Yarra Val­ley Vibes

Here’s the pick of things to do for one per­fect day in the Yarra Val­ley, writes Mary O’brien.

Where Melbourne - - Contents - bal­go­wn­ieestate.com.au

THE YARRA VAL­LEY

is where Mel­bur­ni­ans like to play. About 60 min­utes from the city, the sub­urbs peter out, re­placed by green rolling hills dot­ted with vines, restau­rants, walk­ing trails, farm gates and pretty vil­lages just wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered. Much of Vic­to­ria’s best pro­duce is grown here, the cool cli­mate wines are top notch and Sun­day lunch is an in­sti­tu­tion. Of course, no visit is com­plete with­out call­ing into Healesville Sanc­tu­ary where you can get up close and per­sonal with koalas, din­goes and platy­pus.

Brunch—coombe Farm

Once mys­te­ri­ously hid­den be­hind its gi­ant cy­press hedge, Coombe Farm, Dame Nel­lie Melba’s old es­tate in Cold­stream, is now open to the pub­lic. You can ex­plore the cen­tury-old 2.8-hectare gar­dens of Aus­tralia’s fa­mous opera singer fol­lowed by morn­ing tea, or in­stead mar­vel at the Louis Vuit­ton lug­gage and opera mem­o­ra­bilia at the small gallery af­ter brunch in the con­ser­va­tory restau­rant. And, yes, peach Melba (named af­ter Dame Nel­lie) is on the dessert menu. Coombe Farm wines can be tasted at the cel­lar door. Book ahead for gar­den tours. Steal a magic mo­ment with Aus­tralia’s na­tive an­i­mals at Healesville Sanc­tu­ary, which is set on 32 hectares of bush­land. Sort the platy­pus facts from fic­tion at the glass tank where the keep­ers in­ter­act with the lit­tle crea­tures. An el­e­vated board­walk helps you to spot the koalas among the gum trees. Wade with the platy­pus, pat the wom­bat or mar­vel at cock­a­toos in flight. Visit the wildlife health cen­tre, which treats more than 1,500 sick an­i­mals ev­ery year.

Lunch—gi­ant Steps

Add some hip­ster cred to your day by call­ing into Gi­ant Steps restau­rant/win­ery in Healesville. It’s a beau­ti­fully de­signed, large-scale, in­dus­trial-style, win­ery bistro with a wood-fired pizza oven. Opened in 2006, like its wine it has aged well. You can watch the wine­mak­ing process through a huge glass wall. Graze on some bites or opt for a main course with sug­gested wine matches. Watch out for the new Gi­ant Steps bak­ery and cof­fee house, Habituel, open­ing soon. Also new, next door Brown Brothers (who have bought the In­no­cent By­stander wines) are open­ing a cel­lar door and pizze­ria. Book ahead at Gi­ant Steps to avoid the queues.

Af­ter­noon—four Pil­lars dis­tillery

Wan­der through Healesville, past the charm­ing old Healesville Ho­tel, jew­ellery and home­wares shops to the other end of town. Here the award-win­ning gin dis­tillers, Four Pil­lars, has opened a tast­ing room. The dis­tillery, which started with a crowd-fund­ing cam­paign in 2013, has grown from a sin­gle still in a War­randyte ware­house to this cool, well-de­signed joint on the back of the gin boom. Learn how gin is made from the knowl­edge­able staff and en­joy a pad­dle of four gins with a tonic. Do take home the break­fast ne­groni mar­malade (a by-prod­uct of the dis­till­ing process), it’s de­li­cious.

Late af­ter­noon—yarra Val­ley Cho­co­la­terie and Ice Cream­ery

Those with kids, or those with a sweet tooth, will want to take a break at Yarra Val­ley Cho­co­la­terie and Ice Cream­ery. In­side you’ll find hun­dreds of choco­late treats sur­rounded by a Wil­lie Wonkastyle mad­ness while out­side fans queue for the many flavoured ice-creams. Watch the choco­latiers at work, in­dulge in some free sam­ples and learn the se­crets of choco­late mak­ing. Plus, there’s a café and spa­cious grounds.

Din­ner— Bal­go­wnie Es­tate

A five-minute drive away, you can check into Bal­go­wnie Es­tate for the night. Vine views, lux­u­ri­ous spa treat­ments, cel­lar door and award-win­ning restau­rant: Bal­go­wnie ticks all the boxes. Swim in the heated pool, ex­plore the walks around the es­tate or in­dulge in a spe­cial treat­ment at the on­site Natskin spa. Drop into the cel­lar door and com­pare the very dif­fer­ent wines from Bal­go­wnie’s Yarra Val­ley and Bendigo vine­yards. Din­ner at Rae’s restau­rant com­petes with views of the vine-cov­ered hills. Note: kan­ga­roo is one of the tempt­ing main-course op­tions. Tar­rawarra Es­tate win­ery and mu­seum of art (Yarra Glen), Pig­gery café and bak­ery (Sher­brooke), Watts River Brew­ing (Hunter Road, Healesville) and Global Bal­loon­ing’s early morn­ing hot-air bal­loon rides.

Fes­ti­val Fun

Bou­tique vine­yards, big-gun winer­ies, lo­cal brew­ers, gourmet food pro­duc­ers and food trucks will turn out in force for the first Yarra Val­ley Wine and Food Fes­ti­val on 1–2 April. Rochford Wines will host live mu­sic (Chunky Jam and Lisa Ed­wards), “wine laneways”, a farm­ers’ mar­ket, cook­ing demos and wine mas­ter­classes on its lawns.

Bal­go­wnie. coombe­yarraval­ley.com.au Morn­ing—healesville Sanc­tu­ary Healesville Sanc­tu­ary. zoo.org.au/healesville

Main im­age: Hot air bal­loon­ing in the Yarra Val­ley. Photo: Rob Black­burn/visit Vic­to­ria.

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