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Top 10 Unique Getaway Gems to Discover around Victoria

Aerial Photo of Great Ocean Road, Victoria. Photographed by Judah Grubb. Image via Shutterstock.

Got those long weekends marked on your calendar? Now it’s time to get set for Victoria – where the hardest decision you’ll have to make is where to go first.  

It goes without saying that we all need a pick-me-up trip in the wake of an unprecedented past year, and Australia’s smallest mainland state is sure to serve up just the right blend of adventure and relaxation to soothe your mind and rejuvenate the soul. Not only does Victoria have bragging rights for the world’s most livable city, but it also boasts some pretty amazing getaway destinations brimming with things to do and see.

To the south is a peninsula renowned for its food, wine and penguin-speckled island, while the west is home to one of the world’s most famous coastal drives. Up north is perfect for a winter ski trip and to the east travellers can marvel at Victoria’s untouched coastal wilderness.

Whichever direction you turn, there’s a getaway gem waiting to be explored – and we’ve done the hard work and found the top 10 unique destinations around Victoria that are waiting to be discovered.

Mt Macedon

Do you want to stick to Melbourne’s moody laneways, luscious food trails, renowned shopping arcades and art precincts but wouldn’t mind a change of scenery at some point of the trip? Victoria’s capital is a perfect springboard from which to explore Mt Macedon, a village found at the heart of the Macedon Ranges – only an hour’s drive northwest from the city. Ablaze with colour in autumn with an abundance of oak trees on Honour Avenue, and cheery with blooms of wisteria, daffodils and magnolia blanketing its forested slopes in spring, this getaway gem is the perfect escape from the heat of summer and a place for toasty retreats in winter.

Renowned for its infamous yet equally eerie Hanging Rock, adventurists and hikers alike can explore the area with Hanging Rock Llama Treks that allows you to hike the area’s wild bushscapes with a llama by your side. Apart from transporting your supplies, these furry friends make for great hiking companions thanks to their inquisitive nature.

If you know your Van Gogh from your Monet, you’ll also be glad to know that the Macedon Ranges is quite literally the artist mecca of Victoria. A day in Mt Macedon and its neighbouring towns can easily be spent meandering through the Art Trail, or travelling between art galleries and antique stores. Finish your day with a picnic on the skirts of the Hanging Rock or a lush corner of Forest Glade Gardens – a private garden inspired by English, Italian, Asian and woodland traditions. You can also choose to stop by Trading Post for some rustic comfort food (including award-winning pies), a coffee, to send a friend a postcard or to simply shop for giftware!


Daylesford

If holidays for you are all about turning off and slowing down, look no further than Daylesford that is commonly known as ‘spa country.’ Nestled in the foothills of Victoria’s Great Dividing Range, this rural town boasts Swiss-Italian influenced architecture and cuisine, mineral springs and an artistic community attracting an eclectic variety of visitors.

For a truly unwinding experience, kick your heels up in a waterfront room at the luxurious Lake House, and indulge in the mineral-rich waters of the iconic Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa where you can sink into an underwater couch or take in the lush Australian bushland as you relax at the outdoor bathing area. Next, perched on an extinct volcano called Wombat Hill, Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens is ideal for a romantic picnic or a soothing stroll with sweeping views of Daylesford. Here you can grab a pet plant of your own from the ‘Friends Shed,’ and pull up a chair at the Wombat Hill House café next door for a taste of local legend Alla Wolf-Tasker’s cuisine. Enjoy your meal amidst kiwi vines and olive trees outdoors or alongside Allan Wolf-Tasker’s murals painted on the café’s interiors. The friendly owners are also happy to lend you a picnic basket and show you to some of the best spots in the garden to spend an afternoon!

If you’d rather fancy wandering through a 19th-century Victorian mansion, make your way over to the Convent Gallery. Initially built as private residence for the Gold Commissioner of the 1860s, the building made its way through history as a boarding school run by the Catholic Church and then as a community centre before it was sold to an artist in 1988. Today, you can visit this historic building  to marvel at the exhibitions spread across seven galleries, shop for unique jewellery and giftware at the retail spaces, and enjoy dining under high atrium ceilings amongst plants in its sunlit Mediterranean café, Bad Habits. Now that you’ve set the mood for your trip, add Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm to your bucket list for an Instagram-worthy lavender fields shot, take a tour of its historic homestead and enjoy some scones or woodfired pizza at the onsite restaurant, La Trattoria.

