Travel

Category Archives: Travel

Navy Blue And Pink In India

“How clever of you, Mr. Parkinson, also to know that pink is the navy blue of India,” the legendary fashion maven, Diana Vreeland told the great photographer Norman “Parks” Parkinson when he returned from the City Palace, Jaipur, India with a picture of Anne Gunning in a pink mohair coat tanding next to a decked-up elephant manned by guards in pink.

The model in the picture taken in tribute by photographer Antony Horth in January 2013 was the glorious Bollywood star, Pallavi Sharda, decked in diamonds from Australia’s Argyle.

But when she ducked off to change into Dior, I had to sneak in next to a supermodel guaranteed to make me look small. The bunch of kids didn’t miss their chance either.

A lovely memory of a lovely trip to India with Argyle diamonds.

Australia’s Secret Island Hideaway

Australia’s Secret Island Hideaway

The Times | Sunday 12th May

It’s only 11km long and has no phone reception, but Lord Howe Island is a favourite with the in-the-know crowd, says Marion Hume

I once met a woman with the weird and wonderful job of checking out far-flung locations for “vacational suitability” for a Hollywood clientele. So I shared a secret: Lord Howe Island. She hadn’t heard of it, but then, it was one of the last islands on Earth to be discovered. It bears no trace of indigenous settlement and Europeans and Polynesians didn’t show up until more than a century after the publication of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

Savvy Aussies-in-Hollywood certainly slip away to this tiny speck in the Pacific, governed from New South Wales. Judy Davis, the Emmy award-winning actress who appeared in A Passage to India and Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives, has visited its golden sands, as has Eric Bana of Hulk fame, who came with his kids, and George Miller, the director of Happy Feet and Mad Max.

But the islanders are too busy milking their cows or minding their honey bees to pay much attention and, as for visitors (numbers are capped at 394 at a time), why would you bother ogling stars when you can spend the time paddling with exotic fish in more colours than a Matthew Williamson Kaftan? Anyway, the island – 11km long (6.8 miles), 2.8km wide and 770 km across the Tasman Sea from Sydney – is out of mobile phone range, so you can’t call and tell your friends which famous name you’ve just spotted.

It’s not totally off the grid, though. You can buy the Australian edition of Grazia at the local store and an intermittent internet connection allows a couple of young mums to shop on Net-a-Porter (then wait for purchases to arrive by barge because the daily 32-seat Das 8 plane usually flies at capacity weight). As for fashionable visitors, Stephen Jones, the milliner, is among devotees of what he calls “an unspoilt hideaway”, adding: “In a few short days, Lord Howe’s magic transports me, even inspiring a collection of mine entitled ‘Drifting & Dreaming’.” A gentle respect pervades a place where the school uniform does not include shoes. If  you need to move faster than you can walk bare-foot, you hire a bicycle. (The speed limit for the few dozen cars is 25km an hour.)

The chef at Pinetrees, the local hotel since about 1848, cycles to work with his surf board under his arm. The relaxed mood extends to the hotel’s “business centre” – an empty desk and a can of mozzie spray. No one uses it. The staff joke that they place bets on how few hours it takes guests to go from “boardroom to BBQ”.

“A few people do ask where the lap-pool is. I say ‘over there, mate’.” says Luke Hanson, one of the Pinetrees’ proprietors, gesturing to the lagoon that is home to 90 species of coral and more than 500 species of fish. Hanson has married into a matriarchal clan. His two young daughters, Elsie and Pixie, with wife Dani Rourke, an islander and former hot-shot Sydney lawyer, represent the seventh generation of women running Pinetrees (for, make no mistake, three-year-old Elsie definitely thinks she is running the place).

There’s abundant nature and history here. Take the tale of Dani’s great uncle Albert, who ran off as a teenager, by lighting a beacon to attract a passing ship and said he’d been shipwrecked. Eventually he settled in England, where 30 years later, he wrote home to tell the folks his new job – boatswain on the Titanic. Some 50 years after he perished at sea, s daughter traveled to Lord Howe Island, where she recalled her father as delusional; full of improbable stories of birds balancing  eggs on branches instead of building nests and flocks swooping from the sky at a human call. It’s such true facts of fascinating fauna that made Sir David Attenborough breathless when he vanished to the island. He described it as “almost unbelievable”.

Accommodation ranges from simple self-catering to the luxury of the new duplex Lidbird Suite at Capella Lodge, which features a bathtub on a private deck under the frangipani trees and a plunge pool with views across the lagoon to Mount Gower. The latter is a tough climb of 875m (2,870ft), so a more sensible way to spend the day might be lazing on the day bed reading The Freudian Slip by Marion von Adlerstein, the must-read of the Australian summer, in part set on Lord Howe. Lovely Capella lodge is child-free, so its owners, James and Hayley Baillie, who have four young boys, stay at Pinetrees.

