Victoria is very much the sum of its parts, with old and new jostling for attention and a surprisingly diverse range of experiences across our smallest mainland state. Start in Melbourne, its vibrant cultural capital, then explore one or all of the flourishing regions in easy striking distance (and ideal for indulgent winter escapes). Here's our pick of the best weekend getaways to have in Victoria.

The city three ways

Melbourne CBD

Melbourne CBD, VIC

Melbourne’s city centre has bounced back from pandemic lockdowns with renewed vigour. All that pent-up energy has seen bars, restaurants and hotels open with unprecedented frequency in recent months, the newcomers sitting comfortably alongside firm favourites.

The city’s laneways harbour its tastiest secrets. Mod-Filipino sensation Serai marries Australian ingredients (such as kangaroo and kingfish) with Malay-Chinese-Spanish recipes and a woodfired grill on Racing Club Lane.

Recent arrival Alt is an artisan pasta bar of uncommon tastes – try the abalone pappardelle with seaweed – while Myrtle Wine Bar champions native ingredients and sustainable wine producers.

For all-out glamour there’s Gimlet at Cavendish House, Andrew McConnell’s exalted bar and dining room. But the CBD is also the spot to sample a broad range of cuisines, from Penang street food at Lulu’s Char Koay Teow to peppery beef-filled samsa buns at Dolan Uyghur Cuisine.

The cooler months are all about culture and cocooning. Next year, the Winter Masterpieces series at the National Gallery of Victoria will showcase more than 500 pieces of ancient Egyptian culture and art with Pharaoh. Smaller galleries, such as Neon Parc, lurk throughout the city, best discovered on specialist art tours such as Walk-to-Art.

Where to stay? Check into the brand-new Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne, Australia’s tallest hotel.

Collingwood

Melbourne CBD, VIC

Smith Street, a two-kilometre-long retail strip straddling the city-edge suburbs of Collingwood and Fitzroy, was named the world’s coolest street by Time Out in 2021. If anything, its groove has only deepened since then.

There’s a democratic mix of thrift and vintage shops along with noteworthy eating addresses here. Order the raspberry soufflé at Scott Pickett’s Gallic-leaning Smith St Bistrot, try modern Middle Eastern at the northern outpost of Shane Delia’s Maha or tuck into a crusty banh mi at N. Lee Bakery Cafe.

Hollywood-born hotel chain The Standard is set to debut a 127-room property just off Smith Street later this year. Until then, bunk down at Veriu, a 95-room mod-industrial hotel with a heated pool and dress-circle access to Melbourne’s coolest quarter.

Right next door is Collingwood Yards, an old tech college reborn as a cutting edge, not-for-profit contemporary arts precinct. It’s home to artists’ studios, migrant and First Nations social enterprises and Hope Street Radio, where young gun Ellie Bouhadana serves sophisticated soul food and natural wines alongside a livestreamed radio station.

Cool bars are very Collingwood. Indulge at Above Board, a hidden 16-seater serving deliciously original cocktails such as the HSL – a bold blend of blackberry liqueur, absinthe and Amaro Montenegro. Or drop by craft brewery and terrific Thai diner Molly Rose.

Carlton

Readings bookstore, Victoria

In recent years, Lygon Street, Melbourne’s Little Italy, became a cliché of itself with streetside touts and rip-off restaurants. But new blood and fresh ideas have transformed the inner-city suburb into a much more diverse – and diverting – destination.

Stalwart King and Godfree is a gleaming corner store that’s equal parts deli, grocer, bottle shop and classic osteria. Its rooftop bar, Johnny’s Green Room, serves sharp cocktails, hearty burgers and fried chicken from Thursday to Sunday from noon.

Landmark addresses, such as the circa-1952 University Cafe, cater to the faithful with pasta and pizza, while more recent arrival Lagoon Dining brings mod-Chinese flavours (salted fish fried rice, soy-braised spatchcock) and new-wave wines. Favourite local customs include browsing the paperbacks at Readings bookstore (Melbourne is a UNESCO City of Literature, after all), indulging in coffee and pastries at Brunetti and hitting the historic The Lincoln for progressive pub food (steak tartare, shiitake mushroom croquettes) and a winning wine list.

Melbourne Museum, Victoria

Carlton’s rich urban fabric extends to landmarks such as the World Heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building and the modernist Melbourne Museum, both set in the picnic-friendly Carlton Gardens. You can also explore the historic University of Melbourne campus and its idiosyncratic Ian Potter Museum of Art.

Go further afield...

Daylesford

Daylesford

Spring-fed by more than 100 natural aquifers, Victoria’s Central Highlands area is the undisputed spa capital of Australia. The effervescent villages of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs, 90 minutes’ drive north-west of Melbourne, guarantee good living with a rich gastronomy scene and wellness any way you like it.

