Wine Travels in Australia -- The Yarra Valley, Victoria --- No Less than 70 Award-Winning Wineries, and lots of stuff to do!
Where is the Yarra? The Yarra Valley is an easy one hour drive from Melbourne. And although it is pretty difficult to pull yourself away from Melbourne, which is one of the great tourist cities in the world, Melbourne is a great jumping off point to some of the finest wineries and festivals in Australia. Victoria (the state) offers so much. Its just one of those places that you have to visit.
Yarra Valley is so named because of the Yarra River that runs through the valley, and makes it way as the main waterway in Melbourne itself. In recent years platypi have returned to various stretches in the Yarra River, throughout the Valley, an indication of the efforts to protect the environment by locals and local producers alike.
The Yarra Valley must be on your list of places to spend a few days (or longer if you could).
Certainly having the Chateau Yering as a base makes the entire holiday spectacular. I have already made my positive remarks known about my stay in the Chateau Yering. It is a fine establishment. It is the only R&L property in Australia, graceful style, and classic charm, superb dining, is an old Chateau with modern appeal, absolutely 5 star, and is steeped in the pioneering history of the Yarra Valley. Located in the heart of the Yarra, on the Melba Highway. Visit www.chateauyering.com.au .
However, if you are looking for something else, there are many other places to stay in the Yarra Valley, from 5 star hotels, spas, bed and breakfasts, self catering rentals, whatever your heart desires. A few of the more well known properties include immerse which is a vineyard, restaurant, day spa and hotel: www.immerse.com.au. Valley View Bed and Breakfast: www.valleyviewbandb.com.au. And for a rainforest stay in the Black Spur hills, the Woodlands Rainforest Retreat, self described as a secret hideaway, genuine privacy, pure indulgent luxury and a truly nature based experience looks pretty nice: www.woodlandscottages.com.au .
If these dont appeal to you (and I cannot imagine that they wouldnt), visit the Yarra Valley Tourism Authority at www.visityarravalley.com.au for a wider selection throughout the valley. Chateau Yering is the only property on Luxury Link in the region, and it is exactly as wonderful as described.
Now that weve sorted out the where to stay, its the what to do that is important. The Yarra Valley is wine, food and festivals. And nature. National Parks are scattered throughout the valley, with easily accessible (and not so easily accessible) waterfalls, and trails, and tall trees, ancient giant ferns, and wildlife (watch out for wombat, kangaroo and koala signs are everywhere, so be careful driving at night). Wildlife sanctuaries dont get better or more deeply rooted in protecting wildlife than the Healesville Sanctuary, which is a special place to visit. www.zoo.org.au This is Australias premier wildlife park, and a great day or half day trip, as a break from wine tasting excursions. Up close to platypus, koala, kangaroos, kookaburra, dingo, all sorts of reptiles, snakes, and native birdlife both the exotic parrots, and amazing birds of prey. Over 200 species of native Australian flora and fauna. I enjoyed an entire day there at a slow pace, talking with the wildlife experts, and learning and listening. And even with hoards of school aged children arriving by the busloads, it never felt crowded, and I never felt rushed. Lots of picnic areas in the sanctuary, again, no competition for space.
If you ask the locals, theyll tell you where to drive, just before sunset, to encounter a herd of kangaroo near the many nature reserves. I was sent to Christmas Hills one evening, and was not disappointed --- we saw kangaroo exactly where I was direct. Sunrise balloon trips are on offer with couple of companies (Global Ballooning or Go Wild Ballooning are two), or a leisurely visit to a Lavender Farm, with a restaurant on site, are other distractions. Small towns like Marysville, Healesville, and Yarra Glen offer a small range of boutique shops, catering to tourists, lovely bakeries, and good butcher shops. Nothing grandiose -- go to Melbourne for that.
But the WINE! This is why the Yarra is such a grand place to spend a weekend or two (or more).
