A short one-hour drive from Melbourne city sits the beautiful Yarra Valley. Best known for producing excellent Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the Valley is home to more than 120 wineries. Whether you take the family, run away for romance with your partner, or round up some friends, Yarra Valley is the perfect weekend escape.
Fresh from a jam-packed two night stay in the Yarra Valley, I just have to share the love and my 10 must dos for any trip to the Yarra Valley.
1. Piggery Cafe, Burnham Beeches
The Piggery Cafe is housed on the old Burnham Beeches site - a run-down 1930s holiday mansion built for a wealthy Melbourne family called the Nicholas'. The Nicolas' old holiday house is also set for a refurbishment with plans to turn it into a stunning boutique hotel.
The current owners have taken advantage of the beautiful land surrounding the property to harvest everything on the menu from beetroot to beef. The first truffles have also been sourced this year so, by next winter, The Piggery Cafe hopes to have truffle hunting tours on offer. Also on the cards is a micro-brewery and steakhouse.
2. Innocent Bystander, Healesville
The perfect introduction to wine tasting, the Innocent Bystander in Healesville has a very casual vibe with an open-plan restaurant set against a backdrop of wine barrels behind floor-to-ceiling glass walls.
Rock up to the bar and taste a few drops while your pizza cooks in the blazing wood-fire oven. Nothing smells as good as hot, cheesy pizza and open barrels of red wine!
3. Tarra Warra Estate
Taking it up a notch in the winery stakes, the 5-star Tarra Warra Estate gets major brownie points for its breathtaking views. The Estate offers vineyard tours and wine tasting, and the Cellar Door and Restaurant serves lunch from 12:00pm (bookings essential).
After your tastings and a long lunch, pop into the Tarra Warra Museum of Art next door. It's 100% privately funded and operates as a not-for-profit. Collections vary, but a number of Australian works of art primarily from the 1950s to the present day remain on display and the gallery displays all showcase a distinctly Australian feel.
4. Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery
One handy tip I should've mentioned earlier: don't go to the Yarra Valley on a diet. You'll fail miserably.
The Yarra Valley Chocolaterie is out-of-this-world amazing. The expert chocolate artisans have all handpicked from Europe and each one has a speciality expertise from developing detailed chocolate moulds to knowing the best truffle flavour combinations.
You can tour the factory and kids can even try their own hand at making some chocolates, but by far the most satisfying part of a visit to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie is sampling the goods yourself.
5. Alowyn Gardens, Yarra Glen
Any garden lover will swoon over Alowyn Gardens, but even the not-so-green of thumbs out there will appreciate the attention to detail and tender loving care the owners have given it.
Alowyn Gardens has everything from an edible garden display to a magnificent Wisteria archway (perfect for wedding photos) and the biggest sea of roses I've ever come across.
Stroll the gardens and pop into the cafe for a bite to eat. Alowyn Gardens is open to the public on Saturdays and Sunday 10:00am - 5:00pm and all public holidays except Christmas Day. The gardens are closed during the winter (June - August) so keep this in mind during your trip planning.
6. Balloon Ride over the Valley
The 5am wakeup call is definitely worth it to tick this item off the bucket list! Global Ballooning operates balloon rides starting from approx $365 per person, and they pick you up at your hotel and drop you back afterwards for breakfast.
A bird's-eye view of the valley is definitely unique and, with its sprawling green vineyards, it makes for a breathtaking experience and completely different perspective.
You have to hope for suitable weather, but I had a chat with our pilot and he assured me the odds are always in your favour!
7. Healesville Sanctuary
Another one for the family, Healesville Sanctuary is part of the Zoos Victoria family (along with Melbourne Zoo and Werribee Open Range Zoo) and houses one of the biggest collections of Australian Wildlife in the world.
The Sanctuary is known for its 'Magic Moment' experiences, available to book ahead of time, where you can enjoy one-on-one time with echidnas, koalas, emus and dingoes. Even more special, Healesville Sanctuary offers a 'Wade with the Platypus' experience and apparently the little guys just love a tickle on the stomach!
8. Oakridge Winery
This winery is all about views! The restaurant's position overlooking the vineyards is spectacular and with floor to ceiling glass, you can really take it all in.
This is the perfect winery for groups, with cool wine tours on offer and the option to dine in the restaurant or take advantage of the beautiful vineyard grounds with a wine picnic option (soon to be available).
9. Coombe - The Melba Estate
For something a little different, you can break up all the wine tasting with an afternoon stroll through Coombe, the former Melba Estate of Dame Nellie Melba.
It's a whopping seven acres of lovingly resorted gardens, which was unofficially opened to the public in August this year. Along with stunning gardens, the homestead features an original 1913 pool and a 19th Century oak tree.
A number of buildings on the property were converted during the restoration, so the Estate is now home to a brand new cafe-restaurant, gallery and cellar door. Of course, if you're still thirsty you can also tickle the palette with a drop at Coombe Farm Wines.
10. Relax and Unwind
After all the wine tasting and indulgent lunches, the perfect setting is a cosy spot by the fireplace at your accommodation. I spent a night at both Chateau Yering and Yarra Valley Lodge, two of the most popular choices for Yarra Valley tourists.
Chateau Yering is an historic homestead reborn as a 5-star property with a range of suites all designed to match the historic homestead's origins. Guests can also dine in the chataeu's Elenore's Restaurant, which has been awared one Chef's Hat.
Yarra Valley Lodge is decked out with everything you need for a weekend getaway - a championship golf course and country club, a decadent spa with treatments galore, and an on-site restaurant and bar for cheeky nightcaps (if the day's indulgent wine tasting wasn't enough).