So I have shared my favourite restaurant experiences of 2013 and my favourite recipes of 2013 with you, and as promised the final part of this series is a roundup of my travels in 2013. Ladies and gentlemen please fasten your seatbelts, return your seatbacks to the upright position, ensure that your tray tables are stowed – and prepare for take-off!
The travel year kicked off in February with a week’s skiing with friends in the French Alps in the resort of Samoens, part of the Grand Massif ski area. We stayed in an outstanding chalet called Grand Ourse owned and run by a young English couple under the banner of Absolute Alpine who truly understand the kind of ski holiday I want: luxury accommodation; a hot tub; a relaxed atmosphere; and outstanding food (their chef for the season had done a stage at the Fat Duck, no less!) . An excellent time was had by all, as you can probably see…!
The next trip was our annual trip home to South Africa in March. We started in Cape Town and managed to fit in a night at the spectacular Cullinan Hotel, as well as a blissful short break to the magical Grootbos reserve outside Hermanus. We also made it down to Port Elizabeth and Cape St Francis where I hung out with my awesome nephews and spent rather a lot of time on the beach!
May brought the Plate to Page food writing & photography workshop at which I am a speaker and this time we held it at Decoy Country Cottages in Ireland, just outside Dublin. We welcomed 11 participants from around the world (including two from South Africa!) and fell in love with the Irish countryside, people… and food!
Early June saw me head off to Nantes, France for a press trip to the Muscadet wine region. Two very happy days were spent travelling from wine estate to wine estate and meeting interesting, diverse and passionate winemakers; as well as experiencing some fantastic meals including the wonderful local seafood.
In August we went to visit friends in Jersey – an channel island we have visited several times but that never fails to provide an enjoyable weekend. You can always find a spot on a sandy beach, even on Bank Holiday weekend, and a trip around the food market in St Helier to collect fresh local produce for dinner is a foodie’s dream.
Early September saw me finally set foot in Asia (it only took fortysomething years…) when the Hong Kong Tourist Board invited me along with a couple of other journalists on a press trip to explore Hong Kong as a foodie short break or layover destination – a perfect halfway house if you are travelling to Australia from the UK. We stayed in possibly my favourite hotel ever (the Hotel Icon in Kowloon) – an establishment that takes customer focus and attention to small details to new heights. From the first evening bobbing up and down in Victoria Harbour on the Aqua Luna red-sailed junk in a happy jet-lagged daze, to the extraordinary views from The Peak, through a foodie tour of the Central district, to a series of increasingly excellent dim sum meals, it was a hugely memorable long weekend and I definitely want to return to Hong Kong to explore further.
As luck would have it, my first and second trips to Asia took place within two weeks of each other as we departed on our long-awaited Singapore holiday in late September. I had been promising Johanna that I’d visit since she moved there and I had finally made good on my promise! We arrived just in time for the Singapore Formula 1 Night Race – an unmissable spectacle even for non-fans like me – and had a Killers concert thrown in as a bonus. For the next week, we explored and fell in love with Singapore – its tropical climate; exotic plants and animals; bustling hawker centres full of cheap, exotic food; elegant high-end dining options; and its melting pot of cultures. We also spent a night at the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel, mostly to be able to swim in their spectacular rim flow pool on the 57th floor. Yes, it is worth every penny, and then some.
On the way back from Singapore, we stopped off in Dubai for a few days, where we stayed at the magnificent One & Only The Palm resort, quite possibly the most luxurious and relaxing resort I have ever visited. Our villa was halfway between the swimming pool and the beach and it was difficult to tear ourselves away from the pool long enough each day to do a little sightseeing. Seriously difficult. We did manage it though, and did a spot of skiing at Ski Dubai as well as going up the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building), having (enormously expensive) drinks at the seven-star Burj Al Arab hotel, and meeting up with Sally for dinner.
In November, the planets magically aligned and we were able to take a weekend break in Scotland on the same weekend that the Springboks played rugby in Ediburgh. I had won a weekend at the Monachyle Mohr hotel in a cooking competition earlier in the year and had no idea what to expect – but boy, was I blown away! Situated on the shores of the small but perfectly formed Loch Voil and a stone’s throw from Rob Roy’s grave, the hotel is a serene oasis of beautiful decor, friendly staff and seriously good food.
In mid-December I was thrilled to be invited to experience a gourmet ski weekend on the slopes of the Dolomites. The concept of “Slope Food” is that a number of Michelin-starred local chefs (the area is over-endowed with them!) each create a single signature dish that is to be served at one of the mountain restaurants that dot the area. You buy a ticket that entitles to you to all six dishes and then ski from hut to hut, sampling a dish and a matching glass of wine at each. My dream trip? You bet. All I can say is that the French resorts can learn a lot from Italy in terms of stylish mountain huts! Definitely a must-do for any skiing foodie.
And a week after my Dolomites ski trip, Nick and I jetted off to spend our Christmas skiing in Obertauern, Austria with Johanna and her family. We’d been to the resort previously two years ago, but I had hurt my knee on day 2 and so had not seen much of the resort – but this time I skiied it flat! Compact and pretty, it’s set in a bowl and you can ski in a clockwise or anti-clockwise circuit (the Tauernrunde) without ever having to retrace your steps. Our hotel (Hotel Austria) was situated directly next to the Edelweiss lift and slope, which just so happens to be the slope where night skiing takes place – can there be a greater luxury than tumbling out of your hotel and directly onto the chair lift and then spending the day skiing with one of your best friends? Nope, didn’t think so!
And that, as they say, is that! I don’t like to pick favourites, but suffice to say we are already planning a stopover in Singapore in 2014, en route to Australia… If you are in the travel industry and would like me to visit a specific destination during 2014 please get in touch with me to discuss how I can help you showcase your destination through high quality photos and text via all my social media channels.
Happy travels to all my Cooksister readers and may you get to explore to your heart’s content in 2014!