A City Of Contrasts … Melbourne with Genine
Melbourne … it is a city of contrasts, from grungy alleyways to modern skyscrapers. It is a city that’s exterior belies its mecca of culture, food, entertainment and, of course, shopping. Genine Howard takes a weekend break and discovers there is more to Melbourne than meets the eye.
A trip to Melbourne simply must include the big-ticket items; a trip to the zoo, the casino, the art gallery, shopping down the Bourke Street Mall and a tram ride. On my recent trip to Melbourne I did none of the above. Instead I decided to scour the streets and head to places I had yet not seen, not yet experienced, to find the real Melbourne – the good, the bad and the ugly.
But, of course, ‘bad’ and ‘ugly’ certainly didn’t describe my choice of digs … no siree. No grungy backpackers here, thank you very much. No, for this trip I decided to go top end and, well, work my way down. In fact, we even chose to stay at the top end of town, on the corner of Exhibition and Lonsdale Street at the newly refurbished Marriott Hotel. This hotel is one of the original five-star establishments in Melbourne, and I would have to say with its $10 million refurbishment it is still well and truly up there. With classic New York styling throughout, understated colour schemes and cool ambience, this hotel is perfect not only for business travel, but for a sophisticated girls’ weekend away or a romantic interlude.
‘With classic New York styling throughout, understated colour schemes and cool ambience, [The Marriot] is perfect … for a sophisticated girls’ weekend away or a romantic interlude.’
For the purpose of this trip, I chose the romantic interlude option … with husband in tow not Alli, clearly. Keen to do things in style, we opted for the top-of-the-range executive suite. This suite is fit for any global traveller or businessman, and we had to admit we felt über sophisticated on our executive floor that even includes an exclusive lounge for guests. More on that later. Our room was literally like two rooms in one, with a separate lounge / bar/ office area with a massive 42 inch flat screen LCD TV, a separate bedroom complete with ensuite and dressing room … and another 42 inch flat screen TV. My husband was in sport watching heaven (well, he would have been only if I had let him!). The executive suites are worth the few extra bucks as they are spacious and functional, even for a mobile office like mine … running two magazines, a blog, writing on the go and proofing on and off all weekend. Even though the room has paid WiFi, as a Marriott member, internet is completely free.
The office area is straight from The Devil Wears Prada (very fitting) with its massive glass desk, executive office chair and accessories. I spread out and pretended to be Miranda Priestly (without the attitude … I was on holidays!). I was also extremely impressed by the large, separate dressing room in the bedroom that not only allowed all our clothes to be hung and shoes tucked away, but it also cleverly hid our suitcases from the main suite. Yet again another sophisticated touch. With a king size bed (of course), iPod docking station and revamped modern bathroom, the Marriott certainly provided everything we needed. Time to get the sightseeing under way.
‘But the cream on top were the complimentary food and drinks.’
We headed out of our room and … down the hallway. Well, with a hotel like this with all the trimmings, we may as well make the most of it! We headed into the private executive lounge (accessed only by your room key) and were quietly impressed. Converted from two hotel suites, the executive lounge boasts business facilities, daily papers and internet along with a relaxing lounge area and TV and dining areas. But the cream on top were the complimentary food and drinks. Yes, free, anything you want kind of free. An afternoon cappuccino and biscuits? Certainly, help yourself. A refreshing beer or crisp wine? No problem! Evening canapes … on the house. Early breakfast … all yours!
Yes, during our stay we certainly made the most of this little find, starting with canapes and a glass of wine before dinner, daily breakfast and usually a nice hot chocolate before bed. Best thing is you don’t even have to get out of your pyjamas to duck down the hall and grab a treat. Having sated our appetites, it was time to hit the city and explore.
Melbourne is a beautiful city by any world standards, with its century-old stately buildings and cathedrals, tree-lined streets and gorgeous parks. But it was the hidden, the back streets, the grunge that we were here to find. So we set off on foot to see where our feet would take us. No visit to Melbourne is complete without heading into Chinatown, which dates back the gold rush days of the 1850s and extends along Little Bourke Street between Swanston and Spring Streets. Instead of heading to the tried and trusted restaurants, we played pot luck and popped into the first restaurant found to try out their dim sum.
‘… Look out for the ‘Tapping Man’ in the window who has been there since the 1930s.’
Next we checked out the shopping … the back street kind. We scoured the alleyways between La Trobe at the top and Flinders Street at the bottom and discovered a whole other side of Melbourne. By bypassing the main shopping strips of Bourke Street Mall and the Myer Centre, we found a plethora of intimate boutiques, from high-end to bargain basement. For cutting edge local designers, the best strips were Flinders Lane and Centre Place, while the Block and Royal Arcades, both built-in the mid to late 1800s, provided a magical step back in time with boutiques, specialty stores and the most amazing cake shop. The iconic Haigh’s Chocolate shop in The Block Arcade is a must-do (or should I say must-eat), and look out for the ‘Tapping Man’ in the window who has been there since the 1930s.
‘ … It is cool enough for rock stars too as we dined next to frontman Rai Thistlethwayte from Aussie band Thirsty Merc and his ultra hip entourage.’
On our alleyway self-guided discovery tour, we also found the best selection of cafes and restaurants. One of the best little eating strips is Degraves Street, between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane (similarly is Centre Place). This cool alleyway is a favourite with uni students and locals, serving up Italian coffee, cheap breakfasts and cafes galore, all in an outdoor setting straight out of Rome. Apparently it is cool enough for rock stars too as we dined next to frontman Rai Thistlethwayte from Aussie band Thirsty Merc and his ultra hip entourage.
Another of my favourite sections is the web of alleyways that weave from Flinders Street, near Federation Square. This iconic gaggle of Melbourne laneways is dedicated to urban art, and the walls (and in one alleyway, everything from the bins to the street) are covered in graffiti. Now this is not the kind you find on the train station wall. Think pure artworks using bright colours and showcasing brilliant talent. See if you can find Hosier Lane, Rutledge Lane, Caledonian Croft Alley and ACDC Lane (and yes, it was named after the legendary Aussie rock band).
After a day of exploring the ‘real’ Melbourne, we finished off with a little culture of the musical kind. A visit to Melbourne isn’t complete without a night at the theatre, and Melbourne is certainly the best place to do it. From the Gothic hall of Regent Theatre on Collins Street, the grand Princess Theatre on Spring Street and of course Her Majesty’s Theatre where Dame Nellie Melba sang her first opera, Melbourne’s theatres are magical. They have, after all played home to world-famous shows including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies.
So there you have it. From the top of town to the bottom, Melbourne is certainly a city of contrasts. With its five-star hotels, grungy graffiti-lined alleyways and hole-in-the-wall cafes, it is a city steeped in history, culture, food, shopping and damn good coffee.
what: Melbourne Marriott Hotel
where: Corner Exhibition and Lonsdale Streets, Melbourne
phone: 03 9662 3900
property details: – 10 floors, 167 rooms, 19 suites – 6 meeting rooms, 432 sqm of total meeting space – 1 concierge level – executive lounge available only for executive room stays