The Yarra Valley
Less than an hour from the centre of Melbourne, the Yarra valley is the destination of choice for wine connoisseurs, food buffs, romantics, or anyone after a bit of rest and relaxation in a stunningly serene environment. The valley follows the 60 kilometre course of the Yarra River as it flows from its source in the Yarra Ranges to the Melbourne suburbs and then empties into Port Phillip Bay. The river and its tributaries combine with the fertile soils and the fresh climate to support an abundance of agricultural endeavours that have given the Valley a reputation as a haven for fresh produce and fine wines. This is reflected in the many restaurants, cafes and eateries dotted throughout the valley, so on any visit here expect to indulge in gastronomical delights of the finest quality!

While this appreciation of food and wine is present in the valley throughout the year, it reaches a climax in February at the start of vintage. The Grape Grazing Festival is held every year at this time, and it represents an occasion to celebrate all the finer things in life. Thousands of people flood to the Valley to enjoy the fresh local produce, visiting the numerous wineries and sampling the mouth watering spreads of food and wine they put on. It is an extremely festive time when the towns come alive with people and parties, so remember if you are planning to visit at this time to book accommodation well in advance.

The Yarra Valley is the origin point of Victorian wine growing, and since the start 55 wineries have established themselves here. So whatever time of year you visit, be sure to take a tour of the cellar doors and sample the local drop. The bonus of such a tour is that on the way you can appreciate some of the most amazing countryside in Victoria. The blue ranges rise up in the background, and you travel over gentle hills laden with vines, past bubbling, clear creeks and through lush bushlands that are home to fascinating birds and wildlife. The town of Lilydale has some spectacular wineries close to it, one of the most visited being Helens Hill. This family owned vineyard is rich in tradition and has been producing quality wines for 5 generations now. Their 'Vines' restaurant is nearby, and here the fresh dishes are complemented by beautiful views.

Many tourists choose to stay in the larger towns in the Yarra Valley, such as Healesville, which has a population of about 5000 and is scenically located on the confluence of Watts River and Grace Burn Creek. It is widely known because of the Healesville Sanctuary, which is home to over 200 species of animals, reptiles and birds in a natural bushland setting. Its a great educational outing for the kids, and picnic and barbeque facilities ensure you can make a day of it, as do several kiosks, a bistro and a takeaway. There are a number of accommodation options in Healesville, from hotels to motels and bed and breakfasts, so whatever holiday you are after it will be catered towards.

For an even quieter retreat the rural area of Wandin is a great place to enjoy some seclusion, far from the 'madding crowd'. A region noted for its fruit growing, there are plenty of orchards here, as well as other attractions such as the Warratina Lavender Farm and the Mont De Lancy Homestead. One of the most notable features here are the Katandra Gardens, where you will find beautiful Bed and Breakfast accommodation set in 8 acres of landscaped gardens that boast an amazing collection of Australian plants. Its the perfect place to re establish your connection with nature.

In keeping with the rich culture of the Yarra Valley there is an established tradition of arts and crafts here, and there are a number of art studios and galleries that showcase the talents of local artists. The most comprehensive is Redgum Australia. Situated in Lilydale, it has paintings, photography work, furniture, jewellery and lots more products created by the enterprising residents of the Valley. Its a great place to pick up a souvenir of your trip.

So for a sophisticated break from home- one which satisfies all the senses and leaves you clear headed and rejuvenated- you cannot beat the Yarra Valley. Its ease of accessibility makes it perfect for day trips or a weekend away, but rest assured if you are staying for longer there is plenty to keep you occupied. A hire car will give you the freedom and flexibility to enjoy your holiday to its fullest potential, so buckle up and enjoy!

Gavin Wyatt

Katandra Gardens is an internationally recognised, enthralling 8 acre landscaped wildflower garden with fully self-contained cottage accommodation. Central to all the Yarra Valley and Dandenongs attractions.