Local knowledge: dream holidays at home

If the overseas trip is out of reach, Sandy Guy offers some alternatives closer to home.

If you daydream about holidays to exotic locations around the world but the price tag makes the vision a little difficult to achieve, don't lose heart. With a little adjustment your dreams can indeed become reality. Across Victoria there are options for even the most glamorous getaways that are much closer to home, far less pricey and possibly more spectacular than those overseas.

The dream: Tuscan Villa

Situated near the ancient hilltop town of San Miniato, 30 minutes from Pisa, Villa Camelia is a beautifully renovated villa once owned by the Bonaparte family. Featuring six bedrooms and bathrooms, elegant interiors and a large pool, Villa Camelia is one of many charming Tuscan villas available from www.rent-a-villa-in-tuscany.com. From $11,400 a week.

The reality: Villa Parma, Hepburn Springs

You'll feel like you're in Tuscany at Villa Parma, located in the grounds of Peppers Springs Retreat and Spa in Hepburn Springs. Built in 1864, this carefully restored Palazzo-style house, constructed in the style of a traditional northern Italian farmhouse, lies amid an olive grove, vineyard and Italian-style gardens. A combination of rustic charm and sumptuous decor, Villa Parma has four bedrooms (all with private ensuites, two have spas). A short stroll takes you to the equally relaxing Peppers Springs Spa complex and it's a five-minute drive to Daylesford's fine eateries. Villa Parma: One-night mid-week is $290 per couple; two-night weekend $610 per couple (based on a minimum of four couples staying), includes gourmet breakfast at Peppers Deco Restaurant. Phone 5321 6200, see www.villaparma.com.au.

The dream: Ski Canada

The Canadian Rockies are renowned for world-class skiing and magnificent scenery. The grand Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in the heart of the Banff National Park has a one-night Ultimate Ski package for $479 a double room, which includes accommodation, breakfast, ski-lift tickets and shuttle bus to slopes. See fairmont.com.

The reality: Falls Creek, Victorian Alps


Ski enthusiasts can experience a winter wonderland at Falls Creek, one of Australia's premier ski resorts, with a value package at the Falls Creek Hotel. Situated in the heart of Falls Creek Village, the hotel is perfect for combining skiing and after-hours partying with live music each night. Packages include July Weekend Escapes (dinner, bed and breakfast for two nights, two-day lift pass and ski or board hire, $750 adults/$375 children). Phone 5758 3282. See fallscreekhotel.com.au.

The dream: Hike Cornwall's Coastal Path

Britain's South West Coastal Path traverses 1000 kilometres from Somerset to Dorset, including some 500 kilometres of Cornwall's spectacular coastline. Take in the coastal splendour and great bird-watching opportunities along rugged cliffs, runway-size beaches and remote coves, passing ancient ruins and quaint fishing villages such as picturesque Port Isaac along the way. Visit southwestcoastpath.com.

The reality: Great Ocean Walk

Regarded as one of the world's great walks, the Great Ocean Walk stretches 100 glorious kilometres along Victoria's rugged west coast from Apollo Bay to Glenample Homestead near the Twelve Apostles, passing wild deserted beaches, towering cliffs, lush forests and untouched native flora.

Hugging the coastline, the walk crosses part of the Great Otway National Park and Port Campbell National Park and overlooks the Twelve Apostles Marine National Park and Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary.

Trek the full length of the trail, or hop on and off at sections between Castle Cove, renowned for its dinosaur fossils, the pristine shores of Johanna Beach and Wreck Beach, where the anchors of the ships Marie Gabrielle (1869) and Fiji (1891) lie embedded and rusting in the sands. See greatoceanwalk.com.au.

The dream: Italian Gourmet Getaway

Learn to make traditional Tuscan dishes over seven days at chef Paolo Monti's charming Hotel Carignano near Lucca. Between hands-on cooking classes, visit local markets and wineries and explore Parma, Modena and Siena. From $3549 a person, including accommodation, meals, five cooking classes and sightseeing tours, visit travel-associates.com.au.

