Tag Archives: wine tasting

Night moves in Seville

It’s been a few years (um, decades) since we’ve been out on the streets past midnight – but Seville does that to you.

This city literally comes to life at about eight o’clock at night. And by ten, the locals come out to move from bar to bar with friends, enjoying one tapas and one drink at each place (well, that’s the idea anyway).

It takes bar crawls to a whole civilised and delicious new level – and it’s a way of eating, drinking and socialising that fits us perfectly.

Even the late nights feel early, perhaps because the sun stays up late too.

And there’s always those ‘recovery’ sleep-ins, because nobody emerges until at least ten in the morning. Except a few of the keen tourists of course.

More about this fabulous city later. It’s getting late – which means it’s time for us to hit the streets… adiós for now!


Tasty tip: We went on the excellent Seville Gourmet Wine and Tapas Tour with Manuel from Pancho Tours (booked with Viator). A great way to get familiar with the tapas scene and hang out with like-minded vino and food lovers.

To Portugal with love

2016-09-23-19-18-18A local station attendant, who was helping us buy train tickets from S.Pedro to Cascais today, asked us what we liked about Portugal the most.

“A gastronomia? O vinho? A  música?”

All of that but mostly the people, we said.

He was pretty-much blown away and was high-fiving us all over the place (we nearly missed the train!).

But that’s the Portuguese.

Take the beach culture. There is nothing uptight about the Portuguese. And I’m not talking about flashing bits here.

2016-09-24-11-11-04In this region, the locals are just comfortable in their own skin. Well, if there are any body image issues, I’m not seeing it.

Yes, there’s Zumba on the boardwalk (and it’s a hoot!). Yes, there are women running (but not an ‘I believe’ tee-shirt or flashy tights among them). Yes there are fit blokes hanging about (but not a muscle-man to be seen).

2016-09-23-12-39-57And down on beach, women of all shapes, ages and sizes (and I mean ALL) are rocking their bikinis. Eat your heart out Botticelli.

Away from beaches and bikinis… more than one local Portuguese creative on our journey from Porto to Lisbon has told us they are good at what they do – but they suck at marketing themselves.

I agree. These people are (mostly) warm and wonderful and creative and talented (and, of course, they make exceptional port and wine).

No, I’m not talking about more tourist buses arriving at monuments (even though there are a lot and they are remarkable).


I’m talking about who they are and what they create. Time the world sat up and paid attention! Cheers to that!


On the streets of Lisbon




Pigeon roosts…

Monuments and other tourist tick-off points are impressive, but our favourite thing to do is to take to the streets on foot. Apart from the odd slippery cobblestone, we inevitably stumble upon the unexpected and delightful.

A meeting place

The sign on the street says ‘gin lovers’. Yep that’s me. Besides, we’ve been walking for hours (and it’s hot) so this is the perfect place to stop.

Inside we know we’ve found somewhere special. This is Embaixada,  a unique Portuguese shopping gallery created in a XIX century Arabian Palace.

An ornate staircase draws our eyes upwards to the sensational murals and figurines, and beyond.



Meet Gina, with tonic, rosemary & lemon…mmm

In the palace rooms, national brands and recreated vintage clothing mix with the work of local artists and artisans.

Even a non-shopper like me can get blissed-out here (and I have the credit card hit to prove it).

Eventually, we stop at Gin Lovers Principe Real in the centre of this jaw-dropping building for a delicious gin & tonic (or three) from their extensive list – and some amazing food.

Like so many Portuguese people we’ve met here, everyone is friendly and enthusiastic. No wonder they call it ‘the meeting place’…

Urban edgy

2016-09-15-20-45-34When the street is your canvas, the possibilities are endless in Lisbon.

From commissioned to clandestine, and gaudy to subtle – street art is everywhere here.

I notice so many people don’t really ‘see’ it as they hurry past, but to me it says so much about the creative energy of a city…

Street art isn’t everyone’s thing, but it’s one of my passions. No doubt I’ll be banging on more about it some other 60 seconds. Meanwhile…


Gourmet moments

Portuguese people love their food and it shows (in a good way!).

There’s something to satisfy the foodies, the fuellers and everyone in between in the many small cafés and impressive restaurants and wine bars sprinkled liberally across the city.


Hugo concocting something fabulous at Cervejaria d0 Barrio

And the vino, port and spirits. Phew.

We soon redefine our perception of a ‘glass’ of wine. It ‘s more like a small carafe in a glass.

A ‘tasting’ can also be the entire glass filled to the brim. Per taste. Which makes pacing yourself pretty much impossible.

