The Adelphi Hotel is my go-to Melbourne bolthole. A designer classic wedged into iconic Flinders Lane (complete with cantilevered swimming pool over the street), it was refurbed a couple of years ago and has had a huge injection of distinctive and well-delivered service improvement. It’s upbeat but not hysterical, stylish but not try-hard, and the rooms are plush, generous and quiet for the city.
The boho town of Castlemaine is a 90-minute ride north-west of Melbourne and has strong arts and food cultures. The same terrain that gave rise to one of the world’s richest gold rushes now hosts a number of boutique wineries nearby. My favourite is Bress, which makes a wicked Chardonnay, as well as slumming it marvellously with local Harcourt apples for Australia’s best cider. Great long-table lunches during summer and autumn.
Melbourne boasts two architecturally distinctive house museums, which it’s worth getting organised to go see (you need to pre-book a private tour). The Lyon Housemuseum is in leafy Kew, and holds a large and varied collection of contemporary Australian art (including work by Howard Arkley, Patricia Piccinni and Callum Morton). Relative newcomer Justin Art House Museum is in grungier Prahran and pushes a little harder into digital and video art. A visit should include a relaxed chat over tea with owner-collector-architect Charles Justin and wife Leah.
A short walk up Flinders Lane from the Adelphi is the serene Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Melbourne. Housed in a traditional Melbourne warehouse, but tucked away behind huge first-floor windows, it serves a passionate local yoga crew. It’s not set up for casual walk-in visits, but if you’re staying more than a week and can commit to a few classes, drop them a line. You’ll feel like a true Melburnite.
Further up Flinders Lane, on the corner of Exhibition Street, is squishy but stylish Axil Coffee Roasters CBD Espresso Bar. The short or long blacks pack a serious punch. There’s a standing-only bar along the floor-to-ceiling windows, and you’ll be jockeying with a million caffeine-addicted hipsters, but it’s genuinely powerful coffee.
City Wine Shop manages to do that difficult thing: it’s a working bottle shop for informed wine buyers, and at the same time it’s a smart, relaxed wine bar mixing the Spring Street political class and a bookish crowd of young fogeys. It’s lively without being noisy, intellectual without being pretentious. And the wine list is very long.
It’s likely to be mobbed, but recently re-opened Stokehouse has earned its fine reputation. Bang on the beach in still daggy St Kilda, it’s as close as Melbourne gets to a Sydney vibe. Sashimi Sundays – for an afternoon of the freshest raw stuff – are a new fixture, and there’s a more casual vibe at spin-off Pontoon next door, with its long grill, deck-spinning DJs and old-school rollerbladers whizzing by.