Springtime in Venice So briefly did the St Regis Venice San Clemente Palace welcome guests before it closed for the winter season last year, its reopening on April 1 is being announced by local and foreign media as a debut. The original San Clemente Palace Resort opened on the Isola di San Clemente in 2003 but was closed in 2012, and reopened under St Regis management (and Turkish ownership) for a few months last June. Like several other luxury hotels located on Venice's lagoon islands, the St Regis will close every winter for a few months, but during the current shutdown the property is undergoing "significant renovations" following criticism of its interiors by at least one popular hotel review website. Another American-branded property, the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa will be beating St Regis to the punch next month when it opens for the first time on the nearby island of Sacca Sessola. Both hotels are a similar distance from Venice proper (the St Regis is slightly closer) and offer free and frequent shuttle-boat services to the Piazza San Marco, which take about 15 minutes each way. Artist renditions of the view from the JW Marriott (below), it should be noted, suggest the property is much closer to the centre of town than it really is (with at least one landmark - the Santa Maria della Salute - having been apparently relocated for better effect), while photos from the St Regis (top) portray a more accurately distant perspective. Nautical notes Armchair travellers and cruise enthusiasts planning to make sail for foreign ports can find the true stories behind some of the great maritime novels in a new book by yachtsman and author Sam Jefferson. Published next month, Sea Fever examines the real-life adventures of, among others, Jack London ( The Sea-Wolf ), Ernest Hemingway ( The Old Man and the Sea ), Herman Melville ( Moby Dick ), Joseph Conrad ( Heart of Darkness ), Arthur Ransome ( Swallows and Amazons ) and "discoverer" of the French Riviera, the entertainingly jaded Tobias Smollett ( Travels through France and Italy ). Jefferson is also the author of the recently published Clipper Ships and the Golden Age of Sail , and has sailed professionally all over the world. Sea Fever is available in hardback for pre-order at amazon.co.uk for £14.88 (HK$175). Drive safely Tourists have been causing such mayhem, and indeed death, on the roads of New Zealand (below) that the country's Tourism Industry Association has launched a website for foreign visitors planning to get behind the wheel. "We drive on the left-hand side here, some of our roads are narrow, windy and have loose gravel … and it's not unusual to see sheep or cattle on roads in rural areas," says the Drive Safe website ( www.drivesafe.org.nz ) which discourages new arrivals from jumping into their rental cars until they are "well rested". Several foreign tourists have been killed in the past couple of months, and three Hong Kong travellers died when their rental car collided with a truck in November. One New Zealand road-safety campaigner has reportedly called the website "a dangerous waste of time" and says visitors should be banned from driving for the first 24 hours after arrival. However, if you are planning a self-drive holiday in New Zealand, it's certainly worth a look. Deal of the week You can still catch the last of the winter snows on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, with a three-night package to Sapporo on sale at Farrington American Express Travel. Prices for February 22 to March 28 departures start from HK$6,250 (per person, twin share), for accommodation at the centrally located Hotel Gracery Sapporo, and several other hotels are offered for a similar amount. Affordable extension nights are also offered at hotels in nearby places including Otaru (below), a pleasant small town with historical Russian influences a short train ride to the west; Asahikawa, which is close to the penguins and polar bears at the Asahiyama Zoo; and the Noboribetsu hot-springs resort. Flights are with Cathay Pacific and daily breakfast is included at some hotels. For further details and reservations, visit www.amextravel.com.hk or call 3121 3121, quoting tour code L2015SPKK017.