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Melbourne's secret gem uncovered

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You know a city has made the cultural hotlist when it opens three art hotels in one year. Venues for connoisseurs to take curated tours and the rest of us to view original pieces from Australia’s best-loved artists, Melbourne’s Art Series hotels are made up of The Cullen (opened in November 2009), The Olsen, which opened in April, and brand new launch The Blackman, complete with magnificent views across Albert Park

Stylist decided to test out The Olsen with its sundeck and glassbottomed pool perched above the fashionable Chapel Street, where the city’s elite browse boutiques. Our hip, neutral bedroom, designed around the abstract work of native artist John Olsen was adorned with stacks of art books, and is the perfect high-culture base to explore a city fast replacing Sydney as the top city break destination for Australians.

True, Melbourne lacks a postcard landmark but it is a city buzzing with counterculture and hidden gems. Original art from Platform Artist Group scatters the subways while over in the Central Business District, local stores and independent cafes spill from every side street. Stylist spent five days in Melbourne, and every morning, after sharply dressed baristas poured us the perfect Aussie ‘flat white’ coffees, we explored the city’s ‘laneways’ (narrow streets bustling with tiny stores and cafes) – one day opting for a Hidden Secrets tour past designer boutiques such as Green With Envy, and pop-up shops nestling in historic buildings such as the old city bank. Take a short hop north on the tram and you’re in Brunswick Street (the best place to find vintage gems), while quaint St Kilda offers a beachy retreat just a few minutes’ stroll away.

Why it’s hot: Few places can offer such a unique city break as Melbourne. Lush valleys and the coast are close by and wine tasting in the Yarra Valley is 45 minutes by car. Stylist hired a chauffeur and learned how to make shiraz with a ninth-generation French winemaker (dominiqueportet.com).

South of the city, the gorgeous countryside of the Mornington Peninsula is best explored on a three-hour Horseback Winery Tour (£68, horsebackwinerytours.com.au). It only took a couple of tasting stops before we were riding like professionals (we thought). Afterwards, Stylist embraced the Peninsula Hot Springs with its state-of-the-art bathhouse and outdoor spa. Built into the surrounding countryside, it’s the perfect way to unwind after riding.

Food and drink: Melbourne is making a name for itself with restaurants recreating international cuisine using fresh local produce. Movida, the city’s best-loved tapas restaurant, stacks up sharing plates of hot chorizo and spicy patatas bravas and for top end dining, Vue Du Monde in the Central Business District offers gastronomy that would make Marcus Wareing blush. If degustation is your thing, look no further than their five- or 10-course taster menu which takes you on a journey through food served with bright-flavoured foams.

After dark, head to Melbourne’s famous rooftop bars. Siglo in the business district offers cocktails and stunning views across the lit-up city. For those who prefer a sea view, Republica in St Kilda attracts a trendy clientele for drinks on the beach by night.

Photo opportunity: For the ultimate panorama of Melbourne’s coastline, take to the sky with Balloon Sunrise (£195, hotairballooning.com.au). Stylist avoided vertigo with a flight at dawn, and was in the skies in time to watch the sun rise over Port Phillip Bay.

A standard double at an Art Series Hotel is $589 (£365; artserieshotels.com.au). Stylist flew courtesy of Qatar Airways, which operates the fastest and most convenient route from London to Melbourne with a scheduled flight time of just 21 hours 40 minutes. Return economy fares to Melbourne start from £833 from London including taxes, and £3,430 for business class return. For more information, see visitmelbourne.com/uk

Words: Hazel Sheffield

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