Architecture

Sydney Harbour’s Q Station earns sustainable award

Posted on Oct 8, 2013 | Comments Off on Sydney Harbour’s Q Station earns sustainable award

Q-Station-North-Head-420x0Retreat on Sydney Harbor earns sustainable award

Award collected by Karan Singh, Pres., Skal Intl. Sydney North, on behalf of Mawland Quarantine Stn.

Oct 07, 2013

Adaptive reuse of the old Quarantine Station at North Head Manly has ensured public access to and awareness of the buildings behind the stories of those who came to Australia through the site (from nineteenth century migrants to the orphans of Operation Babylift from Saigon in 1975) and those who have worked to protect them. The Quarantine Station has integrated environmental management and sustainable management practices into operation of a successful hotel.

For twelve consecutive years, the Skal International “Sustainable Development in Tourism” Awards have been presented during the Opening Ceremony of its annual World Congress. Skal recently closed its 74th World Congress aboard the Carnival Glory, the first time this yearly event took place on a cruise ship. This year, Q Station Retreat in Australia won an award in the category of Urban Accommodation.

This award will increase international awareness of this iconic Sydney site and allow the hopes and dreams of those who passed through it to be remembered. Quarantine Station has also recently been named as a finalist in the New South Wales Governmental Green Globe Awards for operation of the site on the principles of conservation, heritage protection and sustainability wherever possible having regard to the heritage nature of the buildings in which we operate. The Quarantine Station, trading as QStation, has come to be known as the “Jewel in the Crown” of Sydney Harbour National Park and has already won many awards and media commendation for our serene setting, stylish reuse of this historic place and our pristine natural environment. Over the last five years we have consistently won awards for best MICE and Upscale boutique hotel properties at the Hotel Management Australia Awards, and have received grants from the state and federal governments to support our conservation programs.

Quarantine Station recognizes the valuable legacy of this harbor-side site and are committed to the conservation and interpretation of the Q Station as a place of national and international significance in the history of health and migration. To date Mawland has committed $17M to development of the site, with $8 million to the conservation of the site, creation of a public museum and curation of the historical collections. Quarantine Station cares for over 15,000 historical items, the most significant of which are on public display. Indeed, the site is sustainable by the very nature of its complete adaptive reuse of the buildings and operational structures of the old quarantine station.

Quarantine Station is listed on the Australian National Heritage Register alongside fellow harbor icons: Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is a stunningly beautiful and lovingly restored retreat, home to the story of migration to Australia and custodian of historical artefacts of national significance. Within its 30 hectare estate lie 65 buildings and nearly 200 years of memories from post European arrivals.

Mawland is very proud of our record on this site. We have established a viable commercial operation which is managed by Accor and have received many awards and kudos for our operations on site. Within the limitations of operating on a widely spread area, which involves balancing daily logistics of transport of guests, food and beverage, staff and supplies , arrivals of guests by water and road, compliance with strict State consent conditions and operation within historic premises which were not purpose built for operation of a hospitality business we have achieved public, governmental and media approval for sustainability and investment in the natural and cultural heritage of the site.

Within our code of having minimal impact on the natural environment we are welcoming about 3000 visitors per week to the site. We are a showcase for environmental management and cultural preservation.

Our approach to adaptive reuse has been applauded and as a result we have been invited to prepare a paper for the influential Tourism and Transport Forum on the Adaptive reuse approach to redevelopment of government assets and our Directors Max Player and Suzanne Stanton have been invited to join the Sydney Harbour National Landscape Steering Committee.

Extensive publicity and marketing of the site, highlighting sustainability, conservation, adaptive reuse and the cultural and the fascinating history of the site has led to QStation being seen as one of the emerging icons of Sydney tourism.

For more information, go to www.quarantinestation.com.au

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iTT addresses the luxury in the experience

Posted on Sep 1, 2013 | Comments Off on iTT addresses the luxury in the experience

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On Sunday September 1, Luxperience 2013 opened in Sydney, Australia’s Town Hall with a “Thought Leaders” evening. David McGonigal of iTravelTree was asked to present as the opening speaker –
his topic was “The Luxury in the Experience”.

Good evening. From Andrew’s introduction you may gather, I’ve been a travel writer/author and photographer for too many decades.

100 places to visit

In fact, a friend recently send me one of those Facebook quizzes on  “100 places to see before you die” –  and I had visited 90 – I’m either well travelled or ready to cark it.

My latest venture is a start-up called iTT. Basically, iTravelTree conducts a meta search of travel data filtered by your social preferences. So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to “luxury” lately – the trend I see in luxury is to collect exotic experiences not things or famous hotels.

If you had asked my mum, she probably would have defined travel luxury as a grand old hotel – like Sydney’s Australia Hotel.

Marstrand-Island-in-Bohuslan-Photo-Lisa-Nestorson

I suspect Scandinavia may agree with her. While flying on SAS last month I read in the in-flight mag: “Marstrand has something that no new luxury resort can buy: dignity and soul”.

