Francophiles and musical theatre fans will wish for one day more in Melbourne when Les Mis opens this month, writes Angie Kelly.
A fix of France is just an hour away, and with the reimagined stage production of Victor Hugo's epic Les Miserables about to open at Her Majesty's Theatre, fans have the perfect excuse to sample the city's many venues that pay homage to La Republique. Plan your theatre trip and spend an entire weekend staying, playing and eating in a vacuum of macarons, Le Monde and music to set your French-loving heart aflutter.
With a restaurant in its driveway named after the famed Chinese American architect I.M.Pei, who designed the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, your French sojourn bodes well right from your arrival.
A cheery "bonjour" at reception - which you will also get any time you call staff on the phone during your stay - starts your stay, with champagne on the breakfast buffet (but of course!) and Le Monde newspaper to keep the vibe going.
And the location? The famous Paris end of Collins Street, naturellement. The wide tree-lined avenue with its grand Victorian-era buildings is home to the city's highest concentration of designer boutiques, including the new Louis Vuitton concept store, and the Collins Place entrance to the hotel is also a label-lover's haven.
Madam Virtue & Co
Hidden down the gritty Crossley Street in the city, among shirtmakers, textile boutiques, barbers and cafes, French fashion treasure box Madam Virtue & Co has long been delighting fans of all things froufrou and fabulous.
Despite its blink-and-you-might-miss-it location, this shoebox-sized store, which is regarded as a Melbourne institution, had a stack of vintage Louis Vuitton trunks and a Chanel purse on the day of our visit. A lucky dip worth repeat visits.
La Belle Miette
A delectable sorbet-coloured little shop with delicious morsels in pastels to match. Renowned as a destination for the city's best macarons, the Paris vibe is high here with its painted wrought-iron outdoor furniture and cafe au lait crowd. 30 Hardware Lane, labellemiette.com.au.
La Petite Creperie
Tucked into a former newspaper stand, young French chefs were performing miracles inside the tiny space making tasty takeaway crepes virtually on the footpath all weekend. The first of its kind in Melbourne, the stainless-steel stand was converted into a "exquise crepe batiment" earlier this year.
Tricky to eat while you shop (what's not to love about warm caramel and banana?), but worth the effort. Corner of Little Collins and Swanston streets,
This delectable eatery is so French, we could almost hear concertina music from our red velvet banquette.
It's a space groaning with vintage collectables gathered from France by owner Shannon Bennett, the menu is quintessentially Parisian. Plats principaux include tuna nicoise, john dory a la meuniere, and confit duck leg. Choose from souffle au chocolat, a basket of madeleines baked a la minute, or tarte tatin for dessert.
Bar Vue is a Melbourne favourite with the smart cocktail set. There is so much to love here for people pining for Paris.
Normanby Chambers, 430 Little Collins Street, vuedemonde.com.au/bistro-vue.
La Niche Cafe
The beret-wearing, guitar-playing Anthony from Brittany welcomes diners like old friends - and it's best that you are indeed the friendly type, because your table will be a mere profiterole's diameter away from your neighbour's. Noisy, a little chaotic, warm and an absolute must-visit for francophiles. There's live music on Friday evenings, whole-room singalongs - in French, of course - obscure wine you're unlikely to have heard of and entertaining repartee on the menu. Rustic, hearty food from regional France is almost a bonus.
67 Smith Street, Fitzroy. lanichecafe.com.au.
Victor Hugo: Les Miserables - From Page to Stage
This world-first exhibition timed to coincide with the stage-show is a coup for the State Library of Victoria because it unveils a collection of original writing and artwork from the author himself that has rarely been seen outside of France.
The visual feast includes original manuscripts, photographs and letters belonging to Hugo, while theatre producer Cameron Mackintosh has allowed original scripts, scores, set designs and costumes from his own collection to be shown as well.
On show from July 18 until November 9, film and theatre buffs will no doubt keep coming back to watch famous scenes from past versions of the movie - including 2012's outing - and dress up as their favourite characters from the musical and try their pipes on classic numbers from the show.
Angie Kelly is the Traveller on Sunday editor and was a guest of Sofitel Melbourne on Collins and Tourism Victoria.
DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE SING?
Cameron Mackintosh's new stage version of Les Miserables - Victor Hugo's epic tale of tangled relationships, redemption and revolution - opens at Her Majesty's Theatre on June 22.
See ticketek.com.au/lesmis or phone 1300 795 012.
Qantas flies daily from Sydney to Melbourne. Phone 13 13 13, see qantas.com.au
French-owned Accor is the official accommodation partner to Les Miserables, and participating Melbourne hotels are offering discounted rates to those who buy their tickets through the official musical website.
To book tickets and get discounted hotel stays with Accor, see ticketek.com.au/lesmis.