The Edwardian-era Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa remains the region’s most popular place to soak but the myriad relaxation options available include Shizuka Ryokan for more intimate rituals and minimalist accommodation, and Samadhi Retreat for multi-night “transformational” stays.

Once the stress levels have been soothed, hit the culinary circuit at the likes of Bar Merenda on central Howe Street, where Andy Ainsworth and Clare O’Flynn tap the thriving local farming community and nearby winemakers to create a truly unique regional enoteca. A short walk away, Beppe channels the area’s Swiss-Italian heritage in its handmade pastas and pizzas.

Local winemaker Owen Latta and his wife, Jen, operate Winespeake Cellar + Deli, an outstanding regional bottle shop, while Dave Gill and Jessica Holmes pour their craft beers alongside whiskies, cocktails and cracking snacks at the Daylesford Brewing Co.

Check in at 43-room Hotel Bellinzona, which was opened by early settlers in 1903 and now caters to weekenders and conference travellers, with two onsite restaurants and views across Wombat State Forest. For special occasions, you can’t beat Lake House for its nine-room spa, 34 premium lakeside studios and suites, and sublime restaurant that’s been a decades-long labour of love for chef Alla Wolf-Tasker.

Mornington Peninsula

Jackalope, Victoria

Melbourne’s favourite coastal playground is a fusion of fashionable beach resorts and charming backwaters, with refined restaurants, farmyards and vineyards galore. After the hour-long drive from the city, reward yourself with a long lunch at Tedesca Osteria, Brigitte Hafner’s generous agriturismo in central Red Hill (tip: book well ahead for tables and lodgings). Or visit the outstanding cellar door restaurant Ten Minutes by Tractor, to indulge in a five-course dégustation menu beside the chardonnay vines.

With more than 60 cellar doors across the peninsula, picking highlights is fraught. But the likes of Polperro, Montalto and Pt. Leo Estate combine bold architecture with views, great food and wine – the latter two have extensive sculpture parks. Polperro also operates lively restaurant and bar Many Little, which serves lavish Sri Lankan thalis and cocktails.

Carve out some time to drop into Dromana Habitat – a collection of more than a dozen makers, food producers, distillers and brewers – to pick up gifts for the gang back home. Then bathe in the peninsula’s restorative geothermal waters at luxe newcomer Alba, with its spring-fed bushland baths, 22-room spa and Thyme restaurant catered by acclaimed Melbourne chef Karen Martini.

And for the best beds? It’s hard to go past Jackalope, the avant garde art hotel and working winery with 44 designer rooms and excellent eating at vineyard bistro peninsula, the 108-room InterContinental Sorrento Mornington Peninsula has various drinking and dining options, plus a pool deck above Port Phillip Bay..

Yarra Valley

Yarra Valley

In a state blessed with exceptional country escapes, the Yarra Valley is the most accessible from Melbourne (less than an hour’s drive from the CBD) and one of its most popular – as much for the neat European landscapes as for the fine wines and food.

Get your bearings in the rural village of Healesville, its main street equipped with all the essentials – the sophisticated Cheesemonger Sophie; the fancy Barrique Wine Store; and the fragrant spice outlet, Gewúrzhaus. There’s also gin and honey to taste at The Laneway, which multitasks as a café with North and South American street food.

The nearby industrial estate is full of surprises, from the almost theme-park extravagance of the new HQ for Four Pillars Gin to hip winemakers such as Jayden Ong and Payten and Jones, where “edgy” wines are served in a tasting room-cumstreet art gallery. Other tenants of note include craft producer Watts River Brewing and No.7, a working winery and restaurant serving lo-fi wines from near and far alongside Mexican food.

Of the valley’s many top wineries, tick off Tarrawarra Estate, with its parkland setting, private gallery of modern art, distinctive wines and hatted restaurant. Then head to picturesque Oakridge, where chef Aaron Brodie serves hyperlocal plates matched with an impressive library of estate wines. Both wineries excel at the Yarra Valley’s signature grape styles, chardonnay and pinot noir (at Oakridge, the single-block wines under the 862 label are the finest drops).

Bed down at Kangaroo Ridge Retreat, a collection of cosy, adults-only cabins with mountain and valley views. Or take a pause at Meletos, a Tuscan-style farmhouse with 23 bedrooms and onsite restaurant.

Ballarat

Ballarat, Victoria

Beyond the Gold Rush grandeur of 19th-century streetscapes you’ll find a thriving cultural life, recognised in 2019 when it was inducted into UNESCO’s global network of creative cities.

There’s plenty of character and quirk lurking in Victoria’s third-largest city, which hosts an annual celebration in autumn of beards and moustaches, along with a communal bike ride in tweed.

