Melbourne is an amazing destination filled with plenty of exceptional cultural sites to see, an exquisite culinary scene and a nightlife that rivals most jet set cities in the world. Just a few hours away from that cityscape of shiny skyscrapers is a scenery that could not be more distant.
55 storey high towers, congested city traffic and crowds of business suits rushing to the next appointment are replaced with miles and miles of bucolic scenery of farmlands, paddocks of cows, vineyards, forest areas as well as infinite stretches of pristine beaches. This is the Mornington Peninsula and an ideal getaway for romantic couples taking a side trip from a visit to Melbourne.
The Mornington Peninsula is 120 miles of coastline where on one side is the rough waters of the Indian ocean on the other a circular stretch of shorefront lapped by the calm waters of the Port Phillip Bay. In between are mountains with gorgeous views, and wineries producing some of Australia’s most awarded wines.
The Peninsula’s southern point is Australia’s version of the Hamptons where wealthy Melbournian’s have their weekend homes and multi million dollar mansions in the upscale coastal towns of Sorrento and Portsea.
It’s also an ideal destination for a romantic getaway where exclusive self-catering bungalows cater to lovers wanting to spend some time enjoying all there is to do and see in the area and then to retire for some special us time alone. There are endless options to enjoy as well, from time on the pristine beach with those iconic colourful beach boxes with water sports galore. Others will enjoy time visiting the wineries, hot springs and a plethora of eateries from haute coastal cuisine or even a proper British pub.
Beyond the stunning views of the peninsula, the terroir provides an ideal cool, maritime climate as well as volcanic and sedimentary soils which produces wines which are complex and wonderfully textured. The Mornington Peninsula is like a mini Napa Valley and is best known for their chardies and pinot noirs although their offering of Shiraz and Pinot Grigio is known to impress the palate as well.
There are a number of exceptional cellar doors to visit to take in the beautiful vistas of the vineyards down to Port Phillip Bay while enjoying a glass on the cellar door patio. Good food and wine go hand and hand and the cellar doors in the peninsula have risen to the occasion with haute dining experiences making the peninsula worthy of a foodie side trip from Melbourne.
Some of the ideal cellar door and gastronomic long lunch venues to visit are Ten Minutes By Tractor, Port Phillip Estate, Polperro, Crittenden Estate, as well as Pt. Leo Estate which offers a priceless outdoor art gallery as well as haute dining and a world class wine tasting experience.
A longtime peninsula favourite cellar door and restaurant are found at the Red Hill Estate and Max’s Restaurant. Red Hill Estate is a boutique Australian vineyard and winery found high in the centre of the peninsula overlooking vineyards in the heart of the Red Hills area. The steady stream of visitors is enchanted with the lush green lawns and sweeping views of Victoria’s Westernport district and across to Phillip Island in the distance. It simply could not be more beautiful there.
Red Hill Estate is also a multi award winning wine producer including some of the region’s top Prosecco, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Shiraz. The wine estate is comprised of 47 acres with 23 under vine, mainly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Red Hill Estate Cellar Door is a comfortable and inviting place to spend time sampling the wines and learning from their expert staff and then of course taking a bottle or probably case or two back home.
After a wine tasting, you’ll want to stick around for a long and lazy lunch at Max’s Restaurant. Max Paganoni, chef and owner of Max’s Restaurant over the past 18 years, has created a destination restaurant and the ideal place to spend the afternoon any day of the week or for dinner on weekends.
Max’s concept is to take the bountiful gastronomic gifts of the peninsula, treat them with respect in terms of letting their natural flavours come through, and then preparing them with the haute traditions of a fine European culinary tradition. Every dish is wonderfully plated for the eyes to savour before the palate. Needless to say, the companion to each dish are the expertly paired wines from the Red Hill Estate, local vineyards and beyond.
For the active traveller there’s so much to do to explore the great outdoors in the Mornington Peninsula to taking lovely hikes near Arthurs Seat, which is the highest point on the Mornington Peninsula, or taking a coastal walk along The Cape Schanck Lighthouse for the dramatic views of the surf, cliffs and scrub brush. For those who appreciate long walks as well as beautiful gardens, a visit to the Panorama Garden Estate is a must. Panorama Garden Estate is a is a privately owned 55-acre wildlife sanctuary and botanical garden.
Guests can get lost for hours in their tranquil reserve and gardens taking in the beauty of all types of flora and fauna with roses, box hedges, annuals bursting in colour, and cherry blossom trees. Guests will also love the menagerie of animals from pot belly pigs, albino kangaroos, wallabies, alpacas and miniature goats. The bird life is amazing as well with hundreds of indigenous birds from rosellas to cockatoos as well as peacocks, emus, geese and parrots. The landscapes and gardens are completed with lakes and streams as well as panoramic views over the estate to Bass Strait and Port Phillip Bay.
