This week… monastery, Mad Max and movies

January is always a quiet month in the travel industry and especially so right now. The new year is proving slow to ramp up as we face the challenges of living through a pandemic. So I’m pleased that this week, invitations have started to trickle into my inbox. In addition to grocery deliveries and Zoom coffee mornings, I begin adding conferences and virtual events to my diary, and suddenly 2021 offers possibilities to connect with the world at large over the coming weeks.

While there are things about techology and the internet that I definitely don’t enjoy, social media has provided a lifeline during lockdown. While my numbers on Instagram and Twitter are still low, and finding enough content to post is not easy when you’re not actually going anywhere at all, I’m grateful for the opportunity to take a peek into other communities. Being able to share thoughts and ideas and even to have a laugh, or indeed a few tears, with others is no small thing. So thank you to everyone who follows here and elsewhere online and let’s keep the conversation going!

Here are five things I like this week.

Antipodean news

The limestone cliffs of the 12 Apostles. Photo The Great South Road.

From next month Wildlife Wonders, a new eco-tourism activity, will offer conservation guided tours and encounters with wildlife living freely in a protected bushland environment overlooking the Southern Ocean. The Great Ocean Road is the scenic route taking in fishing villages, sandy beaches and rainforest. It’s also home to the famous 12 Apostles, a collection of limestone stacks off the shore of Port Campbell National Park. See koalas and kangaroos in their natural habitat, alongside more elusive species like potoroos and bandicoots. Designers of the experience are Brian Massey, Greens Master (someone responsible for looking after anything green and natural on a film set) for ‘The Lord of the Rings’ films; an art director for ‘The Hobbit’; and Landscape Designer of the highly-successful ‘Hobbiton’ film location. Visits to the new Wildlife Wonders project will support ecological research and environmental conservation projects.

L to R: The Great South Road. Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum; the natural world.

Staying on the subject of films, Melbourne’s ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) is set to re-open in February after a two-year closure and a $40 million renovation. New spaces and exhibitions will include a futuristic car installation paying homage to Mad Max and a state-of-the-art cinema, the new high-tech Gandel Digital Future Labs.

Flooding at the museum

Ava Gardner and three time co-star, Gregory Peck, in The Great Sinner. Photo courtesy The Ava Gardner Museum.

Meanwhile, in the US, a natural disaster, surely the worst potential nightmare for every museum or historic house, has occured at The Ava Gardner Museum located in downtown Smithfield, North Carolina. Sadly, last week the museum flooded which affected almost half of the museum and the clean-up is expected to be significant. Thankfully, none of the artefacts were damaged. It happened while the museum was preparing for a new exhibit featuring several costumes from Gardner’s film and television roles. Covering her career of five decades the exhibit will illustrate how each film impacted her career but also celebrate the role of costume designers in film. I always look for the costume designer in a film’s credits, as well as location and music credits. When it finally opens the exhibition will include costume designers Walter Plunkett (Gone with the Wind, Show Boat, Singin’ in the Rain) and Irene Lentz (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Gaslight, The Great Sinner).

The good news for international fans and anyone else not able to travel at the moment, is that a virtual version will be available after the exibition opens, so bookmark the site for updates.

Wellness travel

Take a restful break at Le Monastère des Augustines in Quebec City.

The global wellness economy is valued at a gob-smacking $4.5 trillion (2018) although this is set to increase further in 2021 and post-pandemic. Wellness has moved beyond the spa day, although that’s still an element. We have all recognised during lockdown the importance of nature, music and art on our mental and spiritual wellbeing. In Montreal, Quebec apparently doctors can now prescribe visits to museums to relieve stress. I hope the NHS catches on.

Le Monastère des Augustines in Quebec City has a history of holisitic mind-and-body healing going back around four centuries. The monastery is spiritual rather than religious and offers retreats which centre on rest, renewal and self-discovery. In addition to accommodation in restored cloisters, the facility’s packages include silent vitality breakfasts (perfect if you’re not a ‘morning person’), access to the onsite museum, massages, health consultation, meditation and more. I’ve been on a silent retreat in the past and, despite initial scepticism, it was a remarkably positive experience. Check the elegant web site for the full range of packages. In the meantime, as a taster to the cuisine at the Monastery, heres’ a delicious recipe for a Lentil Dahl.

Cosmetics to go

Finding the right cosmetics and toiletries when you travel is important. On press trips, I’m often either in very hot or rather colder environments. The itineraries can be quite full-on too, so you might be outside for long periods exposed to the elements. You really need to take extra care of your skin and hair. A press trip to northern Italy in autumn, for instance, meant long days outside in the cold air exploring (unheated) abbeys and other historic sites. A week on a busy programme in the south of France in high summer called for extra care for my fair skin. I’ve been trying out alternatives during lockdown. The Natura Siberica organic range is made with wild harvested Siberian plants. It is very affordable, mostly lightweight and available in smaller sizes.

I’ve been a fan of the Oblepikha Scalp Scrub (around £5.99, 200ml) with various natural oils and raspberry seeds, for some time. Massage once a week into your hair roots to remove any build up of old products which can harden and cause breakages, and rinse easily for revitalised shiny hair. The 200ml size will need decanting into a small container for travelling. This time of year my skin can suffer, and especially during these stressful times in lockdown, so I’ve been using the range specifically for dry & dull skin. The Gentle Revitalising Face Scrub offers a light exfoliation and hydrating (£6.99, 100ml). The Rich Cleansing Balm £5.24, 150ml) works into my skin well for a deep cleanse, and is easily removed with cotton pads or a muslin cloth. To this routine I’ve added the SOS Soothing Night Face Mask for sensitive skin (£7.34, 50ml). This is comfort in a jar and although it is easily absored it’s richness feels luxurious at bed time. I also like the fact that Natura Siberica products mostly come in squeezable or pump-action containers which reduces oxidation and free radicals in the products, and waste.

Kuoni Covid-19 one-stop-shop

Worldwide travel company Kuoni has launched a Covid Travel Advice Hub to help guide people through the pandemic travel maze. Which destinations are welcoming visitors? What’s the current FCDO advice? Where is open to book now? The hub aims to make it easier to check on what requirements and restrictions are in place. It’s available for anyone to use, free of charge, and gathers the latest information from around the globe, with regular updates on travel corridors, quarantine rules and testing, to help travellers plan their trip. While we hope to be able to travel again in 2021, it seems entirely likely that complexity around travel will continue. Having up-to-date information will also help to provide the confidence to travel safely, something we will all welcome after such a gruelling year. Visit the site


On a final note, Here’s The Thing With Alec Baldwin has moved to iHeartRadio. His first podcast guest this week is actor Kristen Bell (The Good Place, Frozen, Veronica Mars) and they talk about marriage, student days at NYU and choosing ‘your lane’ in life.

That’s all for this week. I wish you a healthy and safe week ahead wherever you are in the world.

As always please check the Foreign travel advice web site for the latest on domestic and international travel guidelines.

Unless otherwise stated, I have no affiliation with the brands mentioned but simply aim to share places and products that have caught my eye. I will always state if a post is sponsored or gifted. In addition, during the current pandemic I haven’t had the chance to review any of the hotels, resorts and so on.

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