A Weekender's Guide to the Mornington Peninsula
Just an hour out of Melbourne, the Peninsula provides the perfect combo of coastal parks, prime produce and pinot noir.
February 04, 2022
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While the Great Ocean Road has long been a favourite destination for Victoria's beach-bound visitors, a journey around the other side of Port Phillip Bay harbours just as much gold for adventurous weekenders. Just a few clicks beyond the outer Melbourne suburb of Frankston lies the Mornington Peninsula, with its diverse mix of sandy shoreline, vineyard-dotted hills and picturesque national parkland.
Thanks to its reputable wine industry and burgeoning food scene, the area has become much more than just a summer destination, luring city dwellers year-round to feast on its many varied offerings.
Together with our Victorian road trip partner RACV, we've put together a guide to a perfect weekend on the eastern side of the bay.
And don't forget — if you're planning on having a drink, make sure there's a designated driver to keep you safe on your travels.
Sitting pretty in the heart of the Mornington Peninsula's wine region is the stunning Jackalope. Set on a picture-perfect vineyard, this 45-key luxury hotel has been one of Victoria's most sought-after stays since opening in 2017 thanks to its rooms that feature private terraces, king-sized beds, rain showers and the option of deep-soak Japanese baths. If you do leave your room, you'll find a 30-metre infinity pool overlooking the property's 28-acre vineyard and immersive culinary experiences that include a two fine-dining restaurants, a winery, cellar door and sleek cocktail bar. Its location in the middle of the Peninsula also means that the region's beaches, golf courses, hiking trails and wineries are all within easy reach.
If the beach is calling, you can opt for a seaside stay, putting down anchor at the likes of Rye's Blue Moon Cottages. Just a 250-metre stroll from the sand, this luxury accommodation features an assortment of quaint cottages, though couples will especially love the Sandpiper. With its log cabin styling, crackling wood fire and spa bath, this self-contained, one-bedroom beauty is dressed to impress.
EAT AND DRINK
Journey along the winding, woodland roads of Red Hill and Balnarring, and you'll find yourself in a paradise for both wine lovers and foodies alike, with enough cellar doors, wineries, farm gates and restaurants to fill your weekends for the next year. But you've got to start exploring somewhere, right?
A visit to Quealy's informal cellar door at its Balnarring vineyard will get things off to a good comfortable start, with the winemakers more than happy to team your tasting with a healthy side of knowledge. Pick their brains and learn a thing or two about the local grape scene, while you sample the winery's own Italian-influenced stable of wines. This one's a must-visit for any pinot grigio fan, as winemaker Kathleen Quealy's been pioneering the variety since the '90s.
Armed with the lowdown, make the short drive west to Red Hill's Foxeys Hangout, where you can team some more wine tasting with one of the winery's famously fresh, flavour-packed lunches. Here, you'll sample some of the cold-climate expressions that Michael and Tony Lee craft so well, including pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay, as well as a select range of the boys' sparkling wines. And since these guys are big believers that wine is made to be enjoyed alongside food, there's no chance of leaving hungry. Lunch at the cellar door involves a parade of seasonal small plates, designed to perfectly complement the wines you've been sipping. Opt for the changing chef's menu and you'll get yourself a taste of the very best in seasonal local produce.
Just around the corner, the folks at Polperro are equally big champions of that intuitive relationship between vineyard and kitchen. Here, they're plating up a menu that's nothing short of stunning, with huge respect for seasonality, local produce and technique. Grab a seat in the designer dining space and indulge in dapper dishes — the current menu features the likes of gazpacho andalouse with crayfish, kale and cashew cheese martabak and tea-smoked Aylesbury duck breast. Cap off your long lunch with a tasting at the cellar door, where you'll get to sample the best this single vineyard label has to offer.
The Peninsula's coastal stretch holds even more in the way of gastronomic delights, with beachside cafés and eateries aplenty.
McCrae's Merchant & Maker is a spot for indulging all sorts of foodie cravings. The cheery beachfront café and bar turns out top-notch specialty coffee from Mornington's own Commonfolk, alongside tempting brunches and home-style lunch and dinner dishes. Here, you can start your day with an espresso and a medley of sautéed mushrooms with an umami sauce, ponzu gel, goat's cheese, kale and a poached egg, or finish it with a delightful nasi lemak bowl, teamed with a local boutique wine.
Over in Dromana, you'll find another burst of freshness at Pier Street Kitchen. This buzzing eatery serves up a produce-driven menu of Middle Eastern-accented comfort food that's sure to impress. Tuck into the kitchen's signature shakshouka, unwind with a drop from the regional wine list, and grab a few of the tasty take-home meals for later.
If, for you, no weekend getaway is complete without a spot of pampering, then you've really come to the right place. The award-winning Peninsula Hot Springs is Victoria's first natural hot springs and spa centre, and it's sure to go down a real treat after a long day cruising the cellar doors.
You'll be spoilt for choice with a huge array of bathing experiences and spa treatments to indulge in, from a traditional Turkish steam bath to icy-cold plunge pools and ancient healing stone experiences. But however you choose to luxe out, be sure to cap it off with a visit to the hilltop pool, where you can soak away all your troubles while enjoying 360-degree views across the Peninsula.
After something a touch more energetic to balance out all the wine quaffing and culinary indulgences of your weekend? The Peninsula also boasts over 30 bike tracks and countless more walking trails, from captivating coastal paths, to rugged bushland tracks. At its very tip, you'll find Point Nepean National Park – 560 hectares of prime walking, cycling and exploring territory. Don some sturdy shoes and take in as much of it as you like, from the old quarantine station to the Pearce Barracks site and the Harold Holt memorial located at the park's highest point.
Of course, you're surrounded by water, so a swim is always on the cards. Jump off the rocks into the calm bay waters at Mouth Martha, throw yourself into the washing machine that is Portsea Back Beach (seriously, this is only for surfers and strong swimmers) or take your umbrella and make a day of it in the rockpools at Bridgewater Bay in Blairgowrie.
LET'S DO THIS: GIVE ME THE DETAILS
The Mornington Peninsula is about a one hour drive from Melbourne along the Mornington Peninsula Freeway. It starts at Mount Eliza and, surrounded by Port Phillip Bay, Bass Straight and Western Port, encompasses the towns of Dromana, Portsea, Flinders, Fingal and Hastings, among others.
Road tripping this summer? Make sure you're covered with RACV.
Top image: Polperro.
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