Aussie outback cafe sells world’s most costly coffee

Would you believe a certain coffee at this Australian outback cafe can set you back about $50 a cup?

 It’s the Hervey Range Heritage Tea Room, high in the mountains north of Townsville in the so-called ‘dry tropics’ of Far-North Queensland.

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As well as the peaceful bushland location at Thornton’s Gap on the top of Harvey’s Range, the tea rooms actually have two big claims to fame. 

Firstly, they are known as the only place in Queensland to sell Kopi Luwak coffee – hailed as the world’s most expensive coffee. 

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Apparently, the coffee beans are collected from Indonesian jungles after being eaten and defecated by Asian palm civets, a small mammal that looks rather like a cat.

At the Heritage tea rooms, the coffee can be sampled for about 50 Australian dollars a cup.

Secondly, the tea rooms are also said to be in North Queensland’s oldest building – constructed of split logs in about 1865 and formerly known as the Eureka Hotel.

Construction of the hotel atop the ranges occurred just one year after Townsville was established as a seaside township

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The site is located on the old Georgetown Road, which was formerly the main route from the port of Townsville to the goldfields and pastoral areas to the west and north.

Nearby is the old Hervey Range Road, now known as Page Road and one of the few surviving examples of a roadway dating from early European settlement in the region

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On a recent review tour of Far-North Queensland, we relaxed in the peaceful gardens surrounding the heritage-isted building; played giant chess and card games; ate scones and cream; and downed an everyday garden variety latte.

Far-North Queensland travel

See the flying farmers and their Apes

We met our first Ape at Ravello, on Italy’s Amalfi Coast – one of the most glorious parts of our planet

While exploring a hillside pathway – barely wide enough for two people – we were startled by a car horn.

The honking came from an Ape (roughly prounced ‘A – Pee’) a tiny vehicle used to haul lemons, chestnuts and vegetables from some terraced farms along the steep valleys above the Amalfi coastline.

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This three-wheeled vehicle complements mules and the farmers themselves – known as ‘contadini volanti’, or the ‘flying farmers’, who climb the steep heights to visit the groves.  

However, locals sadly pointed out that the efficiency of the Apes, mules and farmers is gradually proving no match for competition from cheaper, less aromatic lemons from abroad.  

For some years, this competition has been driving prices down and applying pressure to Amalfi’s vertical farmers to abandon terraces previously cultivated for generations.

Naturally, it’s feared that this could lead to the collapse of dry stone walls and an increase is erosion along a stunning coastline famous for its pastel-coloured villages sitting in narrow, V-shaped valleys.

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The dry stone walls were built stone-by-stone by the ancestors of today’s farmers who went on to plant and tend for many thousands of lemon trees.

However, some local residents now fear that, if maintenance is reduced, the walls may not last.

Add the inevitable summer bushfires in the Lattari Mountains, some clear-felling of land and the ageing of the remaining lemon farmers – and you have further problems for the terrace walls that have been a bulwark against erosion for centuries. 

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In September 2010, a fatal mudslide hit the enchanting Amalfi Coast village of Atrani.

In the aftermath, an early warning escape route was  established through the tangle of cobblestone lanes and streets in the ancient village.

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As we wandered through this unbelievably beautiful area on our most recent visit, we noted the ‘Escape route’ signs and the pedestrian-only routes to the sea through huge arches.

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There’s also talk of ground sensors and remote-controlled cameras in the hills.

The Amalfi Coast is one of the ‘must-see’ destinations of the world and, hopefully, the possibility of stone walls ever substantially falling into disrepair may remain just that – only a possibility.

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However, if possible, we can all probably help ward off problems by seeking out bright-yellow Amalfi lemons for our shopping basket.

Note: the writer was flown to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines

Amalfi Coast Italy

Incredible story of the white stallions

The Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria is well known internationally, but only recently did we realise the incredible story behind the Lipizzaner horses.

Travelling in Slovenia, we visited the Lipizzaner Stud at Lipica, said to be the world’s oldest continuously operating facility of its type with a foundation date of 1580.

slovenia-305986__340Apparently, the Lipizzaner’s ancestors can be traced to 800AD – a cross between local Karst breeds beloved by the Romans for chariot racing and Berber horses from Spain.

As we watched these magnificent animals running in the paddocks at Lipica, we were told that the stud and its horses had, in fact, been evacuated in 1796, 1805 and 1809, when it was threatened by Napoleon’s armies

In World War I, the Lipizzaners were moved to a site near Vienna – and during the Second World War the Nazis took them to Germany and then on to a Wehrmacht-controlled stud farm near Hostau in Czechslovakia

From there, the story becomes almost unbelievable.

As the war wound to a close, American troops, apparently with the knowledge of the surrendering Germans, undertook an astonishing mission to secure the horses ahead of the advancing Soviet forces.