The reality: George's Boutique B&B and Culinary Retreat

A stylish guest house at Arthur's Seat on the Mornington Peninsula, it has residential culinary courses that combine luxury accommodation with cooking classes modelled on the cooking schools of Italy and France.

George's caters for all skill levels with classes in an intimate group setting (maximum of eight) with master chef instructor Duncan White-Robertson. A three-day, two-night gourmet cooking course is $1300 a person and includes accommodation, cooking lessons, all meals including four-course degustation dinner, sommelier wine tasting and local produce and winery tour. Other packages include Pinot Tour, Wine and Produce and Golf and Gourmet Tour. Phone 5981 8700. See georgesonarthurs.com.au.

The dream: Stay In An English Manor

Staying at Plumber Manor, ancestral home of the Prideaux-Brune family for more than 300 years, is like joining a private house party. Situated in Dorset, the mellow old manor is renowned for its fine dining and fishing, equestrian, hunting and golfing opportunities. Bed and breakfast from $264 a double a night. Plumber Manor is one of many stately British manors that are listed on www.prideofbritainhotels.com.

The reality: Koendidda Country House

You'll feel like landed gentry at Koendidda, a gracious country mansion surrounded by four hectares of fragrant gardens at Barnawartha, a small town situated between Rutherglen and Beechworth. Dating from the 1850s, this stately home is far from the stresses of day-to-day life.

Take tea on iron-laced verandas, relax in grand antique-filled rooms, sleep in one of five lavishly furnished bedrooms and dine like royalty in the formal dining room on cuisine featuring the best flavours of north-east Victoria accompanied by fine wines from the Rutherglen and Milawa region. Bed and breakfast from $235 a double (three-course dinner $70 a person). Mid-week special (two nights' accommodation, breakfast and three-course dinner for two) is $500 a double. Phone 6026 7340. See koendidda.com.au.

The dream: African Safari

The ultimate in African safari lodges, Singita Sabi Sand offers first-class service across three amazing architect-designed properties at Singita Private Game Reserve, an 18,000-hectare sanctuary adjoining South Africa's Kruger National Park. Known for its prolific wildlife, the reserve allows for both game driving and walking safaris. Lodges cost from $1483 a person a day, which includes meals, wines and daily safaris. See singita.com.

The reality: Victoria's Open Range Zoo, Werribee

A Slumber Safari at Victoria's Open Range Zoo near Werribee is a novel way to experience an "Out of Africa" experience that doesn't involve leaving the country.

The safari campsite is perched on a rise overlooking 37 hectares of savannah where rhinoceros, giraffes, zebras, antelopes, deer, ostriches, eland and water buck wander across the grasslands. Eight permanent tents are dotted across the camp and feature comfortable beds, hurricane lamps and old-style pith helmets for those who truly wish to get into the African spirit. Dine on an African-style barbecue, enjoy a lesson in African drumming and sing a song around the campfire before bed. Daybreak brings the snorts of rhinos, the braying of zebra and a feeling that you've woken in Africa. Slumber Safaris run from September to May and are $295 adults, $285 children (aged 12-17). Phone 1300 9667 842. See zoo.org.au.

The dream: The Big Apple in Style

Overlooking Central Park, the Trump International's guest rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows with sensational views across the Big Apple. Relax in the lap of five-star luxury while enjoying fine in-house dining blending French, American and Indochinese cuisines from Jean Georges, one of New York's most celebrated restaurants. Rooms cost from $770 a night. Visit lhw.com.

The reality: The Langham Hotel, Melbourne

For a Manhattan-style sojourn in Melbourne, the Langham Hotel has panoramic views across the city from luxuriously appointed rooms, plush suites and a presidential suite with private butler service. Situated in the Southbank precinct, the five-star Langham is just steps from the Arts Centre and National Gallery.

Everything is first-class at the Langham, from the lobby's ornate staircaseto beds with crisp linens. Take time over afternoon tea at the Aria Bar, enjoy an award-winning dinner at the Melba Restaurant, have a treatment at the Chuan Spa and swim float in the pool overlooking the skyline. Rooms cost from $295 a night for a double. Phone 8696 8888; see www.lhw.com/langmel.