The Complete Getaway Guide to the Mornington Peninsula
Posted by Stephanie Mikkelsen on Friday, January 5, 2018
The allure of the Mornington Peninsula to Melburnians is no secret. But it isn’t just city-slickers that find themselves drawn to the Peninsula; this is one of Victoria’s most enduring bayside playgrounds and, to those in the know, it comes as little surprise. A part of its appeal surely has to be the fact that the Peninsula is one of those remarkable destinations that really does offer something for travellers of all tastes.
Those in search of golden-sand bliss can loll about beside the iconic brightly-coloured beach boxes or seek out a private patch of shoreline at one of the deserted back beaches. Swap sand for swilling in your pursuit of wine nirvana by moving between the impressive line-up of cellar doors and wineries, not leaving until you have unearthed the perfect pinot noir. No matter if you're visiting with friends, family or the apple of your eye, the Mornington Peninsula holds a bounty of attraction.
Where To Stay
Jackalope: a mythical creature from North American legend, with the body of a jackrabbit and the horns of an antelope. It is also the name of the Mornington Peninsula freshly-minted hotel, a 46-room designer den where even buzzwords like ‘luxury’ and ‘boutique’ don’t seem to do it justice. An inky black sculpture of the hotel’s namesake stands guard outside the entrance to reception, and guests are ushered into a world of art installations, soaking Japanese tubs, degustation menus and touches that are far from chance (think pinot noir bath salts, a specialty coffee blend and Le Labo scent left on pillows at turndown). Everything is curated at Jackalope – and entering our Mornington Peninsula Gourmet Giveaway is your chance to experience it. Up for grabs is a four-night stay in a Vineyard Room, as well as the smorgasbord of dining vouchers and food experiences for around the Peninsula.
How To Get There
Google ‘Things that take longer than 90 minutes’ and the commute to the Mornington Peninsula from Melbourne won’t get a single ping in your search results. Those driving down from Melbourne can take the Mornington Peninsula Fwy and arrive in less time than it takes to prep and roast a chicken (about an hour). The Nepean Highway offers a slightly more scenic, albeit more time-consuming, route and passes through Mornington and Mt Eliza, and past Mt Martha. If you don’t want to settle for anything less than complete ocean views on the drive, jump on to the Esplanade from Mornington and keep following it as it hugs the coast and stretches all the way to Sorrento. Out-of-towners can pick up rental car from an Avis location in Melbourne (scattered all across the city!) and make the drive down, knowing that you have plenty of room to stash any goodies you're looking to bring back and add to your own wine cellar or pantry. Local Melburnians might even want to hire a car to amp up those road trip vibes. Public transport users can catch a train from Southern Cross Station to Frankston, and then board a connecting service to Hastings or Stony Point.
When To Go
Images (L-R): St. Andrews Beach; Montalto.
Summer and the Mornington Peninsula go together like strawberries and champagne; a match made in heaven. Beachgoers and holidaymakers flock to the Peninsula as the mercury rises, meaning car parks in town become scarcer and prime bits of beach real estate are hotly contested. Be sure to book ahead for any restaurants or cellar doors that you absolutely want to visit to avoid waiting for tables (or missing out completely). Luxury Mornington Peninsula accommodation also books out months in advance for peak times across the December/January holidays, so get in early if the idea of spending Christmas or New Years Peninsula-side sounds tempting.
Visitors making the most of a Peninsula summer and wanting to shake up the beach-and-restaurant routine can catch a flick at the Peninsula Film Festival in February, or wander the Lantasia Light Walk until 28 January 2018. Marvel at the creations at the Frankston Sand Sculpting event (now on until 25 April 2018), or continue to sate your appetite at the Mornington Peninsula Food and Wine Festival on the last weekend of February.
Those wanting to avoid the crowd-crush are in luck though; there is really no bad time to travel to the Peninsula. Autumn and winter offer cooler temperatures, and perfect weather for snuggling up next to wood-burning fireplaces at various cellar doors. A number of local farmers’ markets continue to operate throughout the cooler months, and the Winter Wine Weekend is scheduled to happen on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June.