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According to some accounts, 350 horses – about 100 of the best Arabs in Europe, top thoroughbred racehorses and trotters, hundreds of Russian Cossack horses, and some 250 Lipizzaners – were rounded up by the Americans and moved 130 miles along roads to Mannsbach in central Germany.

This exercise, apparently named ‘Operation Cowboy’ later became the basis of a Disney movie ‘Miracle of the White Stallions’.

Later, a number of Lipizzaners were transported to the Austrian State Stud at Piber for use in the Spanish Riding Schooll.

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Eventually, about 11 horses were given back to Yugoslavia and the stud at Lipica, on the Karst Plateau, began the task of rebuilding its stock.

The breeding farm was renovated; a riding and training school opened; and in the 1960’s the legendary home of the Lipizzaners was opened to visitors.

Lipizzaner foals are always born dark colored, and gradually, with each change of coat, go lighter, until by the age of 4-10 years, they are pure white.

However about one in 200 remain brown or black.

Featured attractions Lipica Slovenia

Was Santorini really Atlantis?

“The great Egyptian Age was but a remnant of the Atlantian culture,
The antediluvian kings colonised the world,
All the Gods who play in the mythological dramas
In all legends, from all lands, were from fair Atlantis”.

That song from 1968 and a handful of movies over the years were all we really knew about the myth of Atlantis – until Scoot Airlines took us to Greece – and we visited the magical island of Santorini.

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As we now know, the Atlantis legend dates to about 360 BC, describing a prosperous land that disappeared into the sea.

So where does Santorini come into it?

There is a school of thought that Santorini – the famed isle of white buildings, blue rooftops and glorious sunsets – was once Atlantis, until a volcanic eruption wiped out the Minoan culture.

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The Atlantis theory centres on the former Minoan settlement at Akrotiri, destroyed by a volcano about 1450 BC – and now partially excavated.

All this talk of a mythical land beneath the sea adds plenty of spice to one of Santorini’s most popular attractions, the Museum of Prehistoric Thira, which displays ancient artefacts unearthed at Akrotiri and similar sites.

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Although relatively small and housed on the site of a former church at Fira, the Museum of Prehistoric Thira covers Santorini’s history from the late Neolithic period to late Cycladic times.

There’s decorative ceramics; religious and ritual objects; stone and ceramic vases; bronze tools; and complex wall paintings.

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The museum has four specific sections containing findings dating from the 5th millennium B.C. (late neolithic era) to the 17th century B.C.

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We were particularly impressed by the glowing gold ibex goat figurine, measuring around 10cm in length, dating from the 17th century B.C. which was discovered in mint condition in 1999.

There were also some remarkable fossilized olive tree leaves that dated to 60,000 B.C.

Age-Friendly rating

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9/10: From our experience, the Museum of Prehistoric Thira is well suited to visitors of any age and mobility.

Because it is located on the ridge at Fira, the museum does have about 12 steps on its main approach. However, a level alternative entrance is provided.

When we visited, the cost of admission was a modest three Euros. There was a reduction for senior visitors from within the European Union and free admission for children under 18 and students from the EU.

Once inside, the layout of the museum is simple and easy to follow. The exhibits are clearly labelled in relatively large writing – and all explanations and direction signs are in both Greek and English.

The floors are level; there are public conveniences; and a shop – again all on the same level.

The Museum of Prehistoric Thira could be viewed in a little over an hour, but a thorough visit would take a little longer.

The building is air conditioned; staff are multi-lingual; and the attraction is open year-round.

So, why only 9/10?

Because of its central location in Fira, visiting the museum may require navigating the narrow village streets, which are often extremely busy – particularly in summer. This can be a real effort for anyone- regardless of fitness or mobility.

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Taking sustainable tourism seriously

There’s two sides to the question of sustainable tourism.

In Europe, there have been surges of resident concern about overcrowding and the impact of cruise ships on fragile ancient cities like Venice, Barcelona, Dubrovnik and Italy’s Isle of Capri.

Tourism contributes enormously to economies and job-creation, but also creates pressure on local cultures, the environment and energy resources.

Anyone who has visited the Greek islands, Venice or Capri in Summer will attest to the problems of cruise ships and coaches disgorging thousands of people into tiny, Medieval streets.

However, there’s another key side to the issue that doesn’t necessarily grab the headlines, but is even more important.

Positive action is being taken across a range of areas to ensure that mass tourism doesn’t destroy the attractions that draw people in the first place.

One of the most high profile measures occurred when the United Nations highlighted the issue by designating 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

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This gave important impetus to a range of industry measures that were able to be highlighted during the year.

Its tourism body, the UNWTO, encouraged practices like minimizing the use of plastic; protecting natural and cultural heritage such as rain forests and historical sites; supporting local communities by employing local staff, buying local products and engaging in charity work.

However, sustainable tourism measures were well underway before 2017.

