Yarra Valley travel guide and things to do: 20 reasons to visit

1. QUAFF: WINERIES Right. Let's deal with the most obvious reason to visit Victoria's Yarra Valley, at a breezy 50 minutes or so from Melbourne, one of the closest wine regions to a major city anywhere. Nowadays internationally-recognised as one of the top emerging regions on the planet for premium drops, the Yarra Valley is hardly a newcomer. Victoria's wine industry began here in 1838.  Today it's home to more than three-dozen cellar-doors offering acclaimed premium cool-climate wines with many of them incorporating fine restaurants and even art galleries. See visitvictoria.com 

2. FLOAT: BALLOONING* It may necessitate a God-awful, pitch black, pre-dawn start but there's no better way to gain a sense of the Yarra Valley and its beauty than to be above it, at dawn and beyond, inside a hot-air balloon. Drift over myriad wineries, set against a backdrop of the Dandenong Ranges, that made this part of Victoria famous, as well as the odd market gardens and palatial homestead. Don't be surprised if your balloon comes down to earth safely in a dairy cow paddock with the curious occupants coming to greet you en masse. See globalbalooning.com.au

3. STAY: CHATEAU YERING​ HISTORIC HOUSE HOTEL Along with Dame Nellie Melba, the late 19th and early 20th century soprano who became Australia's first homegrown international superstar, Chateau Yering is the quintessential grand dame of the Yarra Valley. Entered off the Melba Highway (named after you know who), this 32-suites hotel, which dates to 1854, is unapologetically old-fashioned. Agatha Christie and her characters would surely have felt perfectly at home in these surrounds had she ever checked-in here. See chateauyering.com.au

4. DINE: ELEONORE'S​ RESTAURANT If you're staying, or even not staying at Chateau Yering, book at table at its Eleonore's Restaurant, a long-time hatted restaurant in The Age Good Food Guide. Named after the wife of the Swiss-born founder of Chateau Yering, there's an emphasis on contemporary cooking with regional produce, as you would expect, prominent in the ingredients. For a true taste of the Yarra Valley, and a welcome change from the plethora of  albeit excellent modern winery restaurants, there's no better or more atmospheric place to dine. See chateauyering.com.au

5. VISIT: COOMBE, THE MELBA ESTATE* One of the Yarra Valley's lesser-known gems and newest attractions, Coombe Cottage was the country home of Dame Nellie Melba for many years. Ringed by a conspicuously magnificent cypress hedge that was a mere sapling in Dame Nellie's day, the estate at Coldstream was only recently opened to the public following the death of her doting granddaughter, Pamela, Lady Vestey, the property's long-time custodian. Book a must-do guided tour of the superb and somewhat eccentric gardens as well as a visit to small though fascinating museum featuring priceless Melba memorabilia. See coombeyarravalley.com.au

6. SEE: TARRAWARRA MUSEUM OF ART A dominant and architecturally-arresting feature of the eponymous winery, this private art museum was nearly as groundbreaking when it opened in 2003 as Hobart's Museum of Modern Art. TarraWarra Museum of Art stages modern and contemporary art exhibitions which change with the seasons inside a building set within the hills of the Yarra Valley. The museum was founded by philanthropists Eva and Marc Besen, passionate collectors of Australian art since the the 1950s.  Of course, once you've savoured the art there's also TarraWarra's fine wine, a perfect match with the fine art on display, to sample. See twma.com.au

7. VISIT: HEALESVILLE At some point during a Yarra Valley visit, you'll almost certainly pass through, or pause at Healesville, the pleasant main township in the heart of the Yarra Valley. Healesville, a good base for accommodation and sightseeing, is home to two of the landmark dining and drinking establishments, Innocent Bystander and  Healesville Hotel (see below), both of which dominate the busy main drag. See visitvictoria.com; innocentbystander.com.au; yarravalleyharvest.com.au

8. TOUR: BLACK SPUR DRIVE There are some superbly scenic drives in and around the Yarra Valley, chief among them Black Spur Drive. It links the region, and vice-a-versa, with mountain townships such as Marysville, which was largely destroyed by bushfire in 2009 and has since been rebuilt. The meandering mountain roads are flanked by spectacular towering mountain ash forests as well as billowing green ferns that thrive under the dark, dank canopies of the trees. See visitvictoria.com

9. DINE: ​MELETOS The Yarra Valley's fine wine and produce are nowhere better showcased than at this stylish casual winery restaurant created by the family behind the popular Stones of the Yarra Valley cellar door, restaurant and accommodation complex. Located between the towns of Yarra Glen and Healesville, ​Meletos is reached via St Huberts Road, a classic country back lane. Set in one of a collection of once ramshackle and now tastefully-restored farmhouses, the property includes a restaurant as well as a 23-room boutique guesthouse surrounded by walled gardens, crabapple trees and raised vegetable beds. See meletos.com

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10. TASTE: PEACH MELBA Along with its gardens, museum and meticulously-renovated barn and garage buildings, the aforementioned Coombe is a new and worthy location for afternoon tea. Here, along with the usual scones and tea, you can sample Peach Melba, the dessert that was named after the Yarra Valley's most celebrated daughter. The dish is said to have been created by the famed French chef, Auguste Escoffier, in her honour. Coombe also serves a cellar door for the nearby Coombe Estate winery. See coombeyarravalley.com.au

