While Sydney and Melbourne are often firm fixtures on the tourist itinerary, Brisbane rarely gets the same attention.
As a first time visitor to Australia, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Queensland’s capital. But as a fan of food, culture and sunshine – temperatures were comfortably in the early to mid twenties during my winter visit – and riverside living, I’m excited to report that Brisbane ticked these boxes and more during my stay.
So armed with a pair of sunnies and the enthusiasm that comes with landing somewhere new – thankfully the jetlag (opens in new tab) from the 21-hour flight really wasn’t as bad as I was expecting – and a jam-packed itinerary that took in the best of Brisbane’s sights and sounds, I was ready to get my holiday Down Under, under-way.
Where I stayed: The cornerstone of any great holiday is great accommodation, and luckily we stayed in two of Brisbane’s newest and chicest hotels, both of which were a stone’s throw from the CBD (Central Business District) and upmarket shops and eateries.
The Fantauzzo (opens in new tab) (rooms start from Aus$235) – part of the Art Series of hotels – was our first port of call. Nestled in the heart of the heritage listed Howard Smith Wharves – the premier eating and drinking destination along the Brisbane river – the contemporary hotel pays homage to the work of Melbourne based artist Vincent Fantauzzo, and his photo realistic masterpieces can be seen throughout this iconic building, which stands out against the landscape with its impressive multi-coloured glass facade. One of the highlights of my room, apart from the amazing freestanding tub, ‘pillow menu’ and green velvet chaise lounge looking out to views of the city, were two portraits of the late Heath Ledger – a close friend of Fantauzzo. Staff – who are all extremely welcoming – are trained to give art tours around the hotel and once you’ve dosed up on a spot of culture you can take a refreshing dip in the hotel's open-air heated infinity pool. Get there for opening at 6am and you may even get the chance to see the sun come up.
Located on James Street, dubbed Brisbane’s ‘foremost retail and lifestyle precinct’, The Calile Hotel (opens in new tab) (rooms start from Aus$259) marked our second chapter in Brisbane. And what an impression it made. Here art deco meets mid century modern, for an effect that’s simply stunning.
Small details such as the dusky pink tiles and burnished gold fixtures in the bathroom and fixed cabinet drinks trolley featuring health conscious snacks such as dark chocolate blueberries and soya crisps make for a memorable stay. Plus there’s a gym, spa (opens in new tab), heated pool, and a small, but perfectly formed, library to enjoy amongst other amenities.
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Where I ate/drank: Food is taken seriously in Brisbane, from lazy brunches to delectable fine dining, fresh produce and flavour are the name of the game. Highlights including a mroeish plate of fresh greens – including asparagus and tenderstem broccoli – it’s hard to put into words just how tasty this was – with just a squeeze of lemon, followed by a deconstructed Bounty consisting of chocolate shards and coconut sorbet at Arc Dining and Wine Bar (pictured below), vegan donuts lightly dusted with sugar at the funky Eat Street Northshore (Entry is Aus$3 per person; kids under 12 years free) where you’ll find cuisines from around the globe served up from converted shipping containers, live music and so much more and authentic Greek cuisine with a modern twist at The Calile’s flagship eatery Hellenika, where large sharing plates included tangy spinach and lemon rice and gently spiced lamb. Mr Percival’s – and overwater bar located conveniently located opposite The Fantauzzo – is also a must for an evening cocktail or two or a pint of the local Felons IPA.
What I did: There’s no better way to get to know Brisbane’s Streets than with a Art and Design tour of Brisbane (Aus$60 per person, usually 3 hours) with Walk Brisbane (opens in new tab), exploring everything from the blue cut-out figures from elusive street artist Blue Man (pictured below), which pop up all over the city, to the opulent fresco ceilings and viewing balconies of the tourist office, a legacy from its days as a theatre in the 1980s.
A guided tour of the GOMA (gallery of modern art, entry is free though some temporary exhibitions may incur a charge) is also a must visit. We visited two key exhibitions from two of Australia’s much-loved artists – Margaret Olley and Ben Quilty – who displayed wildly different styles but who both told unique stories of life in Australia through bold brushstrokes and images.
And no visit to Australia would be complete without taking in some of Australia’s famed wildlife, and that’s exactly what happened on a Behind The Scenes 2-hour tour (from Aus$360 per person, aged 12+) at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary (opens in new tab). Located 12km from the city, it’s the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary with over 130 koalas, and as well as a requisite snap with cuddly koala resident Spoon – the likes of Mariah Carey, the Queen Mother (opens in new tab) and Ed Sheeran appear on the koala wall of fame – there was also kangaroo feeding – red kangaroos really are huge up-close – an in-enclosure encounter with a dingo – who was actually a real sweetie – a birds of prey experience and platypus feeding – I was an eager observer for the latter as I was far too squeamish to handle their supper of earthworms.
Getting there: Flights from London Heathrow to Brisbane with Royal Brunei Airlines (opens in new tab) start from £630 per person (economy).
More info:Go toVisit Brisbane (opens in new tab)
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Miriam worked for woman&home for over five years and previously worked on the women's lifestyle magazines Woman and Woman's Own.
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