It was both a sweeping generalization and wrong. Marstrand may do it well but so do many new resorts. Brilliant architecture, environmental sensitivity and empathy with local residents lie at the heart of dignity and soul. Some go further:

D on ele

© David McGonigal

The Anantara Golden Triangle gives you a chance to be part of a care centre for mistreated Asiatic elephants. More on that later.

My last 18 months have been special as my wife Sandra, stepped down from running Rupert Murdoch’s Australian magazine division early last year and, after a lifetime of being tied to an office has finally had a chance to travel. We’ve been referring to it as her executive gap year. Seeing our industry through her eyes is enlightening. Fittings and service are a given – and only noted in their absence – but special moments like hugging a baby orang utan or being taught to cook Tiramisu by the head chef of the Villa San Michele are prized.

Galleria

* This is Milan’s Galleria Hotel – self proclaimed 7-stars

First can I say how I hate the attempt to add more stars – Dubai’s Burj al Arab started it and the Galleria has taken it further. I think the trend is in reverse: high degree of comfort is no longer limited to 5-star properties. Some 4-star resorts now offer a standard that would have been 5-star a decade ago. And why is it new hotels that think they might be 6 or 7 star: what about grand, established hotels like Monaco’s Hotel de Paris that could probably lay a better claim?

And, anyway, many of us would forego the front door being opened (or yet another chandelier) in exchange for free high-speed internet or the chance to make a cup of coffee and tea in the privacy of our room.

So what makes a property or travel experience truly special? There are three possibilities:

  1. The destination itself is enough
  2. The travel experience itself is enough
  3. The experience maximizes the location

1.       In some rare cases, the place itself is enough.

Simply being there is a luxury. And here I’m talking about discerning, experienced travellers. For the first timer in London, a dodgy hotel in Kensington might seem like paradise – it isn’t.

What’s a destination where the privilege is simply to be there?

Paro

  • Bhutan Paro Festival © David McGonigal

I was fortunate enough to go to Bhutan some 15 years ago. The food was terrible, the accommodation basic and the roads were shocking. But the richness of the culture – and its lack of cultural pollution from modern pop culture – left all of us, all very experienced Himalayan travellers, saying that we had found Paradise. And, then and now it wasn’t cheap.

But what’s the impossible dream? As a boy, I always thought I’d go to the moon but never thought I’d visit Antarctica.

Breaking Ice South of the Antarctic Circle DSC0727

  • Antarctica © David McGonigal

I now work in Antarctica as an expedition leader – I’ve been there more than 100 times and feel privileged every time. Passengers will pay the fare for a basic cabin on a Russian icebreaker that would give them five star accommodation for the same duration anywhere in Europe: $60,000 for two weeks.

The luxury to travel to Bhutan or into polar ice is at least as special as 5-star luxury.

Lunar

Space remains the ultimate travel destination and it looks like I won’t make it there. Space travel is coming but affordability might be a problem. Mike McDowell popularized Antarctica as a travel destination – and his Space Adventures have arranged all 8 people who have paid (a lot) to go into space.

Virgin Galactica

Virgin Galactica says it’ll have first flight on Christmas Day this year. Cost for 2.5 hr flight to 360,000 ft is $250,000. Not bad value for 110 km up.

This is the category where indulgence doesn’t correlate with luxury. There are people prepared to pay $1/4M to throw up in a capsule a long way from home.

2 What about creating the unusual? Manufacturing the whole experience from scratch?

castlebuilding

In the non-luxury market, it’s hard to go past Disneyland then DisneyWorld as places that create their own need. While you’d go to London or Paris regardless, would you go to Anaheim or Orlando without Walt’s worlds?

MONA

© David McGonigal

Closer to home – both in terms of location and audience – we have David Walsh’s MONA that has brought a whole new travel group to Hobart. When a gallery is talked more about in tourism stats than in the Arts pages you know it’s significant. Amazing and confronting, too.

Dubai

Creating something from nothing is hard. Yet that’s what Dubai has done – taken a small fishing village and turn it into the world’s hub of luxury hotels and shopping.

us on eles

© David McGonigal

I go back to the Anantara because it epitomizes the luxury in the experience. And it drew us to a place we wouldn’t have visited. We signed up for a three day mahout course – and we were allocated our own elephants for the duration. Having your own elephant is absolute luxury – coming to understand the likes and dislikes of this giant gentle creature was very special. We still dream of elephants.

Oasis

*Oasis of the Seas

The modern cruise industry has done it, too – created a huge growing industry out of nothing. Of course there were cruises before but ships were mainly a form of transport not entertainment.

Fat DuckFat Duck © David McGonigal

Then we have the modern phenomenon of food tourism. Perhaps it has always existed in a small way. nearly always directed towards France.

But now Noma has as much drawing power as the Little Mermaid, El Bulli rivals Sagrada Familia and The Fat Duck has put Bray UK on the map. Even in my suburb of Balmain, many hear the name and think Adriano Zumbo’s macarons.

When you are creating something from nothing, you are limited only by your imagination. Here luxury can be indulgence and the experience.

