For many, Australia’s smallest state is instantly recognised for its sophisticated, creative and sporty host capital of Melbourne; neighbours (a dedicated few perhaps); and as the start or finishing point to the Great Ocean Road – one of the most famous and breathtaking coastal drives in the world.
However, in following our theme of taking you to some of the places that we ourselves have re-discovered in researching our newly launched Australia brochure, this week takes an idyllic wilderness and epicurean self-drive instead through Victoria’s rolling vineyards, boutique B&Bs, gourmet dining, countryside bike trails and rugged coastal walks. So yes, essentially we’re combining a host of middle England’s favourite pastimes (you know who you are) but in one glorious and unspoilt playground just hours from Melbourne. And, we strongly suspect, with considerably better weather.
Comparatively, by Australian standards at least, Victoria is tiny. Conveniently this means that within a couple of hours of leaving the pavement cafes of Victoria’s much-loved cosmopolitan capital, visitors can be snuggled up with an earthy red and cheese board in boutique timber lodges overlooking the mist-cloaked vineyards of the Yarra Valley; trudging along the windswept clifftop paths, cycling through strawberry fields and feasting on seafood in the historic seaside towns of the Mornington Peninsula; or taking wild swims in secluded coves and uncovering colonies of fur seals and comical penguins on Phillip Island.
This self-drive loop from Melbourne into one of the most beautiful corners of Australia can be completed in just 4 days. However, having forewarned you of the 70-odd wineries and lured you with promises of long walks and open fires, we would recommend longer.
Melbourne to the Yarra Valley
Expressions of Melbourne’s creativity are captured everywhere across the city – in the colourful street art of its laneways, public art installations and live music pubs. Under an hour from this multicultural and fiercely loyal capital is the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges – a haven of boutique wineries, artisan producers, markets and artists studios. Discover miles of woven vineyards, shaded glades, forested mountain ranges and, should you be missing a warm pint for whatever reason, there’s also a real ale and cider trail.
Stay: Yering Gorge Cottages. This collection of 12 luxury timber cottages are spread across a private nature reserve on the banks of the Yarra River. By day, explore the 8 miles of bush trails by foot or on one of the resort’s bikes, play golf on the adjacent course, tour the local cellar doors, and at sunset watch kangaroos hop across the meadow from your private deck.
Yarra Valley to Phillip Island
Phillip Island is known for its astounding wildlife encounters, miles of unspoilt beaches and, in something of a contrast, MotoGP. This world-famous island wilderness can accommodate a relaxing beach break; hiking over rugged headlands to uncover basking seals, calm swimming beaches, sand dune picnics and encounters with koalas; or, more energetically, bombing around the grand prix go-kart track or surfing the famous breaks off the southern beaches. What every trip to Phillip Island will almost certainly include is the iconic Penguin Parade – one of the most gratifying wildlife encounters in the world, watching penguins waddle out of the surf at dusk into their burrows.
Stay: Glen Isla House. This beautifully restored country house, built amongst the mature gardens of a 19th century homestead and with direct beach access, offers multi-award winning boutique luxury and an unbeatable location within walking distance of the lovely seaside town of Cowes.
Phillip Island to the Mornington Peninsula
With 160 miles of jaw-dropping coastline, undulating countryside, championship golf courses and historic seaside towns, the Mornington Peninsula has long been a picturesque playground for savvy Melbournians. Stay in boutique B&Bs and gallop through the surf on horseback, snorkel with dolphins and sea dragons, and meander on bikes through meadows and farmland stopping at artisan diaries and wineries.
Tackle in full, or in part, the 2 day Mornington Peninsula walk – a 60 mile hike through native bushland of roaming kangaroos onto windswept cliff top paths, wild surf beaches and deserted coves.
Stay: Quarters at Flinders Hotel. Huddled amongst the historic shop fronts and antique stores of the enchanting seaside town of Flinders, this acclaimed gastro hotel perfectly captures the peninsula’s reputation for boutique hospitality, exceptional locally-sourced produce and heritage charm.
With a back story of survived fires, characterful locals and a dash of wit, this hotel established in 1889 is one of the finest culinary experiences in the area, with award-winning dining sourced from the ocean, local pastures and kitchen garden.