Budget flight: get your Scoot on!

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Taxi at the door and I’m about to depart from Greece. Arrive at Athens airport early, tick. Now where was my ticket? I’m on a budget airline to Sydney via Singapore so my check in will be a shabby, tucked away make-do. No. It’s in with the big kids. There’s one long terminal – just keep walking and nudging Swiss and Lufthansa is Scoot – check in 156-7. How grown up.

All my flights out of and into Australia from a long haul journey (usually European) have been with the bigger airlines, but with Scoot flying out of Athens to Sydney at a good price this was too hard a flight to miss. And for future reference as to flying to Singapore this is my research!

Tip: At Athens airport, Scoot usually scoots off from Gate A31. So get your skates on as it’s a bit of a trek there, even with moving walkways. But if you are always early like me (no judging please) there’s time to lollygag along the way.

Economy class here I come. The configuration of the seats is three, three and three on this aircraft – which means there’s no panic at the thought of being squeezed into the middle of a long row. Seat is comfy and at my great height of 167cm there is plenty of leg room.  So I settle in for the 14-hour journey through time and space.

Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner is the name of this big baby and the sifnificant route is Singapore-Sydney.

Travelling by myself, I enjoy the solitude and time for reading, snoozing and some entertainment. Scoot’s child-free cabin sends happy shivers up my spine. Yay! Don’t get me wrong . . . but this cabin has 33 seats that, except for my seated neighbour who has a little snore going on, it’s nice and quiet.

Left: Business Class comfort. Right: Economy Class comfort.

The flight leaves seven times a week so you don’t need to squeeze your dates to fit a flight. I planned my flight out of Athens so I could have a four-day stay in Singapore on the way back to Sydney – crazy not to miss this opportunity. (And we left Singers on time for the seven hours, 40 minutes flight.)

My entertainment is usually reading but for the long-haul I need a distraction so I downloaded the Scoot app for a couple of recently released movies. I also read the inflight mag which is really good.

I had pre-ordered food for the Athens-Singapore leg – it was OK too. Some sort of vegetable dish with pasta and the second meal was a chicken wrap with a chocolate sweet and some fruit. You get what you pay for – and I took a couple of my own snacks onboard – yet again to alleviate long-haul boredom. (Tip: layer up as you may feel chilly and need a blanket – but in keeping with the budget ethos, the blankets are $S15 to hire.)

On the airlines main leg from Singapore to Sydney was in the comfy and more spacious business class. I didn’t bother with food as I had a large meal at the airport before flying. But the chicken rice that my neighbour was scoffing down gave me inflight food envy.

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The service throughout was quiet and friendly, not too much interaction but overall well-mannered and helpful. My night flight that was – ‘quiet’ in the silence zone afforded me a restful sleep and plenty of room to stretch my legs.

Overall I am a happy customer indeed. And for the price, the flight, the service – I’ll take another booking Singapore for next year. What I save on the luxury of a big carrier, I can expand the trip for a few more days in Greece!

Visit: http://www.flyscoot.com

Writer Bev Malzard was hosted for this flight and was pleasantly surprised with both legs of the journey, and would recommend anyone doing this (actually I insist) to break your journey in Singapore for a couple of days. Food, fun, shopping – what’s not to like? An elegant afternoon tea at the Fullerton Hotel is recommended and a lunch at Singapore’s highest restaurant – Skai at Swissotel The Stamford – is an experience of divine food with a damn fine view. I did both of these food extravaganzas and am still smiling.

Food with a view at Skai restaurant Swissotel The Stamford; writer feeding her face; Fullerton Hotel high tea offerings.

 

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PARIS: Baguettes – or the legend of the loaf

PARIS: Baguettes – or the legend of the loaf

It was just a couple of weeks ago, I was driving from Charles de Gaulle airport into Paris and spied, shuffling along the street of one of the outlying suburbs a walking cliché, an old. hunched man, wearing a beret and carrying a baguette at 65cm in length.

The ubiquitous baguette – bread of a thousand legends, countless laws and constrained to the perfect, ordained length – this is the stuff and staff of life to the French nation – the symbol of France perhaps.

