Chandon's splendiferous estate, 40 kilometres of gloriously car-free rail trail and piles of valley-grown local produce — the Yarra Valley, one of Victoria's favourite wine regions, is only an hour west of Melbourne, but it could well be the Garden of Eden. And you can plan your stay any way you like.
Find some posh lodgings with a fireplace and spa, dig in deeper than a wombat and get a bunch of local bottles delivered. Or, put your adventurer's foot forward and go exploring. There are enough cellar doors to keep James Halliday on his toes, lazy long lunches to be indulged in, rainforest-ringed waterfalls to sit by and spectacular lookouts to dream from. Here's your guide to a weekender in Yarra Valley and Healesville.
EAT AND DRINK
Wine is a very good place to start in the Yarra Valley. The hardest bit is deciding which wineries to give your time to. At one end are the big-names, with whizz-bang cellar doors, like Chandon, where you'll learn the ins and outs of French champagne and try some drops that aren't sold anywhere else.
At the other are boutique operations, where the focus is on small batches and exotic varieties. One of the most interesting in Yarra Yering, founded in 1969 by an eccentric graduate with a PhD in plant physiology from Oxford University called Dr Bailey Carrodus. Meanwhile, at Serrat, husband-and-wife team Tom and Nadege Carson have managed to create James Halliday's 2016 Wine of the Year from just three hectares. Also worth sampling is the Giant Steps range, sold through the Innocent Bystander cellar door in Healesville. Hang around afterwards for a Naples-style, woodfired pizza in the restaurant.
A stumble down the road is Four Pillars Gin. Established in 2013 by mates Stuart Gregor, Matt Jones and Cameron MacKenzie, who were on a mission to put Aussie spirits on the map, this distillery is now a household name in bars all over the country. At the headquarters — a revamped warehouse — you can have your own private tasting and try new experiments before they hit the shelves.
For excellent country pub fare, slide into a wicker chair in the high-ceilinged dining room of the Healesville Hotel. During the week, casual, hearty meals are on the menu, but, come the weekend, fine dining takes over. Expect beautiful plates bearing fancy combinations, like poached veal fillet with figs and aioli-filled croquettes. One look at the copper cheese cabinet and your dessert order will be sorted.
Alternatively, head to the cosy, welcoming The Sweet Olive for tapas and wine. Local produce is turned into classics like garlic chilli prawns and crispy mozzarella fritters, as well as creative bites like salmon ceviche and corn chips. The eatery doubles as a delicatessen, so if you have your heart set on a picnic, stock up.
TarraWarra Museum of Art.
Now that you're all loaded up with wine and cheese, let's get moving. Start easy with a wander through the TarraWarra Museum of Art. The permanent collection features works by Brett Whiteley, John Olsen and Albert Tucker, among others, while the temporary exhibitions bring names like Judy Watson and Pierre Huyghe to town. Keep an eye out for the annual Open Studios event, which sees the Yarra Valley's artists open their work spaces and homes to the public. Also worth popping into is Alchemy, a shop selling Scandi-inspired designs — from candles to shoes — as well as sushi. Yep, sushi.
If you're more interested in living things, swing by the Healesville Sanctuary. Here, you'll get to meet dingos, koalas and mountain pygmy possums (you'll want to take one home, be warned!). There's also a world-first interactive platypus show and a walk-through aviary, where you can hand-feed a parrot.
Keen to get more active? You're in luck, Healesville is a cycling mecca. Mountain bikers might know it as the starting point of the Bicentennial National Trail, which finishes 5330 kilometres later in Cooktown, Queensland. And you can always make a day trip out of the first section. For road bikers, the classic ride is the Panton Gap climb. But an easier, traffic-free route is the 40-kilometre, Lilydale to Warburton Rail Trail, which takes in rolling farmlands, stretches of forest and, most importantly, pubs, cafes and wineries.
There are walks a-plenty, too. To see lyrebirds, get started at the Badger Weir Picnic Area (seven kilometres south of Healesville), where you'll find three easy, half-an-hour tracks. Another nearby option is Maroondah Reservoir Park. Trails include the one-kilometre Lookout Track and 1.4-kilometre Henderson's Hill.
For a luxe escape, check into the insane Mountview Estate if you're looking to drop your salary on a stay, or Myers Creek Cascades romantic spa cottages. You'll Myers Creek Cascades a few kilometres north of Healesville, encircled by lush, wild forest and singing cascades. Interiors are designed to merge seamlessly with their surroundings — think timber cathedral ceilings, low lighting, log fires and picture windows. If you're planning on going absolutely nowhere, this is the spot to choose.
Also found just outside of town are Lyrebird Cottages. These extraordinary, architect-designed, free-standing, one-bedders are made of mud brick and timber, and are set on ten acres of forest and landscaped gardens. The views over the Yarra Valley are panoramic — on a clear day, you can see all the way to Melbourne.
Meanwhile, a snug, old-fashioned stay is on offer at this revamped Miner's Cottage, listed on Airbnb. There's room for just two and you and your lucky, lucky friend will be cosying up in front of a log fire and kicking back in an outdoor spa. Healesville is only a short walk away. Travelling with a crew? You could try nabbing this cute, three-bedroom, 1890s cottage, which sleeps up to nine. Just don't get into fights over space in front of the fireplace or who scores the first soak in the claw-foot hot tub.