The Wheel of Brisbane gives an iconic view of the serpentine river Image Credit: Supplied

Visitors to Brisbane will be in for a host of experiences over the next few months, which will expand their cultural horizons and treat them to the best this sun-kissed Australian city has to offer.

An exhibition of haute couture by Italian fashion designer Valentino, will be on display at the Gallery of Modern Art from September 4-November 8. Continuing for three action-packed weeks, the Brisbane Festival will offer an eclectic array of theatre, dance, music and family events.

Famed for its laid-back atmosphere around the serpentine river, Brisbane is the perfect destination to relax with good food, great entertainment and cultural experiences.

A bit of green

Get into the swing of things by paying a visit to South Bank Parklands. Set in the heart of the city, this extensive area of landscaped gardens, waterways, shops and restaurants is perfect, whether you are on your own, with a partner or your family.

The Wheel of Brisbane provides a bird's-eye view of the city. The wheel takes passengers in climate-controlled gondolas for a 15-minute ride that gives an iconic view of the river, parklands, Morton Bay and the large sand islands. Once you are back on terra firma, enjoy a walk through the rainforest trail, relax in the Nepalese Pagoda or chill out at Streets Beach with its sandy play area, refreshing water and lively cafés.

But Brisbane has much more to offer. The adjacent Queensland Performing Arts Centre has a packed programme of cultural events for the next few months. Fight to get a ticket to the feel-good musical, Mamma Mia! It is packed with ABBA singalong hits and will have you dancing in the aisles. The National Ballet of Cuba will perform the classical masterpiece, Don Quixote. Stunning scenery and glorious costumes make this a family favourite and a great night out.

The biggest event in the city through September is the Brisbane Festival. For 21 days, the city explodes with activity, music, light and colour. The Brisbane Festival 2010 starts on September 4 with the Riverfire fireworks display. During the fireworks, people come to the banks of the river to see the display, which is set against a specially created musical soundtrack.

Vantage points are along the river but the many bridges spanning its two banks are the most popular. Following the fireworks, people can attend live music concerts at The Spiegeltent in central King George Square. The Brisbane Festival continues to step up the action for three weeks with daily highlights, including dance, theatre, art and photography exhibitions.

Head to the suburbs

But Brisbane isn't just about Central Brisbane. A visit to the nearby suburbs is a must. Each has its own character and charm. Hit the road to Paddington to discover some of the city's iconic, colonial houses — complete with red corrugated roofs and wooden verandas — quirky shops selling retro goodies and gifts and garden-courtyard restaurants, such as Sassafras, which serves modern Australian cuisine to the hungry hoards.

Across the river is West End. This city has traditionally been home to Italians, Greeks, Lebanese and Turkish groups.

This is where to have an authentic, ethnic meal after shopping for clothes by homegrown designers or just soaking in the Bohemian atmosphere. The restaurant Caravanserai is usually packed with a young crowd seated on Turkish carpet cushions, tucking into the delicious Middle Eastern meze and sizzling kebabs drizzled with yoghurt and chopped mint.

For a unique experience and a real highlight, head to the West End market in Davies Park every Saturday. Browse through a multitude of stalls in the boulevard of Morton Bay to discover original handicrafts, country produce and funky clothes, before settling down to enjoy a barbecue brunch.

The perfect time to visit Brisbane is August-November, when temperatures are mild for outdoor activities in parks and gardens.

Gallery of style

Internationally recognised as the undisputed ambassador of elegance, Italian fashion designer Valentino Garavani has brought sovereign grace and timeless allure to the ramp for more than 50 years. Visitors to Brisbane will be treated to a grand display of the designer's work in an exhibition titled Valentino Retrospective — Past/Present/Future at the riverside Gallery of Modern Art.

Bringing together more than 100 ensembles — which trace the designer's career from its beginnings in Rome in the 1950s to the present — this is an opportunity to get inside the mind of the creative genius who has dressed some of the world's greatest women.

Visitors will be able to see a wide range of garments and accessories which depict his techniques and recurring motifs such as ornamentation, the use of geometric and animal prints, frills, folds and pleats and the creative possibilities of volume, surface and line. Colour plays an important role and the exhibition pays tribute to the White Collection from 1968 and a series of signature red dresses which have been produced over the years.

Designs by Valentino have been coveted by European royalty, Hollywood stars and high society around the world. The exhibition will feature garments worn by Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Taking the label into the future are five recent creations by the new directors, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli.

Web watch

II Brisbane — www.visitbrisbane.com.au

II Valentino — www.qag.qld.gov.au

II Brisbane Festival — www.brisbanefestival.com.au

Place to stay

With a unique river location, every room in Stamford Plaza offers sweeping river views and has the perfect environment to enjoy the city's ever-changing backdrop. The Stamford Plaza is the epitome of fine taste and classic style, a beautiful environment where guests can immerse themselves in the luxurious surroundings while being pampered. Choose from a number of fine-dining restaurants and bars, including Kabuki for exquisite Japanese cuisine. Visit www.stamford.com.au for more information about Valentino packages.

— Scott Adams is a Madrid-based freelance writer