I love the city, don’t get me wrong. In summer, it comes alive. There is the smell of warmth in the air (warm really does have a smell, I swear), cafes with their doors and windows open, people laughing and chatting in beer gardens, people paddling in the waters of Port Phillip Bay while the sun sets over the skyscrapers…
But bring on a warm weekend and I love to escape – fresh air (sometimes salty), wide-open spaces, no traffic, food, wine, fun. And it doesn’t have to be overnight. It can be as simple as a quick drive down a freeway and there are a multitude of gorgeous little destinations on the fringe of the city with things to do that will rejuvenate the mind and body. Here are some of my favourite easy day trips from Melbourne, so pack yourselves and your kids (if you have them) into the car this weekend.
1. Bellarine Peninsula.
Just beyond Geelong, an easy 1.5 hour drive southwest of Melbourne, the Bellarine Peninsula is a thriving beach and foodie destination perfect for lovers of the good life. I’ve loved watching the food and wine scene flourish here over the last few years. The surf beaches of Ocean Grove are worth a visit (and bring back oh so many memories of my childhood), or for a bit of fun, visit the Tuckerberry Hill Berry Farm and Café like we did last weekend.
We picked blueberries until our buckets were full (and tried to stop our 18 month old daughter from eating every one on the ground) and then relaxed at the Berry Café with a cold drink and home made ice-cream where there was live music, tables and chairs on the lawn and an expansive deck to while the afternoon away. For the kids there is a play area, pint sized tables, chairs and umbrellas and the kids were grooving when the acoustic guitarist pulled out some Wiggles covers.
Other options include indulging in the Peninsulas taste trail, where you can sample some of the best produce of the region including Port Arlington mussels, Drysdale cheeses and olives from a number of different groves. And if you choose to stay a little longer, fish and chips on the beach in Queenscliff is the perfect way to end the day.
2. The Dandenongs.
Just 44km from Melbourne’s CBD, the Dandenong Ranges are one of Melburnian’s favourite easy day trips . And I’ve just heard about the ‘Day out with Thomas the Tank Engine’ at Emerald’s Town Station. An alternative to the iconic Puffing Billy, it includes a 20-minute ride on ‘Thomas’. The kids also get to meet the Fat Controller and there is heaps of other entertainment such as face painting, a pantomime, jumping castle, and animal nursery.
For something a little more ‘adult’, head to acclaimed chef Shannon Bennet’s (of Vue de Monde fame) new project ‘Burnham Beeches’ in Sherbrooke. He and business partner Adam Garrisson are transforming an iconic Art Moderne-mansion into a gourmet retreat and phase #1 is open for business with the Piggery Café and state of the art Burnham Bakery. There is lawn bowls, croquet and bocce pitches, extensive organic vegetable gardens, a trufferie and emu enclosure. Visit now and watch the progress as they turn this into a six-star foodie destination.
3. Mornington Peninsula.
Though it has been open for years, I still can’t stop remarking on how easy the new Peninsula Link freeway makes accessing one of our best regions in Victoria. A quick 45-minute whiz down the freeway and you are in Red Hill, a bush haven producing some of the Peninsula’s best wineries and foodie spots. Spend your sunny afternoon in the outdoor Piazza Café of Montalto Winery with a woodfired pizza and glass of Pennon Hill Pinot Grigio (kids can run around on the lawn). Or opt for one of Victoria’s best degustation menus at Ten Minutes by Tractor (sans kids).
Before you head back to the city; a walk, swim or laze on nearby Balnarring Beach with a quick stop at the Merricks General Store for some gourmet goodies is a must.
4. Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne.
About 45km southeast of Melbourne’s CBD and set over 363 hectares lies the Cranbourne division of Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. Specialising in Australian native plants, this spectacular display of nature boasts more than 170,000 species in a setting that captures the very essence of Australia from the outback to the coast.
The highlight is the Australian Garden, an inspirational scene of Australian flora, fauna, landscape, culture and architecture that is both interactive and immersive. Climb up Gibson Hill to the lookout for panoramic views, take the River Walk or any of the network of walking tracks in the pristine bushland that covers two thirds of the site. Or settle in at any one of the Picnic Areas. There is an open-air 22 seat shuttle touring the park which stops at six locations and plenty of events and programs to ensure you could return time and time again for something new.
5. Yarra Valley.
One of my favourite summer day trips from Melbourne is an early drive to the Yarra Valley to hit the Farmers Market at Yering Station (you’re there in 45 mins to 1 hour from the inner suburbs). Open every third Sunday of the month, its full of local producers tempting you with cheese, wine, cider, olive oil, home made preserves, sweet treats and more.
Either grab some paella and settle down on the lawns of the winery, or head into the cellar door (which also has art installations and a produce store) for a wine tasting. You could also opt for lunch in the Wine Bar Restaurant on site with panoramic views over the valley (kids welcome, high chairs available). In the afternoon, head into Yarra Glen and sample some of the craft beers and cider from Hargreaves Hill, or head to the Yarra Valley Dairy, or any one of the other wineries in the region for some more of the good stuff.
What are your favourite easy day trips from Melbourne, or from any capital city really? Share so we can all enjoy!