The first thing you should do when you get to Melbourne is take a Lanes & Arcades tour. Don’t wait until your third visit as I did. It really is the perfect primer to this city where all the best things are down a laneway, up a flight of stairs, or even underground. The Hidden Secrets Tours team has devised a 3 hour loop through central Melbourne that is simply divine — choc full of information, history and some of the best shops in town. I spent the better part of the next day retracing our steps to get a closer look and of course, shop! I won’t give away all of the secrets, but here are some of the highlights I enjoyed most:
Maurais — Top flight french designers from Givenchy to Gaultier fill this upstairs space. Due to the reversed seasons down under, they were showing coats & woollens just as the warm weather was setting in, as they always have the most current collections on display.
Somewhere — Two flights up brings you to this sprawling, light filled store of casual menswear and just enough women’s goods to keep it interesting for her — like the scrumptious scarf I bought. Scandinavian and local designers alike at prices that are very accessible and well worth the climb.
The main arcade is not to be forgotten either. Two places of note:
Koko Black — The perfect place to stop for a chocolate treat be it truffles, hot chocolate or cold ice cream concoctions. The chili hot chocolate was one of the best I have ever had in Australia where hot chocolate tends to be less sweet than we Americans are used to. But this was perfect.
Spellbox — Here’s where things get a little fun or funky depending upon your point of view . . . Spellbox is one of those places that sells magical potions, spell books, crystal balls, enchanted mists, and is run by a self professed Witch. Most of it is a little bit much for me but they also offer psychic readings and that, I couldn’t resist. $50 for 30 minutes or $90 for an hour with one of 4 readers on staff. I opted for a 30 minute Tarot Card reading and let’s just say it was very interesting — spot on about details of my life that nobody would ever know. So much so, I was in a bit of a fog the rest of the day.
Oh, and I also couldn’t resist buying a love potion spell box as a gift for a friend 1) because it was cuter than cute with its Harry Potter spell book look and has everything she’ll need to summon love and 2) because you just never know if it might really work.
Do you believe?
DeGraves Street — I had dismissed this bustling alley full of outdoor seating cafes, as just another tourist location (and that it is) but take a closer look . . . there are some nice shops worth a gander and you’ll find some great grafitti art down one end as well, a Melbourne laneway staple.
Clementine’s — Just the sort of store you’d expect to find in a tourist thoroughfare but really well done. If you’re looking for something made in Melbourne for a souvenir or a gift, this is your store. Just look for the orange scooter parked curbside. Oh, and don’t miss the charming children’s bookshop right next door.
Below DeGraves Street (take the stairs next to the waffle stand) lies a functional pedestrian underpass that provides access to the train station without having to cross busy Flinders Street and is also home to alternative gallery space, the city’s best barista and more. Definitely worth a wander.
One of my favorite parts about Melbourne is its creative energy and the quirky bits of signage all about that invite you to partake, shout out a rule, or put a smile on your face after you’ve just climbed two flights of stairs to get to . . . Somewhere
While getting to know the CBD was my focus this trip, i signed myself up for another tour in a suburb just north of the city, The Carlton Food Tour by Melbourne Food Experiences. Led by Cameron Smith who hosts the longest running foodie radio show in Melbourne, we found our way to all the best local haunts tasting, sipping and chatting all along the way. Carlton is known as a touristy Little Italy portion of Melbourne but that’s not the Carlton I was interested in seeing and not the Carlton of this tour. What you do see are the mostly newer businesses featuring great food that have sprung up in recent years, making this part of town a foodie mecca. Don’t miss spots:
La Latteria, 104 Elgin Street — freshly made mozzarella cheese made from locally sourced milk and other assorted dairy favorites including fresh from the farm milk in glass bottles with cream on top and homemade yogurt.
Bezela Food Store, 104 Elgin Street — directly across the street is this charming little deli specializing in free range products & gourmet provisions. Sandwiches are made to order, prepared meals are sold by weight, meats & cheeses are the best you’ll find. Just the sort of place you’d want to pick up your fresh eggs.
Baker D Chirico, 178 Faraday Street — Not only THE place to get sour dough breads and the best bombolini (get there early!) in town but also the most published architect designed bakery in the world for its breadbasket inspired fit out juxtaposing traditional materials and contemporary thinking. The perfect setting for a tantalizing selection of artisan breads and pastries. Oh, and don’t miss the many flavors of nougat made on premises. Yummy!
Want a coffee with that? Right next door is Market Lane Coffee serving flat whites, long blacks, etc . . . right out their window. I’m not a coffee drinker but I did get a lesson in Aussie coffee lingo. All coffee is espresso based — no drip stuff here:
short black = basic espresso
long black = espresso plus hot water
flat white = espresso plus frothed milk
Menus still feature cappuccino and latte, too, but your guess is a good as mine on how to decipher those from the above.
D.O.C, 330 Lygon Street — Part of a growing empire of authentic Italian shops and eateries, this filled to the brim delicatessen offers imports straight from the mother country. Just next door is a trattoria so popular this single diner couldn’t get any service. Around the corner is their newest venture, a pizza spot quickly making every best of list in the city.
Il Dolce Freddo, 116 Lygon Street, requires a little walk past all the hawkers outside restaurant after restaurant on the more touristy end of Lygon Street. Don’t pay them any attention, just walk on by — what good quality restaurant needs a hawker anyway?
The owner of Il Dolce Freddo is a friendly woman serving very good homemade gelato and treating customers like family. What could be wrong with that?
Because no trip can be all eating and shopping, I did try to get in a little culture, as well, making my way to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) just a quick walk over the bridge on the south side of the Yarra River. Free to visitors (except special exhibitions) this impressive building houses international artworks and antiquities. (There is a counterpart featuring indigenous art in Federation Square.) I’m sorry to say that much of the museum was closed in preparation for a new exhibit being mounted — so no modern works, no tea room to be enjoyed. But the thing I most wanted to see was the stained glass ceiling by Leonard French. And it did not disappoint. Although if I’m honest, I didn’t love the room itself and preferred to view the suspended ceiling from the balconies on higher floors where the proximity to the explosion of colors was breathtaking.
Two last shops of note (I just get so excited when I find good places to shop):
Comme Des Garcons Pocket, 2 Rankins Lane, CBD — the exclusive home of Play products by Commes Des Garcons: t-shirts, sweatshirts, tennis shoes and perfume. That’s about it. The only problem is, it’s all so neatly folded & displayed it’s intimidating. But the salesgirl/owner makes you feel at ease. She used to work at or still does or maybe also owns Left — I never did get the full story but she sold me a coat and a pair of shoes once upon a time and I had just as much fun talking to her this time around, even without buying anything.
Somebuddy Loves You, 193 Smith Street, Fitzroy — Walked by before opening . . . spotted cute shoes in window . . . stopped back later . . . tried them on . . . debated about which color: ivory or navy . . . bought the navy. And the best part . . . they were 20% off, as was everything in the store in celebration of their 10th anniversary. How’s that for luck? Cute shop that stocks mostly New Zealand designers and American Denim. Plus, their shopping bags are super cute to boot!
That my friends, brings me to the end of my six days in Melbourne. Crammed full of goodness but there is still so much more of this city & surrounds yet to explore. Looks like there is going to have to be a next time . . .