First I fell in love with the boy, and then I fell in love with his hometown. Hobart is just so cute and charming and, yes, cheap compared to Sydney. We were just in Hobart a few weeks ago, but unfortunately not under pleasant circumstances... Michael's dad had a stroke. Even though we spent our time in the hospital, we did get out for a walk or a coffee and we relished the fresh air and friendliness of the locals. (And yes, it's been quiet around here lately partly because of sudden frantic travel). Every time we visit, we wonder whether we could make the move down to that tiny southern island. For now, though, I'll have to be content writing about it for the likes of Conde Nast Traveller, where this story appeared in the Middle East edition. Here's my personal highlights of things to do when in Hobart.
Despite its rough beginnings as a penal colony on Australia’s island state of Tasmania, Hobart spent the next couple of hundred years as a pretty quiet kind of place—charming, but far from cool; unspoiled but uninspired. Mainland Australians mocked the tiny island, or worse, they dismissed it. And then, in 2011, came the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) (03 6277 9900, mona.net.au), the daring and downright breathtaking private museum founded by local eccentric David Walsh from a fortune amassed though gambling. The subversive, subterranean space, a wild labyrinth of ideas expressed through classic antiquities and contemporary art, was so radical it immediately put Hobart on the map for culture vultures who began jetting down the Derwent River on camouflage-covered ferries to see its wacky exhibitions. Slick new restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels soon began to take the place of staid establishments in a movement locals call the ‘MONA effect’; what started as a trickle of new businesses—often started by urbane mainlanders seduced by Hobart’s charms—has now, five years later, turned into a flood. The surprise ascendancy of Hobart received the final stamp of approval when the city was selected to host the finale of Tourism Australia’s showcase of the country’s food culture in November, a $1.5 million feast for culinary luminaries from around the world, including Heston Blumenthal and Alice Waters. And where did they all sit down for dinner? MONA, of course.
Fortunately, good food isn’t just a one off in Hobart, where an unaffected culinary culture—based on the island’s abundance of quality seafood, hormone-free beef, truffles and artisanal practices—has long been a major draw card. The Taste of Tasmania festival (thetasteoftasmania.com.au) draws foodies every December to Salamanca Wharf, where they feast on local delicacies like buttered pink-eye potatoes, freshly-shucked oysters and some of the finest pinot noirs in the world. Throughout the year, producers and locals wade through seasonal, local produce and artisanal foods at the bustling Farmgate Market (farmgatemarket.com.au) every Sunday on Bathurst Street.
An influx of hip and innovative openings that pay homage to Tasmanian produce while bringing a 21st century aesthetic to food prep has added to those long-time local favourites. Central Hobart has seen a surge of new foodie magnets; Garagistes (03 6231 0558, garagistes.com.au) on Murray Street was one of the first of the new guard to win foodies over. The minimally elegant restaurant and bar in an old mechanic’s garage helped the city shed its dowdy image with dishes from Noma-trained chef Luke Burgess like poached spanner crab with lacy lady peas, lovage oil, sea lettuce and shaved kombu. Several newer additions are following Garagistes innovative lead: On nearby Elizabeth Street, a mini empire is forming led by chef Iain Todd, and his partner Chloe Proud, whose innovative Ethos Eat Drink (03 6231 1165, ethoseatdrink.com) a fine dining restaurant housed in one of Hobart’s oldest buildings, has been joined by sister establishments Vita Nature & Culture (03 6231 1165) a natural frozen yogurt and juice bar, the slick bar Ash & Bester (03 6231 1165) which exclusively serves local spirits, wines, beers and cider, and Providore (03 6231 1165) a stylish lunch spot serving unique salads and fresh sandwiches to hungry Hobartians – all on the same block. Over on Liverpool Street, the moody modern café Property of Pilgrim (03 6231 1999)—an impressive offshoot of a coffee bar around the corner—serves an experimental breakfast and lunch menu packed with unusual and local ingredients (think: Tasmanian mushrooms with soft polenta, gremolata, buckwheat, hazelnut and rye). And yet another food precinct is forming on Argyle Street, where local chef David Moyle and his cohort head up the sophisticated Franklin Restaurant & Bar (03 6234 3375, franklinhobart.com.au) fun and funky café Betsey (03 6234 3375) and Pigeon Whole Bakers (pigeonwholebakers.com.au) selling malt and linseed rounds, sourdough donuts, and rye and rhubarb galettes from a tiny window at the back of the bakery.
