Wowed by dining hot spots, natural beauty, friendly locals and the marvellous MONA, Winsor Dobbin says the time to visit Hobart is now.
While the rest of Australia expressed amazement at Hobart being named by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 city destinations for 2013, there was no such surprise among the capital's residents, who have long known they are on to a good thing.
According to Lonely Planet, Hobart's "allure has always been its natural beauty ... but the arrival of the world-class MONA museum has the waters rippling, hip tourists flocking and Hobart rousing from its slumber".
Hobart may be relatively small, with a population of just 225,000, but it offers a city lifestyle without the hassles of Sydney or Melbourne and with a choice between inner-city living or a country lifestyle within easy commuting distance.
There are small properties just 20 minutes drive outside the city; and a chic three-bedroom inner-city home can be yours for $350,000. No wonder there has been an influx of newcomers from the big smoke. Qantas and Virgin Australia have added extra flights to Hobart for the summer season - and Tiger Airways last month resumed services. "There is a real vibrancy about Hobart these days - and there is some fantastic produce being grown around the state," says former Sydney restaurant critic Matthew Evans, whose SBS TV show Gourmet Farmer features his travails as a farmer at Cygnet, a 40-minute drive from the city. Evans owns and runs the Common Ground gourmet store at Salamanca and is a regular at local growers' markets.
There is a real vibrancy about Hobart these days.
Hobart has long been a magnet for visitors who enjoy its vibrant port, outstanding colonial architecture and leafy suburbs - but visitors are equally drawn by its fresh seafood, superb local produce and more than 20 boutique wineries surrounding the city.
It's a city where people still say "good morning" to each other as they walk the city streets. Locals joke that instead of a "peak hour", Hobart has a "peak 10 minutes".
The opening two years ago of MONA - local gambling multimillionaire David Walsh's fantastical art museum, which features works from artists as diverse as Brett Whiteley and Sidney Nolan to Wim Delvoye, Pablo Picasso and Damien Hirst - has also put Hobart very much on the map of art lovers from around the globe.
The complex in the working-class suburb of Berriedale - a winner of the Australian Institute of Architects' Sir Zelman Cowan Award for Public Architecture - has become a "must do" on virtually every visitor's itinerary and is regarded as one of the primary reasons for Hobart's seventh place on the Lonely Planet list, which described it as "the beacon" for tourists.
MONA not only displays works from some of the most controversial artists of the era, it is also home to the Moorilla Estate winery and cellar door (known for excellent pinots noir and zesty aromatic whites), the French-accented fine-dining restaurant the Source, a wine bar and micro-brewery and eight luxury pavilions decorated with artworks from Walsh's private collection.
MONA hosts a market every Saturday afternoon during the summer months with live entertainment curated by former Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie, one of many drawn to Hobart because of its aesthetic and artistic charms. "Hobart has enough eccentric people to make it interesting," Ritchie says. "And enough friendly people to make it a community."
Walsh and Ritchie also put together the summer MONA FOMA extravaganza and the new Dark MOFO winter festival (see breakout for a list of what festivals are on this summer in Hobart).
Perhaps Hobart's most famous attraction is the Salamanca Markets, held every Saturday rain or shine since 1973. From Hmong migrants selling fresh vegetables to family fudge producers handing out samples of their wares, the outdoor market offers a real taste of Tasmania with a backdrop of historic sandstone warehouses dating back to the 1830s. The markets are at their best in spring and summer when local artisan producers come to town to sell everything from fresh fruit to handicrafts.
The arrival of warm weather signals fairs and fetes throughout Hobart and surrounds, including the finish of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race at Constitution Dock, and the Taste of Tasmania festival, a food and wine fair that runs on the waterfront during the New Year holiday period.
They are both free events, so there is no need to book in advance - but Hobart accommodation can be booked out, so it pays to plan ahead.
Hobart's warm summers have traditionally attracted far more visitors than winter, when Mount Wellington is often capped with snow. Summer daytime temperatures usually hover between 20 degrees and 25 degrees and maximums sit about 10 degrees to 12 degrees in winter, although it rarely snows in town.
