Portugal, Switzerland and Japan are fascinating destinations for Travel Editor Stephen Scourfield as he reviews another week in Travel
A FATHER’S PRIDE
Laurence Tham signs his email to me “proud father”. And justifiably so. For Laurence spotted our story last week about his daughter Kaia, named Young Travel Photographer of the Year 2023. She shot all the pictures on an iPhone 11 — an interesting twist. Lawrence writes: “You made her day. I wanted to add that she was also born in Mindarie, Perth, so we are very familiar with The West Australian newspaper.” They now live in Portugal, where Kaia is a student. Portugal inspired her portfolio of pictures.
More than eight million international tourists visited Portugal from the beginning of January to the end of June — the best first half of the year on record. The country’s National Statistics Institute says 8.2 million visitors stayed in Portuguese hotels, compared with 7.4 million in 2019. Tourism accounts for about 15 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.
In the most recent World Travel Awards, Portugal picked up 30 accolades — including two for the carefully maintained walking route Passadicos do Paiva, pictured top. It’s through pretty scenery along the River Paiva in north-west Portugal. It was named Europe’s Leading Adventure Tourist Attraction and Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction.
Rail Europe has added the Berner Oberland Regional Pass in Switzerland to its portfolio. This handy regional rail pass complements the Swiss Travel Pass. It can be bought for three, four, six, eight or 10 consecutive days for use between April 1 and October 31. It includes unlimited travel within the Bernese Oberland region, and access to more than 25 mountain excursions and cable car rides. Switzerland is in Rail Europe’s top three destinations for Australian travellers. raileurope.com
But it’s been a tough few days for Swiss rail operators, who are coming to terms with the Gotthard Base Tunnel being shut by a freight train derailment. It is not known when the world’s longest rail tunnel will reopen — but that certainly looks like months away. Sixteen train wagons derailed inside the tunnel on August 10 and were still jammed there a week later.
National Swiss rail operator SBB chief executive Vincent Ducrot told the BBC: “The fact that an accident like this could happen has hit us very hard.” The Gotthard tunnel took 20 years to build and opened in 2016.
The Blue Trains of Japan were long-distance sleepers nicknamed, rather obviously, for the colour of their train cars. As the Shinkansen (“bullet train”) network developed, the Blue Trains were phased out, with the final service in 2016.
Lots of rail fans miss them, but all is not lost, thanks to Blue Train Taragi. Three cars from the Hayabusa Limited Express sleeper train have been converted into accommodation near Taragi Station in Kumamoto Prefecture. They have traditional bunks and private rooms.
There are two accommodation spaces — the other car has a table and TV, and can be used as a dining room and a lounge. www.bluetrain-taragi.com/en
Taragi Town is on the east side of the agricultural Kumamoto Basin in Japan with the fast Kuma River flowing through its centre. There’s lots of local produce, as the basin has a microclimate conducive to growing. It is surrounded by green hills and there’s a nature park with paragliding. The town has about 70 important cultural properties including many with national designations. Its Kuma Shochu distillery has 150 years of history. Taragi wears the tagline “village of history and romance”, and Paleolithic relics from more than 10,000 years ago have been found there. hitoyoshikuma-guide.com
MATILDA THE AIR HEIR
What does Japan and Australia have in common? Well, a lot of things, of course — including, now, that both were beaten by Sweden in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Despite the fact that the Australian team finished their run with two losses, Australian regional airline Bonza promised to name its next aircraft Matilda.
Australia’s newest airline so far has four aircraft, called Shazza, Bazza, Sheila and Malc. The fifth plane is due to arrive next year. Carly Povey, chief commercial officer at Bonza, says: “Like the rest of the nation, our team of legends have been gripped by Matilda mania thanks to their sportsmanship, mateship with one another and their pride in wearing the green and gold. As an airline that is solely focused on Australia, it seemed fitting to name our next aircraft Matilda.” Bonza flies to 17 destinations on 33 routes.
A BIGGER SPLASH
Swan Valley’s Outback Splash is getting to celebrate summer with its newest addition, The Lagoon. Due to open in late November, construction is well under way on the resort-style pool surrounded by tropical landscapes with fancy amenities. Earlybird season passes went on sale on August 25, with a 10 per cent discount until September 23. outbacksplash.com.au
NICE DAY(S) OUT
As you read this, I’m heading way out the other side of Swan Valley with Grady Brand and Lesley Hammersley for the first of three coach days with readers this week. I promised “a nice day out”... and a nice day out each will be. Grady will be there to look for and explain WA wildflowers and talk about the landscape, and Mogens Johansen will be with us to help readers take better photographs with their phones. I’ll add some extra stories (I’ll let you know how we go).
... and thanks to Grady, Mogens and the rest of the team who gave heart and soul at our Festival of Travel last Saturday. Thanks to the many exhibitors, who had great deals for the day and offered expert insights. And, of course, my sincere thanks to all who came along.
LONG LIVE THE QUEEN
And finally, this eastern Queen of Sheba has just been found in low heath country near Oliver Road between Kukerin and Lake Grace by Claudia Hadlow, who’s been a local wildflower expert and landcare officer in the Shire of Dumbleyung for about 30 years.