Looking for an intrastate holiday? You should put Bendigo, Port Fairy and Mount Macedon on your radar, as all three were chosen by a panel of nine judges and announced at the Victorian Tourism Industry Council Awards. Bendigo was Victoria's Top Tourism Town (for places with a population greater than 5,000), while Port Fairy was named Top Small Tourism Town (for those with populations between 1,500 and 5,000). If you want a really rural break, Mount Macedon won the inaugural Top Tiny Tourism Town (for towns with populations under 1,500).
All three will now go into the competition to be named Australia's Top Tourism Town, which will be named later this year.
We love visiting Bendigo, the traditional lands of the Dja Dja Wurrung and Taungurung people. The former gold rush town is rich in history and has some pretty fantastic restaurants, bars and cultural attractions. Bendigo Art Gallery often has world-class temporary exhibitions, in addition to a permanent collection that includes works by Bill Henson, Patricia Piccinini and Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Australia's oldest pottery kilns are also found in Bendigo, at Bendigo Pottery. You can watch artisans at work and even have a go yourself.
If you're hungry, Masons of Bendigo is the place for a special night out, with an ever-changing menu of seasonal produce.
The coastal town is home to the famous Port Fairy Folk Festival, so music lovers should definitely keep that date in mind. You can cycle the 37 kilometres between Warnambool and Port Fairy, a beautiful coastal bike path that keeps the sea in sight the entire way. If you're keen on travelling in two-wheeled style, keep an eye out for whales – from May to October, these majestic giants of the sea can often be spotted off the coast.
The Macedon Ranges are a place to relax and unwind, with some pretty brilliant day spas and an excellent food and drink scene.
Tourism Minister Steve Dimopoulos told Time Out he plans to go on weekend trips throughout Victoria as often as he could. "Every award winner, all the finalists, they are the ambassadors of this great state."
Is there a particular place in regional Victoria that has a special place in his heart? "The right answer is I spread the love equally," he laughs. "But I have many happy childhood memories in Shepparton because I had a mate in Shepparton and we used to go down there often – and sometimes got kicked out of nightclubs in Shepparton... I've skied in Eildon several times because a mate of mine's family had a place in Eildon. I've stayed in Marysville. In fact, if I think about it, most of my childhood or teenage years and early 20s were spent either in regional Victoria or in Greece at my family's holiday house."
He nominates one of his perfect weekends in Victoria would be getting on the road via Healesville and visiting the Yarra Valley to taste test beer, wine and cheese. "Some of the best time out you can get is literally within an hour or two or three of your home in Melbourne."