Victoria, Australia, travel guide and things to do: 26 highlights

Victorians have never been defeated by the proverbial four seasons in one day, nor have they been beaten by the storm that has descended upon these past, immensely challenging, months.

There are encouraging signs that the unique beauty, creativity, spirit and, dare we say, sheer class, that distinguishes Victoria from other Australian states and territories and which has been sadly suppressed by events, is ready to reemerge.

"Victoria is small but mighty," says Brendan McClements, chief executive of Visit Victoria. "You don't have to drive too far beyond Melbourne's iconic laneways to discover breathtaking natural landscapes, world-class regional restaurants and passionate producers ready to welcome you."

When the time comes, and it surely can't be too far away now, for the state to fully reopen to tourism, it won't only be up to Victorians to help revive the state's economy through tourism but other Australians as well, including those over the border to its immediate north.

"People in NSW can show their love for Victoria by buying our great produce online at the Victorian Country Market (viccountrymarket.com.au) and by planning a future road trip to see, taste and enjoy the best of Victoria."

In order to help you start planning your Victorian holiday before the official green light, Traveller invited none other than our expert Victoria-based travel writers to provide their choices of the places they can't wait to visit, and revisit. - Julietta Jameson

Contributors: Paul Chai, Jim Darby, Belinda Jackson, Julietta Jameson and Tim Richards

POP THE PROSECCO, SAVOUR THE SALAMI

Once experienced, the King Valley, 280 kilometres north of Melbourne, lures repeat visits. It's the setting of vineyards, pretty hamlets and picturesque picnic spots. It's the hospitality of the Italian-immigrant dynasties who call it home. It's, of course, the Italian wine varietals produced – this is the Australian home of prosecco after all. And then there's the food offered, always with nonna's recipes at heart.

See visitkingvalley.com.au

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GO WILD FOR KOALAS

Spanning 243 kilometres along the Bass Strait and Southern Ocean coast, the Great Ocean Road beckons with dramatic views, brilliant surf and beaches, incredible hikes, and top-notch hospitality. And opening at the end of 2020, Wildlife Wonders in Apollo Bay is an outdoor attraction that will offer a unique, interactive way to experience the region's endemic animals, with pizzazz added by Brian Massey of The Hobbit (art director) and Lord of the Rings (greensmaster) movies fame.

See conservationecologycentre.org

TAKE PRIDE IN THE SOUTH SIDE OF TOWN

In recent times Melbourne's inner north has stolen the limelight. But seaside St Kilda is on the comeback and soon, somnambulant Fitzroy Street reawakens as the cultural home of Melbourne's LGBTI community, with the Victorian Pride Centre opening in a destination piece of purpose-built design by St Kilda-based firms, Grant Amon and Brearley Architects.

See pridecentre.org.au

GO WAY, WAY SOUTH OF FRANCE

Fond of France's character-filled villages? Crystal-clear babbling rivers? Sigh-inducing mountain vistas? Can't travel OS? Pas de probleme. Victoria's High Country, around 320 kilometres north-east of Melbourne offers all that – even the boutique wineries and distilleries, artisan fromage and gourmet cuisine you crave. Only here, you'll find it accompanied by gorgeous Australian bush, and this being Victoria, way better coffee.

See victoriashighcountry.com.au

FIND A FOODIE EDEN IN THE EAST

Hot air balloon Yarra Valley SunDec9Vic - Yarra Valley - text Paul Chai
Supplied by Visit Victoria for use in Traveller

The Yarra Valley is worth a visit any time of year. Photo: Robert Blackburn/Visit Victoria

Melbourne is blessed with several wine regions within an hour of the city. You could day-trip, of course but the bucolic Yarra Valley, east of the city, warrants time and ambling. Any time of year, it's worth taking the slow route (and a stay) along winding roads through rolling hills, where the grand cellar doors and restaurants of venerable names such as De Bortoli, Chandon and Chateau Yering sit enticingly close to more boutique offerings from Hoddles Creek and Innocent Bystander.

