AUS­TRALIA: THE CAP­I­TAL OF COOL

This po­lit­i­cal hub is now known for its hot ho­tels, mu­se­ums and gal­leries.

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY ALENEY DE WIN­TER

The po­lit­i­cal hub of Can­berra is now known for its hot ho­tels, mu­se­ums and gal­leries.

The na­tion’s cap­i­tal was once con­sid­ered Aus­tralia’s least ex­cit­ing city, out­shone by its sparkling so­cialite sib­lings, Syd­ney and Mel­bourne. Much ma­ligned, Can­berra was lam­basted as be­ing de­void of soul and not much more than a hold­ing pen for bu­reau­crats and politi­cians. But while the rest of Aus­tralia was dis­tracted by its own shiny re­flec­tion, and the melo­dra­matic an­tics of Par­lia­ment, Can­berra qui­etly got on with be­com­ing cool.

So much so that the Aus­tralian cap­i­tal has been named the best place in the world to live by the OECD (Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment) mul­ti­ple times over the last few years – the mod­er­a­tors clearly un­der the in­flu­ence of the city’s great cof­fee, cul­ture and cui­sine.

Can­berra now boasts some of Aus­tralia’s edgi­est de­signer ho­tels, ground­break­ing art ex­hi­bi­tions and the­atri­cal per­for­mances, with­out doubt the best mu­seum col­lec­tion in the coun­try, and more hip­sters in­hab­it­ing its ur­ban sprawl than politi­cos.

So what por­tal did all these hip and groovy things sud­denly spring out of? Per­son­ally, I would haz­ard a guess that it’s lo­cated some­where in the vicin­ity of Brad­don.

Just a few min­utes’ walk from the city cen­tre, Brad­don is the epi­cen­tre of Can­berra’s cool. The for­mer in­dus­trial area boasts an ever-chang­ing shop­ping and foodie precinct with pop-up de­signer stores, ul­tra cool op shops and on-trend de­signer fash­ion and home ware stores. At the heart of this hip­ster haven is Lons­dale Street, where along with the quirky stores, you’ll find in­cred­i­ble on-trend cafes and a restau­rant scene that has so in­spired the lo­cals that it ap­pears to have spawned and spread through­out the city.

Chic Eats

Can­berra’s food scene is mak­ing peo­ple sit up and take no­tice with cool cli­mate vine­yards, be­spoke mi­cro­brew­eries, edgy restau­rants and bars, along with en­claves of ef­fort­lessly cool pop-up eater­ies and kale-ob­sessed cafés that would warm the heart of even the ar­dently hip.

In Brad­don it­self, you’ll find cof­fee roast­ers do­ing their brew­ing and cafes serv­ing up sen­sa­tional sea­sonal food with a twist. There are de­signer burg­ers at Grease Mon­key, the fa­mous ‘freak­shakes™’ (ridicu­lously over­loaded pret­zel-clad milk­shakes) at Patis­sez, Cen­tral Amer­i­can-style snacks and share plates at Elk & Pea, and pa­leo of­fer­ings at El­e­men­tal. And if you’ve worked up a thirst you’ll find ev­ery­thing from be­spoke beers and ciders at the Ben­tSpoke Brew­ing Co. to mas­ter­ful mar­ti­nis at Knights­bridge Pent­house.

But Brad­don doesn’t have the mo­nop­oly on chic eats in Can­berra. The ul­tra cool NewAc­ton precinct, along­side Lake Bur­ley Grif­fin, is an­other in­no­va­tive cul­tural precinct. At its heart is the award-win­ning pineap­ple-shaped Nishi build­ing

and quite pos­si­bly the hippest ho­tel in Aus­tralia, Ho­tel Ho­tel. It is within its funky fold that you’ll find Mon­ster kitchen and bar, which is cap­ti­vat­ing Can­ber­ran taste­buds with its in­ven­tive share-plate-based menu and out­stand­ing wine list. Močan & Green Grout is an­other of the precinct’s stand­outs serv­ing up shared dishes in­spired by world cook­ing tra­di­tions.

The Capi­tol Bar and Grill at QT Can­berra is the place for a stylish sup­per. And A.Baker is an un­usual com­bi­na­tion of ar­ti­san bak­ery and wine bar that is al­ways pop­u­lar with the lo­cals. Par­lour Wine Room, Lucky’s Speakeasy and un­der­ground Black Mar­ket are also ex­cel­lent spots to be­gin or end your evening.

Else­where in Can­berra there is Ak­iba, a buzzy pop-Asian venue in Civic, that is the place to see and be seen. We also love Morks, an edgy, mod­ern Thai restau­rant that has ac­quired a cult-like fol­low­ing and the Euro-French fab­u­lous­ness of Pulp Kitchen at Ainslie. Then there are the long time din­ing dar­lings in­clud­ing my per­sonal favourites, Chair­man & Yip, now in Bar­ton, and the re­cently re­fur­bished, two-hat­ted Aubergine, which just im­proves with age.

Art Beat

A lit­tle un­der­ground and qui­etly funky, Can­berra is a young city that has brushed off its staid rep­u­ta­tion to be­come the na­tion’s arty new cool kid, pop­u­lated by peo­ple from all over the coun­try who not only know much about art but most def­i­nitely know what they like.

