Home to one of the world’s most famous drives, the Great Ocean Road, Victoria is practically made for road trips. As the smallest state on the mainland, you don’t have to venture far from Melbourne to find historic townships, food and wine destinations, and impressive national parks.
While we’re big fans of Victoria’s rugged coastline, we think there’s just as much to be discovered inland, especially for lovers of food, wine and culture. While the Yarra Valley and Daylesford have been drawing crowds for years, regional centres like Bendigo are starting to give them a serious run for their money with world-class galleries, dining and shopping.
And because everything’s so close, you don’t need to pick and choose between these enticing destinations – you can visit them all. Explore old and new in as little as four days with this self-drive itinerary, including some of our favourite places to stay in each spot from the Beautiful Accommodation collection.
Day 1: Melbourne to Healesville (1 hour 10 minutes)
Any food and wine tour of Victoria has to include a stop in the Yarra Valley, so why not go there first? The Valley is one of the world's top cool climate wine regions, known for its sparkling wine, chardonnay and pinot noir, and boasts more than 50 cellar doors including big wine names like De Bortoli Wines, Yering Station and Domaine Chandon. It would be easy enough to pass the day hopping from cellar door to cellar door, but these days the Yarra Valley isn't just about wine – it's also making a name for itself in boutique spirits and craft beers. Four Pillars has just opened a small gin distillery in Healesville, while White Rabbit Brewery, Coldstream Brewery and Buckleys look after the beer lovers. You also won't be short of options for dinner, with many wineries now offering food menus as enticing as their wine lists, but for a fine dining experience head to ezard @ Levantine Hill for a five-course or eight-course tasting menu by hatted chef Teage Ezard.
Day 2: Healesville to Bendigo (2 hours 20 minutes)
Say 'Bendigo' to most people and they'll probably think 'gold rush', but these days there are plenty of other attractions luring visitors to the fourth largest city of Victoria. Once you've checked out of your Healesville accommodation, make a quick pit-stop at Essenzaespresso bar, where the coffee is as local as it gets (the beans are roasted around the corner). Hit the road and head north-west, around the picturesque Kinglake National Park and through the Heathcote wine region. On arrival, head straight for Bendigo Art Gallery, which has done for Bendigo what MONA did for Hobart. Established in the 1880s, the gallery underwent an extensive redevelopment in 2014 and has been pulling the crowds ever since with impressive local and international exhibitions. The big drawcard for 2016 will be the Marilyn Monroe exhibition. Opening on Saturday 5 March, visitors will be able to see authentic artefacts, clothing and other objects belonging to the iconic Hollywood star, never before seen in Australia. When you're ready for dinner, Masons of Bendigo and Mr Beebe's are the places to go for inventive dishes highlighting the best local produce.
Day 3: Bendigo to Daylesford (1 hour 5 minutes)
It's only an hour to your next stop, so take your time this morning to linger over a coffee and breakfast at one of Bendigo's many cafes. We love Cortille's cute and quirky vintage caravan, which serves up heart-starting espresso shots and waffles with all sorts of creative toppings, and European-style cafe El Gordo, part of Bendigo's burgeoning laneway culture. Once you've refuelled, head south to Daylesford – this is where the indulgence really starts. While away a lazy afternoon at the Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa, where you can relax in the warm mineral pools or choose from a range of spa rituals including massages, facials, manicures and pedicures. If you'd prefer retail therapy over spa therapy, The Amazing Mill Markets on Central Springs Road is the place to go for vintage clothes, furniture, memorabilia, antiques and collectables. With so many top restaurants and bars in this one little town, the most stressful decision you'll make all day is where to eat and drink. Our tips are Alla Wolf-Tasker's Lake House for fine dining, The Farmers Arms for a hearty pub meal and Wine and the Country for a post-dinner cocktail, but half the fun will be making your own local discoveries!
Day 4: Daylesford to Melbourne (1 hour 20 minutes)
After a morning walk around the lake, stop in at the Boathouse Daylesford for brekkie. They source all their produce locally, and their seasonally-inspired menu includes brunch dishes like poached Atlantic salmon with beetroot relish, whipped feta, puffed quinoa, herbed scrambled eggs, organic leaves and toasted flat bread – yum! If you're not quite ready to jump back in the car yet, make time for the Convent Gallery or take a stroll around the Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens. You're less than 90 minutes from Melbourne, so there's no reason to feel guilty about extending your trip just that little bit longer!
This post is brought to you by Budget Rent A Car.