A small state but packed like an overflowing picnic basket, Victoria has a taste sensation that covers city to country, ocean to mountains and fine food and regional fare to match the perfect wines. Need to know more? Go there.
Gateway to Victoria, the state’s capital city Melbourne is a river city and a class act. A walkable city or the best way to discover the ‘neighbourhoods’ is to hop a tram and head out of the CBD, But before you enter boho Brunswick, precious Prahan, edgy Fitzroy or to be in the sharp breezes of St Kilda beach, get your bearings in and around the city.
Nobody can persuade Melburnians that their coffee and their restaurants aren’t the best in Australia (and maybe the world when you really push the argument). And they do have damn fine food and java too. Also the proliferation of small bars over the past decade has made the social scene uber cool. Tiny, bespoke bars tucked away in alleyways that have survived city development are almost invisible during daylight hours when you do the laneways tours of wall art that is pretty spectacular.
Don’t miss a trip to the Victoria Markets for all that’s edible and wearable; cruise the Yarra River for a new perspective; go see the brilliant National Gallery and the instagrammable features of Federation Square. Take this city slowly and seek out sporting venues, memorable parks and gardens and some quirky, individual shopping adventures.
Yarra yabba do!
Just an hour outside Melbourne is the splendid Yarra Valley boasting elegant vineyards and boutique wineries. This cool climate region produces high quality winning wines and they are there for the day trippers tasting. Chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon are star players and big name labels such as De Bortoli and Domaine Chandon promise fine tipples.
There are tea room, restaurants and hotels along the way for a longer stay and close by is Healesville Sanctuary which has a breeding progam for the uniquely designed platypus.
In the region of the Dandenongs here there are beautiful, classic gardens to stroll around, one of the finest being Alfred Nicholas Gardens, Sherbrooke
Great Ocean Road
Near Port Campbell and famous for the string of rock stars, the Twelve Apostles, bold rock formations, sitting in the Southern Ocean beyond mighty cliffs are a sight to behold. The drive along the Great Ocean Road yields rugged landmarks, beautiful beaches and holiday towns (Torquay, Apollo Bay and Lorne). Inland are caves to explore, waterfalls and rainforest. But it’s all about the drive, which is exhilarating where some of the road hugs the cliffs and winds around headlands. Zoom, Zoom.
P.S. There are only eight of the 12 Apostles left standing. The rocky stacks have been washed by wild seas and time and tide has taken its toll.
The ‘B’ cities
Doubling up here with the two big Victorian ‘B’ cities – both inland cities that have been built on the back of gold! Ballarat and Bendigo are separated by 120km. Ballarat is closer to Melbourne and you can catch a train there (1 1/2-hour journey) or drive the 115km.
Both cities have bold charm as they have beautiful architecture from neo-classical, to gothic and Federation styles. All this built with shiny money.
Ballarat’s wealth from the goldfields began when gold was discovered in 1851, an event that took over sleepy sheep grazing paddocks. Within days of the first nugget being extracted the ‘rush’ was on, and thousands of hopeful miners descended on the, what was to become known as the ‘Ballarat Diggings’.
Ballarat and Bendigo have embraced the coffee culture and cafes flourish as well as classy restaurants and bars. And both cities boast splendid regional art galleries that have snaffled up extraordinary exhibitions that the big smoke have missed out on. Culture in the country? Sure is.
In Ballarat’s Fine Art Gallery, see the original Eureka Stockade flag and a wide selection of Australian artists’ work. Also visit Her Majesty’s Theatre which was once graced with the presence of Dame Nellie Melba.
In Bendigo admire the epitome of gold-boom architecture with the Shamrock Hotel, four flamboyant stories high!
So high, silo
Ballarat is a good base camp to take a six-hour (round trip) drive out along the wheat belt of Victoria with viewing stops along the way to discover the Silo Art Trail, an inspired outdoor gallery.
The concept of having the towering (up to 27m high), cylindrical concrete towers as the canvas for murals started with Guido van Helten’s stupendous ‘Farmer Quartet’ in the tiny town of Brim. Decommissioned wheat silos define the landscape here, and honouring farmers and farming history has turned into a smashing success engaging the
First stop heading north on the 200km trail is at Rupanyup, with a double modern silo decorated by Russian artist Julia Volchkova. This artwork is not for the faint-hearted, given the artists craft their works while working alone, hoisted in a cherry picker. Next stop at Sheep Hills is a four-silo effort by Adnate, where children of the local Indigenous clan dwarf all who stand below.
Onward at Brim is the extraordinary Farmer Quartet, an overwhelming vision with the subtle hues of the landscape humbly depicting four characters from the region – now modest celebrities of the shire.
Further into the Mallee, in Lascelles is the two-silo artwork by Rone. Here, a man and a woman, fourth generation farmers, curve around the silos and are as much a part of the landscape as the Mallee root tree.
The top of the trail is at Patchewollock – a town of dwindling prominence that is the most isolated on the trail. Artist Fintan Magee chose a subject from the only pub in town in Patchewollock: farmer Nick Hulland – a reluctant pin-up.
North east-ish is Victoria’s High Country where the Alpine National Park is home to ten of the state’s highest peaks. The massive park is a space for all seasons: great ski fields in winter; and in summer, miniature wildflowers cover the grassy plateaus above the tree line and the north-eastern small towns are awash with gold and red hues of the autumn parade.
Another two ‘B’ towns that are local celebrities are Bright ands Beechworth. Beechworth is one of Australia’s best preserved gold-rush towns with more than 30 National Trust-classified buildings, a sight for architecture fiends! Also not to be missed here is the Beechworth Bakery, famous for the much sought after Vanilla Slice trophy. You decide!
Provenance in Beechworth is one of the best regional restaurants in Australia, with chef/owner Michael Ryan a Hatted chef many times over. Also, Bridge Road Brewers Bridge Road is fantastic for its range of locally made ales from locally grown hops, as well as its outstanding pizzas. Ox & Hound Bistro is also a gorgeous little French restaurant.
Bright is close by to the ski fields of Mount Hotham and Falls Creek. The town is charming and in April/May it outs it’s colourful attitude into party mode for the Bright Autumn Festival when the deciduous light up, shiny and bright.
Bright is on the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, a 100km sealed, off-road walking and bike trail between Wangaratta, Beechworth, Rutherglen (wonderful fortified wines here) and Bright.
Short sections of the trail can be accessed from towns along the route. (My recommendation as the food and wine here is pretty special – so why waste too much time walking?)
And there’s more . . . the Mornington Peninsula (golfers go crazy for the much-awarded Dunes Golf Links at Rye); Phillip Island and Gippsland (national parks, heritage villages, a penguin parade and the classic fishing town of Port Albert); Spa country – Daylesford and Hepburn Springs – and the Lakehouse Restaurant; the Grampians National Park, an area of magnificence – a landscape of rock-encrusted ranges perching high above the Western District.