Travel revival

At last. We can travel again. Travel editor Winsor Dobbin looks at two new Australian destinations, and a couple of overseas hotspots.

A touch of Asia in Victoria
Clifftop at Hepburn outside Daylesford is one of Australia’s best regional destinations. Think beautiful villas where the attention to detail is exceptional. A luxurious getaway boasting spectacular landscapes.

Now the busy couple behind Clifftop at Hepburn – David and Manolita Penman – have launched new a new accommodation business: Samurai Villas in the heart of Daylesford.

A little slice of Japan within striking distance of one of the best small towns in Australia. The new venture promises “world-class luxury with an exotic Japanese twist”.  So, think ornamental gardens with stunning pavilions, outdoor bath precincts, water features, bonsai trees, a barrel sauna and even a Monet bridge. 

Highlights include bespoke hand-made wooden furniture, beautiful ponds, and waterfalls and colourful shubunkin fish darting playfully. 

Check it all out at 

Star chef’s new eatery
Celebrity chef Peter Kuruvita is striking out on his own again with the launch of Alba in Noosa Heads, Queensland, in late November. 

Kuruvita established his reputation at Pyrmont’s iconic Flying Fish from 2003 to 2011 before launching several venues in Fiji and most recently manning the pans for eight years at Noosa Beach House at the Sofitel. A protégé of the late Tony Bilson, the chef of Sri Lankan heritage has a global reputation and is a well-known TV presenter. 

His new restaurant will be called Alba by Kuruvita and will encompass a café and pizzeria, cocktail bar, restaurant, providore, cooking school and event space. 

His signature dish, snapper curry, will be back on the menu. Alba is the Latin word for ‘white’ and the Alba Chefs Kitchen will be a creative space for cooking classes, private chefs ‘tables, and a complete studio kitchen. Kuruvita’s childhood experiences cooking with his grandmother in Sri Lanka inspired him to become a chef and incorporate spice and tradition into modern cuisine.

Alba by Kuruvita will be a relaxed all-day bar that offering that evolves into a stylish restaurant and cocktail bar as the day progresses. 

“It is really exciting to be building a new venue again from the ground up,” Kuruvita said. “Working with the designers and developers – it is going to be a beautiful destination. 

“I wanted Alba to have a diverse range of offerings – there’s something for everyone! There is a great opportunity to keep the surrounding community happy with the café, take-away wood-fired pizza and a boutique providore. 

“A stylish bar and all-day menu will draw golfers straight from the 18th hole at the bottom of the road, while the dining room will offer either intimate dinners or open up for large events.”

Kuruvita is also excited by the cooking school. “I can’t wait to start on a cooking school and chef’s table program,” he says. “We’ll even be able to hire the space out as a wired studio kitchen with camera solutions. It’s a chefs dream!”

For full details see

Historical gem

Want to stay somewhere special when you visit Johannesburg? How about sleeping in the former home of one of the greatest men of our generation: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela? 

Before his death, the anti-apartheid icon, and South Africa’s first black president owned three homes: one in Qunu, the village where he was raised; the second in Soweto and the third in the leafy Johannesburg suburb of Houghton, where he lived until his death in 2013. The Nelson Mandela Foundation in conjunction with the Motsamayi Tourism Group has converted his last home into a luxury boutique hotel that is dotted with Madiba memorabilia.

It was here that the great leader – an inspiration to millions – hosted the likes of Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton. It later became the headquarters of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. 

Sanctuary Mandela offers guests nine rooms capable of hosting up to 18 people and offers retreat spaces for reflection and healing. 

Sally-Anne Grinter, the hotel’s operations manager, describes the experience in these three words: reflection, peace, and freedom. Officially opened last month, Sanctuary Mandela rooms start at around $400 a night.  The presidential suite was Mandela’s old bedroom and there are two meeting rooms, a restaurant, bar, swimming pool and a lovely garden. 

The bar and restaurant are open to the public. Grinter says the Nelson Mandela Foundation wanted the property to be self-sustainable instead of standing vacant. Accoutrements include replicas of letters Mandela wrote during his lifetime, historic photographs, and artworks. 

The green chair at the entrance is the original chair he sat on while reading his daily newspaper under a tree. Some of Madiba’s favourite dishes, including oxtail – which he ate a boy – are on the menu. Other dishes are traditional to South Africa, like the Nguni sirloin steak and Cape Malay-style fish. Cook Xoliswa Ndoyiya, who prepared meals for Mandela and his family for over 22 years, is part of the team that cooks in the restaurant. 

Bookings are required before visiting the restaurant or bar. For accommodation bookings or more information visit the website.

Thai treats

Hotels in Thailand are super-anxious to welcome overseas visitors once more. Just in time for the holidays, the country’s resort and city destinations are rolling out the red carpet to welcome globetrotters to the Asian nation – and there are several terrific offers right now to encourage visitors to book. 

Here’s a few on offer from regional tourism leaders Avani Hotels. 

Longtail boat adventures with Avani+ Samui Resort
Situated on a secluded beach fringed by palm trees, this boutique resort offers kayaking, the chance to explore off-the-grid bays or set off with an eco-friendly picnic basket for the beaches of Koh Matsum and Koh Tan. On property, there are romantic barbecue dinners, cooking classes, kite flying and workshops with a wellness consultant on stress relief and insomnia. Avani+ Samui Resort offers a complimentary upgrade from Avani deluxe room to a spacious private pool villa (, based on availability, with rates starting from $US166 per night.

Back on the green with Avani+ Mai Khao Phuket Suites & Villas
Home to over a dozen world-class courses, Phuket is a golfer’s paradise. Guests staying at Avani+ Mai Khao Phuket (top image) get a green fee, caddy and cart at Blue Canyon Country Club included in their stay when they book the Stay & Play Phuket Golf Getaway Package. In addition to enjoying two championship courses, they also benefit from a complimentary suite upgrade. The offer is available until December 15 with rates starting from $US99 (

Picnics and horseback riding at Avani+ Hua Hin Resort
For those who want their beach vacation with a side of big city buzz, Avani+ Hua Hin offers a convenient base only a two-hour drive from Bangkok. Enjoy a private villa pool during the day and then take part in some horse riding on the beach or the signature Avani Pop-up picnic on the lawn. Avani+ Hua Hin’s Blissful Beach Retreat package starts at $US103 and includes a 60-minute massage (

Back to nature with Avani Ao Nang Cliff Krabi Resort
Avani Ao Nang resort is located a hop and a skip from all the best beach spots. Spend days soaking up the rays and iconic seascapes at Railay beach, go paddleboarding off the Chicken Island or float away to bliss in Avani’s infinity pool. For stays until April 30, 2022 ( come with early check-ins, airport transfers, 30% savings on dining and laundry, 2-for-1 spa treatments and more with rates starting from $US68.

On top of the world at Avani+ Riverside Bangkok
Stay right on the banks by the Chao Phraya River. Avani+ Bangkok (above) welcomes travellers back with a slew of new entertainment and dining venues, including the new Benihana, Spice & Barley, Lost & Found, plus SEEN bar serving up sophisticated sundowners with exceptional views. The Weekend Getaway package ( includes a stay with breakfast for two, dinner at SEEN, a massage for two, early check-in and late check-out and more from $US226.

To learn more about Avani Hotels, visit