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TRAVEL & LEISURE

Ten Country Towns Near Melbourne You Should Day Trip to This Winter

These picturesque spots offer everything from Victoria's highest waterfall to cosy pubs with fireplaces.
By Libby Curran
June 03, 2020
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Ten Country Towns Near Melbourne You Should Day Trip to This Winter

These picturesque spots offer everything from Victoria's highest waterfall to cosy pubs with fireplaces.
By Libby Curran
June 03, 2020
  shares

Summer beach days are great, but it's during those crisp months of winter that many of Victoria's country towns really turn on the charm. After all, what better way to keep chills at bay than by hiking through some untouched wilderness, indulging in a spot of regional history and art, and capping it all off with a cosy fireside feed at some quaint country pub?

To help your winter weekends look a little like that, we've rounded up ten of the state's top country towns deserving of a day-trip from Melbourne. Fill up the car and swap the fast pace of the big smoke for a day spent exploring one of these charming country destinations.

While regional holidays within Victoria have been allowed since June 1, some of the places mentioned below may still be closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Please check websites before making any plans.

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Innocent Bystander

HEALESVILLE

Boasting plenty of top-shelf wining, dining and nature, this Yarra Ranges town is a worthy day-trip destination any time of year. But come winter, it's especially hard to beat. You can fuel your day with a stop at celebrated sourdough bakery and coffee roasters Habituel, before cosying up to some native critters at Healesville Sanctuary. Art aficionados will appreciate a wander through the TarraWarra Museum of Art, while Innocent Bystander's sprawling cellar door and winery is a lunchtime winner when the mood calls for some award-winning vino and wood fired pizzas. And, if you fancy a scenic post-lunch leg stretch before the journey home, Maroondah Reservoir Park is just a quick trip up the road.

How far? An 80-minute drive.

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Red Gum BBQ

RED HILL

While the Mornington Peninsula is a certified summertime hot-spot, the region's also got plenty to entice the winter day-tripper. Especially if you pack your appetite and aim straight for the rolling green hills, specialty producers and award-winning cool-climate wineries of Red Hill and Main Ridge. Kick things off with a coffee stop at Scandi-style cafe Nordie, before swinging past the renowned Main Ridge Dairy to stock up on incredible local cheese. A winery crawl is the logical next step, with a stack of local gems to choose from — try Foxey's Hangout or the stylish Polperro if you fancy a wine-matched fireside feed. And to round out the day on a smoky note, visit Red Gum BBQ's Southern-style kitchen and beer hall.

How far? One-hour drive.

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Bendigo Art Gallery

BENDIGO

It's safe to say Bendigo's famously vibrant arts scene shines just as bright during the chilly months. And what better place to start a culture feast here, than the Bendigo Art Gallery, home to a renowned collection of Australian works and regular host of major exhibitions from across the world? Continue your tour with a visit to some of the town's numerous smaller galleries and exhibition spaces, like the locally-focused Bendigo Living Arts Space. And when it's time to refuel? Settle in beside The Woodhouse's roaring fire for top-quality steaks grilled over redgum, or opt for craft beers and refined comfort food at the beautifully refitted Gold Mines Hotel.

How far? Two-hour drive.

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MACEDON

An easy hour out of Melbourne, Macedon is your gateway to a blissful day of wine sipping, bush hiking and feasting. Much-loved cafe Mr Macedon can hook you up with some top-quality coffee and a hefty breakfast bagel, before you clock up some steps in the lush, wildlife-filled Macedon Regional Park. And then, you can rest those weary feet while settling into some wine and cheese appreciation at The Wine Collective's light-filled, fire-heated cellar door. If beer is more your speed, don't head home without a stop in at the legendary Holgate Brewhouse for modern pub grub and boutique house brews, served in a gorgeous heritage hotel.

How far? One-hour drive.

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Robert Blackburn for Visit Victoria.

