After spending four days exploring the fascinating city of Melbourne and the surrounding countryside and coastline of Victoria, I’m convinced they have earned a spot on the U.S. incentive travel map.

All visits begin in the “CBD,” or Central Business District, which is fast-becoming known as one of the world’s most famous foodie capitals thanks in part to celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain (who has raved about Melbourne on his TV show, “No Reservations”). Whether it’s a lunch of fresh crayfish and prawns at one of the many restaurants lining the vibrant riverbank or a ten-course dinner (that’s right, 1…0) at PM 24, one of the restaurants run by acclaimed chef Philippe Mouchel, the most sophisticated palates will be pleased.

It makes sense that this city has evolved into a culinary capital, with the abundance of fresh ingredients at its chefs’ disposal: just–picked fruits such as strawberries and peaches, local seafood like King Island Marron or Port Phillip Snapper, and a seemingly endless array of meats, such as wagyu beef and lamb, and, for the daring, kangaroo.

Then there’s the wine. Australia is known the world over for its wine, and a visit and lunch at one of the many wineries in the Yarra Valley (an hour and a half drive from the city) is the perfect day trip. For a truly VIP experience, you can helicopter your group right from the city center for an overnight at the lovely 32-suite Chateau Yering, followed by an early rise and a hot air ballooning excursion over the valley.

Back in the city, another incentive activity not to be missed is shopping at the many Victorian arcades. A “Hidden Secrets” tour can lay the groundwork for the group and introduce them the many alleyways and arcades, then you can set them loose. Though there’s a multitude of high-end designer boutiques, Melbourne takes great pride in its Australian-only brands, which are also showcased at the city’s cavernous outlet center, located along the Yarra River.

Locals are extremely proud of their riverfront area, which is also home to the massive Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, the site of the 20th annual AIME (Asia-Pacific Meetings and Incentives Expo) , and which also just won the bid for the 2014 International AIDS Conference. Various special event venues also line the water, many in restored pier buildings, and incentive groups can charter one of dozens of yachts for a private cruise. The enormous Crown Casino and Entertainment Complex takes two city blocks on the south bank, and is home to two of the city’s best choices for incentive accommodations: the 481-room Crown Towers and the 658-room Crown Metropol.

The world’s perception of Australia is of its rugged countryside and amazing coast, and Melbourne’s version of the latter, the Great Ocean Road, won’t disappoint. This stunning roadway that winds along Victoria’s southern shore has been cited as one of the top drives in the world. About four hours east, the 12 Apostles, a grouping of limestone stacks created by coastal erosion, is a top visitor attraction. To view the Apostles in VIP fashion, groups can hire a chartered plane and be there in less than an hour, land at a little airstrip, and take a short bus transfer to the site.

The Melbourne CVB is expert at suggesting activities that add a surprise touch to any incentive trip—things that attendees would not be able to do on their own. For example, soon after our arrival lunch at Donovan’s, we stepped outside to see the sidewalk lined with Harley-Davidson motorcycles with sidecars. What a great way to explore the city for the first time—on the side of Harley with a friendly biker sharing the sights! And because we visited in February, just a couple of weeks before the famous Australian F1 race (which draws 30,000 visitors there each year), they were even able to hit it up on part of the race course at Albert Park. Later in the week, during a pleasant lunch at the Rochford Winery, the group noticed a trailer with Segways parked across the grassy field. Could they be for us? Indeed they were, and Segway Victoria had us mastering them in no time flat, though navigating the obstacle course they had laid out wasn’t quite as easy.

If you’re considering a long-haul trip, Melbourne is a comfortable option, even for a group that’s not particularly well-traveled. Everyone speaks English and visitors feel instantly at home (in fact, it was named the “most livable” city in the world by Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Survey, a ranking of 140 cities around the world). And to many people’s surprise: The Australian dollar is not nearly as strong as the Euro; as of press time it was $1.07 against the U.S. dollar.

For more, visit www.mcvb.com.au

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