Then there’s the traditional sherry, Ginja. We’re told it’s taken as both an aperitif and an after-dinner drink.

I’m sure there are plenty of happy home chefs using Ginja too – and some of it might even make it into the cooking.

Perhaps it’s all that fabulous wine. Perhaps it’s just this place. The Portuguese may be struggling economically but they don’t let it affect their open and generous spirit.

So come to Lisbon, take to the streets and come alive here.

It’s impossible not to.



To be or not to be…

Copyright: Louise Ralph This morning, I read a blog about how to make money out of blogging.

It all sounds fabulous. Just think… you can travel the world and make a killing along the way.

But wait. Is that all there is to this conversation?

I don’t know about you, but I like to read people’s stories and their perspective on life.

And I like to blogger on about stuff you might find interesting.

And yes, it would be nice to make a few $$ along the way. But seriously? I quite like not having to put a dollar value on my words (for once!).

Maybe because I write for a living – but this whole blog thing is about writing from the heart. And maybe inspiring someone else to get out there and do the thing it is that they love. Just because.

So no, I don’t have any tips on making a living out of this… creating the perfect headline or the biggest email list. It is what it is. And it will be throughout 2015 as it has been in  years gone by.

Because I’ve realised lately that there are a lot of things I’ve always loved to do – like drawing and writing and mountain biking and trekking and – um – people watching.

And they might never make me a single buckaroo. But I’m gonna keep on doing them.

So there.

Here’s to making this new year something really fabulous. Because you can.

xLou & EB (still working on that ‘golden gap year’)

Hanging out at the Taste of Tasmania. Perfect.

Hanging out at the Taste of Tasmania. Perfect.




Africa dreaming…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Watching the sunset from our back deck in Australia…dreaming of the wild night life on the African savanna.

I bumped into a colleague last week at a conference, as you do. She’d just returned from South Africa, and was literally bouncing after self-driving around Kruger National Park and staying in various camps along the way. Jealous? Of course.

My mother is South African. I’ve wanted to go there as much as she’s vehemently wanted me not to. With apartheid in full swing by the mid-1950s, she’d left with her new husband (my dad) without a backward glance.

But all our ‘Aussie’ South African friends tell us it’s a stunning place to visit…

I’m pretty sure Kruger National Park would send my crazy wildlife lovin’ brain into overdrive.

I hear the south of Kruger is the game-rich area, with Skukuza, Satara and Lower Sabie the best camps to stay in. In the north, Oliphants is another favourite camp for travellers and a great area to see oliphants… I mean, elephants.

Right now, spring is coming to an end, so it’s a great time to visit (I wish). In November and December it’s the rainy season but this is when all those cute babies are making their delightful entrance into the world.

You can find out more about Kruger here, and all about the seasons here.

I did have a giggle at this wildlife-petrol station connection on the very useful Kruger Park Self-Drive Guide site:

“… the landscape is a fabric in which all the birds, plants and wildlife are like interwoven threads. Look for the points of connection. There are petrol stations at all the major camps and workshop facilities at Skukuza, Letaba and Shingwedzi.”

Um, okay.

The World Expedition cycling tour along Route 62, west from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, has also always intrigued us.

I’m told the wineries are something else too. According to the Wine Anorak, the wines are “often nicely poised between the new world and old world styles”. Can’t say I really know what that means, but I’m willing to find out!

Copyright: Louise RalphFor now though, we’ll have to content ourselves with gazing at the sun setting from our back deck in Australia.

It looks a little like an African Savanna (if you squint)… except the roaring in our ears comes from passing passenger planes, not lions. And down in the valley, there are golf carts, not elephants.

C’est la vie.

You can’t have everything. But a little armchair travel is good for the spirit, don’t you think?

Winter beach escapes…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

The tourists have gone, the cafes and shops are quiet, and the camping areas are almost empty except for intrepid grey nomads on their way north to escape the southern chill.

A crisp wind sweeps the beach, where only the locals brave the elements to fish, walk or give their dogs a run.

Surf and sun are definitely big drawcards, but winter is my favourite time at the beach.

When our kids were little, we’d wrap them up  all cozy and warm and we’d go to the beach to play – to search for shells and other treasures, make icy sand castles, brave a paddle, throw a ball, look for dolphins.

Here in northern New South Wales, from June to November, humpback whales are coming and going along their migratory highway. Seeing them breaching and playing just off the beach makes you want to wait forever for each magical glimpse.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

But there is plenty to do around here that doesn’t involve the beach – or practicing your whale whispering techniques.