Fact: an excellent baguette needs to look, sound, smell and feel the part; with a golden-tinged crust and an ivory coloured centre, and the shell of the loaf must ‘crack’ with just a little pressure and a soft, hollow sound must occur when the bottom is tapped. It should have a warm, cereal and caramel aroma with hints of longing – longing for butter.

We were staying down the hill from the Arc de Triumph in a narrow (of course) street and on the corner was a popular boulangerie – a seductive aroma of butter emanated out the doors.

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French bread law

This perfect baton of bread needs protection and the French government did just that in 1993 with the ‘Decret Pain’. This law states that traditional baguettes have to be made on the premises they’re sold and can only be made with four ingredients: wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. They can’t be frozen at any stage or contain additives or preservatives, which also means they go stale within 24 hours.
So, beware, there is plenty of mediocre bread sold in France and separating the wheat from the chaff requires a good nose …

Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

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Finding a good bakery

  • To be called a ‘boulangerie’, a French bakery has to make its bread on the premises. If this word doesn’t feature in the name of the bakery or isn’t plastered on the window it could be a plain old dépôt de pain selling factory-made bread.
  • Boulangeries are supposed to display a small yellow and blue sign letting you know that your baker is authentic, reading: “Votre boulanger. Un artisan authentique”.
  • These appreciated few often have a tell-tale queue snaking outside.

I took up a stalking position one early evening round about 5.30pm and took a few sneaky snaps of folk going into our local boulangerie and I guessed who would be buying an evening baguette (mornings are full on too).

All 20 shoppers I checked out except for two who picked up a pastry, carried their baguette out of the shop. Normally one loaf but a couple of people greedied up and had a handle on two or more.

The baguette is always in a white paper bag that reaches just over half-way up the loaf. I noticed that everyone carrying the fresh baguette would unconsciously snap the end off the loaf and eat it. A quaint tasting habit that I totally get!

  • The word baguette is feminine so make sure you ask for une baguette (une to rhyme with June), or just get two, deux baguettes, a number that helpfully stays the same for masculine and feminine words.
  • It’s usual to ask for a well or under-cooked baguette: bien cuite for well-cooked and crusty and pas trop cuite for under-cooked and soft.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for half a baguette, une demi-baguette, as most bakeries sell them, and for exactly half the price.
  • Baguettes cost between 1 euro and 1.30 euros. Try to pay with close to the exact amount as French bakeries rarely have change for large notes and may not serve you if you don’t have close change.
  • A traditional baguette is called a baguette tradition, baguette à l’ancienne or baguette de campagne.
  • Look out for interesting varieties such as baguette aux céréales, baguette aux graines de sésame or baguette aux olives.

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Serving etiquette

  • Look like a local and eat the end of the baguette on the way home from the bakery, it’s called le quignon, the heel.
  • Don’t use a bread board. just use the cutting in the air technique or tear off pieces by hand.
  • Traditional Catholics use the bread knife to lightly mark a crucifix on the back of a baguette before cutting it.
  • Serve pieces of bread alongside a main course and then again for the cheese course (served before dessert).
  • Pieces of bread are never served on side plates, instead they’re put directly on the placemat or tablecloth to the upper right-hand side of the dinner plate.\

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Eating etiquette

  • Soften your baguette by dipping it in your morning coffee.
  • Although most French people eat baguette without butter, those from Normandy and Brittany insist on a thick layer of unsalted or salted butter.
  • Day-old bread can be salvaged by using it to make pain perdu, translated as lost bread or French toast.

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There are many stories of the origins of the baguette and all of them probably have a grain of truth in them, but I like this one:

A patriotic tale tells of the possible origin of the baguette (not its shape though) by linking it to the French Revolution. Lack of bead was the principal complaint from the people of Paris and it played a big part in the overthrow of the monarchy. Being the staple of the French diet, the poor watched the nobility eat heaps of fine, white loaves while they faced shortage and even starvation – making do with bread that was almost inedible.

So, after the Revolution, making sure everybody had quality bread was high on the priority list. In 1793 the Convention (the post-Revolution government) made a law stating:

“Richness and poverty must both disappear from the government of equality. It will no longer make a bread of wheat for the rich and a bread of bran for the poor. All bakeries will be held, under the penalty of imprisonment, to make only one type of bread: The Bread of Equality”.

