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Women enjoying a platter in the Yarra Valley
Photograph: Visit Victoria

Weekend getaways: Yarra Valley

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

Cassidy Knowlton
Written by
Cassidy Knowlton
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It's difficult to believe, when you're standing in Melbourne CBD, that there is a world-class wine region just an hour's drive away. But with hundreds of wineries offering cool-climate gems like chardonnay, pinot and other more unusual varietals for tasting each and every week, it's no wonder that it's among the most visited wine regions in the world.

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.

Looking for more weekend getaway ideas? Here's a guide to Daylesford, the Grampians and the Great Ocean Road

See and do
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. 

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. 

Eat
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. 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. 

Stop into Soumah (it stands for south of the Maroondah, and it's pronounced SO-mah) for lunch, seven days a week. The winery has a light-filled dining room opening out onto the vineyard (transparent plastic keeps it warm in winter) with a focus on northern Italian cuisine. Options include snacks like antipasti platters and desserts, or heartier fare like pizzas and pasta. 

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. 

For dinner, Innocent Bystander is a must-visit in the valley. The cavernous Healesville space serves up delicious pizzas, as well as cheese and charcuterie boards to share and a few flavours of paella. Innocent Bystander's wine is made at Brown Brothers' winery in Milawa, but much of it is made from Yarra Valley fruit. You can do a tasting at Innocent Bystander's property, or buy wine by the glass – most of it is available on tap, which is both environmentally friendly and fun. There's a lovely wine garden to explore out the back, or find yourself a comfy table inside.

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Drink
Photograph: Visit Victoria

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. 

If winemaking really is in the blood, few people in Australia would know more about it than Ben Portet, the winemaker at Dominique Portet and the tenth generation in his family to go into the business. You can go on a behind-the-scenes tour at the winery, or just belly up to the bar for a tasting of its award-winning drops. The Fontaine rose is a particular highlight, a dry style that's bursting with acidity and fruit.

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. 

Fancy some top-shelf gin? The spirits behemoth round these parts is Four Pillars, which offer both traditional gin blends (like its Navy Strength or Rare Dry) and more out-there offerings (like the Olive Leaf, Spice Trade or sweet Bloody Shiraz). 

After something a little more small batch? Alchemy Distillers is also in Healesville and makes small-batch gin, whisky and a variety of inventive cocktails. The distillery closed its public operation during 2020, but it plans to reopen both as a bottle shop and a bar.

Stay
Photograph: Rob Blackburn/Yarra Valley

Stay

From resorts to guesthouses and B&Bs, there’s a myriad  options when it comes to bedding down.

Meletos farmhouse outside of Coldstream is gorgeous option for those who appreciate the finer things in life. Each of the 23 rooms in the farmhouse is different, with luxurious furnishing and individual pieces of furniture from around the world. All of the rooms have their own ensuites, and they all offer gorgeous views across vines and apple orchards to the Great Divide.The farmhouse also has a grand open fireplace with comfy couches and throw rugs, the perfect place to curl up with a good book or a pre-dinner wine.

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?

  • 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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