The area around Salamanca Place is dotted with terrific eating and drinking spots, including Smolt, Monty's On Montpelier and Rockwall, while more relaxed options include fresh fish and chips from Fish Frenzy or pizzas and a glass of wine at Cargo Bar.
In town, Garagistes is the dining hot spot renowned for inventive cuisine and ingredients foraged by chef Luke Burgess, but be warned it does not accept reservations. Also check out Ethos Eat Drink, the Westend Pumphouse, Le Provencal, Piccolo, Remi de Provence, Me Wah, Lebrina and Chado, along with small bar Sidecar and tapas bar Charcoal. Seafood specialists include Mures Upper Deck, Blue Eye and the Drunken Admiral. Newcomer RedRed Grill is the place for steaks and ribs, while Jack Greene serves gourmet burgers.
Out of town, and best reached by ferry, is the Stackings restaurant at Peppermint Bay. Both Garagistes and the Stackings were named in Gourmet Traveller magazine's top 100 restaurants in Australia for 2012-13.
Hobart is pretty much paradise for a wine lover, with many boutique cellar doors within a short drive of the city and three distinct grape-growing regions: the Derwent Valley, Coal River Valley and the Huon Valley. Stefano Lubiana, Moorilla Estate, Pooley, Domaine A, Frogmore Creek/Meadowbank Estate, Derwent Estate and Home Hill are just a handful of the many local wineries producing excellent cool-climate wines.
Nick Glaetzer from Glaetzer-Dixon Family Wines, a member of a famous Barossa Valley winemaking clan, moved to Hobart seven years ago because "Tasmania is the best place in Australia to work with pinot noir and other cool-climate varieties - and the industry here is booming".
Back in town, in South Hobart, the Cascade Brewery was founded in 1824 and is Australia's oldest operational brewery, having escaped bushfires in 1967. It has opened a bushwalking track linking the Hobart Rivulet Park to the brewery gardens.
The city also has many traditional pubs in the British style: check out the Shipwright's Arms, New Sydney Hotel or the Customs House Hotel. There is also a thriving Tasmanian whisky-distilling industry. Names to look out for in Hobart include Lark Distillery, which recently launched Friday night sessions featuring musicians and regional produce, and Sullivans Cove.
The recently revamped Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery is a worthwhile stop on any tour while the Hobart-based Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra under artistic director Marko Letonja has scheduled summer concerts featuring guest stars such as soprano Maya Boog, mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham, pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin and cellist Sol Gabetta. World-famous Vladimir Ashkenazy conducts a program at the Federation Concert Hall on November 17 featuring works by Sibelius, Tchaikovsky and Ravel.
There has been a surge in the availability of upmarket accommodation in the past few years with the highly acclaimed Henry Jones Art Hotel, Islington, Admiral's Collection Apartments and the MONA Pavilions overlooking the Derwent River at the top of the pile.
Lonely Planet singled out Islington for particular praise for combining old and new in a city that is reinventing itself. Built in the Regency style in 1847, this former grand mansion is now a luxury boutique hotel with stunning views of Mount Wellington furnished with antiques, artefacts and contemporary artworks.
Options such as Gattonside Heritage Accommodation, the Hotel Collins and Grand Mercure Hobart City Apartments are more affordable, while the Mercure Hadley's also offers a charming step back in time.
Whatever your interests, it might pay to visit Hobart sooner rather than later now the word is out about its many charms.
What's on in and around Hobart this summer:
Soundscape Music Festival November 16-17, acts including Missy Higgins and the Temper Trap at Princes Wharf No.1 on the waterfront. thesoundscapefestival.com.
Beerfest November 24-25, is Australia's biggest beer festival and is held at Princes Wharf No.1. tasmanianbeerfest.com.au.
First cricket Test December 14-18: Australia take on Sri Lanka at Bellerive Oval in the first of three cricket Tests. cricket.com.au.
Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race December 26-January 1, is now in its 68th year and a fleet of about 90 yachts is expected to make the journey from Sydney Harbour to the Sullivans Cove foreshore. rolexsydneyhobart.com.
