Local Escapes

Your Next Weekend Roadtrip: Gin Making, Cheese Eating & Wine Galore

By Clare Acheson - 29 Mar 2016

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All these long weekends and first sightings of autumn leaves are leaving us craving a short escape that’s the perfect balance between relaxing (i.e., there’ll be wine and cheese) and active (i.e., there’ll be something to do to break up the wine and cheese). With the Yarra Valley only an hour outside of the city, we took to the hills to check out the latest and greatest finds in Melbourne’s most beautiful surrounds. So, what should you pack your schedule with the next time you hit the road for a weekend’s R’n’R? Read on for our favourite finds…

#1: There’s A Beyonce-Worthy Mansion You Can Visit

Yes, we’re serious. Yarra Glen is home to Coombe, the Melba Estate, an incredible estate that was owned by the Queen Bey of the Victorian era, Aussie opera singer Dame Nellie Melba. Complete with rose gardens, swimming pool and on-site winery (we like your style, Ms Melba), the grounds are now home to a stunning restaurant, which has replaced the garage where the Rolls Royces used to be kept, as well as a cellar door and produce shop. The perfect spot for lunch, high tea, or a glass of something chilled. 

#2: Dinner Means 7 Courses Of To-Die-For Cuisine

Degustation fans, you’ll want to add The Stables At Stones to your hit list. The picturesque venue that’s the location for many an Insta-worthy wedding, serves 5- and 7-course degustation menus for evening diners, as well as a tapas-style lunch menu that allows you to sample the best of the region’s ingredients combined in creative dishes such as wallaby with shiso, and radishes with a cider and caper dressing, matched with the best of the region’s wines. Whether you’re treating a friend, a lover, or just yourself (no judgement), it’s the ultimate fine dining experience in the Yarra Valley region.

#3: You’ll Be Sleeping In Lush Accommodation

If you think The Stables is jaw-dropping, you’re going to LOVE the accommodation at neighbouring boutique hotel, The Farmhouse. Like walking into a copy of Vogue Living, the Tuscan-inspired venue is every bit as beautiful as it is in the pictures—shuttered windows lead out to rolling hills, the entrance hall comes complete with plush leather couches and a stack of design books for you to leaf through, and the en suites alone are the size of my Carlton flat.

If you can tear yourself away from your bed, The Stables and Meletos restaurants are on site too, right next to Napoleon Brewery & Cider House, meaning you can drop into the brewery for a pre-degustation beer, stumble home to bed after dinner, and the first coffee of the day is only a stone’s throw away. Genius.

#4: Why Not Make Your Own Gin?

Healesville is fast making a name for itself as a hotspot for gin lovers, and it’s all thanks to Four Pillars Gin Distillery. If you haven’t tried the Victorian-made gin, there’s no better place to sample a G&T, gin negroni or tasting paddle than at the home of this tasty spirit. Rumour has it that the team are working on a ‘make your own gin’ course that will teach liquor lovers the essentials behind our favourite drink. But if that sounds too much like hard work, drop into the on-site bar for a cocktail and some snacks. Gin pickles, anyone?

#5: Or Try Your Hand At Glass Blowing

If someone had told us that we’d be getting up-close and personal with molten glass from a furnace that’s set to 750˚, we’d have been a liiiiittle more hesitant about the crafty part of our trip. However glassblowing at Healesville Glassblowing Studio is 100% worth it and is a real one-off that you cannot miss while in the area. Whether you’re keen for a taster course that results in your very own paperweight, or looking to take on a weekend intensive, it’s a cracking find and an experience you won’t get anywhere else.

#6: It’ll Feel Like You’re In France

If The Farmhouse’s touch of Italy had you hankering after European shores, Coldstream’s Dominique Portet winery should be your next stop: this vineyard is channelling France, big time. The Portet family have been making wine for a whopping ten generations, choosing to relocate from Bordeaux to continue their labour of love in Victoria. Borrow a bicycle and take a ride through the vineyards, or relax with a glass of Fontaine rose and admire from afar.

#7: …Only With Added Salted Caramel Espresso Martinis

Salted. Caramel. Espresso. Martinis. They are as delicious as they sound, and you’ll find them at Healsville newcomer Herd Bar and Café. This awesome bar is also home to Innocent Bystander’s ex-chef, who plates up mouth-watering sharing dishes including Middle Eastern dips, mouth-watering Turkish delight doughnuts and Yarra Valley figs with goat’s curd ice cream. If you’re looking for a brand new reason to visit the Yarra, this is it. 

#8: There’s A Wine Pit-Stop For All, Whether You’re Going Low-Key Or Luxe

It’s a no-brainer that if you head to the Yarra Valley, you’re going to visit at least one winery, even if it’s just to pick up a bottle as a gift for your mum. The Yarra Valley boasts a plethora of different wineries in the region, no matter your taste or budget, that all demand a look-in.

If low-key boutique wines in a modern cute bar are your thing, Maddens Rise is the place for you. Feeling something a little more fancy? The award-winning Coldstream Hills, famed for its chardonnay, should be your first port of call. For the small-release secret hunters, Gruyere’s Squitchy Lane is a fantastic find—we guarantee you’ll love the Fume Blanc!—and for those who are all about spectacular views, you’d be hard pushed to beat Tokar Estate.

And last but not least, if you’re all about the most heritage-fuelled wine in Victoria, get to Yarra Yering, a winery that was established by a botanical genius in the sixties and is surrounded by fig trees, avocado trees, apple trees, pear trees, and wild flowers.

#9: The Cheese & Charcuterie Boards Are Next-Level

Cheese, fish, charcuterie and a glass of rose are the order of the day at Medhurst, where you won’t be able to say ‘no’ to trying some of their fantastic vino or tucking into the biggest vanilla slice we’ve ever seen. Go hungry, thirsty and in a group big enough to order one of everything, then enjoy it all overlooking the views from Medhurst’s sunny restaurant.

#10: And You Might Even Discover A CBD Eatery’s Rural Secret!

Can a city mouse beat a country mouse at its own game? While you’ll find heaps of incredible food from local eateries, the Ezard kitchen at Levantine Hill—one of the area’s most lavish wineries—is our top spot for a bank-breaking meal. The site itself is home to a million dollars’ worth of art and sculpture, a helicopter landing area, a beautiful a la carte space and a fine dining room, as well as an impressive vineyard. Sounds like one hell of a place, hey? Trust us, it is.

Melbourne’s an incredible city, but sometimes we all need to get out of town for a weekend. The Urban List has partnered with Visit Victoria to bring you our Get Out Of Town! Series—the ultimate guide to Victoria’s rural gems. For more ideas about where to wander in the Yarra Valley, click here.

Image credit: Michelle Jarni for The Urban List, Levantine Hill photography by Earl Carter

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