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Yering Gorge Cottages
Photograph: Visit Victoria Yering Gorge Cottages

Weekend getaways: Yarra Valley

Make a run for the hills where cool-climate wine, produce and activities await

By Cassidy Knowlton
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Sometimes we Melburnians forget that there's a world-class wine region just an hour's drive from the CBD. How many times have you visited the Yarra Valley, thought, "I really must come here more often", and then, well, did not visit more often?

It's time to change that. The valley is not only full of delicious wineries but also parks, walking trails, art galleries, local produce and plenty of fun things to do. Whether you decide to make it a day trip or stay the night and make a weekend of it, it's always a brilliant mini-break from the city. 

According to advice from the Department of Health, Victorians should continue to observe physical distancing measures, and venues are only allowed to operate at a limited capacity. Check with individual venues for specific opening details. 

Hot air balloon in the Yarra Valley
Hot air balloon in the Yarra Valley
Photograph: Visions of Victoria

See and do

If you're an early riser (or you can convince yourself to be one, just this once), book a sunrise flight over the valley from Global Ballooning. As you drift over the rolling hills and verdant vines, drinking in the vistas while thinking about the sparkling wine breakfast awaiting you when you touch down, the early start will have been well worth it. 

Feeling arty? At TarraWarra Estate you'll find TarraWarra Museum of Art, the region’s top gallery, which features Australian art from the second half of the 20th century. The gallery has an ever-changing program of temporary exhibitions, so you'll always find something new and thought-provoking. 

Or for something much more off the beaten path, visit the Sandra Bardas Art Gallery, on the grounds of Worowa College. The artwork on the walls is produced by the Indigenous students of Worowa and the communities from which they hail. The gallery is open by appointment only, so ring or email in advance to be able to wander through the bright and cheerful space, full of visual artwork, jewellery and craft from Indigenous communities throughout Australia. 

A mandatory stop is at Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery. The modern-day Willy Wonka shop is a colourful wonderland, filled with chocolate of all shapes and varieties. Perhaps best of all, chocolate drops of milk and dark varieties are available for in-store snacking while you browse.

In the picturesque Healesville Village, you’ll discover shopping, cafés and food producers – pack a cooler bag to take some of the local delights home from Kitchen & Butcher.

One of the highlights of the region is, of course, Healesville Sanctuary, which focuses its conservation efforts on native animals. Arguably the most thrilling experience at Healesville Sanctuary is the Spirits of the Sky show. Free with the cost of admission, the show is a spectacular demonstration of the beauty and power of Australia's birds of prey and parrots. 

Caraway pastry, smoked trout, caviar, cultured cream at Oakridge
Caraway pastry, smoked trout, caviar, cultured cream at Oakridge
Photograph: Jason Lucas

Eat

Oakridge Winery isn't just a fantastic place for cool-climate varietals; its on-site restaurant was also Time Out Melbourne's Restaurant of the Year for 2019. Cheffing talents Matt Stone and Jo Barrett have spent years honing their location-sensitive craft into something approaching peak deliciousness. Take the sourdough, made with biodynamic wheat Barrett mills each day. Her unwavering commitment to superior carbs is repaid in a caramel-crusted loaf served with the gentle tang of buttermilk curds from a small herd of Jersey cows who live nearby. It’s a not-so-humble start to a meal that covers plenty of bases (Euro, Asian, mod-Oz and all bases in between) but always keeps its feet on Yarra Valley ground. 

Notable winery De Bortoli isn’t just a place to swirl some cool-climate wines, it’s one that offers a well-priced, locally inspired menu highlighted by its antipasto tasting board, pasta (order the gnocchi ragu) and desserts (go the semifreddo). Wash it down with the winery's Yarra Valley Reserve Release chardonnay.

Whoever said that a cheese platter is not a meal is no friend of ours. The unassuming, tin-roofed Yarra Valley Dairy is the place to get your fill of local cheese. Whether you like your cheese from goat's milk or cow's milk, matured, marinated or fresh (or all of the above), this is the place to grab a table, pick a cheese platter or two and savour the creamy good life. 

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Helen and Joey winery
Helen and Joey winery
Photograph: Cass Knowlton

Drink

We cannot possibly discuss the Yarra Valley without mentioning the hundreds of wineries that dot the region. Taking off down the Melba or Maroondah Highway with no particular destination in mind will yield bountiful results, or you can start with our favourite 13 wineries

If you're after something beyond just the standard Yarra Valley cool-climate gems of chardonnay and pinot noir, Helen and Joey Estate is worth a stop. There is a large cellar door and tasting room inside, but if the weather is good the best seats in the house are outside on the terrace, overlooking the vines and gently rolling hills. Its Wild Child range comprises boundary-pushing drops that defy categorisation. They are the result of experimentation and the winemaker's imagination, and they are bang on trend of funky, low-intervention, skin contact and interesting. 

In the mood for sparkling? French behemoth Domaine Chandon is here, ready to provide top-notch sparkling wine in all hues, as well as a whizz-bang behind-the-scenes tour, complete with interactive digital displays and glimpses into the barrel rooms. 

But it's not all wine (though, yes, it is a lot of wine). If you like your drinks lower ABV, Coldstream Brewery has plenty of craft beer and cider on tap, as well as tasting paddles for those who have a difficult time making up their minds. 

Or head to Alchemy Gin in Healesville for housemade small-batch spirits like chamomile gin and citrus vodka, as well as plenty of beverages produced by local makers. The distillery also includes an on-site restaurant serving American soul food, which seems just the perfect thing. 

Wine on a balcony at Balgownie Estate
Wine on a balcony at Balgownie Estate
Photograph: Supplied

Stay

From resorts to guesthouses and B&Bs, there’s a myriad of options when it comes to bedding down. Book in at the Yering Gorge Cottages, self-contained villa-style rooms that come complete with a spa and are hidden in the heart of a private nature reserve on the banks of the Yarra River.

Or drop into Balgownie Estate and Spa in Yarra Glen for a luxe experience. Accommodation ranges from a 29-square-metre standard queen room up to an 88-square-metre two-bedroom spa suite, which includes a circular spa bath in the middle of the room with views out over the vines. To see those views you have to open a curtain to the living room, so if you want to enjoy a good long soak with a glass of wine and a lovely outlook, make sure those you are staying with are close friends. 

Don't want to make a day of it?

An aerial view of Tarrawarra Estate
Photograph: Supplied

Yarra Valley wine tours

Things to do Walks and tours

There is nothing worse than drawing the short straw as the designated driver on a wine tour. So rather than suffer through a day of sober driving while all your mates become steadily merrier, book yourself in for one of these guided tours of the Yarra Valley’s top wineries.

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