Sunday, March 3, 2024

Paris Out of the Question Right Now? Here’s The Very Next Best Thing – & It’s Only A Short Hop Away

Sick of all your friends’ insta pics of Paris? If France is out of your reach right now, we have an incredible alternative – for a much cheaper price tag (and you’ll be there in just a few hours!)…

Has there ever been a longer, wetter, greyer winter?! Ever been a winter made all the more hellish by having come off the back of a summer that never was? 2023 has been one for the books. So, while I genuinely am very happy for them all, I’ve come dangerously close to throwing my phone out the window when I’ve opened up Instagram and seen yet another, sun-kissed, aperol drenched shot of someone living their best life in Europe.

But, if like me, the closest you’ve got to France this year is with a Nespresso Paris capsule and the (oops, quite justified) rage of a Frenchman who you accidentally cut off in peak hour traffic, I have some good news. While Paris may be out of reach for us this year, I’ve found us one hell of a good replacement.

While I can’t promise you the sunny skies I had for my stay (and, look, it was still sitting below 20 degrees, so you won’t be able to show off your tan on Insta), I can promise you that you’ll be able to experience the authentic tastes, smells and sights – aaaaand you can be there in just a few hours.

I’m talking about Melbourne – the new Paris down-under.

On a gorgeous little two-night stay, I found all the best places to eat, sleep and visit that truly made me feel like I’d been transported across the globe (just without the dreaded jetlag to contend with!).

Here’s my top recommendations for a weekend getaway:

EAT

Lune Croissanterie

To eat a world-class croissant, you needn’t fly to Paris – in fact, according to many, the best of the best can actually be found in Australia. Lune has been touted as the home of the best in the world – that’s according to chef Yotam Ottolenghi who said, “this is the croissant that should act as the protoype for all others.” The New York Times also described the Lune classic croissant, “with its holy balance of buttery heft and feathery flake, may be the finest you will find anywhere in the world.”

The Lune Croissanteries (based in the CBD, Armadale and Fitzroy) certainly smell like heaven, with a queue that stretches out the door – so make sure you get up early for this one, particularly if you’d like to try several different choices! Because besides her mouthwateringly good classic version, there’s familiar pain au chocolats and ham & gruyere croissants to try, as well as an array of surprising and tantalising treats, from a cheese & vegemite escargot to a lemon curd cruffin (utilising a pastry which founder Kate Reid invented and is now used across the world).

The experience is truly out of this world witchcraft, but founder Kate Reid says it’s less magic and wizardry, and more ‘perfect science’ that’s behind her delicious creations. Formerly a Formula 1 engineer (Kate studied aerospace engineering at RMIT University) Kate says it’s all about getting the very best ingredients (her butter is shipped in from France), being methodical, patient and precise – and if you do so, it’s reflected in perfect results.

My advice is to arrive hungry and arrive early! Oh, and a tip I learned from Kate? When you’re tucking into her crosisants (or any ultra fresh ones for that matter), try not to eat them by breaking them apart with your fingers, like everyone does in the movies. Apparently that squishes and disturbs all those layers she’s so lovingly created. Instead, for the best taste, just pick it up whole and take a bite! Bon appetit!

Reine & La Rue

It’s currently one of Melbourne’s culinary hot spots, and when you walk through the impressive front doors, it doesn’t take long to understand why. Reine & La Rue not only delivers breath-taking food, but jaw dropping surroundings. Housed in ‘The Cathedral Room’ the heritage listed space was once Melbourne’s original stock exchange, with towering granite pillars leading to a grandiose, gothic-style limestone ceiling.

Yet somehow, within the cavernous cathedral, there’s a sense of intimacy and warmth – and one hell of a menu. There’s a separate oyster and caviar menu, with standouts on the entrée menu including the simple saucisson & radish, and the tuna tartare, anchovy and potato galette. The whole fish, or mud crab brandade are brilliant choices for main, but you really can’t go past the extensive steak choices from the woodfired grill, that the restaurant has fast become famous for.

