WHILE MELBOURNE OFFERS plenty to keep locals and visitors alike amused for weeks, we are also blessed with a number of fascinating villages and towns all within an hour or so drive from the heart of the city.
Some, such as the villages of the Yarra Valley and the Dandenongs, have been popular for many years, whilst others are now just being recognised for their great restaurants, interesting shops and, in many cases, fascinating historical buildings. As an added bonus many are easily accessed by either car, public transport or on a guided coach tour.
Head north of the city and you’ll discover such delights as Castlemaine and Daylesford. Like their ‘bigger city cousins’—ballarat and Bendigo—these villages owe their existence to the discovery of gold in the 1850s.
Castlemaine’s history and heritage is visible in its fine public buildings, wide streets, ornate hotels and century-old shops selling everything from gourmet food to antiques and art.
Castlemaine also has a thriving arts and cultural community and has made its mark as a leading regional arts centre. Its gardens are another feature. The gardens at Buda Historic Home and Garden date back to the 19th-century.
‘Taking the waters’ has long been a favourite pastime of visitors to Daylesford and Hepburn Springs. Given the towns and surrounding areas have Australia’s richest concentration of mineral springs, it’s easy to see why.
Each weekend hundreds of Melburnians head to the twin towns for a healthy relaxing weekend. Many can be found exploring the mineral springs. Around 70 springs bubble freely through the ground. Spa treatments are another favourite pastime for visitors, as is walking the historic streets lined with cafés, restaurants, galleries, antique and speciality stores.
Geelong is in the midst of reinvention with industrial spaces transformed into creative hubs. Cool cafés and galleries are popping up all the time.
Central and West Gippsland has long been a favourite destination for Melburnians searching for great cheese, meat, fruit and wine. And now the rest of the world is discovering the region’s great gourmet delights.
If the beach is more your scene then consider a trip to some of the villages on our two Peninsulas—mornington and Bellarine. Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula can lay claim to being the oldest part of the state as in 1803 a short-lived small convict settlement was established here.
Queenscliff, on the Bellarine Peninsula, also has a long and colourful history. Many reminders of its history can be seen in imposing Victorian-era buildings and a huge military fortress guarding the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. You can visit both in a day by taking the Queenscliff to Sorrento car and passenger ferry.
Of course no trip to Victoria is complete without a visit to Phillip Island to see our very cute little penguins that each night come in from the ocean and waddle across the sand to their burrows.
Phillip Island is also home to the Koala Conservation Centre which offers the perfect environment to see koalas close up and, importantly, in their natural environment. Also lookout for wallabies, echidnas and native birds. Seal lovers flock to Seal Rocks where there’s an Australian fur seal colony which is thought to be one of the largest in the country.
On your way to Phillip Island you’ll pass another of our well-known attractions—the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne. Here you will discover more than 100,000 Australian plants and landscapes, set in 363 hectares of natural bushland. Highlights include the Australian Garden, which follows a journey of water from the arid inland landscapes of central Australia down to the coastal fringes of the continent.