Kirilly: Buenos Aires, Argentina

One of my favourite cities that I have been lucky to visit is Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina.  With a population over 13 million people the city has been virtually rebuilt since the beginning of this century and very few of the old buildings remain. It drags you in to its charms whether it is the famous tango, the atmosphere of its surrounding neighbourhoods, the amazing restaurants for you to try local food and wine or simply strolling around soaking in this vibrant city.  What makes this city so fascinating is its dual-heritage, part European & part Latin American.

Buenos Aires is home to the widest  avenue in the world where you can see many of the city’s famous monuments & sights. Plaza de Mayo the city’s largest square resembles a grand square you could find in Madrid and the ornate Teatro Colon which flanks it looks like a building you could find in Vienna.  But there are plenty of cobblestoned streets around with impromptu parades to let you know that you are indeed in Argentina!  You can visit the nearby neighbourhood of La Boca which is the typically Italian district and where you can sit back & enjoy some lunch and watch some locals doing the tango!  It is probably the most colourful area of Buenos Aires and its sits along the port.  It has many brightly painted low houses made of wood and metal which are amazing to see. The main street here is Caminito which is home to the artisan & painters fair, open air tango shows and typical Italian cantinas.

A must to any visitor here is to explore the Recoleta area.  Such a pretty neighbourhood filled with lovely houses and tree lined streets.  There are parks and a large array of restaurants and cafes to try.  It is home to the famous Recoleta market which is only on weekends.  A popular tourist attraction of this area is the Recoleta Cemetry where Eva Perone is laid to rest.  The neighbourhood of Palermo situated next to this area is also beautiful with huge jacaranda trees.  There are many parks to visit with some stunning flora and fauna to see.  I actually did a fantastic bike ride around this area with a local guide and got to see so much more of the area I would have seen on my own… even taken to his favourite local bakery to try out some local delights.

San Telmo is yet another stunning part of the city, some say the most picturesque of Buenos Aires.  Here you can wander down cobblestone streets and look at the colonial buildings amongst and array of shops & boutiques, tango parlours & cafes.  The Sunday Flea market here provides excellent, leisurely people-watching & shopping opportunities!

As I have already mentioned, Buenos Aires offers some wonderful shopping, it is said to be one of the most charming cities of the world for this reason.  You can find grand boulevards, to winding streets which offer an endless variety of boutiques, galleries and antique shops.  Argentina is well known for its excellent beef and also red wine and you will find many local restaurants to try this out for yourself.  It is also home to some delicious ice-cream!  Buenos Aires is also known for its vibrant bars & nightlife so there is always plenty of offer for anyone visiting this city and all I can say is – it’s a must for anyone visiting South America, I bet you will fall in love with the city like I did!  It has rich cultural heritage, the highest concentration of theatres in the world and a way of life that cant help but drag you in to its charms!

Kirilly: Peru

I was very lucky to escort a group to South America a couple of years ago, somewhere that had been on my bucket list forever and it did not disappoint!  I loved every minute of it, each country offering me something different to experience.  Different cultures, way of life, food and scenery.  One highlight amongst many was my visit to Peru which I thought was totally amazing and a must see for everyone.  Peru offered me what I imagined South America to be, one of the places left where you can see people in traditional dress, mixed with a lot of western customs now so if you are thinking of heading to Peru, I suggest doing this sooner rather than later before you miss this experience.

peru2

Our first stop in Peru was Cuzco which stands 3310 meters above sea level so the first thing to do was to acclimatise to the altitude.  Luckily our whole group did well and we did not have any of the altitude sickness you hear of.  Cuzco is a beautiful city  full of colonial churches, monasteries, convents and extensive Inca ruins, which can be seen throughout the city with remains of the Inca walls, arches and doorways.  It is home to some fantastic restaurants as well and I enjoyed lots of local food while staying here.  Cuzco was to become one of my favourite cities I visited on this trip.  It is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in this continent and has been declared an UNESCO site.

peru3

From Cuzco we visited the Sacred Valley – a long narrow valley and home of the Incas for many years. We visited the famous Andean market of Pisac where you can see local handcrafts, food & people which was a truly wonderful experience.  Stunning scenery throughout and visiting the ruins of Ollantaytambo with its ruins and terraces showed us how life used to be so many years ago.  This made me more excited to visit Machu Picchu the following day, which had been in my top 5 places I wanted to visit for so long.

