Is Hobart Australia's coolest city?

Is Hobart Australia's coolest city?

This article initially appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald

Words: Winsor Dobbin

Wowed by dining hot spots, natural beauty, friendly locals and the marvellous MONA, Winsor Dobbin says the time to visit Hobart is now.

While the rest of Australia expressed amazement at Hobart being named by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 city destinations for 2013, there was no such surprise among the capital's residents, who have long known they are on to a good thing.

According to Lonely Planet, Hobart's "allure has always been its natural beauty ... but the arrival of the world-class MONA museum has the waters rippling, hip tourists flocking and Hobart rousing from its slumber".

Hobart may be relatively small, with a population of just 225,000, but it offers a city lifestyle without the hassles of Sydney or Melbourne and with a choice between inner-city living or a country lifestyle within easy commuting distance.

There are small properties just 20 minutes drive outside the city; and a chic three-bedroom inner-city home can be yours for $350,000. No wonder there has been an influx of newcomers from the big smoke. Qantas and Virgin Australia have added extra flights to Hobart for the summer season - and Tiger Airways last month resumed services. 

"There is a real vibrancy about Hobart these days - and there is some fantastic produce being grown around the state," says former Sydney restaurant critic Matthew Evans, whose SBS TV show Gourmet Farmer features his travails as a farmer at Cygnet, a 40-minute drive from the city. Evans owns and runs the Common Ground gourmet store at Salamanca and is a regular at local growers' markets.

Hobart has long been a magnet for visitors who enjoy its vibrant port, outstanding colonial architecture and leafy suburbs - but visitors are equally drawn by its fresh seafood, superb local produce and more than 20 boutique wineries surrounding the city.

It's a city where people still say "good morning" to each other as they walk the city streets. Locals joke that instead of a "peak hour", Hobart has a "peak 10 minutes".

The opening two years ago of MONA - local gambling multimillionaire David Walsh's fantastical art museum, which features works from artists as diverse as Brett Whiteley and Sidney Nolan to Wim Delvoye, Pablo Picasso and Damien Hirst - has also put Hobart very much on the map of art lovers from around the globe.

The complex in the working-class suburb of Berriedale - a winner of the Australian Institute of Architects' Sir Zelman Cowan Award for Public Architecture - has become a "must do" on virtually every visitor's itinerary and is regarded as one of the primary reasons for Hobart's seventh place on the Lonely Planet list, which described it as "the beacon" for tourists.

MONA not only displays works from some of the most controversial artists of the era, it is also home to the Moorilla Estate winery and cellar door (known for excellent pinots noir and zesty aromatic whites), the French-accented fine-dining restaurant the Source, a wine bar and micro-brewery and eight luxury pavilions decorated with artworks from Walsh's private collection.

MONA hosts a market every Saturday afternoon during the summer months with live entertainment curated by former Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie, one of many drawn to Hobart because of its aesthetic and artistic charms. "Hobart has enough eccentric people to make it interesting," Ritchie says. "And enough friendly people to make it a community."

Walsh and Ritchie also put together the summer MONA FOMA extravaganza and the new Dark MOFO winter festival (see breakout for a list of what festivals are on this summer in Hobart).

Perhaps Hobart's most famous attraction is the Salamanca Markets, held every Saturday rain or shine since 1973. From Hmong migrants selling fresh vegetables to family fudge producers handing out samples of their wares, the outdoor market offers a real taste of Tasmania with a backdrop of historic sandstone warehouses dating back to the 1830s. The markets are at their best in spring and summer when local artisan producers come to town to sell everything from fresh fruit to handicrafts.

The arrival of warm weather signals fairs and fetes throughout Hobart and surrounds, including the finish of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race at Constitution Dock, and the Taste of Tasmania festival, a food and wine fair that runs on the waterfront during the New Year holiday period.

They are both free events, so there is no need to book in advance - but Hobart accommodation can be booked out, so it pays to plan ahead.

Hobart's warm summers have traditionally attracted far more visitors than winter, when Mount Wellington is often capped with snow. Summer daytime temperatures usually hover between 20 degrees and 25 degrees and maximums sit about 10 degrees to 12 degrees in winter, although it rarely snows in town.

The area around Salamanca Place is dotted with terrific eating and drinking spots, including Smolt, Monty's On Montpelier and Rockwall, while more relaxed options include fresh fish and chips from Fish Frenzy or pizzas and a glass of wine at Cargo Bar.

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