Everyone's a critic

Reed all about it … local traditions are alive in places such as Lake Titicaca, Peru.
Reed all about it … local traditions are alive in places such as Lake Titicaca, Peru. Photo: Getty Images

They're hard to please and call it as it is. Four reviewers talk to us about their dream destinations.

JOANNA SAVILLE, FOOD CRITIC, THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD GOOD FOOD GUIDE

Do you consider yourself hard to please?
I'm a travel obsessive - I love new places, people and food - so I'm pretty flexible as to style of travel as long as there are interesting, new experiences involved. I'm not much of a luxury, resort-y holiday person. Although I'm sure I could learn to be!

Critical mass (from top) … Joanna Savill, Larissa Dubecki, Ruth Ritchie, Kylie Northover.
Critical mass (from top) … Joanna Savill, Larissa Dubecki, Ruth Ritchie, Kylie Northover. Photo: Fairfaxphotos.com

What do you look for in a holiday destination?
I like to get local insights. I always email food-writer colleagues ahead of any trip and often end up staying with friends or family rather than in hotels. But I'd never turn up my nose at a great hotel. I've stayed in many big hotels around the world in my time; to be honest, none of them really stands out. I think location is the most vital thing and that's what I look for first and foremost. Stay within walking distance of an interesting area, but somewhere quiet at the same time, and you can't go wrong.

Most memorable holidays?
My first trip to Peru earlier this year was a revelation in every sense. It's a land of history - ancient cultures, magnificent ruins and traditions that are very much alive in Andean and Amazonian villages - but it's also incredibly modern. The food is extraordinary, using great ingredients that we don't really see here, such as yellow chillies, giant corn, beautiful buttery potatoes, the best seafood just "cooked" in lime juice (ceviche), and great cocktails using pisco, the national clear grape spirit. Art, textiles, alpaca knits, silverware ... Did I forget to say I love shopping? Peru is great for that, too. Another wonderful holiday in recent memory was Provence, France - so utterly beautiful and unspoilt, with tiny villages on hilltops, lovely little markets with local olives, the sweetest fruit and vegetables and beautiful wine. Stay in Avignon and make it your base for travelling around the area. It's a wonderfully pretty town with the historic Palais des Papes [papal palace] and, of course, that bridge.

Favourite holiday destination?
A great holiday destination that's not so well known is the Lake Garda area in northern Italy, where my husband is from. It's at the foothills of the Alps and has its own microclimate. There's superb local olive oil, great cheeses and the wines of the Franciacorta area, which is quite renowned, not least, for its prosecco. In Salò, the main town, there's a real turn-of-the-century feeling. You can just drop into the water for a swim, then lie on a jetty or pebble beach to dry off, get gelato or have an apertivo at a bar, do la passeggiata and window-shop until dinnertime.

Your next holiday?
Back to Peru. I haven't been to Arequipa, which is a World Heritage site, and Ica on the coast; both are famous for their food. There's a tiny railway guesthouse down the line from Machu Picchu called El Albergue, which is just incredibly comfortable, with heaps of history, and the restaurant is great, too. They do an excellent alpaca tiradito (similar to carpaccio). Everyone should taste alpaca - it's like a cross between lamb and veal.

 

LARISSA DUBECKI, FOOD CRITIC, THE AGE

Do you consider yourself hard to please?
What's that saying about champagne taste on an Ikea budget? So, no, I can't really afford to be hard to please - but in my experience, you don't need to be cashed up to travel well.

What kinds of holidays do you like best?
I'm not an adrenalin junkie - quite the opposite - and I've never lied about being the outdoor type. My main prerequisite for a destination is a place that offers good food and wine; everything else is negotiable. And while eating and drinking take up a hell of a lot of time, a beach to sleep it off on is a bonus.

Most memorable holiday?
The Dalmatian coast in Croatia a few years ago with my husband and our best friends. It's like Italy 20 years ago: an incredibly dramatic coastline, unspoilt waters, affordable, fresh seafood - and I really developed a taste for cheap Croatian wine. It's the perfect package, although I'm still in trouble for miscalculating our days there and missing out on the super-glam island of Hva. We stayed at the Hotel Kastil on the island of Brac. Five metres from the water, it's a baroque fortress converted into a boutique hotel. (Be aware that, as per usual in Croatia, the tariff is per person rather than per room.) In Croatia, I'd recommend hiring a car and meandering along the 250-kilometre Dalmatian coastline from Split to Dubrovnik, staying in the medieval fortress seaside towns that retain their beauty because they've banned cars.

