When to go
October and November sees ladies frock up and gents get suited for the Spring Racing Carnival, with the Melbourne Cup a highlight. There’s a party atmosphere in summer (December to February) with plenty of free activities on offer. Winter (June to August) may be a little cold and wet but clear skies suit wine tours in the nearby Yarra Valley or Mornington Peninsula (www.visitmorningtonpeninsular.org).
PlanesMelbourne Airport (www.melbourneairport.com.au), 22 kilometres north-west of the centre, services domestic and international flights. Smaller Avalon Airport (www.avalonairport.com.au), 40 minutes west of the city, handles some Jetstar flights.
TrainsMelbourne’s main railway hub is Flinders Street Station in the CBD, just one stop away from Southern Cross Station where trains depart for rural Victoria and interstate destinations (see www.vline.com.au).
AutomobilesSkybus (www.skybus.com.au) operates a shuttle service from Melbourne Airport to Southern Cross Station in the CBD for AU$17 single or AU$28 return. Melbourne’s compact grid and network of trains, trams and buses means you won’t need wheels; to ride on any metropolitan public transport pick up a Myki card (www.myki.com.au) at accredited newsagents or train stations, which you can then top up at stops, stations or select retailers, including 7-Eleven stores. If you’re roaming further afield, the usual car hire firms are on hand at the airport.
TaxisCabs can easily be flagged down in the street or found at ranks in the CBD. Can’t see one? Call Silver Top Taxis (13 10 08), and one will come to you.
Fly Emirates to Melbourne, Victoria’s culture-loving capital, where the Cullen hotel in Prahran is adorned with edgy paintings by late Aussie artist Adam Cullen. You can also stay in Street Art Suites and get tips on local exhibitions; hire a Cullen bicycle or Smart Car and explore. Alongside Kathleen’s favourite art venues, you’ll find independent galleries on Flinders Lane, Guildford Lane and in the Nicholas Building, as well as in inner-east Fitzroy and Collingwood (Gertrude and Brunswick streets are hives of stylish cafés and restaurants, or try hot new Chinese Lee Ho Fook at 92 Smith Street). For contemporary Australian theatre and dance make for the Malthouse Theatre. Movie fans can catch open-air flicks in summer at Rooftop Cinema. Fab arts festivals are held year-round.
Claypots in St Kilda, at 213 Barkly Street, for fresh uncomplicated seafood, and in or outdoor dining. It’s BYO wine, with a no bookings policy, and always full of locals. Donovans, set in a 1920s bathing house in St Kilda, has an incredible shoreside location, great service, chic style and delicious Modern Australian-meets-Italian food. Go for the terrace on a hot night. Attica, at nearby Ripponlea, was recently voted Victoria’s best restaurant (and number 21 in the world) under chef Ben Shewry, and serves delicious tasting menus. Vue de Monde – on Level 55 of the iconic Rialto tower – is sophisticated and cool with a view to rival the Shard!
Hire a car and explore the Macedon Ranges, an hour north of Melbourne – or go the whole Charley hog and cruise the region by motorbike. You can pick up a bike from Compass Expeditions. The hilly, gumtree-dotted land is beautiful, with the chance of bird, possum and kangaroo sightings. You’ll also find niche, cold-climate wineries and foodie pit stops along the way. Former goldrush supply town Kyneton has become a gourmet destination, so base yourself here at Mollisons, a stylish boutique hotel set in an old bank. Nearby Piper Street boasts note-worthy Annie Smithers’ Bistro and paddock-to-plate dining at the Royal George Hotel. Enjoy a half-day hike up Hanging Rock, the location for spooky novel and film Picnic at Hanging Rock; you can also catch a horse race at the country course below or visit Hanging Rock Winery. Kyneton’s Adventure Flights Unlimited can get you airborne in an ex-Russian Air Force Yak52 – choose a flight from Mild to Wild! For something more slow-paced, saddle up for a horseriding tour with Hepburn Lagoon Trail Rides, near spa-toting Daylesford.
Got an extra week? Tack on Charley’s road trip to Tasmania – car ferry the Spirit of Tasmania departs from Melbourne harbour.
