Just 30 minutes from Melbourne, Werribee Park Mansion and Formal Garden feel like another world – and another time.
The wealthy Chirnside family built the 60-room Italianate mansion in 1877, and at one point there were 55 staff to look after five family members. You can pretend you're a lord or lady yourself with a tour through the mansion and gardens. Much of the original furniture and clothing from the Chirnside period are displayed in situ, with helpful plaques to give you some historical context.
Make sure you set aside plenty of time to enjoy the grounds. There are rolling manicured lawns with grand old cyprus pines, a greenhouse and grotto. The grounds are the setting for some of Melbourne’s biggest cultural festivals including So Frenchy, So Chic, Lost Lands and Fromage a Trois. Original bluestone buildings including a farmer’s homestead, workers’ quarters and stables are at the rear of the property. A photographic exhibition and farmyard artefacts tell the stories of what life was like for those who worked the fields.
A large vegetable and herb garden is tended by a local community of Karen refugees (people from the border of Thailand and Burma). The Werribee Park Heritage Orchard features fruit trees planted by the Chirnside family and now plays host to the biannual Heritage Fruit Tree Festival where the community and visitors come together for gardening workshops, tree sales, grafting demos, live music and local market stalls.
If you are feeling adventurous, take a walk or bike ride from the beautiful Formal Gardens through the farmyard, down to the bushlands along Werribee River Regional Park. Or for something less active, head to Shadowfax Winery cellar door for a tasting and lunch.
Feeling like a bit of flower power? On entering or leaving the gardens of Werribee Park Mansion, you’ll pass the entry to Victoria State Rose Garden - a bloom lover's oasis, comprising five hectares planted with some 5,000 roses. And horsey types can enjoy the Werribee Park National Equestrian Centre, with 180 stables, 370-day yards and multiple arenas, both outdoor and indoor.