A must have experience while visiting the Mornington Peninsula is a visit to the nearby Peninsula Hot Springs which is an award-winning natural hot springs and day spa. The hot springs draw weary bodies seeking rejuvenation from the spring’s natural thermal waters. The setting is like a natural park with a pond in the centre with wild birds and fauna adding to the serenity of the experience.
In the aquifer, 2000 feet below the surface, the waters stir at 120 degrees while absorbing the curative minerals of sulfur, calcium, magnesium, potassium and others. From this source, the water flows directly into the pools above cooling to a toasty 98 – 110 degrees, just the right healing temperature for awaiting guests.
There are 20 bathing experiences stretched out over the spring’s extensive grounds including caves, reflexology walk on stones, hammam, and a cold plunge. Many of the steamy pools have jacuzzi jets to add to the relaxation and to get deep into sore muscles.
Guests wrapped in white terry cloth robes take the stone steps to the most idyllic experience of the springs which is the hill-top pool with 360 views around the beautiful scenery of the peninsula. The Peninsual Hot Springs offers a complete day spa as well with one of a kind treatments incorporating indigenous healing practices to soothe and restore worn out bodies.
A wonderful base to take in all that the peninsula has to offer is a stay at the Driftaway on Dundas which makes an ideal furlough for romantic couples. This cosy bolt hole is tucked away on 2.5 acres of hills on the outskirts of the coastal town of Rye. About a mile away are calm swimming bays or the untouched nature of scrub brush and the high waves of the Bass Straight and Indian Ocean side of the peninsula. There are only three private bungalows. From the outside, the retreats are contemporary and chic with the corrugated siding that is Australia’s equivalent of a 21st century log cabin exterior.
Interiors are chic, modern, and well furnished, making them ideal for a weekend or even a month-long stay. The bungalows offer all the creature comforts one could desire from beautiful furnishings with an ocean themed décor of coral, cerulean blue, and white colours and accent pieces. The units offer the latest big screen tv, fast WiFi, modern kitchen appliances, and dining table. Each unit comes with a full kitchen, washing machine and all that one could need for that extended stay.
The bedrooms are uber comfortable as well with a plush king size bed and air-conditioning for those hot summer nights. The Coastal Villa features two separate bedrooms should you decide not to leave the kiddies behind. The bungalows also feature an indulgent bathroom with an oversized egg-shaped tub, perfectly sized for two, and a large walk in shower.
Outdoors there is a lovely wooden veranda as well as a grill for cooking up some sizzling steaks or seafood for dinner at home. Tina is your consummate host and is there to ensure you have an ideal stay. Driftaway on Dundas guests are provided with a yummy breakfast basket complete with freshly baked goods, local artisanal treats, fruits, juice as well as a bottle of wine from a local winery to start the stay off right.
After a day of exploring, there are plenty of options to dine out in the Mornington Peninsula. A short drive from your Driftaway on Dundas bungalow is the tony seaside town of Sorrento. Along the foreshore, facing the clear blue waters of the Port Phillip Bay, is an exquisite option for fresh seafood, Morgan’s.
Along the esplanade and between the historic limestone buildings is one of the area’s most popular bistros. Interiors are casual and comfortable with a maritime meets the Hamptons décor with nautical themed design elements, limestone walls, whitewashed colour scheme and a fireplace for those chilly winter months.
In the summer, especially on weekends, Melbourne’s well-to-do take their fancy convertibles out for a drive and descend on the peninsula.The place to dine and to see and be seen while dining al fresco is on the terrace at Morgan’s. It looks as much like a scene from Capri or St Tropez as it does a quaint beach town down under.
Beyond the setting, the Mediterranean style cuisine food is the draw here. Just caught fresh is the modus operandi and not to be missed are the linguini with mussels, prawns and scallops, lobster rolls or the Sydney rock oysters with Bloody Mary dressing. The grilled or lightly battered fish of the day include the bounty of the sea from king fish and flounder to hapuka and john dory. The region’s artisan producers play their part as well with fresh produce, artisanal cheeses, olives from up the road, and the best of the peninsula all finding a place on the menu. This is after all the Mornington Peninsula so expect the meal to be well-paired with their extensive wine list as well as local artisan beers and ciders.
After your pleasant day of exploring the peninsula and wining and dining, it will be time to retire to your lovely bungalow a Driftaway on Dundas. That would be the time to draw a hot bath, light a candle, share a just purchased bottle of pinot noir, before turning in for the night. The Mornington Peninsula is an ideal getaway and worthwhile destination. For couples looking to rekindle, the Mornington Peninsula is nothing short of romantic bliss.
Driftaway on Dundas
Address: 246 Dundas St, Rye VIC 3941, Australia
Phone: +61 419 372 051