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March 11, 2018, Melbourne, Australia

Spoilt for choice in Melbourne

Fancy a music festival in Aboriginal lands, catching a tennis grand slam, moonlight cinema or eating at night noodle markets? The Australian city has all these and more

Lydia Vasko

WHO:

Ms Shamini Rajarethnam, 32, chief executive of Rationale Skincare, an Australian brand.

Her husband Athan Didaskalou, also 32, is Australian and the founder and managing director of artisan coffee subscription service Three Thousand Thieves Coffee. Ms Rajarethnam has been living in Melbourne since she was 17 years old.

WHERE

Melbourne, Australia. People say Melbourne is the most liveable city in the world, but I think it is also the most lovable. There is always something to do, see or visit at any time of the year.

Big events include the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, Formula One Grand Prix, Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Spring Racing Carnival and White Night, a 12-hour overnight celebration of creativity held in the Central Business District (CBD) which includes installations, illuminations and street performances.

I particularly love summer, when I head to the tennis grand slam tournament Australian Open and get to be part of that vibrant atmosphere.

SEE

We have one of the best galleries in the world, the National Gallery of Victoria (www.ngv.vic.gov.au), which is also the oldest and most-visited gallery in Australia. It has fantastically curated exhibitions of local and international art all year round. A few times a year, the museum holds its Friday Nights programme, where music acts and DJs perform while visitors enjoy drinks and explore galleries after hours.

Melbourne is said to be culturally split between the north and south sides of the Yarra River. The south is known for its beaches, nightlife and backpackers, while the north has the food, bar culture and hipsters. I love the north side - it has the best cafes and some iconic places, all within walking distance.

Fitzroy Pool (bit.ly/2HfiYN3) recreation centre is known for its iconic 50m outdoor heated pool, a favourite swimming spot in the summer. The centre, which you must pay to enter, also has an outdoor toddler pool, spa, sauna and steam room, gym and group fitness studio.

The 26ha Unesco World Heritagelisted Carlton Gardens, which house the Royal Exhibition Building and Melbourne Museum, are also in the north.

For the best views, the rooftops of Melbourne house amazing bars. My favourites include Siglo Bar (siglobar.com.au) and the Rooftop at QT Melbourne hotel (bit.ly/2Fn6bM3).

EAT

Like Singapore, Melbourne is a melting pot and food is at the heart of its culture.

For breakfast, Smith Street Alimentari (alimentari.com.au/smith-st) in Collingwood serves Australian classics with a Mediterranean twist, such as avocado and eggs on toast with dukkah, crispy bacon and roasted Jerusalem artichokes. It is a great spot to people-watch when you're sitting outside.

Barry (www.barrycoffeeandfood.com) in Northcote serves more modern breakfast fare, such as chilli scrambled eggs or a goats' cheese and lemon pea omelette, which are my go-tos, and ricotta hotcakes, which are a must for those with a sweet tooth.

You will find unbelievable Lebanese food at Abla's (www.ablas.com.au) in the Carlton neighbourhood. It feels like you're eating at a friend's mum's house when you're there. Don't skip the baba ganoush eggplant dip.

Geralds Bar (geraldsbar.com.au), a cosy bistro in Carlton North, has great wines and vibes and you instantly feel like a local.

Ms Frankie (msfrankie.com.au) in the Cremorne neighbourhood is famous for its housemade pasta. The staff are friendly, the place has a great atmosphere and the food speaks for itself. It has a killer duck ragu pappardelle and Aperol Spritz. Off Flinders Lane in the CBD, Tonka (www.tonkarestaurant.com.au) serves lovely modern Indian cuisine. In Flinders Lane, the lobster rolls at pan-Asian inspired Supernormal (supernormal.net.au/supernormal) are a must-try.

Tipo 00 (www.tipo00.com.au) - named for the type of flour used to make pasta - is a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant with limited seating. I love its truffle mushroom risotto special. And you probably have to book at least a month in advance to secure a table. However, if you head there just before it opens for lunch and lady luck is on your side, you might get in without a booking.