 

The following day we went by train to Aguas Calientes which is the town at the base of Machu Picchu and our home for the next 2 nights.  The train was amazing with our Vista dome carriage offering us amazing views the whole way of the valley & gorge which grew more narrow and deeper as we went.   Walking in to Machu Picchu on a beautiful sunny day was so surreal and did not disappoint one expectation I had of visiting here.  There are many theories as to what Machu Picchu once was, some say it was a secret refuge.  The Incas had no written language and the existence of Machu Picchu seems to be completely erased from official records.  Despite all of this it is one of the most stunning places I have ever visited, it is mystical and some find it a place of strong spiritual feelings.  Machu Picchu is well known for its 4 day trek in to it which is an unforgettable experience however you can do this by getting the train to Aguas Calientes and then a local bus up which operates every 3o minutes up the mountain.  A must do as well is to get up there for sunrise, watching the sun rise over these ruins is truly amazing.

peru1

Returning to Cuzco and then we travelled by train to Puno aboard the Andean Explorer which is one of the famous Pullman trains of the 1920’s.  This was a truly spectacular trip firstly travelling through the Andean mountains which tower over deep valleys and then more gentle rolling plains where from the viewing car we could see many alpacas grazing.  We had a stop in the middle of the day at La Raya which was 4321 meters above sea level and  the highest point that we travelled to.  From here we could see snow-capped peak mountains and it seemed like such a remote place, however there was a market all set up in place for our arrival again with handicrafts, local food to try and even music!

 

From Puno we visited the Uros Islands one of the more unique places on our trip where we were made to feel so welcome by all of the local families.  This was where we got to experience some true Andean culture.  These islands are all made up by reeds as is their boats, houses and many of the items they use in a daily basis.  The people are so friendly, very poor but always a smile on their faces.  Each island usually has 2 or 3 families living on them.  One thing I found interesting was if these families ever had a fight and didn’t want to live together anymore they could cut off part of the island to remove themselves from each other and float to join up with another island and their family!  The boats were amazing and we got to sail around looking at the other islands in the area.

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Our last stop in Peru before crossing over in to Bolivia was Lake Titicaca.  We were able to cruise around this area and see yet again some more stunning scenery.  We visited Sun Island the legendary birth place of the Inca Empire and got to see the snow-capped mountains of Cordilleria Real.  The sun was shining for us again so we were able to just sit back and take in the beautiful landscape.

 

Peru to me was what South America was about and I enjoyed every moment here, every experience and learning about the way of life.  I want to travel back to South America one day and Peru is on my list to revisit and explore more of.

 

To find out more give one of our travel experts a call on 1300 783 840.

Jess: Brazil

Jess was lucky enough to be sent on a short trip to Brazil recently and explored the sites and sounds of Rio de Janeiro and then escaped to the quiet bliss of Buzios.

RIO:

Rio is home to many famous sites and home to Carnival, a world famous party held before Lent every year and considered the biggest carnival in the world with two million people per day on the streets!! I was not visiting during this festive time however still got to experience Brazilian culture through tours to see the many sites the city has to offer.  Key highlights to visit whilst in Rio include Christ the Redeemer, Sugar Loaf Mountain, and a guided tour of the favelas before hitting the beach at famous Ipanema or Copacabana.

Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro

Another highlight for the foodies is to go to a tradition Brazilian BBQ where skewered meats will be brought to your table and carved by the skilled Passadors.

Brazillian BBQ feat. Jess

BUZIOS:

Millions of visitors flock to Rio each year but only a handful venture out of the city to discover the specular beaches and more relaxed pace.  I am glad did with a trip to Buzios which is a beautiful 180km drive north of Rio.  Buzios is a small fishing village with narrow cobbled street surrounded by shops, restaurants and bars.  It has a relaxed feel but still a nightlife for those wanting to go out and explore after dinner.

brazil - buzios

There are some beautiful beaches a short drive from the town also with beach clubs to allow you to stay and relax for the day, with a bite to eat or even a glass of Verve champagne!

Veuve by the beach in Buzio

Buzios was definitely a highlight for me for this trip and would highly recommend you include this in any itinerary to Brazil as it is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of Rio, and easy accessible for a short few nights away.

To find out more about the delights Brazil has to offer, give one of our travel experts a call on 1300 783 840.

Emily: Club Med Cherating – Malaysia

I just recently experienced Club Med Cherating in Malaysia with my family (children 7 and 4 years old)  Wow what an experience!

 

Do as much or as little as you want.

See your kids as much or as little as you want.

Eat as much or as little as you want.

We flew Malaysia Airlines via Kuala Lumpur and arrived at Kuantan Airport where we were met by one of the amazing “GO’s. ” (more about them later) We drove in a luxury coach approx. 45 mins to the resort  and were given a brief on the resort and shown to our room.

