But these days savvy travelers also think Melbourne, stately city of the south and a vibrant, elegant melting pot with its roots in the great Gold Rush of the 1850s Melbourne, capital of the southern state of Victoria, has about four million inhabitants and is set on the shores of Port Phillip Bay. Less raucous than Sydney, Melbourne is Australia's home of 'old money' and has a quieter way of life with a strong focus on culture and fine food.
Which is not to say there isn't all the glamour and excitement a visitor would need to pack into three or four days. Sure, Melbourne rocks but with style.
The city is laid out in a large rectangle and has a lively and cosmopolitan pulse. A river runs through it the slow moving Yarra, with its headwaters in the nearby mountains. As much as the bayside beaches, the river and its adjoining parks are the city's playgrounds.
Melbourne is big and modern it has the world's tallest residential building - but it reveals the heady days of 19th century in its massive public and private buildings, many dating from a shining, golden moment when this was the richest place in the world.
The city has many faces elegant and luxurious in what is known as the 'Paris End' of the business district; head-jerking in the many ethnic enclaves Vietnamese, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Chinese, Spanish and other communities who have made their home in one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities. Some of these enclaves are just a lane or two, while others cover the banks of the Yarra or a busy CBD street. One glance at a map and it's obvious that Melbourne is a planned city: a tidy, balanced grid of neatly angled streets. But beneath this sense of everything in its place restraint lies a restless creative energy constantly pushing back at the city's seeming conservatism.
City arcades: The city's network of shopping arcades is Australia's most extensive with the Block Arcade (between Collins and Elizabeth streets, built in 1891) its undeniable crowning glory. Here you'll find imported Italian mosaic floors, glazed ceilings supported by elaborate iron-lace columns, and octagonal glass domes. Royal Arcade (between Bourke Street Mall and Little Collins Street, built in 1869), is Melbourne's oldest and features two wonderful folklore giants of the ancient Britons Gog and Magog, who strike the hour.
Other arcades such as Collins two3four, Australia on Collins, The Walk, the Galleria Shopping Plaza and Centrepoint Mall offer an impressive mix of large flagship stores, unique owner-operated shops and quality cafes and foodcourts and all the arcades sit within a block of each other off Little Collins Street.
The laneways: This is a world just waiting to be explored; a web of lanes, alleys, little streets and arcades. Some lanes have been reborn and hum with quirky city life. Others are still waiting to be discovered. Check out Punch Lane or the combined office-retail-residential project between Little Lonsdale and Lonsdale streets Car-free, café-lined Degraves Street (in the Flinders Quarter) is a streak of gently undulating umbrellas hiding patrons from the midday summer sun (or mid-winter drizzle). Nearby funky Block Place (in the Collins Street precinct)is an intimate niche so narrow that the awnings from opposing businesses kiss overhead, while The Causeway, just across Little Collins Street, is another deep ravine of outdoor tables and, in nearby Centre Place, key-hole cafés buzz with diners. The lanes either side of the Chinatown strip (Little Burke Street) are a rich source of indoor Asian eateries and have been for well over a century. But the mother of all alfresco lanes is Hardware Lane where traffic gives way to a long line of trees, plant-thick window boxes and a canvas sea of awnings lapping gently at the tables' edge.
The bar scene: The most successful product of Melbourne's laneway renaissance is the boom in bars. Single, unassuming doorways, often with just a discreet sign, open into sumptuous and often spacious interiors. Some are designer cool, while others are miscellaneous mixes of carefully chosen, jumble-sale furnishings. These funky watering holes can be found throughout Melbourne's lanes including Meyers Place, Bennetts Lane, Bullens Lane, Sniders Lane and Market Lane.
Extending around the bay are a number of inner suburbs, each with its own distinct character and personality. A short tram (streetcar) ride from the city centre, Melbourne's suburban neighborhoods are a must see for anyone wanting to experience what life here is really all about.
Melbourne's melting pot of cultures is reflected in its microcosmos of restaurants, cafes, bistros and bars. Fashionable, eclectic and eccentric Melbourne's dining spots offer a dizzying spread of the world's great cuisines, serving meals from the substantial and classic to the truly exotic.
In the city, you can enjoy afternoon tea in the genteel surroundings of a nineteenth-century hotel, watch and be watched in buzzing laneway cafés and bars, or handpick a bottle of Yarra Valley chardonnay at the latest über-chic hangout. Head out a little further and explore one of Melbourne's specialist eating destinations Richmond for cheap and cheerful Vietnamese dishes, Carlton for Italian classics, Fitzroy for tantalising Spanish tapas.
