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Melbourne may well be the world's most liveable city but just occasionally we all need a break from city life. Check out these top 10 weekend getaway destinations, offering something for everyone and all within an easy driving distance of Melbourne.
The Mornington Peninsula is a veritable smorgasbord for those looking to enjoy some very relaxed time-out.
Be sure to bring your taste-buds and palate and prepare to be tempted by a host of award-winning restaurants, cafes, bars and boutique cellar doors.
The Mornington Peninsula has everything from striking coastal scenery ...........
..... to history aplenty at Point Nepean National Park. Photos: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Sorrento is 107 kilometres southeast of Melbourne, about a 90-minute drive via the Mornington Peninsula Freeway/M11.
Melburnians have been escaping to Queenscliff for centuries and today it remains the jewel-in-the-crown of the magnificent Bellarine Peninsula.
A hugely popular 19th Century seaside resort, present day Queenscliff retains the elegance of that era through establishments like the magnificent Vue Grand Hotel and Gellibrand Street with its guest houses and hotels.
There is plenty of retro and contemporary styled accommodation to suit all budgets and restaurants, bars and cafes showcase a smorgasbord of Bellarine Peninsula wines & produce as well as locally brewed beer and spirits.
Shortland's Bluff with two lighthouses and historic Fort Queenscliff is a tourist mecca and one of the very best free attractions in all of Victoria is the view of shipping entering and leaving Port Phillip Bay through the infamous 'rip'.
Historic Fort Queenscliff is a highlight of any visit to the Bellarine Peninsula. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Queenscliff truly is a unique holiday destination.
Queenscliff is 103 kilometres southwest of Melbourne, about a 90-minute drive via the Princes Freeway/M1 and the Bellarine Highway/B110.
Lorne is another one of the quintessential coastal villages that have been attracting Melburnians for decades.
Lorne is a jewel in the crown of the Great Ocean Road. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
With its beaches, walks & waterfalls, hotels, bars, restaurants, cafes and a broad range of accommodation, Lorne is also home to a vibrant arts community that presents the annual festival of The Performing Arts, the Sculpture Biennale and the Falls Music and Arts Festival.
Lorne is 142 kilometres southwest of Melbourne, about a 2-hour drive via the Princes Freeway/M1 and The Great Ocean Road.
Craig's Royal Hotel, Ballarat
Take a step back in time with a stay at Ballarat's oldest, most luxurious and historic hotel dating back to 1862.
Recently renovated, Craig's Royal Hotel is an icon of the Victorian Gold Rush and has hosted countless royals, politicians and dignitaries in its 156-year history, including the Duke & Duchess of York, Lord Kitchener, Sir Robert Menzies, Dame Nellie Melba and Sir Donald Bradman.
Craigs Royal Hotel is in Lydiard Street, the historical centre of Ballarat along with attractions such as the Mining Exchange. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Elegant first-class accommodation and dining make a stay at Craig's Royal Hotel a truly special occasion.
Craig's Royal Hote is 115 kilometres west of Melbourne, about a 90-minute drive via the National Highway/M8.
Daylesford is at the centre of a district renowned for its natural mineral springs, roughly 80% of all the mineral springs to be found in Victoria.
Wombat Flat as it was then was founded in 1852 with the discovery of gold on the site of present-day Lake Daylesford.
Although the early 'rush' returned poor yields, shallow alluvial mining continued into the late 1850's and supported several thousand miners in the surrounding district. Once the alluvial gold petered out, a move was made to quartz-reef mining which continued to return dividends until the early 1930's.
Today Daylesford and nearby Hepburn Springs attract people from all walks of life on day trips or weekend getaways seeking the relaxing and therapeutic properties of the mineral springs - the "taking of the waters".
Daylesford is one of the most popular tourist towns in the whole of Victoria. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
The twin towns form the cornerstone of a lifestyle industry which centres on the spa and bathhouses but also features first-class accommodation and some outstanding hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars.
In fact, Daylesford is home to one of Australia's great restaurants, the acclaimed Lake House. Awarded two Chefs Hats by The Age Good Food Guide, named Best Hotel / Resort Dining by Australian Gourmet Traveller Magazine and featuring on Conde Nast Traveller's 'Gold List', a dining experience here is a true gastronomic indulgence.
Daylesford is well known for many things, not least of which is its reputation as a centre for alternative living. This is perhaps reflected by the number of tarot readers, psychics, massage therapists and exponents of all manner of rejuvenating processes including aromatherapy, acupuncture, reflexology and shiatsu to be found in the district.
Daylesford really does lend itself to a very relaxing and romantic getaway.