Favourite holiday destinations?
Vietnam and Spain, both great foodie destinations where the challenge is to eat six meals a day to try to experience it all. On my last visit to Spain I visited Santiago de Compostela, at the end of the Camino de Santiago pilgrims' walk, where you'll also find Casa Marcelo, a small one-Michelin-star restaurant run by Galician chef Marcelo Tejedor. It's not what you'd expect; his frozen mojito-soaked rhubarb was excellent. For something more casual, at the local food market you'll find Asbastos 2.0 for a thoroughly modern take on traditional tapas from owner Iago Pazos and chef Marcos Cerqueiro. Things like octopus risotto with Galician parmesan or razor clams with lemon and red mullet with black noodles are amazing.

Your next holiday?
Camping over Christmas, which should be a learning experience. The next one I'm really looking forward to is New York. One day.

 

RUTH RITCHIE, TV CRITIC, THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Do you consider yourself hard to please?
I'm an incredibly picky, critical, controlling person, but aside from that, I like a holiday to meet my expectations. If you know you're travelling rough, you've got a completely different mindset than if you're being sold the five-star experience. I took my boys [13 and eight] to Borneo last year and we stayed in really rough, basic, eco-accommodation, but the experience was absolutely amazing. We did extreme stuff like getting up at dawn to go up a river in a tin boat into a jungle to see orangutans in the wild, and we all had exactly the same jaw-dropping response.

What kinds of holidays do you like best?
It's changed a lot since I've had children. On the very rare occasion I get a holiday on my own, I really want a lot of stimulation. I don't want any rest at all; I can rest when I'm dead! If I get a week away with a girlfriend, then I top up the things I never do, such as theatre, shopping and galleries.

Favourite holiday destination?
A perfect holiday for me is New York; I was just there in June with a girlfriend. It ticks all those boxes of being stimulating, concise, exciting and jam-packed. I was covering a bit of MasterChef, so we really hit the restaurants. A highlight was Locanda Verde, Robert De Niro's restaurant in TriBeCa - it's incredibly beautiful, with great people-watching and wonderful food. I also saw great theatre, including Jerusalem, and the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I didn't think I was going to feel so many intense emotions from a fashion show, but it was amazing. I stayed at what's pretty well my dream hotel: The Crosby Street Hotel. It's very colourful, it's got amazing art, and it's in a dream location a block from West Broadway.

Your next holiday?
I think the kids are at a good age to do a big, wild-animal trip to Africa, so we'll do that within the next year or so. I've got a pile of Africa clippings as big as the A-to-K phone book! Everybody says it's expensive, so I want to get it right; plus doing the research makes it all the more exciting.

 

KYLIE NORTHOVER, ARTS CRITIC, THE AGE

Do you consider yourself hard to please?
Compared to the citizen reviewers on TripAdvisor, I'd say I'm easy to please.

What kinds of holidays do you like best?
I prefer holidays that involve doing something, even if it's just walking around a city. I'm somewhere between the spa escape/suntanning holiday (yuck) and the parasailing eco-adventure (I'm 40). Having said that, I have canoed down the Zambezi River.

What do you look for in a holiday destination?
My holidays have been built around visiting friends who live abroad, weddings, music festivals and, of course, curiosity. I'm not fussy about accommodation; I've stayed in nice, safe hotels and once splurged on a luxury hotel in Tokyo (the Conrad - the poshest hotel I've ever been in), but I've also slept top to toe in my friend's tiny Osaka apartment, or in a campervan in the outback. A few years ago, I discovered nyhabitat.com, and now usually book apartments and studios rather than hotel rooms.

Most memorable holiday?
Food often makes a memorable holiday, even if it's more for the anecdote than the culinary experience - I've eaten poison puffer fish in Japan, tasted whale in Norway, and a couple of years ago my partner and I accidentally ate at what turned out to be one of the world's top restaurants, Le Chateaubriand, in Paris. My most memorable holiday was probably a trip to Africa about 10 years ago. The culture shock only sets in when you get home.

Favourite holiday destination?
Japan is one of my favourite destinations - the amazing countryside, the neon mania of the cities and all the contradictions in between.

Your next holiday?
My next holiday is to Benin at the end of this year, for the voodoo festival in Ouidah.

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