+ CLOSE

Hobart is one of the prettiest capital cities in Australia, if not the prettiest. Over the years it has graduated from a perceived backwater to one of the country’s most thriving arts and culture destinations. In fact, Hobart has always had an incredibly strong arts community but it’s taken David Walsh’s phenomenally successful Musuem of Old and New Art (MONA) to bring it into the spotlight.

Walsh’s story is a truly interesting one, his fortune built on gambling with mathematical talents. And what a fortune – over time Walsh has  amassed an incredible contemporary art collection to contrast with some worthy antiquities. Much of the contemporary work has been specially commissioned for MONA, from artists around the world and Walsh built his museum to rigorous design specifications to house it. It did not so much place as pound Hobart onto the world gallery scene.  The works can be brutal or beautiful, but love it or hate it, MONA’s fabulously interactive installations have continued to draw ever increasing crowds into this small corner of the world.

MONA has expanded its reach by arranging the summer and winter arts festivals which bring a liveliness and excitement to the capital with terrifically curated events and installations. Dark MOFO, a celebration of the Winter Solstice, featured a 3 night Winter Feast with guest chefs and a winter wonderland theme. The Red Death Ball was a masquerade ball intended to free participants from their inhibitions. The Ferris Wheel of Death turned in all its purple neon glory and haunting soundscape above bonfires below. Installations in public spaces had people queuing up to wash ice or slice spotlights through the night sky. It was all great fun and wholly embraced by Hobartians and visitors alike.

Unsurprisingly, Hobart has blossomed under the attention. Tasmania has always had a flourishing locavore industry and has been justifiably proud of its produce. Restaurants, bars and providores of the quality usually attributed to the mainland have been springing up and packing them in (Garagistes and Sidecar are two notables, whilst café/bakeries like Pigeon Whole or Jackman and McRoss continue to draw the crowds by day).

Hobart is also proud of its past as well as its present. Its connection to Antarctic exploration and history is evident, from the recreation of Mawson’s Huts to the unmistakeable orange hulk of the Aurora Australis which can be seen moored just next to Salamanca Place. Salamanca Place itself is a long square lined by handsome convict-era sandstone warehouses, and populated by a bustling market on Saturday morning selling everything from local cider and truffles to handmade sailcloth bags

With all this going on, it’s one of the best long weekends (or longer) that you can imagine.

Over the past several years, accommodation has also sprung up to meet the demand for visitors, often in the character warehousing or handsome Georgian buildings of the city. Good examples are The Henry Jones Art Hotel, and the Islington, both contemporary makeovers of historic properties.

However, I’ve now found my home in Hobart in Arthouse Salamanca, a gem which I am truly reluctant to share. Arthouse Salamanca is a white painted 19thC cottage opposite pretty Princes Park at the end of Salamanca Place. It has a pocket-sized Mediterranean front garden of rosemary and lemon trees. And once inside, it’s the type of house you might see in a glossy interiors magazine and wish fervently that you had the style to pull off. The house has been beautifully renovated, with two large bedrooms upstairs, so inviting with their Suzani throws and interesting books and objets. Downstairs is a theatrical “cave” with huge daybeds and entertainment system, a chef’s kitchen, and a large light-filled living space leading onto a small but elegant patio with water views. However, the attention to detail makes it a home. The house is filled with lovely artworks and beautifully designed furniture (Charles Blackman was a former husband of one of the owners, herself a highly regarded artist, and pieces from both, as well as many other interesting works from her personal collection, fill the walls). There is nothing which is not beautiful or useful and generosity is everywhere, from the organic bath products to the bountifully stocked pantry.

After you’ve seen a Roger Ballen exhibition at MONA, you will need to find a happy place. And I can’t think of a happier place than sitting on the terrace in the morning sunlight with a freshly brewed coffee and a little jazz in the background.

I loved this house so much that I cannot wait to return, at a time when there is no festival, no dinner reservations, no concert tickets, and indeed, no plans at all.