Try an early morning climb – with that last chain-assisted scramble – up Wollumbin (Mt Warning), the remnant central vent of an ancient volcano and an icon of the region.

Or slightly easier (with goosebumps of a different kind), paddle up the river towards the mountain. Along the way, you’ll see raptors riding the thermals above you. Last weekend, we counted twelve raptors, possibly square-tailed kites, in one breathtaking group…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

If you’re not into chilly water sports or ‘hill’ climbs, there are so many forest walks around here – and so many stories. Like the walk to Protestors Falls on Terania Creek near Nimbin, the birthplace of Australia’s environmental movement in the late 1970s.

Or head down the trail in Springbrook National Park to the Natural Bridge, created over millions of years by water tumbling through the roof of a basalt cave.

For something a little more civilised, the Taste of Kingscliff is a delicious foodie fest in July 2014. We’ve booked in with a bunch of friends for the Long Table feast under the stars, so more on that in July…

Then there are weekend markets, the Mt Tambourine wine trail, theme parks, the Currumbin Sanctuary, places for golfing and cycling, cozy bars and cafes, music, and more.

This is the kind of place where, once you dig your feet in the (now chilly) sand, you never want to leave. For too long, anyway…


On the flight path…literally

What do you get someone like EB who has everything (including the spirit for adventure)? A flight in a glider of course.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Boonah Gliding Club. (Photos: Louise Ralph)

So this weekend, we’re an hour west of Brisbane in the Scenic Rim in south east Queensland for EB’s glider flight, a taste test of the boutique wines grown in the region and camping at Lake Moogerah.  First stop, Boonah Gliding Club for an experience that comes close to the flight of a bird…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

This is how it’s done… Peter gives EB the pre-flight lowdown

The members of club are serious glider enthusiasts, spending most weekends flying or volunteering there.

Peter, EB’s pilot, tells us gliding is a great way to start learning to fly because your focus is on what’s going on outside the plane rather than mostly monitoring instruments inside the cockpit.

Glider pilots are switched on to everything around and below them – the shadows of clouds on the ground, the changing colours that indicate different heating intensities, and even the soaring raptors and pelicans. These are all clues guiding them to the best thermals…

Like Peter, many of the members have impressive military and commercial flying backgrounds. That’s their job, this is their passion.

EB is clearly in safe hands…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

But first, a ‘push your own glider’ moment…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

And they’re off, with EB doing an impression of Captain Planet…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

A different perspective (Photo: EB)

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Coming in for a smooth landing…

Flying (and being grounded, camera in hand) is thirsty work, so we make a bee-line for Kooroomba Vineyards and Lavender Farm. The building is amazing and clearly timeless. It won awards twelve years ago but looks as fresh as today. And the wine is equally as fabulous.

We stay for lunch and vino with a view – and tomorrow we’ll be back for their French music and food festival. As if we could resist.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Vino with a view at Kooroomba Vineyards

Along the Huon Trail…

On Sunday morning, we jump in the dodgy ute EB has hired for work and head south from Hobart along the Huon Trail, which winds along the spectacular coastline, through quaint townships and past rural homes to drool over with their 180-degree views of Storm Bay.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

From a distance, they all look the same, but one local tells us there are hundreds of varieties of daffodils.

Everywhere you look, daffodils illuminate the cloudy day. Their sunny faces defy the brisk temperature and feisty breeze to pop up in paddocks, old rainwater tanks and gardens, along the roadside, and even around a retro Hills Hoist.

Moving on from daffodils to aromas of citrus and blossom, we pause to try luscious award winning wines at Home Hill Winery + Restaurant.

Try the award winning 2010 Kelly's Reserve Pinot Noir. Yum.

Try the award winning 2010 Kelly’s Reserve Pinot Noir. Yum.

Home Hill feels très français. With its two varieties of wines – chardonnay and pinot noir – we could be in Burgundy again.

Of course, our pause extends to lunch. The wines are exceptional, the service is relaxed and friendly, and the food is delicious. What more could you ask for on a lazy Sunday?

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Along the Huon Trail you’ll find fabulous regional specialty produce, so you can do your own version of ‘hunting and gathering’ – from local wine, salmon, oysters and handmade cheeses to fresh-as fruit and vegetables. Apparently, the cherries here are spectacular if a little confused. We’re told they tend to burst into fruity brilliance only to be hit by frosts – but that makes them a must-do indulgence.

