With glorious glamping, cosy bush breaks and lavish inner-city stays, there's something for everyone as Victoria begins to blossom once more.
86 Manna Gum Drive, Cape Otway; 0417 599 805; skypods.com.au
THE LOCATION Hidden on 80 hectares of private nature reserve between Apollo Bay and Johanna, three hours' drive from Melbourne, this is an aspect of Victoria's wild south-west coast few get to see, where the Southern Ocean meets the Bass Strait.
THE PLACE Musos Lisa Doherty and Max Vella traded life in Melbourne's Fitzroy to live off-grid. They've been reclaiming this former farmland at the edge of the Great Otway National Park for almost 10 years, planting 65,000 trees and reviving the native grasses. Now it's time to share. With the help of Bild Architecture, they've designed two – soon to be five – ultra-modern, solar-powered, glass and steel eco "pods" (think viewing rooms). The clean lines and charcoal interiors perfectly frame what's going on outside.
THE EXPERIENCE With floor-to-ceiling double glazing on three sides, Sky Pods are all about the view and connecting with nature – in sustainable luxury. There's great connectivity (if you must), quality appliances – kitchen (Smeg) and sound (Bose) – and even a cinema system. But really, nothing beats sitting on the deck (or snuggling up in the remote-controlled bed) and taking in the wild interplay between the bush, that big sky and the magnificent sweep of the Southern Ocean. Be sure to be on the deck in time to catch the sun setting over Moonlight Head and linger in the twilight as you listen for the koalas, count the stars – and relax.
DON'T MISS A private track through the national park connects the property to remote and rugged Station Beach.
FROM $365 a night; minimum two-night stay. - Judy Evans
An infinity pool offers another way to take in the verdant gardens.
HALL OF FAME: The Lake House
King Street, Daylesford; (03) 5348 3329; lakehouse.com.au
THE LOCATION Glorious gardens, galleries and mineral baths, a booming food scene and an easy 90-minute travel time from Melbourne make the Daylesford district a perennially popular destination.
THE PLACE It all started with a goat's milk soufflé. When Alla Wolf-Tasker opened a small lakeside restaurant just outside a rundown country town more than three decades ago, she could never have imagined what it would grow in to. These days, The Lake House restaurant has been joined by 34 hotel suites and a cooking school surrounded by 2.5 hectares of verdant gardens.
THE EXPERIENCE The Lake House has gathered a devoted clientele by constantly updating its offering – an infinity pool is the latest addition – while ensuring that the essentials don't change. Sumptuously furnished suites, the picturesque lakeside setting and a wonderfully warm staff are always on offer, as is a wonderful dining experiences. The food relies heavily on local produce, from trout and eel to fresh-foraged mushrooms and homegrown veg, and breakfast is included. The wine list is just as impressive, with 1200 wines to choose from.
DON'T MISS Dial up the pampering with a session in the treetop spa.
FROM $770 a night. - Ute Junker
An indoor pool sits on the top floor of this slick 12-storey hotel, which is linked by a covered walkway to Chadstone Shopping Centre. Photo: Joe Armao
1341 Dandenong Road, Chadstone; (03) 9108 3333; hotelchadstone.com.au
THE LOCATION The slick, $130 million, 250-room hotel opened last year on the site adjoining the mammoth 550-store Chadstone Shopping Centre. This self-styled "fashion capital", known to the locals as "Chaddy", is slap-bang in the midst of Melbourne suburbia, a 25-minute scoot down the M1 from the central business district.
THE PLACE It's the shop of the new: this glamorous 12-storey hotel, a member of the Accor group's MGallery by Sofitel collection of characterful lodgings, provides serious shoppers with their own convenient, five-star designer crash pad, pre- or post-spree. For ease of access, the hotel and shopping centre are linked by a short, covered walkway.
THE EXPERIENCE At the hotel, the lavishly appointed rooms and suites come in fetching bay blue or carnation pink palettes. To your "to do" list, add Pastore, a 50-seat, Italian-influenced restaurant headed by high-profile chef Scott Pickett, of Estelle and Saint Crispin fame, with an emphasis on woodfire-style cooking.
DON'T MISS On the top floor, with views of red-tiled suburban rooftops extending all the way to Port Phillip Bay, is the comely Altus, a sleek rooftop bar and club lounge. On the same level is Hotel Chadstone's glamour-puss indoor pool, with floor-to-ceiling windows teamed with chic Balinese-style cabanas and recliners.
