Wow, time really does fly... I've now been living in Australia for four years - and still very much in love with Sydney. It's funny because people ask me all the time 'Oh my God, how come you're living in Sydney when you could be living in Paris??!'
The thing is, Paris is amazing of course - and I'll always remain a Parisienne at heart - but believe me, there's quite a difference between visiting Paris when you're on holidays (completely carefree and with lots of time on your hands to walk around, go to markets, and enjoy everything the city has to offer), and working there full time in a crazy-hours industry such as PR or advertising.
This is why Jean and I decided to come over to Australia. I guess we needed a bit of a break from all that 'métro-boulot-dodo' frenzy, as we say in French (for 'train-work-sleep')...
And I have to say, so far it's been for the best. It's like, instead of being this all too familiar husband, Paris became this exciting French lover I come back to once a year or so, with only the fun bits to share and no time to get blasé.
And so without further ado, here's what I like most about my 'new husband' - aka Manly Beach in Sydney's Northern Beaches. We moved here after two years living in Elizabeth Bay (which we really enjoyed as well), but Manly is a very special place and every day I feel really blessed that we're living in this area. So if you're coming to Manly for a day - or just a couple of hours - here's my Top-10 list of what to do:
#1: Go for a walk - or a run - on the main beach.
Frolick in the waves. Enjoy the salty sea breeze. Check out the (hot) volley-ball players. Go for a swim - or a surf (I couldn't surf for the life of me, must suffer from some sort of childhood trauma in big waves). Make a sandcastle with your kids. Show off your new bikini. Take your iPod and go for an energising run, in true Rocky Balboa style.
Jean surfing - Manly Beach - Freshwater Beach
If you're up for a little exercise, you can walk all the way to Freshwater Beach next door (go left if you're facing the sea). Fab views and you can reward yourself with a delicious coffee and gourmet sandwich at Pilu's little kiosk, voted by food critic Terry Durack as one of the Top-50 experiences every Sydney food lover should try.
#2: grab breakfast at Bacino Bar on the Corso. Their coffee and eggs kick ass.
#3: pack a picnic and go spend the day at Collins Beach. Pristine waters, great for a swim, really nice views. This is one of the locals' secrets - very quiet and secluded, away from the main beach crowd. Icing on the cake: on the weekends, there's even a small boat that comes ashore and where you can order takeaway lattes, cappucinos and icecreams. Very cool. [PS: there are lots of other fantastic picnic locations around Manly, check out my "favourite picnic spots" post for more ideas.]
#4: enjoy a long Sunday lunch at the Manly Pavilion, winner of the Best Restaurant Award in the 2011 Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide. Great food, million-dollar views on the harbour. I love going there for afternoon meetings as well, just for dessert and coffee. My favourite desserts would include the 'Blood orange sorbet, curd and jelly" ($14) and the more edgy 'Cocoa ravioli with gorgonzola and honey' ($12).
#5: hire a bike at Manly Bike Tours and discover secluded coves, deserted beaches and breathtaking coastal views. With over 20kms of dedicated bike paths and off road trails, Manly caters for all levels of riders. Manly Bike Tours even offers 2-hour guided bike tours every day at 10:30am.
#6: get a glass of wine - or two - at the Manly Wine Bar by Gazebo, on the South end of the beach. Gazebo's quirky signature decor, great wine selection, and I like the daily specials. Being French, I'm quite partial to the 'Sticky and Stinky' cheese night on Thursdays, with a range of Australian and European cheeses at $8 / slice. Open every day midday till late.
#7: take the scenic walk to Shelly Beach and spend a lazy afternoon there. Don't forget your snorkeling gear, Shelly Beach is a popular spot, with great visibility and plenty of fish to observe. The 15-mn walk on the Bower is really beautiful, it's one of my favourite places for an evening run. A tip from the locals: because of the sun orientation, there's not much sun after 3pm on all beaches facing east, such as Manly Beach - and it can get a bit chilly there when it's windy. So if you want to enjoy the afternoon sunshine, head to Shelly Beach, Collins Beach, Little Manly Beach and Fairlight Beach instead.
PS: if you feel like going for an extended walk in the bush, there's a really fabulous scenic track going into the North Head National Park from the Shelly Beach car park.
#8: go for a girls (boys) night out or Sunday lunch at Hugo's Manly. Spectacular waterfront location, right on the wharf. Very glam, Sydney's cool at its best. My favourite diet there includes a jug of "Hugo's Punch" to share (gin, grapefruit, lime, passionfruit, sparkling wine, $36) and the oh-so-delicious angel hair pasta with rare tuna, chilli, capers, garlic and rocket ($32).
#9: customise your own seafood dish at Garfish Manly, which is one of my favourite places to eat, and which has just been voted Best Seafood Restaurant of the Year in NSW for the 3rd consecutive year. Their potato mash is a legend. And if you hurry up, you can also try their special "Let's do Lunch" menu as part of the Sydney International Food Festival: $35 set menu with wood roasted Hiramasa Kingfish with grilled asparagus, a coffee, and a choice of a matching glass of Brown Brother’s wine, Coopers Beer, San Pellegrino sparkling, or Acqua Panna Still (weekdays only, info and bookings here).
#10: do yourself a favour and do the Manly to Spit scenic walk. Awesome, awesome!! Beautiful panoramic views of the majestic entrance to Sydney Harbour and swathes of bushland. The walk takes you through some of Sydney’s most glamorous harbourside real estate, past secluded beaches, rainforest and Aboriginal sites. The one-way walk takes about 3 to 4 hours so it's best to take your time and stop for a picnic or a swim along the way. Do not forget any of the above: camera, sunglasses, sunscreen, lots of water, your swimsuit and some small change if you're catching the bus on the Spit Bridge back to Manly or the Sydney CBD (pre-pay only on these buses).
There you go - hope this helps next time you're coming to Manly!! I could have mentioned a lot more, of course, such as going for a beer at the local Four Pines Brewery on the wharf or eating out in the Grand Dining Room of the majestic International College of Hospitality Management, where Nicole Kidman got married ($30 for 3-course lunch or dinner), but then the list could have gone on and on!
So tell me, dear reader, have you ever visited Manly? If so, what are your personal favourites?
View Top-10 in Manly in a larger map