 

Our biggest word of warning was not to feed the monkeys and don’t leave your doors unlocked. As the resort is in on the edge of a forest there are monkeys everywhere. So cheeky that they know how to open doors that are closed but not locked in guest rooms and come and take peanuts off the bar when no one is looking!

We had just 5 days at Club Med and really got into the whole concept.  The kids were entertained day and night by the “GO’s”   This is the nickname for all the staff that work at CLUB MED Resorts around the world.  They are varied nationalities and burst with energy all day long.  From magic tricks, to dances around the pool, to very professional night concerts, they really make sure all the guests are happy.  During meals they will sit with guests who are there by themselves or families and have a friendly chat.  They become friends to the guests and our children enjoyed hearing stories about their home countries and families.

 

We did lots of the sporting activities with our children, however if this isn’t your go you could head straight for the adults only Zen pool and the “GO’s” will ensure your children are having a ball.

Some of the all-inclusive activities we enjoyed were archery, trapeze, tennis, kayaks, ropes course and sailing giving our children an opportunity to try new adventures.

 

The better beach at Club Med Cherating is a 5 minute little shuttle train or a 10 minute walk from the resort.  Our children loved catching the train to the beach!  Down at the beach, there was deck chairs, umbrellas, showers, water sports and a beach bar.The CLUB MED concept attracts so many different people.

  • Families that want an all-inclusive package where there are no hidden costs.  Accommodation, breakfast/lunch/dinner, drinks (including alcohol), kids clubs, sporting adventures, fitness programs and nightly entertainment are all paid before you get there.
  •   Multi-Generational family trips where there is something for everyone to do.  Relax or be active, spend time together and time alone
  • Couples who can spend their days at the Zen pool sipping cocktails by day and eating at the a la carte restaurant by the beach at night.

 

So 60 years on since the first  CLUB MED opened, the brand has reinvented their concept proposing an upscale, friendly, multicultural all inclusive holiday that is definitely worth a try.

 

To find out more call one of our experienced Club Med consultants on 1300 783 840 or visit our Club Med tab:

https://destinationhq.com.au/club-med/ 

Jo – Lapland

One of our very lucky staff members is off to visit Santa this Christmas at the North Pole. Jo, from our Beaumaris office, is set to spend Christmas in the beautiful frozen land of Lapland.

Lapland is the most northern province of Finland where you get to experience 24 hours of daylight in the summer and get to witness the majestical northern lights at night in the winter. It is also home to our jolly red-suited friend – Santa Claus.

Finland is Europe’s 8th largest country and the most sparsely populated.

There are many different routes you can take to get to Finland’s capital Helsinki. Once there this vibrant, seaside city has lots to offer. It’s worth spending a few days here to immerse yourself in the Scandinavian culture before you head north.

Snowmobile, Finland

Once in the far North there is so much to see and do. Apart from Santa’s village there is also cross country skiing, down hill skiing and of course snowboarding. Take the kids on a Husky drawn sled or snowmobile safari across the tundra. Camp out under the stars to witness the Northern lights and you cannot go to the North Pole without having a reindeer sleigh ride. Maybe join the locals in a frozen pool plunge – not for the faint hearted.

huskie-drawn sled

We’re sure Jo will bring us back plenty of stories from each of these adventurous activities in the frozen North.

So if travelling to Lapland is something that you could consider for Christmas in 2015 or perhaps visit fascinating Finland and experience everything this country has to offer. Give the travel experts at Destination HQ a call on 1800 670 041

 

Kirilly: Portugal

Portugal is a country with so much to offer from scenery, historical sites & monuments, wonderful accommodation options and fine food & wine for you to enjoy!  I have travelled to Portugal twice over the last couple of years, having loved both experiences and wanting to go back again too!

 

Lisbon, the countries capital is a bustling international city combining the old with the new.  Portuguese architecture to admire, steep streets to explore, delicious Portuguese tarts like you have never had before!  Lisbon is a sprawling city which I suggest you need to have a minimum of 3 nights visiting.  There are some wonderful roof top bars to sit back over a cocktail and admire the different skyline.  Great restaurants to experience the local cuisine or listen to some Fado – the traditional folksong of Lisbon.  I loved Lisbon as a city, you will not be disappointed.  On the outskirts of Lisbon you have the areas of Cascais & Estoril which are both beautiful coastal resort towns and a fantastic place to try the local seafood.  You also cannot miss Sintra which is a stunning regional town known for its beautiful gardens and amazing palace which overlooks the town showing off the Moorish architecture and styles.