Another story claims that Napoleon Bonaparte passed a law decreeing that bread for his soldiers should be made in long slender loaves of exact measurement to fit in a special pocket on their uniforms. Since those measurements were close to the size of the modern baguette, some folk think this might be when the bread first took on its current form. Maybe it’s Napoleon we have to thank.

These are only a couple of stories of the famous bread’s origins and Mr Google throws up many more. Whatever the reason that this weird shaped bread appeared, by the mid-1800s in Paris, they were everywhere. Merci beaucoup.

Writer, Bev Malzard managed to eat half a fresh baguette every morning. Only half because she had to then eat croissants and pain de chocolat  and an oeuf or deux. . .

Much if this info on the history came from a fab website https://bonjourparis.com which features all manner of wonderful information on Paris, food, wine and everything else – tres bon.

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Extra info: Michael Kalanty is an award-winning author, baker, and sensory scientist. He holds the patent for The Aroma & Flavor Chart for Bread©. His first book, How To Bake Bread: The Five Families of Bread®won the Gourmand International Award at the Paris Cookbook Fair (2011) for “Best Bread Book in the World”. Contact him through www.MichaelKalanty.com

Epicurean Exchange offers their Paris Bread & Pastry Tour each May. Visit www.EpicureanExchange.com for more about their portfolio of culinary explorations.

Featured image at top of page: Photo by Ablimit Ablet on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Bali cooking class

Bali cooking class

I hadn’t planned to do anything strenuous on a recent holiday in Bali – just sleep, eat, swim. But life often has other plans. We had been in Ubud for a couple of days, happened upon a royal cremation that saw a few thousand people converge on the cultural and spiritual town of Ubud, about an hour’s drive from the capital Denpasar. Well, that was a colourful and jolly affair.

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The following day we did some slow sightseeing outside of town and then took a walk down a back road in Ubud. About to turn back because of the fierce heat and I spied the sign ‘Goya’ at the entrance of somewhere that looked rather fancy. Then a chap asked us if we’d like to take a look at the resort. Sure.

We walked through a spacious foyer breezeway and then stepped down and followed a path lined with tall bamboo crowding to create dappled shade.

Out of the shade and in front of us was an infinity pool (they are de rigueur in Bali), and to the left a canopy covered a lovely outdoor restaurant. Now, how does this happen? We talked to the staff for a few minutes and next thing, we had signed up for a cooking class to be held the following day.

I had partaken in a few cooking classes in the past, they were hands on but not comprehensive – maybe some chopping, plating up or dipping rice paper sheets into hot water. This was the real deal. Our chef was with us every step of the way. We were introduced to the variety of spices, and how to prepare the ingredients. We cut, diced, shaved and mortar and pestle wrestled a sambal into submission.

Despite the heat we toiled towards a fine lunch. The sambal spice was included in the Chicken Lawar, Pepes Ikan (barramundi) steamed inside banana leaf). Dessert was Sumping nangka (jack fruit).

Once we finished cooking the meal we were walked to a little cabana, were we given our certificates for being the best cooks ever to attend a cooking class here!

We ate really good food in Bali over an eight-day period BUT this was the best meal of all. True.

Included in the price of $AU45, is the class for a couple of hours, a reserved table to eat lunch and a video and pictures taken and emailed to us (these are the pics and the video) and for an extra $5 you can stay and swim in the infinity pool afterwards.

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For details: Goya, Bali cooking class  www.goyaboutiqueresort.com email: goya@goyaboutiqueresort.com

Writer Bev Malzard paid for this class herself and recommends the experience as fun and filling! Just a tip, wear makeup or tidy up for the video – she didn’t but thinks it could have been a winner as a Masterchef audition!

How to explore Umbria, Italy

How to explore Umbria, Italy

If it wasn’t for the Etruscans, there might not be olive oil or wine in this region of Italy. Let’s head to the hilltop fortress towns of Umbria and enjoy the legacy of the ancient invaders.

It had been a carb-overload lunch hosted by chef and pastamaking teacher Lorenzo Polegri, a showman and a man of smiles and passion as he demonstrated how to perfect the art of pasta making. None of us in our group were very talented but who cares? We enjoyed our repast in Ristorante Zeppelin in the quiet midday ambience of the mediaeval Umbrian town of Orvieto.