FROM $269 a night. - Anthony Dennis
Oversized armchairs and a soothing palette make this city-fringe hotel's lobby a toasty drawcard on chilly nights. Photo: Supplied
Element Melbourne Richmond
588 Swan Street, Richmond; (03) 9112 8888; elementmelbournerichmond.com
THE LOCATION Down the leafy Hawthorn end of Swan Street, the Yarra River and its grassy banks are the backdrop for the lobby, the lounge and the best rooms of this new city fringe hotel. You're still connected to the CBD, though – the number 70 tram pulls up out the front.
THE PLACE A soft mint and grey palette and vast armchairs make the lobby a toasty drawcard on chilly nights. If you like your hotels with a side of green cred, this is the Westin group's first Australian property in its new eco-focused brand. The 168-room hotel pares back the fringe benefits such as full restaurant and mini-toiletries, instead tucking in e-car charging and energy efficiency.
THE EXPERIENCE In the new COVID normal, perhaps the best Melbourne nights are spent in a hot tub on the terrace in one of its five spa balcony rooms. And the proximity to some of the city's finest eateries makes ordering-in a haute cuisine event. Best of all? Your pooch can check in, too. Your minibar: Melbourne designer snacks and brews. Your hound's minibar: eco toys made from recycled plastic, healthy treats and biodegradable poo bags.
DON'T MISS Ride the hotel's bikes or take the tram to the National Gallery of Victoria for its upcoming Triennial, December 19-April 18, 2021.
FROM $169 a night, plus a one-off $80 cleaning fee for dogs. - Belinda Jackson
Get lost in the mellow countryside and enjoy fine local produce on this glamping experience. Photo: Supplied
46 Hermitage Road, Bendigo; (03) 5449 6222; balgownieestatebendigo.com
THE LOCATION Find this attractive small winery just outside the regional city of Bendigo, two hours north-west of Melbourne.
THE PLACE If combining the quiet of the countryside with excellent food and beverages is your thing, look no further than this relaxing glamping experience. On offer here, and spaced well for privacy, are three Bell Tents: the 20-square-metre and slightly larger Bell Tent Twin has a queen-size bed, rugs, airconditioning, fridge and shared bathroom facilities, with seating on an outside deck. For more luxury, the 50-square-metre Safari Tent is more like a hotel room, with an en suite bathroom and an outdoor bath positioned for lovely nature views.
THE EXPERIENCE Soak up the mellow atmosphere on the gum tree-surrounded deck of the cellar door, as you gaze over lawns to the grapevines beyond. Sample the estate's wines – cabernet sauvignon and shiraz are the stars – while snacking on charcuterie boards loaded with local produce. Back at your chosen canvas enclosure, sit on your own deck to take in the sunset over the vines before heading to the estate's on-site restaurant for dinner, choosing from a menu emphasising seasonal ingredients. It's good value for the quality at $70 for three courses. Hit the hay early – you'll be woken by birdsong.
DON'T MISS Balance nature with culture by visiting Bendigo Art Gallery, famed for its exclusive exhibitions which draw visitors from Melbourne and beyond.
FROM $199 a night. - Tim Richards
This beautifully kitted-out accommodation is set on a hillside overlooking Inverloch's Anderson's Inlet.
Inverloch Glamping Co
80 Drowleys Road, Inverloch; 0400 168 240; theinverlochglampingco.com.au
THE LOCATION A well-known beach getaway for Victorians, it's a two-hour spin down the M1 from Melbourne to the South Gippsland coastal town of Inverloch.
THE PLACE Three five-metre bell tents and two beach cabins are scattered along a hillside overlooking the sheltered Andersons Inlet. All accommodation is beautifully kitted out with soft beds, cane sofas, bar fridges and even aircon. Park your designer wellies outside; sheepskin and Persian rugs line the floors.
THE EXPERIENCE The term "camp kitchen" undersells the rustic-luxe communal kitchen and dining area, which has champagne flutes, cheese boards, speakers and honey from the hives of owner Vanessa Bostock, who lives on site. She'll send you on a produce trail to fill the car boot with South Gippy cheese and wine. Curl up on the floor cushions around your private campfire to watch the setting sun and subsequent stargazing, with the ocean as the soundtrack.
