Melbourne’s not the only culinary hotspot in Victoria – eat and drink your way around a state bursting with flavour.
Melbourne may be the food capital of Australia, but regional Victoria isn’t far behind with its hundreds of wineries and restaurants leaving a lasting impression on visitors. This combined with the stunning setting amongst pasturelands, alpine landscapes and rugged coastline where time moves slowly and country hospitality comes with a smile, makes regional Victoria the perfect place for a romantic getaway.
Close to Melbourne
Why: Wine, wine and more wine – the Yarra Valley, one of the original wine regions of Victoria, is within spitting distance of Melbourne. Expect mainly chardonnay, pinot noir and sparkling wines, with some surprises thrown in.
Top tips: Look out for the orange and blue flags of the Yarra Valley Food Trail, for self-guided gourmet tours encompassing more than 100 cafés, local produce and restaurants. The Coldstream Brewery offers a beer break for the palate, there’s great seasonal produce at the café and foodstore at Shillinglaw Cottage, and the Yarra Valley Dairy serves up 15 local cheeses.
Must-sip wineries: As the Australian arm of French Champagne house, Moët & Chandon, Domaine Chandon is an icon of the region, and its Greenpoint Brasserie has one of the best views in town. Don’t miss the first vineyard planted in the Yarra Valley in 1838, now home to Yering Station – an architectural masterpiece that doubles as a winery, restaurant and cellar door.
Must-sup eatery: Gary Cooper’s Bella Vedere is a one-hat restaurant devoted to local produce, and includes a cooking school, bakery and organic garden bursting with local love.
Where to stay: Do not pass Relais & Châteaux’s Chateau Yering Hotel for genteel country living with serious style and a one-hat restaurant, Eleonore.
Why: The Peninsula, as the locals call it, is a second home for Melbourne’s elite who descend upon their weekenders every Friday afternoon. A combination of spectacular coastline and rolling hinterland, the region serves up some of the State’s finest dining experiences and boutique wineries.
Top tips: Wander barefoot along the Peninsula shores to (hopefully) see multi-coloured beach huts and wild dolphins frolicking in the calm waters; take in a round of golf on one of 15 golf courses; and look out for the “MP Gourmet” logo at local cafés to ensure you’re getting the best from the region.
Must-sip winery: Port Phillip Estate has pumped $40million into its new cellar door, winery and estate – and it shows. The wine isn’t bad, either. There’s the award-winning Salix restaurant and stellar wines at Willow Creek Vineyard; while foodie favourite, Ten Minutes by Tractor, celebrates the best of three vineyards separated by, yes, 10 minutes – on a tractor.
Must-sup eatery: Hatted restaurant, Montalto, at the Montalto Vineyard & Olive Grove, is surrounded by orchards, groves, vineyards, lakes and wetlands, and a garden featuring impressive artworks and boardwalks for postprandial meanderings.
Where to stay: Couples will love Lindenderry at Red Hill for its European guesthouse charm, and exquisite gardens in which to take a turn, smack-bang in the middle of the vineyards.
Why: Less than an hour’s drive from Melbourne, the Macedon Ranges region is renowned for its naturally occurring mineral springs and exquisite local produce. In addition to the superb wines and food there are also exquisite gardens, historic buildings, day spas and luxurious accommodation, with glimpses of Mount Macedon at every turn.
Top tips: Start soaking: the spa towns of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs are located in the middle of the largest concentration of mineral springs in the country. In the historic town of Trentham, truffle dogs sniff out some seriously good and pungent truffles.
Must-sip winery: Try any of the local boutique vineyards, including Hanging Rock Winery for views of the rock formations that inspired the classic Australian film, Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Must-sup eatery: This area is a mecca for fine-dining foodies. Annie Smithers’ Bistro and the Royal George each have one hat, while the glorious Lake House restaurant has two. For a gastronomic hat trick, try all three one day.
Where to stay: The glamorous Lake House sits on the beautiful Lake Daylesford and offers in-room dining, butler service for evening drinks, and a day spa. Bliss.
Why: This is the Muscat trail of Victoria, so if you like your wines fortified you’ve come to the right place. Most vineyards here have been handed down from generation to generation for more than 150 years, so the oenologists really know their stuff.
Must-sup eatery: Lounge on the deck at the Pickled Sisters Café at Cofield Wines and delight in top local produce and country charm.
Where to stay: Tuileries Rutherglen offers boutique accommodation overlooking Rutherglen Estates Vineyard, with timber decks, king-size beds, spa baths and one of the top restaurants in the region.
Beechworth and the Alpine Valley region
Why: Think snow-capped mountains, fertile river valleys and cool-climate wines, with the gold rush town of Beechworth, the Milawa Gourmet Region and the original Victorian Brown Brothers winery adding even more colour.