Otherwise, you’re a style-conscious shopper, you can also easily make a day out of visiting the Mill Markets.  You can expect to find collectables, antiques, fine china, vintage clothing, home décor and much more!


Ballarat

Picture yourself panning for gold, riding a horse drawn carriage through town, mingling with actors in period costume, then ducking out of the scene for hearty meals in dinky laneways. Sounds intriguing? Then pack your bags, it’s time for a getaway in Ballarat, Victoria’s golden city. Start by visiting Sovereign Hill, an open-air museum that invites guests to experience a day in the Victorian gold rush. With guided mine tours and live demonstrations from candlemakers, blacksmiths, wheelmakers and more, there is plenty to see and do. Stay awhile at the Sovereign Hill Hotel to keep the gold rush excitement at your doorstep, and wander the quaint shops on Main Street to take some of the charm back home with you.

Next, step into a world of medieval myths and legends on the grounds of Kryal Castle, a theme park perfect for the whole family! Try your hand at archery, swordplay and axe throwing, or wander through the maze and dungeons and enjoy the scheduled jousting shows. Go for a stroll at the six-kilometre track surrounding Lake Wendouree, known for being home to a variety of native water birds. Have a picnic on the skirts of Ballarat Botanical Gardens hugging the lake’s western shores, or enjoy a historic tram ride at the Tramway Museum.


Mildura

Settled on the outermost borders of Victoria and a six-hour drive from Melbourne, Mildura takes the title as the state’s ‘Food Bowl.’ Built along the banks of the Murray River, this unassuming town grows a good percentage of Australia’s fresh produce and harbours itself as one of Victoria’s thriving wine and gourmet food scenes. Take yourself over to Feast Street to frolic with the parade of cafes, breweries and restaurants serving a range of cuisines and fusions. If you’re stuck on where to eat in Mildura, we recommend a dining experience at Stefano’s Restaurant, a multi award-winning restaurant led by Stefano de Pieri.

Pack some adventure into your trip with a 4WD tour of Mungo National Park, or jump on the cycling trail to experience the sight of the Walls of China on two wheels. If you want to bask in the rural charm of this quaint town, cruise the river’s waters on a scenic paddle steamer, and treat yourself to the wares of the  wineries and lemon groves skirting the shores once you disembark. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting on the first or third Saturday of the month, don’t miss your chance to visit the Sunraysia Farmers Market that sits on the town’s main street and river. With local producers taking centre-stage, be sure to wander around with a coffee in hand!


Trentham

Only about an hour’s drive from Melbourne, Trentham is a tiny town that packs a punch and offers unique experiences for foodies and adventurists alike. For a truly immersive experience, book your stay at the Cosmopolitan Hotel that sits conveniently on the corner of the town’s main strip. Featuring a fireplace, a beer garden and even a woodfire pizza oven, the Cosmopolitan Hotel will have everything you need.

Start your trip by visiting Trentham Falls, Victoria’s highest 32-metre single-drop waterfall. Plunging into the depths of Coliban River, you can choose to take a trail walk from the car park for a closer look and some certainly Instagram-worthy photos. Then, head on over to the Redbeard Bakery to taste their renowned sourdough breads and pizza baked in a 129-year-old scotch oven. Join one of their workshops offering a tour of the historic baking room, a demonstration of the traditional baking craft followed by bottomless tea and coffee with sweet and savoury platters. Book in early to enjoy Du Fermier’s French farmhouse cooking for dinner and browse the town’s boutique stores at your pace for the remainder of your day. If you’re looking to add another gourmet experience to your trip, head over to The Nutty Orchard to shop their boutique hand-made preserve range, and load up on cherries, chestnuts and heirloom fruit.


Port Fairy

Not only does Port Fairy have a charming, whimsical name, but plenty to offer for any traveller who wishes to explore a coastal town frozen in time. Sitting along the Great Ocean Road a mere three-and-a-half-hour drive from Melbourne, Port Fairy is home to 70 buildings classified by the National Trust. The best way to appreciate this legacy is on foot, so put your walking shoes on for one of its historic trails and discover elegant Georgian-style merchants’ homes and white-washed cottages built by whalers and seamen.

