15 July 2013 by Daniel Wright
The Yarra Valley is Victoria's pre-eminent culinary destination, a hub of superb cellar doors, restaurants, luxury accommodation, farms producing quality fresh produce, and iconic scenery. The Dandenong Ranges is a haven of hidden delights with winding scenic roads to quaint villages, an abundance of artist studios, craft stores, renowned gardens and walking trails. The region's breath-taking views and memorable culinary and nature experiences can be found just 45 minutes from Melbourne's city centre, or an hour's drive from Melbourne Airport.
The Yarra Valley is renowned for its wines and with 80 wineries and more than 40 cellar doors in the region, it is fast developing a reputation for crisp rose alongside its notoriety for fine drops of chardonnay, pinot noir and sparkling wines.
Established wineries offer enticing experiences for visitors. Yering Station, home to Victoria's first vineyard planted in 1838, is a landmark for Victorian winemaking. Its historic cellar door, built in 1958, contrasts with the modern architecturally-designed restaurant and wine bar, which offers a sophisticated, French-leaning menu driven by local produce. The winery, housed entirely underground, is a highlight and can be enjoyed with a guided tour.
For those with a taste for French-style sparkling wines in pristine landscaped surrounds, Domaine Chandon by French Champagne House Moët & Chandon, is a must on the wine trail. De Bortoli is another favourite - renowned for its semillons and an exciting cheese room which stocks farmhouse and imported cheeses that match the selection of wines on offer.
TarraWarra Estate offers excellent pinot noir and chardonnay from its cellar door, located next to a significant collection of contemporary Australian art housed in its highly stylised museum. Smaller, boutique wineries also on the must visit list include Punt Road, St Huberts, Dominque Portet and Yarra Yering.
A personalised tour with Australian Wine Tour Company is the answer for those with a busy schedule and only a day to spare. The tour chauffeurs visitors to and from the city and brings together a day of wine tasting, sightseeing and lunch.
The Yarra Valley is also popular for its micro-breweries and cideries, with the Yarra Valley Cider and Ale Trail visitors to seven artisan cider and beer producers in the region to learn about and taste the flavours of their brews.
When visiting the Yarra Valley it quickly becomes apparent there is not just a passion for wine but also food, particularly local and seasonal produce that can be found both at markets and at its many award-winning restaurants. For a five-star experience visitors can enjoy a meal at Eleonore's at Chateau Yering's luxury hotel.
Organic ingredients, sourced within the Valley, feature on the daily-changing menu at Bella Vedere. For an Aussie pub experience, the Healesville Hotel pairs classic pub favourites made from locally sourced ingredients with a diverse selection of beer on tap. Other highly regarded dining spots include Savoia at Mont de Lancey and the restaurant at Oakridge winery.
The Yarra Valley Dairy is an essential stop to sample or purchase fine handmade farmhouse cheeses, while the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery has a stunning array of artisan chocolates crafted by six internationally-trained chocolatiers.
Above all else, a trip to the Yarra Valley must include a visit to the Healesville Sanctuary, home to an impressive collection of Australian native wildlife. Located in the bush, Healesville Sanctuary provides the ultimate Australian wildlife experience that is enjoyable for the whole family. The sanctuary features a world-first interactive platypus show and offers a rare chance to get close to spectacular native animals including birds of prey, dingoes, koalas, kangaroos and wombats.
The Puffing Billy is the perfect activity to enjoy the serenity of the Dandenong Ranges. A century-old steam train runs along a mountain track between the townships of Belgrave and Gembrook, both located in the magnificent ranges. The train rides daily with journeys ranging from one hour to five and a half hours return, with time along the way to explore local townships. The Puffing Billy provides a fantastic family adventure while taking in the picturesque mountains.
Near the top of the ranges sits Olinda, a charming township renowned for its beautiful gardens and boutique treasures. Visitors can take a stroll through the National Rhododendren Gardens and view thousands of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and daffodils, or learn about the rare and historic plants at Cloudehill. Quirky sculptures are to be discovered at the William Ricketts Sanctuary and Pirianda features trees of botanic significance.
Finish an afternoon of outdoor exploration with a famous Dandenong Ranges Devonshire tea and rifle through boutique treasures at Olinda's art and handicraft galleries such as Touchstone Craft Gallery, which sells the works of more than 250 Australian master craftspeople. Townships including Sassafras, Yarra Glen and Sherbrooke are also home to galleries, cafes and antique dealers.
While the region can be enjoyed from the ground, it is also spectacular sky-high in a hot air balloon with Global Ballooning. Stable weather and breathtaking scenery make the Yarra Valley the perfect location to have this unforgettable experience. The balloon flights depart just after dawn offering panoramic views, and then float down for a sparkling wine and breakfast at a local winery - a splendid way to start the day.