The airline industry, for example, has long been investing in new-age planes that burn less fuel and provide health and cost-saving benefits.

For example, we recently rated the Age-Friendliness of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner operated by Scoot Airlines between Australia and Athens.

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It was an eye-opening experience.

The Dreamliner is made of composite plastic, uses less fuel, leaves passengers feeling more refreshed upon arrival and seems much quieter than similar-size jets.

Scoot has set a tremendous example of sustainability and environmental consciousness by dominating its fleet with Dreamliners.

And, of course, that is only part of an important trend.

Treading in the right direction

10462890_747168288660125_7424016551669484611_n.jpgOther notable and praiseworthy steps toward sustainable tourism include the TreadRight Foundation, a joint initiative between The Travel Corporation’s (TTC) family of brands, which include prominent industry players AAT Kings; Trafalgar Tours; Red Carnation Hotels; Insight Vacations; Contiki Tours; Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection; and Creative Holidays.

TreadRight Foundation is a not-for-profit that encourages sustainability by providing grants to protect natural attractions and unique heritages. To date, TreadRight has helped support at least 40 sustainable tourism projects worldwide.

An example is the first-of-its-kind guide for sustainable river cruising. This guide suggests strategies for reducing water and energy use and waste generation on river cruises.

These type of positive initiatives allow travellers to select and support companies that are showing a commitment to sustainable tourism.

The cruise industry itself has also been involved in ocean conservation measures such as reducing exhause emissions – and has invested in fuel efficient ships and water and waste conservation.

And, importantly, cruise companies are increasingly looking beyond their ships to the places they visit – encouraging onshore tour providers to adopt sustainable practices.

The Centre for Responsible Travel (CREST) is a research organization with the aim of increasing the positive global impact of responsible tourism.

CREST says it helps governments; policy makers; tourism businesses; nonprofit organizations; and international agencies to find solutions to critical issues confronting tourism.

For the individual traveller, there are alsoa growing number of online travel purchasing platforms, such as Kind Traveler, claiming to help consumers choose companies that are giving back to their communites.

Air news Features Sustainable Tourism

Piran’s fascinating history

In Slovenia, there’s a local joke that nothing is more than one hour away.

In a compact country that has only 43 kilometres of coastline, it’s fairly easy to move from centre to centre and one geographical feature to another.

In one direction, you’ll encounter stunning snow-capped alps and beautiful Lake Bled; in another is the striking capital city of Ljubljana; Italy is one hour away in yet another direction; or some of the world’s biggest limestone caves beneath the Karst Plateau.

And, in the country’s south-west is the charming medieval walled town of Piran, on the Adriatic Coast.

Long regarded as a hidden treasure by travellers in the know and the source of acclaimed world class salt, Fleur de Sel, Piran is a remarkably attractive and photogenic old port town with a complex history.  These days, visitors flock to the town to enjoy community events, the culinary offerings and natural attractions

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We travelled to Piran because we’d heard so much about its astonishing mixture of architecture that reflects an unusual history – to say the least!

For example:

  • by the 7th Century, Piran was under Byzantine rule
  • in about 952 AD, it became part of the Holy Roman Empire.
  • from 1283 to 1797, Piran was in the Republic of Venice
  • in 1797, it was annexed to the Austrian Empire
  • between 1806 and 1814, it was ceded to the Napoleonic Empire
  • at the end of the 19th Century and the start of the 20th Century, Piran was Austro-Hungarian
  • after the First World War, the town was ceded to Italy.
  • in 1954, Piran was annexed to Yugoslavia – and much of its population chose to move to Italy or abroard.
  • since 1991, the town has been part of Slovenia.

If that isn’t confusing enough, the town is bilingual, with both Slovene and Italian listed as official languages.

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And, its municipality borders Croatia to the south and faces Italy across the Gulf of Trieste and the Adriatic Sea.

This melting pot of history gives Piran a distinctive and attractive appearance.

The Venetian influence is strong, with an imposing town square and sweep of red rooftops.

The remains of the town wall have a Roman look, although in reality they have been altered several times through the years.

There are three walls, dating to the 7th Century and a total of seven gates or entrances to the town.

And the medieval feel is also pronounced, with a lot of narrow streets and compact houses.

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And through its complex history, Piran flourished largely because of its salt pans, which were established in 804 AD.

We walked to the remains of the third town wall and nearby St George’s Church which dominates the main hill above the town .

Then we strolled along the breakwall to the tip of Piran peninsula, watching young swimmers braving the cold waters of the Adriatic.

After a coffee in one of the many cafes and seafood restaurants along the waterfront, we returned to Tartini Square, named after one of the towns most famous residents – the 17th Century violinist, Giuseppe Tartini

It may be only an hour away from everywhere in Slovenia, but medieval Piran is a stunning Adriatic coastal resort that is a ‘must see’ when visiting Slovenia.