Lord Howe isn’t an island to jam into a tight schedule. There ‘s the voyage to Ball’s Pyramid, which rises 551m out of the sea life a Gothic spire. There are glass – bottom boat trips that are far less frenzied than on the Great Barrier Reef, and not-to-be-missed – even by those who think bird-watching is for twitchers – is a ramble with the ornithologist Ian Hutton.

Then there is doing nothing. When Kris Lewis, the general manager of Arajilla Re-treat, returned after seven years working across Asia, he asked the fisherman who also refuels the planes what was new. “The windsock at the airport,” came the reply.

Still, there’s been much excitement lately. A new copper has reported for duty. Senior Constable McGrath’s correct title is “Lock Up Keeper Lord Howe Island”, though no one even locks their doors. The closest thing to that is the “privacy” sign hung on a banyan tree outside the yurt that houses the sap at Arajilla.

Radical Departures

Radical Departures

Forget the cliches- it’s time to rediscover Australia

by Marion Hume

My theme is Australia. You may consider this southern continent the most radical departure from everyday experience- or equally, the least. It is, of course, a long way from just about everywhere and spending your entire weekend traveling may be a strange notion (except those who commute from London to Sydney.) Yet it is also the faraway destination that you might think holds little to surprise. We know all about Bondi Beach and finding Nemo on The Great Barrier Reef and that vast red rock in teh centre correctly called Uluru, don’t we?

Yet Australia is travel’s big surprise for 2012 in terms of culture, food and travel experiences which which have zero to do with the old ‘flop and drop’ backpackers of old. Let’s consider food first. We know Australia is the land of fusion, the nation that exports hard-working chefs – ask to meet the creator of your dinner anywhere from Bruges to Beijing and chances are, the bloke who emerges from the kitchen has a lazy gin and an Aussie greeting. But what is so buzzy is the Sydney food scene. Melbourne and Adelaide have long been vibrant food centers, this in no small part sue to sophisticated emigres from Italy and Greece. But in Sydney, the equation used to be ‘great view + lackluster food + too chilly air con and bad service = huge bill’. Now, one of the city’s best restaurants is in a basement.

But lets us focus first on the entrepreneur and food god that is Maurice Terzini, who helms several restaurants with peerless views and great food. Terzini, with partners Robert Marchetti and Kimme Shaw, has changed Sydney. Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, with glittering views across the ocean at Bondi Beach, is one of the few restaurants  on earth where it is a requirement, rather than a pose, to eat lunch in dark glasses. Then came North Bondi Italian Food, where the queue for tables starts at 6pm (no reservations). Now, in Neild Avenue, a road drivers used to cut through without stopping, comes the latest arrival, called- with brevity-Neild Avenue and housed in a former factory. What’s to love? The ambience, and the  gorgeous Sydney women in high heels and tiny dresses? Yet, but thats common in this snazzy town. The difference is the food, which here features Ottoman cuisine as flavorsome as in those run-down shacks by the Bosporus. We’re talking lamb pistachio kebabs with cracked wheat and hung yogurt, velvety hummus, buffalo halumi with lemon, mint and shallot salad. Diners even get excited about cauliflower.

Sydney is not only Terzini’s town of course. Neil Perry (who creates the onboard catering for Qantas, surely the only long haul airline where you actually look forward to dinner) is the reigning monarch of Rockpool and its many spin-offs. His latest is the Spice Temple, where the food is fiery with the flavours of Sichuan, Yunnan and Xinjiang This is the joint in the basement so dinners enjoying a combination of fine local produce and authentic regional Chinese cuisine have nothing to divert them from what is on their plates. Then there are the little joints, like Vientiane, an organic Laotian restaurant combined with an art gallery which is carving out a name for “wellness” food that manages to be delicious and can be washed down with organic wine in a cute little boite hung with cutting-edge art. (Last time I was there, someone dropped AU$60 for dinner and AU$6,000 for a sculpture. Which was a shame because they had the latter packed to go while I was eating and I’d been enjoying the sight of it.)

Even home cooking has changed. The land of the “sausage sizzle ” has moved on from the humble ‘snag’ (which translates as ‘sausage’ from the local argo, ‘strine’). Fashionable in Sydney now? Competitive butchery with butchers shops as done up as the lobbies of small luxury hotels. Victor Churchill, in the Sydney suburb of Woollahra has a Himalayan salt-brick wall to help age the beef. In my grandmother’s day, shopping for supper meant asking if there were any chops. Now, customers can be heard requesting 36-month-old grass-fed meat, dry-aged for 30 days, for mince for burgers.

While butchers shops look like shiny hotel lobbies, the best hotels in Australia combine low key charm, the least possible impact on the environment and very good local wine. Southern Ocean Lodge is on Kangaroo Island, a short hop from Adelaide, South Australia. Hotelier James Baillie is a visionary, although you’d need at least 20:20 vision to even spot the lodge from afar as it disappears into the hillside . But there ‘s no swimming here.  Although the ocean spray comes right through your window, out there is the No.1 breeding ground for the Great White Shark.

