There are two reasons to avoid being the designated driver on a visit to Red Hill: the abundance of cellar doors and the head-turning views that appear around every bend in the road. On the rarefied Mornington Peninsula plot, real-estate envy is a given – unless, of course, you happen to own one of the Hamptons-style architectural showpieces tightly hugging the rolling hills and aristocratically surveying the glimmering blue water of Westernport Bay in the distance. A genteel collision of nature and artifice, Red Hill – just a touch over an hour’s drive from Melbourne – is the understated jewel in the peninsula’s glittering crown. Down at sea level, Portsea and Sorrento are the playgrounds of Melbourne’s wealthy. Snug in the hinterland, meanwhile, Red Hill is only a short drive from the bay and surf beaches, yet remains largely immune to the worst of the summer excesses. With grand, statement-making wineries specialising in cool-climate pinot noir and chardonnay, a thriving farm-gate-and-food scene and an easy-going vibe, this Victorian hamlet is our new getaway crush.
Where to stay
Port Phillip Estate
Burrowing into a hillside like the sexy lair of a Bond villain – the illusion complete with imposing timber doors that silently swing open – Port Phillip Estate is an award-winning masterpiece from feted architects Wood Marsh. A grandly curving structure of rammed earth with epic views and an enveloping sense of serenity, it has six luxury suites set into the lower level, each with a private terrace overlooking the vineyard and dams. If you can find the resolve to get off the plush, super-comfortable sofa, there’s a bathroom big enough to hold a party in, with salt scrub and candles ready to go.
Where to eat
Merricks General Store
Breakfast at Merricks General Wine Store is a casual affair. Grab a spot beneath the vines on the back terrace (or head inside to the open fire when it’s chilly outside) and fuel up for the day on eggs Benedict with housemade muffins or waffles with mascarpone cream and fruit.
The Epicurean Red Hill
Formerly the Red Hill coolstore – now a café, produce store and restaurant – The Epicurean Red Hill requires patience (there’s often a queue) but rewards it with excellent wood-fired pizza, coffee roasted on site and an array of the region’s wines.
Port Phillip Estate Dining Room
You know the old adage that the better the view, the worse the restaurant? Well, forget about it in the Port Phillip Estate Dining Room, where the kitchen matches the window cinemascope blow for blow with confident Euro-leaning fare based on the region’s best produce. Perfectly cooked Western Australia octopus is served with braised peppers and a flutter of nori. Parcels of agnolotti huddle around mushrooms, dressed with an egg yolk puree. To finish, a chocolate mousse and malted-milk ice-cream make beautiful logic together.
Things to do
Explore the rail trail
Walk, ride or run the Red Hill Rail Trail, a 6.5-kilometre track following the former railway line from Merricks Station Ground Reserve to just behind the shops in Red Hill. To really test the quad muscles, take a detour up to Arthurs Seat, 314 metres above sea level.
Head to market
On the first Saturday of every month, the Red Hill Community Market brings together more than 300 stallholders selling local produce and crafts, along with food vendors and entertainers of every stripe.
Do a winery crawl
Do the cellar-door hop in one of Victoria’s premier wine regions. Award-winning wineries include Montalto, Tuck’s Ridge, Ten Minutes by Tractor, Polperro, T’Gallant and Port Phillip Estate – and add some craft beer at Red Hill Brewery.
This piece was originally published in 2016 and has been updated.