Spotlight on... the Mornington Peninsula

Get to know this getaway hotspot in Victoria

A short hop from Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula’s pristine beaches, breathtaking national parks and trendy villages have been enticing holidaymakers for generations.

Generations of Melburnians have spent their summer holidays on the Mornington Peninsula, but this is no ageing seaside haunt. Gourmet waterfront restaurants, vibrant local markets and art-filled galleries are rewriting the traditional beachside holiday.

In summer, bayside towns like Dromana, Rosebud and Rye bustle with campers, swimmers and sports enthusiasts. On land, visitors can take in the stunning ocean views from the walking tracks that criss-cross the Cape Schanck and Arthurs Seat coastal parks; off-shore there is fishing, kayaking and even scuba diving to tempt visitors away from the golden beaches.

Then there are the historic villages of Sorrento and Portsea, packed full of pubs and trendy cafes. Sit European-style at a pavement table to eat while admiring the surrounding colonial buildings and views. There’s more of this at Portsea, where visitors can glimpse the lifestyle of Melbourne’s rich and famous, or roam the clifftops for views of Port Phillip Bay and the rugged ocean beaches.

The Mornington Peninsula also has a thriving wine industry and more than 50 wineries are open to the public, many offering elegant restaurants, quaint cafes or local produce shops. Orchards and vineyards carpet the Peninsula’s central spine through Moorooduc and Red Hill, with its popular craft and local produce market.


AN INSIDER'S GUIDE TO THE PENINSULA

Beautiful Accommodation editor Lisa O’Brien shares five things you need to know about this popular weekend destination, which just so happens to be one of her favourite out-of-town escapes.

1. How to take on the traffic

Accept that traffic will probably be heinous, especially if you’re driving down from Melbourne on a Friday night and back on a Sunday afternoon, and allow ample time to get there. Since Peninsula Link opened in 2013 (the new freeway that bypasses Frankston) it’s much better than it used to be, but can still be slow in parts. In fact, with everyone else on Peninsula Link, sometimes it can actually be faster to go the ‘old’ way through Frankston. Timing also makes a huge difference – when I drive down on a Friday, I either sneak out of the office early or wait until after dinner when the peak hour traffic has cleared.

2. Summer isn’t always the sweetest season

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to love about the Peninsula in summer. But the warmer months bring crowds, especially around the school holidays, so you will wait three times as long for everything, whether that’s a coffee in the morning, fish and chips for dinner or a glass of wine at the bar. And good luck finding a car park even remotely close to where you’re going. One of my favourite times on the Peninsula is late autumn to early winter – the bitter ocean winds haven’t quite picked up yet so it’s not totally freezing, but still cool enough to enjoy the Peninsula’s famous pinot noir in front of the fire guilt-free!

3. There’s more to the Peninsula than the main towns

Villages and towns like Sorrento and Red Hill will always be popular, but if you’re struggling to find accommodation in these spots, why not consider their closest neighbours? Blairgowrie is next door to Sorrento and just a five-minute drive from the main drag, Ocean Beach Road (or an easy 45-minute walk along the bay). If you want to base yourself close to the wineries and cellar doors of Red Hill, you’ll find plenty of gorgeous properties in the surrounding suburbs like Red Hill South and Merricks North.

4. Book your accommodation as soon as you can

Melburnians love the Peninsula, so much so that many of them return every year (or multiple times a year). So while there are plenty of holiday homes, villas and cottages to choose from, they book out fast. It’s even been said that some of the more popular campgrounds along the foreshore need to be booked one to five years ahead of time! Generally you should book at least one to three months in advance, but if you have your heart set on visiting during a peak period (Christmas and New Years, summer school holidays and the Easter long weekend), it’s probably a good idea to book six to 12 months out.

5. The ‘back’ beaches and ‘front’ beaches are very different

On my first visit, someone asked me if I wanted to go to the back beach or the front beach – and I had no idea what they meant. At the front beaches, expect the beautifully calm waters of Port Phillip Bay, perfect for paddling or a quick dip before dinner. The back beaches are an altogether different story, with crashing waves that tend to be a good few degrees cooler than their bayside counterparts thanks to the Bass Strait. The back beaches hold their own wild charm, but on some days can be too rough for inexperienced swimmers. Watch out for surfers, too!


OUR PENINSULA PICKS

Howards Hill, Cape Schanck



Howards Hill is a lush 30-acre bushland retreat in the heart of the Mornington Peninsula, 10 minutes’ drive from Cape Schanck Lighthouse and a 15-minute drive from Peninsula Hot Springs. The stresses of the world melt away as soon as you enter the manicured grounds. The old barn has been artfully renovated to provide clever living spaces upstairs and down. Think eclectic furnishings, a wood fire and a ping pong table. With polished concrete floors, loads of space and serene views, the idea is relaxation and fun.

Lakeside Villas at Crittenden Estate, Dromana



At Lakeside Villas at Crittenden Estate, you can turn your vineyard day trip into a weekend stay… or even longer. There are three villas on the property and each one has an absolute lakefront perch. Start your days with breakfast on the villa’s sun-kissed deck. It’s then on to the soft sands and gentle waves of the Dromana foreshore, which is only a short drive away. Back at the villas, you can dine at Crittenden Estate’s own eatery, Stillwater Restaurant. Make sure to line your stomach well before swinging past the estate’s cellar door.

Orchard Keepers, Red Hill South



Nestled in the vineyards and orchards of the Mornington Peninsula lies Orchard Keepers; three 19th-century cottages beautifully transformed into one luxurious, provincial-style home. With four bedrooms in the main house and more space to explore in the original Workers Cottage, this is the ultimate destination for an elegant country escape. Roam the endless expanse of lush gardens, and delight in helping yourself to fresh vegetables and herbs from the two large kitchen gardens – you’ll love creating meals with these ingredients.

Quarterdeck Clifftop, Blairgowrie



Every room in Quarterdeck Clifftop provides mesmerising views of Port Phillip Bay, Blairgowrie Marina and Bass Strait. The 360-degree panorama stretches out before you to ensure you do nothing but unwind in this magical setting. This popular beach house has one living area on each level and five bedrooms plus additional bedding, so up to 10 guests can stay. Decks on both levels also take full advantage of those views, complete with a sheltered outdoor spa that seats six – the perfect way to finish a day on the beach.

Quarters at Flinders Hotel, Flinders



The Flinders Hotel has undergone significant renovation over the last five years, culminating in the opening of Quarters; its 40-room accommodation facility. This architect-designed hotel is inspired by its natural surrounds and blends beautifully into the coastal landscape. The stylishly appointed rooms are modern, comfortable and spacious, with original artworks by Andrew Grech complementing the sleek furnishings. Not only are the features five-star, the service is too. A stay at the Flinders Hotel is the perfect option for those wanting to add a touch of city class to their coastal sojourn.

The Poplars Rural Retreat, Tyabb



The century-old Poplars Rural Retreat at the entrance to the Mornington Peninsula has been transformed into a breathtakingly beautiful stay, presenting provincial luxe at its very best. Step through the doors and you will be met with freshly painted timbers, decorative stonewalls, luxurious homewares and wide windows with a lovely green outlook. Outside, warm yourself beside the glimmering infinity pool with its spectacular views over the paddocks, or prepare a picnic of Red Hill cheeses and bottles of bubbly on the lawn.