PLAY

I love the atmosphere at the Australian Open (ausopen.com). There's a reason it's called the Happy Slam. The grounds are fantastically done up, with so much to see, eat and drink that even if you get just a ground pass, without tickets to any major matches in the arena, you still feel very much like a part of the action.

Melbourne really puts on a show for international travellers in the summer, with events such as the Moonlight Cinema at the Royal Botanic Gardens (www.moonlight.com.au/melbourne/program) and the Night Noodle Markets, a festival of Asian hawker food in inner-city park Birrarung Marr.

Melbourne International Comedy Festival (www.comedyfestival.com.au) from March to April features Australia's best comedians.

St Jerome's Laneway Festival (melbourne.lanewayfestival.com) started in Melbourne and still has the best line-up.

Meredith Music Festival (mmf.com.au) takes place outside the city at Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre, the traditional lands of the Wathaurong Aboriginal community, near the town of Meredith.

Melbourne has so much more to offer than just activities in the city. I highly recommend renting a car to take several day trips or a weekend trip to the wine regions, hot springs, beaches or the Australian countryside.

An hour's drive north-west of the city is Daylesford, a spa region known for its mineral springs.

To the north-east, Yarra Valley (visityarravalley.com.au) is Victoria's most famous wine region. One of my favourite spots is Levantine Hill Estate (www.levantinehill.com.au), a winery with award-winning architecture and interior design and lovely wines. It also houses Ezard, a restaurant by renowned chef Teage Ezard. It's an hour's drive from Melbourne and never seems to be too busy, which I love.

To the south, Mornington Peninsula and Red Hill offer fantastic wineries next to beautiful beaches that are just a 11/2-hour drive from the city. I love Foxeys Hangout (www.foxeys-hangout.com.au) and Polperro (www.polperrowines. com.au) in Red Hill. Both are smaller wineries with great views and good food.

Continue down along the peninsula to the towns of Portsea and Sorrento for the perfect beach getaway. I also love Point Roadknight Beach in Anglesea, a 11/2-hour drive south-west of the city.

Head farther out into the countryside and drive up Mount Buller (www.mtbuller.com.au) for beautiful walks in the summer and skiing in winter.

SHOP

Melbourne boasts many talented Australian designers. Scanlan Theodore (www.scanlantheodore.com), Zimmermann (www.zimmer mannwear.com), Dion Lee (www. dionlee.com), Manning Cartell (www.manningcartell.com.au) and Bassike (www.bassike.com) are a few of my favourites.

Marais (www.marais.com.au), Harrolds (www.harrolds.com.au) and Christine (christineaccessories.com) are local high-end boutiques that curate luxury fashion extremely well. Incu (www.incu.com) is another well-curated boutique that has men's and women's collections.

For souvenirs, coffee makes the best gift. Every pocket of Melbourne hosts a coffee roaster or two, so bringing some beans back is a nice way to remember your trip every morning.

STAY

QT Melbourne (www.qthotelsandresorts.com/melbourne) is a chic industrial design-driven boutique hotel in the CBD.

Also in the CBD is Hotel Lindrum Melbourne (www.hotellindrum.com.au), an MGallery hotel by Sofitel.

The stylish 59-room boutique hotel is in a redbrick building which was formerly a warehouse, printing house and billiard centre.

Adelphi Hotel (www.adelphi.com.au) is another small contemporary boutique hotel ideally located in Flinders Lane.

GETTING THERE

Singapore Airlines flies direct to Melbourne at least four times a day.

Scoot, Qantas, Emirates and Jetstar also have direct flights.

TIPS

• As with any city, doing too much can leave you exhausted. Focus on making reservations at key food locations and then use the time in between to explore the city.

• Ten days is the ideal length of time to stay if you want to spend some time outside the city. The best time to visit to experience the most activities is between September and April.

• Melbourne is built around a grid, so it is easy to get around and find your way. You can rent bicycles around the city, walk or jump on one of the iconic city trams. But if you are heading to the countryside or the beach, I recommend renting a car.

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