Eat and Drink
What your parents told you is true: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. How else are you going to get the fuel to squeeze in visits to numerous cellar doors, beaches and the national parks of the Mornington Peninsula? Merchant & Maker in McCrae is a cafe outpost of local bean-roaster Commonfolk Coffee. Take a seat at one of the tables outside and order your favourite brew while perusing the menu. Fare options are stellar and you’re guaranteed to find yourself toing-and-froing between items such as buckwheat pancakes with coconut panna cotta, or chorizo and roasted corn croquettes. The solution? Order multiple plates or simply make a return visit during your stay. Away from the coast, Main Ridge Harvest is another breakfast destination where plates range from jaffles to crushed avocado with peas and ricotta. Diners that can’t drag themselves out of bed in time for breakfast can pick from the wider café menu before visiting Red Hill Lavender Farm & Distillery, located just next door. Those on the move may simply be tempted to drop by for a takeaway coffee and one of the pastries from the on-site bakehouse, although if you're a sweet tooth, opt for the banana bread with poached pear from Merricks General Wine Store.
Images (L-R): Merchant & Maker, McCrae; Main Ridge Harvest, supplied.
The Peninsula has more than 50 cellar doors and diners in its arsenal – and that’s not counting the restaurants that aren’t attached to a winery or vineyard. Montalto is a darling with Peninsula visitors, loved not only for its wine and fare but also for its permanent sculpture walk that winds down the vine-dotted slope and into a valley. A recent facelift resulted in an update to both the fine-dining restaurant and its menu. Head Chef Gerard Phelan oversees plates guided by what is fresh and in season in the ever-expanding Montalto garden. A five- or eight-course tasting menu is the most satisfying way to experience as much as possible. Groups of 12 to 16 may also book the Alto Room, a circular space perched above an old water tank near the cellar door; sure to be a highlight of any Mornington Peninsula getaway.
Images (L-R): Montalto
Another Peninsula headliner is Doot Doot Doot, a newcomer in 2017 attached to luxury hotel Jackalope. Fine dining at its peak; sit down for a lengthy and immersive degustation, paired with well-considered drops of wine, under the golden ceiling comprised of multiple blown glass forms. Taking it's cue from the kitchen garden and surrounding suppliers; the menu at Doot Doot Doot is a sure to take you through a sensory experience that will impress any foodie.
Images (L-R): Doot, Doot, Doot at Jackalope; Jackalope's kitchen garden.
Port Phillip Estate is well worth a long lunch, where the sleek dining room offers unmatched views across vines, countryside and out to the bay. Those particularly partial to sea views when sipping and swilling can also make for newly-opened Pt Leo Estate in Merricks. Or perhaps you might swap ocean vistas for olives, much like the setting at The Cups Estate in Fingal. The outlook from this estate’s restaurant and cellar door extends across a verdant olive grove and hilly pasture. To amp up the serenity, take a seat at one of the alfresco timber settings and order from the Mediterranean-flavoured menu – capocollo (dry-cured pork neck), peppered quail, and yuzu mousse. As you graze on your chosen dishes, you may get a hint to what lays behind those rolling hills: the beach. Next to Fingal is St Andrews Beach, and one of the most beautiful stretches of sand on the Peninsula. A post-feast beach walk feels like just the right way to prepare your stomach for upcoming repasts.
Images (L-R): The Cups Estate; Pt Leo Estate.
For more casual, rustic dining, seek out Merricks Creek Winery. Adding a bottle of this family-owned label to your collection used to be a tough ask; it was once only available in Australia’s top restaurants. The opening of the cellar door on weekends changed that however, with visitors now able to get their hands on Merricks Creek Winery's exceptional pinot noir without having to make a dinner reservation at a flash venue. If you are peckish however, Merricks Creek Winery have a selection of simple yet satisfying sharing plates. Enjoy inside the intimate cellar door space, or at a perch on the covered verandah. When you’re thirsty for more vineyard dining, try Ten Minutes By Tractor, Foxey’s Hangout, Paringa Estate, T’Gallant, Max’s Restaurant at Red Hill Estate, and Rare Hare at Willow Creek Vineyard, the more casual partner bistro to Jackalope's dining offering.
Images (L-R): Merricks Creek Winery; Port Phillip Estate.