See visityarravalley.com.au

BE MOVED BY THE MOUNTAINS

Melburnians love the Dandenong Ranges. You will too. An hour's drive east of the city, this low mountain range is covered in lush forests full of giant ferns, towering mountain ash, lyrebirds, and koalas. It's also home to grand botanic gardens, cute villages and farmer's markets, beautiful BnBs, quaint tea rooms and art galleries, antique and vintage shopping as well as gourmet produce grown locally. And thankfully it's still home to two beloved, kitschy icons: the Puffing Billy steam train, chugging the tracks for 100 years, and the Cuckoo German smorgasbord restaurant, that's been oom-pah-pahing since 1958.

See visitdandenongranges.com.au

ROAM THE MACEDON RANGES

From a distance, the range looks like an eagle, wings spread, head tipped. If you find yourself wandering in Mount Macedon, be it a lush heritage garden or bush trail, don't be surprised to see an eagle circling way above. You'll also find the best cellar door there at the Mount Towrong winery. For a restaurant, try Kuzu in Woodend; for pizza, Ida Red in Macedon; and for a market, it's the farmers', first Saturday of the month in Woodend.

See visitmacedonranges.com

ROCK ON AT MOUNT BUFFALO

You could spend a day or two exploring the attractions on the road up – waterfalls, bush tracks, majestic lookouts. Reach the plateau and the island in the sky is a sub-alpine marvel. Walk among bush and boulders; camp by the lake; see the spectacular cliffs of the Gorge, launching point for hang-gliders and rock climbers. Recent news is that the heritage Chalet may also be making a comeback.

See parks.vic.gov.au

RIDE THE GREAT ALPINE ROAD

Just over 300-kilometres, this scenery-rich trip cruises through alpine valleys, climbs over the mountains (stop and gasp at Danny's Lookout just shy of Mount Hotham where Victoria divides between the north-east and Gippsland) and runs over snow gum-studded ridges and plains and river valleys to eventually arrive in Bairnsdale.

See visitwangaratta.com.au

FIND THE HEART OF GEELONG

People pass straight on by, sights set on the Surf Coast and Great Ocean Road, but Geelong has woken from a "sleepy hollow" to be a lively, cultural and cafe-rich city. See the stunning Library and Heritage Centre, stroll the foreshore, ride the river trails and save space for Igni, one of Victoria's best restaurants.

See geelongaustralia.com.au

ROCK OUT IN THE DEN OF NARGUN

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Den of Nargun _ Adventure Festival

Photo: Simon Madden

The Den of Nargun – a child-stealing, rock creature – is of cultural significance to the Gurnaikurnai people, but to outsiders it just feels special. It might be the dirt road into the den that can grind to a halt for a wayward herd of cows, the unusual rock formations that have your conjuring up your own Narguns or the cave surrounded by a billabong at the end of the walk where the creature is said to reside. See batalukculturaltrail.com.au

WINE DOWN IN THE STRATHBOGIE RANGES

Closer than the Yarra and far sleepier, the Strathbogie Ranges – an hour north of Melbourne – offers historic vineyards such as Tahbilk which started making wine in 1860 and Mitchelton Winery which recently added a riverside hotel to its cellar door and chocolaterie. The small town of Seymour has Wine By Sam, the area's first "urban" winery, and nearby Nagambie has a huge lake with Nagambie Brewery (also owned by Mitchelton) overseeing the water fun. See tahbilk.com.au; mitchelton.com.au; winebysam.com.au

GO FULL STEAM AHEAD IN ECHUCA

The dramatic banks of the Murray River, with the gnarled roots of ancient redgums snaking through the pale walls of sand, are best viewed from a wooden paddle steamer that leaves from the storied Echuca dock. Hire your own houseboat, stay atop the riverbanks at family motel Cadell on the Murray, or time your visit for the Riverboats Festival in February (COVID-permitting), where middle-aged rockers play to a similarly aged crowd as the sun goes down behind the eucalypts. See echucamoama.com