Then, head over to Fisherman’s Wharf for a bite at the Fish n Chip shop amidst stunning views of moored fishing boats and luxury yachts, or to Merrijig Kitchen to warm up by the open fire and choose from a menu with award-winning wines and delectable seasonal food. Take a stroll around Griffiths Island at sunset to watch the mutton birds nesting for their summer stay, go for a dip in the swimming spots or sit by the Lighthouse to take it all in. Home to a variety of entertainment and food festivals year-round, just be sure to book in your accommodation early.


Echuca

Looking for a place with plenty of history and inviting attractions that also embraces your wish for some me-time? This little Murray River town has just enough to keep you entertained, with a laid-back energy that is willing to give you the time and space to sit back with a  good book or enjoy the view with drinks and a picnic basket. For a slow, scenic start to your holiday, board a historic paddle steamer and cruise along the mighty Murray River at the leisurely pace of bygone days. Listen to the skipper’s chats, the swish of the paddlewheels, the blaring of the whistle and the various noises of surrounding wildlife. If you’re looking for an out-of-this-world experience, be sure to opt for the dinner cruise so you can gaze up at the twinkling stars.

If you’ve recently caught yourself slowly becoming a post-pandemic plant parent, head over to Cactus Country and explore its 12-acre gardens for a new addition to the family at home. Wander through the South African and South and North American sections to snap amazing travel photos, and relax at the café with a Mexican Beer or ice-cold margarita! We hear that they’re also famous for their cactus cake and cactus ice cream, so why not give these a try to shake up for your taste buds?


Gippsland

Gippsland is a region in Victoria that stretches from Melbourne’s eastern suburbs to the state’s far east border with New South Wales. Famous for its breathtaking natural beauty, Gippsland is a destination for unique adventures that will make a getaway in Victoria a holiday like no other!

Start your day with a sunrise camel ride on Ninety Mile Beach – the world’s four and Australia’s second longest beach. With crashing waves on one side and golden sand dunes on the other, this is one classic, unspoilt beach waiting to be explored. Whether you’re a bird-watcher, angler or a mere toe-dipper, Gippsland Lakes has something in store for you. This network of lakes, marshes and lagoons is brimming with fish and some of the common catches are bream, flathead, luderick and mulloway. Hire a boat from Metung or Paynesville and cast a line to enjoy limitless fishing opportunities or visit the numerous waterside cafes. You can also choose to launch a paddle board, kayak or canoe from Lakes Entrance for a lazier meander around the lakes.

If you want to immerse yourself further in nature’s phenomena, head to Tidal River in Wilson’s Promontory National Park and set up camp or, stay in one of their award-winning wilderness retreats. Being Australia’s largest coastal wilderness area, ‘The Prom’ offers sun-drenched summers on its beaches, and secluded winter walks in  its rainforests and native forests bordered with lichen-covered boulders and sweeping coastlines. Head to Squeaky Beach for some fun with its talcum white sand, enjoy a short walk along Norman Beach and Picnic Bay and mingle with emus and kangaroos. Let the kids ride their bikes on the campgrounds and at night, catch a movie under the night sky at Tidal River’s outdoor cinema.

For a truly striking adventure, go hiking at the Big Drift at the entrance of The Prom, which is a vast series of giant sand dunes that will have you feeling like you’re the only thing standing between the sand and the sky in an exotic desert. If you’re keen for some more adventure, wander into an underground limestone city at Buchan Caves. This maze of caves is almost 400 million years old and is home to hanging stalactites, carpeting stalagmites, rimmed pools and shawls. Extend your trip on this heritage-listed landscape with an overnight stay under the stars, or even a picnic to enjoy amongst the wildlife frequenting the reserve around the caves.


Lorne

Rest assured that the Great Ocean road is on the bucket list of travellers across the globe, but has it made it to yours? Stopping at Lorne, this stylish town will greet you with old gum trees adorning its streets and calm, bright waters invitingly glittering in the bay. Only a two-and-a-half hour drive from Melbourne, Lorne is paradise within reach for those who appreciate the arts, nature and adventure-seeking enthusiasts. A coffee from The Bottle of Milk cafe is a must before you stroll down Mount Joy Parade – the town’s main street that’s home to a variety of boutiques, specialty stores and galleries. You’ll notice the abundance of cafes catering for different tastes and budgets, so take note of where you’d like to come back for a meal after having a walk along Lorne Beach adjacent to the main street. Head on over to Mexican Republic for a gastronomic lunch before tucking into authentic Italian cuisine by Pizza Pizza.

