exploring the

Yarra Valley

One of the world’s premier wine growing regions, the Yarra Valley is situated less than an hour away from Melbourne. Despite its close proximity to the bustling city, however, the Yarra Valley is a whole world away, with breathtaking scenery, wineries, national parks and wildlife, and lots of adventure. It’s definitely one of the most fabulous weekend breaks.

Things to do

While the Yarra Valley region is most known for delicious food and fine wine, the area is also filled to the brim with walking trails, activities and gardens to explore.

Historic Landmarks and Museums

The TarraWarra Museum of Art is a striking contemporary building showcasing Australian art from the 1950s and beyond. It also has a rotating permanent exhibition that has featured work from heavyweights such as Sidney Nolan, Brett Whitely and Arthur Boyd.
Also worth a visit is the Phoenix Museum in Marysville. The museum serves as an information centre but is also set up as a tribute to the 2009 bush fires that almost devastated the town.

 

Taking you through the lush Dandenong Ranges, riding the Puffing Billy is an excellent way to relax and breathe in the fresh air while also seeing the magnificent rainforest. A little bit of trivia for you: the steam train still runs on the original mountain track for a portion of the railway.
There’s also the Mont De Lancey Historic Property, providing a glimpse into how life used to be, and the Healesville Glass Blowing Studio where you can watch the art of glass blowing and even make your own small token to take home.

Gardens and Playgrounds

The Yarra Valley is filled with secret, and not so secret, gardens that will simply take your breath away.
With six display areas, including an edible garden, Alowyn Gardens provides an informative and educational experience for those interested in gardening, and even those who simply want to enjoy the surroundings. For of exciting history, the Coombe Yarra Valley was once the home of the world-famous opera singer Dame Nellie Melba. As well as the seven acres of stunning gardens, there is also a world-class dining experience with award-winning wines.

 

If you fancy seeing some animals, head to the Healesville Sanctuary where you can get up close and personal with Australian native wildlife.
And for something the whole family can enjoy, Gateway Estate is a definite must-see. Pick your own strawberries, head to the greenhouse to grab locally grown fruit and vegetables and enjoy a bite to eat in the café.
For the families visiting, there are plenty of playgrounds for the little (and big) kids to enjoy. In the hotter months, the Seville Water Park and farm-themed Regional Play Space are great options. There’s also the Yarra Glen Adventure Playground with sandpits, and the equipment is even big enough for parents to enjoy with the kids.

Walks and Tours

For those looking to get out and about among nature while in the Yarra Valley, it’s the perfect place to explore. The Gawa Wurundjeri Resource Trail is a 340m loop that takes you through the history of the Wurundjeri clan as well as introduces visitors to indigenous flora and fauna. It’s a truly fascinating insight into Wurundjeri country.

 

While you can experience Dandenong Ranges National Park on the Puffing Billy railway, there are also plenty of walks and tours you can do through the park itself. The Tourist Track passes through fern-filled gullies and over boardwalks and bridges, while the Living Bush Nature Walk is a full-sensory experience, with walkers discovering features of the bush through sight, sound, touch and smell. There are also birdwatching tours, mountain bike riding and horse riding opportunities and heritage tours.
An iconic 40km recreation trail for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, the Lilydale to Warburton Rail Trial follows the path of the historic railway line. As you walk the path, you’ll see vineyards, mountain scenery, station platforms and even the original 1882 railway station.
Finally, discover the Redwood Forest in Warburton, home to the stunning Californian Redwood tree plantation. You can really get lost among the trees, which number almost 1500 and stand up to 55m high.

Best Time to Visit

With a mild and consistent temperature, it’s quite easy to plan your visit around the weather. Spring is the wettest time, so if you’re not keen on gumboots and raincoats, avoid September and October. Towards the end of Spring though is a lovely time to visit. It’s warm without being overbearing, and the vines are starting the next season’s crop so there’s a lovely buzz in the air.

 

A good thing to keep in mind when planning your visit is that March is harvest season, which is an excellent time to explore the vineyards and to go on wine-tasting tours.
If you’re keen on tulips, the annual Tesselaar Tulip Festival is held in the Dandenong Ranges generally in around September/October time. Yep, that’s the rainy time but the tulips are in full bloom and they’re truly spectacular. There is also the Healesville Music Festival, which generally happens in November and is a fantastic way to get a feel for the region, with food and wine on offer as well as live music acts. There’s even a kid’s tent so bring them along too.

 

If you’re keen on food, wine, music and entertainment, you may also consider visiting when Shedfest is on. It’s now in its 17th year and the festival was original established to showcase the unique charm of the boutique wineries in the region. It’s a roving festival so you’ll be able to meet the families behind the wine and really explore the lesser-known areas of the Yarra Valley.

Choosing the Right Yarra Valley Accommodation

Luxury and Winery Accommodation

There’s no shortage of luxury and winery accommodation in the Yarra Valley region. Top of the list is most definitely Balgownie Estate Vineyard Resort and Spa. It’s in the heart of the Yarra Valley region and offers boutique luxury. There’s a restaurant on site, and, of course, the cellar door, and the onsite spa is a plus too.

 

The Wild Cattle Creek Estate offers villas and cottages, with an historic homestead available as well. The Homestead is true to 19th century style and was originally built in the 1890s. Of course, it’s been updated to include all the modern amenities. The cellar door is just a stone’s throw away and the Estate offers free tutored wine tasting to all guests.
A grand home situated on 42 acres, Deloraine Homestead has views to beat, especially in the mornings when the mist curls itself along the river. As an added bonus, native Australian wildlife often come to visit.