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This town, a natural fortress, is one of the many glorious fortified towns and cities of the Umbrian region, which includes the spiritually robust Assisi, the glorious mystery of Perugia and this elegant site of Orvieto, all founded by the very late, lamented Etruscans who disappeared into the emerging Roman empire in the third century BC.

After eating food fit for Etruscan epicureans, we scattered to waddle into the narrow curved streets of this city bathed in autumnal afternoon light.

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Curving past small shops, drifting along, I lifted my eyes and saw the most confoundingly beautiful structure – a green and white striped cathedral – a bold statement against the stark blue sky – with intricate, delicate relief carvings on the capitals with sumptuous cornerstones. The bold marble panels adorn the façade and are respected as one of the masterpieces of the late Middle Ages. It may not be the biggest and the best in the world – but this striped beauty captured my heart.

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Orvieto Cathedral is one of Italy’s most celebrated cathedrals. The 14th century edifice was built between 1290 and 1500 and she shines as brightly as ever. Built under papal direction, the building is famous for its mosaic inlay facade.

Duomo di Orvieto is widely considered the most glorious example of Italian Gothic. A miracle is said to have occurred in 1263 in the nearby town of Bolsena, when a travelling priest who had doubts about the truth of transubstantiation found that his Host was bleeding so much that it stained the altar cloth. The cloth is now stored in the Chapel of the Corporal inside the cathedral.

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Next stop along the way on our escourted journey is the jewel of Umbria, Perugia. Perugia is the capital city of the region of Umbria and covers a high hilltop around the area. Another Etruscan beauty, Perugia is known for its universities (the first founded in 1308) and is celebrated for its culture and artistic pursuits.

The city has centuries of tumultuous religious and political (same thing then) history and all of it immersed in the stone here.

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The Rocca Paolina was the ‘underground’ city, built in 1373 at the then highest part of the town. The richest merchants of 16th century Perugia lived here but it was destroyed by local citizens in an uprising provoked by the Pope. The town disappeared but the streets have been uncovered and the mediaeval homes that were a platform for the new fortress are now on show.

The stone houses with Gothic doorways and tunnels look as if they are waiting for people to go about their daily business. The atmospheric route through the fortress by escalators take you through Rocca Paolina under the portico of Palazzo del Governo.

We headed out into the night and into the strange and curious labyrinthine streets underground. After ascending to ‘uptown Perugia’ to the historic centre, in a state of wonderment we found ourselves in the vigorous city of Perugia, with its night lights on and aromas enticing us into a 21st century pizza house.

Next stop across the Umbrian Valley is the mother ship of holy hilltop fortress cities: Assisi. Birthplace (in 1182) of Italy’s favourite saint, Francis, the city is always buzzing with pilgrims.

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Saint Francis and female favourite Saint Clare are the drawcards for the fans. The bodies of both saints were discovered in 1818 and luckily they hadn’t been tampered with by grave robbers. For centuries, holy relics had done great business across Europe.

So what is left (bones of Saint Francis) and preserved remains of Saint Clare is on show as the faithful and curious pass by in snaking queues through Basilica di Santa Chiara (where Clare is) and the Basilica di San Francesco.

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There are fine examples of Giotto’s frescoes and Cimabue’s painting to be viewed and other cultural attractions includes many little pottery statues of chubby monks and waving popes. And for fans of Norberto, the famous Umbrian painter, there’s a small gallery with an excellent variety of fine prints to aquire.

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It feels like we’ve ticked off the holy trinity of hill towns in Umbria and look forward to the next stop in Tuscany. More and more I appreciate the fact that we enjoy these splendid visits, and afterwards hop back on to a comfy coach which takes us to our next stop. So far we have been transported from Rome, taken to ‘secret places’, had intimate meals with welcoming local folk, and been invited into authentic experiences. Each night we have been put to bed, well fed and happy, in lovely hotels.

As we anticipate lunch and tastings of the local olive oil, and a meal of regional cooking in another handsome hill town – this time Spello, with its historic centre still enveloped by Roman walls. We stretch our legs in the coach, chat about the marvellous day we have had and agree that those Etruscans knew a thing or two about leaving an amazing legacy in Umbria.

Writer, Bev Malzard was hosted by Insight Vaations insightvacations.com.au and found the itinerary exciting and edifying. She recommends sampling gelato at every stop along the way. You will not be disappointed.