Must-sip winery: The Brown Brothers Milawa Vineyard is a one-stop wine shop with heritage cellars, contemporary restaurant, open gardens and a windmill, and a number of festivals throughout the year.
Must-sup eatery: Do not leave this region without dining at the two-hatted Provenance Restaurant for a taste of chef Michael Ryan’s famed anchovies.
Where to stay: The Lindenwarrah Hotel at Milawa features 38 rooms and two suites, all with floor-to-ceiling windows to take in the glorious views, and within stumbling distance of Brown Brothers. Perfect.
Why: Bordered by the Great Dividing Range, the Goulburn Valley and Upper Goulburn area is home to Broken, Goulburn, Ovens and King Rivers, plus a handful of lakes. Expect fresh and juicy cherries, peaches and plums, and some fine riesling, chardonnay, shiraz and gewürztraminer.
Top tips: The Goulburn region is known as the food bowl of Australia, so be sure to try the local apples and stone fruit – they’re sold at local farms with roadside stands that operate using the honour system. This is also paddle steamer territory, so grab a houseboat and get on the water to see the charming vessels up close.
Must-sip winery: If you visit only one winery make it Tahbilk. It features an underground cellar dating back to 1869, a wetlands wildlife reserve, plus the largest single holding of rare Marsanne grapes in the world.
Must-sup eatery: With two hats in The Age Good Food Guide and inclusion in the Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide, Matt Dempsey’s Gladioli has put Inverleigh on the foodie map.
Where to stay: Rest your wine-soaked head on the fine sheets at the Blackwood Park Country House set on the Mitchelton Winery estate.
Why: Just three hours’ drive from Melbourne, the Grampians region is the birthplace of Australian sparkling wine, and includes Henty, the most southerly wine region in the country. Expect dramatic landscapes with escarpments, gorges and rugged ranges, in an area that extends down to Port Fairy and Lorne on the coastland.
Must sip winery: Wander two kilometres of underground cellars at the Seppelt Great Western Winery and explore 120 years of Australian wine heritage in an historic winery responsible for excellent shiraz, cabernet and riesling.
Must-sup eatery: The Royal Mail Hotel at Dunkeld features a two-hatted restaurant that’s a firm favourite with foodies. This is degustation dining heaven – and one of the best restaurants in Australia.
Where to stay: The Merrijig Kitchen, in Port Fairy, is another two-hatted restaurant, and highlights local and regional artisan producers and farmers with seasonally inspired food. It’s part of Merrijig Inn, Australia’s oldest inn, so it’s easy to fall into bed after supper.
Why: Extending from the New South Wales border to Melbourne’s eastern outskirts, the Gippsland region is renowned for its natural beauty, and encompasses Ninety Mile Beach and Lakes Entrance and more than 100 wineries.
Top tips: At the southernmost tip of Australia, granite headlands, forests and fern gullies protect the largest coastal wilderness in Victoria at Wilsons Promontory National Park – get your walking shoes on.
Must-sip winery: You won’t go wrong at any of the local vineyards, including Jinks Creek, featuring a wine bar in an old woolshed; the Italian-inspired D’Angelo Estate Vineyard; and the Wild Dog Winery, serving the region’s famed chardonnay and riesling.
Must-sup eatery: Neilsons in Traralgon has one-hat dining in an intimate setting, created by rising star chef, Lewis Prince. The Outpost Retreat in Noojee is also worth a stop for bistro fare with finesse in a heritage setting.
Where to stay: Montfort Manor – adults-only luxury in just four guest rooms, set within seven acres of landscaped gardens in Traralgon.
Why: Why visit this region? Three words: the Murray River. It also produces 80% of the State’s wine grapes, so be sure to designate a driver before you go.
Top tip: Try Murray River pink salt, fresh Murray cod, saltbush lamb and citrus fruits for local flavours, but take your time: this is slow-cooking terrain.
Must-sip winery: Lindemans Karadoc Winery is internationally famous for its crisp dry whites and semillon sauvignon blancs. Trentham Estate has river views, barbecuing facilities and a restaurant, plus a good range of chardonnays, merlots and shirazes.
Must-sup eatery: Stefano di Pierri knows his stuff. The fact the celebrity cook set up his culinary institution here says a lot for the region. His two-hatted restaurant, Stefano’s Restaurant, in Mildura, is complemented by a bakery, gallery, cellar door and bar. The Italian menu is four courses, so go with an empty stomach.
Where to stay: The Grand Hotel in Mildura offers boutique accommodation and contemporary comforts within an historic landmark hotel just minutes’ walk from the Murray River – it’s also home to Stefano’s Restaurant.
All photos courtesy of Visions of Victoria unless otherwise stated.