3      Finally we have the experience that works to enhance the location – the most common scenario

Cipriani

  • Cipriani Hotel © David McGonigal

Every company that delivers a travel product needs to be thinking “what next?” There was a time when just having been to the rim of the Grand Canyon was enough. Then people said “what next?” So now we can raft through it, hike to the bottom or walk out on a glass platform. Likewise, Sydney Harbour Bridgeclimb changed the bridge (and Sydney) from a static setting to an experience.

I experienced this first hand in Venice last year. Once it would have been enough to have Venice as my destination. And for luxury it’s hard to go past the legendary Hotel Cipriani. But then the Cipriani raised the stakes into the stratosphere – “come stay with us and kayak the canals of Venice.”

kayak Venice

© David McGonigal

This was luxury at all levels – the pampered indulgence of the hotel and the experiential indulgence of seeing Venice from my own kayak. I fondly remember the Cipriani – especially breakfast on Easter Sunday – but I’ll never forget paddling under the Rialto at sunset then turning to glide under the Bridge of Sighs.

It’s hard to up the arms race in hotel amenities. Better champagne – but when you get to Krug vs Dom, what’s next? Better beds? More service? If you want to stand out you have to think laterally and offer the unusual – as the Cipriani has done.

David Bowie

Luxury can simply be service. A great concierge is there to realize your dreams. A couple of weeks ago I was London for the day and wanted to see the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A but it was sold out. So we contacted Red Carnation Hotels where we had stayed the last couple of times we’ve been in London and Egerton House Hotel provided a couple of passes that they were offering their guests. They have our loyalty.

Summer Palace

  • Summer palace, St Petersburg © David McGonigal

The ultimate luxury is not more brocade but rather “Access All Areas”. So a cruise that features a private dinner in one of Catherine the Great’s palaces has special appeal. Or a Danube cruise that includes rare tickets to Oberammergau Passion Play. In Sydney you’d hope a hotel has some Springsteen tickets in a drawer. Think big – come to LA and we’ll take you to the Academy Awards. Who would say “no”?

Hugh Jackman

“Access All People” is a luxury for the sociable. I spent a weekend at Gwinganna Health Retreat when Hugh Jackman was there (he’s a part owner) and that’s been good for a few stories afterwards. The lesson I learned was don’t try to hold eye contact with any woman when Hugh is heaving himself out of the pool behind you. I always thought the ultimate would have been on the Antarctic cruise that had the reclusive Neil Armstrong on board.

&Beyond

There’s also the wonderful experience when the environment and the property perfectly interlink. I first discovered this in South Africa where game parks like &Beyond’s are luxurious but have strong links to not just wildlife conservation but also the local community. Luxury for visitors is feeling part of the place not a casual observer.

Turtle Island

Things change. Many years ago I was asked to give Bernie Eccleston suggestions for a tropical Australian resort with no expense spared. I suggested he go to Fiji instead. Places like Turtle Island gave a better experience because you are immersed in local culture while being treated royally. Australia has evolved – today I’d say to Bernie – have a look at the website of Luxury Lodges of Oz.

Southern Ocean Lodge

  • Southern Ocean Lodge

We’ve come a long way from the days when Australian tourism culture was a reflection of Crocodile Dundee.

Bulgari Bali

It’s predicted that more hotels and resorts will align themselves with luxury brands – think the Armani Hotel in Dubai, the Missoni Hotel in Kuwait and the Bulgari resort in Bali. I hear even Vogue is considering moving into the area. Of course, the name gives instant cut-through but I think it’s lazy.

Doing the hard yards to find a way to offer a unique experience that provides your property with an authentic, memorable life moment that ties to its location will result in enduring success.

Easter island

  • Easter Island © David McGonigal

A recent report  by the Adventure Travel Association and George Washington University  defined adventure travel as any trip that includes at least

2 of

a)    physical activity,

b)   interaction with nature, and

c)     cultural learning or exchange

It valued the industry at $US263 billion pa, with 65 per cent annual growth since 2009. There’s certainly money in experiential travel.

But, if I can distill a lifetime of travel into a few words – For me luxury is not about limos or five-star fittings and glamorous furnishings, it’s about taking time to create a memory that’s held in my heart and stands out among all others. In our privileged world we can always buy ‘luxury’ things but access and experience stands out as the ultimate luxury!

Hindu devotees travel on a crowded passenger train in Goverdhan

Sadly, there are a lot of ordinary travel experiences being sold. Exceptional ones stand out – from the time you hear about them to the moment you do them. It doesn’t have to be grand –

Cafe Tartufi

© David McGonigal

I smile when I think of Café Tartufo in Florence where we had perfect truffle paste rolls and good red wine for lunch on a rainy day – it was the perfect Florentine experience.

Bora Bora

© David McGonigal

It was a highlight as much as snorkeling with stingrays in Bora Bora lagoon or

Mig 21

flying a Mig 21 jet fighter as a paying guest of the Slovakian Airforce.

It’s no coincidence that it’s 2013 and we are here at an event called Luxperience. We’re in a Golden Age of Travel and you are at the cutting edge of it. Thanks for the experiences you offer – and the wonders that are yet to come.

If you have special vision – please come and tell me about it. Meanwhile, please “like” iTravelTree on Facebook or bookmark the webpage to follow us as we develop.

