Tim Richards visits the pretty winery town that hosts a big race event today.
In February, as Victoria's bushfires reached the edge of Yarra Glen, the small Yarra Valley town was apparently nearing its darkest hour. It survived but the smoke seemed to linger for a while as visitors avoided the region out of respect, while the locals rebuilt.
When I ask the co-owner of Mandala Wines, Charles Smedley, if Yarra Glen has a strong sense of community, he nods an affirmative. “What happened through the fires enhanced it, if anything,” he says.
His message for visitors is to return to the area. “Just come out and enjoy," he says. "The best thing you can do is bring your support."
There are wineries aplenty around Yarra Glen, from big-name winemakers to smaller, owner-run affairs. Today's Yarra Valley Food and Wine Race Day will feature local produce including local meats and gourmet sausages and fresh raspberries.
Yarra Glen was originally known as Yarra Flats. It was established in the 1860s to supply prospective miners heading to the Woods Point goldfields, then became a focus for the dairy and timber industries, though wine and tourism are now the biggest money makers.
Here's a selection close to the town:
Balgownie Estate. The attractive cellar-door building, which nudges into the hillside behind it, also contains a restaurant with a French chef. Elsewhere on the property there's luxury accommodation, a walking trail and the day spa, Natskin. Take part in vinotherapy, which involves the application of grape products to the body. Pinot noir body mask, anyone? (1309 Melba Highway, phone 9730 0700, see balgownieestate.com.au.)
Mandala Wines. This winery's cellar-door building is a marvel of recycled and environmentally friendly materials. Alongside is a grassy recreation area on which kids can play while their parents sip Mandala's well-regarded pinot noir. During the warmer months the winery hosts regular themed barbecues and live music. (1568 Melba Highway, phone 5965 2016, see mandalawines.com.au.)
Yering Station. Like Balgownie, this historic winery has impressive architecture, particularly the attractively curved modern building containing its restaurant. The cellar door has a produce store and a bar. (38 Melba Highway, phone 9730 0100, see yering.com.)
Gulf Station: The Bell family operated this farm from 1854 to 1951 without introducing too much new-fangled technology, so it makes a fine agricultural time capsule dotted with atmospheric timber slab buildings. The National Trust property is temporarily closed to casual visitors during renovations but groups can book ahead for a tour. (1029 Melba Highway, phone 8663 7262.)
Balloon trips: Balloon Sunrise operates daily balloon flights over the Yarra Valley. (2 Bell Street, phone 9730 2422, see gulfstation.com.au.)
Golf: Croydon Golf Club's course lies south-west of Yarra Glen. There's a restaurant with views over the greens. (178 Victoria Road, phone 9738 9000.)
Markets: There are three regular markets in or near the town. The Yarra Valley Food Wine and Craft Market is at the Yarra Glen racecourse (Armstrong Grove, phone 9730 1332) on the first Sunday of the month; the Yarra Valley Regional Food Group Farmers' Market on the third Sunday each month at Yering Station (38 Melba Highway, phone 9730 0100); and the Yarra Glen Railway Station Farmers' Market (off Melba Highway, phone 5962 9421.)
Where to eat
Yarra Glen Grand Hotel: This 1888 pub's ground floor is a rambling collection of rooms with retro wallpaper and carpet. The menu contains excellent dishes from pub standards to fine dining. (19 Bell Street, phone 9730 1230.)
Hargreaves Hill Brewing Company: This microbrewery's entire operation outside the town was destroyed by the bushfires. However, with the help of other local breweries it's still serving its own beer at this appealing eatery in an old bank building. (25 Bell Street, phone 9730 1905.)
Yarra Valley Dairy: Pull up a wooden bench in the converted farm shed that serves as this dairy farm and cheese factory's shop, gaze out at the grass and cows, work your way through a tasting platter of cheeses and feel smug about food miles. (McMeikans Road, phone 9739 0023.)
Yarra Glen Cafe and Store: Housed within an 1860s brick house, there's a wood fire for colder days and a locally sourced antipasto selection to share. (36 Bell Street, phone 9730 1122.)
Yarra Flats Baking Company: The bakery is in the town's new shopping centre, with a surprisingly good view of the Yarra Ranges across the car park. (38 Bell Street, phone 9730 2122.)
Where to stay
Yarra Glen Grand Hotel: The hotel's accommodation hasn't kept pace with its dining area – some rooms need to upgrade their old mattresses and TVs. However, it's as central as you can get in Yarra Glen and the continental breakfast is good. (19 Bell Street, phone 9730 1230, see yarraglengrand.com.au.)
Melba Lodge: A guesthouse-style place with space for up to eight couples. (939 Melba Highway, phone 9730 1511, see melbalodge.com.au.)
Yarra Glen B&B: Inexpensive rooms with a view, situated a few minutes' walk from the main street and facing the hills behind the town. (112 Yarraview Road, phone 9730 2810, see yarraglenbnb.com.au.)
Bell Cottage: Surprisingly spacious renovated cottage, with polished floorboards, large bedrooms, a wood fire and a pleasant rear garden. (88 Bell Street, phone 0429 123 565, see bellcottage.com.au.)
Yering Gorge Cottages: Attractive modern accommodation outside town, with up-to-date features and a nature setting (215 Victoria Road, phone 9739 0110, see yeringcottages.com.au.)
Yarra Valley Food and Wine Race Day, today. See www.yarravalleyracing.com.au.
Yering Station Sculpture Exhibition, October 23-December 6.
Bus 685 heads regularly from Lilydale train station to Yarra Glen (phone 131 638, see metlinkmelbourne.com.au).
By road, Yarra Glen is an hour from Melbourne along the Eastern Freeway, Maroondah Highway and Melba Highway.
Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Tourism Victoria.