This WINTER, Paris is just 2 Hours away

WORDS: Phil Hawkes PHOTOGRAPHY Supplied

Hands up if you were planning a trip to Europe this year. London? Italy? Perhaps Paris?

The chances are not looking too great at the moment and many of us are already actively scouring the internet and travel agencies for 2022 deals. There’s lots on offer, including cruises to everywhere on the planet and Virgin Galactic to the ozone layer. But the good news is that Paris will make a brief appearance in Oz this year…in Melbourne. Here’s how you can get a petit taste of France this year, just two hours away instead of the usual 24-plus…plus a cool change instead of muggy European heat.

Arts Centre Melbourne


From August you’ll be able to enjoy Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! The Musical at the Regent Theatre, with a star-studded cast bringing the famous movie to real life on stage. And around Melbourne’s famous laneways or the Sofitel Hotel nearby, you can bet there’ll be plenty of crepes and croissants on offer. Can’t wait till August? There’s still a chance to catch Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on stage at the Princess Theatre, not exactly French but the universal forces of good and evil are certainly on display in this blockbuster production over 5 hours in two sessions. Formidable!, as the French say.

A major Melbourne event is at the NGV: French Impressionism from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This features over 100 masterworks by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and others including 79 that have never been exhibited before in Australia. If art galleries are your passion, you might also catch the current Australian Impressionists  exhibition at the NGV’s Ian Potter (not Harry Potter) Gallery in Federation Square, the city’s lively meeting spot opposite Flinders St. station.

French Impressionism Renoir at NGV

French Impressionism Van Gogh at NGV

If this is not enough, particularly if you have teens in tow, a visit to ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) at Fed Square is not to be missed. There are so many innovative, engaging and interactive exhibits that some visitors have known to be there from morning till politely asked to leave at closing time. An air of excitement is apparent because from May to October the Walt Disney Animation exhibition takes you behind the scenes featuring over 500 extraordinary artworks selected especially for ACMI. There’s also a magic digital card system called Lens you can take home and then watch your favourite exhibits again.


Foodies often head to Paris for their culinary kicks…but Melbourne is a wee bit closer and many (except Sydney acolytes) would agree that it’s Australia’s top food destination. French and Paris-inspired restaurants abound, from haute cuisine to bistro-style and gastro pubs…here are a few suggestions: French fare.  There’s also the buzzy Bar Margaux, or if you see a French poodle being walked, ask its owner where they both like to eat. If that’s not enough Frenchness for the day, hurry on down to Paris Cat jazz club for some cool sounds.

Bar Margaux


The French have a phrase for it: Lechez les vitrines…literally, “licking the windows”. In case this sounds dubious during Covid times, don’t worry. It means “window shopping” and a great way to do this is with Fashion by Foot, walking tours which introduce you to small independent boutiques and designers, hosted by a personal style specialist. Hosts Donna and Briar say “it’s a fun day, a chance to meet like-minded people in a small group, to look at beautifully crafted, ethically made goods in special and unique parts of this great city, like Fitzroy and Carlton.”


There are some new and interesting hotels, particularly in the boutique category, that have sprung up during the lockdowns and are now raring to go.  Ovolo South Yarra is a notable addition to this fashionable precinct well known for its Chapel St shopping strip and the Prahran market now coming alive again. The hotel, on Toorak Road, has quickly established itself as a major culinary destination with Lona Misa restaurant and a vegetarian menu that been described by food writer Kat Johnston as “most enjoyable veggie/vegan in Melbourne, with a wine list to match”. Rooms are typical Ovolo-style, with quirky décor, free mini bar, free loot bag, superspeed wifi, social hour, 24 hour gym, pool table and more. Book direct and get 30% off best available rate, offsite parking $25 per 24 hour day.

Ovolo Lona Misa Food

In the CBD close to Spencer St. station is the Quincy Hotel bringing life to the uptown Flinders Lane area. This place is a real find. It’s a new build, with a colourful approach to design elements and an informal restaurant, Salted Egg which has a great selection of spicy South Asian delights…the Quincy brand has its origins in Singapore and we can expect to see more of these in Australia. The laneways theme is also prevalent in public areas and rooms with views over the river, plus a 29th floor lap pool and gym. There’s a snazzy 28th floor lounge/bar, The Q, with cocktails and small plates on offer. Quincy team members are called Q-Rators, well trained to handle any request. From $215; 20% off if booked direct. Onsite undercover parking available for $30 per 24 hour day.