Daylesford is 114 kilometres northwest of Melbourne, just over a 90-minute drive via the National Highway/M8 to Ballan then the C141.
Alternatively, it's about the same time and distance from Melbourne via the Calder Freeway/M79 to Woodend then the C317 to Daylesford.
The Grampians are truly stunning and really do offer something for everyone with fabulous accommodation, food & wine, farm gates, camping, bushwalking, indigenous art sites and European history.
Visitors can navigate their way around the Grampians National Park taking the winding Grampians Way to seek out the many attractions, great wine and delicious local produce that the region is famous for.
Scale the famous Grampians mountain range to take in breathtaking views from countless scenic lookouts or hike to waterfalls and wildlife parks.
Breathtaking lookouts and spectacular scenery are a highlight of any visit to the Grampians. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Head to the local cellar doors to sample some of the outstanding wines produced here or partake of a fine dining experience at one of the many award-winning restaurants to be found here.
From Halls Gap to Dunkeld and the Wartook Valley, in fact, anywhere in The Grampians, you'll find some of the State's most stunning vistas, thought to provoke history and a smorgasbord of Grampians fine wine and produce.
Halls Gap is 254 kilometres west of Melbourne, just over a 3-hour drive via the National Highway/M8 to Ballarat and then the A8.
Bendigo is a grand city with large ornate buildings lining the streets of the city centre it's a city built on gold and lots of it.
In the fifty years from 1850 to 1900 more gold was found in Bendigo than anywhere else in the world and over its history, a total of about $9-billion worth of gold has been extracted making it the second largest producing field in Australia (Kalgoorlie is the largest) and the 7th richest goldfield in world history.
In December 1851, the local population was around 800 people. By June 1852 it passed 20,000 as diggers rushed from around the world.
Bendigo's Talking Tram Tour is perhaps the best way to see the sights of what is arguably Australia's most spectacular regional city. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Today with a population just under 115,000 and ranked as Victoria's 4th largest city Bendigo is at the heart of a vibrant region where the goldfields history is interwoven with contemporary values and lifestyle. Against its heritage backdrop, Bendigo has become a centre of culinary excellence surrounded by one of Victoria's premier wine producing regions and an agricultural industry growing great local produce.
Bendigo is home to a large Chinese community and a visit to the Chinese Dragon Museum is a must for visitors to the city, particularly at Easter when Chinese heritage and ceremonial dragons feature prominently in the annual Easter Parade.
Bendigo really does tick all the boxes. You can walk or cycle around the city, take in the arts and culture at galleries & museums, shop in the town centre or at local markets, become a gourmet traveller enjoying the very best of local produce, wines and boutique beers and of course lap up the history of the greatest gold rush the world has ever seen.
The area offers a huge diversity of attractions and activities from rugged mountain ranges, fast-flowing rivers and historic cattlemen's huts to country towns & villages, snow resorts, vineyards and cellar doors.
It can be as rough & tough as you like with demanding 4WD tracks and remote campsites or you can turn it into a 'glamping' adventure with countless hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars and great accommodation options spread across the length & breadth of the region.
Beechworth is at the centre of Victoria's spectacular High Country. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
The High Country is one of Australia's great cycling destinations with road riding, mountain biking and numerous rail trails to satisfy the needs of riders of all levels of experience.
Visitors can immerse themselves in the history of bushranging in this part of Victoria where the likes of Ned Kelly and Mad Dog Morgan roamed freely, even heading into Glenrowan to relive the capture of the Kelly gang.
The Milawa Gourmet Region is home to some outstanding winemakers, including the world-renowned Brown Brothers, and artisan food producers turn out great bread, mustard, cheese and honey. The nearby King Valley is Victoria's premier producer of Italian varietal wines.
There are festivals at towns like Beechworth, Rutherglen, Wangaratta and Yackandandah, celebrating everything from gold rush history and the Man From Snowy River to contemporary arts & craft and jazz.
Bright is renowned for its restaurants, cafes, breweries and wineries, Mansfield for horse riding, water sports and snow skiing.
Victoria's High Country has everything snowy mountain peaks, grassy plains, fast flowing rivers and pristine lakes, rock climbing, cycling, farm gates & cellar doors and a long list of historic towns.
Some spectacular buildings point to the wealth generated in Beechworth during the gold rush years. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Beechworth, the gateway to the high country, is 286 kilometres northeast of Melbourne, about a 3 ½ - hour drive via the Hume Freeway/M31 to Wangaratta then the C315.
