In a state blessed with more appealing and accessible regions than any other in Australia, the Dandenongs, have tended to be the "Daggynongs", full of handsome, towering eucalypts, the quaint Puffy Billy tourist train, faux European alpine restaurants and, seemingly, little else. Its neighbouring region, the winery-rich Yarra Valley, with which it is now jointly marketed, has done a far superior job at positioning itself. But there's absolutely nothing daggy about Beechmont Garden Retreat in Olinda, a sophisticated and luxurious self-styled "country house" (and the Dandenongs, just an hour's drive from Melbourne, as it eventuates, are rather dandy, too).
Beechmont, the property of Cherrie Miriklis-Pavlou, owner of Melbourne's Flowers Vasette fame in inner-city Fitzroy, consists of four beautifully-decorated bedrooms, three bathrooms and two living-rooms. It's named (you guessed it) after the profusion of beech trees on and around its extensive gardens with the various green tonings of the interior design throughout the house neatly reflecting its botanic surrounds. Strangely, little is known about the provenance of Beechmont though many of the introduced tree and plant species have been estimated to be more than 70 years old. One intriguing feature of Beechmont is a tube-like construction, located in the garden close to the house, that was intended as either a bushfire or bomb shelter, or perhaps both.
Take your pick of four-bedrooms though there is an additional charge, which seems a little gratuitous, depending on which one you choose to sleep in. It's hard to resist the capacious master bedroom, or king room, with its view of the stunning four-and-a-half hectare garden and luxurious en-suite bathroom. Hotel-style bathrobes and slippers are provided with the house expertly-managed on behalf of the owner by the highly-professional Olinda-based Valley Ranges Getaways which provide a detailed briefing sheet on the house's many features for guests on arrival with no separate charge for Wi-Fi.
The kitchen is likely far bigger and better-equipped than what most guests (including this one) have at home. A generous, quality continental breakfast hamper, sufficient for two days, supplied by the Sassafras Providore, awaits guests along with a well-stocked pantry. One of the best dining options, in a Victorian region that's tended to lag its counterparts in culinary delights, is Coonara Springs, conveniently just down the road from Beechmont, and set in a historic weatherboard building with fine views and two-sided open fireplaces. A restaurant, of some kind or another, has traded here since the late 19th century. Elsewhere, don't miss Shannon Bennett's wonderful Piggery Cafe at Sherbrooke or the brand new Proserpina Bakehouse and Café right on the main drag in Sassasfras.
Enough of the Daggynongs invective. The Dandenongs are a delight, full of charming, if at times a little kitschy, villages and tree-lined winding roads. And the Dandenongs' star man-made attraction, the adorable Puffing Billy, based at Gembrook, must rank one of the best tourist train operations in the world.
Although the Dandenongs are easily-accessed from central Melbourne, Beechmont is indeed a true, elegantly-decorated and well-managed, retreat from the big smoke and straight out of the pages of Country Style. You'll love it, as this reviewer certainly did, though do consider a stay of more than one night to fully savour this gorgeous house and particularly its majestic gardens.
Even for the non green-thumbed, the meticulously-maintained gardens, flanked by the lofty gums for which the Dandenongs are renowned, are a treat.
A struggle to identify one but perhaps certain couples in search of cosiness, may find the house, with its multiple bedrooms and rambling gardens, a trifle too large.
Anthony Dennis was a guest of Valley Ranges Getaways, Yarra Ranges Tourism and Visit Victoria.