Key cultural events include the biennial Ballarat International Foto Biennale (from 26 August), plus festivals that celebrate beer (February) and begonias (March). The Art Gallery of Ballarat, the oldest and largest regional gallery in Australia, is well worth a visit for its progressive presentations of Australian collections.

Check into the new Hotel Vera, a reimagined boom-time mansion on central Sturt Street. Art and design inform its seven colourful suites, while 14-seat restaurant Underbar by Derek Boath, alumnus of New York’s Per Sé, features dégustations that fuse local produce with Japanese culinary techniques (don’t miss the spanner crab chawanmushi).

In the former home of Underbar, on Doveton Street, Pencilmark Wine Room is an elegant affair of grazing platters, preserved fish and more than 100 hand-picked drops. Mr Jones caters to curious palates with its Thai-influenced, mod-Asian menu (the naem mok – fermented pork sausage – is next-level).

If you’re arriving by train (90 minutes from Melbourne), stop at The Goods Shed, an 1863 bluestone warehouse next door to the station that’s soon to house a gin distillery, dumpling joint and Nolan’s, an all-day diner.

North-east

Two of Victoria’s more underrated – and oldest – wine regions, the Goulburn Valley and Rutherglen, are just a few hours from the city. Make the pilgrimage and be rewarded with fine dining, historic villages and alpine landscapes.

Start your exploration in the gourmet hub of Milawa, home to circa-1889 Brown Brothers. Sample some of its 60 varietals but be sure to dine there, too: chef Bodee Price’s multi-course feasts are dictated by what’s fresh daily from the garden and might include cucumber with cod roe or lamb backstrap with carrot-top pistou.

Also in Milawa: Italian-style wines and a striking cellar door inspired by the region’s early tobacco kilns at Sam Miranda; delicious tastings at Milawa Cheese Co.; and boutique stays at the freshly madeover, 40-room Lancemore Milawa, with views to the Buffalo Range, cosy communal spaces plus the onsite bar and restaurant, Merlot.

The photogenic Gold Rush-era town of Beechworth, where Ned Kelly was briefly imprisoned, is 25 minutes east of Milawa and worth the drive for the famous Beechworth Bakery , where you’ll have to make a tough call between a pie or breakfast, which is served all day. There’s also great dining at The Ox and Hound , a city-smart bistro in a heritage shopfront. Then there’s the two-hatted Provenance Restaurant, where Michael Ryan brings his twin passions – Japan and the local region – to bear on 18-dish set menus of unexpected pleasures, such as clam dashi or grilled beef with smoked miso butter.

In the underrated and increasingly experimental wine region of Rutherglen, you’ll find signature muscat and durif alongside emerging European varietals, including marsanne and fiano at Jones Winery, along with zesty alvarinho at Stanton & Killeen. The rather grand All Saints Estate is a heritage-listed castle beside the Murray River, where you can savour muscat inside the new cellar door and mod-Oz dishes at Kin restaurant. Sister property Mount Ophir Estate, on the fringe of Rutherglen, has a range of accommodation, from a two-person French Provincial tower to the six-bedroom Picker’s Cottage.

The Great Ocean Road

Bay of Islands on the Great Ocean Road near Peterborough, Victoria

This 243-kilometre scenic drive in Victoria’s south-west has become a byword for the wild beauty and freedom of the Australian coastline. But its natural drama is well matched with man-made comforts. Consider starting back-to-front, driving inland to Warrnambool (three hours from Melbourne) then setting a leisurely course for the GOR, which begins 10 minutes east at Allansford. Continue to the Bay of Islands Coastal Park to admire an arresting collection of limestone stacks rising from the Southern Ocean that’s arguably more impressive than the 12 Apostles – and less touristy. Take to the air with 12 Apostles Helicopters for a fresh perspective on the coastline.

Make a brief detour to the dairy town of Timboon, a gourmet pocket boasting artisan treats at Timboon Fine Ice Cream, farmhouse cheeses at Schulz Organic Creamery & Café and award-winning whiskies at the Railway Shed Distillery.

For the freshest catch, the Apollo Bay Fishermen’s Co-op is the last of its kind on the south-west coast. Enjoy a seafood platter al fresco at tables overlooking the Southern Ocean.

Keep your eyes peeled for koalas on the winding drive east to the surfing mecca of Lorne, where the 145-year-old Lorne Hotel has one- and two-bedroom accommodation plus a branch of Sydney dining sensation Totti’s. The seafoodforward menu – smoked albacore tuna, crumbed King George whiting – suits the views across Louttit Bay.

There’s a distinct Greek accent to this section of coast thanks to the Talimanidis family, the pioneers behind Lorne’s Ipsos and, up the road at Airey’s Inlet, the family-friendly A La Grecque. Both excel at long, lively lunches.

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SEE ALSO: 20 Surprising New Reasons to Visit Melbourne

Image credit: Emily Weaving, John Crux (Bay of Islands)

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