Think the Mornington Peninsula is all winery restaurants? Think again. The Epicurean Red Hill is an old cool-storage shed and now operates as a pizzeria, café, coffee roaster, bakery and provedore. Put simply, if you were looking for a one-stop shop; this is it. The venue is separated into two areas: The Store, which sits at the front, is an excellent pit-stop for light breakfasts, takeaway coffees and on-the-go fare; and The Shed, housed in the cavernous rustic space at the rear of the building. The Shed is also where you will find the bar. This doubles as an ode to the Mornington Peninsula’s wine prowess, offering drops from more than 100 local vignerons and a giant wall-hanging region map – a helpful guide when plotting which vineyard to visit next.
Images (L-R): Epicurean Red Hill; Epicurean Red Hill, supplied.
When the need for something light strikes, fans of fromage will want to make a beeline for Main Ridge Dairy. A tasting plate at this farmhouse cheese factory can be savoured in between gawking into the dairy’s manufacturing rooms. Get up close to this beautiful farm’s four-legged residents with a guided tour into the dairy – a word of warning, be prepared to leave wishing you could sneak one of the kids (baby goats, that is) home with you. Make sure to bring a cool bag to store your cheesey favourites – from marinated fetta to cashmere and capriole – on your journey back to your luxury accommodation.
Images (L-R): Main Ridge Dairy
See and Do
Feeling full? Give your stomach a break with a visit to the iconic Peninsula Hot Springs. Pampering is the name of the game at the hot springs, with visitors flocking to soak weary muscles in the labyrinth of thermal pools and private baths. Dip your toes in the warm pools, or hold your breath as you take the plunge into one of the invigorating cold baths. The Bath House is open to families and groups, and also features a reflexology walk, Turkish hamam, sauna and hydrotherapy pool. For a more exclusive experience, or to just up the ante on the pampering factor, book into the Spa Dreaming Centre to soak in barrel baths, recline on poolside lounges and detox in a Moroccan hamam. Spa treatments and therapies – massages, facials, mud wraps – are also on offer.
Images (L-R): Peninsula Hot Springs, supplied.
Perhaps you prefer to sweat it out in a yoga studio instead? When downward dogs and backward bends are more your style than bathing; look to the hot yoga classes at Polperro, perfect to visit when you stay at their winery villas. The HotHut Yoga studio is a serene space, with classes available for seasoned to novice yogis. Once you have stretched and elongated your muscles, finish your session with a herbal tea. Of course, if you don’t know your power flow from your pinot, you could head straight to Polperro’s striking cellar door. The intimate room, located behind the estate’s chic bistro, holds only 10 people at a time and is where visitors can taste vintages from the Even Keel and the Polperro single vineyard labels.
Images (L-R): Polperro cellar door; Bass & Flinders Distillery.
When you’re feeling limber and ready to hit the road again, Bass & Flinders Distillery is calling. Originally a passion project between two friends, the distillery is now overseen by a father-daughter duo, producing small batches of award-winning gins. The Bass & Flinders cellar door gives visitors a glimpse of the distilling process; the barrel room is located next to the bar. As well as tastings, gin masterclasses are on offer, allowing gin-gurus (whether self-proclaimed or otherwise) the chance to choose botanicals and create their own unique blend. Bookings for gin masterclasses must be made in advance.
Images (L-R): Kayaking in the bay, Peter Tarasiuk, Visit Victoria; Portsea, Robert Blackburn Visit Victoria.
When it is a dose of nature you crave, the Mornington Peninsula has no shortage of beautiful coastal walks and national park trails to have you hankering to get out and about. Millionaire’s Walk in Sorrento is one of the regions most well-known routes, taking walkers past some of the most jaw-dropping private properties on the Peninsula. The cliff-top views of the bay are also pretty incredible, and along the path is the location where the Union Jack was first raised to claim land in Australia. Keen strollers can take on the Bushrangers Bay Walking Trail, Fort Nepean Walking Trail, Flinders Coastal Circuit Walk and Fingal Beach Coast Walk – plus dozens of other tracks! Just make sure to break your shoes in before heading out. Not one for walking? Swap two legs for four, without sacrificing on seeing the sights, by clambering into the saddle and heading out on horseback. Try Gunnamatta Trail Rides to ride along beach or bush, or blend equine transport with wine fancies on a Horseback Winery Tour.