Self-Contained Houses and Cottages

If you’re keen for a bit of rest and relaxation in your own space, a self-contained house or cottage may just be in order.
Perhaps a stay with alpacas is on the cards? The Alpaca Ridge Farmstay bed and breakfast has two options for accommodation – a house and a studio. With beautiful mountain views and just a 20-minute walk from Healesville, there is plenty of natural bush for walking, plus, of course, the alpacas.

 

Leafield Cottages are situated just north of Yarra Glen. It’s an enchanting country retreat with history that dates back to the early 1900s and is a perfect location to explore the wineries, restaurants, galleries and other sites of the Yarra Valley region.
If luxury garden homestead is more your thing, consider checking in to the House on Maddens. The house offers accommodation for up to ten people and is situated on a 40-acre property among sprawling gardens.

Yarra Valley Hotels

Scattered around the Yarra Valley region, there are plenty of hotels to choose from.
The Chateau Yering Hotel is a gracious Victorian mansion set on a 250-acre estate offering sweeping views of the Yarra Valley. There’s the award-winning Eleonore’s Restaurant on site which even offers a traditional high tea.

 

A luxury boutique hotel, Yarra Valley Lodge features spacious guest rooms which all include balconies providing beautiful views. The Lodge also offers access to The Heritage Golf and Country Club’s golf courses, and tours and transport options for winery visits.
Yering Gorge Cottages, nestled in the hillside along the Yarra River, offers 13 luxurious cottages with a suite of outdoor experiences and activities to complement your stay. The accommodation is set on a 120-acre nature reserve so you’ll have plenty of native animals and birdlife coming to say hello. Cottages have a separate living area with floor to ceiling windows providing the ultimate views of the reserve.

Top Foodie Experiences

Best Restaurants

Whether it’s fine dining or café culture, there are plenty of options in Victoria’s premier wine region.
For fine dining, Ezard at Levantine Hill is a must-visit. The restaurant describes itself as a “gastronomic partnership” between the head chef and Levantine Hill Estate meaning your meals and your wines are perfectly paired. And the view is breathtaking too.

 

If you’re after something a bit more rustic, head to The Stables at Stones, an intimate restaurant led by Executive Chef Hugh Davison. The restaurant offers regional food incorporating seasonal ingredients.
For something a little bit more budget-friendly, consider booking at Tokar Estate. It’s family-owned and operated and includes a restaurant incorporating a slice of the Mediterranean and cellar door.

Best Wineries and Breweries

Wine lovers and those who appreciate beers and ciders will be spoilt for choice in the Yarra Valley.
Personal, simple and beautifully finished, Maddens Rise is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of cellar door. But don’t blink and don’t miss it because you really should taste everything here, especially the sparkling rose.

 

Any visit to the winery region shouldn’t miss TarraWarra Estate, one of the region’s must-see destinations. Contemporary architecture and sprawling views, you can sample wines with the wine maker herself, Clare Halloran.
For something a little bit more fun and funky, head to Giant Steps in Healsville. The owner, Phil Sexton, a massive jazz fan, named the winery after John Coltrane’s 1960 album Giant Steps. The wines themselves are also named in the musician’s honour.
When it comes to beers, your first stop should be Coldstream Brewery. Housed in a restored wool-shed, there’s a passion for local produce, especially when it comes to its cider with the Brewery using only Victoria apples. The Brewery also uses traditional brewing methods which sets it apart from others.

 

The new kid on the Yarra Valley block, the Watts River Brewing was only opened in September 2016. The Brewery has comfy couches to lounge on while you taste the delicious brews on tap and for the non-beer drinkers, the Brewery even offers a small selection of Yarra Valley wines and gin.

Sweet Finds

There’s a sweet spot in all of us, and in the Yarra Valley there’s a few. The Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Cream was founded by passionate foodies Ian and Leanne Neeland and it’s definitely a place the whole family will enjoy. There’s a stunning showroom, chocolate production area and a café, you can even enjoy abundant free chocolate tastings.

 

If you’re after a warm and cosy country feel, The Gladysdale Bakery should be top of your list. It serves food as well as sweet treats.
And for the kids (or the kids in all of us), you’ll want to make a stop at the Rainbow Ice Cream Shop in Warburton. There are loads of flavours to choose from and the portions are exceptionally generous.

Markets

A mecca for people who love markets, especially those with a mixture of food and craft, the Yarra Valley doesn’t disappoint. There are plenty of markets scattered throughout the region from organic farmer’s markets to craft markets, however they all fall on weekends, so bear this in mind if you’re keen for a visit.

 

If you’re after an Organic Farmers’ Market, you can’t go past the Healesville offering, which occurs every Saturday. The market offers locally-grown fruit, vegetables, herbs, honey and plants all at affordable prices. There are also breads and jams on offer.
Also on every Saturday, the St Andrews Community Market is more than just food, with crafts, massage, second-hand goods for sale and even hair braiding if you’re interested.
Famous for its collection of plants, regional produce and locally-made crafts, the Upper Yarra Community Market is held on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. There are lots of great, unique gifts on offer as well.

 

Finally, the Yarra Glen Racecourse Market is a huge craft market with almost anything and everything you could want to purchase. From old-fashioned boiled lollies to quirky wall art and artisan cheese, everything sold at the market has to be fresh and homemade. Be sure to sample the delicacies on display and have a chat to the passionate producers. It’s held on the first Sunday of every month from September through to June.

Whether it’s checking out the nature, heading to the galleries or enjoying the food and wine on offer, no matter how you choose to explore the Yarra Valley, you’re sure to enjoy the experience.