Melbourne is known for its international cuisine. We ate at a few great restaurants during our stay, from the spacious Waterfront restaurant, with its outdoor terrace overlooking the River Yarra at Southgate (and where the tuna steak was to die for), to the rustic charm of the intimate Casa Ciuccio and the very cool Lee Ho Fook, a ‘new style’ Chinese restaurant where the senses were truly awakened – think soft boiled eggs marinated in jasmine, spicy schezuan lamb, and barramundi in oyster sauce. The city is packed with culture, so the food and wine are extremely good; whether it’s morning coffee, brunch, dinner, or just a tub of ice cream, you’re guaranteed good grub in Melbourne.
I could have combined drinking with eating in this post, but they deserve a section each! For every dish you try in Melbourne, there’s a wine to accompany it. We stayed at a vineyard north east of Melbourne (around a 30 minute drive) but you’re spoiled for choice in the Yarra Valley, where there are vineyards (and wine tasting) aplenty. Try and organise an overnight stay so that you can fully relax; have lunch, chill out at the spa, and prepare for an evening with sparkling whites and fruity rosé, which seem to be the favourites among Aussies. Personally, I’d recommend the semillon sauvignons, which are gorgeous – it’s really worth ordering a glass (or three).
Of course, we were in Melbourne for VAMFF, but I already knew that Melbourne is Australia’s fashion capital; the fashion schools (notably, RMIT) and art scene create a foundation for freedom of expression, creativity and individualism in a city that celebrates its culture and diversity. Despite having spent very little time in the city, the sheer size of Melbourne is an obvious sign that originality can be found in bucket loads. The National Gallery of Victoria and the Melbourne Museum create a backbone to Melbourne’s arts scene, while the fashion schools and government support for young designers encourage creativity and entrepreneurship. VAMFF is a celebration of all of this, and it was here that we got a real understanding of just how important Melbourne’s fashion industry is, particularly for those living, working and studying in the city. Of course, great fashion means great people watching – over coffee or wine, natch.
Like London’s Oyster card system, the Myki card gives you good access to public transport links. In ‘zone 1’ (the city centre), trams are completely free – but don’t tap your card on/off or it will charge you anyway. Need to go further than the city centre? It’s just eight dollars a day. Myki cards also work on the trains and buses, so it’s a super easy system to use. When you arrive just ask for the card in a newsagent or 7/11, where you can also top up throughout your stay. If you’d rather be outdoors and truly see the city, grab a bike – the Melbourne Bike Share system is a great option for shorter trips, and it’s just three dollars a day for unlimited 30 minute rides between stations. Helmets are even provided. It’s a fun and healthy way to get around (particularly as you’ll be eating and drinking your way across town…)
Melbourne is a great base for seeing some of the state of Victoria’s beautiful landscape, including beaches and tourist sights. However, they’re in different directions from the city, so plan your time. The 12 Apostles are definitely worth a visit, but they’re a good four hour drive west from the city so make a few days of the trip. Along the way there are beautiful seaside spots including Lorne and Apollo Bay, where we stayed for a night on a cliff top villa with the most incredible view of the ocean from our room. We ate dinner here because it was easy, but we knew we were on to a winner by the steady stream of locals eating at the restaurant too. From there, the 12 Apostles was around an hour’s drive, so I’d recommend using Apollo Bay as a base for a couple of nights, and doing a day out to see the sights. It’s also worth noting that the official tourist lookout is really, really busy – we also stopped off along the little car parks and got great view there too, with less people getting in the way of your holiday photos. In the other direction, you’ll find really pretty seaside towns on the Mornington Peninsula (south east of the cith), and they have a very Mediterranean feel. We drove from the 12 Apostles to Queenscliff, where we took the ferry (so much more picturesque) across to Sorrento rather than drive through the city. We found ourselves in Portsea, a beautiful town reminiscent of the South of France – holiday makers enjoyed seafood and chilled wine al fresco beneath the setting sun. We were told that Portsea is great for spotting Melbourne’s rich and famous, but aside from that, it’s a great starting point for continuing up the coast. We drove straight to Edithvale, a quaint beach with brightly painted beach huts, only 40 minutes from the city. (If you’re short of time in Melbourne but really want a day at the beach, you can either head to Edithvale, or to St Kilda, a ‘city beach’ just 15 minutes away from Melbourne’s CBD.)
Talk to the locals. They’re a friendly bunch, with varied backgrounds and they are, generally speaking, happy to chat! Whether you’re having a drink in a bar, eating your first ever chicken schnitzel, being driven by a chauffeur from the airport to your hotel, or buying an Aussie sim card for your phone, just talk; they will too, and who knows what local treasures might unfold. We discovered some incredible, incredible street art as well as the emerging area of Fitzroy – see No.7.
It’s the only way you’ll stumble across places like Fitzroy, the up-and-coming, trendy area where hipsters live, with their amazing vintage shops and cool coffee shops. We ate a delicious chicken and avocado focaccia (mostly though, it was an excuse to sit down outside and people watch). How did we find it? Simple – we walked from a seminar at VAMFF to Brunswick Street, and Fitzroy just appeared out of nowhere! Slightly run-down residential streets turned into kooky cafes, bars and shops, with tramlines and barber shops, and hippies with dogs, all peppered with jaw-dropping street art and bright, bold graffiti. Likewise, one afternoon we went out for a run and, 6km south of our hotel at Crown Resorts, found ourselves in beach-y St Kilda, having jogged through Albert Park, round the lake, and across the Grand Prix track. Getting out on foot is one of the best ways to see a city, especially one like Melbourne which has many, many opportunities for discovery, from beaches and park lands to skyscrapers and museums, vintage shops and luxury boutiques. In Melbourne, the world is your oyster.
Images: Kris Miller