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A new sustainable Bedarra Island

Posted on Jun 17, 2013 | Comments Off on A new sustainable Bedarra Island

BED - Point Villa Deck 2

Bedarra Island Resort is renowned for its natural beauty, luxury and exclusivity. When it reopens on the 1st July, 2013 it arguably becomes Australia’s most sustainable island resort.

Since the island was devastated by Cyclone Yasi in February 2011, the Charlton Family acquired the resort and have undertaken extensive renovations to the property, including replacing the island’s services and utilities. Director, Sam Charlton said “Our first initiative was to conduct a sustainability analysis to assess the population density the island could support, particularly in relation to waste, water and energy requirements”. He added “the outcome of this analysis led us to reopen just seven villas (as opposed to the original 16 villas), convert the resort to solar power and close for three months during the wet season”.

Situated on the Great Barrier Reef, just ten kilometres from the coastal township of Mission Beach, nestled amongst the tropical ‘Family Group of Islands’, Bedarra is unquestionably worth protecting.

Traditional operations at the resort were heavily reliant upon diesel and with changes implemented so far, diesel consumption has been reduced by 95%. “The hum and smell of a diesel generator just seemed so inconsistent with the natural beauty of the island” added Charlton “it was an easy choice to upgrade to solar.”

So how was this change to a sustainable future achieved?
• The old generators (3x185KVA) were replaced with an off grid solar system incorporating a 30KW solar panel array, 1-2 days battery energy storage and a small backup 44Kva generator.
• Complete refit of electrical appliances at the resort reducing peak and base electrical loads by 80%.
• Water is now sourced from Bedarra’s granite filtered natural spring and fresh rain water, rather than a diesel powered desalination plant which has now been decommissioned.
• Architectural changes to villas to encourage cross flow ventilation including replacing fixed windows with louvres and the installation of under floor ventilation to capture cooling sea breezes.
• Installation of award winning Haiku fans offering a low energy and high efficiency mechanical ventilation alternative to air conditioning.
• A new twin system bio-cycle wastewater treatment plant has been installed, with sub-terranean reticulation of advanced secondary grade treated effluent, protecting the fringing coral reef from nutrient and phosphate runoff.
• Installing low energy pool pumps combined with ionic pool chlorinators, reducing chemical consumption associated with the pools by 85%.
• Composting of all organic waste for use on the island’s vegetable garden.
• Replacement of water reticulation infrastructure to eliminate water loss.
• Choosing suppliers who minimize their packaging and maximize their use of recyclable materials.

The reduction in population will make guests feel like they have the island to themselves, further enhancing the feeling of privacy, exclusivity and seclusion Bedarra is renowned for.

The Bedarra experience is now more relaxed, more personalized, offers more privacy and is truly the epitome of barefoot luxury. It’s about a beautiful location to relax and enjoy the tranquility, with the added advantage of having a much reduced impact on the natural local environment.

“Reducing our consumption of diesel and simplifying our operation and services has enabled us to offer guests considerably more competitive tariffs than in the past. It also makes the option of hiring the resort exclusively with a small group of friends or family a viable alternative for a holiday you will remember forever” said Charlton.

Bedarra reopens on 1st July, 2013. Room rates are for 1 or 2 guests starting at $990 per villa and are inclusive of all meals, selected alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and activities. Additional charges apply for reef/fishing charters, diving, scenic helicopter flights and our cellar master list of alcoholic beverages.

bedarra bay

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Hydro Majestic Hotel Begins Again

Posted on Jun 15, 2013 | Comments Off on Hydro Majestic Hotel Begins Again

Hydro Majestic Hotel

 

The much-anticipated revitalisation of the iconic Hydro Majestic Hotel has commenced in early 2013, a $30 million redevelopment aimed at reviving its golden age.  Owners Huong Nguyen and George Saad are behind the grand revival. The couple paid $11 million for the property five years ago.  Following almost four years of detailed planning and review, the Hydro is scheduled to open in two stages, with Stage (1) building works scheduled for completion in April 2014. Opening is scheduled for July 2014.

The long awaited opportunity to peel back the layers and rediscover the essence of the most famous historic holiday resort in the Blue Mountains has arrived. The refurbishment scheme will see the hotel’s facilities, interiors and gardens – which now stretch more than a kilometre across the escarpment – revitalised to a world-class standard. Past glories, architectural and design aspects, and lost atmospherics are to be revived and rediscovered, while a touch of the here-and-now is set to take the building into the future.

Stage One will include the revitalisation of the majority of the existing buildings including the Casino Building, The Wintergarden, The Billiard Room and Cat’s Alley, The Delmonte Building and Conference Rooms and The Majestic Ballroom. This famous and fondly remembered space will have a beautiful new Lobby and pre-function area and will also include a large garden reception terrace.

Casino Lobby Artists impression

Casino Lobby Artists impression

majestic ballroom Artists impression

majestic ballroom Artists impression

winter garden Artists impression

winter garden Artists impression

 

The new Mark Foy Pavilion will reflect the spirit of the much-loved Easter Show Pavilions of Sydney’s old showgrounds. Operating as a magnificent interactive living history space and the vibrant Providores showcase – demonstrating the best regional gourmet food and wine of the area: A Taste of The Blue Mountains. This retail and exhibition space will be a tourism destination: a place to discover the history of theHydro, including multimedia screening suites, tours and places to discover the amazing produce of the Blue Mountains and surrounding regions (including Bathurst,Mudgee, Orange and the Western Plains).

