72 Hours in Melbourne

melbourne1bTravel columnists, DENNIS AND ROSAMUND KNILL, make a whirlwind trip to one of Oz’s great cities and unearth some of its hidden charms in less than a week.

To be sure, Melbourne has always had its share of raffish elements, corrupt politicians, lurid episodes and unsavoury neighbourhoods – what great city hasn’t? Still, it is one of the world’s greatest cities, relaxed and so content with itself.

Enriched with historic architecture combined with bold waterfront developments, this is a city full of energy, ambition, hidden treasures and vintage trams. It is also a city blessed with fantastic shopping – Victorian arcades, upbeat boutiques and shopping malls.

Even more, Melburnians love to eat and for the devoted foodie the city is overrun with gastronomic diversity amongst its restaurants and cafes largely due to an overwhelming influx of migrants from Italy, Greece and Asia.

We joined a small group and a local guide for a Hidden Secrets walking tour of the city. For the curious minded, tourists or strangers to Melbourne, this is the ideal introduction to soak up some of its history and unique architecture – a three-hour morning of discovery walking at a leisurely pace through narrow lanes, backstreet alleyways and corridors overlaid with graffiti.

The following day we skipped the morning rush and headed for Federation Square on the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets. Arguably, Melbourne’s most prominent meeting place, it brings together a creative mix of multi-cultural festivals attractions, sporting events, film screenings, galleries and an array of eateries and bars. Daily tours are available from the nearby Melbourne Visitor Centre.

Food markets have long been an established way of life and a visit to Queen Victoria Markets is an experience not to be missed. Heritage-listed the markets were established in 1878 on the grounds of a cemetery and continue to draw in millions of visitors every year.

They are the perfect place to spend a morning or an afternoon, sampling a taste of Melbourne’s culinary history served up by a variety of dedicated vendors. Lined up along the tiled walkways are butchers, fishmongers, delis, artisan cheesemakers, patisseries and specialty food merchants. Outside the open air, covered pavilions have scores of stallholders displaying the freshest of fruit and vegetables.

With temperatures expected to rise to 40 degrees we hurriedly cancelled our activities and made a beeline for some much needed, retail therapy. A short, free ride on the tram took us to Bourke Street located between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets. Recognised as the city’s shopping heart all the leading retailers are there – David Jones, Myer and many well-known high end finds that put Melbourne right at the forefront of the Australian fashion scene.

In the comfort of air conditioned surroundings, we spent up largely, making a generous contribution to the Victorian economy. Loaded with more bags than we could carry we also uncovered another part of Melbourne’s secret life. For those not into fashion, there are plenty of malls, arcades and new-age shopping within a few compact blocks to entice shoppers into buying the quirky and the unusual.

Melbourne is, of course, well-known as a foodie’s paradise with a maze of hidden gems. Tourists tend to keep to the tried and true of main street eateries but for the adventurous there are endless restaurants and cafes, tucked away in lanes, cellars rooftops and converted warehouses, serving exciting and innovative cuisine for those with insatiable appetites.

And, for those who long for the nostalgia of riding a tramcar then a leisurely three-hour dinner on a vintage tramcar, with wine flowing freely, is uniquely different. Melbourne’s Colonial Tramcar Restaurant has been an institution for the past 35-years so to avoid the sweltering heat wave we jumped aboard a fully air-conditioned carriage for a five-course degustation meal.

So, maybe the furnishings were showing signs of age and the menu was in need of a makeover but an evening of sightseeing, with dinner and wine thrown in, was still appealing. In a city full of sights and sounds we wound our way through the suburbs before eventually spotting the bright lights of Luna Park at Saint Kilda. Everyone on board enjoyed the night and, judging by the forward bookings, it was obviously a hit with tourists.

A relaxing cruise down the Yarra River from the inner-city to the old maritime seaport Williamstown was another must do experience. The two-hour return journey showcased the magnificent high-rise skyline of Melbourne and the river’s stunning waterfront views while the captain provided an informative commentary.

Visitors whose cultural appetite needs satisfying, the National Gallery of Victoria houses within its imposing structure outstanding exhibits of old and new is worth visiting; best of all it’s free.

Directly across the road is the Royal Botanic Gardens. Looking back we quickly realised how presumptuous it was to think that we could take it all in with just a brisk walk. This is a park to be slowly explored in order to enjoy the enchanting vistas, Shrine of Remembrance, Government House and the famous Music Bowl.

Melbourne offers tourists an excellent choice of accommodation. We chose to stay at The Langham with its opulent surrounds and desirable location at Southbank on the banks of the Yarra and only minutes away from the CBD and other attractions.

Then, after three hectic days, it was time to leave this great metropolis, its culture, class and gracious attitude to tourists. We look forward to returning sometime soon!

Melbourne Colonial Tramcar Restaurant
Melbourne Colonial Tramcar Restaurant

Getting There: Qantas, Virgin and Air New Zealand fly daily to Melbourne
Transfers: Airport to door-to-door $A25pp, Contact: Con-X-ion www.cxc.com.au
Other Places of Interest: Old Melbourne Gaol, Harbour Town Shopping Mall, Docklands, Eureka Sky Deck, Melbourne Zoo, Sea Life, ACMI, Melbourne Arts Centre, Saint Kilda Esplanade Markets, MCG Tour and Sports Museum, Shrine of Remembrance, Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, Ice Bar
Background Reading: Hello Melbourne by Megan McKean, Lonely Planet Pocket Melbourne by Trent Holden and Kate Morgan, Melbourne Travel Guide by Nomadic Matt
Further Information: Visit Victoria, www.visitvictoria.com.au

By Dennis and Rosamund Knill