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Canberra the perfect cosy getaway

AAP logoAAP 18/08/2016 By Frances Mao

Canberra has very bumpy roads.

Perhaps this is symbolic of the political turmoil constantly brewing at the heart of the nation's capital, but thankfully potholes are the only bumps I find during my weekend jaunt to the city.

Eating good food, gazing at world-class fine art, and wandering clean, wide streets bundled up in my woolies make a perfect, low-key weekend escape.

Forget the bright light hustle of our country's other capitals; Canberra operates to a gentle, humble hum.

For starters - as the locals know - it's a very easy place to live in. At most, it's a 20-minute drive from one end of the city to the other, which in our case is the lookout at Mount Ainslie at dusk.

In the twilight we can barely make out the tip of Parliament House amid a purple panorama of low-lying suburbs and muted bush.

My stay at the historic Hotel Kurrajong in the political district of Barton is timely, coming a week before the federal election. While all the politicians are out of town, political legacy seeps from the walls here, the Kurrajong being one of the first hostels built for parliamentarians to stay at when Canberra was built.

Known as Hostel No. 2, the red-bricked building with its pavilions and verandahs quickly became the haunt of the Labor party, while their conservative counterparts shacked up at the slightly posher Hostel No. 1 down the road, now the Hyatt Hotel.

Kurrajong was the favoured digs of Prime Minister Ben Chifley, who lived and died in room 205, now the Chifley suite. Black and white portraits of Labor luminaries Whitlam, Curtin and Evatt dot the corridors but don't intrude on the fresh, modern feel of the hotel.

Having only reopened to the public late last year, the Kurrajong is a handsome, tidy affair. Suites are roomy and there are clever minimalist features in the bathrooms, including a glossy sunken bath I'm elated to discover in my heritage wing quarters.

The only disappointment is that while it might have once been a den for scheming politicians and their advisers, I don't happen to catch any juicy snatches of conversation by the fireplace in the foyer.

The Kurrajong is within walking distance of Parliament House and the National Gallery, where I enjoy a stroll though the museum's European and American art collection, and the fascinating exhibition of American photographer Diane Arbus, known for her depictions of marginalised people.

All this culture leaves me hungry, a sensation exacerbated by fresh truffles on the menu everywhere I turn.

Canberra's frigid winters and dry summers constitute the perfect growing climate for the fungi delicacy, which at an indulgent $1200 per kilo wholesale, seem to be stirring a new gold rush.

I see a truffle-infused steak at the Kurrajong's Chifley's Bar and Grill, a truffle parfait at the gold-bullet Vibe Hotel at the airport, or the Black Truffle gelato at Frugii Dessert Laboratory in Braddon.

Truffle prospectors are also everywhere. Our tour bus driver has put down roots in his backyard, while my local friends tell me they saw a couple digging up a chunk in the footpath the other day.

Thankfully I don't need to forage in suburban streets for my treasure. A hunt for the aromatic fungi at The Truffle Farm in Majura on a crisp sunny morning is playful fun.

Once a customs officer, truffle hunter extraordinaire Jayson Mesman tells us about the history of Australian truffles, before we trot outside for some prospecting.

Mesman's dog Simba bounds along the oak trees planted along his land and sniffs out good nuggets within minutes. Mesman is on his knees and scraping the ground, sniffing the soil as the scent grows stronger, and then he uncovers a knobbly, black nugget.

I help to extract our second nugget, and when I eventually wedge it out, I'm beaming with childish glee - a high that lingers for the rest of the day.

The farm, which sells a range of premise-made truffle products and offers hunt and degustation course packages, has plans to become a wedding avenue over the next few years, an idea I find most idyllic.

So what do truffles taste like? To me they're an earthy mushroomy hit of umami, while others have reported more unsavoury flavours. It all depends on your tastebuds.

But while truffles are an acquired taste, Canberra is an accessible luxury. Come down and spoil yourself.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE: Canberra is a one-hour flight from Sydney or a three-hour drive. From Melbourne, the flight is just over the hour, or around eight and a half hours in the car.

PLAYING THERE: Go hunting at The Truffle Farm in Majura for the real deal. Season lasts from June to August. Visit http://www.thetrufflefarm.com.au/

STAYING THERE: The Hotel Kurrajong, celebrating its 90th birthday, offers history and luxury; Vibe Hotel Canberra Airport suits those preferring swanky new design. Visit www.hotelkurrajong.com.au or www.vibehotels.com.au/canberra-airport.

* The writer travelled as a guest of TFE Hotels.

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