James Baillie has made it tricky for me to choose my No.1 hotel on earth because he helms my equal two. Lord Howe Island was one of the last places on earth to be inhabited (and only descendants of the original handful of families can build houses there today). (It was first sighted at the end of the 19th century when a freighter was blown off course). As a result, the wildlife has no fear. Clap your hands and birds come down from the sky to see what is going on. But I’m no David Attenborough. I want supreme yet low-key comfort with my ornithology Capella Lodge is perfect.

The greatest travel commentator of them all, Alan Wicker, used to say he liked his paradises slightly spoilt, which to me means no one for miles, but wine and a proper loo. Kuri Bay is way up in the Kimberley, on the remotest shore of one of the most isolated regions, known up to now only to pearl divers. In partnership with Paspaley Pearls, Wild Bush Luxury – helmed by CHarles Carlow – has transformed Australia’s oldest pearl farm into a five room homestead, which is not luxurious in the traditional sense yet guests enjoy rare local delicacies such as pearl meat. The property is only accessible by helicopter or sea plane – a spectacular, one hour and 45-minute air safari from Broome, itself a tiny tin-roofed town three hours flight north of Perth, in turn the most isolated city in the world. Just don;t pack the IPad.

Travel alone to Three Hummock Island, off the northwest coast of Tasmania and you will be increasing the resident population by 50%. There are two residents at the place on our planet which enjoys the purest air quality. THis isle is an ark, where you can see all manner of rare marsupials. This is new luxury, which is to say managers John and Beverly O’Brien do everything possible to ensure a lovely stay. Just don’t expect a lock on the loo. Or indeed, a closed door.

Come to Australia for the culture? In which other country might you do a three city hop where the most radical contemporary art- some of it so transgressive it is rarely exhibited elsewhere – will knock your socks off? Let’s start with Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, reopening after an AU$53 million rebuild this spring to reveal galleries of a scale that would make London’s Tate Modern and Madrid’s Museo del Prado jealous. And they are already jealous, one presumes, of a location right across the harbour from the Opera House, itself the ultimate site-specific work of art.

The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art is up in steamy Brisbane where the mercury rises. Brisbane was a country town that has become a city (Chanel has opened a store there). The fashionable hatter, Stephen Jones, curated an exhibition called Hats, an Anthology, a work of whimsy which proved a suprise crowed pleaser at London’s V&A. When it travelled to Brisbane, 165,158 people saw it in 60 days- many of them many times over, given the population.

Small? What about Tasmania, where even the locals joke about people with two heads. (Before you criticize me for the preceding line, see the brochure for MONA- The Museum of Old and New Art – in Hobart, which announces that ‘Tasmanians (two heads etc.)’ may enter for free.)

MONA is the single most exciting art gallery to have opened anywhere since Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim at Bilbao. Sleepy Hobart is now in shock about how a native son – one David Walsh, who made his millions by developing a spread betting system for gambling on horse races- has opened a private museum, filled with his own treasures and largely funded by himself, and lured so many people to an extraordinary art space carved out of the rock and to which access is by boat.

Wim Delvoye is one of the world’s most controversial artists. He is best known for Cloaca, which replicates the process of the human intestine turning food to waste, and also for an art farm where piglets were tattooed then allowed to live for a decade, far longer than is conventional farming before their skins were displayed. Louis Vuitton and Disney are among those who have tried, unsuccessfully, to sue Delvoye for tattooing their logo’s on pigskin. MONA is the first gallery anywhere to show Delvoye’s complete exploration of religion, which includes dead mice acting out the stations of the cross and a real live man called Tim as a silent Christ-like work of art.

Australia as a radical departure? Surely yes, especially as this article does not even mention…sport.

The People’s Republic of Luxe

The People’s Republic of Luxe


10 Mag | Issue 41 November 2011

When I was a little girl, before you were born, China was the place they made cheap stuff. Now it’s the place where all the luxury labels have to have their snazziest stores in the world. When I was a teenager, China remained closed  – they only let them out to scoop up all the medals at the Olympics. Now, of course, if you are in fashion, you have to go there to scoop up your share of an annual consumer expenditure estimated to top 1.3 trillion yuan (about £122 billion) by 2020.

by Marion Hume

And we’re not just talking Dior, Chanel, Vuitton. You want a yacht with that handbag? British yacht brand, Sunseeker is out there flogging its Manhattan 73 model for 31.4 million yuan (£3 million). You could toast your purchase with Chateau Lafite 1982 at 445,186 yuan (£42,115) Oh stop fretting, that’s for half a case. Did you think anyone would pay that much for a bottle?

When I started work, Hong Kong was the gateway to “Mainland China” as it was known (those in the know call it “the PRC” today). Back when Honkers was still a British colony, you could almost count the grains of rice in people’s dinner bowls as the plane swerved around mountains and tower blocks to touch down at Kai Tak, the world’s sixth most dangerous airport. Now, the PRC is peppered with super-dooper airports designed by “star-chitects”. But China’s billionaires don’t fly commercial, although some hire rather than own their own Gulfstreams. Price for Beijing-Shanghai return on a Gulfstream G550: 276,500 yuan (£26,157).

