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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Postcard from Mallorca: our Palma apartment

When my co-writer and photo- grapher husband Terry and I aren't on the road doing research, and therefore don't need to move hotels every night or two, we prefer to try a few hotels in a city and then spend the rest of the time in an apartment. If we're working on a city guidebook for big cities such as Buenos Aires or Amsterdam or Milan, then we might spend a couple of months or more holed up in a place, pounding the pavements most days, writing in the afternoons and evenings, then heading out at night to try restaurants and bars. Our aim during these stints is to live like locals and get to know the locals as much as we can so we can find those hidden gems only locals and expats know about. Mallorca has been no different, except, because the island is small, we've spent just a couple of weeks in the city of Palma, and the rest of the time on the road, driving around the island. We spent two weeks in this sprawling, rustic-chic apartment in a renovated historic building in the old city owned by a lovely man (a former fashion designer) who has as much character and charm as the atmospheric accommodation he rents out. I found the place on Owners Direct, an excellent site which (along with I've used all over the world and absolutely love because there's no middle man. You can check them both out here. Is renting apartments something you do when travelling? And how often would you rent and why?

Postcard from Mallorca: Palma's Old City

We've been renting an apartment in Palma's old town for the past two weeks - although we're about to head on the road again around Mallorca for five days of pick-ups of photos Terry couldn't get the first trip round due to cloudy weather. I love the streets of Palma's old city (pictured), especially at night, and I must admit I'm going to miss them, even though we've only had a short time here. While the old town lacks the buzz of other parts of Palma - there are very few restaurants in this area of the city, and just a few cafes and bars a couple of blocks away, it's the tranquility and moodiness of this part of the city that's so appealling.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Postcard from Mallorca: Valldemossa & Deia

Mallorca boasts some alluring mountain- top villages and towns that seem to tumble down the hillsides, such as Deia and Valldemossa (pictured). They have charming stone buildings, churches on the main square, and old men lingering at their favorite cafes. Valldemossa has the added attraction of a former Carthusian monastery that's famously known as the place where lovers Chopin and George Sand holed up for a few months, which Sand wrote about in incredible detail in her book "Winter in Majorca". You can visit their suite of 'cells' with gorgeous garden terraces and spectacular valley views. Deia has also been a favourite with writers and artists, and there you can visit the former home of poet Robert Graves, now a museum. It's also a very handsome place with equally stunning vistas from its windows. Surprisingly, the desks where Graves chose to write don't take advantage of them. The towns are undeniably touristy though, so there's no escaping the tacky souvenirs, tour groups and menus in four languages, but they're still enchanting and worth a visit all the same. The best way to avoid the crowds of course is to stay overnight when the tour groups have gone home and the moonlit streets are more tranquil.

Postcard from Mallorca: Reads Hotel

If you've been following me on Twitter you would have read my comments about some of the stunning boutique hotels we've stayed at, including Son Brull, Reads, La Residencia, Esplendido, Portixol and Maricel among others. Generally, we've been very impressed and what has set these Mallorca hotels apart from the rest has been their stylish decor and attention to detail, luxurious amenities (including beautiful toiletries in most), superb restaurants, enormous swimming pools and spas, an array of facilities (Read's for instance has a bike room with over a dozen state-of-the-art bikes, from mountain bikes to road bikes, and all the gear that guests can borrow), hands-on managers, and attentive staff.

We still have some time left on Mallorca, and more hotels to test out, so I'll wait until the end of the trip to give you a full rundown of the island's best, with more detailed reviews. In the meantime, here's a pic of our Arabian Nights-inspired suite at Reads, which features Moroccan furnishings and carpets the owners picked up on a trip there. One of the things I loved about Reads was the individually decorated rooms (no two are the same) and the idiosyncratic character of the property - the result of an eclectic decor that has developed over the years as the owners have gathered intriguing objects. While the building is grand, the decor is elegant and occasionally whimsical, and wandering about the rooms is as much fun as exploring a fascinating museum. More on Reads and Mallorca's other wonderful properties soon.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Postcard from Mallorca: Portocristo

As we've been on the road in Mallorca working - Terry has had a massive photo shoot and I've been updating a book - with long, busy days and no time for anything else but work, I haven't had time to blog. However, a reader has asked that I post some photos instead. So here goes, a series of pretty pictures from Mallorca (mine of course, not Terry's), that I'll call 'postcards' accompanied by shorter posts than I usually write...

