March is festival season in Melbourne. With the Food and Wine Festival, L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival and Australian Grand Prix, it’s one of the best times of the year to visit Australia’s second largest city. Local Rick Molinsky suggests where to stay, eat, shop and find the perfect photo op.
Jewel of the Yarra: Crown Towers
Melbourne’s central business district is built along the banks of the Yarra River and the ultimate views have to be from the suites at Crown Towers. One of three hotels in the sprawling Crown complex, Crown Towers has 482 rooms offering everything you need to make your stay luxurious from the hard-to-get-out-of beds and sumptuous furnishings, to the plasma televisions in the bathroom. Built above the glitzy Crown Casino and home to 11 restaurants, including Nobu, Rockpool and Rosetta, as well as luxury retailers such as Louis Vuitton, Bulgari and Burberry. If you do manage to leave your room, a stroll along the Yarra offers the best people watching, sidewalk entertainers and artists and it’s artistic Immigration footbridge is a reminder that Melbourne is the multicultural hub of Australia built by, and home to people from all across the globe.
There’s no shortage of choices of outstanding cafes (many roast their own beans in-house), but the best has to be De Clieu in Fitzroy. Five minutes from the CBD it offers a chance to wake up slowly or just slow down. Named after the French Lieutenant who first introduced coffee to the French colonies in South America, it’s elegant and simple, with a food menu that focuses on local producers. The coffee is superb and sourced from the best growers around the globe and roasted by Seven Seeds, another Melbourne institution. And while you can get your espressos they do encourage French Press coffee.
In some cities it’s best to avoid the alleys and laneways. Not here. Melbourne’s myriad of laneways is home to some of the most unique art gallery spaces (some of it street art on the walls, including by Bansky), fashion stores and wine bars. A lot of it is hidden and hard to find—it’s as if the local like to keep these places to themselves. But you can take one of the numerous walking tours that will show you the cities best-kept secrets. Normally three hours-long and in small groups and by passionate guides with insiders’ knowledge. Make sure you check out Christine. Just head up Flinders Lane and look for the red door. Down the stairs you’ll discover a sexy and sophisticated treasure trove of fashion accessories, shoes and handbags.
We love our food trucks here in Melbourne and can’t seem to get enough of them. Taco Truck, Gumbo Kitchen, Cornutopia (corn on the cob), Beatbox Kitchen (burgers) and Le Sausage, are just a few of the almost dozen groovy food vans offering quick and easy dining options for every taste. These guys are rolling out some of the best and most gourmet versions of the aforementioned. They’re also cheap and easy to find via www.wherethetruck.at a simple, one-page Google mapping system that plots the locations of food trucks at any given hour.
Share your dinner
Australia is known for it’s Asian-fusion (or modern Asian) and it comes no better than at Chin Chin on Flinders Lane. Taking it’s cue from the bustling workingman’s dining halls of Bangkok, Chin Chin is a fun and modern take on casual, street-inspired Asian food, which make it easy to get adventurous. While there’s a rocking Asian-inspired cocktail menu, the wine list is all-Australian producers but offers an excellent opportunity to appreciate some of the best local varietals.
Fit it all in
Need to see get out of the city center? Then the Tan track is the place. Whether you’re a stroller, power walker or jogger, this 3.8 kilometer track runs around the iconic Botanical Gardens and is the best way to unwind, get fit and do some sightseeing all at the same time. It’s Melbourne’s version of Central Park. Only five minutes from the City Center the walk there takes you past the Arts Center, and National Gallery. The track offers great views of the skyline along the Yarra and allows you to tick off a few of those tourist sights in the brochures.
While Skydeck 88 at the Eurkea Towers offers impressive viewing from Melbourne’s tallest building, and having a sunset drink at Lui Bar on level 55 at the Rialto is a great way to end the day, there’s only one way to get the real money shot and that’s from the air. Most operate at sunrise so be ready for a dawn start. Drift gently across the bay and across the leafy inner suburbs. Most operators include a champagne breakfast afterwards, but chances are you’ll already be buzzing without the bubbles.
Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, March 1 to 17, 2013
Australian Grand Prix, March 14 to 17, 2013
L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival, March 18 to 24, 2013