Australians love to share their country’s amazing natural beauty and hidden secrets. My wife is from Victoria, so we have been visiting for the last 16 years or so. We were married in Melbourne – my favourite city by far – and standard procedure is to spend a month there every other Christmas. We have explored the state on each holiday, including camping around Warrnambool and Phillip Island, stunning four-wheel drive adventures in the Victorian Alps, fishing on the Hopkins and Murray Rivers, fun houseboat trips from Echuca up to Mildura, surfing off the Great Ocean Road, golf at the wonderful Cape Schanck on the Mornington Peninsula and hitting the wine regions.
Albert Park in south Melbourne is always going to be a favourite as that’s where my wife Fiona and I got married. I played nine holes of golf there on my wedding day and remember hitting the drive of my life! It has lovely tree-lined streets, an amazing café culture, hip restaurants and a relaxed local lifestyle by the beach but you’re only 10 minutes from the CBD (Central Business District). Perfect.
Spend your last day chilling at Mansion Hotel & Spa, west of Melbourne in Werribee (one hour 17 minutes from Daylesford). This trad-modern Italianate haven combines luxe rooms, fine dining, a top spa and gorgeous grounds. Families will love Werribee Open Range Zoo; parents can order sophisticated sips at Shadowfax Winery. If you’d rather be in the heart of the action, Ovolo Laneways in Melbourne plugs you into the CBD’s laneways, with rooftop bars, restaurants and shops a skip away. To end your trip on a high, why not join Global Ballooning for a dawn flight, followed by a champagne breakfast?
Stay at super-central Ovolo Hotel Melbourne to explore the city’s atmospheric laneway restaurants. Longrain, at 44 Little Bourke Street, is a favourite of Rick’s for delicious Thai-influenced food. Rick also suggests MoVida at graffiti-strewn 1 Hosier Lane. ‘I filmed with MoVida’s Frank Camorra in Seville – his tapas bar serves fabulous, simple, authentic tapas with great chorizo’. Hot newer venues include Tonka, Chin Chin and Mamasita. Don’t miss Queen Victoria Market for seasonal snacking.
Spend a day touring the iconic Yarra Valley wine region, just an hour’s drive from Melbourne. Rick loves De Bortoli Wines: ‘We started selling their Noble One botrytis sémillon 20 years ago, and list both their excellent chardonnay and pinot noir.’ Australian Wine Tour Co offers vineyard-hopping trips. If you’re driving, call in at Tarrawarra Museum of Art, which has a restaurant and wine tastings. Swing by Healesville Sanctuary to see koalas, kangaroos and platypuses, then lunch at chic Innocent Bystander. Once you’ve supped and sipped to your heart’s content, catch your Emirates flight home from Melbourne.
Definitely visit Heide Museum of Modern Art, a private estate turned public museum in Melbourne, to get a window into the artistic life of the city in the 1940s and 50s. The philanthropy of the Reed family, mixed with lots of romance and intrigue in the lives of Australia’s most famous artists – including Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker – is fascinating. Nolan painted his famous Ned Kelly series of 26 paintings in the dining room at Heide.
I’d also recommend Melbourne for its brilliant museums, art galleries and thriving commercial gallery scene. Highlights include the twin sites of the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Australian photography at Monash Gallery of Art and the Ian Potter Museum of Art.
In Sydney, spend a morning cruising the city's galleries, shops and restaurants, including fabulous Utopia Art Sydney, which concentrates on indigenous art. It’s a lively cultural hub with plenty to see, buy and taste. Order a great cup of coffee and sit outside a streetside café in the sun or grab a glass of wine and tapas at Mojo by Luke Mangan.
Swap seascapes for countryside touring in Victoria’s Goldfields, where you can team gallery-hopping with grazing in pretty goldrush towns within two hours’ drive of Melbourne. The impressive Art Gallery of Ballarat and Bendigo Art Gallery both sport tempting cafés and shops. Book ahead for the Lake House hotel in boho Daylesford, famous for spa and gourmet treats, or visit Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa. Castlemaine’s Theatre Royal hosts gigs, Kyneton is a great foodie stop, or picnic at iconic Hanging Rock.
My wife and I did a week’s sailing course at the Royal Brighton Yacht Club in Melbourne and loved it. You get a totally different perspective of the city from out on the water and I liked the way the bayside Melburnians are all out running, cycling, swimming, paddle boarding, windsurfing, fishing and, of course, sailing around the bay. You can also hire a bike and head for Beach Road – it’s a superb ride from Port Melbourne all the way along the coast to Brighton, with an off-road trail if you’d rather avoid the cars. If you’re a keen road cyclist join the locals riding the 45 kilometres from Brighton to Frankston early on Sunday mornings.