Gracedale Yarra Valley, review: Winter comforts

Read our writer's views on this property below

Michelle Potts discovers a plush bolt-hole in the Yarra Valley.

Running late, as always, there's no time to pilfer pantry produce. Fifty minutes out of Melbourne, we stop outside Gateway Estate in Coldstream. Part grocer, deli, farm gate and cellar door, this pint-sized emporium is the perfect pit stop for good-quality comestibles. Minutes later and with a well-stocked boot, we're back on track, pulling into the carport at the 17-hectare hillside weekender with 360-degree views of the Yarra Valley.

Gracedale is an expansive low-rise property with a contemporary feel, architect-designed in sympathy with the landscape.

After warm greetings from the hosts, we're ushered to the west wing. We're in the corner suite and there's another next door. Chocolate and mint hues distinguish subtly different room layouts. Both suites are light-filled, spacious, open-plan in style and share private access separate to the owners' living area in the east wing.

Interior design-wise, it's plush yet understated. As you walk in, there's a white pedestal dining table with two moulded ply chairs near the king bed. Abstract local art adorns the walls. A modern curved glass coffee table maximises space. And glass sliding doors open to a timber deck but it's too cold to pull out the directors' chairs. Instead, we drop our bags, sink into the soft leather chaise sofa and peer through the windows to spot a few eastern grey kangaroos bounding across the plains.

Minutes later, the entertainment director finds the wardrobe, dons the tracky dacks, programs the heating and takes charge of the remote control. With his iPod playing Hotel Costes, rugby screening on the massive HDTV and some DVDs for backup, he's lounging for the long haul.

Best I unpack. Behind a sliding door, a compact kitchenette with fridge, microwave and tea and coffee-making provisions runs along one wall and a walk-in wardrobe along the other. Smart thinking. I spy thick towelling robes, an extra blanket, an iron and ironing board but no chunky house-baked cookies left. Only crumbs. Flashback to the chocolate thins on the bedside tables. I pounce on the bed to find empty wrappers.

Time to claim some bench space. There's an impressive bathroom - double shower, Natio pamper pack, under-floor heating and luxury Kohler spa overlooking the valley. A cleverly designed mirror reflects nature's art through soaring spa-to-ceiling windows. There's something therapeutic about watching cattle graze.

I snap out of my mesmeric gaze, read magazines for a while and flick through the compendium. It's filled with all sorts of information from a welcome note, how everything works, emergency numbers, things to do and restaurant suggestions to a pillow menu and in-house cellar list. Considerate.

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Next, out with the laptop and on with the wi-fi to check emails.

An early night beckons after degustation dining nearby. We snuggle into the soft cotton sheets, relish the silence and have a great night's sleep.

For breakfast, you fill out a tick-box menu the night before and slide it under your door. Have as much or as little as you like. We fancy eggs Benedict, fireside, in the "grand room" with freshly brewed coffee, keen to take in another aspect of the valley. More mesmeric Black Angus moments.

Again, doing nothing is our priority. Mission accomplished. But if you tire of relaxing, there's so much to do in the region. Drop in to the Yarra Valley Visitor Information Centre in Healesville and see what appeals.

Feeling energetic? Grab a tracks and trails guide. Map an ale trail and sample small-batch beers from Hargreaves Hill, White Rabbit and Coldstream breweries. Taste some local drops. This is cool-climate wine country with more than 80 cellar doors only minutes away and a reputation for fine pinots and chardonnays. Think Dominique Portet, Oakridge, Domaine Chandon, De Bortoli and Yering Station. Add finer dining at Mandala Wines. Watch the cows come home at Yarra Valley Dairy over artisan cheeses and chutneys. Healesville's a hub for all things epicurean, from the Kennedy & Wilson chocolate shop and locally-made comestibles and heat-and-eat meals at Kitchen & Butcher to Healesville Hotel's Sunday roast and anything and everything from the busy, boisterous Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander bistro, bakery, pizzeria, cheese room and winery. For art lovers, the Archibald Prize exhibition at TarraWarra Museum of Art - a dramatic sculptural form in itself commanding spectacular valley views - ends July 31.

So many choices, so little time. The thing is, Gracedale's the kind of place you're easily tempted to stay a little longer.

VISITORS' BOOK

Gracedale Yarra Valley

Address 619 Healesville-Koo Wee Rup Road, Healesville.

Phone 5962 1248, see gracedaleyarravalley.com.au.

Cost "Mint" and "chocolate" spa suites including breakfast are $250 a night Monday to Thursday and $290 a night Friday to Sunday. Chocolate suite has a two-night minimum on weekends and comes with a complimentary bottle of Domaine Chandon NV sparkling.

Getting there Healesville is about an hour's drive from Melbourne. Follow the Eastern Freeway (M3) via EastLink and Ringwood Bypass, turn left into Maroondah Highway, right at Healesville-Koo Wee Rup Road (C411) and look out for the 619 sign.

Summary Plush adults-only hilltop haven with panoramic valley vistas.

Verdict 18

The score: 19-20 excellent; 17-18 great; 15-16 good; 13-14 comfortable.

All weekends away are conducted anonymously and paid for by Traveller.