The Na­tional Gallery of Aus­tralia boasts the world’s largest col­lec­tion of Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der art­works on dis­play as well as block­buster in­ter­na­tional ex­hi­bi­tions that are enough rea­son to jus­tify a visit on their own. The Can­berra Mu­seum and Gallery is home to the Foun­da­tion Col­lec­tion of Sir Sid­ney Nolan’s paint­ings. From Nick Cave to Ned Kelly, the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery’s col­lec­tion of por­traits of the great, good, and not so good Aus­tralians who have shaped the na­tion is an­other cap­ti­vat­ing space for art lovers.

But a thriv­ing lo­cal arts scene means there’s also an abun­dance of con­tem­po­rary cul­ture and artistic ex­pres­sion on dis­play. Some of the best gal­leries are Beaver Gal­leries, ANCA Gallery, Can­berra Con­tem­po­rary Art Space, M16 Artspace, and Nishi Gallery, each boast­ing ex­hi­bi­tions of world-class art and de­sign. You’ll also find some im­pres­sive works by the city’s tal­ented street artists in the city and in Brad­don laneways and back al­leys.

Can­berra’s art scene tran­scends its gal­leries and is also renowned for its live arts events. When it comes to per­form­ing arts, the Can­berra Theatre Cen­tre is the cap­i­tal’s cre­ative hub, with a busy sched­ule of world-class lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional per­for­mances staged in the cen­tre’s theatre, play­house seat­ing and stu­dio. And if you’re look­ing for edgier con­tem­po­rary per­for­mances, head to The Street Theatre for bold the­atri­cal works.

Hip Ho­tels

Nowhere in Aus­tralia has em­braced the trend for chic and unique de­sign ho­tels quite like Can­berra, with the Na­tional Cap­i­tal boast­ing some of the hippest digs in the land.

Quite pos­si­bly Aus­tralia’s coolest digs, Ho­tel Ho­tel is hip­ster heaven. Lo­cated in the heart of NewAc­ton in the much­vaunted Nishi build­ing, a struc­ture win­ning de­sign awards and praise world wide for its eco-ar­chi­tec­ture and green de­sign. The 68-room ho­tel is ex­tra­or­di­nary, and ev­ery nook is packed with an­tiques and unique art.

This is a ho­tel that is all about de­sign. Think con­crete, cork board, clay ren­dered walls and low light­ing, co­hab­it­ing with com­fort­able soft fur­nish­ings, care­fully cu­rated art­works and sur­real sal­vaged ob­jects to cre­ate a warm and wel­com­ing space.

Not far from Ho­tel Ho­tel, you’ll find the too cool for school QT Can­berra. With its art­ful dé­cor, pri­vate rooftop mem­bers’ lounge, hid­den bar and ir­rev­er­ent at­ti­tude, it’s a big hit with Can­berra’s it crowd. Spa­cious rooms are kit­ted out in de­signer style with free WiFi, Malin+Goetz ameni­ties, a Ne­spresso ma­chine to keep you caf­feinated for those all-im­por­tant back-room deals, along with all the mod cons a savvy wheeler and dealer could de­sire. There is even a gen­tle­man’s bar­ber­shop, where fash­ion­ably hir­sute gen­tle­men can coif their manly beards and dap­per ‘dos.

East Ho­tel, within easy reach of the city’s most fash­ion­able neigh­bour­hoods, is an­other slick bou­tique ho­tel, with funky art-driven dé­cor and a wel­com­ing Euro­pean vibe. The atrium style lobby is a thing of funky beauty with its fleet of push­bikes for guests, me­dia bench and jars of old school lol­lies. Rooms are loaded up with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy and the ho­tel even man­ages to make trav­el­ling with kids ap­pear hip, with its two bed­room apart­ments that in­ter­con­nect with a ‘kids cubby’ com­plete with bunk beds, an Xbox 360 and bean­bags. When it’s time to dine, join the throngs at the ho­tel’s hip new restau­rant, Agos­ti­nis, with its pink neon, leop­ard print and sub­lime North Ital­ian cui­sine, or pop in to neigh­bour­ing Joe’s Bar for rosé on tap.

Can­berra’s wildest ac­com­mo­da­tion has to be Ja­mala Wildlife Lodge. Here, you can sleep with a chee­tah or bathe along­side a bear in one of five ul­tra lux­u­ri­ous African-themed bun­ga­lows that front en­clo­sures at Can­berra’s Na­tional Zoo and Aquar­ium. If you like your ac­com­mo­da­tion with bite, Ushaka Lodge of­fers seven lux­u­ri­ous rooms, a shark tank and a pri­vate pool and spa. And if it’s loftier heights of lux­ury you seek, one of the gi­raffe tree houses where guests can feed Gi­raffes di­rect from their bal­cony should do the trick. Don’t miss the ex­cel­lent African-in­spired fine din­ing in The Cave, where you’ll dine along­side lions, safely sep­a­rated by glass, of course. •

Open­ing im­age: Ho­tel Ho­tel’s foyer and grand stair­case is quite some­thing. From right to be­low: Mar­i­tozzo Con Ge­lato at Agos­ti­nis in East Ho­tel;

The Abo­rig­i­nal Memo­rial at the Na­tional Gallery of Aus­tralia, Can­berra.

Clock­wise from top left: A sculp­ture in the NewAc­ton precinct;

Ja­mala Wildlife Lodge; Jerusaleum ar­ti­chokes at Mon­ster kitchen and bar, © Lee Grant.

From left to be­low: Graf­fiti in NewAc­ton, © Belinda Prat­ton, Visit Can­berra; QT Can­berra.

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