To round out your meal, I suggest you go for the soft serve – which no, maybe doesn’t jump off the menu in the same way as the salted honey petit choux with quince and white chocolate does. But believe me, it is insanely delicious. The Jersey milk soft serve is accompanied by roasted hazelnuts and extra virgin olive oil, giving it the perfect salty-sweet deliciousness that will see you finishing the dish, even though you swore you were filled to the brim and couldn’t possibly eat another mouthful. Divine.

DO

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

A visit to Melbourne’s Regent Theatre is a treat in itself – with a ornate, palatial gothic-style lobby that then leads into a grand Louis XVI style auditorium. It makes for the perfect location for the hottest ticket in town – to the stage show, Moulin Rouge! The Musical.

Having been a fan of the Baz Luhrmann movie, and all of its beautiful chaos, I headed along figuring it would be a pretty straight theatre version of that. But instead, I was completely surprised and blown away by the show, which was somehow like being transported right inside a bigger, funnier, more beautiful and chaotic version of the film.

And what was truly a standout, was the music.

I had no real idea of what to expect of the show, but, was a fan of the Baz Luhrmann movie and all its beautiful chaos when it came out. The stageshow, is somehow like being right inside an even bigger, better, funnier, more chaotic and more beautiful version of the film. There’s more than 70 songs in the show, that span over 160 years of music – covering the ideals of truth, beauty, freedom and love. They’re all creatively brought to life in surprising ways – sometimes mashed together in the most unique way with very unexpected other pieces of music. A stand-out is definitely a very different rendition of Lorde’s Royals, which is paired with Fun’s We Are Young.

Now on its return season to Melbourne, the show has been playing to sell-out crowds across Australia and really is a must-see – it alone is worth heading across the ditch for.

Tickets are available for performances up to December 31.

Pierre Bonnard at NGV

After you’ve immersed yourself in the chaotic beauty of a fictional romance at the Moulin Rouge, take another look back at the time, through the eyes of renowned French artist, Pierre Bonnard.

Currently on at the National Gallery of Victoria, this unique exhibition is simply exquisite. Designed by India Mahdavi, it is a feast for the eyes, with the art works presented in creative, spellbinding ways – full of colour, striking patterns and installations. There are no vast white walls with a single canvas on display – the artworks are presented amongst a flurry of colourful backdrops, with window cut outs leading to more colourful rooms, dressed with spectacular carpets and bright furniture. The unique styling has received a few complaints, but as I learned during a walk-through, this is exactly how the artists imagined their work being presented. If you look at the paintings that show a snapshot of life, captured in their homes, the walls are filled with wild wallpaper designs, against patterened curtains, sofas, cushions, and, of course, the artworks on their walls.

The exhibit follows the life and times of Pierre from his early days as a student – when he often frequented the Moulin Rouge with his university friends – through finding a great (although unconventional) love, as well as fortune and success as an artist.

I found it completely spellbinding. And, if you’re in Melbourne on a Friday night, a great way to take it in is through NGV Nights, where the gallery is open from 6pm to browse, with live music playing and food stalls to enjoy.

SLEEP

Le Méridien Melbourne

With so much going on during a trip to Melbourne, you need a comfy place to retreat, to put up your aching feet and get good night’s sleep. To continue on with the French theme, look no further than the brand new Le Méridien – a five star taste of France, right in the CBD. The 12-storey hotel is located on Bourke Street, just a few steps from Parliament Square, with a tram stop right outside the hotel’s doors. Melbourne is such an easy – and delightful – city to stroll through and take in the sites, but when your arches start aching, the tram is a godsend, easily taking you to all the local sites (including the NGV and Lune St Kilda!) – plus, tramrides within the heart of the CBD are free of charge.

Inside the Le Méridien you’ll find fab views across the skyline, a heated pool, and luxurious Parisian styled rooms, complete with dreamy king-sized beds, deep baths, and, of course, fabulous (and complimentary!) in-room espresso options.

Alice was a guest of Visit Victoria

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