There's no denying that PORTOCRISTO on the east coast of Mallorca is incredibly touristy, however, I couldn't resist including a pic of the place because the bay is so beautiful, surrounded by low cliffs, with floating pontoons you can drive from, and the sandy beach looked striking with the umbrellas lined up in rows. It was a scorching hot day as you can detect from the shadows on the sand. Unfortunately, due to Terry's tight shooting schedule and the fact I didn't have any sights, hotels or restaurants to check for my book, we spent a whole half an hour here...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Twittering from Mallorca

We're on the road in Mallorca, Spain, right now. I'm updating a guidebook and Terry is shooting images for several guidebooks. Unfortunately we're way too busy to post to our blogs. But I am twittering, so come and drop by at and say hi. Terry (who has finally caught the twitter bug) is also tweeting at I have lots that I want to share with you, from our favorite beauty spots around Mallorca to my mixed feelings on the island's development (is this Europe's most globalised place?) to Mallorca's best boutique hotels and the challenges we've faced finding "authentic" (yes, I know it's a loaded term) Mallorcan eateries. But, frustratingly, I just don't have time at the moment. Okay, I will share something: we've stayed in some truly stunning boutique hotel properties. And they have been so very good that I now think Mallorca's chic accommodation comprises some of the world's best sleeps. I'll tell you why in a future post, but in the meantime... my favourites (not necessarily in this order): Son Brull, Reads, Esplendido, La Residencia, Portixol, Maricel, and Ca Xorc. Check them out. Oh, the picture? That's the view from our room at Esplendido at Port de Soller. Sublime, isn't it?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Our Italy books hit the shelves!

I almost forgot to tell you... as my regular Cool Travel Guide readers know, we spent a lot of time in Italy last year researching and photographing first editions of new travel guidebooks, starting with a month in Calabria, then a month in Milan, followed by more than a month in the Italian Lakes region and Northern Italy. Our Calabria book written for the Thomas Cook Travellers series hit the shelves in late April (see this post), and our Northern Italy book for the same series will be released in a couple of weeks (you can buy it here). While we're proud of all of our Italian books - Terry shot beautiful photos for them and we put a lot of work into researching and writing them, a book that we're especially proud of (it took even more blood, sweat and tears during particularly challenging circumstances), is our book released last month on the Italian Lakes, including Milan and Po Valley Towns, which we wrote for Footprint's new Italia series. Do have a flick through them when you're next in a bookshop. And don't hesitate to let me know if you ever need tips on travel in Italy.

Our latest travel writing: in print and online

As I don't have time to blog at the moment (read why here), feel free to check out our latest writing in print and online. This month in J Mag, Jazeera Airways' in-flight magazine, you can read about walking tours with shepherds, learning to make traditional bread with a village baker, and some of the other rustic activities being offered by Northern Cyprus' first eco-village in our story 'Village People' (online version here). The same issue also features 'Where to Stay: Antalya', my overview of the best hotels in one of Turkey's most agreeable cities. We spent just over two and a half months in Turkey last year writing, including six weeks in Antalya last year renting an apartment in a restored Ottoman house in the old city. The Northern Cyprus story was researched during a trip to Cyprus (we flew to Antalya from Northern Cyprus) to update a few books and write a first edition Cyprus guide for AA Publishing. Online, you can take a look at our piece on Adelaide: Australia's most underrated city, on Viator, which is one of our final posts on a series we wrote while Down Under working on books and stories: see the full series here. The pic? That's the idyllic setting for the walks with the local shepherd that we write about in the Northern Cyprus story. Tempted?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Greetings from sunny Mallorca

That was the salutation I saw on at least a dozen emails from hotels and PRs on the Balearic island of Mallorca, Spain (also known as Majorca) while I was organizing our current trip, one in which my husband/co-author Terry is shooting thousands of images for several guidebooks and I'm updating one guidebook. Yet during the first couple of days here the skies were grey and cloudy, ruining the possibility of Terry getting good shots in the south and east coast, while yesterday the south-west coast, the last leg of our road trip, was hazy from the high humidity. The days in between were just gorgeous though, although sweltering hot, reminding us of Dubai. We've now finished the main road trip, although we'll have a few more days of pick-ups to do, and are in Palma in an apartment we're renting for a couple of weeks. As I'm busy writing now, there's no time for blogging today - which is frustrating because there's so much I want to share with you, including our stopover in Singapore, our latest news from Dubai, the Venice Biennale, and of course I have so much to tell you about Mallorca. But for now, I'm just going to have to share this vista of sunny Mallorca.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

On the road again... Melbourne, Singapore, Dubai, Venice, and Mallorca

Melbourne, Singapore, Dubai, Venice... we've been doing some intensive globe-trekking these last weeks. It's this kind of constant travel that causes us to wince when people say they envy our lifestyle - while it might be fine if you're on holidays, it can be hell when you're on a gruelling work schedule. First it was Melbourne to Singapore for a couple of nights for meetings about future projects and camera-/tech-shopping (for Terry), then Dubai to catch up with friends, review Pierre Gagnaire's Reflets for Gulf Life (Gulf Air's in-flight magazine), check our mail and run some errands. From there it was Venice as guests of the UAE Pavilion (it was their first year here) for the preview days of the Biennale and to work on some food-driven travel stories. And tomorrow it's off to Mallorca for a month where Terry has a huge photo commission and I'm updating a book, and work begins from the moment the plane touches down. But who's going to listen to a travel writer complain, right? I'll update you in more detail as soon as I can.