DON'T MISS The Dirty Three is a sophisticated little wine set-up run by winemaker Marcus Satchell and partner Lisa Sartori: splash out on a single-vineyard pinot.
FROM $260 a night; minimum two-night stay. - Belinda Jackson
As one of Port Fairy's most stylish digs, Drift House is perfect for bunkering down. Photo: Martina Gemmola
HALL OF FAME: Drift House
98 Gipps Street, Port Fairy; (03) 5568 3309; drifthouse.com.au
LOCATION The Great Ocean Road officially ends inland at Allansford, but 37 kilometres further west lies pretty Port Fairy, a seaside town with heritage streetscapes straight out of an Irish fairy tale and the home of one of Victoria's most storied inns.
THE PLACE With Irish immigrant heritage leaving a legacy of gorgeously quaint architecture, it might have been hard to stand out here. But since it opened in 2013, the much-awarded Drift House has been Port Fairy's most stylish digs. A 2019 extension now sees an exquisite reimagining and amalgamation of two historic residences housing six unique suites that meld contemporary design with cosy country welcome. Overlooking the rear garden, a communal annexe features a dining area and sunken lounge with a suspended fireplace.
THE EXPERIENCE All great inns start with great innkeepers. Locals Colleen Guiney (her artworks line the walls) and John Watkinson share a welcome that's affably personal – indeed, with so many repeat guests, they're often greeting old friends – but never intrusive. Intimate Drift House may be, but privacy is assured should you desire it. Suites are self-contained and enticingly snug for bunkering down. It's worth forsaking privacy, however, at least for a bit. In the annexe, Watkinson spins out a standout breakfast that's included in the tariff.
DON'T MISS For brilliant pizza and stellar tipples, head to Coffin Sally on Sackville Street.
FROM $425 a night; minimum two-night stay on weekends. - Julietta Jameson
Take a break from technology and let your creativity run wild with the various activities offered in this converted church. Photo: Supplied
3512 Sunraysia Highway, Lexton; 0423 351 664; graylingsgift.com.au
THE LOCATION Find sanctuary in an old church in the historic village of Lexton in the Pyrenees food and wine region, around a half-hour drive north-west of Ballarat.
THE PLACE Built in 1875, St Mary's has been made over using salvaged and recycled materials, transforming it into a cosy space full of vintage finds. The sacristy is now a tin-lined bathroom with an open fireplace and a metal clawfoot bath. The altar has been replaced with a king-sized bed bathed in the blue and ruby glow from the church's original stained-glass windows. Prise open the corrugated iron door at the back of the church and you'll discover a delightful secret courtyard.
THE EXPERIENCE There's no TV, so curl up on the leather chesterfield beside the wood-fired stove with a local red and rediscover the delights of Scrabble, or try your hand at some watercolour paints or macramé; there are supplies and how-to books on the shelf. There are provisions for breakfast. But if you do venture out, wear your best stretchy pants: any road trip around the Pyrenees is going to involve lots of food and wine.
DON'T MISS Stock up on treats at the monthly Talbot Farmers Market, one of the biggest in regional Victoria.
FROM $275 a night; minimum two-night stay. - Lee Atkinson
This off-the-grid eco-stay is a great base for exploring the hidden gem of Seymour. Photo: Supplied
Blue Tongue Berries
445 Northwood Road, Seymour; 0438 320 049; bluetongueberries.com.au
THE LOCATION The eco-stay on this eight-hectare blueberry farm just outside of Seymour has an enviable hilltop position, with breathtaking views of the Tallarook Ranges and Goulburn Valley. It's around one hour's drive along the Hume Highway from Melbourne.
THE PLACE Off the grid for 20 years, Blue Tongue Berries produces its own power and water, and its accommodation is constructed from straw bales and requires no heating or airconditioning. It's split across two buildings: the Hacienda, with a couple of stylish en suite rooms; and the Casita, the original farmhouse, which offers more room for families or larger groups.
THE EXPERIENCE Like a little piece of Byron without the BS, Blue Tongue is a cosy retreat in which to relax and a great base for exploring the hidden gem that is Seymour. Owners Nick Bray and Cynthia Lim are happy to share their extensive knowledge of the area to deepen your explorations. Catch up with them over a blueberry pancake breakfast at their bright Cantina cafe. Some evenings, both the Cantina and the Hacienda's Great Hall attract locals for intimate live music performances and special events.