Hydro View

The Boiler House (which has been neglected for decades) is to be restored, celebrating the fact that the Blue Mountains was wired for electricity four days beforethe Sydney metropolitan region. The Boiler House will be opened to the public for the first time in history, and is to include the gallery and beautiful Megalong Terrace Café looking over the breathtaking Majestic Point Lookout.

The new Majestic Point Lookout, picnic and market grounds will provide public access to the best views of the Megalong Valley. Located 10 minutes drive from Jamison Valley in Katoomba, the lookout provides a panoramic vista for picnics, music and the lost art of public promenading!

The rejuvenation and expansion of the accommodation facilities at the Hydro Majestic are planned for 2 years following the opening of Stage One. During this time the Belgravia Wing will be used to house the Hotel Management Institute, an exciting new hospitality school with its first intake scheduled for Feb 2014 .

The challenges of adding another layer of history to these significant buildings have not been taken lightly. A team of highly regarded heritage experts, architecture specialists and designers have been enlisted to realise this vision, with particular weight being given to examining and respecting the Hydro Majestic’s social history and heritage.

The team has been assembled by Sydney based hotel investors and is under theguidance of the acclaimed heritage consultant Graham Brooks with Jonathan Bryant of Graham Brooks & Associates, with over 30 years of professional experience inAustralia, Asia, UK, Europe and US.
“We are all proud to play a key role in the revival of the much loved Hydro Majestic at Medlow Bath,” said Brooks. “The Hydro Majestic Hotel has developed eccentrically over time under the guidance of retail baron Mark Foy, from relatively humble beginnings as an Edwardian house hotel and hydropathic resort to its glory years as a grand hotel and resort between the two World Wars. Throughout, it has enjoyed periods of great success and periods of lengthy decline. Despite recent refurbishment under previous owners, the hotel has become increasingly run down, with a host of inherent short comings that have never been appropriately or comprehensively addressed. We are delighted that the current scheme to rejuvenate the hotel includes a comprehensive plan to revive gardens, interiors and facilities to a truly world class standard.”

The team philosophy is mindful of the past but always has an eye to the future, to ensure the hotel continues to live well beyond current generations. Our alterations choose to borrow from the existing structures, enhance the old and provide a feeling of total renewal.
The vision for the rejuvenation is to continue the Hydro Majestic’s unique and eclectic combination of architectural styles; where additions made to the hotel over the past hundred years reflect time and place. Architect Ashkan Mostaghim of Mostaghim &Assoc has created a series of magnificent new additions for Stage One and Stage Two of the development. The Mark Foy Pavilion and the new Belgravia and Mark Foy Wings add the 21st century layer to this famous Australian landmark – with absolute style and reverence for the staged form that is the Hydro Majestic.

International interior designer Peter Reeve of CRD will create luxurious, new, and historically-inspired interiors which reference the past and fold into the present with absolute luxe. They will work to harness the atmosphere and mood of the Hydro Majestic with a range of carpets and rich textiles based on period influences, timbers and stones, referencing the austere beauty of the Edwardian, the generosity of the Art Nouveau of the Belle Époque and moments of Art Deco.

Using the whites and soft tones taken from its original palette and expressed against the elegant contrast of ebonised timber and Black Japan, the interiors will work to reflect the Hydro’s flamboyant origins under the auspices of the retail baron Mark Foy. Design cues are also seen in the Raffles of Singapore and the Lavinia in Sri Lanka – sister hotels in a time of Empire, reflecting the flavour of the original Hydro Majestic.

The Avenue of Pines is to be reinstated with magnificent new landscape plantings reflecting the great gardens of the Blue Mountains and inspired by legendary landscape architect Paul Sorensen. The historic croquet lawn will live again, plus a beautiful new garden terrace entry to the Majestic Ballroom and lookout and escarpment aprons, encompassing a unique horticultural vision incorporating both European and Australian plantings.

Steeped in historical and social significance, the newly renovated Hydro Majestic Hotel, with its outstanding facilities, fine dining and accommodation, is set to offer an enormous boost to tourism and employment in the region and will re-establish the Blue Mountains as a glamorous national and international tourist destination.

The Hydro’s original owner Mark Foy was a visionary and this next chapter aims to continue his grand vision for the Blue Mountains.

Official Site

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Fogo Island Inn now open

Posted on May 31, 2013 | Comments Off on Fogo Island Inn now open

The Canadian Press

On a gorgeous rocky shoreline where slabs of granite meet the moody North Atlantic, one of the most intriguing gambles in Canadian tourism will soon play out on Fogo Island off Newfoundland.

The new Fogo Island Inn looms over the brightly painted salt box homes and fishermen’s sheds in Barr’d Islands, one of 10 distinct communities that are home to about 2,400 people.