BALLARAT

If your favourite winter pastimes are those involving comfort food, then a trip out to the Goldfields hub of Ballarat is guaranteed to deliver some wins. There are countless food adventures to be had here, not least of which is a visit to Webster's Market & Cafe for a top-notch caffeine hit and loaded reuben bagel. Meanwhile, dining institution The Boatshed has both a crackling fire and dreamy views across Lake Wendouree to match its menu of modern Australian fare. Or, you can envelop yourself within the historic Pub With Two Names, to devour a top-notch cut of local meat, hot off the woodfire grill. And in between food stops, get acquainted with some of Bendigo's rich goldrush history, on a self-guided heritage walk.

How far? 90-minute drive.

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Cosmopolitan Hotel by Visit Victoria

TRENTHAM

High up in the Great Dividing Range, the town of Trentham might be tiny, but it's brimming with history, wild landscapes and road trip-worthy eats. RedBeard Historic Bakery is a primo starting point, for top-notch coffee and sourdough breads fired in a 19th-century scotch oven. Then, take an easy bush trek to Coliban River Scenic Reserve, for a glimpse at the 32-metre plunge that is Trentham Falls. The extra rainfall means this beauty is at its best in winter. When a feed is on the cards, you'll find memorable produce-driven fare and an open fire over at The Cosmopolitan Hotel. Or, treat yourself to some of Annie Smithers' famed French farmhouse cooking at Du Fermier.

How far? 90-minute drive.

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Visit Victoria

CASTLEMAINE

The colourful countryside hub of Castlemaine has long been a magnet for creatives, so it's got more than enough to fill up a winter day's itinerary. You'll find yourself at the heart of the action with a visit to The Mill — a buzzing food, artisan and vintage precinct housed within a former wool mill. Shop some local wares and fuel up with a few treats from Sprout Bakery, before hitting one of the rugged walking trails in Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park. Of course, you won't want to venture home before a cosy session at classic country boozer The Bridge Hotel, where the plates are hearty, the wines are mostly local and a fireplace crackles invitingly.

How far? 90-minute drive.

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Peter Dunphy for Visit Victoria

MANSFIELD

For a surefire antidote to any big city stress, venture a couple of hours northeast to indulge in the High Country charms of Mansfield. With its idyllic alpine landscapes, this region's got outdoor adventure options on tap — grab a bike and warm up with a spin on the Mansfield Town Ride or tackle part of the Great Victorian Rail Trail. Once you've worked up an appetite, drop into town favourite The Produce Store, where you can stock up on locally made goodies and tuck into honest, home-style fare; like the rustic sausage rolls. Or, you can hit up Social Bandit Brewing Co to settle in over a couple of classic pizzas and tap beers crafted right there in Mansfield.

How far? 2.5-hour drive.

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Steavenson Falls by Visit Victoria

MARYSVILLE

The ultimate day-trip destination for nature-lovers, Marysville boasts all the dense forests, rugged walking trails and scenic lookouts your outdoorsy heart could ever want. For an action-packed day out, Lake Mountain ski resort (which is open, but has a limited capacity and tickets must be pre-purchased) has 37 kilometres of trails to ski or snowshoe, as well as a 240-metre dual flying fox serving up thrills all year round. Elsewhere, you can hike your way along one of the area's many forest tracks, or take an easy meander out to Victoria's highest waterfalls, Steavenson Falls. And, when it's time for a feed, simply head to the centre of town — The Duck Inn is a top choice for that cheeky parma and pint, overlooking the park.

How far? Two-hour drive.

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Mark Chew for Visit Victoria

QUEENSCLIFF

It might be coastal, but the quaint town of Queenscliff is well deserving of a spot on your winter itinerary. Soak up that seaside village vibe with a self-guided art tour, hitting the likes of Salt Contemporary Art and the acclaimed Queenscliff Gallery & Workshop, which is housed in a 150-year-old Wesleyan church. Then, you can pique your appetite with a wander along the foreshore, before treating your inner architect nerd to lunch in the dining room at the stunning Vue Grand. Here, ornate ceilings and plush red carpets make a luxe backdrop to a feast of french onion soup and slow-cooked lamb pappardelle. Finish with a stop at the Queenscliff Brewhouse to sample a range of beers and gin crafted onsite.

How far? Two-hour drive.

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Top image: The Mill in Castlemaine by Michelle Jarni/Visit Victoria.

Published on June 03, 2020 by Libby Curran

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