We know that Canberra might not be top of mind when you first think ‘hedonistic mini-break’ but in a way that’s exactly what makes it so special — the Canberra of today seems to thrive off the element of surprise.
There’s wineries at your doorstep, architecture to inspire and world-class foodie experiences all surrounded by enough authentic Australian scenery that’ll have you buzzing with national pride.
So whether you’ve got a spare 24 hours or a long weekend to burn, it’s time to look at Australia’s capital with fresh eyes, an open mind… and an empty stomach.
If you’re looking to dive straight into Canberra’s new cultural groove, you can’t beat the intoxicatingly avant-garde cocoon of Hotel Hotel in NewActon.
Architecture fans will recognise the blend of concrete brutalism and earthy bare woods as the handiwork of architects Fender Katsalidis (of MONA fame) but that’s not where the hotel’s commitment to creativity ends.
In fact, the entire structure feels like it exists as a living breathing homage to the arts, with every nook of the venue filled with some unique designer flourish or a specially commissioned artwork.
There’s even a corner library filled with inspirational photo-journals and coffee table books you’ll want to take home with you.
Your room welcomes you with the clean scent of lemongrass and Japanese Hinoki wood. While, abundant ever flowing luxury Aesop products in the shower go a long way to upping the luxury stakes, even if you’re simply staying in one of the ‘Cosy’ rooms.
We sometimes joke that you can’t help but feel smarter simply by being in proximity of Hotel Hotel but it’s very close to the truth. Staying here makes you feel like you’re participating in a piece of performance art, so really it’s more than a hotel, it’s a little bit of an education.
When it comes to very good vino, Canberrans are spoiled. Not only do the dry plains of the ACT grow some of Australia’s best Riesling and Shiraz grapes but the locals only have to drive 30 minutes out from the CBD to have their pick of over 30 cellar doors. It’s safe to say that they take their tastings seriously.
Clonakilla Wines off Murrumbateman Road has been heralded as one of the best wineries in Australia, famous for their Shiraz Viognier. However, if you’d rather ignore the hype and let your tastebuds do the shopping, a guided tour through their greatest hits will no doubt have you walking out the door with bottles beneath each arm.
Four Winds Vineyard not only has the prettiest labels but what’s inside their bottles has been garnering attention for almost 20 years. Not only are the drops delicious but you can make a lunch date out of your visit but finding a seat near the vines and watch the sun go down as you tuck into one of their wood-fired pizzas.
Strap in because this could be a long one.
Canberra is surrounded by farmland and so it’s no surprise that it’s venues specialise in super high quality farm-to-table fare. So whether you’re nestled into a buzzing tapas venue in the city or indulging in one of the great outdoorsy eateries, you’re guaranteed to be noshing on some seriously top-notch nosh.
Because food is such a topic of civic pride there’s a constant stream of new venues popping up.
However the Garden Pavilions at Pialligo Estate provide the perfect introduction to Canberra’s approach to eating. Tables are housed in a series of intimate farm-style huts, nestled amongst artfully manicured gardens and you can’t help but see that these act as a little metaphor for the city.
Pialligo is where you come for luxurious long lunches that take your tastebuds on a journey across the fields and vines of the ACT.
Another rustic gem is Poachers Pantry (and Wiley Trout vineyard), 30 minutes out of the streamlined CBD in Springrange. Here tables in the main farmhouse nestle around a roaring wood fire and the menu is just as comfort-minded.
The menu reflects a strong connection to the land, with smoked meats from local farms that marry up perfectly with Canberra’s cool climate wines, so don’t be afraid throw your hands in the air and let the team guide you.
If you’re looking to stay closer to home (and by that we mean not leave the hotel at all) Monster Kitchen and Bar in the lobby of Hotel Hotel is a favourite for visitors and locals alike. You’ll be lured in by the quirky moodiness of the interiors, which sees multi-textured floors meet pops of large glowing bulb chandeliers, however when your tastebuds touch the soft meat of the 8 hour beef ribs, you’ll know why everyone keeps coming back.
But you don’t have to drop all your hard-earned dollars to enjoy world-class fare. Jump in your car and head to the constantly updating ‘hood of Braddon, specifically Lonsdale Street, for a choice of artisan coffee at renowned brew barons Barrio Collective. Or, save room for dessert and sample the unconventional flavours at Frugii Dessert Laboratory, where lemongrass and ‘dirty chai’ are just a few of the gelato and sorbet options on offer.
Further up Lonsdale sits The Hamlet, which might be the best curation of food trucks and shipping container diners you’ll see in Australia. What used to be a yard full of decrepit cars has been transformed into a hub of hip boutiques, pop-up galleries and, of course, a range of gourmet and downright gluttonous gastronomic options.
Sticking to Braddon, Lonsdale Street doesn’t just buzz on caffeine and enchiladas alone.
Rebel Muse brings the best of Australian and overseas brands to Canberra’s fashion pack. Think Alice McCall, Dion Lee and Camilla and Marc. While, Designer Op Shop nearby is a treasure trove of pre-loved Lanvin, Celine and Gucci.
Inside Handsome Pretty you’ll find a curated mix of funky homewares and unique gifts, while Itrip Iskip just next door sources slightly more under the radar clothing and accessories, such as Hunter The Label, Status Anxiety and Indigo.
The National Gallery of Australia contains one of the largest curation of works by homegrown artists and international artists (including the iconic ‘Blue Poles’ by Jackson Pollock) but also constantly hosts a stream of world class exhibitions from overseas, such as ‘Versaille: Treasures From The Palace’.
However, even if you’re not a huge art buff it’s worth spending a lazy afternoon strolling through the sculpture garden that surrounds the gallery. Here you’ll find the mesmerising ‘Cones’ by Bert Flugelman and the mysterious ‘Fog Sculpture’ by Fujiko Nakaya.
… AND FLY
It makes sense that when in Canberra, do as the Canberrans do and hot air ballooning seems to be big business here.
There are number of ballooning companies that capitalise on the region’s picture perfect scenery and in the mornings it’s common to spot large dots of colour calmly soar across the vista.
When you wake up early and catch the early morning mist Lake Burley Griffin from Scrivener Dam you quickly understand why this is such big business. There’s a spellbinding stillness in the air, contrasted with the roar of rushing dam water, punctuated with the occasional roar of lions from the famous National Zoo.
It also ties in quite beautifully with Canberra as a whole. This is a city doesn’t revel in rush but rather takes pleasure in doing things with well and with consideration.
Considering life from the basket of a hot air balloon is just one of the cool ways they do it.
COTW travelled in collaboration with Visit Canberra (visit them for up to date intel on how you can get the most out of your next Canberra long weekend).