The Yarra Valley is famous for wine, but there’s a lot more going on in Melbourne’s lush green backyard than grape-growing.
1. Aussie wildlife
Ever since my baby brother got wee-ed on by a lion through the bars at Wellington Zoo, I’ve been wary of animal enclosures, but Healesville Sanctuary is an absolute must-do – especially for those under wine-tasting age.
Nestled in native bush, it not only has all the Aussie wildlife you’d expect to see, but you can interact with most of it too. My “magic moment” close encounter with Benni, the buck-toothed koala, was a highlight, while the Spirits of the Sky birds of-prey show – a free daily display by a swooping selection – had me and the rest of the audience yelping with glee and wonder.
Some birds were having a bad feather day and wouldn’t do what they were told. Even better!
2. Sweet treats
A champagne expert once told me that the only thing it doesn’t go with is chocolate, but the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie is certainly doing its best to blend into wine country. Its architect-designed showroom and café sits atop a valley, near the town of Yarra Glen, with sweeping rural views. But who’s looking at them when you can watch handsome Europeans hand making chocolates?
This place was absolutely pumping the day I dropped by – kids played outside, tourists queued at the ice-cream counter and the rest of us ogled the 150 types of chocolate on display.
My favourites were the seasonal bars made with fruit from the chocolaterie’s own orchard and the bush tucker chocolate.
3. Stone age bliss
I would be happy in a tent in a sunny part of the world that had enough wine and chocolate close at hand, but once I got wind of the spa at Balgownie Estate, I knew that I would be even happier there.
My room was lovely, the setting perfect and dinner at Rae’s restaurant delicious, but the massage had me at “hot stones” – gorgeous treatment, surroundings, Natskin products and people.
In the morning, I pulled back the curtains in my room to see two hot air balloons wafting through the early morning mist as the sun rose over the vines. Stunning!
4. Wine tasting
You can’t hit a pothole without landing at a winery in the Yarra, but I was lucky enough to get a one-on-one session with Balgownie’s own Peter Windred, where I tasted a little of everything I fancied and bought a bottle of cabernet sauvignon for the Ginger (yet to be opened – it made the plane journey and then some).
On my way back to Melbourne, I stopped at Seville Estate to grab a bottle of their award-winning chardonnay too. This relaxed winery with low-fuss café would have held my attention longer had I not had to drive …
5. Rail trailing
Better than driving is biking the Yarra’s Warburton Rail Trail, which winds along the valley through farmland, vineyards and villages. My spirit was willing to do the 76km return trip, however, my flesh was weak, so when I picked my bike up from Yarra Valley Cycles at Lilydale, they advised me to drive to Launching Place and hit the trail there.
The end point – Warburton – is a great spot for a picnic, a coffee, a glass of wine or just a lie down on the leafy Yarra riverbank.