Sandy beaches, verdant mountains, lively festivals, culinary hotspots? All are a few hours’ drive of Melbourne.
The city’s foodie reputation includes famed wine regions on its outskirts, while pristine national parks offer wilderness adventures.
One hour from …
Coombe Yarra Valley
For wine-lovers, having the Yarra Valley less than an hour’s drive from Melbourne is a boon.
There are dozens of wineries to wander between here, but a standout is Coombe, the estate of the late Dame Nellie Melba, where you can taste locally produced vintages at the cellar door before proceeding into the restaurant for a marvellous high tea.
coombeyarravalley.com.au; one hour by car
Part of the picturesque Macedon Ranges, this geological monolith was created 6.5 million years ago by rapidly cooling magma.
The rock is known to have been sacred to the local Wurundjeri people, who inhabited the region for some 26,000 years prior to colonisation, and recent efforts have focused on reclaiming this significant Indigenous heritage.
Famously, the rock was also the setting for the Joan Lindsay novel Picnic at Hanging Rock.
One hour by car
The tiny town of Birregurra, population 828, is not the most likely location for one of the world’s best restaurants. Yet that’s exactly where you’ll find Brae, the multi-awarded brainchild of chef Dan Hunter.
Ever-changing degustation menus highlight seasonal and unusual ingredients, grown on the property or by local farmers. Extend the experience by spending a night in one of the beautiful suites overlooking the surrounding hills.
braerestaurant.com; one hour, 30 minutes by car
Peninsula Hot Springs
On a drizzly Melbourne day, when the air is too fresh for ocean swimming, there’s nothing better than a soak at these geothermal springs on the Mornington Peninsula.
Inspired by Japanese onsen, a series of pools is scattered across the landscape, allowing you to wander between baths of varying temperatures.
For further pampering, spa treatments are also available.
peninsulahotsprings.com; one hour, 30 minutes by car
Blues Train, Queenscliff
Climb aboard the Blues Train at the historic Queenscliff railway station for a memorable ride along the restored Bellarine Railway.
During the night, passengers rotate through a series of four carriages, each playing host to a different musical act. Dance the night away as the train travels to Drysdale and back.
On your return, the charming main street of Queenscliff is just a stumble away.
thebluestrain.com.au; one hour, 30 minutes by car
Meredith Music Festival
More than just a festival, Meredith is an immersive experience. Spend three days camping in the Victoria bush surrounded by live performers and beautiful people.
The festival has been running since 1991 and tickets are distributed via a highly contested ballot; if you miss out, try for Golden Plains, in early March at the same site.
mmf.com.au; December 13-15, 2019; one hour, 30 minutes by car
Lake House, Daylesford
Daylesford has long held a reputation for relaxation, thanks in no small part to the natural mineral springs that are dotted all over the surrounding area.
The town’s pièce de résistance is the award-winning Lake House restaurant, helmed by chef Alla Wolf-Tasker, where multi-course degustation menus are served with finesse and flair. Stay overnight in one of the attached suites to experience the ultimate luxury break.
lakehouse.com.au; one hour, 30 minutes by car
Two hours from …
Bendigo Art Gallery
Established in 1887, Bendigo Art Gallery is one of Australia’s oldest regional art galleries. An $8.5 million redevelopment in 2014, which added 600 square metres of exhibition space, means it is also among the largest.
A varied permanent collection of more than 5000 works is bolstered by world-class temporary exhibitions, which rotate regularly through its light-filled rooms.
bendigoartgallery.com.au; one hour, 50 minutes by car or two hours from Southern Cross Station on V/line trains
More than 18,000 bibliophiles converge on the diminutive town of Clunes every autumn for the Booktown Festival, which features author talks, panel discussions, displays of rare and collectible books, and many more bookish activities besides.
Clunes actually draws literary types all year round, who come to peruse its disproportionately high number of bookshops and attend the regular ‘Booktown on Sundays’ events.
clunesbooktown.com.au; late April or early May; one hour, 50 minutes by car
Three hours from …
These craggy limestone formations jut from the water alongside the Great Ocean Road, which meanders some 250 kilometres between Torquay and Warrnambool.
There are only eight apostles nowadays, but the scenery is as incredible as ever. It’s worth overnighting in nearby Port Campbell to visit early in the day and avoid the tour buses.
Three hours by car
Wilsons Promontory National Park
Melburnians are spoilt for choice when it comes to beach getaways, but to really escape the urban sprawl you can’t do better than the Prom, where long stretches of white sand await.
Even those who prefer some creature comforts can experience the delights of the park at Tidal River, where cabins tucked among coastal bushland give a sense of peaceful seclusion.
parkweb.vic.gov.au; three hours by car
Melbourne’s winters can be grey and dreary, but only a few hours away is a veritable winter wonderland of white, bright cold stuff.
Mount Buller’s skifields are some of the best in the country, offering 300 hectares of skiable terrain and 22 lifts to hoist you up the mountainside. There are also plenty of après-ski options to keep you occupied once the sun goes down.
mtbuller.com.au; three hours by car
Sydney gets all the publicity when it comes to beaches, but Victoria’s coastline offers plenty of opportunities for experienced and novice surfers alike.
For those with surfing chops, Bells Beach (one hour, 30 minutes by car), near Torquay, has a consistent right-hand break and is home to the world’s longest continuously running surf tournament.
The long, shallow main beach at nearby Anglesea (one hour, 40 minutes by car), meanwhile, is renowned for its beginners’ waves – hence the surf schools nearby.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, a series of beautiful beaches all the way to Apollo Bay (three hours by car) offers the chance to practise your skills.
Reproduced with permission from Lonely Planet’s Three Hours From… © 2019; $29.99, in stores now, lonelyplanet.com