Melbourne - Style Setting Central
The north easterly shores of Port Philip Bay are lined with the suburban sprawl of Melbourne, a city that prides itself on the pristine beaches spread along that border. Water is very much a feature of the modern and trendy Victorian capital which has its CBD situated on the banks of the wide Yarra River. From the CBD you can tell that Melbourne is a well planned city, as there is a strong feeling that everything is in its place. From this organisation has arisen distinctive precincts, each with their own unique characteristics and flavour. Within such diversity there is truly something for everyone in Melbourne, from upmarket and chic shopping boutiques to cafe-oriented arty regions to towering skyscrapers!

A starting off point for many visitors to the city is Federation Square. Melbourne is regarded as the cultural centre of Australia, a leading proponent of the arts and crafts industries. Many of the unique mix of attractions located near to Federation Square contribute to this reputation, with a number of museums, galleries and fine restaurants lying close at hand. The National Design Centre, the Australian Racing Museum and the Kirra Gallery are three of the most popular of these. The Kirra Gallery specialises in contemporary Australian glass, wood and sculpture, and has some of the finest works available in Australia today.

The two leading centres of arts and culture in Melbourne are the National Gallery of Victoria and the Melbourne Museum, and both are worth a visit for their unique displays and exhibitions. The NGV's collection of Australian art is unrivalled throughout the whole country, containing over 20 000 items of indigenous and non-indigenous art from past and present artists. It also hosts international touring exhibitions that add more diversity to the Gallery. The Museum similarly has a national and international focus, with exciting exhibitions that utilise modern technology to cover the natural and physical sciences and social history and culture. The incredibly large IMAX theatre is always a hit, showcasing movies in 3-D format, and the kids will love the dinosaur and Ancient Egypt exhibits.

Somewhat in contrast to the arts side of things, Melbourne also proclaims to be the sporting capital of Australia. The birthplace of Australian football and home to the Australian Tennis Open and the Australian Grand Prix, it is an easily justifiable claim! Whilst in the city pay a visit to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, one of the most revered homes of cricket in the world. It is historically significant as the place where the 1956 Olympics were held, and this heritage will be evident if you go on a guided tour through the stadium. On this tour you will also see the Cricketers Hall of Fame, paying tribute to the games heroes from the past and present. If you are lucky enough to be in town whilst a match is on, dont miss the opportunity to watch a real live game- its a rousing experience that will highlight for you the love for sports this city has.

An area of Melbourne that has become known as the citys playground is St Kilda, a beachside suburb that is as busy and hectic as it is laid back. With a bohemian air and a creative edge, this is the spot to come to experience some live music, dance parties or a dazzling array of cuisine from all over the world. The seminal theme park Luna Park, with its recognisable laughing clown entrance, is a great attraction for the kids, as is the long sandy beach that is safe for swimming. Acland Street is the main food precinct here, famous for its cake shops, but if its amazing views of the bay your after then head to the Upper Esplanade, where the views are complemented by the smooth sounds of numerous talented buskers.

As if the vibrant buzz of Melbourne isnt enough to fill your holiday, within an easy drive from the city there are a wealth of amazing attractions that are perfect for a driving holiday. Heading west you will find the amazing coastal drive known as the Great Ocean Road, where hundreds of kilometres of stunning views and geological features such as the Twelve Apostles are waiting to be discovered. Closer to town lie the lush Dandenong Ranges, the perfect holiday hideaway where you can expect thick forests, beautiful views and a wonderful sense of community. And just an hour south of the CBD is the Mornington Peninsula, a breezy region with a very Mediterranean feel to it.

If you have never been to Melbourne before, you can prepare to be blown away by this remarkable city. If you have visited it previously, then you will know exactly what I am talking about! There is enough going on here to fill a thousand holidays, and if that is before you hop into your hire car and start exploring the attractions nearby. A holiday to this part of the world will give you a new lease on life, and at the very least leave you relaxed and refreshed!

Gavin Wyatt

Magnolia Country Retreat is a romantic and charming bed and breakfast in the Upper Yarra Valley just an hours drive from Melbourne. It has some stunning views.

Olivers Creek Retreat is a boutique country retreat just under an hour from Melbourne on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula. Very tranquil and secluded.