy some food at one of the two restaurants or poolside bar or sampling the art at L’atelier. This art space has been developed by Le Meridient Tahiti for guests to enjoy and even meet with contemporary artists from across French Polynesia and also international artists. Se next to the lagoon, L’Atelier offers a wonderful tropical setting for lectures, art workshops and openings  where one can learn techniques and be insired by artists who are creating original works, sometimes onsite.

Image courtesy of Le Meridien Tahiti

Bora Bora’s best restaurants

Lagoon Restaurant by Jean-Georges

Dine under the stars whilst sharks swim underneath the glass floor. World class cuisine at the St Regis.

Bora Bora Yacht Club

Polynesian with a French twist with sensational views.

La Villa Mahana

There are just seven tables in this private villa and it must be booked months in advance.

Restaurant St James

French Polynesian fusion cooking with evening manta rays swimming by, hoping for scraps.

Arii Moana

Four Seasons best restaurant looks out on to the lagoon and Mount Otemanu and offers fine dining Polynesian/French fusion style.

Image courtesy of Arii Moana Four Seasons