Written by Christina Pfeiffer
They say that good things come in small packages. When it comes to Victoria, Australia’s smallest mainland state, there’s a lot of truth in this adage. Victoria might be Australia’s second most populated state, but one of its best assets is its size. In a vast country such as Australia with wide open spaces, where it’s not uncommon to travel through the outback for days without seeing another soul, being a small state has obvious advantages.
Visitors to Victoria can enjoy a range of diverse experiences and regions in the space of a day. An example would be to start the morning savouring barista-made coffee while breakfasting at a café on Melbourne’s vibrant St Kilda Beach. Then, an afternoon of driving around the Yarra Valley tasting cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir at award-winning wineries could be followed by an evening spent at Phillip Island watching the little fairy penguins amble up the beach, returning to their nests after a day’s foraging at sea.
From Melbourne’s designer shops and glitzy shows to the powdery runs of Victoria’s ski slopes and quaint historic villages of the goldfields, or taking the waters in Daylesford’s natural mineral springs to hiking the craggy slopes of the Grampians, or even floating down the Murray River on a houseboat, there’s lots to see and do in Victoria.
When it comes to food and fashion, Victoria’s capital, Melbourne, is an Australian leader. Indeed, the rest of the state takes its cue from Melbourne, so heading out of the city opens up a world of stylish boutique accommodation, food, wine, and friendly service.
Lisa Gorman, fashion designer
Building a career as a designer in Australia’s fashion capital is not easy, especially with no formal training. But talent, hard work, and a fresh eye transformed Melbourne designer Lisa Gorman from nurse to successful fashion designer within a decade. Her Gorman label (www.gorman.ws) is sold in seven of her own stores in Melbourne and four more across Australia. One of the first designers in Australia to launch an organic collection, Gorman is a pioneer of sustainable fashion and is serious about increasing the amount of organic clothes she produces.
“I like the things in Melbourne that are not immediately obvious – the range of galleries, the quality of the restaurants and bars, the support for people who try something new,” Gorman says.
One of Lisa Gorman’s favourite eateries is Gills Diner, which offers homely quality meals in a relaxed atmosphere. When life in the fast lane gets hectic, Gorman heads for Dights Falls in a quiet suburb 4km from the city centre. “You can watch the water going over the rocks and feel like you’ve stepped completely out of the city.”
Gorman’s preferred shopping areas include Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Windsor’s village-style shopping precinct, and Chapel Street Bazaar for eclectic items such as lamps, tribal decorations, and old wooden toys. “I found 18 really old dolls that I used for a photo shoot. It’s amazing!”
Away from the city, Gorman’s ideal destination in Victoria is the fashionable seaside resort of Lorne on the Great Ocean Road, 140km southwest of Melbourne. Lorne has a Mediterranean feel with al fresco cafés, boutiques, and the languid pace of a coastal vacation spot.
“I loved it as a kid, and it is still such a magic place, with beautiful gum trees meeting the ocean, and the Great Ocean Road.”
The drive along the Great Ocean Road is one of the most spectacular drives in Australia, and possibly one of the world’s greatest drives. It hugs Victoria’s rugged southwest coastline, twisting past sweeping beaches, sandstone cliffs, and picture-book coastal towns.
Drive past Lorne away from Melbourne and the scenery becomes wilder. Over millions of years, wild seas and fierce winds have sculpted the coastline around Port Campbell to form a series of striking rock stacks that rise out of the Southern Ocean. These stacks are called the Twelve Apostles, and – although now numbering only eight owing to natural erosion – are one of the most spectacular natural attractions in Victoria.
Another memorable way to experience the region is on foot along the Great Ocean Walk, which stretches 104km from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles.
Andrew McConnell, chef and restaurateur
One of Melbourne’s best chefs, Andrew McConnell has worked in big cities such as London, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. But Melbourne is where his heart is. McConnell opened Cutler & Co. Dining Room & Bar in 2009 and trendy Melbourne CBD wine bar Cumulus Inc. in 2008.
When it comes to advice about Melbourne’s foodie scene, there’s no-one better qualified than McConnell. He was named Chef of the Year, for the second time, in The Age Good Food Guide 2010, while Cutler & Co. received two ‘hats’ and was named Best New Restaurant.
“The diversity of Melbourne is the key factor for me. So many elements mesh together – the thriving food industry, architecture, art in its many guises, easy accessibility to bush and beach,” McConnell says.
Melbourne’s world-class dining scene, its laneways filled with secret bars and street cafés, makes it Australia’s top destination for gourmet lovers. “There are wonderful pockets here, the inner city layout of gardens is fabulous, and I am constantly coming across new areas, people, shops, cafés,” McConnell adds.
Melbourne’s reputation for gastronomic excellence began many years ago with iconic restaurants such as Flower Drum and Grossi Florentino. These days, there’s a plethora of innovative restaurants that continue to push culinary boundaries.
One of McConnell’s favourites is the quintessential Melbourne restaurant The Stokehouse. “There is something wonderful about sitting out on the balcony for lunch, taking in the weather and the view. It is great for people-spotting, both inside and outside the restaurant.”
To escape from the stresses of running two fine establishments, McConnell haunts the produce stores on Sydney Road, Brunswick. “There is produce you can’t find anywhere else in Melbourne, such as some Middle Eastern spices, cheeses, and sweets,” he reveals.
Another favourite is Mediterranean Wholesalers. “There is some good food to take away as well, such as excellent Lebanese pizzas and shawarma.” Away from Melbourne, McConnell’s perfect escape is the Yarra Valley, where he winds down by indulging in his three great pleasures: food, wine, and nature. Wine tasting is followed by lunch at one of the Yarra Valley’s many excellent restaurants and a stop at the TarraWarra Museum of Art to admire the private art collection of Eva and Marc Besen.
The best thing about the Yarra Valley is its proximity to Melbourne’s city centre. This region of 70 wineries is where Victorian winegrowing began in 1838. A relatively short drive from the CBD, the Yarra Valley is a picture of rolling hills covered with vines and delightful wineries and restaurants built in converted barns and country houses.
Love my Village
Love My Village are 100% organic cotton bags featuring a local map dotted with Lisa Gorman’s favourite local haunts and hot spots in Prahran, Fitzroy, and Melbourne city. The artwork was designed by Melbourne designer Beci Orpin. RRP US$19.
The quickest way to understand the culture and diversity of a city is to visit a market. Queen Victoria Market (513 Elizabeth Street, www.qvm.com.au) is an icon that represents Melbourne’s ethnic groups, produce, and seasons. “Queen Victoria Market is as good as any market anywhere in the world. From where I live now I can get there on foot, so I do a lot of my shopping there,” Andrew McConnell says. The two-hour Foodies Dream Tour (US$35) includes food tastings and coffee. The tour is a delicious way to meet market traders and pick up hints on selecting produce.
Passion for fashion
Those with a passion for fashion should visit Melbourne during the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival (March 14–20, 2011, www.lmff.com.au) when Melbourne’s laneways and shopping streets are transformed into a swirl of fashion, art, and music. It’s the perfect opportunity for fashionistas to dress up for stylish lunches, jazz evenings, and other exclusive events. It is one of the few international fashion shows that offer tickets to the public. The showcase of Australian fashion is presented as a series of 30-minute runway shows, workshops, forums, and exhibitions. Tickets go on sale on February 10.
Chapel Street Bazaar
Cutler & Co.
TarraWarra Museum of Art