MELBOURNE HAS A REPUTATION as a buttoned-down town, but arrive on the first Tuesday in November and you might think you’ve stumbled into the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Businesses brandish “closed” signs; blokes don suits and colourful ties; women parade a rainbow whirl of hats, fascinators, and other head-gear; and a general mood of silliness prevails. This is Melbourne Cup Day, the culmination of an annual horseracing carnival, when even those who can’t tell blinkers from bookmakers feel compelled to have “a flutter,” or a bet.
Author Denise Cullen Photography Petrina Tinslay
DAY THREE / You’re in for an authentic Melbourne experience as you catch the tram to bohemian Brunswick Street for breakfast at Mario’s Café. Owner Mario Maccarone began serving all-day breakfasts to cater to the area’s crowd of late-sleeping artists and musicians, but the café welcomes all comers. Pull up a stool at the front window so you can watch the passing parade and tuck into eggs
Benedict or Florentine or else try Mario’s own Bircher muesli with grated apple and yogurt.
After lingering over a last cup of caffe, turn left and take a rewarding stroll down Brunswick Street. This strip is home to an eclectic smattering of shops that perfectly showcase the artistic, individualistic nature of one of Melbourne’s most famous funky inner-city suburbs, Fitzroy. Particularly worth a visit are Kleins perfumery and Scally and Trombone, with its assortment of millinery and jewellery. The Greenstore has cutting-edge gifts for eco-conscious friends back home, and the T2 store across the road sparked a small revolution for tea aficionados.
From here, you’re close enough to hoof it across to The Melbourne Museum, with its focus on the Australian, and in particular, the Melbourne way of life. Highlights include a living fern gully that replicates Victoria’s mountain forests and the mounted hide of Phar Lap, the champion racehorse that died in 1932.
After three days on foot, your legs might be tiring, so cab it down to The Press Club for lunch. Located on the ground floor of an old newspaper building, this restaurant offers fresh interpretations of classic Greek food in a city that has the third-largest Greek population in the world. Slide into one of the plush leather banquettes and peruse a menu that has been described as “a combination of Hellenic nostalgia and avant-Greek experimentation.” The four-course kerasma offers a taste of many dishes, including mussel spanakopita and baklava with licorice ice cream, but be warned: Portions are extremely generous.
Around the corner are the Fitzroy Gardens. This landscaped 19th-century wonder is spread over 64 acres. Points of interest within the garden include the family home of English navigator James Cook, a model Tudor Village, and The Fairies’ Tree featuring mythical and realistic carvings.
Head back across the river to Pure South for an early dinner. This award-winning restaurant serves seafood, dry-aged steak, milk-fed lamb, hand-fed pork, quail, pheasant, and other offerings sourced exclusively from the Tasmanian and Bass Strait islands.
With the taste of a smooth semifreddo on your lips, take a short walk to The Arts Centre. Billed as the flagship of the performing arts in the state of Victoria, this constellation of venues offers a wide and changing array of music, dance, and drama.
Before retiring for the night, indulge in a nightcap at the hotel’s Aria Lounge. This intimate spot is the perfect place to hunker down and reflect on the past three days, raising your glass in a heartfelt toast to magical, mercurial, multicultural Melbourne.
Denise Cullen became acquainted with Melbourne’s passion for racing as a child, when her father helped her stake 50 cents on Think Big in the 1974 cup. The horse won, and she pocketed a fortune of A$12.
November is spring in Melbourne. Winds from the interior can boost highs into the 80s and 90s, and winds from off the Southern Ocean can leave afternoons as cool as 60. Summer highs peak near 80, with lows in the upper 50s. Melbourne enjoys mild winters with highs ranging from the mid-50s to the lower 60s and lows in the 40s. The warmest days peak in the 70s.
Weather information is provided by The Weather Channel. For more Melbourne climatological details, visit weather.com.
Melbourne Airport is Australia’s second-busiest but is less frenetic than you might imagine. It takes 20 minutes and costs A$16 (US$13) to go from the airport to the city on the Skybus Super Shuttle. A taxi ride to the city will cost A$40 (US$32). Melbourne is compact and built on a grid system, making it easy to navigate on foot. Fun, free City Circle trams travel the perimeter of the central business district.
A Melbourne Aquarium (melbourneaquarium.com.au) Southern Ocean creatures and a glass-bottom boat ride
B Eureka Skydeck 88 (eurekaskydeck.com.au) Includes The Edge, a glass cube that projects 3 metres from Melbourne’s tallest building
C Luna Park (lunapark. com.au) Classic, colourful carnival rides
D Scienceworks and Melbourne Planetarium (museumvictoria.com.au/ scienceworks) Hands-on exhibits including a competition against an Olympic gold medallist