Why Hobart is Australia’s new capital of cool

Hobart, Tasmania (CNN) — A heart-shaped island state just south of mainland Australia, Tasmania is home to farm-fresh produce, world-class art and jaw-dropping landscapes.

Tassies are sometimes called “Taswegians,” both for the fact that many residents claim Nordic heritage and for their relative remoteness (in the geographic sense, not the social one).

But its biggest city, Hobart — Australia’s smallest capital — is in the shadows no longer.

It’s the only place in Oz that can claim a native daughter as a bona fide European royal (that would be Crown Princess Mary, whose husband is the future king of Denmark), and its stunning natural vistas have played a co-starring role in films such as the Dev Patel-starring “Lion.”

Hobart may be a challenge to travel to, but don’t worry — once you’re there, you won’t want to leave.

The great outdoors

If you’re looking for a postcard of Hobart, odds are good that you’ll find one featuring Salamanca Market. Open on Saturdays, it’s the most-visited tourist spot in all of Tasmania.

Whether you’re after a snack, a souvenir or a sweet new outfit this open-air space is the place to go hunting for it — vendors change constantly but include locally made and grown products from ginger beer to glassware.

Most vendors are knowledgeable about which products (like honeys, jams and spices) can be taken out of the country and will be able to pack things for your suitcase.

A proposal to build a cable car up Mount Wellington/kunanyi has been a controversial topic among locals.

A proposal to build a cable car up Mount Wellington/kunanyi has been a controversial topic among locals.

Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

While in the Salamanca area, don’t miss a photo op at Kelly’s Steps, the series of sandstone steps that connect the market to the historic waterfront Battery Point neighborhood.

A popular attraction in Battery Point is Arthur Circus, a street of cute cottages that will make you feel like you’re in an English village.

To see more of the spectacular Tassie landscape, drive up Mount Wellington/Kunanyi. This mountain is partly residential and served by a single main road, but as you get higher you’ll be able to access hiking and walking trails.

The most famous feature on the mountain is the “Organ Pipes,” a series of tall, thin rock slabs that look like, well… organ pipes.

A day at the museum

It seems impossible to imagine Tasmania without MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, which opened its many doors in 2011.

The brainchild of philanthropist, professional gambler and art collector David Walsh (a native Tasmanian), it also holds the title of being the largest privately-funded museum in the southern hemisphere.

A bridge at MONA that connects several of the outdoor installations.

A bridge at MONA that connects several of the outdoor installations.

Gulliver Theis/laif/Redux

But simply calling it a museum is a disservice. MONA is truly an immersive experience that begins before you even get there.

At Hobart’s main pier, visitors to MONA pile on board a camouflage-print ferry, where instead of traditional seats you can opt to sit on a giant neon-yellow sheep. During the 25-minute ride, hipster hosts decked out in boiler suits bring over coffee or cocktails.

Once you actually get to MONA, the fun has just started. Instead of a little self-guided tour apparatus that talks to you about each piece of art, you are handed a custom device with a special MONA app — you’ll need this to book times to visit some of the immersive pieces, such as a light room by James Turrell.

"Pharos" is an on-site installation at MONA by James Turrell.

“Pharos” is an on-site installation at MONA by James Turrell.

Gulliver Theis/laif/Redux

Also on a timer? The museum’s most controversial piece, “Cloaca” by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye. A model of the human digestive system, “Cloaca” has a scheduled poop every day at 3 p.m., with visitors clustered around to be grossed out.

Even people who don’t like art museums will probably love MONA. In addition to indoor and outdoor artworks, there’s an on-site brewery called Moo Brew (can’t decide? Try your luck on the vending machine slash roulette wheel, which will drop a random can for you), a winery, art book store, coffee shop and several restaurants.

Eat and drink

The rich agricultural heritage of Tasmania means you’ll be overwhelmed with food and drink options.

Honey (especially clover and manuka honeys), apples, fish, oysters, eggs, lamb and cheese are among some of the island’s best offerings, and local restaurants turn them into stunning, and usually affordable, dishes.

For dinner, there’s no better reservation in Hobart than Templo, a snug 20-seat restaurant with a deceptively simple premise: 8-10 small plates and nothing else on offer.

The courses rotate through depending on seasons and availability and are heavy on fish and shellfish, although the staff here is remarkably nice about substitutions — this isn’t the kind of fine dining spot where the server will sniff dismissively if you have an allergy or just plain don’t like something.

In addition to its own line of gin, Institut Polaire highlights Aussie wine and whisky.

In addition to its own line of gin, Institut Polaire highlights Aussie wine and whisky.

Institit Polaire

Another solid option — and one with significantly more seating — is Franklin, where rising star chef Analiese Gregory cures her own meats and makes her own breads while overseeing an open kitchen.

Locally-sourced ingredients include wallaby, lamb and abalone, and the beer and wine menu features the best of Australia and France (where Gregory cut her teeth).

Hobart has also emerged as a drinking city. One standout is Institut Polaire, whose name honors the fact that Tasmania was a common jumping-off point for scientific expeditions to Antarctica.