From the far south of Guangzhou, where Louis Vuitton has its largest Chinese flagship store, to the the old silk road staging post of Urumqi, the most inland city in the world – yup, they’ve got a Vuitton there too – China is fashion profit central, even if a recent store renovation is rumoured to have cost Vuitton in the eight digits. The first fashion person I knew who reached “real” China, as in Beijing, was sent by Zara to find a cheap production source. Now, Zara has 70 stores in the PRC.

The first time I went to Beijing, it was to interview newly-successful women, several of whom thought they were wearing designer clothes, but these were funny fake brands that I had never heard of. Then the fake market started to thrive and I seemed to always be clambering through some fat-filled restaurant kitchen, then down a back alley and into a room the size of a toilet pretending to be a customer. The criminal salesmen pretended to believe me as they took photographs of my (real) Fendi Selleria bag. The fake business shows no sign of slowing down as China’s love of luxury booms. The new trend is in counterfeiting an entire experience, although who knew there was anywhere on earth that they would welcome a completely fake branch of IKEA?

Even as recently as five years ago, the picture the photographer had to get was the “contrast shot” of the toothless guy parking his bicycle next to the Louis Vuitton superstore in Shanghai. The shoppers within were still so delighted in the newness of being able to express their individuality through fashion, that they would willingly stop and talk to a stranger with a tape recorder, a photographer and a translator. They told such sad stories of their Mao suit years. One shopper never knew her father. When her mother was pregnant, her parents had been sent to the country to be “re-educated” and they locked her father in a shed until he died. Her mother survived eating frogs and birds eggs. Another was once given a yellow silk shirt from abroad, which gave her great joy every time she looked at it – until her mother dyed it brown so she could get the use out of it. That woman – a very powerful woman – started to cry as she remembered that. The power of fashion is powerful indeed.

Now, the bulk of luxury shoppers – and there are more than 200 million young adults under 30 in the PRC – were born after The Cultural Revolution so have not “eaten bitterness” as their parents did. Far from envying their lifestyles, their mothers tend to encourage them. “If I dress a little bit sexy, she thinks I look beautiful,” one girl told me when I returned to Beijing in 2008. “I’m the youth she didn’t have.”

For the luxury tsars, China’s love of the new is a great plus. “They don’t have a generation before them to refer to style-wise, so they are daring with the choices they make,” one CEO told me, eyes ablaze. The rules are still being written in this high profit battle ground. Beijinger and Shanghainese girls like to write off those from the “second tier cities” as bumpkins who have just learned to say Vuitton, but that doesn’t stop those in cities you’ve hardly heard wanting designer bags. No surprise then that as well as opening stores everywhere,  the likes of Chloe now have Chinese language blogs. Faye Wong, a Chinese singer and actress, does print campaigns for Céline. One of Louis Vuitton’s male models is Taiwanese-Canadian actor and model Godfrey Gao. No prizes for guessing (beyond those gorgeous cheekbones) why he got the gig.

It might be hard to believe this now, but British designers used to quake in their boots when the American department stores came calling. China is expected to be the second-largest consumer market in the world by 2015 and if the USA doesn’t pull its economy out of tailspin, it could come sooner. Guess which buyers get the champers and the Rose Bakery cupcakes these days? But forget any cliches about Chinese shoppers liking the logo-a-gogo stuff. The level of sophistication is obvious when you walk past racks of Vanessa Bruno, Maison Martin Margiela, Rick Owens at the Lane Crawford department store in Beijing.

A year ago, I got a call from Francois-Henri Pinault’s office. Would I like to join him on a trip to 10 Chinese cities, few of which I had actually heard of (and I’m up on Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Dalian…)? Alas, I was in a diamond mine in Australia (key global market for Tiffany? Yes, you got that one too) so had to pass on the PPR titan’s tempting invite, but I did once interview Pinault’s rival, Bernard Arnault of LVMH, in a penthouse suite in Beijing. Trying to get to Arnault, both the richest man in fashion and the richest man in France, when you are actually in France is well-nigh impossible. Yet in China, he was as relaxed and warm as a chilly billionaire can be, although he was probably totting up what you get when even 0.001% of a population headed towards 1.35 billion people wants Dior.

But you should never count your Chinese chickens. When Arnault’s mate President Sarkozy said he would be meeting the Dalai Lama (do, please Google exactly why Richard Gere is so passionate about Tibet), the Chinese ambassador in Paris apparently had the luxury titan quaking in his handmade Berlotti shoes at the thought of Chinese Vuitton customers asking for their money back.

Those customers get wooed. Last year it was the Dior extravaganza staged on the Bund in Shanghai; there was the “Culture Chanel” exhibition, the Fendi’s show on the Great Wall and the Ferragamo show within the Forbidden City. But it is not just about wooing the girls. One of the glories of modern China, if you are a luxury tycoon, is this is one of the few markets where men outdo women in their regard of expensive designer goods as trophies of success. Good news for Dunhill and Hugo Boss,

You can’t keep up with who is opening, who is expanding where. There’s Burberry’s upcoming Hong Kong megastore which promises to be a smart shopping destination for an annual 23 million Chinese tourists who come to town. Niche brands like Moncler are making a splash in Beijing, Miu Miu is expanding in Shanghai – the list goes on.