If you need some downtime, the tranquil precincts of Qdos Arts is the place to be. Tucked into the lush forest behind Lorne, Qdos was developed to create a ‘living art’ experience. A pond and unique sculpture garden are watched over by the ryokan-style accommodation, a café, and the Fine Arts Gallery exhibiting the best works of the town’s thriving artistic community. High windows bathe the gallery and café in natural light and permit a generous view of towering eucalyptus trees, creating a peaceful ambience.

Appreciate your decision to slow down with a visit to Teddy’s Lookout – the panoramic views of Bass Straight and the Great Ocean Road itself will give you the photo opportunity you may have missed as you drove, wishing you could capture what you were seeing. Just around the corner from Teddy’s Lookout is Erskine Falls, which makes for  a perfect half-day trip if you’re looking for some time away from the beach. Its waters tumble 30 metres over a rocky surface, and into the pool surrounded by a fern gully below. Watch the enchanting falls from above on the first lookout, or take the trail down to size them up from beneath. You can choose to take the seven-and-a-half-kilometre walk past Straw Falls and Splitter Falls, or extend your trip by visiting other waterfalls nearby, such as Sheoak and Kalimna Falls. Either way, it’s the perfect haven to shake off any post-lockdown blues!


Castlemaine

Whether you’re a foodie, appreciate small craft brew, love nature or have an eye for vintage collectables, Castlemaine is the place for you. This colourful countryside town offers an easy-going summer and has enough  for a cosy winter’s itinerary, making it perfect for travel all year round. Originally a wool mill, The Mill has now transformed into an industrial precinct housing a renowned food, artisan and vintage scene by local makers. Relish a balmy afternoon with live music in Bridge Hotel’s beer garden, or cosy up on crisp days with a hearty meal and some local wine by the crackling fireplace inside. Enjoy a rainy day at the Castlemaine Art Museum, wandering the exhibitions featuring colonial and contemporary Australian Art, some of which were produced by rather well-known names. Familiarise yourself with Aboriginal and colonial history in its basement museum, where you’ll also find relics from the gold-rush era, porcelain, silverware and period costumes.

Looking for the best place to spend a few hours in the sun on a fine day? Castlemaine Botanical Gardens is one of the oldest of its kind in Australia, and is a perfect blend of sculpture and wild bush complete with a scenic lake. Go for a brisk morning walk, watch the kids enjoy their time on the playground, settle down on its picturesque landscape with a picnic rug and basket, or cook up a storm on its free electric barbecues. If you’re a culture vulture or just want to have a royally good time, head over to Theatre Royal, Australia’s oldest operating theatre! This was originally built to entertain gold-rush diggers, and is now at your service as a cinema that can also convert into a live music venue.

For avid readers or book collectors who’d rather feel like they’re acting out a part as a background character in a movie-scene-worthy bookstore, the Mount of Alex is your best call. Marvel at its impressive range of esoteric books and try not to get too carried away flicking through them on the inviting, leather couch.

If you want to add some more 19th-century charm to your getaway, board a steam heritage train on the Victorian Goldfield’s Railway for a trip between Castlemaine and Maldon, where you can spend a day exploring its historic streetscape and shopping for boutique wares. If you’re lucky enough to be in Castlemaine on the first Sunday of the month, round up your stay by dropping in to the town’s Artists’ Market. Hunt for unique gifts from more than 60 stalls offering locally-made jewellery, leather goods, ceramics, timber homewares and much more!


Ready to head out into nature? Pitch a tent at one of the 7 best campsite locations around Victoria. Otherwise, for something city-based, roll out a picnic blanket at one of these 10 Best Picnic Spots to View the Melbourne Skyline. Or Melbourne’s Top 5 Riverside Walking Tracks Around the Yarra is sure to add a spin to your day!

We acknowledge the traditional owners of country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

Feature image: Aerial View of Great Ocean Road, Victoria. Photographed by Judah Grubb. Image via Shutterstock.
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