 

Out of Lisbon, Portugal has much more to offer, some stunning historical towns such as Obidos, which is surrounded by an old wall and has gorgeous cobblestone streets with whitewashed houses surrounded by bright colored flowers or Coimbra which is the medieval capital of Portugal and home the country’s greatest university for over the last 5 centuries, it is drenched in history and beautiful architecture. Evora is of Roman origins and a World Heritage UNESCO site, with its big surrounding walls you have a medieval treasure trove of architecture to explore! Porto is another beautiful city that offers stunning views from the River Douro – cruise along and take in the beautiful bridges, houses, monuments and banks filed with bright colored houses with amazing tiles and colourful flowers.  This was a highlight of my trip to Portugal, a hidden gem I did not expect.  Of course you would have to visit some of the cellars producing some of the best port in the world.  The entire Duoro river valley offers spectacular scenery as it winds from Porto through to the north. Fatima is an important town to visit for many, being one of the most important catholic shrines in the world dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  Fatima’s Sanctuary welcomes millions of pilgrims and tourists from all over the world.

 

A visit to Portugal would be a miss without a visit to the Algarve coast with its beautiful beaches and relaxed lifestyle.  The Algarve has a climate, culture and very different scenery to the rest of Portugal.  It’s actually one of the most popular holiday destinations in southern Europe and over summer becomes busy with locals on their summer holidays. I loved Lagos, it exceeded all my expectations. Lagos is known for its vibrant nightlife and is a common destination for backpackers, it is also a great town to explore by foot and I had some of the most amazing meals here. It is full of cafes, restaurants and bars and has an ambiance I loved that pulls you in.  There are many other towns to explore during your time here such as Sagres, Albufeira, Alvor and Faro.

 

Portugal is a country full of medieval castles, cobblestone villages, captivating cities and golden beaches, you will get to experience many things such as its history, great food and idyllic scenery which are just the beginning.  If you have thought about adding this to your list of places to visit then I say you must!

 

Kirilly: Spain

I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Spain 3 times over the last year and I have fallen in love with the destination.  So much diversity to the north & south that each trip has been just that little bit different.

In particular I love the Andalucía area – Seville my favourite spot to spend exploring the little alley ways, plazas and cobblestone streets.  Amazing food to try and the best ice-cream in the world… in my opinion!!  It has a stunning cathedral and Alcazar which cannot be missed.  From here you can also explore other surrounding cities such as Cordoba with its stunning alley ways & Mezquita, Granada – home to the famous Alhambra Palace (the most visited tourist attraction in Spain) or Jerez which has a beautiful quaint old Spanish town.  While you are down south you can also explore the beautiful coastal areas of the Costa de Sol and visit Marbella or Malaga which have some beautiful beaches to enjoy a sangria or two watching some amazing sunsets.

You cannot also go to Spain without experiencing Madrid – Spain’s capital and largest city.  There is so much to see and do there, it has excellent restaurants, bars and nightlife.  It is a perfect stop for any art lover with an array of choices to explore such as the Prado Museum or Reina Sofia. This is a great city to walk and explore and its ok to get a little lost along the way!  Madrid is a huge city and you can spend days here but also good to consider travelling outside the city itself too – Toledo is just an hour away by train which is a stunning medieval city full of such charm.  Another favourite of mine is Segovia, also about an hour by train from Madrid which is so beautiful.  The city is surrounded by a 2000 year old aqueduct and is home to a beautiful castle high on a hill which was used as the inspiration for the famous Walt Disney iconic castle.

Barcelona is such a different city to Madrid with its unique Catalan culture and distinctive architecture much influence by Gaudi.  It is home to the famous La Sagrada Familia, which is considered to be Gaudi’s masterpiece, still under construction.  It has an amazing Gothic Quarter to explore, one of Europe’s best preserved actually.  A stroll down Las Ramblas to experience more of Barcelona or even visit out to some of the beach areas.  Again this city is quite sprawled out but also easy to get around and see by foot, train and bus.  From Barcelona you can also visit  Montserrat which is home to the Benedictine Monastery which is truly stunning and some of the most spectacular mountain views of the Cataluña area.  You can do mountain walks here with breathtaking views.  Many people visit here also to see the Black Madonna and theSanta Maria de Montserrat Abbey.

I cannot forget about San Sebastian – many people come here for its beautiful beach.. which is usually packed with sunbathers during the summer months but also people that love food and drink!  It has winding streets full of bars & restaurants in the old town which are amazing and houses many Michelin Star restaurants.  The city specials in seafood and is huge on its pintos (tapas) culture which is said to be the best in Spain, San Sebastian actually frequently tops lists of the world’s best places to eat. Close by you also have Bilbao, home of the famous Guggenheim Museum, another city worth a visit.  I could talk about Spain for hours, there are many other cities I have seen and loved – another being Santiago de Compostela a famous pilgrimage site in north-west of Spain  it was destroyed by the Muslims at the end of the 10th century, it was completely rebuilt in the following century. With its Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque buildings, the Old Town of Santiago is one of the world’s most beautiful urban areas to be found in Europe. It’s a fascinating place to be, just to sit and see the hundreds of people make this walk in to the city from far and wide.

