The southwest coast of Victoria is one of Australia’s great road trips. Stretching from the bayside city of Geelong, around the beautiful Bellarine Peninsula and down the famed Great Ocean Road, the endless sights and neverending beaches are a freedom-seeking traveller’s dream. The food and wine you’ll find is equally spectacular, with everything from landmark restaurants to comforting pub feeds, distinguished wineries to micro distilleries worth adding to your itinerary.
At one hour’s drive from Melbourne, Victoria’s second largest city is a happy marriage of relaxed coastal energy and a thriving arts and hospitality scene. Little Malop Street is the central hub for Geelong’s best drinking and dining, with surrounding streets also offering plenty to discover. Whisk yourself down Downes Lane for supper at Felix, an easy-on-the-eyes restaurant that’s gently updating French classics. Sit down in cosy leather booths for bites of herby mushroom tartare and airy-light spanner crab profiteroles, while comforting favourites like roasted eggplant ratatouille and bouillabaisse warm the soul. There’s caviar service too, for those feeling a little fancy. While you’re in Geelong, take a 20-minute drive up to Sutherlands Creek for an afternoon at Austin’s new cellar door. The family-owned vineyard has transformed an old shearing shed into a joyful den for sharing their single vineyard, cool climate wines. Taste your way from sparkling to shiraz while grazing on local and French cheeses, charcuterie and casual meals.
Next stop is the Bellarine Peninsula, a collection of seaside towns fronting Port Phillip Bay. The Bellarine is home to sandy beaches and a 150-vineyard-strong wine region that many consider a well-kept secret. Make a stop at the ‘Jewel of the Bellarine’, the Portarlington Grand Hotel, which has been a regional landmark since the 1800s. Possessing sweeping views of the sparkling bay, it’s had a recent refurbishment turning it into a boutique seaside escape with a top-tier bistro. The famed Portarlington mussels are a must, served in a creamy sauce with toasted sourdough – pair it with a local pinot gris. Over in Curlewis you’ll find French restaurant Claribeaux within the lush grounds of the Curlewis Golf Club. Gaze at verdant fairways and greens over confit salmon with herb salad, tea smoked duck and passionfruit mille feuille. The kitchen successfully renders a cuisine commonly thought of as rich and heavy into dishes that feel fresh and light.
Great Ocean Road
Just before you hit the Great Ocean Road, travel inland to the quaint country town of Birregurra to tick one off the bucket list. Brae barely needs an introduction – long one of Australia’s most decorated fine diners, the farmhouse restaurant is a full-day experience. Sit down to hyper-local produce cooked with utmost care in a transportative, pastoral setting. Pioneers of sustainability and produce-driving dining in Australia, they’re still at the top of their game. Next, swing by the surf town Anglesea and visit Coast Restaurant for thrilling modern Australian, with native ingredients singing in dishes like wattleseed damper with lemon myrtle olive oil and kangaroo fillet in bush tomato jus – even their dinnerware is made by local Anglesea ceramicists.
For an afternoon tipple, stop by Apollo Bay Distillery. Located in the town's old post office, the gins here are made using local botanicals and are linked to the ships that sailed off this treacherous coast many years ago. Go for a tasting – the gin flight is a must – and then order one of the tasty woodfired pizzas. Finally, book dinner at the Perch in Lavers Hill (reopening mid-Sep) for quintessential regional cooking. Located at the highest point of the Great Ocean Road, the rainforest-garden setting is as spectacular as the rustic, thoughtful food served with welcoming country mirth.
How would you like to win a fantastic road trip experience tasting some of this delicious stuff for yourself? Great Ocean Road Tourism and Tourism Greater Geelong and The Bellarine is giving away two unforgettable Victorian escapes. Simply head to the Great Ocean Road/Geelong and The Bellarine Facebook or Instagram account, answer a few simple questions, and you’ll be entered into the draw. Good luck!