It's a funny old place Canberra. You could be forgiven for wondering what people actually do in this city as you pass through on your way somewhere else. But scratch below the surface and there is a bubbling pot of things to see and do, as well as a gold mine of great places to eat. From the hip café and shopping boutique spots of Manuka and Kingston to the stalwart Sunday Railway Markets, it's actually very easy to spend a good couple of days entertaining yourself in the nation's capital.
This summer Canberra is a destination for lovers of fine art, with the most comprehensive collection of works by French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec ever to be brought to Australia on display at the National Gallery. Over one hundred of the great Post-Impressionist's works are on show, collated from museums, galleries and private collections around the world.The art of Toulouse-Lautrec is highly recognizable, with prints of his popular posters hanging on café walls around the globe. A visit to the exhibition will bring you face to face with many of these iconic images - the dancing girls of the Moulin Rouge, the stars of the cabaret and the confronting portraits of prostitutes and alcoholics that were so before their time. It's fascinating to see these works up close and to spend some time contemplating why these slightly off-putting portraits of the seedy Paris underworld of the 1890’s have held such universal appeal for over a century.
Toulouse-Lautrec's more traditional early works are also included in the collection, along with his book illustrations and more Japanese inspired works, reminding the gallery visitor just how diverse this artistic genius really was in his brief career.
Delving into the life of Toulouse-Lautrec is a highlight of the event. Born into aristocracy, the great artist distanced himself from his upper class life to become a well known figure of the nightlife of Paris' Belle Epoque. Just thirty-six when he died of complications from alcohol abuse, his work continues to live on. There is plenty of information as you take in the gallery, and if you want to know more or bring some of that French flavour home there are plenty of souvenirs in the gift shop at the end of the exhibition.
It's easy to spend an entire morning or afternoon viewing the collection, and made easier thanks to a very inspired 'childrens' room', which has a collection of turn of the century accessories for the kids to dress up in, as well as pint sized chairs and tables with paper and pencils to distract the little ones while Mum and Dad have a proper look around the gallery. Another great tactic for the gallery is timed ticket purchases, to prevent large crowds cramming in at the same time and making a leisurely visit impossible.
After a visit to the gallery, if you're feeling like continuing the French theme and going for something a little bit extravagant, a visit to Water's Edge restaurant is well worth your while. An incredibly reasonable $75 per head will get you a four course meal from French chef James Mussillon, and will absolutely delight and inspire. From the mustard ice cream sitting atop the crab roulade to the deliciously frothy lime bubbles that accompany the chocolate soufflé, each dish is a memorable culinary journey in itself, and the lakeside setting brings a beautiful tranquil finish to your French-Canberran experience.A range of budgets are catered for when it comes to accommodation in Canberra, but if you're looking for comfort, luxury and convenience the Novotel is a great choice. With generous rooms, a swimming pool to cool off in after one of those hot Canberra days and even a pillow menu, there's not much left to be desired after a stay at this central Canberra hotel.
Toulouse-Lautrec: Paris and the Moulin Rouge is part of Canberra's year long centenary celebrations and can be seen at the National Gallery until April 2nd, 2013. Tickets start from $6 for children and are $25 for adults.
For more information about where to stay, what to do and what to see in Canberra this summer check out visitcanberra.com.au