Spain is amazing with so much to offer, places to explore, food to sample whether it is paella or a glass of sangria, it will not disappoint you!

Mel: Thailand & Singapore

Winter had begun and family George needed to escape it!! We decided on a family trip to Phuket and Singapore with our two year old (adventurous, I know!!!)

 

The flight over with Singapore Airlines was faultless. Very polished, probably helped by the fact that we had an extra seat to share. Best in-flight entertainment I have seen. Cabin crew were very accommodating with Mast 2, who did decide to have a little cry before falling asleep for the majority of the way… We transitted through Changi in Singapore, which is actually a great airport for children. Lots of space to run, play equipment and some interactive entertainment.

 

Before we knew it, we had landed in Phuket and were making our way to the beautiful Mom Tri’s Villa Royale on Kata Beach..

 

This property is a little slice of paradise. Small enough that the staff know you by name, big enough that constantly seemed like we were the only ones there! Perched on a cliff overlooking Kata Noi beach, the grounds are immaculate and there is a choice of 3 pools (although, only 1 of these pools is suitable for small children). We had a little villa with its own pool and plenty of space for our little darling (terror!!) and it suited us perfectly.

 

Food there is always top-notch and we enjoyed breakfast overlooking the andaman sea. It was low-season, so no swimming in the beach, as it was too rough. We did lots of walking and explored the local area – it was Karon we preferred for meals with Two Chefs and Wine Connection our favourites. Most places we visited were enthralled by Mast 2 who lapped up all the extra attention. One must is Sunday Brunch at Twin Palms in Surin of a Sunday. About a 45 minute drive from Kata, it is well worth the trip. An amazing array of delicacies and favourites are available to eat  – and wash down with a glass of bubbles 🙂

 

We visited Singapore for 3 nights on our way home. We found it to be a very family-friendly destination with plenty to keep the kids entertained! Musts are THE ZOO, SENTOSA ISLAND and Gardens by the Bay. Eating out is expensive but the quality is amazing. We loved the choice of restaurants at Clark Quay!! Mast 2 especially loved “the Port of Lost Wonder” at Sentosa Island – a waterpark designed for 2-10 year olds.

 

 

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Reece: China

I recently travelled to Shanghai in China for the first and revisited Bangkok on my way home. Shanghai really surprised me and blew away my expectations. From the moment we arrived at Pu Dong Airport there was a sense of class and cleanliness. As the story goes, 20 years ago most of Shanghai was rice paddies and farms. Today it is a high rise mecca where the world’s 2nd tallest tower is currently under construction. The people are polite andeverything is kept very, very clean. Everywhere I went I felt very safe and welcomed by the city. I stayed at the Westin Bund, which is in the main tourist area near to Nanjing Road famous for its shopping. Don’t forget to take a walk down to the Bund at night to see the city lights, the sight is amazing. The hotel was fantastic and has some world class restaurants. Rooms were large and
comfortable and mine even had a great city view.


I wanted to get away from all the new sky scrapers and find the China that I had in my mind before I left and it’s not hard to find. The French
concession has some great little market areas and the Yu Garden was a great insight into Chinese beliefs and heritage. You will no doubt find yourself in one of the many tea houses all throughout China and a night out on dumplings is a must. Visit the ERA show for a taste of cirque de soleil-esq Chinese acrobatic entertainment. The weather in August was warm and a little humidity hung in the air but it was much more comfortable than Melbourne weather at that time of the year!


After a pleasant surprise in Shanghai it was time to revisit an old friend, Bangkok. This city never stops pumping out the surprises and it is so full of life. Every street has something new to offer, a new smell, a new market, a newfriendly “Sawasdee” and bow from a local. I based myself at the Centara Watergate near Central World. If you like shopping it is perfect. I lost count of how many shopping malls were in
walking distance, there was the wholesale mall, the central world mall and some I didn’t even get the names of.


The hotels and restaurants in the area are abundant and fantastic. Visit the roof top bar at the Centara Central World for some amazing views.
This area is serviced well by public transport with the skytrain and rail network offering easy access to all the cities major sights.


Both cities contrast each other, both surprise and excite and should make it onto anyone’s must visit list.

 

Written by Reece, a member of our Mentone Team

 

 

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