Melbourne is by far my favourite city in all of Australia. It’s a bustling city full of life, great food, diverse culture, and interesting people. You know those places that are like a home away from home? Well for me Melbourne is just that. It’s full of exciting new adventures and endless possibilities, but it’s also welcoming and familiar.
That definitely has a lot to do with my regular visits with my family. The majority of our extended family lives there, and so every year we lucky ducks get to visit our awesome rellies at the same time as an amazing city.
There’s the AFL games at the ‘G, stands filled with cheering, meat pie-eating fans. The Queen Victoria Markets, filled with all the food you could ever want. And then some. Alongside the Yarra River, there’s the serene Botanic Gardens, chock-a-block with natural beauty. Not to mention the streets and laneways, best known for their magnificent facades and even better cafes and restaurants.
Now I may be rather biased in saying this seeing as we go to Melbourne in autumn nearly ever year, but it is truly a magnificent time to be there. The temperature is (at least for a girl from the tropics) heavenly, hanging around the low 20s (I’m talking Celsius of course) all day. I can wear jeans without melting into a puddle. Darwin’s so called “autumn” temperatures average 30.
Fresh, cool air. And autumn leaves. I cannot say it enough: wonderful, amazing, beautiful, gorgeous autumn leaves. Red, brown, orange, yellow, gold. Drifting down from the lofty boughs of the trees throughout the city.
On our very first afternoon we meandered off to Westgarth Theatre to see A Little Chaos. The movie was a beautiful rom com set in France during Louis XIV’s reign. But what I loved even more about the trip was the gorgeous old cinema. It was built in the 1920s and, it’s old and charming in a well-worn way.
The Westgarth Theatre is not the only gem of a theatre in Melbourne. There’s also the Princess Theatre, Her Majesty’s, the Regent, the Comedy, and the Forum. On the list of the many amazing things we did in Melbourne this April was seeing Dirty Dancing at the Princess Theatre, and Strictly Ballroom at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Both shows were absolutely hilarious, and great fun. I know I felt like getting up and dancing in the aisles, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. They’re both shows about dance (and adapted from films), but both entirely different. The magnificent old theatres certainly added to the amazing experiences.
After seeing Dirty Dancing we meandered down to GAZI restaurant for dinner. They serve the most delicious Greek food I’ve ever eaten. Souvlaki, pita and dips, a magnificent deconstructed easter egg, and best of all, saganaki with balsamic honey and figs. If ever you go there and the saganaki is still on the menu, you have to get it, it is the most delicious cheese dish that I’ve ever had the good fortune to taste. To add to the spectacular experience, our waiter was a bouncing, ball of joy and humour.
The roof is covered in hanging pot plants, the walls are an old, worn concrete, and there are burn marks on the wall. For me it conjures up an aura of a troubled past, that ended in fire.
For a family lunch on my mum’s side we all met up at Stillwater at Crittenden. It’s an hour’s south of Melbourne, down on the gorgeous Mornington Peninsula. Almost the whole way there we drove alongside green rolling hills, paddocks scattered with hay bales and livestock, the occasional gorgeous rustic farmhouse, and trees trying out their colourful autumn fashions.
Stillwater itself is a restaurant on the site of a magnificent vineyard. All the leaves were turning gold, except for those of the weeping willows surrounding the lake. The view from the balcony was stunning; the inside adorned with classy, minimalist lights, a high sloped ceiling and of course, gorgeous wire wine storage on the walls behind the high wooden counter.
Last, but certainly not least, the food. Beautiful seasonal ingredients, sourced locally wherever possible. Magnificent plating. Divine flavours. The baked rotolo stuffed with dukkah spiced, roasted pumpkin and ricotta opened my eyes to the existence of rotolo, a cannelloni-tube-like invention, but shorter and standing up. It was a wonderful, rich, creamy dish. A perfect complement to my entrée, a salty salad of tomatoes – red, orange and yellow, rocket, goat’s cheese, with a balsamic dressing.
The Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne stretch out from the Yarra River and are encircled by Melbourne’s famous running track, the Tan Track. We caught the tram in to the gardens, and meandered through the vibrant green lawns, dotted with trees ranging from golden-brown to as green as the grass.
We reached the entrance to the more popular area of the gardens, where there are specialised collections of plants from all over the world, and a lake in the centre of it all. The entrance area is home to a café, Jardin Tan (named after the running track), a gift shop, the visitor’s centre, the Melbourne Observatory and Children’s Garden.
After some delicious rice paper rolls and a not so delicious freshly squeezed beetroot juice, and a browse in the lovely gift shop, we meandered on through the large, majestic Observatory Gates, into the main part of the gardens.
We wandered through a tropical rainforest enjoying the cool and the quiet, then around the lake with some people boating, some painting on the waterside, some eating at a café, but most meandering along like us.
