Feb 09, 2017
How to make the most of your short break in Victoria’s renowned Yarra Valley wine region, located on the doorstep of Melbourne.
“The Yarra Valley,” declares Teearn Bishop, a wedding and events manager at one of the valley’s many vineyards, “works wonders for your soul.” We are, at that moment, gazing over a glorious panorama – this part of Victoria, an hour’s drive east of Melbourne, is known for them – from the deck of Killara Estate winery. Prosecco is being sipped, an Italian banquet awaits inside, and that view stretches across emerald green lawns and rows of grape vines to the mountain range beyond. Good for the soul, indeed.
More guesthouse than hotel, the Best Western Yarra Valley stands out for its ability to evoke another time. It was built in the 1920s and, while the rooms are thoroughly modern, communal guest lounges and rambling grounds hark back to a slower time. You might take a seat in front of the fire and read a magazine, or wander down to the Yarra River which rolls through the property. Surely they once played croquet here? And drank champagne cocktails on the lawn? I am chuffed with the double doors in my room that open on to a verandah and a view of the Yarra. There are 22 rooms in total, most either Standard or Deluxe Kings, the latter with private balconies and double showers in the ensuites.
3185 Warburton Highway, Warburton; (03) 5966 9166
Rae’s Restaurant, Balgownie Estate
Lunch is interrupted by a young man checking out our corner of the dining room, where he plans to propose to his girlfriend this very evening. We raise a glass of rosé to that, not surprised that thoughts could turn to romance at this vineyard resort where rose beds bloom at every turn and the valley views are drop-to-one-knee spectacular. The food, too, is of the special-occasion variety. Each of the seasonal modern-Australian dishes comes with a Balgownie Estate wine recommendation – sparkling shiraz with the chorizo croquettes; pinot gris with the Thai fish cakes; chardonnay with the snapper on a bed of celeriac remoulade. For dessert, the adults-only red wine cake comes with a shiraz glaze and honey ice-cream. After this feast, you won’t be good for much else but a Swedish massage in the Estate’s day spa.
1309 Melba Highway, Yarra Glen; (03) 9730 0700
Racers and Rascals Café, Killara Estate
The label on the 2015 Palazzo Pinot Grigio at this historic estate (one 19th-century owner, David Mitchell, was Dame Nellie Melba’s dad) is a 1965 photo of the winemaker Leo Palazzo’s mother, Alba, and brother in Turin, Italy. Emblazoned on the sangiovese are Leo’s aunt and uncle post-migration to the Yarra Valley, the latter without his shirt and clutching a straw hat. This homage to family sets the tone for dining at Killara Estate. Spread before us on our table in the huge, light-filled Racers and Rascals Café (the name a nod to the motor-racing that once took place in the area) is a rustic-Italian collection of entrees, some made from Alba’s recipes: the Nduja is a spicy Calabrian paste that we trowel onto crusty ciabatta; the arancini are filled with bolognese, pea and mozzarella and served with house-made aioli. We gorge ourselves on Persian feta, olives, house-made dips and 20-month aged prosciutto, all before the pizzas come out: mushroom, asiago cheese and truffle oil; pork and fennel sausage; hot salami and split green olives. Heaven.
Corner Warburton Highway and Sunnyside Road, Seville East; (03) 5961 5877
Oscar’s on the Yarra
The Best Western has been under new, family ownership since September 2016, the same month that young chef Lauren Kelso took the helm in the hotel kitchen. Her seasonal menus change weekly, using local produce as it’s available. Spring lamb and free-range pork belly are among the main-courses during our visit; among the side dishes, spring greens with burnt butter and toasted almonds. The pappardelle with slow-cooked mushroom and red wine ragout has a depth of flavour that bespeaks a surprisingly sure hand in a chef so early in her career. Oscar’s is open to the public; bookings are essential.
3185 Warburton Highway, Warburton; (03) 5966 9166
On your bike
The Lilydale to Warburton Rail Trail is a 38-kilometre path for walkers, cyclists and horse-riders that follows the former rail line, which closed in 1965. Find yourself a bike (we hired some from Doug Greenall at Cog Bikes Australia in Warburton, 0418134347) and get pedalling through lush farmland and native forest, across restored bridges and past picture-book cottages and former rail stations.
The train to Warburton delivered two famous passengers 50 years ago. “The Queen and Prince Philip spent a weekend in Warburton in 1955. You should too!” says a sign perched beside photos of the occasion in the window of the historic Warburton Boot Shop. The township was a getaway for Melbourne’s well-to-do set back then, and a weekend visit these days still rewards with interesting shops to browse along the main street, Warburton Highway. Don’t miss Warburton’s Candy Emporium, the local felt and timber craft at Pea Green Boat and the chock-a-block What-Nots for old wares and bric-a-brac.
Cherries on top
CherryHill Orchards at Wandin East is a third-generation family enterprise, although the grandsons of founder George Riseborough have diversified: these days they’re turning cherries into beer, cider and spritzer, as well as luring all-comers to pick their own plump, juicy cherries straight from the trees (and stay for a picnic or cherry ice-cream in the café) during the November to January season. At any time of year, you can drop by Rayner’s Orchard which grows 450 fruit varieties and runs tractor tours of the Woori Yallock farm and classes in fruit bottling and pruning.