Allow yourself to get lost in 'Radelaide'
The country's cultural heartland is the new darling of Oz, writes Thomas Breathnach
It's that time of year again – when the unveiling of Lonely Planet's annual destination hotlist sends tourist boards across the globe into an anticipatory flurry. Perhaps one of this year's most unlikely announced winners was Adelaide, the South Australian capital which has long lived in the shadows of Melbourne, with its kooky coffee culture and Sydney, with its unabashed bling and beach-life. On a recent visit to the city and its surrounds, however, it didn't take me long to appreciate this city's new found standing as an international Best in Show.
Arriving in 'Radelaide', as it's known to locals (and 'Sadelaide' to arguably any Aussie beyond it), I was met with an instant air of urban calm, befitting of one of the planet's most livable places: the Adelaide Hills offered a soothing eco backdrop to the city, while downtown, solar-powered busses hummed gently along affluent, myrtle-lined streets.
Back in the colonial era, Adelaide was the first city not to accept convict settlers and today this has bequeathed its natives with something of a gentrified grandeur. As proud wine buffs, art aficionados and foodies, these are a folk who like to think they can do Bach, brunch and Blanc de Blancs better than most.
In keeping with its colonial edge, my own bourgeoisie base in town was Buxton Manor; a self-catering, listed mansion, nestled in the salubrious surrounds of North Adelaide.
Inside, my wing contained a yesteryear kitchen stocked with willow-pattern crockery, a period master suite complete with four-poster bed and a decadent drawing room, adorned with magnificent antiques from the nearby Barossa Valley.
"This will do the trick," I thought, as I tentatively sat down on a priceless chaise longue sofa. Unlike the cocooned haven of hotels, self-catering boltholes really inspire visitors to immerse themselves in a city – and I was soon ambling around Adelaide's greatest epicurean delight, Central Market, to stock up on survival vittles.
The city's busiest attraction, Central Market has been furnishing avant-garde Adelaideans with all things artisanal since 1901. And wandering the fragrant stalls of cheesemongers and charcuterie, my grocery shopping ambitions were soon becoming decidedly hampered. Perhaps, I'd save that cooking until tomorrow.
The next morning, I joined some Irish-Aussie mates for a visit to the city's failproof tourist go-to: Cleland Wildlife Park. Just a 20km drive (or bus ride) from the CBD, we reached the refuge via a dramatic corkscrew pass which wound up the slopes of Mount Lofty, as vistas to the city and Southern Ocean spilled beneath.
The park itself (admission €14) was a pretty awesome free-roaming acreage (bar the dingoes and Tassie devils) where roos, emus and an iconic menagerie of marsupials foraged around us.
Stars of this show, however, were Cleland's resident koala colony, which, with an extra $30 (€20) donation to conservation efforts, could by cuddled and canoodled for the ultimate Instagram moment.
Following our koala comedown, we continued our way to the day-tripping delight of Adelaide's wine lands. An hour north brought us to the Clare Valley, named by Banner native Paddy Gleeson, who steered his plough to the region in 1857.
To best explore the area, we parked up our wheels and ventured off on a self-guided bike tour (rtcvcottages.com.au; €16). Peddling along the Riesling Trail, we made pit stops at the old Jesuit vineyard of Seven Hill, sampled the cellar door delights at the Tim Adams estate and ended our afternoon by indulging in the art of the Australian lazy lunch at insider tip, Skillagolee.
Back in the city and Adelaide's sports-crazed fans were gearing up for two weekend events: Australia's second Ashes Test against the Poms and Port Adelaide's home AFL tie against league-leaders Hawthorn. We joined the footy fanatics, hopping aboard the bus for AAMI stadium along with a local brood of barrackers (or supporters), festooned in teal and white.
The game itself was a high-octane spectacle, fitting somewhere between rugby league and ball park ballet: kicks and catches were spectacularly acrobatic while crash-and-bash tackles were merciless.
Despite a competitive initial run from 'Port', a final quarter trouncing would eventually end up separating the blokes from the boys, with Hawthorn heading back to Melbourne with full points.
Port may have lost out, but following my perfect symbiotic stay balancing culture, koalas and concertos, I'd still be leaving Radelaide somewhat the winner.