Senior-friendly mark: 7 out of 10.  Although the town centre and foreshore are flat, there are a lot of steep and narrow streets that cannot be avoided in such an old city

Note: The writer was flown to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines

Piran Slovenia

A pilgrimage down leafy English laneways

The English country road curves at Shaw’s corner, a location that warrants no more than a small dot on the map of rural Hertfordshire.

And, the house that stands there – among well-maintained gardens – gives no indication that it’s considered a British treasure.

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This house was one of the reasons why we found our way off the motorways to the English village of Ayot St Lawrence, a tiny community in picturesque surroundings well away from the tourist trail.

The story of Shaw’s Corner had caught our attention, as part of our series of reviews on traditional villages.

Built as a Church of England rectory in 1902, this house was designed in the Arts and Crafts style, with stained glass windows and hearts cut into the banisters.

But, today, it resembles a time capsule – with some particularly intriguing aspects.

Take, for example, the replica Nobel Prize in Literature and Academy Award that stand side-by-side on the mantlepiece, alongside photographs of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin.

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Or the small garden shed that was once able to rotate in time with the English sunlight.

These are the relics of remarkable people: artefacts of fascinating lives.

The man at Shaw’s Corner

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Photo courtesy National Trust

The man at Shaw’s Corner was influential Irish playwright, novelist and political activist, George Bernard Shaw, regularly rated as second only to Sharkespeare among British dramatists.

He wrote about 60 plays, over 250,000 letters, many novels and untold numbers of articles and pamphlets – many of them penned during more than 40 years at Shaw’s Corner.

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Along with his Anglo-Irish wife, Charlotte, he started renting the Ayot St Lawrence house in 1906.

They bought Shaw’s Corner in 1920 and lived there until it was handed to the National Trust after Charlotte’s death in 1944.

Shaw died in the dining room of the house on November 2 in 1950.

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My Fair Lady

During his prolific career, Shaw produced major works such as ‘Man and Superman’, ‘Pygmalion’ (he later wrote the screenplay when it was made into the movie, My Fair Lady), and ‘Saint Joan’.

Ranging from history to contemporary satire, Shaw became the leading dramatist of his generation – and in 1925 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. As of now, Shaw and legendary musician, Bob Dylan, are the only people to have won both a Nobel Prize and an Academy Award.

But, entering the stately brick home is definitely unnerving.

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Shaw’s well-polished boots sit by the hearth and his manual typewriter stands at the ready, as if the owner is expected back at any minute.

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And Shaw’s fingerprints are everywhere, from photographs by close friend, TE Lawrence of Arabia, to the William Morris fabrics and a striking bust of Shaw sculpted by another colleague, Auguste Rodin.

During our visit, the National Trust was staging an exhibition to mark the centenary of Rodin’s death.

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For the first time Rodin’s bust of Shaw was displayed shown alongside the rarely seen plaster original, created in Rodin’s studio in 1906.

The display featured striking images documenting Shaw’s creative relationship with Rodin.

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Elsewhere in Shaw’s Corner, the library contains a rich and varied collection that ranges from the Bible to H.G.Wells, socialism and Eastern religions.

There are some 4,000 books.

Shaw’s presence extends to the colourful and ivy-entangled gardens which, fittingly, are often the scene of open-air productions.

Rotating while writing

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His writing hut stands in a bottom end of Shaw’s Corner, equipped with bed, typewriter and rotating mechanism for turning to catch the sunlight.

Although humble in its interior facilities, Shaw’s Corner is one of the many imposing houses that line the roads and laneways of beautiful and historic Ayot St Lawrence.

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See our separate report on stunning Ayot St Lawrence.

According to local knowledge, Shaw was hardly impressed by the isolated rural atmosphere on arrival, but later embraced the area.

This would seem to be supported by this later verse:

“No dwelling place can rival Ayot
So there I labor at my job
And boil the kettle on the hob
Seemingly I have the best of reasons
For staying there through all the seasons”.

Shaw’s Corner can be found at Ayot St Lawrence, near Welwyn, Hertfordshire, UK. Unfortunately, there is no public transport to Ayot St Lawrence.

The nearest bus stops are in Wheathampstead and Blackmore End, both of which are at least two miles away.

Nearest big centres

By road, the closest bigger centres are Welwyn Garden City, which is about 15 minutes away and St Albans which is about 20-25 minutes away.

The nearest railway stations at Welwyn North four-and-a-half miles; Welwyn Garden City six miles; and Harpenden, which is about five miles.

For detailed directions, see the National Trust website.

We used a local courier called Point to Point Car Services, from nearby Codicote.

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And we stayed for a few delightful days at the historic Brocket Arms inn at Ayot St Lawrence.

See the review of The Brocket Arms on this site.

Note; The writer flew to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines.

Ayot St Lawrence