The Langham Hotel - Situated on the Yarra River with views over the city. The hotel boasts superior guest rooms, several dining areas and lounges and the exquisite *Chuan Spa, where numerous skin and body treatments are available. The Langham, Melbourne
Crown Towers - is regularly voted one of the best hotels in the Asia-Pacific region. Each oversize guest room is beautifully furnished and has the latest in-room technology and the Crown Spa offers Carita treatments and full salon services. For the ultimate luxury experience and unparalleled opulence and privacy, Crown Towers offers 31 lavish Villas located on the top floors of the hotel with their own lobby and private lifts. A collection which includes Deluxe and Presidential Villas complemented with a 24 hour butler service and access to Crystal Club. Crown Towers, Melbourne
Park Hyatt - The rooms have open fireplaces, terraces, a double spa, walk-in wardrobes and a TV in the bathroom. The hotel also boasts the Park Club Health and Day Spa. Park Hyatt Melbourne
The Lyall Hotel - Located a short walk from the bustling shopping and dining precincts of Toorak Road and Chapel Street in South Yarra, the hotel has a day spa, suite accommodation with tailor-made service, quality furnishings in contemporary oriental style and in-house restaurant. The Lyall Hotel
The Windsor - is Melbourne's oldest grand hotel predating many similar establishments in London, Paris or New York. Facing the state's parliament house, it backs on to the theatre district and Chinatown (www.thehotelwindsor.com.au) The Windsor
OUT OF TOWN
Within a morning's drive are rugged beaches facing the southern ocean, idyllic mountains where villages really know how to turn it on for the tourist, vineyards and wineries where world class wines are ready for sampling at the cellar door.
Major tourist attractions abound the wonderful animal sanctuary at Healesville, the hilarious penguin parade on Phillip Island, the blood-and-guts re-enactment of the Gold Rush at Ballarat's Sovereign Hill.
There are rolling hills and endless beaches along the Mornington and Bellarine Peninsulas, green valleys and forbidding mountains in the higher reaches of the Yarra; fascinating old towns where gold was won in the nearby Central Highlands.
Wherever you go you'll find sophisticated hotels, resorts, spas, wineries and restaurants.
Moonlight Head - Moonlight Head private lodge is a must-do experienced for the luxury traveller. As well as the spectacular location, on over 40 hectares of Australian bush and farmland on the mid-point along the Great Ocean Road, Moonlight Head offers an impressive array of services including fishing, golf, scenic helicopter tours, hikes, wreck dives and winery tours. Guests can take out a BMW, Mercedes coupe or Ducatti motorbike to explore the Great Ocean Road and included in the price, is a personal chef, concierge and housekeeper. Moonlight Head Private Lodge
Chateau Yering - This five-star luxury hotel with has been accepted into the prestigious international "Relais and Chateaux" association. The heritage listed Victorian mansion is set on 250 acres and borders the Yarra River and is set amidst established gardens dating from 1854. The luxury period accommodation and award winning Eleonore's Restaurant boast some of the best rural vistas in Victoria, whilst the lounges and sitting room are a showcase for fine paintings and antique furniture. The accommodation at Chateau Yering consists of 32 suites individually decorated with different colour schemes. Word has spread quickly of the high standard of food and accommodation. They also do helicopter transfers to and from the airport or city. Chateau Yering
Meringa Springs - Meringa Springs provides five star resort accommodation adjacent to the Grampians National Park, catering to the needs of guests in a picturesque and unique environment. The hotel, which is perched on a hilltop with sweeping views, has five boutique rooms and villas, as well as the 'chic' main lodge, which has the licensed Sunset Bar and offers fine contemporary cuisine in Windows restaurant. The villas have king-size beds, double spas, double showers, tea and coffee making equipment, air-conditioning, mini-bar, fridge and quality TV/DVD audio equipment. Meringa Springs
Chocolate Gannets (Apollo Bay Great Ocean Rd) - 5 star luxury accommodation - Only 2 ½ hours drive south west from Melbourne, on the Great Ocean Road, directly opposite a beautiful sandy beach. Set on 100 acres surrounded by rolling country side yet only about 2.5 kilometres from the Apollo Bay restaurants and cafes, just 30-40 minute walk along the beach into town. Chocolate Gannets
Balinese Retreat, Yarra Valley - An exclusive private hideaway for two. Guests enter their little piece of paradise through the outer pavilion along a walkway lit by 24 Balinese lanterns. The accommodation offers a romantic and opulent bedroom featuring a king size opium bed, and a stunning en-suite bathroom with a sunken jade mosaic-tiled pool of water complete with spa. Guests can pamper themselves with in-house massages and an array of spa therapies, including Sodashi - a 100% natural, chemical free skin care range designed to nourish and rejuvenate the skin. Guests can enjoy an exotic Thai banquet in the 'bale' a private thatched pavilion located in the middle of the rear water garden. Or they can choose to simply relax in the room on the Balinese day beds while their personal chef prepares a stunning Thai inspired fine dining experience for two. Balinese Retreat
The Lakehouse, Daylesford - A small luxury hotel on the shores of Lake Daylesford - 90 minutes from Melbourne. Features award winning restaurant and 10,000 bottle cellar, breathtaking views, boutique accommodation and the state of the art Salus Day Spa. The Spa and Restaurant are open to residential guests as well as day visitors. The Lake House property includes, meeting and event facilities. The Lakehouse
The Crown Entertainment Complex - (pictured left) As well as its high end restaurants, the Crown Complex is also home to a number of designer fashion boutiques, al fresco riverside dining and a host of gaming opportunities. Some of the top restaurants in the area include Rockpool Bar & Grill, Nobu and Bistro Guillaume.
