We don't need to bang on about how long, cold and grey a Melbourne winter starts to feel after a while. You know all that already. What we can do, though, is help you in easing the pain. If you've had enough of wandering the streets, longing for warmth and buying too many scarves and beanies and coats and mittens and Aldi heating devices, it could well be time to escape. With that in mind, we've scoured Victoria to bring you ten nearby country towns with adventures that'll make you positively glad winter isn't over. Prepare for spiced pumpkin pie, pinot noir by crackling fireplaces, long soaks in deep hot tubs, dreamy views of snow-capped mountains and truffle hunts.
With a local wine in your hand and a fire roaring at your feet, you can celebrate winter whole-heartedly in Healesville, a 6500-person town northeast of Melbourne, in the Yarra Valley. Start at the Healesville Hotel, with coffee and brunch in the grand 19th century dining room. Once you're fuelled up, you'll be ready to go exploring. There are fireplaces at several wineries around the Yarra, including Punt Road, which also does a top-notch mulled apple cider, and Acacia Ridge — its cellar door is a tin-roofed miner's cottage. If you're keen to stretch your legs before heading home, stop by Maroondah Reservoir for a scenic walk.
How far? An 80-minute drive.
Montalto by Karon Photography
You might normally associate the Mornington Peninsula with languid summer days by the water, but there are numerous reasons why it's an ideal wintry day trip from Melbourne. Begin with a morning soak in 37-degree baths surrounded by epic regional views at Peninsula Hot Springs before expanding your palate with a coffee tasting flight at Boneo Road Roasters, which lives inside a former bowling alley. Come lunchtime, feast on hatted dishes at the new Montalto, which reopened late last year after a revamp, then go truffle hunting at Redhill or take a cooking class at Georgie Bass.
How far? An hour drive.
Matthew Paul Argall via Flickr
Another place that's perfect if you're short on time is the Dandenong Ranges. Plunge straight into nature in Sassafras on Ripe's heated fern-surrounded deck while brunching on coffee and scones piled with jam and cream. For more greenery, head to RJ Hamer Arboretum, a magical, misty wood made up of over 150 tree species, then the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden. One of the most warming eats in the Dandenongs has to be Woods Sherbrooke, where you can feast on organic produce grown in the onsite kitchen garden, before an open fire. Meanwhile, at Oscar's Alehouse, there are more than 100 craft beers.
How far? An hour drive.
MOUNT BAW BAW
At Mount Baw Baw, you can fully embrace winter by strapping on your skis and getting onto and — depending on your skill level — into the snow. Being the nearest downhill ski resort to Melbourne, this spot doesn't offer the dramatic terrain of Mount Buller, but it's far from entirely flat, either. There are ten kilometres of runs, with plenty of beginner-friendly trails, and, when you're done down-hilling, you'll find plenty more escapades to keep you busy. Consider exploring the back country in a husky-led sled, having a go at snow-shoeing or paying a visit to Red Rock Spa. To find out more about Victoria's other ski resorts, go over here.
How far? A two-and-a-half-hour drive.
Like the Mornington Peninsula, Daylesford lets you dissolve out of winter with long soaks in piping hot nutrient-rich water. This tiny town in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range is the gateway to Hepburn Springs, the biggest concentration of mineral springs in Australia. Visit Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa, built in 1895, for social pools, or Salus Day Spa at Lake House Hotel, to sink into your own private tub in a treehouse, surrounded by blonde timber and lush greenery. There's loads of tasty fare in and around town, including pub classics at the dog-friendly Farmers Arms and gastropub eats at The Cosmopolitan in Trentham. We've got a whole list of other indulgences in the area here.
How far? A 90-minute drive.
Half-an-hour north of Daylesford is the interesting town of Castlemaine, a magnet for artists, musicians and writers. Frost and ice are no barrier to their creativity, so, even in the deepest, darkest months, there's a lot going on. Jump straight into the action at The Mill, a collection of independent businesses within a former wool mill, built in 1875. You'll find good coffee at Das Kaffeehaus and freshly-baked treats at Sprout. Next up, get moving on the Botanic Gardens via Kalimna Reserve Walk, a 7.5-kilometre loop, before settling in for decadent hatted fare at the Public Inn.
How far? A 90-minute drive or train journey on the Bendigo line.
Bendigo Art Gallery
As in Castlemaine, winter is no match for Bendigo's vibrant arts scene. The best place to start is Bendigo Art Gallery, which has been delivering locals their cultural fix since 1887 and regularly hosts major touring exhibitions: this winter, see the late Myuran Sukumaran's haunting Another Day in Paradise. On the edge of town is Bendigo Pottery, the oldest working pottery shed in Australia, where you can keep warm by getting your hands busy at a pottery workshop. Once you've worked up an appetite, grab a table at Masons of Bendigo to linger over beautifully-plated hatted dishes.
How far? A two-hour drive or two hours on the Bendigo train.
How far? A 90-minute drive or an hour and a half on the Ballarat train.
Where Mount Baw Baw is the nearest downhill resort to Melbourne, Lake Mountain is the closest for cross-country skiing. What better way to spend a chilly day than gliding through snow-covered trees, at your own pace? You're also welcome to snow shoe, if that works better for you. There are 37 kilometres of trails to journey along, covering both easy loops for beginners and tougher terrain for advanced skiers. When you're done skiing, build snow people in the dedicated park and conquer the flying fox, which soars through the air for 240 metres.
How far? A two-hour drive.
Another spot where you can beat back the winter blues with fresh mountain air and impossibly beautiful scenery is Macedon, a village at the foot of Mount Macedon, and the gateway to the Macedon Ranges. At Mr Macedon, you'll get an Allpress coffee and a warming brekkie in the form of cinnamon French toast loaded with chocolate ganache, strawberry textures, mandarin, hazelnut crumble and vanilla bean marscapone. Come lunchtime, head to Olive Jones to eat pizza by a fireplace, or the Macedon Wine Room for wintry dishes, such as 12-hour braised pork belly with cauliflower puree, silver beet and port jus, overlooking incredible mountain views.
How far? A 45-minute drive or an hour on the Bendigo train.
Top image: The Mill in Castlemaine by Michelle Jarni/Visit Victoria.