x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Adelaide's urban allure

My kind of place: The attractions of this south Australian city are a well-kept secret.

Locals sit down for their morning coffee at the Big Table cafe in Central Market. Alamy
Locals sit down for their morning coffee at the Big Table cafe in Central Market. Alamy

Why Adelaide?

Living in the shadow of bigger, brasher Sydney and Melbourne, Adelaide is often overlooked by visitors, which is a shame because it has multiple charms. Indeed, this compact, laid-back city encapsulates the best features of Australian urban life, including fine beaches and outstanding shops, restaurants and outdoor activities, all accessible without battling Sydney-style traffic.

Sandwiched between the Southern Ocean and the foothills of the Mount Lofty Ranges, Adelaide also has a great location, within easy reach of picturesque coastal towns such as Beachport as well as the outback scenery of the Flinders Ranges. But the two things that really set it apart from the other Australian capitals are its artistic life and the excellence of its fresh produce. The "Festival City" hosts one of the world's biggest arts festivals, the second largest fringe festival after Edinburgh and the Womad world music festival, not to mention numerous community-based events. It has also become Australia's gastronomic centre, thanks to its award-winning boutique producers and its proximity to farms, market gardens and the ocean. Adelaide itself is easy to navigate, with a grid-like city centre of broad streets and well-preserved colonial buildings surrounded by parklands. Add to all that a relaxed pace of life, and you realise why Adelaideans don't mind too much if their city's attractions remain a relatively well-kept secret.

A comfortable bed

In the city centre, the spick and span Majestic Roof Garden Hotel in Rundle Street has light, airy rooms with Japanese-inspired bathrooms and is a short hop from the cafes, boutiques and bookshops of Adelaide's "East End", as well as North Terrace and the Botanic Gardens. Double rooms cost from A$214 (Dh800). Also very central is the boutique-style Hotel Richmond (www.hotelrichmond.com.au; 00 618 8215 4444), in a tastefully updated 1920s Art Deco building in Rundle Mall. It has 30 minimalist rooms, some with a private courtyard or balcony. Double rooms cost from A$300 (Dh1,121). For a beachside pad, try the Stamford Grand (www.stamford.com.au/sga; 00 618 8376 1222) in Glenelg, which has double rooms from A$203 (Dh759).

Find your feet

There are fabulous views back over Adelaide and Gulf St Vincent from the lookout at Mount Lofty Summit in the Adelaide Hills, 710 metres above sea level but only 45 minutes by car from the city. The nearby Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens (www.botanicgardens.sa.gov.au) are the icing on the cake.

Meet the locals

All that wonderful South Australian produce - cheese, olives, smoked meats and more - can be found at Central Market (www.adelaidecentralmarket.com.au), where Adelaideans love to congregate and shop. The market also has food stalls and cafes, including Lucia's, a slice of Italy that is an Adelaide institution, while nearby Gouger Street, in Chinatown, is a favourite restaurant destination for locals. Weekend haunts include North Adelaide, just north of the city centre, which has great coffee (try the Sparrow on O'Connell Street), an imposing cathedral and a huge statue of Colonel William Light, who planned the city. Semaphore, an up-and-coming beach suburb that retains the feel of an old seaside village, has a particularly chilled vibe, while just inland is Port Adelaide, a historic working-class neighbourhood that is rapidly becoming an alternative arts hub. Adelaide's beaches - Henley, Grange and West Beach are also popular destinations on summer weekends - join the locals fishing for sweet-fleshed blue swimmer crab off the end of Semaphore jetty.

Book a table

Among the standouts in Gouger Street are Celsius, a glamorous new venue serving "mod Oz" fare (A$120, or Dh448 for an eight-course degustation menu), and Ying Chow, a funky, cafe-style Chinese (mains A$10 to $A15; Dh37 to Dh56). Adelaide's restaurant scene reflects its ethnically diverse population; the best Italian is considered to be Chianti Classico in the city centre (www.chianticlassico.com.au; 00 618 8232 7955; A$110 [Dh411] for a two-course meal for two), while for authentic, well-priced Vietnamese my Adelaide-based relatives swear by Vietnam, opened by refugees in the northern suburb of Pennington in the 1970s and with a virtually unchanged menu and decor (00 618 8447 3395; mains A$15-25 [Dh56 to Dh93]). South Australian seafood is wonderful; catch an old-fashioned tram out to Glenelg for fish and chips overlooking the water - King George whiting is a particularly delicious local fish. For a beachfront location, try the bistro at the white stucco Semaphore Palais (www.palais.com.au; 00618 8341 6333; mains A$15 to A$30, or Dh56 to Dh112); if you're feeling adventurous, head for the award-winning Star of Greece in Port Willunga, a 45-minute drive south of Adelaide (www.starofgreececafe.com.au; 00618 8557 7420; two-course set menu for A$60, or Dh224).

Shopper's paradise

The R M Williams boots loved by Australian farmers and city slickers are made in Adelaide; order yourself a pair from the original factory in the suburb of Prospect, where there is also an outback heritage museum (5 Percy St; 00 618 8344 8191). Another local product is Haigh's Chocolates (haighschocolates.com.au), with outlets all over the city. The eastern end of Rundle Street, in central Adelaide, is a great place to browse for designer labels and homewares, while Queen Street in Croydon has become a popular spot for vintage clothing and furniture; One Small Room (www.onesmallroom.com.au) is well worth a visit. The Jam Factory (http://factory.com.au), near North Terrace, exhibits and sells contemporary jewellery and crafts by local designers.

What to avoid

The mostly tacky shops in the pedestrianised Rundle Mall in the city centre.

Don't miss

The Art Gallery (www.artgallery.sa.gov.au; 00 618 8207 7000) of South Australia in North Terrace has an outstanding collection of Aboriginal art, as well as an excellent exhibition programme.