ADELAIDE is a gracious city and an easy place to live, and despite its population of almost 1.3 million, it never feels crowded. It’s a pretty place, laid out on either side of the Torrens River, ringed with a green belt of parks and set against the rolling hills of the Mount Lofty Ranges. During the hot, dry summer the parklands are kept green by irrigation from the waters of the Murray River, upon which the city depends, though there’s always a sense that the rawness of the Outback is waiting to take over.

The original occupants of the Adelaide plains were the Kaurna people, whose traditional way of life was destroyed within twenty years of European settlement. After a long struggle with Governor John Hindmarsh, who wanted to build the city around a harbour, the colony’s surveyor-general, Colonel William Light, got his wish for an inland city with a strong connection to the river, formed around wide and spacious avenues and squares.

Postwar immigration provided the final element missing from Light’s plan for the city: the human one. Italians now make up the city’s biggest non-Anglo cultural group, and in summer Mediterranean-style alfresco eating and drinking lend the city a vaguely European air. Not surprisingly, one of Adelaide’s chief delights is its food and wine, with South Australian vintages in every cellar, and restaurants and cafés as varied as those in Sydney and Melbourne.

Adelaide may not be an obvious destination in itself, but its free-and-easy lifestyle and liberal traditions make it a fine place for a relaxed break on your way up to the Northern Territory or across to Western Australia.