Susan Owens is a China expert whose blog, Paris Cherie, links the world of Paris fashion to Shanghai. She admits she can hardly post content up fast enough or keep track of the Western brands keen to snap up the services of Shanghai model, Du Juan.

What the Chinese luxury consumer is not madly interested in – up to now – is the vast nation’s sartorial past. “There’s no vintage—Chinese don’t wear old clothes,” someone told me. Hello Ralph Lauren, who visited China last year. Cue an autumn-winter 2011 collection of cheongsams inspired by the old silk road. When Ralph Lauren opened his first stores in Britain, back when Princess Diana was young, few thought his coals-to-Newcastle – or more precisely chintz-to-Downton Abbey -offering would work in a land where some people actually owned family silver. How wrong we were so expect to see fashion folk in the PCR dressing “Chinese”

Coming soon, more homegrown designers, more competition. And I leave you with this. In 1997, I was editing Vogue Australia, which meant I was “Asia Pacific” on the Paris show seating plans and thus in the worst seats in the house. Around me would be the first few fashion editors from the PRC. Where are they now? Locate Suzy Menkes and track along a couple of chairs, that’s where. All power to China.

Stop, Revive, Survive. Singapore + Bangkok

Stop, Revive, Survive

Singapore + Bangkok

Harpers Bazaar | September 2011

Breaking up (the journey) is not hard to do with BAZAAR’s guide to the cities worth a trip beyond the transit lounge

by Marion Hume

Reborn as Cool: Singapore

If you still think Singapore is dull, you’ve evidently not sipped a Southside (Tanqueray 10, fresh mint, fresh lime) while lounging at Lantern, the jaw-droppingly fabulous poolside bar which sits atop the Fullerton BayHotel.

Lantern derives its moniker from the old Chinese name for Singapore’s historical Clifford Pier: Red Lantern Pier. But that’s the only old-fashioned thing about this joint. Old Singapore? Forget it. The people here have, except in the city’s excellent museums. As for the 21st-century city, where else can you find a cathedral of commerce to rival the newest Louis Vuitton megastore accessed by bridge to its very own island?

STAY: The waterfront conversion, (calling this project “ambitious” would be ridiculous understatement) is at last complete. What that means to the stopover visitor is not just glittering views but also a safe circuit that you can walk, or run at 4 am, should you choose.

Come to your senses and enjoy a leisurely breakfast on your balcony instead (scrambled eggs and shaved black truffles, for instance). The Fullerton Bay Hotel is the 100-room groovy little sister of the stately old dame The Fullerton, the latter a grand treat that can wait until you have gray hair.

Think twice before staying at the much-talked-about Marina Bay Sands, with its three, 55-storey towers topped by a jetsons-style SkyPark and an outpost of Bali icon Ku De Ta. When I visited, the line to check in for a sneak peak was longer than the line at the airport. Which is not to say this massive complex, which seems to rise out of the South China Sea, isn’t awesome to admire from a distance.

If your budget is tight, rest your head in a room so dinky, you’ll marvel how they fitted in the power shower and Nespresso machine. Blue Monday is painted blue, from ceiling to skirting board, and is teeny. It is a room on the first floor of Wanderlust, where every room is named and colour-coded (surprisingly useful when you are jet-lagged). Wanderlust is a gem in Little India, the last still-authentic neighborhood on a tiny island that is no stranger to change. But think carefully before checking in to the third floor where rooms are themed after monsters (strange, but true). The Typewriter room features a keyboard straight out of an acid trip by American novelist William Burroughs.  Having spent my life on a nightmare of deadlines, I’ll pass on that one, thanks. You might like the tree monster room, though; an enchanted forest with a mezzanine bed.

Singapore is designed for stopping over. There’s the easy-peasy train link from Changhi Airport, from whence you can store your luggage and venture into town with just an overnighter. Free WiFi, local calls and non-alcoholic drinks are often standard in hotel rooms, as are iPod docks and great toiletries by the likes of Molton Brown and Kiehl’s. And toothpaste. Useful if you’ve left that in the big bag at the airport. The Quincy, my favorite stopover hotel on earth, also offers free laundry of a couple of items a day and hearty, hot, breakfast, lunch, dinner included in the room rate plus an infinity pool open all hours.

SHOP: Stopovers from Australia usually arrive in the evening, so once you’ve spend your first night at Lantern, it’s up early for shopping. The waterfront has all the luxury brands you’d expect but if you want bargains, head to Mall 313 on Orchard Road (the main shopping nexus). 313 isn’t the shiniest mall, but it stocks local brands (don’t bother unless you are of nearest Asian proportions) and the fabulous Uniqlo (which fits all).

