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HOBART, Australia (Reuters) - Flanked by mountains and the sea, Hobart is Australia's most southern city. In late December through early January each year it becomes a "maritime Mecca," with yachts sailing across the finish line in the grueling Sydney to Hobart race.
The abundance of sailors converging on the city then resembles its early days of white settlement when Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, was a bustling whaling port and former penal colony.
Hobart, a 70-minute flight from Melbourne, is also a base for Antarctic expeditions engaging in research from the deep south, and it's not unusual to see these massive research vessels moored along the quay wall.
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of a 48-hour visit.
5 p.m. Check into one of Hobart's newest hotels, The Henry Jones Art Hotel, located on 22 Hunter Street, which offers waterfront and mountain views. www.thehenryjones.com
Then head out to soak up the waterfront ambience and stroll over to The Customs House Hotel, just five minutes away. Australia's oldest brewery is in Hobart, so enjoy a drop of local Cascade beer before dinner. www.customshousehotel.com
8 p.m Nearby is Muir's Upper Deck restaurant. Nestled between Victoria and Constitution Docks, the establishment owns its own fishing fleet, guaranteeing a fresh catch daily. www.upperdeck.com.au
Whether diners choose oysters, seafood chowder, the catch of the day or a "fisherman's basket," accompanied by local wine -- perhaps from the Tamar Valley, which has developed a reputation for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir -- the night will be memorable.
9 a.m. Leave the waterfront views behind and venture through the heart of the city for a wander before popping into The Italian Pantry Cafe-Deli at 34 Federal Street. After enjoying a light breakfast of coffee and Italian pastries, take the time to wander through the Deli with its trove of Italy's finest produce including cheeses, sausages, pasta, sugo and pickled vegetables. The friendly staff are always happy to have a chat. www.italianpantry.com
11 a.m Visit Salamanca Place and immerse yourself in local island culture at the weekly Saturday markets. Visitors may get a glimpse of royalty as Princess Mary of Denmark, a native of Hobart, returns home once in awhile to visit family and has been seen wandering through the markets.
Around 300 stalls cluster between historic sandstone buildings that house galleries and cafes as fishing boats bob in the harbor. It's easy to while away hours watching artisans, listening to street musicians and sampling local products such as honey, cheeses and fresh lavender. Lunch at one of the waterfront cafes or buy something tasty at a stall and eat in nearby Parliament Gardens. www.salamanca.com.au
2 p.m For a unique artistic experience buy a $15 return ferry ticket at the waterfront to visit MONA (Museum of New and Old Art) located on the shores of the Derwent river at the Moorilla Estate winery in nearby Berriedale, just a 45-minute cruise up the river. www.moorilla.com
Surrounded by a vineyard, a cellar door and a micro-brewery, this museum is believed to be Australia's biggest private museum. On display is some of the most provocative contemporary art of recent years, including work by Australia's Greg Taylor and Germany's Julius Popp.
8 p.m Overlooking Salamanca lies the tiny suburb of Battery Point boasting historic homes and colorful garrison cottages dating back to the settlement era. Amble the quaint streets and enjoy dinner at Ristorante Da Angelo, 47 Hamden Road, for a truly authentic Italian experience. A booking is necessary.
Offerings include a pasta dish of marinara, brimming with king prawns, fish, scallops and clams in a rich tomato sauce, or Pollo Paesano Macaroni with chicken, seeded mustard, bacon, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, onions, chili in cream sauce. You can bring your own beer or wine or order from their wide selection of wines, beers and spirits. www.daangelo.com
After your hearty meal, stroll back to your hotel via Salamanca Place and enjoy the weekend social life that spills onto the cobbled streets, creating a jovial party atmosphere.
8 a.m. The hotel boasts a courtyard adjoining the rooms. If the weather permits, enjoy breakfast outdoors, taking in the views of Mount Wellington.
8.30 a.m. Experience Hobart's wilderness with a fully guided half day (full day optional) tour of Mt Wellington with Mt Wellington Walks. This eco-friendly company will submerge you in a timeless world of ancient forests and windswept peaks 1,270 meters (yards) above sea level. Visitors will get a rare opportunity to see Tasmania as the first settlers saw it in this windy wilderness. www.mtwellingtonwalks.com.au
1 p.m. To begin the wind down before leaving Tasmania's fair shores, grab some fish and chips or fresh oysters from the floating boats near Constitution Docks and rest your weary legs. From this vantage point you may see one or more of the icebreaker research ships bound for Antarctica, including the Australian Antarctic Division's "Aurora Australis" and the French Polar Institute's "l'Astrolabe."
Or, for the more adventurous, perhaps a 90-minute cruise on the Derwent river aboard the Lady Nelson tall ship. Where possible the volunteer crew will encourage passengers to help set sails or take a turn at the helm. For A$15 this is a fantastic way to be part of a bygone era of traditional sailing on the high seas. www.ladynelson.org.au
Editing by Elaine Lies