The Fogo Island Inn is the culmination of a major community revitalization project. The building’s rugged minimalist architecture balances traditional influences with a contemporary sensibility, which architect Todd Saunders has made and built just for Fogo.

A cultural destination in its own right where visitors and locals meet, the Inn includes an art gallery, heritage library, cinema and rooftop sauna. Each of the 29 guest rooms is unique, with every detail chosen with purpose and handcrafted by locals. A new artist’s studio on Fogo Island called Squish (meaning off-kilter). It’s one of four new studios built to host artists from Canada and around the world.

A three-year building project expected to cost more than $25 million.

The inn won’t be just any place for weary travellers to lay their heads. Its 29 rooms with panoramic ocean views, hand-crafted furniture and quilts, locally inspired cuisine, rooftop hot tubs, saunas, conference space, and a publicly accessible art gallery, library, and cinema are meant to please discerning tastes.

Multimillionaire Zita Cobb, a native Fogo Islander who is the driving force behind the new inn, says there’s a niche of well-to-do tourists who will pay for a unique, world-class travel and cultural experience, she said there’s no reason why Fogo Island’s natural beauty should not draw big money as successfully as other exotic, albeit warmer, destinations.

The ebbs and flows of a troubled fishery have threatened Fogo Island’s survival in the past, and its future is by no means secure.

Cobb is investing more than $10 million of her own money in the inn as the provincial and federal governments add $5 million each.

“There’s risk, no question,” she said in an interview. “I mean, to do nothing is a gamble.”

Marketing Fogo
One of Cobb’s biggest marketing challenges is the widespread notion that her beloved home is on a freezing rock in the Far North. In fact, it boasts what she describes as seven seasons including hot summers, snowy winters, the ice season around March and April when mammoth icebergs drift south from Greenland, fog, rain and sun in May and June, and spectacular berry picking in the fall.

It’s a place where caribou roam, seals frolic, and people go out of their way to share directions or a good story.

A slender woman who all but hums with energy, Cobb was the only girl among seven siblings raised on Fogo Island in Joe Batt’s Arm – an inlet community named for a popular early settler, as legend has it.

Cobb moved back to the island six years ago after making her fortune as a high-tech executive and ending a long run in the corporate fast lane. Now 54, she helped create the Shorefast Foundation, a federally registered charity that aims to use business as a tool to rejuvenate the local economy in ways that work for people, not against them, she said.

“Business is not unethical. It has just been practised that way too often and for too long.”

Cobb stressed that any profits from the inn, which has already created dozens of construction jobs and is expected to employ up to about 50 people when it opens next spring, belong to the people of Fogo Island and the nearby Change Islands.

But the inn will not be Fogo Island’s saving grace, Cobb said.

“Fogo Islanders are pretty darned good at saving themselves, which they’ve done for centuries,” she said. “I’m just another Fogo Islander trying to do my bit.”

Keeping it undisturbed
Wherever possible, renewable features were incorporated into construction of the inn such as a wood-burning heating system and rainwater cisterns for laundry and toilets.

If you go: Fly to Gander, rent a car and drive about 30 minutes to catch the ferry in Farewell, which takes about an hour to Fogo Island. It’s about a four-hour drive to Farewell from St. John’s.

“We’re trying absolutely to not disturb a single lichen we don’t have to destroy,” Cobb said of the land around the 44,000-square-foot building on four levels.

Three small white crosses still standing between the new inn and the sea are testament to her respect for what she calls “sacred” surroundings. They mark a decades-old pet cemetery that’s believed to be the final resting place for at least one horse, a dog and a cat, Cobb said. They will stay.

The asymmetrical X-shape of the structure is a metaphorical intersection of old and new partially supported on stilts, recalling the fishing stages where generations of Fogo Islanders cleaned, salted, and dried their cod.

Minimal outdoor lighting will create a “dark-sky” effect for star gazing. And guests will be escorted down a foot path from the nearest parking lot by two Newfoundland dogs named Make and Break, after the old-style engines, who will live at the inn.

Artists welcome
Four smaller buildings around the island are studios for artists, filmmakers, and writers invited from Canada and around the world to spend a few months.

Author Lyn Hughes arrived earlier this summer from Sydney, Australia to work on a new novel. As she settled into her dramatic new work space perched on a seaside rock, she expressed no doubt that Zita Cobb is on to something big.

“This is a very, very rare place on our planet, a very special place,” she said. “The only place I can even compare it to that I’ve been is the Azores Islands of Portugal.”

Nicole Decker-Torraville, owner of Nicole’s Cafe, said many Fogo Islanders have great hopes for the new inn, mixed with some fear and skepticism about whether it will succeed. She is part of a small wave of 20- and 30-somethings that have moved back and want their own children to have the chance to stay.

“They can travel, but they’ll know this is their home.”

Frank Lane of Tilting, an Irish settlement on the island’s east coast, is a traditional small boat builder who hopes the inn will create new jobs but help preserve old ways.

“It’s going to be a wonderful building. I don’t know if it’s going to be for me,” he said with a smile.

“You know, I might not have the money to stay there.”