Further on we passed the Asian plants section, and further still we came to a quaint, rock staircase, leading up to the top of a hill. From the top we had a fabulous view of the city. It was quite the juxtaposition, being surrounded by nature and greenery, looking out on shiny metal and glass skyscrapers and busy roads. That juxtaposition seems to me to be very prevalent in Melbourne, it’s one of the things I love about the place.
Down another set of gorgeous stairs, and we were down onto the road, heading off to the MCG to watch Geelong play Hawthorn. Watching the AFL at the ‘G is iconic Melbourne. Of all the cities in Australia, Melbourne is the AFL city. I’m not much of an AFL fan myself (but Georgie is an avid one so if ever you want to know more, she’s your girl), but I loved going to the footy. The atmosphere was just buzzing with excitement and cheers went up at every possible moment. They even handed out blow-up swords to beat together and make a racket. To add to the quintessential-ity (it’s totally a word, ssshh) of the experience, we chowed down on meat pies.
Richmond Hill Café and Larder is in Richmond, surprise surprise. It’s situated in an old, gorgeous building, on an old, gorgeous road. Inside, not only is there a café, but a cheese room full of varieties from all over the world. There’s cheese made from goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, cow’s milk, with an array of moulds, ashes and even flowers in them.
There was a sign in the cheese room that rather tickled my fancy. It read:
“Que sera, cheddar
Whatever will brie,
Gutshöfer + Roy de Valles
La luna, luna”
The café itself sits between modern and rustic, in the way that is so in at the moment. One wall is adorned with an old, bright red emergency sprinkler system; the cheese room looks very cutely rustic with its unvarnished wooden shelves and tables. But the centre block with a bar, espresso machine, various scrumptious-looking baked goods and the cashier brings in the 21st Century-look with its brightly lit steel and marble surfaces.
On the list of things everyone really should do in Melbourne, one is to wander the city streets. For a day, or a half. It’s one of the best ways to just get to know the place, and get a feel for the culture. The inner suburbs and CBD are my favourites for remarkable laneways, for which Melbourne is renowned, at least within the country. Also for the quaintest, most delightful and delicious cafes and restaurants around. The buildings themselves are nothing to be put aside either. Old, magnificent, colourful. Admittedly some of them are tall, large, glass and steel skyscrapers, but many of the older ones have been left, and that was a fantastic decision by me.
There are all sorts of other odd shops around the streets. Old film cameras stacked in the windowsill of one, beautiful costume-like dresses hanging in a grand circle from the roof of another.
Another wonderful aspect of Melbourne’s streets is the art. The graffiti art is more than just colourful tagging, but entire lane walls covered with thoughtful masterpieces.
Before heading to dinner we went up to the 35th floor of the Sofitel to get a breathtaking view of Melbourne. All the way out to Mount Dandenong, about 50km out of Melbourne. The Yarra River to the right, and the Royal Botanic Gardens further over, Fitzroy gardens just across the road, and a beautiful blue sky scattered with clouds. To the right there was a glass skyscraper reflecting all the colours of the city.
For dinner we met with some of the extended family at Trunk. The main restaurant was a red and cream brick barn-shaped building. It’s magnificent, and the courtyard was Ajust as beautiful: wooden tables, red and white striped umbrellas, picket fence and a few tall trees.
My food was not fabulous but I was so tired after a day wandering around town that I had finished it before I knew I’d started.
One of my absolute favourite cafes in Melbourne is Café Vue at Heide. Heide is a museum of modern art, with a massive gorgeous garden, including a kitchen garden, and sculptures scattered here and there. The food is simple and delicious, using lots of fresh ingredients straight from the garden.
If you’re a foodie, and you have only one day in Melbourne, there are two things you absolutely must do. The first is eating at one of the many wonderful cafes. The second is visiting the Queen Victoria Markets, better known simply as the Vic Markets.
It’s the largest open-air market in the southern hemisphere. The main attraction for me is the fresh produce section, all the stalls piled up with every vegetable, fruit, and herb I’ve ever heard of.
The Vic Markets represent the multiculturalism of Melbourne in a way few other attractions do. It’s the cosmopolitan city at it’s finest. There are treats, delicacies and snacks from everywhere: boreks, pralines, cheeses, dips, just to name a few. And people from all backgrounds flock to the Vic markets. Local and tourist combined. Aside from the Fresh produce section, there’s the Deli Hall, Meat Hall, plus stalls selling souvenirs, clothes, jewellery, crafts, and even some whiz-bang kitchen utensils are all in a few massive open air sheds. The Vic markets will knock your socks off.
I’ve already said Melbourne is by far my favourite city in all of Australia. But what’s more, it’s also one of my favourite cities in the whole wide world. It feels like home at the same time as being a new, exciting adventure at every turn. The culture, the art, the nature, the food, the diversity, the charm. One day I hope to be writing to you from my own address in this city of wonders.