Vienna’s best breads

Vienna’s best breads

A slice of life

I love bread. Sourdough, rye, Turkish, flatbread, brioche, French sticks, naan, roti, wholemeal, soft white rolls, Italian focaccia and am not ashamed to admit to a couple of slices of white Tip Top bread with butter and vegemite.

And part of travel is eating lots of bread . . . (sorry to the gluten intolerants). Naan to mop up curry sauce and dhal for breakfast in India and beautiful European breads with cheese washed down with coffee.

Years ago when I first travelled to Austria I was naive and hadn’t been exposed to sliced heavy bread in the morning. My first taste (not toast) was accompanied by a cream cheese and a fat slice of ham. And that’s when romancing the loaf began. No matter where I am, I’ll try the bread on offer.

Europe sets the standard for good, wholesome, hearty breads. And Vienna is upping the ‘brot’ ante for the comeback of artisan bread. For too long Vienna has loafed around with heavy, commercially manufactured bread and now it looks for a slice of the crusty good life.

The renaissance of small bakeries in Vienna is full on – here are a couple of snaps taken around the back streets where the aroma of freshly baked bread drew me into the bakery for a bun or two.

I was taken around the city bakeries by ‘Brot Andi’, Andreas Djordjevic, an institution in Vienna. Andreas is in charge of the bread cart in the two Michelin-starred Steirereck, the best restaurant in Vienna. The restaurant is divine with the most beautiful ceiling, amazing food styling – and flavour of course – and then there’s the brot . . . .

I rather fancied the name of Arthur Grimm’s bakery – no relation of you-know-who.
This was a scattering of breadcrumbs to entice you to walk the streets of Vienna in the early morning, and  . . . just follow your nose.

Writer, Bev Malzard once joined with a work colleague to experiment with ‘the sandwich as a meal’ concept. Over a week of 21 meals they managed to put every meal on a sandwich. Eggs on toasts for brekkie, a salad and ham sando for lunch, steak and chips between two slices of bread for dinner. Great strides in gastronomic adventure were made when there was a pie and sauce sandwich, a fish and chips sandwich, a pea soup sandwich (this had to be made and eaten rather quickly), a baked dinner sandwich, with gravy and beef and black beans and fried rice sandwich and the surprise meal . . . an apple pie sandwich. That was an  excellent week. 
The divine image at the top of the page was taken by the gifted Monika Grabkowska.

How to explore Catalina

How to explore Catalina

Oh Catalina! A respite from the glitz and noise of the mainland, this little island is a joyful discovery.

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“Twenty-six miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is a waitin’ for me, Santa Catalina, the island of romance” . . . and so starts the old song that turned a holiday island, off the coast of Long Beach in California, into a vacation-spot superstar. The song was recorded in 1958 by the Four Preps. Two of the college friends’ group were surfing off the coast in Southern California and they saw Santa Catalina island in the distance and wondered how far from the mainland it was . . hence the origin of a pop song of its time that shot up the charts, and made the holiday island a new sensation – again!

The island is one of many in the Channel Islands group. And from the get-go, the island was a popular playground for early inhabitants in 5000BC, Spanish mariners, hunters, smugglers and the military.

It became a tourist destination around 1887 with the focal point of the island a little settlement called Avalon – which has since been designated a city.

The Wrigley family purchased the island sight unseen in 1919 for $3 million. Mr Wrigley made his fortune in chewing gum!

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Take the Catalina Express for a gentle hour’s sail from Long Beach.

The island was developed within a small space as much of the terrain is rocky and wild. And the only beach is at Avalon.

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The beautiful chandelier above the ballroom floor in the Casino.

The massive construction of the island’s most recognisable landmark, the startling art deco structure, is the Casino. The building houses a beautiful theatre (movies are still shown here); a massive ballroom and a museum.

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The Casino. 

The ballroom still has the ghosts of thousands of young dancers who would come across the sea (a three-hour trip then) to dance the night away during the 30s and 40s.

The museum has wonderful images of the crowd that crushed the dance floor. There was never alcohol served in the building, and the casino has never had any form of gambling on the premises.

Ornate walls inside the casino and (right) the amazing construction of the circular building.