PLAY: What to do in Singapore? The answer used to be eat then eat more, and that has stayed the same. What’s changed is the scope, which now includes Cocotte, a French brasserie at least as good as any in Paris. Cocotte is at Wanderlust. You don’t have to check in to enjoy a “pissaladiere”, one of those nicoise-style onion and anchovy tarts that are perfect for lunch.

The sights? I lived in Singapore years ago, when they were busy bulldozing most of those and I have to say, having stayed in a traditional wooden slatted home and been eaten alive by mosquitoes, I’m not sorry it’s changed. The Singapore I remember is preserved in the Chinatown Heritage Centre on Pagoda Street. Do dash in. It’s authentic except for the air-con.

Otherwise you can come to this frenetic city and just relax. The Tanjong Beach Club (day membership available) is a sexy beachside enclave of pool, volleyball, bar and cabana just a stone’s throw from the heart of the city and is the perfect place to spend a sun-soaked afternoon. Twenty-four hours in Singapore? You could just throw the bikini in your hand luggage and chil here sipping mai tais until your night flight to Europe.

Bang For Your Buck: Bangkok

Unlike Singapore, Bangkok is not a easy city to grasp fast, so keep things simple. What’s required for a 48-hour jaunt is a peaceful place to stay, a few fantastic restaurants and after some great shopping, a wonderful massage. And as little time spent in traffic jams as possible.

TRANSIT TIP: If you arrive on a Sunday, you’ll save an hour on the route in from the airport. Avoid airport transits on a Friday night. While Asia’s other tourist hubs have affordable airport links, Bangkok’s can be a nightmare. Consider that your most extravagant spend should be a limo transfer (pricey, but great are those that meet you at the gate and whisk you past lengthy immigration lines) or get your hotel to send a car.

The problem with Bangkok is that there is no central taxi service hub and no reliable maps of a city growing and changing by the minute. Unless you have girl-scout skills of navigation, it’s wise not to believe the driver who says “near, near” and urges you got get out prematurely. Always carry a card with your hotel number, the phone number of where you are going and the address in Thai and English script, and know that calls on your driver’s local mobile are almost free (tip heavily). It is not unusual for taxi drivers to be remote-phone-navigated to your destination.

STAY: Check in at The Eugenia, an old colonial house with a pool in the central courtyard. But hang on: Thailand has never been colonized, so what’s with this “Indochine” mansion- all dark wood floors, high mahogany beds and copper bathtubs? It’s a fantasy, built just five years ago. Who cares? The details, both antique and repro, and the vast tables of white orchids, are glorious. Stay in the neighborhood until you get your bearings. Ruen Mallika is a wonderful restaurant to Thai-up your tastebuds and just a short taxi ride from the Eugenia.

PLAY: For cocktails, it is Vertigo on the roof of the Banyan tree; aptly named given it is 61 floors up (check online re: the dress code). Or for another way to achieve bliss with no dress code whatever, get a Thai massage at Oasis Spar (they’ll send a car to your hotel and you could leave from here direct to the airport).

EAT: You must go to Nahm, Australian Thai food guru David Thompson’s restaurant in the Metropolitan hotel. Sell the car, rent your house out, do whatever it takes to eat here. What to eat? Frankly, my notes are pathetic, I got as far as ” clear soup with crab meat, scallop salad with grated coconut” before I realised no words of mine could describe the majesty of this food. Simply brilliant.

SHOP: With 48 hours, you’ve just enough time to order a bespoke suit form the Tailor at Sukhumvit Road (try Raja Royal Tailor at Sukhmvit 4, Tanika at Sukumvit 14). For beautiful glassware, go to Lamont at the Four Seasons.

Estate of the Art-Collezione Gori

Estate of the Art – Collezione Gori

by Marion Hume


In the gardens of a Tuscan manor house, an inspiring collection by modern masters. TUSCANY There is, of course, an abundance of celebrated art in Tuscany, but the experience of looking at it amidst jostling crowds is rarely tranquil. And what if your taste is for something more modern?

Collezione Gori is a rare treat: a private collection of art beautifully displayed in some 24 hectares of parkland surrounding a grand Tuscan manor called Celle. The estate displays some 70 works designed precisely for their surroundings by artists including Anselm Kiefer, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Richard Serra. The collection was started by Giuliano Gori, who acquired the old mansion in the Tuscan hills between Florence and Pistoia, in the 1970s and set about inviting artists to come to Tuscany, absorb the atmosphere, choose where they would like to see a creation displayed and then be funded to make that happen.

Entry to Collezione Gori is free, but the days of turning up at the gates on a bicycle and be let in are long gone. Today, you must write to the gallery well in advance- although the good news, as the collection prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2012, is that there will be more summer open days than in the recent years. Current artworks include a house of mirrors by Daniel Buren, a bamboo pathway to infinity and a couple of giant eggs.