DON'T MISS The Winery Kitchen, five minutes from the farm, is a family-run Italian restaurant serving upscale cuisine in a rustic setting. Their kitchen is supplied by the neighbouring Somerset Heritage Produce's farm, which also supplies some of Melbourne's best restaurants.
FROM $120 a night. - Kylie McLaughlin
Filled with light, artworks and curios, this renovated cottage sits beneath Mount Sturgeon and Mount Abrupt.
Salt Creek Cottage
3 Victoria Valley Road, Dunkeld; 0431 929 125; saltcreekcottage.com.au
THE LOCATION The village of Dunkeld, 276 kilometres west of Melbourne, sits beneath Mount Sturgeon and Mount Abrupt, majestic southern sentinels of The Grampians. The cottage is a short amble from the cafes, shops and the celebrated Royal Mail Hotel.
THE PLACE Intent on creating a first-class B&B from an old weatherboard cottage, owner and local merchant Amanda Cochrane called in some serious creative help. Her partner Will Osmond designed the floor plan with local architect Jakob Kelly. Cochrane then consulted with Lynda Gardener and Belle Hemming, from Inside Story Studio, and photographer Marie Hawson. The result is a marvellously comfortable two-bedroom cottage filled with light, artworks, curios, a gleaming modern kitchen and bathroom with heated floor.
THE EXPERIENCE Candle aromas waft through the space. Tartan blankets and floor cushions are artfully arranged. The Aromatherapy Candles Collection and the blankets are from Amanda's own The Grampians Goods Co, as are the soaps, lathers and shampoos. Loose-leaf teas, locally ground coffee, creamy milk, Tasmanian butter, jams from Warrnambool and a bottle of Grampians district wine mean guests need bring little with them. Wander to Dunkeld Old Bakery (established 1887) for croissants and sourdough.
DON'T MISS Indulge in a splendid meal at The Bunyip Hotel, perched above the Wannon River at Cavendish, 32 kilometres north-west of Dunkeld.
FROM $375 a night; minimum two-night stay. - Tony Wright
Designed in the 1970s, the Pole House is one of the most photographed homes in Australia. Photo: Supplied
HALL OF FAME: The Pole House
139 Mount Joy Parade, Lorne; (03) 5289 4233; greatoceanroadholidays.com.au
THE LOCATION Anyone who has driven the Great Ocean Road, which starts just over an hour south-west of Melbourne, has seen this unique property perched on a pole 40 metres above the beach.
THE PLACE Since it was designed in the 1970s by architect Frank Dixon, this impossible-looking home has become one of the most photographed in Australia. First let to holidaymakers in 2006 after a renovation, inside is a minimalist, masculine space with dark leather couches, dark walls and a foldout couch for a bed.
THE EXPERIENCE Pick up the keys, then follow your map to the Pole House, where you feel like you are being served up on a platter to the beauty of the Great Ocean Road. This is a couples-only night away; space is limited but the view abundant. Of course, you can hit the surf at Lorne or head into the lush Otway Ranges. But with such a unique pad, why not stay in? Take photos like crazy, circumnavigate the house on the vertigo-inducing decking and settle back on your bed, pour a glass of champagne, and watch the changing colours of sunset over the ocean.
DON'T MISS Frank Camorra's MoVida Lorne, with views down the beach, is fashioned on Spanish chiringuitos: seasonal coastal restaurants that serve up fresh local produce.
FROM $590 a night; minimum two-night stay at weekends. - Paul Chai
While this is also a farm stay for those who value thread count, food proves pivotal from the moment you walk in. Photo: Supplied
Dairy Flat Farm
238 Dairy Flat Road, Musk; (03) 5348 3329; dairyflatfarmdaylesford.com.au
THE LOCATION Musk, a pretty green pocket of central Victoria, is 90 minutes from Melbourne and can claim credit for nearby Daylesford's food-haven reputation thanks to its producers.
THE PLACE Legendary chef Alla Wolf-Tasker and family, founders of Daylesford's The Lake House restaurant, have spent two years converting this 38-hectare property and lodge into a luxury agriturismo featuring an on-site bakery, two hectares of kitchen gardens and a vineyard best viewed from the hot tub. The main lodge holds four en suite rooms, with two additional available in a freestanding building. These can be booked individually or by groups, who can best take advantage of the dream kitchen packed with produce from the garden.
