Known for producing fine pinot noirs and chardonnays, the Victorian region has added stellar hotels and art to its drawcards.
The road to Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula is paved with surprises. One minute you’re in the middle of Melbourne’s patience-testing traffic; the next, you’re on the M3, slicing through an endless expanse of flat earth. The real surprise, though, is Hotel, a desolate, car-less, people-less 20-metre-tall structure that looks like a resort but isn’t. It’s one of four striking sculptures that line EastLink, making the one-hour journey south of Melbourne a drive-through art gallery.
With laid-back coastal towns, creamy beaches and imposing mansions that could throw shade on the Hamptons, the peninsula has been the go-to playground for generations of Melburnians.
But in 1972, something happened that changed its course forever: Baillieu Myer, the son of department store pioneer Sidney Myer, planted 400 vines at his Elgee Park property in Dromana. A few years later, Nat White – considered the region’s godfather – followed suit in Red Hill. The maritime climate proved perfect for pinot noir and chardonnay and, before you could say cin cin, wineries seemingly began springing up on every corner, transforming the sleepy peninsula into an enticing wine region.
In 2017, architecturally sensational boutique hotel Jackalope opened, ticking the only box the peninsula lacked – premium, purposeful accommodation – and putting it on the international map. Today, there are so many standout establishments and attractions – including other hotels, restaurants, cellar doors and sculpture parks – that it’s impossible to experience everything in one weekend. But here’s a start...
Where to eat and drink
For breakfast: Merricks General Wine Store
Once a general store, this hotspot for locals has two large terraces and two dining rooms awash with daylight. The breakfast menu offers classics such as eggs Benedict with a housemade muffin and brioche French toast with mascarpone cream and stone fruit.
For lunch: Pt. Leo Estate
The dining room at Pt. Leo Estate could easily hang its hat on the sweeping views. While it’s difficult to take your eyes off the 50 or so whimsical sculptures set against the backdrop of Western Port Bay, chef Phil Wood’s boundary-pushing food brings your gaze back to the table with dishes such as wood-roasted snapper and citrus-laced pork belly.
For dinner: Montalto Restaurant
Award-winning Montalto Restaurant features wooden beams, chestnut tables and floor-to-ceiling windows that frame the vineyard views. Go à la carte or opt for the tasting menu, with seasonal options including spanner crab with heirloom tomatoes and aged Great Ocean duck.
Where to stay
The dark, geometric design of this 46-room hotel would seem at odds with the lush rolling hills yet the juxtaposition works beautifully. The guestrooms have dramatic jet-black walls, furniture and stone baths but the ceiling installation of 10,000 amber light bulbs in Doot Doot Doot restaurant takes the cake. There’s a sumptuous cocktail lounge and a more relaxed eatery, Rare Hare, plus a spa and 30-metre infinity pool.
Lancemore Lindenderry Red Hill
Set amid 14 hectares of vines, orchards and virgin bush, Lancemore Lindenderry Red Hill retains its rustic country charm beneath an elegant 2017 refurbishment. A neutral palette and sense of uncluttered comfort characterise the large rooms and communal spaces, while an old-style atmosphere lingers with library chesterfields, a snooker table and multiple fireplaces. Staff can direct you to the area’s many attractions – order a picnic basket and explore at your leisure.
If you don’t want to drive: Wine Compass
Discovering the region starts with a phone call or online enquiry to bespoke tour company Wine Compass. Your preferences and the size of your group are noted and you can choose the length of the tour, where you want to lunch and the type of wineries and experiences you want included. You can also sign up to receive insider tips about the area to your inbox. Easy.
This piece was originally published in 2018 and has been updated.