Now structural renovations are complete, it’s also possible to enjoy the seventeenth century chapel, historic fountains and stonework in the garden next to the house. As well as modern installations – keep eyes peeled for the  Marta Pan and two Dani Karavan works- other treats include a number of 19th century whimsies such as an aviary, a tea house and an Egyptian monument. The landscaping, inspired by the English stately homes, includes two small lakes with crags and a waterfall. Amid all this is the unmissable My Sky Hole by Bukichi Inoue. Set in the olive grove, it sets visitors on a meditative journey through an outdoor corridor, down an underground tunnel and back up a spiral staircase into the light of a large glass cube.

For details on how to apply for a visit go to goricoll.it and allow at least six weeks notice.

South Australia – On A Grander Scale

Vanity Fair | April 2011

On A Grander Scale

Forget your Rough Guide. What you’ll really need is a Thesaurus because the landscapes of South Australia will soon have you racking your brain for alternative to “huge”, “amazing”, “awesome” and “wowee”.

By Marion Hume

Do not go to South Australia because you want to climb the Harbour Bridge, watch the sun rise over Uluru or find Nemo on the Great Barrier Reef. None of these are in South Australia, where you can’t even crack a convict joke in the state capital of Adelaide without someone pointing the sugar tongs and reminding you that there was never any of that transported unpleasantness around here — it was free-settled in accordance to an 1834 Act of His Majesty’s Parliament. But do go to South Australia, because it will blow your mind.

One and a half times the size of Texas, think of it as a perpetual version of the artist James Turrell’s Bindu Shards, the mysterious hi-tech installation that packed them in at London’s Gagosian Gallery in late 2010 — except out here you won’t have to clamber inside a metal pod in order to witness Technicolor dreams so intense they’re freaky. You’ll feel utterly alone as dawn breaks over the Finders rangers and they pump up the lights. Sure, waking up on the other side of the state line at Uluru (Ayers Rock if you’re not keeping up) is impressive, until someone slurps from a Thermos. But what’s different here is you can’t capture this on a postcard because the immensity makes it photographically impossible.

It’s as if the Zen principles of the Japanese garden have been turned upside down. Every rock in the foreground could be a mountain in the distance — your brain can’t compute the dimensions of the empty space in between, especially without the migratory herds of the African plains on which to lock your viewfinder. Still, look down and there could be a king brown snake, dull-looking but deadly, about to slither up under the axle of your car.

To explore here is both a sensory pleasure — such a cluster of world-class wineries — and a tease. Let’s say you are doing a quick edit of your digital snaps. What you see are Alpine slopes. Where you are is on a bluff bleached by the sun where the pines have shed their needles. Then there’s your ears, which hear the crackle of footsteps on a frosty lawn while your eyes spy kangaroo-paw prints on the salty crust of what was once the ocean floor.

But before we get into the outback, just an hour or so out of Adelaide is the Barossa Valley. Most of its early settlers were Lutherans fleeing religious persecution in Prussia, who thoughtfully stuffed some vines in their bags as they decamped from South Australia.

If you intend to sample the Shiraz, you must stay at The Louise. No you must stay at The Louise — Australia’s drink-driving laws are among the toughest in the world. Then you can also experience the delight of an outdoor shower, before dinner at Appellation, where grilled wagyu mignon wrapped in prosciutto with bacon crumble and creamed white beans convinces you that it is justly renowned.

Another day, another valley of vines, although there aren’t many wineries like Sevenhill Cellars, which has the lay market and the church trade stitched up (the latter is shifting from reds to whites to save on laundering the alter cloths). North Bundaleer, built at the end of the 19th century, sits where the Clare Valley ends. This gracious homestead was built for George Maslin, a sheep farmer made good, so there’s a ballroom under the corrugated-iron roof.

Of course, this being Australia, some things are just odd. So you don’t blink when a bloke looks up from under the brim of his Akubra and says his semen price is $60 a dose. He’s talking about his stud ram. And the man in raggedy trousers, leaning on a gate forged out of an old iron bedstead? He only looks like a Depression-era portrait by Dorothea Lange until his iPhone beeps with the Tokyo trading price for sushi-grade abalone, for which he owns a brace of offshore dive licenses. After hours on a bullet-straight road, you’re in a pub and the waitress reappears, cradling a small goat, to offer condom pie for afters. Ah, that would be quandong, a native plum.

Arriving into the little former railway town of Quorn feels like high noon in the Wild West, due to its streets as wide as a movie set-which is what is has been since Maureen O’Hara showed up in the 50s, followed by Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr in the 60s, and then Mel Gibson, who shot scenes for Gallipoli here in 1980, back when he was still beautiful.

There was a camel in Gallipoli; in fact there have been camels in South Australia since 1840. Today there are over a million feral dromedaries roaming the country, descended from those that hauled anything from telegraph cables to the sleepers for the Ghan railway — “Ghan” being short for “Afghan”, a catch-all term for Muslim cameleers. Surnames deriving from Muscat, Yemen and Iraq pepper South Australia. Look hard enough and somewhere you’ll find camel pie.