Along the Maroondah Highway
As you weave your way along the highway, with vineyards galore and grazing sheep (and the mandatory border collie doing his work) just about everywhere you look you will be overwhelmed, as I was, at the number of wineries. 20 at my estimation.
Chandon has a great cellar, and restaurant. Sparkling wine made in the traditional method. This is Chandon of the Moet & Chandon name. And the bubbles here are well worth the journey. Some is offered at the cellar door only, which makes the adventure worth the trip. Vertical tastings, zero dosage champagne style (more than a few bottles of that found its way into my vehicle), and a great range of tastings. The restaurant, Green Point, offers the full range of wines, and a complimentary (but not free) selection of food for some absorption as you go. The restaurant is well appointed, and has a full glass frontage facing well manicured lawns, leading to a great vineyard. A well organized tour of the winery is available at no charge, which includes cellars reminiscent of those in the Champagne region of France (Aussie style, of course). Helens Hill Estate offers great Chardonnay and excellent dining at the Vines Restaurant. Rochford Wines, near the Chandon, is frequent host of some great concerts in the vineyards and has a spectacular restaurant as well. Good wines. Lionel Richie had performed in concert a few days before we arrived. We missed it.
And the Melba Highway .
Another 19 or 20 wineries on the Melba.
(If you are an opera or history buff, the villa at the corner where the Melba meets the Mandoorah is the home of the great Aussie Diva Dame Helen Nellie Mitchell, who changed her name to Melba, in honour of the city of her birth, Melbourne. Diva Melba was the supreme soprano diva of Londons Covent Gardens from 1889 to 1926. Her home is not open, an octogenarian niece still resides there, and perhaps, one day, it will allow guests. The highway was named for Dame Melba. And more than one winery has released a vintage in her honour.)
Yering Station Winery cellar door is on the same property as the Chateau Yering, making that one of the easiest visits to a winery if you are staying at the CY. No driving. It has a nice shop with local produce, and is host to the Farmers Market on Saturdays. It is Victorias first Vineyard, established in 1838. De Bortoli (a very big winemaker) has cellar door and restaurant. Nice tastings, interesting shop, and a range of imported and local cheeses to buy to go along with your tastings. Fergussons Winery and Restaurant is near De Bortolis, Sticks Yarra and Immerse are also on the Melba. Immerse offered a very generous tasting at the cellar, and I was particularly taken by the fact that the winemaker had named the vintage best of their chardonnay Oscars, after a recently departed family dog. Dog people know what that means. An excellent oaked chardonnay, that I thoroughly enjoy having in my own cellar and wine fridge, as much for the quality of the wine as the story behind it.
Food. Endless options.
If you are self catering on your holiday, there are a number of Berry Farms along the highways that offer u-pick during strawberry, raspberry or blueberry season. And as this is also a dairy zone, the Yarra Valley Dairy, famous locally for its premium ice cream is a must try. This is very much farmland, and as is common throughout Australia, the produce and meat are of highest calibre.
So, if you are going to Melbourne, and can find the time to extend your travels to include the Yarra Valley, you should. The Victoria Tourism office, at www.visitvictoria.com is a good first step for information. They publish comprehensive booklets for all the valleys, and tourism areas in Victoria, their websites are informative, and if you need more information, call the Australian Embassy nearest to you. If you have more than a few days, extend your trip to the Dandenong Ranges. Adventure travel, the Puffing Billy Steam train, great hiking trails, spas and picnic spots are available throughout the Dandenong.
My own next visit to the region will include a few days in the Dandenong Ranges so that I can walk off some of the indulgence I discovered in the Yarra, and in particular the indulgences at the Chateau Yering. Mine was a great trip! And in all honesty, credit for the quality of my vacation goes to the staff at the Chateau Yering, who made me feel like a member of the family, gave me trustworthy advice on travel options and where to visit, and were consummate hosts. Thanks therefore to the Luxury Link crew, who have kept Chateau Yering in the property listing. I never would have found it, and was thoroughly impressed with that particular holiday (which is still on offer, by the way).