The Taste of Tasmania Festival December 28-January 3, is a week-long celebration of Tasmanian food and wine held at Princes Wharf No.1 and the Salamanca precinct. Entry is free, except for the traditional New Year's Eve party. tastefestival.com.au.
Hobart Collectors Antique Fair December 28-January 1, attracts more than 30 local and mainland antique dealers who offer a range of antiques and collectables in Hobart City Hall. For information phone 0437 126 679.
The Falls Festival December 29-January 1: The Falls Music and Arts Festival is held on a farm overlooking Marion Bay and out over Maria Island. Acts include the Flaming Lips, Hilltop Hoods and Angus Stone. fallsfestival.com.
Moorilla Hobart International January 4-12: One of the lead-up events to the Australian Open, this women's tennis tournament attracts several of the top 50 players in the world to the Domain Tennis Centre in Hobart. hobartinternational.com.au.
Cygnet Folk Festival January 11-13. Australian and international acts perform over three days in one of Tasmania's prettiest villages, just a 40-minute drive from downtown Hobart. cygnetfolkfestival.org.
Cadbury Marathon January 13. Starting and finishing at the Cadbury chocolate factory in the northern suburbs, competitors in the 30th edition of the marathon will run past many of Hobart's iconic buildings. cadburymarathon.com.au.
MONA FOMA January 16-20. The Museum of Old and New Art Festival of Music and Art features an avant-garde program of art installations, musical performances, special events and parties across the city with acts including David Byrne (ex Talking Heads) and Amanda Palmer. mofo.net.au.
One-day international January 23: Australia play Sri Lanka in a 50-over cricket match at Bellerive Oval. cricket.com.au.
Australian Wooden Boat Festival February 8-11: Held on the historic Sullivans Cove waterfront docks, the Australian Wooden Boat Festival is a celebration of Australia's rich maritime culture, heritage and craftsmanship and attracts visitors from around the world. australianwoodenboatfestival.com.au.
Five unmissable experiences
1. Take a ferry up the Derwent River to MONA, Hobart's spectacular art museum, and enjoy lunch at the Source restaurant overlooking vineyards and water.
2. Taste some freshly shucked oysters and other local seafood at Barilla Bay Oyster Farm at Cambridge, close to Hobart Airport.
3. Spend some time on Bruny Island and in South Bruny National Park visiting the cheesemaking facility, oyster farm, vineyard, smokehouse, lighthouse, museum and art gallery or taking an eco cruise.
4. Dine at award-winning eatery Garagistes, a funky wine bar-cum-restaurant that features a menu that changes daily and a huge list of "natural" and biodynamic wines from around the world, including local producer d'Meure.
5. Meet local artisan producers and sample their seasonal offerings at the Hobart Farm Gate Markets each Sunday from 9am at the Melville Street car park.
The Lonely Planet Top 10
1. San Francisco, US
2. Amsterdam, Netherlands
3. Hyderabad, India
4. Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland
5. Beijing, China
6. Christchurch, New Zealand
7. Hobart, Australia
8. Montreal, Canada
9. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
10. Puerto Iguazu, Argentina
Hobart is served by Virgin Australia, Qantas, Jetstar and Tiger Airways. All major car hire companies have desks at Hobart Airport. Alternatively, the Spirit of Tasmania ferry operates between Melbourne and Devonport, which is a four-hour drive from Hobart.
Islington Hotel, 321 Davey Street, Hobart, is a bijou property on the city fringes, set in lovely gardens with views of Mount Wellington. From $395. (03) 6220 2123. islingtonhotel.com.au.
The Henry Jones Art Hotel, 25 Hunter Street, Hobart, is an award-winning hotel on the Hobart waterfront furnished with more than 300 artworks. From $250. (03) 6210 7700. thehenryjones.com.
Villa Howden, 77 Howden Road, Howden, is a new luxury 10-room boutique hotel 15 minutes south of the city with a Provencal feel. From $375. (03) 6267 1161. villahowden.com.au.