Vue de Monde - (pictured right) This restaurant is regarded as one of Australia's best restaurants, with young chef Shannon Bennett creating adventurous French-inspired contemporary dishes that are well matched to the exceptional wine list. Eating here is always special and is a wonderfully romantic experience for food lovers.
Grossi Florentino - serves lavish Italian cuisine.
The Press Club - seriously good modern Greek food.
Taxi Dining Room - located in a prime position at Federation Square with views of the river and Arts Centre complex.
Jacques Reymond - is a perennial favorite just out of the downtown district.
The Flower Drum - is recognized as one of Australia's great Chinese establishments, and has often figured in the world's top 50 restaurants
Collins Street is the place for top international labels such as Chanel, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co, Bulgari and Ralph Lauren, as well legendary designer shoe store Miss Louise and jewellery from Jan Logan and Georg Jensen. More designer wear, including Versace, can be found at the Crown Entertainment Complex.
The QV complex and the newly refurbished GPO are home to popular women's and men's wear labels, as well as quirky jewelry and accessories shops.
Melbourne's historic arcades are excellent places to visit, as they specialise in boutique stores that sell more unusual items. The Block Arcade is home to Melbourne handbag and accessories label Mimco, Haigh's fine chocolates and Kosta Boda glassware, while the Royal Arcade has several jewellery shops.
Or simply get one-stop-shopping at Melbourne's famous department stores on Bourke St Myers and David Jones which have a huge array of cosmetics, clothing, sunglasses, handbags, shoes and more for men, women and children.
Outside the CBD, Toorak Road and Chapel Street in South Yarra are also top shopping spots, with a mix of high street boutiques, top local labels and many cafes in between.
ACTIVITIES / TOURS
Melbourne Wine Tours - Be collected from your hotel by your own chauffeur driven Rolls Royce limousine and whisked to the cellar doors of boutique wineries where you will meet the makers and taste the offerings. Choose either a pre-existing tour or add on your own events or experiences to create a completely personalized tour. The tours take in the Yarra Valley, Macedon Ranges, Mornington Peninsular, Geelong, Heathcote, King Valley and Rutherglen. www.melbournewinetours.com/wineregions/yarravalley.htm
Balloon Sunrise - Balloon Sunrise offers hot air balloon rides over Melbourne and the beautiful Yarra Valley. www.hotairballooning.com.au
Helicopter flights over the Vineyards
Sunrise Helicopters, the first commercial helicopter operator in the Yarra Valley, offers scenic flights, joy rides, winery tours, adventure flights and private helicopter charters for special occasions. Board the chopper at Balgownie Estate's cellar door in Yarra Glen and soar above the vines and rolling hills. Flights vary from 10 to 30 minutes and a minimum of two passengers is required. Sunrise also operates the well-known Balloon Sunrise hot air balloon flights over the Yarra Valley. www.sunrisehelicopters.com.au
Great Ocean Road Helicopters - Capture the rugged splendour of the Shipwreck Coast and Port Campbell National Park from the air with a breathtaking scenic flight. Great Ocean Road Helicopters' highly experienced pilots provide commentary on the history of this fascinating coastline as they fly past rugged cliffs, stunning blue water and iconic landscapes like the Twelve Apostles. Choose between several scenic flights which depart from a helipad close to the Twelve Apostles. See the stunning Bay of Islands, Port Campbell, Cape Otway and the London Bridge rock formation. www.gorhelis.com