EAT YOUR WAY AROUND (F)EAST GIPPSLAND

Whether it is a sunset beer on the back deck of the waterside Metung Hotel, locally sourced breakfast at Northern Ground in Bairnsdale or dining on the titular seafood at Sardine in Paynesville, east Gippsland has plenty for a foodie road trip. Base yourself at The Riversleigh, a boutique stay comprised of two historic stately homes in Bairnsdale. See visiteastgippsland.com.au

EXPERIENCE MOUNT BULLER IN SUMMER

The village atmosphere, the peak-to-peak views and the fresh mountain air are all still up on Mount Buller, in the Victorian alps, once the snow recedes. In the warmer months you shoot downhill on a bike instead of skis, run the trail to the Buller summit, or take a guided multi-day trek of the neighbouring mountain, Mount Stirling, with High Country Hiking. See mtbuller.com.au; highcountryhikingtours.com.au

PASS THE SALT ON THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD

One of the great things about Victoria's famous ocean drive is the local produce and a burgeoning food scene. For something old, grab a pub classic and killer views at the Wye Beach Hotel; something new, try the latest outlet of Frank Camorra's MoVida in the seaside town of Lorne. Then you can borrow a board from the Lorne Surf Shop and head out into the blue. See visitgreatoceanroad.org.au

FEAST YOUR EYES ON THE BENDIGO ART TRAIL

There's artistic gold to be found wandering the wide boulevards and back alleys of the Bendigo Art Trail. This self-guided walking tour takes you past laneway street art, sweeping murals and into artist's workshops like Bending Pottery. Then when you have worked up a thirst, switch to wandering between the gold rush town's craft breweries instead. See bendigoregion.com.au

GO WITH THE FLOW AT BUDJ BIM

World Heritage-listed Budj Bim is a humbling place. Here you can stand next to an intricate system of pools – made from the volcanic rock from the Tyrendarra lava flow – used to farm eels, or kooyang, built around the same time the Egyptians were erecting the pyramids. Then walk around the crater of Budj Bim/Mt Eccles, in the footsteps of the Gunditjmara elders who favoured emu-feather shoes to disguise their tracks. See parks.vic.gov.au

SEE THE ROCK ART OF THE GRAMPIANS

Come for one of the greatest concentrations of local fauna in the state, but stay to wander the various rock art galleries hidden amongst the rolling hills of the Grampians. Based in Halls Gap, you will have craft breweries, a wildlife park and great pub meals in a small town that can feel like it has more kangaroos than people some days. See visitgrampians.com.au

SNAP SUPERSIZED STREET ART

Street art aficionados, stretch your legs for supersized action: the trend for internationally renowned artists splashing vast murals across grain silos kicked off in the little-visited Wimmera Mallee region in central Victoria. The trail starts at Rupanyup and finishes 200 kilometres north at Patchewollock. Continue north, keeping Sunset Country on the left, to Mildura to stock up on Vermentino wine. See siloarttrail.com

GO OFF-GRID IN GIPPSLAND

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Nowa Nowa mountain biking

Nowa Nowa.

When The Secret River's filmmakers were looking for quiet waterways lined by bushland, they stopped at Lake Tyers. Near the mountain-bike nirvana of Nowa Nowa, it's only 200 kilometres east to Mallacoota, on the Melbourne-Sydney coastal route. Don't rush, make lunch dates at the Water Wheel Beach Tavern, and paddleboard to the Marlo pub. See visitgippsland.com.au

BE TICKLED PINK BY LAKE TYRRELL

Bright pink Lake Tyrrell is a genuine sleeper hit: pre-COVID, thousands of international travellers would gaze on its rosy visage – best at sunrise and dusk – yet the 120,000-year-old salt lake, inland from Swan Hill, remains relatively unknown to the rest of us. Visit the lake, then buy the salt flakes for the table. See sealake.vic.au