The uber-cool (literally and figuratively, as the drinks are chilled) bar has its own line of Antarctic dry gin, which is the deserving centerpiece of a G&T tasting flight.

Hobart Brewing Company is one of the anchors of Macquarie Point.

Hobart Brewing Company is one of the anchors of Macquarie Point.

Dale Baldwin

If whisky is more your speed, don’t miss Sullivans Cove, which became the first southern hemisphere whisky ever to win the prestigious World’s Best Single Malt designation. You can try a sip of it — a good deal, since bottles can go for thousands of dollars — on a tour of their tasting room in the suburb of Cambridge.

Back in Hobart city center, look for a bright red shed to point the way to Hobart Brewing Company, one of the city’s most consistent craft brewers.

The straightforward, easy-drinking brews are great for a warm afternoon, and highlights include their flagship Harbour Master pale ale and an award-winning cream ale named for St Christopher, patron saint of travelers.

Templo, 98 Patrick St, Hobart TAS 7000, Australia, +61 3 6234 7659
Franklin, 30 Argyle St, Hobart TAS 7000, Australia, +61 3 6234 3375

Lay your head

Two additions to the Hobart hotel scene both celebrate the island’s rich history.

The Henry Jones Art Hotel’s collection of Tasmanian art is so vast — it fills every room as well as hallways, restaurants and common spaces — that the hotel employs a full-time curator.

Guests and non-guests can take advantage of the daily tours or consult books in the lobby if they’re interested in a particular piece.

Located in a former jam factory, the building is a mix of industrial chic and modern textures — keep an eye out, as you may end up ducking under a former packaging machine on the way to your room.

Just around the corner is Macq01, a design-forward space with light woods and airy linens that gives off a Scandinavian vibe. Luckily, it doesn’t take itself too seriously with tongue-in-cheek design elements like a gray hoodie-style bathrobe in place of the usual white terrycloth.

The hotel’s concept is built around stories of notable Tasmanians of the past. Each room is emblazoned with one of their names — for example, there’s Joseph Lyons, who for now is the only Tasmanian to serve as Prime Minister, and Saroo Brierley, whose life story is the material for “Lion.”

That theme is taken even further in the cool lobby-level Story Bar, where old newspapers advertising features about Tassie’s biggest historical headlines (often scandalous ones) are turned into retro-chic decor.

Macq 01, 18 Hunter St, Hobart TAS 7000, Australia, +61 3 6210 7600

Onto other islands

Venturing out of Hobart means exploring even more of the gorgeous scenery. One of the most popular — and deservedly so — is Bruny Island, off of Tasmania’s southeastern coast.

Travelers can pick up the Sealink ferry at the town of Kettering, then spend a day outdoors enjoying a walk to the scenic bright-white Bruny Island light house or enjoying the view from Mt Bruny, the island’s highest point, in South Bruny National Park.

Still, hiking or no hiking, the best part of a visit to Bruny is the eating.

Bruny is home to Oz’s southernmost vineyard, the excellent Bruny Island Premium Wines, which is open for tours and tastings.

Most visitors to Satellite Island are picked up in a speedboat at Bruny Island and ferried over.

Most visitors to Satellite Island are picked up in a speedboat at Bruny Island and ferried over.

Luisa Brimble

On Bruny, it’s not uncommon for someone to ask where an oyster is from and simply have the chef point “over there.” There’s fresh, and then there’s Bruny-level still-wet-from-the-sea fresh.

Head to the natty white-and-blue Get Shucked for a handful of the best ones, then move on to the twin businesses of Bruny Island Cheese Company and Bruny Island Beer Co.

Many of the beer names draw their inspiration from people and places around the island, like Cloudy Bay IPA and Last Ferry Lager.

There are several cute guest houses and inns if you decide to stay a night on Bruny. But there’s also a one-of-a-kind chance to stay on an island off an island off an island — the aptly named Satellite Island is a guesthouse accessible only by seaplane or via boat pickup from Bruny.

On the arrival dock, there are two bedrooms set apart from the main house.

On the arrival dock, there are two bedrooms set apart from the main house.

Luisa Brimble

Owned and operated by Victoria-based couple Kate and Will Alstergren, the island feels like an impossibly rich person’s minimalist vacation home.

There are two main buildings — a larger house higher up on the island and a small wooden guesthouse just off the boat dock. The flags of Norway — where Will’s family emigrated form — and Australia fly proudly but also hint at the mix of Scandinavian elegance and Aussie friendliness that permeate the island and its dwellings.

If you’ve always dreamed of getting away from it all and writing a book, this is the place to do it — other than occasional sightings of a caretaker (who will text with you if you need anything but otherwise tends to the island’s animals), you can be left to your own devices or opt to rent the whole place with your family and bond over books and board games in front of the fire.

Don’t forget to say hello to the island’s year-round residents, most of whom are four legged — there are three sister sheep named Anne, Emily and Charlotte Bronte.

Bruny Island Lighthouse, +61 1300 827 727

Get Shucked, 1735 Bruny Island Main Rd, Great Bay TAS 7150, Australia, +61 439 303 597

This article originally appeared here