THE EXPERIENCE While this is also a farm stay for those who value thread count, food proves pivotal, from the second you grasp artist Anthony Vanderzweep's bronze artichoke door handles to your last locally distilled nightcap poured by the live-in concierge. From dawn, guests can grab pastries from the bakery to fuel a walk through the gardens or perhaps a class, either in horticulture or making sourdough. Picnic baskets and electric bikes are yours to tour the nearby farm gates and providores, although most goods are also available in house under an honesty bar system.
DON'T MISS Dinner at the two-hatted Lake House restaurant, where the property's produce is served.
FROM $670 a night; minimum two-night stay at weekends. - Gemima Cody
While each of the Kilnhouses' properties has its own distinctive style, they all capture Porepunkah's glorious views.
Cavedons Lane, Porepunkah; 0422 175 345; kilnhouse.com.au
THE LOCATION In the Ovens Valley near Bright and Porepunkah, three-and-a-half hours north of Melbourne, The Kilnhouses are situated on a working Black Angus cattle farm in the alpine shadows.
THE PLACE This is former tobacco-growing country, a legacy that has been acknowledged and repackaged in The Kilnhouses, which comprises two luxury, two-bedroom private dwellings built to look like the area's old tobacco kilns. The property's third house, the three-bedroom Sorting Shed, is a Nordic-inspired space with a boxy outline based on the old tobacco sorting sheds.
THE EXPERIENCE Chinaman's Kilnhouse and Cavedon's Kilnhouse are elegant and historic, with mountain views, fireplaces, designer furniture and fittings, and vine-covered wooden decks that link corrugated iron-covered exoskeletons. The Sorting Shed, meanwhile, is the epitome of hygge, a cosy space of clean Nordic lines, with sofas placed near floor-to-ceiling windows, multiple entertaining spaces capturing views of grapevines and hills, and an in-house sauna. Two bicycles, for exploring, are included with each house.
DON'T MISS The property is offering a package that includes dinner at Reed & Co. Distillery in Bright, a private wine tasting at nearby Mayford Wines, a tasting at Billy Button winery, a produce hamper and a box of five wines and a bottle of local gin.
FROM $350 a night; minimum two-night stay; minimum three-night stay on public holiday weekends. - Ben Groundwater
Dunkeld is renowned for its food highlights, and Royal Mail Hotel's Wickens won't let you down. Photo: Emily Weaving
HALL OF FAME: Royal Mail Hotel
98 Parker Street, Dunkeld; (03) 5577 2241; royalmail.com.au
THE LOCATION A tiny town of food highlights, Dunkeld is three hours' drive west of Melbourne in the shadow of the Grampians/Gariwerd mountain range.
THE PLACE The modern incarnation of the Royal Mail is the brainchild of successful Melbourne businessman and former Dunkeld lad, Allan Myers. The original pub's stone walls have been tastefully fused with a modern curving structure that contains the casual dining Parker Street Project. The separate accommodation, surrounded by native gardens, is elegant and airy with contemporary decor featuring local timber elements.
THE EXPERIENCE Most come here for the food. Its dining reputation soared under head chef Dan Hunter from 2007 to 2013, gaining three hats in the Good Food Guide Awards. Successor Robin Wickens' newish restaurant Wickens has attained two hats for its eight-course degustation dinner ($220 a person). As the sun sets beyond Mount Sturgeon, bonus bite-sized hors d'oeuvres and palate cleansers turn the official eight courses into 13. Highlights include such innovative dishes as wood-grilled John Dory with carrot, hyssop and borage leaves, or meadowsweet mousse with strawberry juice and native mint.
DON'T MISS Taking a drive through the national park to the farm door of Red Rock Olives, where you can buy its organically grown olive oil and vinegars, and lunch on grazing plates.
FROM $180 a night. - Tim Richards
Explore two deeply affecting and personality-driven stories.
To read while you are here:
In Melanie Cheng's first novel, Room for a Stranger, set in the Melbourne suburbs, two lonely people, 75-year-old Meg, who lives with her parrot, and Andy, an international student, meet when he rents a room in her home. A quiet but deeply affecting account of an unlikely friendship.
Sophie Cunningham's Melbourne, divided into seasons, is a rich cultural and historical portrait of her home city – from the AFL to the comedy festival, the gangland wars to the music scene. Recently updated, it begins with an account of the impact on the city of the COVID-19 lockdown which she warns will "irrevocably change" the city's personality. - Nicole Abadee