 Fogo Island Inn

Behind the Scenes

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10 things to know before visiting Morocco

Posted on May 20, 2013 | Comments Off on 10 things to know before visiting Morocco

Writers, rock stars and eccentrics flocked to Tangier's cafés in the first half of the 20th century. Cliffside Café Hafa, overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, was a favorite hangout of Tangier's most famous expat, Beat writer Paul Bowles.

 Writers, rock stars and eccentrics flocked to Tangier’s cafés in the first half of the 20th century. Cliffside Café Hafa, overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, was a favorite hangout of Tangier’s most famous expat, Beat writer Paul Bowles.
By Lara Brunt, for CNN
May 8, 2013 — Updated 0945 GMT (1745 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cafés are where Moroccan men socialize, gathering to drink sweet mint tea
  • Cumin is used to flavor everything from tagines to mechoui
  • Train company ONCF operates one of the best train networks in Africa
  • Morocco’s souks teem with hagglers, hustlers, mule-drivers and motor scooters

(CNN) — Rainbows of color, spice-market smells, an urban orchestra of sounds: Morocco can be overwhelming at first.

Lying 13 kilometers, or 8 miles, from the coast of Spain, the North African country mixes Middle Eastern magic, Berber tradition and European flair.

Tourism has more than doubled since 2002, to nearly 10 million visitors in 2011. King Mohammed VI wants to increase the annual visitor numbers to 18 million by 2020.

The royal ruler’s strategy is underpinned by infrastructure development, making traveling around the country even easier.

Add to this a program of ongoing social, political and economic reforms, and Morocco is one of the most moderate and peaceful countries in the region.

Cafes dominate life in Tangier

Cafes are the key place to socialize, for Moroccan men at least. They gather to drink sweet mint tea and watch people as they go about their affairs.

The northern port city of Tangier has a history of literary bohemianism and illicit goings-on, thanks to its status as an International Zone from 1923 to 1956.

The Interzone years, and the heady decades that followed, saw writers, rock stars and eccentrics flock to the city’s 800-plus cafés.

Two must-visit spots: Cafe Hafa (Ave Hadi Mohammed Tazi), overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, was a favorite hangout of Tangier’s most famous expat, Beat writer Paul Bowles.

Smoky and slightly edgy, Cafe Baba (1 rue Sidi-Hosni) is the coolest spot in the Kasbah. A photo of Keith Richards, kif-pipe in hand, still adorns the grimy walls.

Most mosques are off-limits to non-Muslims

Nearly 99% of the population is Muslim, and hearing the muezzin’s melodic call to prayer for the first time is a spine-tingling moment.

While very few Moroccan mosques are open to non-Muslims, one exception is the towering Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca (Blvd Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah; +212 522 22 25 63).

Located on a promontory over the Atlantic Ocean, the mosque was completed in 1993 and can hold 105,000 worshipers inside and out.

Tradition and technology sit side by side, with colorful zellij (mosaic tiles), intricate stucco and carved cedar complementing the retractable roof and heated flooring.

If you can’t make it to Casa, Marrakech’s 16th-century Ali ben Youssef madrassa-turned-museum (Pl Ben Youssef; +212 524 44 18 93) is open to all and also features impressive Islamic design.

Multilingual Moroccans will put you to shame

Arabic is the official language, but you\'ll also hear French, Spanish, Berber and various dialects.
Arabic is the official language, but you’ll also hear French, Spanish, Berber and various dialects.

Moroccans switch languages mid-sentence, reflecting the cultures — Berber, Arab, French and Spanish — that have crisscrossed the country.

Arabic is the official language, and you’ll hear the Moroccan dialect, Darija, spoken on the street.

French continues to be widely spoken in cities; foreigners are often addressed in this first. Spanish is still spoken in Tangier.

There are also three main dialects spoken by the country’s Berber majority: Tashelhit, Tamazight and Tarifit.

You’ll be able to get by with English in the main tourist hubs, although “La, shukran” (“No, thank you” in Arabic) is one phrase to master.

Don’t get stuck in Marrakech

Marrakech is justifiably popular, but there’s so much more.

Fez tops the list for its maze-like medina, fabulous foodie scene and annual Festival of World Sacred Music.

For a slice of the Sahara, there’s the desert town of Merzouga, near the impressive Erg Chebbi sand dunes, accessible via camel treks.

Active types can hike between Berber villages in the High Atlas or head to the blue-hued Andalusian town of Chefchaouen to explore the Rif Mountains.

Beach bums will love laid-back Essaouira and Sidi Ifni on the Atlantic coast, while surfers often head south to Taghazout.

For quiet contemplation, Morocco’s holiest town, Moulay Idriss, is hard to beat. Plus, you’ll have the nearby Roman ruins of Volubilis pretty much to yourself.

If you don’t like cumin, you may starve

Cumin is one of the main spices used in Moroccan cooking. This pungent powder is used to flavor everything from tagines to mechoui (slow-roasted lamb).

Cumin is used as a condiment on most Moroccan tables, along with salt and chili. It’s also a popular natural remedy for diarrhea.

“Cumin has anti-parasitical properties, so if you’ve got an upset tummy, a spoonful of cumin knocked back with water will help,” said food guide Gail Leonard with Plan-It Fez.

