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.
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.
263 Red Hill Road, Red Hill South; (03) 5989 4444
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 apple-and-rhubarb porridge with chia seeds.
3460 Frankston-Flinders Road, Merricks; (03) 5989 8088
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.
165 Shoreham Road, Red Hill South; (03) 5989 4000
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 chef Stuart Deller is matching the window cinemascope blow for blow with confident Euro-leaning fare based on the region’s best produce. Perfectly cooked pepper-crusted venison loin is paired with salt-baked parsnip and a flutter of black truffle. Ribbons of squid-ink linguini curl around spanner crab, puffed rice and umami-rich crustacean crumble. To finish, a gingerbread soufflé and rhubarb ice-cream make beautiful logic together. And to drink, you can’t go wrong with the estate’s just-released 2014 Ferrous Pinot Noir.
SEE ALSO: Live Like a Local in St Kilda
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. Avail yourself of the Ridge Rider hop-on, hop-off transport service to avoid any designated-driver-related arguments.
SEE ALSO: The Most Romantic Getaways in Victoria