Looking for a place to escape to outside Melbourne — within an easy drive or train ride? The Dandenong Ranges offer lush hills, giant forests and quaint country town experiences. Perhaps a few too many bugs but that’s a small price to pay for a 1+ hour escape that’s a world away. And don’t think you need to leave your sophisticated sensibility behind either. You can have it all and a little romance too!
Where to Stay:
If Mid-Century Modern, approachable artwork and peace and quiet are your thing, may I suggest a stay at Jacky Winter Garden — the most charming cabin in the woods you could ever imagine. Just a hop, skip and jump away from downtown Belgrave, Victoria.
If that weren’t enough, each guest is gifted this wonderful screen print of the property as a keepsake. (Bring a carrying tube as I had to leave mine behind for fear it would be a wrinkled mess by the time I reached home.) And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the art treasuresThe entrance has a hand painted, gold leaf glass panel in the door. Framed artworks by artists from around the world abound. Hand blocked wallpaper carries on the garden theme inside. And a plethora of other artworks are to be found at every turn. As are well curated furnishings, lighting, details, etc . . . Don’t miss the antique bird towel hooks in the bathroom as those were my favorite touch! The entire place from the penny tiled bathroom complete with soaking tub, to the cloud-like king sized bed, to the fancy coffee in the kitchen is thought through down to the tiniest detail.
If you, yourself are an artist, consider applying for their artist in residence program. I can’t think of a better place to escape to and create. But if you’re just looking for either a solo quiet getaway or romantic hideaway for 2, it can be booked at an affordable rate.
What To Do:
Belgrave itself is home to your typical small tourist town restaurants, shops, galleries, movie theater (a good size multi-plex at that) and the famous Puffing Billy steam powered railway that is stationed right in town. Carrying nearly half a million passengers a year (mostly tourists from China) it is a fully restored treasure that puffs it’s way several times a day for a 3 hour Dandenong tour. Once upon a time, you could dangle your legs out the windows as you watched the countryside whizz by but an accident with a passing vehicle recently (nobody was hurt) put an end to that. Kids and dare I say men, are intrigued by the historic feat of engineering. It’s a bit pricey to ride but you can just check it out in the station too. The sweetest and most knowledgeable conductors are happy to share the history, take photos or simply chat about their storied career on the railroad.
About 40 minutes away by car and you are in the Yarra Valley wine country. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit Tarrawarra where you can view more art in the lovely modern art museum, sip wine and nibble on cheese while overlooking the spectacular valley views or simply relax the day away perched in a bean bag chair on the hillside. How’s that for a calming afternoon out?
While you’re out and about, stop for a meal at the newish and unexpected restaurant BamBam Italian, located through the windy roads in the small hamlet of Avonsleigh. Unexpected because it’s attached to a convenience store and sports a McDonalds style kiddie play park. But despite the family friendly atmosphere, the food is quite good, moderately priced and the staff super friendly. Open for brekkie, lunch and dinner. An Italian feast awaits!
Also in the area are plenty of nature walks, gardens, markets and even a day spa. Truly a relaxing time to be had. There is full dossier of local haunts on the Jacky Winter Garden website for your planning pleasure. All in all, a highly recommended place to get away and be a slug or a tourist for a few days.