Trains are cheap, comfortable and reliable

First class train travel in Morocco is affordable and worth it. Just be prepared to share your food.
First class train travel in Morocco is affordable and worth it. Just be prepared to share your food.

Train company ONCF operates one of the best train networks in Africa, making it the easiest way to travel between cities.

It’s worth paying extra for first class, which comes with a reserved seat and A/C.

First class carriages have six-seat compartments or open-plan seating. Stock up on snacks, or buy them onboard, as it’s customary to share food.

When it comes to traveling to smaller towns and villages, buses and grand taxis, usually old Mercedes sedans that can seat six (at a squash), are best.

Couscous is served on Fridays

You’ll see it on every restaurant menu, but traditionally, couscous is served on Fridays, when families gather after prayers.

This is because the proper (not packet) stuff takes a long time to prepare.

Coarse semolina is hand-rolled into small granules to be steamed and fluffed three times. It’s pale in color, deliciously creamy and served with vegetables and/or meat or fish.

Bread is the staple carb and is served with every meal, except couscous.

It’s baked in communal wood-fired ovens, one of five amenities found in every neighborhood (the others being a hammam, or bathhouse; a drinking fountain; a mosque and a preschool).

Riad rooftops rock

The traditional Moroccan house (riad) is built around a central courtyard with windows facing inwards for privacy.

They’re decked out with elaborate zellij, stucco and painted cedar and are easily the most atmospheric places to stay.

While Moroccans tend to use their rooftops as clotheslines, a riad roof terrace is the place to be come sunset.

In Marrakech, Italian-designed Riad Joya (Derb El Hammam, Mouassine Quarter; +212 524 391 624; www.riadjoya.com) has prime views of the Koutoubia Mosque minaret, while five-star La Sultana (403 rue de la Kasbah; +212 524 388 008;www.ghotw.com/la-sultana) overlooks the Atlas Mountains.

Top picks in Fez are the bohemian Riad Idrissy (13 Derb Idrissi, Sieje, Sidi Ahmed Chaoui, +212 649 191 410; www.riadidrissy.com) and its suntrap terrace, while Dar Roumana (30 Derb el Amer, Zkak Roumane; +212 535 741 637; www.darroumana.com) has sweeping views of the world’s largest living medieval Islamic city.

When you hear balak!’ watch out

The narrow streets of Morocco\'s souks are filled with hagglers, hustlers, mule-drivers and motor scooters.
The narrow streets of Morocco’s souks are filled with hagglers, hustlers, mule-drivers and motor scooters.

Morocco’s souks are not for the faint-hearted. The narrow streets teem with hagglers, hustlers, mule-drivers and motor scooters.

Rule No. 1 is to step aside when you hear “Balak!” It means there’s a heavily laden handcart or mule bearing down on you.

You’ll inevitably get lost, as maps don’t usually include the warren of small alleys that make up the medina.

A guide can help you get your bearings and fend off touts, but be aware that anything you buy will have his commission built in to the price.

Alternatively, taking snaps of landmarks with your smartphone can help you find your way back to your accommodation.

It’s not weird to be bathed by a stranger

There are plenty of posh hotel hammams, but nothing beats a visit to a no-frills public bathhouse.

Spotting the entrance can be tricky, as most signs are written in Arabic. Look for a shop selling toiletries or a mosque, as these are usually nearby.

It’s advisable to stock up on black olive oil soap, ghassoul (clay used as hair conditioner), a kiis (exfoliating glove) and a mat to sit on. Visitors need to take their own towels, comb and flip-flops.

Women strip to their knickers (no bra), and men wear underpants. Then you’ll be steamed, scrubbed and pummeled until you’re squeaky clean.

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What is your favourite New York landmark?

Posted on Mar 15, 2013 | Comments Off on What is your favourite New York landmark?

What's your favourite New York landmark?

What is your favourite New York landmark?  One of my favourites in NYC is the Art Deco designed Chrysler Building,  located at 405 Lexington Ave.  It was designed by architect William Van Alen for a project for Walter P. Chrysler. Hence the name of the building. The ground breaking occurred on September 19, 1928, with completion on, May 20, 1930.  With 77 stories and standing 1046 feet tall, the Chrysler Building was the tallest building in the world for a few months, but was quickly surpassed by the Empire State Building in 1931. It still stands out in the Manhattan skyline.  Great Architectural buildings

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Thyangboche Monastery – Nepal

Posted on Feb 28, 2013 | Comments Off on Thyangboche Monastery – Nepal

5.17 Thyangboche Monastery, Everest region, Nepal

Thyangboche Monastery, also known as Dawa Choling Gompa, located in the Tengboche village in Khumjung in the Khumbu region of eastern Nepal is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Sherpa community. Situated at 3,867 metres (12,687 ft), the monastery is the largest in the Khumbu region of Nepal. The monastery was built in 1916 by Lama Gulu with strong links to its mother monastery known as the Rongbuk Monastery in Tibet. However, in 1934, it was destroyed by an earthquake and was subsequently rebuilt. In 1989, it was destroyed for a second time by a fire and then rebuilt with the help of volunteers and international assistance

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