Between meals, there’s plenty to do. Wander the city streets where quirky boutiques punctuate grand public buildings and convict-hewn sandstone cottages are sun-dappled by towering elm trees. Local antiques and an expertly edited fashion collection make for happy browsing at Store & Co (03 6224 9977, storeandco.com) while Merchant (03 6224 0177) is a haven for small-batch goods and quirky gifts. The newly redeveloped Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery (03 6165 7000, tmag.tas.gov.au) gives MONA a run for its money with more child-friendly exhibitions, including a stuffed, now-extinct Tasmanian tiger. Stroll Salamanca Place, a row of 19th century waterfront sandstone warehouses now home to shops and cafes like A Common Ground (0429 370 192) where you can find curated food offerings including the exquisite Bruny Island Cheese, famous leatherwood honey and local jams and pickles. Pop into The Maker (0431 174 718, themakerhobart.com.au) in the same building, for chic handcrafted homewares and clothes. Nearby, Lark Distillery (03 6231 9088, larkdistillery.com.au) offers tastings of their award-winning whiskey, a burgeoning industry on the island (Sullivan’s Cove, a distillery just outside Hobart, was voted as producing the world’s best single malt last year). Then stagger up Kelly’s Steps at Salamanca to picturesque Battery Point and go back in town: the oldest suburb in the city is packed with pretty Georgian cottages, shops and excellent bakery café Jackman & McRoss (03 6223 3186) where you can enjoy a fine rendition of the classic Aussie sausage roll.
A short cycle away – yes, you can grab an ArtBike from one of the racks around the city—is North Hobart, a trendy enclave. Sweet tooths can satisfy their cravings in world-class style at Sweet Envy (03 6234 8805, sweetenvy.com) the high-end bakery that offers quirky bites—like the RoVo, a deconstructed version of the country’s beloved Iced Vovo biscuit—and rich ice cream from the Gordon Ramsay-trained patissiers. A few storefronts down, hip Berta (03 6234 4844, bertahobart.com.au) offers thoughtful breakfast and lunch menu in a bright, friendly space (don’t miss the corn fritters with poached eggs, haloumi, chimmichurri and guacamole).
After all that, you’ll need a good lie down; fortunately, Hobart has plenty of stylish new options for accommodation. The waterfront Henry Jones Art Hotel (03 6210 7700, www.thehenryjones.com)is a slick mix of heritage charm (it was once a jam factory), modern design and chic contemporary art; the newly revamped boutique Alabama Hotel (alabamahobart.com.au) is an expression of all that’s cool and new in Hobart, featuring a wine bar overlooking bustling Liverpool Street. Further out from the city centre, the luxe Islington Hotel (03 6220 2123, islingtonhotel.com) is a dignified old Regency home that’s enjoyed a magnificent contemporary facelift; it’s also set in one of Hobart’s most beautiful gardens. But perhaps the hotel most emblematic of Hobart’s new era isn’t a hotel at all: the MONA Pavilions (mona.net.au) are a series of luxe villas names after famous Australian artists (with each featuring a work from their namesakes). That way, you’ll be only steps away from where Hobart’s renaissance began.
Co-owner of the gourmet Hill St Grocer stores, Natalia Urosevic has watched the city change since she moved back to her home town from Melbourne twelve years ago. Here, she shares where she and her family like to hang out in Hobart.
“As well as offering an incredible food scene, Hobart’s natural beauty makes it a wonderful place to live. We love heading out to Hartz Peak in the National Park, which boasts a beautiful four-hour hike with a rewarding 360 degree view. Look south, and there’s nothing between you and the end of the world, so it’s pretty special. If you have time, it’s worth the couple of hours drive up to Freycinet National Park for the 40-minute walk to see the famous Wineglass Bay – that will give you a taste of the beautiful East Coast of Tasmania. I can’t get enough of the Agrarian Kitchen (theagrariankitchen.com) a working farm and cooking school where I’ve taken my husband and girlfriends for days out—it’s in a gorgeous spot and we always come away having learned to make something delicious to add to our repertoire. We love to take the kids to the Rivulet track, a family friendly trail we often bike along; it leads to the beautiful old Cascade Brewery (cascadebreweryco.com.au) where you can taste Tasmania’s famous beer. And if we really want to feel like a break from it all, the 20-minute ferry ride to Bruny Island makes you feel like you’ve entered another world. Small producers, wineries, a pick your own berries farm and lovely walks make it a great day trip – don’t miss the view from The Neck, a narrow isthmus where the ocean is on one side and the channel is on the other. But to combine the beauty of Hobart with it’s fabulous produce, a picnic at the Royal Hobart Botanical Gardens (rtbg.tas.gov.au) is a must. I call into Hill Street Grocer (hillstgrocer.com) and grab some honey-glazed hand-cut Scottsdale ham, Pigeon Whole bread, Huon smoked salmon, a wedge of Delice de Bourgogne (a triple cream soft French cheese), fig paste, Tasmanian-made onion jam, fresh berries and cherries and some Meander Valley double cream. Plus, of course, a bottle of my favourite Tasmanian wine - Domaine A’s 'Lady A'