11. VISIT: HEALESVILLE SANCTUARY*  Devoted to native Australian wildlife, Healesville Sanctuary is one of the country's most respected zoos. Its biggest drawcards these days is its Spirits of the Sky show which features Australian raptors, such as wedge-tailed eagles and other native birdlife. Don't miss the unique Australian Wildlife Health Centre, a working veterinary hospital that cares for ill or injured wildlife. It offers an insight into the complex, and often moving, treatment, rehabilitation and release process that exists behind the rescue of native animals. See zoo.org.au

12. DINE: OAKRIDGE WINES Nestled in vineyards, this cellar door features a striking and contemporary tasting and restaurant complex, designed byVictoria's Denton Corker Marshal, the high-profile firm responsible for major Melbourne buildings such as the city exhibition centre nicknamed "Jeff's Shed" after the former state premier Kennett. Before or after lunch at the restaurant, headed by chef Matt Stone, a tsar of sustainable dining, check out the unique virtual tasting with David Bicknell, Oakridge's winemaker. Visitors are invited to don headphones as they watch a video presentation in which Bicknell takes you on a tasting journey through the vineyard's award-winning drops. See oakridgewines.com.au

13. DRINK: CIDER, ALE AND SPIRITS Wine, understandably, dominates the Yarra Valley yet beer actually predates it in the region with hops having been grown here since the early 1800s. The Yarra Valley, the birthplace of Australian Champagne cider, is also one of Victoria's oldest cider-making regions. A detailed cider and ale trail self-guided tour, featuring the region's leading breweries, can be downloaded at the Yarra Ranges Tourism website. See visityarravalley.com.au

14. PLAY: EASTERN GOLF CLUB One of the Yarra Valley's newest and most ambitious additions is the new Greg Norman-designed Eastern Golf Club. The first 18, of a planned and soon-to-be-completed 27 holes, is located in Yering Gorge, where bushland intersects with the Yarra River against the backdrop of the Christmas Hills and the Great Dividing Ranges. The club also boasts a large nature reserve which is home to eastern grey kangaroos, platypus, echidna, wombats and bird life. See easterngolfclub.com.au

15. VISIT: LEVANTINE​ HILL ESTATE It's difficult to decide which is the winner among the competing attractions at this classy Coldstream vineyard: the wine, the food or the architecture. The talk of the Yarra Valley, all three coalesce with the Teage Ezard​ signature restaurant enlivened by the stunning architecture of Fender Katsalidis​ Architects, the firm responsible for the design of Hobart's MONA art museum, with eye-catching interiors by Molecule. There's also exclusive, luxury homestead accommodation available at the vineyards, albeit at a whopping $5000 per night with a minimum two-night stay. See levantinehill.com.au

16. TASTE: YARRA VALLEY DAIRY A local gastronomic landmark, the Yarra Valley Dairy is both a cheese factory and an artisan cheese shop that's long been an essential stop for foodie visitors to the region. A link to the Yarra Valley's more bucolic past, the cheeses produced here from local milk are made in French and Italian styles. You can buy a selection of handmade farmhouse cheese, sold inside a century-old milking shed with stunning  views of the attractive surrounding countryside. There's also a range of  local produce and wine for sale. See yvd.com.au

17. EAT: INNOCENT BYSTANDER A virtual regional shrine to Victoria's love and appreciation of food and wine, Innocent Bystander, named after the eponymous local wine label, is a huge gastro temple located on the Maroondah Highway, Healesville's main street. All things to all foodies, it's a cafe-cum-bakery-cum-gourmet pizzeria-cum cellar door that's as impressive today as it was when it first opened some years ago.See innocentbystander.com.au

18. VISIT: DAME NELLIE MELBA'S GRAVE Such was Dame Nellie Melba's love of the Yarra Valley that she was buried in the Lilydale Lawn Cemetery, the former town and now outer Melbourne suburb that serves as the service centre for the Yarra Valley. You can easily pay homage to  Dame Nellie's grave which is situated towards the rear of the cemetery. There are also exhibitions on aspects of Melba's remarkable life down the road at the Old Lilydale Courthouse. See gmct.com.au; nelliemelbamuseum.com.au

19. QUAFF: SPARKLING WINE The Yarra Valley's cool climate and renowned terroir provide the perfect conditions for the production of sparkling wines, a style which really exploded commercially with the arrival of Domaine Chandon, the noted French champagne house. Ever since the mid-1980s, when a far-sighted Chandon acquired an old dairy farm at Green Point, this home of methode traditionelle has become an essential  stop on any Yarra Valley visit. See chandon.com.au

20. DINE: HEALESVILLE HOTEL The Yarra Valley's most distinctive and loved pub, the Healesville Hotel many years ago transformed itself from a classic country boozer into a haven for foodies. Aside from the still well-regarded, Good Food Guide-listed restaurant in the timber-panelled dining room at the rear of the hotel, the Healesville is also home to Harvest ​Cafe, a Yarra Valley institution famed for its breakfasts, lunches and hampers. If that's not enough there's also K&B, a produce store stocking a range of local seasonal produce including delicatessen and bakery items. See yarravalleyharvest.com.au 

*Traveller's Top Choices

Anthony Dennis visited the Yarra Valley as a guest of Tourism Victoria and Chateau Yering.

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