Piece of the Valley: a Melbourne to Yarra Valley Driving Holiday

A view of the vineyards at De Bortoli Wines at Dixons Creek in the Yarra Valley, Victoria’s best-known wine region

When you’re ready to raise a glass, Victoria’s best-known wine region is an easy drive from Melbourne. Chris and Sarah are ready to taste some cold-climate gems and see what else the Yarra Valley has to offer.

When Chris organised a visit to Melbourne for his dad’s birthday a month ago, he secretly added four days to the weekend celebrations so we could have a break in the Yarra Valley. I’m jumping for joy because it sounds like the perfect mix of indulgence and being able to relax outdoors. Earlier we picked up a car from Apex Car Rentals at Melbourne Airport, and now we’re on our way.

Home on the Range: Melbourne to Coldstream

People sitting at tables on the terrace of Shannon Bennett’s cafe The Piggery, at Burnham Beeches, Dandenong Ranges

One of Chris’s favourite childhood memories is of heading into the Dandenong Ranges with his family during school holidays to ride Puffing Billy, an old steam train that runs through the forest, and have lunch at The Cuckoo, a German-themed restaurant complete with yodelling, folk dancing and staff dressed in lederhosen. Unfortunately, it’s now gone, but we’ve found a far better option anyway. Chef Shannon Bennett bought an old estate here and opened The Piggery. We take a seat outside in the sunshine and watch a group playing bocce on the lawn as we tuck into a platter of smoked meats served with pickles, chips and salad.

That much food calls for a walk. Luckily the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Garden shares a fence with Burnham Beeches, the Bennett estate. In fact, it was the property’s original garden. There are lakes and water features, a boathouse and extraordinary mature plants – many of them what you’d expect to find in the rainforest – shading the many paths. It’s so beautiful and peaceful, despite there being families everywhere.

We’re heading to Coldstream, one of the Yarra Valley’s villages, because we’ve got a very early start tomorrow.

Fly with Me: Coldstream to Healesville

People gather in the tasting room/bar of Domaine Chandon, overlooking a Yarra Valley vineyard, Coldstream

I love a sunrise as much as anyone, but as we drag our sorry butts out of bed at 4am, I begin to consider our sanity. At Chateau Yering, we meet the pilot from Go Wild Ballooning and the others who are going flying with us this morning.

We’re all given jobs and, as a team, get the hot-air balloon ready for lift-off. Chris throws himself into the task – he hates heights and is feeling jittery – while I take photos of the flame slowly inflating the fabric. Soon, we’re ready to go and jump in the basket. Then we’re in the air, flying over the vineyards and villages lit by the rising sun. When we took off, Chris was gripping my hand like a vice, but just a few minutes in, he’s pointing out landmarks and wondering where we’ll land. The hour seems to go past in just a few minutes and we’re coming in to land. It’s a bit bumpy, but we’re soon helping to pack the balloon away and getting in the chase vehicles to return to the start.

By the time we’re back, hunger is taking over, so we go to Hutch & Co in Lilydale and tuck into coffees, French toast and pressed brisket bennie. It’s sensational, and necessary since we’re off to taste wine today.

We stop at Yarra Yering, Dominique Portet and, finally, Domaine Chandon. As the name suggests, this is sparkling wine territory, and it’s done here exceptionally well. There are four choices for tastings and I steer Chris in the direction of A Vintage Discovery, which offers up some of the cellar-aged wines, including a 2015 Vintage Brut and 2008 Late Disgorged. Then we head to the dining room for the chef’s table. We slurp down oysters and indulge in chardonnay-cured, house-smoked ocean trout, pan-roasted Murray cod and more. By the end, I’m ready for a nap.

We do, however, manage to stop at Yarra Valley Dairy. It’s a beautiful store, piled high with local olives, relishes and wines, as well as the cheeses made using milk sourced from the region. There’s no resisting buying some of the Hubert’s, a washed rind cow’s milk cheese, to take with us.

Stepping Out: Healesville to Marysville

A couple walks along a raised path through tree ferns and rainforest on the Cumberland Walk, near Marysville, Yarra Valley

Most roads aren’t worth mentioning, but Black Spur Drive linking Healesville to Marysville isn’t your average thoroughfare. It’s narrow, winding and completely shaded by forest and fern trees. We wind down the windows and take it slow. Chris is beside himself navigating the hairpin bends while I stare into the bush looking for lyrebirds.

After stopping in Marysville briefly – at the Marysville Country Bakery for pies and coffee – we keep going. After all the wine and food yesterday, it’s time to get moving and my research has unearthed the Cumberland Walk. It sounds perfect and we haven’t gone far when I know I’ve made the right decision. I love the dense, temperate rainforest we’ve seen around here, and this trail – just four kilometres, but with some steep sections – leads us below the canopy. We find some waterfalls and the Big Tree, an 85-metre-high mountain ash, and stand beneath it peering upwards. Right there, I feel like a tiny speck in the universe, and promise myself there’ll be more big trees in our future.