Laneways spring to life

Once out-of-sight tracks, the now bustling ar­eas bring global beat

Life & Style Weekend - - TRAVEL - with Ann Rickard The writer was a guest at Fraser Place.

FOR a fren­zied minute there I thought I was in Bangkok.

The laneway was so packed with peo­ple it was shoul­der-to-shoul­der shuf­fle. And the tan­ta­lis­ing smell of food was ev­ery­where: pun­gent gar­lic, roast meats, rich cof­fee.

Then there were the ta­bles on the nar­row foot­path, dan­gling pre­car­i­ously onto the laneway, crammed with peo­ple sip­ping beer and eat­ing noo­dles.

The queues to squeeze into hole-in-the-wall ea­ter­ies were long and pa­tient. In­side peo­ple sat on crates at tiny ta­bles, brush­ing against each other ev­ery time they sipped or slurped.

But it wasn’t Bangkok. Nor was it Hong Kong or Sin­ga­pore. It was Mel­bourne. Once staid, now so eclec­tic and hip it al­most hurts.

We were do­ing a self-guided walk­ing tour of Mel­bourne’s now cel­e­brated laneways, once out-of-sight tracks that served as back en­trances to prop­er­ties fac­ing big streets, now re­vi­talised to bring a global-city beat to Mel­bourne.

We be­gan at Fed­er­a­tion Square with a map that took us first down Hosier Lane with its colour­ful street art and hun­dreds of tourists (in­clud­ing us) tak­ing self­ies in front of the vi­brant walls.

We had been in Hosier Lane just five min­utes be­fore we dipped into MoVida Span­ish restau­rant, all warm wood and soft lights and wel­com­ing tapas, where a glass of pink Span­ish wine and plate of salt-cod cro­quettes had us declar­ing it to be our favourite restau­rant on earth.

But we had many a lane to do, so it was quickly back into the throng. Next, De­graves St with its cafe so­ci­ety and juice-bar vibe, where the hiss of the espresso ma­chines has re­placed the noise of Wil­liam De­graves’ steam flour mill that pumped away in the 1850s.

After that, into Cen­tre Place, and this is where the Bangkok buzz over­whelmed us. We squeezed through the masses, stop­ping at the Soup Kitchen where the pay-it-for­ward phi­los­o­phy lets you make a small do­na­tion to have your name put on a post-it note on the wall for a home­less per­son to later come by and en­joy a hot mug of spicy Moroc­can chicken soup or Mid­dle East­ern meat­balls.

After that good deed, it was up some dodgy stairs to Hell’s Kitchen to catch our breath over a glass of pinot gris and look down at the crush of the pass­ing throng.

We had based our­selves at Fraser Place in Ex­plo­ration Lane, a bou­tique prop­erty within a few foot­steps of ev­ery­thing fab­u­lous that Mel­bourne of­fers. No need to get the car out. Fraser Place stu­dios and apart­ments have full kitchen fa­cil­i­ties (not that you’d want to cook with all that cui­sine out­side) and make the per­fect sanc­tu­ary after the fran­tic pace of the city streets.

A rooftop ter­race to take your own drinks gives panoramic city views and a charm­ing do­mes­tic touch with pots of herbs flour­ish­ing up in the sky. Front desk staff will give you step-by-step in­struc­tions to get to some of the more hid­den lanes and anony­mous bars, ob­vi­ously de­lighted to share Mel­bourne’s se­crets and myr­iad charms.

In­dige­nous art through­out the ho­tel re­laxes de­spite its vi­brancy. We es­pe­cially loved the spa­cious bath­room with its L’Oc­c­i­tane prod­ucts, and, a re­lief, no tech­nol­ogy re­quired to work the shower, as is so of­ten the case in new prop­er­ties. Just a sim­ple on/off tap and a high-pres­sure shower at a per­fect tem­per­a­ture.

We could have spent a week dis­cov­er­ing more lanes, even though we felt sat­is­fied with our time in the beau­ti­ful 19th cen­tury Block Ar­cade, the el­e­gant Royal Ar­cade and the bustling Hard­ware Lane with its cob­bled stones and cafe um­brel­las and spe­cialty shops.

Never be­fore had we felt so alive in Mel­bourne even though we lived there for many decades in the past.

PHOTOS: GE­OFF RICKARD

The street art in Mel­bourne's laneways is a big tourist attraction, and (be­low) Ann Rickard en­joys the rooftop ter­race at Fraser Place in Mel­bourne.

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