Quincy Hotel Melbourne Room

Salted Egg Restaurant at Quincy

Nearer to Flinders St. station is the Vibe Melbourne which opened in 2020 but is now thriving on the influx of interstate guests looking for great value accommodation in the CBD, close to sporting and cultural events. Most rooms overlook the Yarra River toward the Dandenongs and, unusually for a modern hotel, guest rooms are well lit! Excellent breakfast menu (try pannacotta with fresh berries, or poached eggs on field mushrooms) and good coffee; the service team go out of their way to assist with such small tasks as tying a bow tie for an incompetent guest (me) and carrying luggage to the street.  Gourmet Delight Package – book direct and save 10% off a fully flexible room rate, receive free self-parking nearby and enjoy a complimentary bottle of wine and gourmet cheese platter on arrival. Till 31 July.

Another recent arrival in the 5 star category is W Hotel Melbourne in uptown Flinders Lane. This is a spectacular new building, with brand owners Marriott heavily involved in the architecture and design; clever emphasis on local features such as the city’s laneways is seen in the striking lobby installation. This is a truly luxurious addition to the local hotel scene: creative cuisine at Lollo restaurant curated by top chef Adam D’Sylva and the already-popular underground Curious cocktail bar are very Melbourne indeed. There’s a large pool area called WET (naturally) and a well-equipped gym if you’re that way inclined. Currently, if booking a suite there’s the 24/7 Rebels Package that gives you up to $200 credit to spend around the hotel, depending on which suite you book.

W Hotel Melbourne Room

And if you really want to experience Gallic charm without the travel, at the Paris end of Collins Street you’ll find a touch of France at Accor’s well-known Sofitel Melbourne where everything is 5 star…plush rooms with spectacular views over the city, sophisticated restaurant No35 and Sofi’s lounge bar, plus proximity to stylish shopping and theatre land.


It’s sometimes a breath of fresh air, literally, to get out of the urban jungle for a few days and if you’re a wine lover there are some great cool climate regions to explore within a 3 hour drive from the city. Of course there’s the well known Mornington Peninsula and the Yarra Valley, but why not get away from the crowds to somewhere new?

Delatite Winery, Mansfield focusses on the new trend to organic and biodynamic wines, which by the way are vegan friendly and absolutely delicious. David Ritchie of the founding family (1968) puts it this way: “We believe in very natural grape growing and winemaking; no artificial fertilisers, chemicals, additives, fining agents and use only natural yeasts. It’s a very simple recipe; all about our climate, our soils, and our grapes. We’re now rated as a Five Red Star winery by James Halliday”. Taste the chardonnay, pinot noir, cab merlot, rose and even a gewurztraminer among other varieties; the Summit Club offers big discounts to members. Note: there’s a brand new restaurant and new cellar door to add further temptation.

Mount Terrible Winery, Jamieson in this picturesque village was described by author Neville Shute as “the best place to wait for the end of the world”. After 15 years of trials at his virgin vineyard, ex-UK doctor John Eason made good on his ambition to produce a pinot noir in the style of the great French Burgundies…and succeeded with a shelf of trophies and James Halliday awarding 97 points for the 2015 vintage. If the end of the world is indeed nigh, you’d better grab a couple of cases now… they’re not so terrible at all!

Mt Terrible Vineyard, Jamieson

Mount Avoca Winery, north-west of Melbourne in an area oddly called the Pyrenees (but far from France) is a real find. Owner Matthew Barry is proud of 50 years of family tradition and innovation and the certified organic wines made here by acknowledged winemaker, David Darlow, set the standard for cool climate wines anywhere in Australia. The benefits of small yields from superlative fruit shine through every variety, including the usual shiraz, chardonnay, merlot and  beyond to alternatives like a beautiful viognier (my favourite), tempranillo, fume blanc and lagrein among others…a tasting treat awaits. Do not plan on driving back to the city…stay overnight or more in an eco-luxe lodge on the property and submit to the pleasures of a day or three doing the Pyrenees Farm Gate trail, including a number of other great wineries.

Mount Avoca Picnic Lunch