Lovely hotels and quaint guesthouses provide plenty of rooms for holidaymakers and a day trip isn’t a bad idea either. Funky restaurants, live music venues, ice cream parlours par excellence, and fun souvenir shopping have the red carpet out for visitors.

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This is a retro destination that exudes the vibrant ambience of a laid back part of California like no other.

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  • GETTING AROUND

Catch the Catalina Express from San Pedro, Long Island (a one- hour boat ride and up to 30 departures daily).

Around Avalon, it’s for walking or you can hire a golf buggy to get around. Not many cars here.

  • WHEN TO VISIT

Anytime! But in autumn the prices are down, the crowds less frantic and the island slows to a gentle pace. Enjoy the Halloween Parade at the end of October.

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All out adventure or slow and steady? The island offers Zip Line Tours starting at 182m above Descanso Beach; off-road exploring in a jeep to visit the local bisons (true), foxes, eagles and deer. Parasail over the Pacific Ocean or hike the rugged hills.

Or . . . visit the fabulous Catalina Museum with special exhibitions and the history of the island from the beginning displayed.

At Descanso Beach, snorkel and swim the crystal clear waters – and head to the Beach Club for a Catalina Burger.

At night head to the Casino for a first run movie. Get there and hour early on the weekend nights to hear a stirring performance on the original pipe organ.

Writer Bev Malzard, did not zip line, but she did have a nap on the beach, eat ice-cream and spent an afternoon in the museum/art gallery. The history in black and white photographs is rich and new world ‘American dream’. That Wrigley fella was on to something when he got the world chewing gum! (Juicy Fruit is the chew du jour for Ms Malzard.) Look below, this little Aussie was on offer on Catalina Island. 

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Art Deco capital of New Zealand (and possibly the planet)

Art Deco capital of New Zealand (and possibly the planet)

Not often you get to thank a natural disaster and community tragedy for a splendid architectural creation. In February 1931 a bastard of an earthquake rocked Napier, a town on Hawke’s Bay on the east coast of the north island of New Zealand. The ‘quake measured 7.9 on the Richter scale and rocked the Hawke’s Bay area for more than three long minutes. There were 260 lives lost and the vast majority of Napier’s town centre structures were destroyed, either by the earthquake of the following fires.

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It wasn’t long after the earthquake that the Kiwis rallied and do what they do best – got on with it! Rebuilding began and much of it was completed in two years. Architects were on the spectrum of quirky and ambitious and the new buildings reflected the architectural styles of the times – stripped classical, Spanish Mission and Art Deco.

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Local architect Louis Hay, an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, had his moment to shine! Maori motifs emerged to give the city an identifiable New Zealand character – just check out the ASB bank on the corner of Hastings and Emerson Streets that features Maori koru and zigzags.

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I recently visited Napier for the first time and driving into the city centre on a bright sunny day I was thrilled to be immersed in this stylish time capsule. And driving further afield around Hawke’s Bay (just out-of-town to find the cultish ice cream parlour Rush Munro’s, which has been here since 1926. And yes, I had a double scoop for research purposes, hokey pokey and vanilla, and yes, it was divine), you drive along a tree-lined boulevard waterfront. Marine Parade is where you drive slowly and capture the extent of the bay.

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Napier’s city centre displays a seamless line of 1930s architecture is quite extraordinary. Enjoy the streetscape via a self-guided walk – ask for a map at the information centre or at the Art Deco Trust. Guided walks around the city are also available every day rain or shine (except Christmas Day!).

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Every February, Napier celebrates its heritage with the Art Deco weekend – a stylish celebration of all things 1930’s, including vintage cars, fashion and music. So get your flapper on, tilt your boater at a rackish angle and do the Charleston, drink pink cocktails and throw caution to the wind.

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Napier’s other special attractions include the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers and the many vineyards that make good use of the region’s alluvial soils. Pinot Gris and Syrah are the region’s signature drops. On Saturday mornings, the Napier farmers’ market is a chance to shop for artisan foods and fresh produce.

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Writer, Bev Malzard ate ice cream, had dinner at the Thirsty Whale Restaurant and Bar and stayed just outside of town at the Albatross Motel, Westshore Napier. She will learn to dance and hold a long cigarette holder before her next visit.

Visit: http://www.artdeconapier.com ; http://www.napiernz.com and get your art deco vibe happening n 2018!