Arkaba is one of the Luxury Lodges of Australia-Which also include The Louise, the divine Capella off the coast of New South Wales and the new Saffire in Tasmania, as well as Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island, of which more in due course. It’s a spirited initiative to trump the successful superlodges of New Zealand. Arkaba’s owner, Charlie Carlow, heir to the earldom of Portarlington, explains: “We are not trying to recreate hotel rooms with mini-bars. Here you just help yourself to drinks- it’s like staying in someone’s home. This is an early settler property, and the original owner had some kind of eating house or pub-there’s an Eating House Creek nearby. Graveyards on the property tell of heroic failures.” The bedheads are made of old fence posts, bed-side tables are glass-topped wool bales and communal dining is round an old wool-sorting table.

Most of all, though, at Arkaba it is possible to get some perspective on the landscape of the rugged Flinders Ranges.

Every August since 1856 professional or “gun” shearers have shown up to work at the Arkaba woolshed, which looks just like the one in Tom Robert’s 19th century masterpiece, Shearing the Rams, a painting that defines a certain strand of Australian art that is at once masculine and misty.

Collectively, the traditional inhabitants of the Flinders Ranges are known as the Adnyamathanha, the hill people. But even the ancient Aboriginal tribes are, in geological terms, johnny-come-latelys in a wonderland that dates back some 1.8 billion years.

Further north, things get more exciting as they get younger (about 550 million years). Because so few people kick about in the Ediacara Hills, no one picked up the key to life until 2003, after which Ross Fargher, whose family own the Prairie Hotel, Parachilna, left his fossil lying on the porch until a palaeontologist realised it beat that of the next oldest vertebrae by 30 million years. No wonder David Attenborough gets breathless when he visits.

When I was editing Vogue Australia, I sent a fashion team to the Prairie Hotel, where the time is always beer o’clock and there’s fancy fayre like wallaby shashlick and emu-egg frittata on the menu. They drove out into the middle of nowhere and just at the model was striking a pose a voice hollered, “Oi! I’ve just raked that!” And then Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel appeared to shoot a scene for Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke.

Take a small plane south and meet me on Kangaroo Island. You’re still in the same state, but it’s too far to drive unless you’ve got time on your hands.

So you’ve ticked off the African Safari big five? Pens at the ready for an Aussie Noah’s Ark, because this island, eight miles offshore from Cape Jervis, is a natural life raft for endangered creatures, including the Australian sea lion- the world’s more threatened pinniped- and the glossy black cockatoo. It is also where the Heath goanna is making its last stand. Then there’s the New Zealand fur seal, the Tammar wallaby (the wallaby and the kangaroo are cousins) and Koalas (never, please, “koala bears” they’re not bears), which are increasingly rare on much of the mainland- but look, there’s one now, in his furry pyjamas.

How adorable are the waddling squadrons of fairy penguins! As for mail-order queens, genetically pure K.I bees are in demand by international apiarists. But just because there are no foxes, no rabbits, to destroy this Antipodean Galapagos doesn’t mean there’s nothing that can kill you. “Gotcha!” hisses the tiger snake, and you sincerely hope it’s joking- one bite and, without antivenom, odds on you’re a goner.

And so to the four-headed penis of the male short-beaked echidna, which isn’t enough for the female that looks like a porcupine but makes like a princess as she leads up to eight randy chaps on a six- week Animal Magic excursion called an echidna (love) train, at the end of which only one gets a shag. About 24 days later, mama lays an egg, which she wiggles up into her pouch, where it stays until it hatches into a puggle. It’s knowledge like that which makes you wish Trivial Pursuit had not gone the way of the Victorian parlour game.

Egg-laying monotremes are the oldest surviving mammals on Earth, and if that isn’t enough to get an island named after you, blame Captain Matthew Finders, who was starving when he and his men landed in 1802 and threw roos in the pot. Nicholas Baudin, who made landfall that same spring, was French, so he nabbed a kangaroo to parade around Paris- though he (the Frenchman) only made it to Madagascar before he died. Both explorers must surely have been surprised that they encountered no Aboriginal people on an island seven times the size of Singapore. Nor has an Aboriginal skeleton been found since. Tools dating back 16,000 years suggests that whoever did live here was fending off marsupial Godzillas- possums and wombats the size of rhinos- so may have made a dash for it over a long-gone land bridge.

I won’t be surprised if you already know about Southern Ocean Lodge, given it has won just about every travel gong going since it opened in 2008. Why will be particularly clear if your billet is the exhilarating Osprey Suite, with its peerless glass-walled views over the pounding surf. You’d expect this game-changing luxury lodge, which slithers almost invisibly down a bluff, to be eco-this, eco-that. It is also near-carbon-neutral, what with crab-meat omelette for breakfast, line-caught snapper for lunch, and dinner’s oysters followed by South Rock lamb, all locally-sourced. The Henschke Julius Riesling, however, had to travel from the Barossa Valley.

You’ll be glad it did, and you did, as you stand at sunset, glass in hand, for kangaroos and canapés and a mob of roos bounds across the horizon.