There’s more here than food though – from jetboat rides along the Huon River, the Tahune Airwalk above the forest, an Art trail, Bruny Island spectacular cheeses and cruises, and more… Did I mention we love Tasmania? 

More Tassie posts:

A week in… Melbourne

Copyright: Louise Ralph

…the old boat builders yard

On Friday, we literally blew into Melbourne for a week, breathing a collective sigh after our plane sidled, bucked and finally settled onto the tarmac.

After Brisbane’s humidity and heat, we immediately felt the chill bite into our skin. Apparently, the weather’s been a bit up and down lately (like our plane).

In spite of the ‘four seasons in one day’ weather, there’s a lot to love about Melbourne.

We meet up with friends and head to the so-very-French South Melbourne Markets. It’s foodie heaven.

We gather the makings of lunch – a quiche and baguette from the French bakery, a delicious chèvre (from French goats of course), olives, strawberries, and some French bubbles.

Basking in the sun in their back garden, we could be back in Bourgogne still making those holiday resolutions…

On Sunday, EB and I wander (EB’s version is power wandering) along the south bank of the Yarra River, discovering the new South Walk that meanders past the old boat builder’s yard and a bunch of new cafes and restaurants.

On Tuesday, I’m off to the zoo on  a field trip for the Interpretation Australia conference I’m attending (hard to take, I know).

I get to play with friends at the Melbourne Zoo’s Growing Wild exhibition.

It’s a fantastic new interactive play centre where kids can connect with nature as they play and explore the homes and behaviours of meerkats, tortoises and bush turkeys. Clearly, the kids-at-heart have buckets of fun too!

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Fun for kids – and tortoise mamas

Finding tortoise eggs in the sandpit at Melbourne Zoo’s Growing Wild exhibition.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Meerkat Manor – on patrol or just hanging around, you could watch these cute critters all day.

Back to reality, and there’s those fabulous Melbourne laneways to explore, with their street art, cafes and eateries, and tiny but fascinating boutiques.

And then there are the wine regions…

A short drive or train ride from the Melbourne CBD is the Mornington Peninsula. It’s the place to be, as our friends and family who live there keep reminding us. Gorgeous beaches, boutique wineries, a national park, and more – okay, we’re convinced.

Meanwhile, the Yarra Valley is just an hour from the city and captured our hearts a decade ago.

With its stunning wines, countryside, restaurants and villages, and the fabulous Healesville Sanctuary, it’s a journey you have to take if you’re ever in Melbourne.

Next time we come, and it won’t be long, we’re bringing our new Bromptons with us to cycle along the Yarra River. More about our new toys some other sixty seconds… right now, it’s back to Brisbane for us. Ciao!

Melbourne’s street art

Along the voie verte…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Day 1: We’re up before the sun today. Not a huge feat in France, I’ll admit. The sun only makes a rather lackluster appearance sometime around eight o’clock.

We soon leave Beaune behind, as we peddle along the Vélor Route through mist-shrouded vineyards and villages.

Every village smells of freshly-crushed pinot grapes and the wine caves are awash with the post-pressing cleanup.

Copyright: Louise RalphTractors are being tucked away and even the horses, which are still used in the vineyards today, get a break from their hard labour.

This pair (pictured below) wait for their owner to pick up his baguette…

It’s impossible to capture the sensational landscape we cycle through, so I give up on the photography thing and revel in the pure bliss of it.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

…on the baguette run

Then we hit the hills – those deadly endless slopes that rise slowly but surely, along with the burning in my thighs…

EB is riding rings around me. Literally.

We finally arrive in Chassay-la-Camp, and find our delightfully-retro hotel…and there are those pampered pooches again.

Guests are allowed to keep their dogs in their rooms – and bring them to the dining room.

One lady had her pug-faced dog with her for dinner and breakfast. And yes, dogs and their owners do look the same.

I desperately wanted to take a photo, but I was scared she might bite me. The lady, not the dog.

Day 2: We spend a lot of time trying to decipher directions, and even more time stopping for wine tasting and having a very long lunch in Mercurey.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

The long lunch wasn’t really our intention.

But, at the suggestion of the lovely wine-tasting guy, we soon found ourselves (in our bike duds) having a delicious silver-service, five-course lunch at the Hôtellerie du Val d’Or across the road.

For just €22 each! Incroyable…

I won’t go into the gruesome details of the remaining 40 or so kilometres we had yet to cycle (with our overfed bellies). Or the hills.

Let’s just say, I was seriously considering mainlining nurofen about 15 km into it…

Are we ready for Day 3? Bien sur.

But right now, we’re crashing. Bon nuit.