I can remember plenty of great trips to Phillip Island as a kid when the family clunker rattled across the old suspension bridge at San Remo. We'd swim and play all day on Summerland Beach finishing off an early evening picnic just in time to sit at the water's edge and be surrounded by literally thousands of little penguins making their up to the dunes and their burrows.
It's all changed a bit now. There's a modern concrete bridge and a huge tourist industry has grown up around the much depleted penguin colonies. But the island remains one of Victoria's great tourist drawcards. And great get-away destination for the people of Melbourne.
Phillip Island has long been a 'natural attraction' with the penguin colonies, a significant koala population, lots of bird life, particularly at places like Rhyll Swamp and the seal colonies at The Nobbies off Point Grant.
The island offers some great beaches, is much loved by surfers and is renowned for a number of fishing 'hot spots'.
Nearby Churchill Island was first settled in 1801 and holds the distinction of being the site of the first agricultural pursuits in Victoria. Just 57 hectares, Churchill Island is home to a historic working farm, world-class wetlands, ancient Moonah trees, heritage gardens and a number of historic buildings all of which is open to the public.
Cowes is the self-declared capital of Phillip Island and home to an abundance of excellent accommodation, several day spas, shopping, hotels, and excellent restaurants & cafes.
Cowes, the capital of Phillip Island is 142 kilometres southeast of Melbourne, about a 2-hour drive via the Monash Freeway/M1 to Pakenham then the C422 to Koo Wee Rup and the South Gippsland Highway/M420 to Phillip Island.
The Macedon Ranges and Mount Macedon, in particular, have been a popular getaway for Melburnians for more than a century.
Early development here followed the gold rush with diggers heading for the Castlemaine and Bendigo fields. Small settlements sprang up along the way at Diggers Rest, Gisborne, Middle Gully (Macedon) and Five Mile Creek (Woodend).
Following the gold rush, many of Melbourne's well-to-do built grand houses on Mt Macedon to take advantage of the clean air and cooler summer temperatures. Today the area is renowned for its magnificent gardens.
Perhaps the most recogniseable feature in the Macedon Ranges is the Memorial Cross atop Mount Macedon. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
One such property, Forest Glade, is an amazing 5.6 hectares of themed plantings, fountains and statues, all the more remarkable for the fact that the original home and gardens were destroyed by the Ash Wednesday fires of February 1983.
Regularly open to the public Forest Glade is also home to the world-class Stokes Collection of antique ceramics, sculpture and paintings, the life's work of owner Cyril Stokes.
Accommodation throughout the Ranges is plentiful & varied and a host of quality hotels, B&B's and farm-stays are scattered throughout the district offering a broad range of accommodation and service.
When it comes to wining and dining choices are virtually unlimited.
The village of Macedon boasts three quality restaurants within a 100-metre stretch and just up the road at Mount Macedon you'll find the Mountain Inn, the iconic 'Mount Pub'. Nearby Gisborne, Woodend, Riddells Creek and Romsey all feature good restaurants, coffee shops and sandwich bars.
Kyneton, once Victoria's agricultural hub, has reinvented itself as a booming culinary tourism destination and Piper Street, with its 19th Century building facades, offers everything from organic biscuits and European style cakes & pastries to gourmet pizza and a' la carte fine-dining.
Just 7 kilometres from Kyneton, at Carlsruhe you'll find Paramoor Farm. Formerly home to Clydesdale working horses their barn, complete with smithy's forge, tack-room and stalls, now houses the cellar door for Will & Kath Frazer's hugely successful Paramoor Winery.
Paramoor Winery at Carlsruhe is just one reason the Macedon Ranges are known as one of Victoria's premier wine producing regions. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Woodend's Holgate Brewhouse ticks all the boxes with its traditional brewery, public bar, restaurant and hotel accommodation all under the one roof. Meals here range from bar served 'pub grub' to stylish a-la-carte dining in a relaxed restaurant environment.
Local must-see attractions include Hanging Rock, best known for the movie telling of the mysterious but totally fictitious disappearance of three schoolgirls and their teacher during a Valentine's Day picnic in 1900.
Another favourite is the Mount Macedon Memorial Cross. At just over 1,000 metres above sea level, the original Cross was erected in 1935 by wealthy local resident William Cameron, a memorial to his son and all those other young Australians who died in World War 1.
The 21-metre high cross was restored in 1995 following years of weathering and damage from the Ash Wednesday fires.
Views from the cross to Melbourne and Port Phillip Bay are spectacular.
For more information, go to www.visit macedonranges.com
Getting There ..
Mount Macedon is 66 kilometres northwest of Melbourne, about a 1-hour drive via the Calder Freeway/M79.
So there you go, my Top-10 weekend getaway destinations in the great state of Victoria. Enjoy.