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Melbourne skyline (Courtesy: Tourism Victoria)

Melbourne skyline (Courtesy: Tourism Victoria)

By Lena Katz

Melbourne: where leisure is a luxury … for everyone
As a girl who lives on the beach, I’m never head-over-heels to see more white sand. I like cities, especially the ones with character and architecture all their own, which is why I included Melbourne on my Australia vacation itinerary. Though its urban sprawl covers more square acreage than U.S. cities twice as populated — Australians don’t like to live on less than a half-acre — its city center is a colorful labyrinth of laneways sprouting more laneways, where tiny bars are tucked into corners and attics and rooftops.

Federation Square teems with milling tourists and locals hurrying toward the train station across the street. People stroll and bike the banks of the Yarra River whenever the weather permits. Outside the Queen Victoria Market, locals angle for tables twoblocks down the sidewalk, chatting and snacking without a care in the world, even at 2 p.m. on a Thursday. For anyone used to the typical 40-means-60-hour U.S. workweek, this spectacle is hard to comprehend. Aren’t these people supposed to be in offices? Maybe we can learn something from them.

Art Thrives in Australia
Being from Los Angeles, where people routinely humiliate, ignore and critically crucify “creative artists” in near-Darwinian style (only the strong become famous), it is heartwarming to see that Aussies take such loving care of their creative types. Indie bands, ethnic dance troupes, writers, artists and even cabaret performers are given a stage, an encouraging nod from the tourism authority and a spot in a local festival if it suits.

Melbourne is a particularly artsy city, that helps boost up-and-coming fashion designers (think San Francisco, Amsterdam or Barcelona) and tiny“mixology” bars, which can’t exist in Sydney because of prohibitive liquor licensing fees. Every week Melbourne welcomes a new festival or party; annual highlights include the Melbourne Fringe Festival, Moomba Waterfest, Melbourne International Film Festival and Melbourne International Arts Festival. It’s also the only city to have its own civic children’s art center, ArtPlay, located behind Federation Square and open to kids under age 13 only.

Yarra Valley (Courtesy: Tourism Victoria)

Yarra Valley (Courtesy: Tourism Victoria)

Wine Country is Everywhere
Wine connoisseurs ofevery level can find a lot to love about Australia … the first challenge being just to learn the various wine-producing regions and what they’re known for, because as any Aussie will tell you, “There’s no such thing as generic Australian Shiraz.” Australia is a vast wine country, with wine-producing regions from Tasmania to Queensland, and each region has its own heritage and its own set of challenges.

Barossa Valley is home to the oldest vines — some of its Shiraz vines were planted in the 1840s. Hunter Valley is probably the most touristy and romantic Australian wine country destination, with a name that garners respect from even the most self-involved Europeans and Californians. Adelaide is home to the Australian Wine Research Institute, a viticulture think tank on par with California’s UC Davis. The Yarra Valley and Tasmania are both up-and-coming cool climate regions, producing some outstanding Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and sparkling wines, but still struggling with everything from climactic conditions (brushfire is a huge problem) to branding challenges.

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Lena Katz is the author of SUN: California and SIP: California, part of the Travel Temptationsseries published by Globe Pequot Press.

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