Ooh-la-la, who knew there were so many fabulous French-inspired experiences on offer in Melbourne?
The well-worn but still-in-use phrase ‘Paris-end of Collins Street’ was born with the establishment of chic clothing salon Le Louvre at 72-74 Collins Street back in 1922. Proprietor Lillian Wightman coined the term to brand her new venture in the top end of town. It certainly worked. While Le Louvre has since moved on, there’s no shortage of other Parisian-style ways to spend your time in the Victorian capital.
Here are eight great French things to do in Melbourne.
Just strolling down the strip where it all began for Lil Wightman is a lovely way to enjoy one of the prettiest parts of the Melbourne CBD and get into the French-inspired spirit. Start at the Spring Street end of Collins and work your way down the hill. There’s plenty of glorious Victorian-era architecture to admire and a number of French designer salons at which to window shop, including Hermès, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Chanel (tucked around on Little Flinders).
The French have given us many amazing things, but one of the finest has to be the croissant. Dunking these flaky gems in a café crème sounds messy, but it’s a popular way to enjoy them in Paris and who are we to argue? Head to much-lauded Lune Croissanterie on Russell Street — and yes, that is a queue. You’ll almost certainly have to line up for the hottest piece of pastry in Melbourne, but it’s well worth it. While you wait, you can watch the social media influencer photo shoots that are usually taking place in the street outside.
Nothing says ‘I could be in Paris’ like a sidewalk café with wicker chairs and a harried waiter, and Melbourne has any number of outdoor café precincts in which to linger over a latte and watch the world go by. Wander down to Degraves Street (between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane). It will whisk you away to Europe in an instant. Hardware Lane is another option (Kirks Wine Bar on the corner of Hardware Lane and Little Bourke has the Paris vibe nailed). There are also some gems with outdoor seating back up on Bourke, including the must-visit Self Preservation Café.
According to Wikipedia, there are around 1,600 distinct types of French cheese, and a visit to the cheese cellar at the Spring Street Grocer will give you the opportunity to taste a fair percentage of them. This place is mind-blowing! Hidden away in what is part of a network of tunnels that once linked Parliament, the Princess Theatre and the Hotel Windsor, and accessed by a spiral staircase, the underground cheese maturation cellar offers access to a world of tangy tastes and rare cheesemaking recipes. Take part in a guided tasting with the resident cheesemonger, or pre-order a platter to take away and enjoy at your leisure (Carlton Gardens is just a short stroll away).
If it happens to be wine time, lucky you. Head back up to street level and into the City Wine Shop — an atmospheric wine bar that wouldn’t look out of place in the very heart of le Marais. Pull up a pew at the bar or out front and order from the seriously awesome wine list. The knowledgeable staff will be more than happy to provide recommendations. European-style bites and shared plates are also available.
Right next door you’ll no doubt notice the stunning Princess Theatre — the oldest continuously operating entertainment site in Australia. The building you see today dates back to the late 1880s, and the French connection here is its distinctive ‘Second Empire’ architectural style — which came out of France under Napoleon III in the second half of the 19th century. Notice the exquisite mansard roofline with dormer windows. If you’re lucky enough to have tickets to a show, you’ll get to see the incredible interior of this grande dame of the Victorian capital.
For those with a big budget, Melbourne has plenty of ritzy French eateries to choose from, but Garçon Paris Steakhouse has to be one of the most fun and affordable options. This classic Paris-style bistro tucked away in Alfred Place (between Collins Street and Little Collins laneway) serves up its signature steak frites with plenty of flair, and it’s a mystery to us how something so simple could taste quite so good. Match it with a glass of bubbles and follow it up with a cracking crème brûlée.
Jazz has been a popular part of the French music scene since the 1920s and the intimate Paris Cat jazz club in Goldie Place (just a stone’s throw from Hardware Lane) flies the flag four or five nights a week with awesome live performances. Check their website for what’s on, and squeeze in!
The fabulous Citadines on Bourke Melbourne is located right in the heart of the top end of town — within easy walking distance of every drop of French-style magic we’ve mentioned in this story. Add to that the hotel’s own French heritage, and it makes perfect sense to book your sojourn here.
The Citadines’ Apart’hotels philosophy is to give guests a complete space to call their own during their stay, and Citadines on Bourke certainly succeeds on that front. The hotel has 375 studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments (which can accommodate up to five guests). Walking into our studio, I was struck by the stylish symmetry, the contemporary furnishings and the floor to ceiling windows letting in fabulous views of the cityscape. Pops of colour bring the generously sized space to life. The studio bathroom features a large walk-in shower with rain shower head. The kitchenette is perfectly functional should you decide to mange à la maison during your stay.
Just on that topic, the hotel currently doesn’t have an inhouse eatery, but an excellent charge-back breakfast is served at Urban Deli (just a stone’s throw from the hotel). You’ll also find a conveniently placed coffee cart right at the front door each morning. Charge-back room service is also offered via external delivery and it works like absolute clockwork.
Other amenities at the hotel include a superb saltwater pool, sauna and fitness centre. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel, including in the spacious lobby which has plenty of comfortable seating. All in all, tres bon!
Adam travelled as a guest of Citadines on Bourke Melbourne.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of French things to do in Melbourne? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image courtesy of Visit Victoria. Additional images: Bigstock
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.