DREAMING OF A BRIGHT CHRISTMAS

Rob Blackburn  |  Bright/Bushfire relief shoot Image supplied for Traveller by Visit Victoria, pls note credit requirements
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Photo: Rob Blackburn/Visit Victoria

If you can't do a white Christmas, you could settle for a Bright Christmas. It's no runner-up: pack the bikes and empty hampers for cycling picnics, fill the Esky with ales from the renowned High Country brewers, plot daytrips to visit country pubs and trailheads leading to mountain beauty spots. See visitbright.com.au

MEANDER THE MIGHTY MURRAY

As its name suggests, the Murray River Road (C546) wanders eastbound along the mighty river from Wodonga to the high-country village of Towong, in the shadow of the Snowy Mountains. Free camp on the river's edge, drop a line in and while it may be Man from Snowy River horseriding country, it's also a 4WDer's dream. See victoriashighcountry.com.au

PARTY ON THE POLISHED PENINSULA

The city end of the Mornington Peninsula is the same summer playground of our childhood, now with a sheen of city slickness. Note the proliferation of veg and vegan cafes, craft breweries and a clutch of interiors stores featuring peninsula-based makers, all looking out to the bay. The COVID-friendly Dromana drive-in is icing on the cake. See visitmorningtonpeninsula.org

DINE AL FRESCO IN MELBOURNE'S CBD

Melbourne's great eateries are hitting the streets, with outdoor dining hubs in Bourke and Russell streets. Whet the appetite with art at NGV Australia, then view the funky murals of Hosier Lane before dining in the open air. Afterward, wander the streets to admire the city's grand architecture including the Royal Exhibition Building and State Library, and explore laneways as they spring back to life. See goodfood.com.au

TAKE FIVE: NEW MELBOURNE CITY HOTELS

Here are five recent and soon-to-open properties for a Melbourne city staycation.

ELEMENT MELBOURNE RICHMOND

 

Down the Hawthorn end of Richmond, dogs are welcome at this hotel by the Marriott group. Grab a bike to explore the leafy riverside paths, or simply stay in to watch movies from the hot tub on the private terrace in your corner balcony room. From $169 a night. See elementmelbournerichmond.com

HILTON MELBOURNE LITTLE QUEEN STREET

Laneway lovers can saunter past the Italian Gothic façade of the 1930s Equity Chambers building to discover the new 244-room Hilton. Slated to open early in 2021, the 1930s location is ideal for gourmands wanting to revisit their favourite gastronomy haunts. From $319 for stays from February 1, 2021 See melbournelittlequeenstreet.hilton.com

W MELBOURNE

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HOTEL Element Melbourne Richmond

With 294 rooms in a double-legged construction dubbed the Pants Building, the entrance is classic Melbourne: slip via Flinders Lane to visit chef Adam D'Sylva, of Tonka/Coda fame, in the signature restaurant Lollo. Opening in February, rooms range from the Cozy to the Extreme Wow penthouse. From $369, February 2021. See wmelbourne.com

VIBE HOTEL MELBOURNE

In the latter 20 th century, every office worker in Melbourne had some Fletcher Jones slacks for when they wanted to look smart. Now the venerable – and defunct – Victorian label's retail HQ on Queen Street has had its own smarten up – as the Vibe Hotel Melbourne. Sleekrooms on 24 new storeys afford never-to -be-built-out views, such as that across the Yarra to the bay. From $143. See vibehotels.com

LANCEMORE CROSSLEY

Back to the theatre? Bravo! Celebrate by checking in at the new Lancemore Crossley, a 113-room boutique property in the heart of the theatre district and Chinatown. Artworks are anode to the colourful history of neighbouring playhouses while the rooftop "retreat" is just so Melbourne. Opening late 2020. . See lancemore.com.au

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